The French defence ministry has finalised the details of an international micro unmanned air vehicle (UAV) competition that will be opened for bids from university teams in September.

Potential competitors have until next May to submit proposals, with up to 10 teams being awarded grants. The process will be repeated at the end of the year for another 10 groups.

Safety and flight tests will be in June 2004, with development due to end in April 2005, and the winners to be announced after final tests in July 2005.

The aim of the competition is to develop innovative ideas to provide a reconnaissance and surveillance capability to the individual soldier as part of France's FELIN future infantryman programme, which is due to be operational by 2007.

"We will be launching the FELIN's UAV programme in 2006 so the ideas which emerge from this competition will be well placed," says Ren‚ Mathurin, UAV programme director at the DGA, the French procurement agency.

Although the competition is international, it is intended that only French universities will be eligible for individual grants of €4,000 ($3,875). "If a foreign university teams up with a French one, they will benefit from the grant given to the French university, but if the foreign university wishes to compete on its own, it is perfectly welcome to do so, but we cannot give it a grant," Mathurin says. French law does not allow the defence ministry to award elements of its budget to a foreign body.

Mathurin says industry is not allowed to compete, "because the objective is to encourage university-level research" in unmanned systems.

"You cannot just transpose existing UAV technology to aircraft which have a maximum wing-span of 0.70m [2.3ft], which weigh 1kg [2.2lb] or less, have an endurance of 30min and a range of 1km [0.5nm]."

One of the biggest challenges is use of the hand-launched UAVs in an urban environment, says Mathurin.

Source: Flight International