An Anglo-French project to develop and fly an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator has officially ended, with the aircraft having failed to get off the drawing board.
BAE Systems and Dassault – as well as engine partners Rolls-Royce and Safran, plus systems specialists Leonardo and Thales – had been working on the project, following the signing of the Lancaster House treaty between France and the UK in 2010.
Although initial studies were completed, the planned next phase of the UCAV programme had been due to launch in 2017. However, Dassault chief executive Eric Trappier confirmed at an annual results briefing in Paris on 28 February that work with “our British friends” has now ceased.
Trappier remains uncertain why negotiations with the UK Ministry of Defence stalled, but cites Brexit uncertainty and financial constraints as factors.
"I never had a clear answer to that question," he says. "I have tried to meet with the Ministry of Defence, with the secretary of state and the people in charge of procurement in Whitehall."
While certain projects in the field continue with the UK, "but not to the same level", France has since agreed to partner with Germany on the development of a Future Combat Air System, to enter service in around 2040.
Dassault will lead the work on a new-generation manned fighter, with support from Airbus Defence & Space, which will be in charge of the unmanned portion of the programme. MTU Aero Engines and Safran are jointly developing engines for the aircraft.
The UK, meanwhile, is pursuing its own future fighter under the Tempest programme, with BAE and R-R as industrial champions.
Trappier does not rule out that "in theory" those teams could come together to develop a single aircraft type, while adding: "but in practical terms, I don’t know". He confirms that Dassault was not approached to participate in the Tempest work.
Meanwhile, Dassault is this year continuing flight tests of the Neuron UCAV demonstrator. Conducted in collaboration with France's DGA defence procurement agency and the country's air force and navy, the latest round of trials is designed to evaluate the aircraft's stealth characteristics.