Italy is set to join France, Greece and Sweden in a collaborative unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator project launched at last year's Paris air show, says a senior Italian industrialist.

The source indicates that Italy will make a €40 million ($50 million) investment in the project over four years, with 70% of the funds provided by Finmeccanica and the rest from the Italian research ministry. Industry-level talks are under way with prime contractor Dassault Aviation, but the French company says there are no "advanced" discussions yet with an Italian partner.

Any industrial agreement would have to be preceded by a memorandum of understanding between France and Italy. The industry source says the Italian government will make a final decision on participation in the UCAV demonstrator project during talks on Italy's 2005 budget, which begin in July.

Meanwhile, Giorgio Zappa, chief executive of Alenia Aeronautica, told a European defence seminar that although there was a need for continuous airborne surveillance, notably in the fight against terrorism, "there must be a real will to integrate our investments" on a European level. Zappa says European industry has largely self-financed most of the research into unmanned air vehicles and that "we need a real push on the accelerator to rebalance investments with those of the USA".

Source: Flight International