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Dassault redesigns Neuron's weapon capability

Europe's Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator is to feature twin internal weapons bays in a new design configuration revealed last week by prime contractor Dassault.

The industrial team behind the project now also plans to build on initial flight trials by releasing 225kg (500lb) bombs during strike demonstrations to be conducted at Sweden's Vidsel test range.

Dassault vice-president international relations Yves Robins says the new Neuron configuration - dubbed 781-20 - "is almost decided on", but adds that further refinements are possible. The platform will use a Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour-series powerplant - an earlier assessment of a two-engine configuration using Snecma Larzac systems has been discounted.

The UCAV is to incorporate radar absorbent materials in its wing leading edge and nose section, and will have just four control surfaces. "The main advantage of this choice is in controllability and radar cross-section," Robins told IQPC's UCAV conference in London on 28 November. High-speed windtunnel testing of the external design and engine inlet is under way by Switzerland's Ruag.

The next major design review on the €450 million ($590 million) project is scheduled for June 2007, with definition phase work to start in the first quarter of 2008. The first demonstrator will undergo final assembly at Istres in southern France in 2009.

Neuron's first flight is planned for 2011, although France's DGA procurement agency suggested earlier this year that this milestone could slip into 2012.

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