Sunday, October 17, 2010

France Seeks Quick UAV Buy, Longer-Term Joint Effort

French Defense Minister Hervé Morin told lawmakers he favored tackling an immediate problem in the Afghan theater by buying a medium-altitude, long-endurance drone off the shelf, while seeking an Anglo-French cooperation to build a European system in the medium term.

"It seems to me preferable to retain an intermediate system with effectively an off-the-shelf purchase, all the while looking in the medium term for a lasting European solution, allowing France and the United Kingdom to position themselves at a higher level," minutes of a hearing held Oct. 5 before the French parliamentary defense committee showed.

That opens the door to a near-term acquisition of the Predator UAV from General Atomics and pursuit of a joint effort by Dassault and BAE Systems in the medium term.

Morin also said budget cuts would delay an upgrade of the Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft for two years, push back the Army's Scorpion modernization program one year to 2013, reduce the number of ground radars in level four of the SCCOA national air control network, and possibly cancel two Falcon 2000 jets.

Morin said that while he wanted French industry to obtain UAV work, an off-the-shelf acquisition should not provoke controversy given the past procurement of AWACS and Hawkeye surveillance aircraft and the C-135 tanker fleet, which supports the air wing of the nuclear deterrent.

The Direction Générale de l'Armament procurement office and the chief of the Defense Staff have analyzed the various UAV offers, Morin said.

A proposal for the EADS Talarion Advanced UAV offers a good level of sovereignty but with "very high cost" for France, strong industrial challenges and it would take eight to 10 years.

An SDM proposal from Dassault and Thales gets only an average grade for sovereignty as the air vehicle is Israeli. It costs less but is still too pricey for what is available in the budget. The offer carries cooperation possibilities, industrial risk is average, and delivery would take four to five years.

Predator, or Reaper B, poses sovereignty problems, is available in three years and the cost is close to that available in the military budget law. There are no cooperation or industrial work-share possibilities, but industry risk is virtually nil.

The Israeli Heron TP could be delivered in four years but costs much more than budgeted, with no industrial work-share or cooperation. Industrial risk is average.

BAE Systems' Mantis project offers good marks for sovereignty as Dassault is keen to collaborate. Delivery would take seven years for an unknown price.

"It would permit cooperation between France and Britain, but with a strong industrial risk," Morin said.

"I do not want to be the one, guided by solely an industrial concern, to have deprived for the decades to come the French forces of the observation capabilities which would allow them to support the troops on the ground," he said.

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