Airbus Helicopters and maritime systems specialist DCNS have joined forces to offer the former’s VSR700 unmanned rotorcraft – derived from the Hélicoptères Guimbal Cabri G2 – for a French navy tactical requirement.

The teaming agreement was signed in mid-October, and the two companies will now offer the VSR700 for the navy’s Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine (SDAM) programme.

The first autonomous flight of a Cabri G2 demonstrator aircraft is expected to take place in early 2017 followed by a VSR700 prototype later that year, Airbus Helicopters tells FlightGlobal. Military certification of the unmanned air vehicle is planned for mid-2019.

DCNS will be responsible for developing vessel-integration technology, as well as the VSR700's combat management system. Airbus Helicopters, meanwhile, will be in charge of the airframe, payloads and sense-and-avoid technology required to operate the aircraft in national airspace.

“Rotary-wing drones will play a crucial role in tomorrow’s air/sea theatres of operation, performing the role of a roving eye and extending the coverage of surface vessels over the horizon,” says Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury.

“This partnership will see Airbus Helicopters pool its expertise in vertical flight and autonomous flight technologies with the skills DCNS possesses in naval combat systems, allowing us to respond to the emerging needs of our customers.”

Airbus began developing an unmanned version of the two-seat, 700kg (1,540lb) Cabri G2 some 13 years ago, when it was targeting a joint French navy/army requirement for a vertical take-off and landing UAV.

VSR700 UAV - Airbus Helicopters/Beatriz Santacruz

Airbus Helicopters

The Schiebel Camcopter – another ship-based rotary UAV – has been operated from naval vessels since it was delivered in 2012. It is designated in France as the Système Embarqué de Reconnaissance Vecteur Aérien Léger, or SERVAL. It is supported by DCNS and is likely to be replaced by the SDAM, according the French defence ministry.