France's defence ministry is preparing the requirements for its medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle requirement, with a request for information expected to be released in May 2009.
The French government would like to issue a joint RFI with Spain, but if an agreement cannot be reached on a collaborative programme, it will issue a separate one.
Earlier this year French firms Dassault and Thales, Spain's Indra and Israel Aerospace Industries teamed to offer MALE UAVs to European armies. The companies are expected to offer a system based on IAI's Heron TP, which has so far has logged more than 300h during test flights in Israel.
Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6 turboprop, the Heron TP is likely to face competition from General Atomics' Predator B, which is already being promoted by the US manufacturer in collaboration with Germany's Diehl for Berlin's planned MALE deal. IAI has also offered its Heron TP to the German defence ministry, which is expected to make a selection next year.
The 4t Heron TP is being test flown by the Israeli air force, with a target of achieving operational status by mid-2009. The design has a 26m (85ft) wingspan and an operating ceiling of around 45,000ft, and its composite fuselage has been designed to carry large volume payloads. Some sources suggest that the UAV could have a maximum mission endurance of over 70h.
Meanwhile, IAI's US subsidiary Stark Aerospace is to expand its product offering from manufacturing replacement RQ-5 Hunter UAVs for the US Army to also include the promotion of its parent company's baseline Heron and Heron TP designs.
Source: Flight International