France's DGA defence procurement agency has begun new testing of the Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator in a maritime environment. The testing will be extended to include involvement of the French navy’s aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
The multi-national European UCAV developed by Dassault Aviation first flew in 2012, and had carried out some 123 sorties by September 2015, when testing seemed to finish. However, the DGA says that a series of electromagnetic signature tests, plus the maritime testing – the first flight under which was carried out on 17 May from Istres air base in France – will now take the campaign out to 2017.
What was previously land-focused testing will extend to a national maritime assessment involving the carrier, to be overseen by the DGA. The electromagnetic signature measurement testing will be carried out in Bruz, France, the French defence ministry says.
“Neuron foreshadows the next generation of combat aircraft,” it says. “Neuron marks a major technology research effort [for] the ministry of defence for the future of combat aviation in Europe and [will] maintain core industrial skills.”
Testing of Neuron by a consortium including industrial partners from France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland involved a series of flights in several of the countries, to assess characteristics such as stealth and weapon drops.
It is unlikely that any carrier-based testing will take place with the UCAV. In the USA, Northrop Grumman's X-47B UCAV demonstrator took off from and landed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in August 2014, also operating alongside a manned Boeing F/A-18C.