Douglas Barrie/LONDON

GEC and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) are in talks over potential teaming arrangements covering future unmanned- air-vehicle (UAV) projects.

GEC's long-term plans to meet UAV requirements received a fillip with the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) decision to proceed with the ú250 million ($390 million) Phoenix battlefield surveillance project. Clearance for the Phoenix gives GEC the opportunity to expand its ambitions beyond the British Army programme.

The Phoenix UAV is almost a decade late in entering service and has cost almost double the original fixed-price contract award.

GEC views the task of resolving the considerable problems with the Phoenix as the first step in addressing future requirements in the UK and export markets.

Saul Lanyado, managing director of GEC-Marconi Avionics, does not discount the possibility of an Israeli tie-up, but says: "The Israelis have a good product, but there are US sources as well."

Lanyado confirms that the company has held detailed talks with IAI's Malat UAV unit over using the latter's air vehicles as platforms for GEC sensor packages, particularly to meet forthcoming UK armed-services requirements for UAVs with range and endurance considerably in excess of the Phoenix's capabilities.

The Phoenix programme, designed to provide the British Army with a battlefield surveillance UAV, has been beset by development problems. In 1995 the MoD gave GEC 12 months to come up with a set of design modifications to meet its concerns or face the project being dropped.

Brian Tucker, managing director of GEC-Marconi Aeronautical Systems, says that the company has confronted several concerns: sensor alignment, propeller erosion, recovery damage and overall systems availability.

Originally, the Phoenix was intended to be recovered using a parachute and a frangible hump on the top of the UAV, intended to minimise damage, and in particular to the sensor package.

GEC has abandoned the frangible hump in favour of a "slow"-inflating air-bag solution to minimise recovery damage to the UAV - which lands on its back.

Source: Flight International