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Franco-German defence pact does not threaten UCAV initiative: Dassault chief

The pact between France and Germany to develop a next-generation fighter does not threaten the Franco-British unmanned combat air vehicle project on which Dassault and BAE Systems are partnered, the French company’s chief executive insists.

In fact, Éric Trappier believes all three countries may combine their efforts into an initiative to develop a successor to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, despite concerns that Brexit could leave the UK isolated from future pan-European defence programmes.

"We are still committed to the UCAV with BAE," says Trappier. "At the moment we have two very distinct roadmaps. I don’t know if they will be merged at some point."

On 13 July, new French President Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart Angela Merkel announced their nations’ intention to develop a future combat aircraft as part of a wider programme of defence aerospace co-operation.

It came seven years after the Lancaster House defence agreement between the UK and France committed, among other things, their aerospace industries to develop a UCAV. The formal launch of a demonstrator programme is expected this year.

Dassault is already working on two other key pan-European unmanned projects. It is co-operating with Leonardo and Airbus Defence & Space on a study for a medium-altitude long-endurance aircraft to compete with a US and Israeli duopoly in this segment. The French company is also heading the six-nation Neuron UCAV demonstrator programme, which will see the launch of a new phase of flight testing later in 2017.

Delivering Dassault’s first-half results in Paris on 26 July, Trappier confirmed that the company will deliver nine Rafale fighters this year. One has already been handed over to France – number 149 of 180 ordered – with Egypt having taken three of the eight it is due in 2017.

Trappier also says Dassault is prepared to "study any future", including substantial technology transfer, that would help it expand its existing deal to sell 36 Rafales to India. Earlier this year the company set up a joint venture with Indian company Reliance to develop offset opportunities in the country and is making preparations to transfer some Falcon 2000 component manufacturing and Rafale subassemblies to the country.

India has a need for up to 700 combat aircraft over the next decade, says Trappier, who is confident Dassault can secure a substantial slice of that market. "We are building a long-term relationship and I am prepared to study any future for our involvement there, whatever it is," he says.

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