The French drone ‘crisis’

Nicolas Sarkozy, Dassault and.... the Union Jack!

Prime Minister David Cameron will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy today in Paris for bilateral talks.  While the agenda will no doubt be dominated by the Euro crisis, they may well have a quick word about drones too.

Last November  the UK and France signed a defence and security cooperation treaty which included a commitment to work together on nuclear issues and armed drones.  The two countries have agreed to build a new armed drone and BAE Systems and Dassault have joined together to offer the proposed Telemos drone to fulfil this ‘need’.   An announcement on the deal was expended earlier this year and then postponed for 12-18 months.

While today’s meeting was originally supposed to be a full-scale summit between the countries including Defence Ministers and  with, according to the Guardian, representatives of BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation also present – it was suddenly announced on Monday that the summit has been postponed until next year with just Cameron and Sarkozy to meet instead.

While the Euro is of course the crisis of the hour, the issue of drones has become a hot political topic in France recently.  While the proposed British-French drone won’t be ready till around 2018, the French military want to buy some ‘off-the-shelf’ drones as a stop-gap measure.    The military have chosen to buy the Israeli  Heron-TP drone (IAI have teamed with Dassault to offer the drone) but a French Senate report released last week is highly critical of the decision and is urging the military to accept the bid from General Atomics (teamed with EADS) for the Reaper drone instead. The military’s choice was also the more expense one with the Heron drone bid coming in at €320 million as opposed to the ‘cheaper’ Reaper drone bid of €209 million.

Head of Dassault, French industrialist Serge Dassault (who sits in the French Senate as a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling conservative party) was outraged that the Senate should interfere in arms procurement in this way saying it would cost jobs and stifle France’s arms industry.

“We proposed the Israeli drone to meet an obvious gap in drones today… If we buy an American one, well then everything is screwed up and we’ll spend more money, drive up unemployment and reduce exports – if that’s what you want, I don’t understand,” the 86-year-old head of said. “

Worse was to come for Serge as the French Senate this week actually cut the military budget available for the interim drones by  €100million seemingly forcing the military now to buy the American Reaper drone  instead.

Complicating European drone matters even more, German Defence Minister Stéphane Beelemans argued this week that EADS should be included in the proposed Anglo-French drone project, Telemos.  EADS have their own separate future drone proposal, Talarion, but it seems unlikely at this stage to go anywhere.  As Defence News reported this week : “EADS seeks a place at the top table in the Telemos project alongside BAE and Dassault, but Dassault will only consider a junior subcontractor role for the pan-European company, retaining leadership firmly in the hands of the Anglo-French team.”

With all this going on, if drones do come up at today’s Cameron-Sarkozy meeting, officials may wish their masters had stuck to the simple task of solving the Euro crisis.

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