EADS must receive a renewed commitment from the governments of France, Germany and Spain by mid-year if it is to make further progress with the Talarion unmanned air vehicle project, says Stefan Zoller, chief executive of its Defence & Security unit.
The company completed a two-year risk reduction activity on the Talarion system last year, and is continuing self-funded development work leading to a preliminary design review (PDR) to be conducted "this summer". A critical design review (CDR) should follow in mid-2011, but Zoller warns that without receiving fresh support and detailed requirements from all three partner nations soon the project could founder.
"The deadline is the PDR," he says. "After that we cannot do more as a company unless they tell us what they want the system to look like. It is a technical deadline."
© EADS Defence & Security
Negotiations are being held with the governments, Zoller says, "to see how we can go ahead, perhaps with another phase of pre-financing from our perspective until we get a firm contract". EADS is willing to continue funding the effort into next year, he says, so long as it "can still be confident as an industry that this programme may go ahead."
Europe's previous Euromale programme - based on an EADS development of Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron UAV - collapsed after years of slow progress when the same three participating nations changed their operational requirements.
Zoller warns that it cannot afford for such an event to be repeated with Talarion, a product that he describes as "decisive for the future of the military aircraft business and technology in Europe".
"We now have the Talarion offer on the table, and expect the nations to sooner or later support this three-nation approach," he says. "There is no European alternative." Previously described by EADS as interested in participating, Turkey is now "knocking at the door", Zoller says.
EADS expects development work on the Talarion to total around €1.5 billion ($2 billion), with production of a proposed 15 operational systems to double the programme's value to around €3 billion. Each system will comprise three air vehicles and related ground control station and communications equipment, and first deliveries could take place in 2016, Zoller says.
To be capable of flying faster than 300kt (555km/h) to an altitude above 50,000ft (15,200m), the Talarion UAV will have a maximum take-off weight of around 7t, including a 1.8t payload, says EADS. The design is 12m long and has a 28m wing span.
© EADS Defence & Security
Investment in UAVs and related technologies by EADS has already exceeded €500 million, and Zoller says bridging the gap between the PDR and CDR requires "substantial money". "We have a marching army," he adds.
EADS Defence & Security posted revenues of €5.4 billion and secured orders worth almost €8 billion in 2009, while delivering an 8.4% return on sales. "We are the most profitable division of EADS," says Zoller. "All our programmes are on track: we deliver on what we promise."