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France awards Airbus deal to develop naval drone technology

Airbus Helicopters and its partner Naval Group have been contracted by France's DGA defence procurement agency to develop technologies for a projected rotary unmanned air vehicle (RUAV) to operate from warships.

The agreement covers “de-risking studies” before a demonstrator RUAV will be built and tested aboard French navy vessels, the manufacturer says. The contract is designed to “identify, deploy and test the technologies necessary for the integration of a tactical drone-system capacity within a heavily-armed vessel”.

Entry-into-service for the planned Navy Airborne Drone System (SDAM) is projected to be around the middle of the next decade, but Airbus Helicopters says technical risks have yet to be determined for “initiating and realising the programme”.

Airbus plans to conduct a first flight of its under-development VSR700 RUAV later this year. The 700kg (1,540lb) rotorcraft is derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal's Cabri G2 light civilian helicopter.

Flight tests began with an unmanned Cabri G2 prototype in 2017 to validate flight control system integration and the aircraft’s engine system.

Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters are set to jointly manage the project, which will also involve Thales, Safran and French aerospace research centre ONERA.

Airbus Helicopters chief executive Guillaume Faury says the VSR700 is “expected to play a crucial role in the aero-maritime operation theatres of tomorrow”.

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