France has unveiled plans to fund development of a new unmanned reconnaissance plane, signaling its wish to lead a European push into the types of drone aircraft that played a key role in the Afghanistan conflict and during the war in Iraq.

At last month's Eurosatory land defence exhibition near Paris, French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced a project to develop a new aircraft by 2008 which would be capable of flying distances of 4,500km (2,400nm) and staying in the air for up to 24h.

This was conditional upon Dassault Aviation and EADS, the European aeronautic, defence and space conglomerate grouping the former Aerospatiale, Matra and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, agreeing to work together and being open to wider European industrial cooperation.

EADS has been awarded the prime contractor role on the E300-million project, which has been dubbed 'EuroMale', or European medium altitude long-endurance vehicle.

Half of the finance is expected to come from companies involved in the project, including EADS, Dassault Aviation and Thales, the electronics and defence giant. Twenty-five per cent will come from the French government, with the remainder expected from other partner countries in Europe.


This will be the first time that EADS and Dassault, arch rivals in military aircraft building, will join forces.

Agreement between Dassault and EADS to cooperate on the future generation of fighter aircraft marks the start of a difficult courtship between the best of enemies in the European defence industry. They have waged fierce dog-fights, sabotaging repeated efforts to consolidate the industry. Europe, as a result, has three competing fighters - Dassault's Rafale, the EADS-BAE Systems-Alenia Eurofighter and the Saab Aerosystems' Gripen - a luxury it can ill afford.

Now, under the influence of the French government, EADS and Dassault will develop surveillance drones and a new fighter project for 2020-2025 that could be manned or unmanned. The Swedes, Greeks, Dutch and Spaniards have all shown interest in joining in.

The drone announcement comes one year after Michele Alliot-Marie, speaking at the last Paris airshow, pledged E300 million in funds for exploratory development of an unmanned combat aircraft, dubbed 'Neuron'.


Dassault has the prime contractor role on that project, which has since been bolstered with participation by the Greek and Swedish governments, the Swedish company Saab Aerosystems and now also EADS.

The two deals pave the way for a broad cooperation in drones between EADS and Dassault, in which EADS owns a non-controlling 46% stake. The two companies said in a joint statement that these cooperation deals, which cover the key segments of reconnaissance and combat aviation, "lay the groundwork for a powerful European push into an area crucial to the military of the future".

Source: Flight Daily News