EADS hopes to secure a production commitment by year-end from the three partners on its Talarion unmanned air vehicle project. The company believes the effort could also attract involvement from countries including the UK, says Stefan Zoller, chief executive of EADS's Defence & Security business unit.
Zoller says EADS "will target something" by the end of the year to have a commitment from France, Germany and Spain. "Everything in technical terms and in commercial terms has been checked by the experts in the three nations in depth."
EADS unveiled its Talarion system at June's Paris air show after a risk-reduction phase lasting almost two years.
Zoller says the European capability has already attracted interest from Turkey, and believes the UK could be another potential future participant. Speaking ahead of the DSEi show in London, he said: "I can hardly see a standalone UK approach: it's a huge investment. If we were to discuss with the UK, the requirements and the missions would be very much the same."
EADS has already spent more than €500 million ($728 million) of its own money on the pursuit of the Talarion system, which it says is capable of performing 20 different mission types.
But Zoller cautions that "time is running" to finalise a production deal. "We can't lose more time, because we need something like this. If we don't do it now then my strong conviction is that Europe is gone - we are 10 years late at least," he says.
The UK is pursuing its own concept demonstration with the BAE Systems Mantis UAV. The programme's lone flight-test aircraft has been at the Woomera test range in South Australia since early this year and is being prepared for its flight debut. The effort is intended to prove the ability of UK industry to develop a sovereign-controlled medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV, and de-risk the possible future acquisition of a similar system.
© BAE Systems
The UK's Mantis demonstrator has yet to fly
Meanwhile, Zoller is bullish over the prospects for the Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team pursuing the US Air Force's soon-to-be revived KC-X tanker requirement, offering the Airbus A330-based KC-45.
"We have not only got the winning and better product; we've got the only product," he claims. "Whatever Boeing is offering is not in existence."
Speaking about the delayed Airbus Military A400M transport, Zoller says: "We feel very optimistic that we will see the first flight this year." EADS has told its seven European customers that production aircraft MSN001 will achieve the milestone no later than February 2010.