Europe risks diluting its unmanned air system capabilities and delaying a key security asset if its biggest military spenders fund rival medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) programmes, believes EADS.
It follows the decision by BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation to co-operate on a MALE UAS in response to a requirement in the recent France/UK defence treaty for a home-grown solution. EADS is developing its own MALE unmanned air vehicle, Talarion, that it hopes to fly in 2014, although it does not yet have any customers.
"Unfortunately there is no one European programme," says chief executive Louis Gallois. "When countries are cutting defence budgets, they need to work together to develop programmes, as this is the only way for Europe to keep its autonomy on sovereign equipment. We need a Europe-wide programme for UAVs. Having two is not an efficient way for saving money."
His views at a pre-show media seminar in Paris on Saturday were echoed by Stefan Zoller, chief executive of EADS's Cassidian defence and security division, who said: "It's a bit of a pity that we are starting a potential competition in Europe again."
Zoller said EADS had more than 200 people working on Talarion in Germany, France, Spain and Turkey, all of which have been identified as possible customer nations. He said he expected the UAS to compete with BAE/Dassault in a future UK contest, with EADS having an early-starter advantage.
"We started working on this a decade ago and feel our solution is very mature," he said.
Zoller said the defence and security market was changing fast - with software to resist cyber attacks becoming as important as military hardware - and Cassidian was having to reorganise to respond. "We are in a very different environment to even two years ago. We have gone from defence to security to cyber," he said. "A company that has been very successful in addressing the European requirement can't be sustained on the structure we have been running for 10 years."
The business has earmarked €100 million ($143 million) to develop a cyber security business. "That is where nations are least protected and where we need to spend the most money," said Zoller.