British and French Defence Ministers Phillip Hammond and Jean-Yves Le Drian met in London on Tuesday to discuss progress of the Anglo-French defence treaty signed in 2010. A key element of the treaty was to work jointly on unmanned drones and related technology (see this previous posting).
BAE Systems and Dassult Aviation, who are working together on a proposed medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone called Telemos had suggested that contracts could be signed at the Farnborough airshow earlier this month, and when that failed to happen it was suggested that an announcement would be made at this week’s Defence Ministers meeting. However no such agreement or contract has been signed and there was not even a mention of Telemos in the post-meeting statement.
Two different agreement were reached about drones. Firstly a relatively small contract (€13 million) was signed to undertake further basic research work on a future combat drone preliminary dubbed the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) intended for use between 2030 and 2040. Secondly France agreed to evaluate the British-Israeli Watchkeeper drone. According to DefenseNews “France is acquiring one system from the U.K. to conduct tests and operational studies, expected to last to mid-2013, which may lead to a future French Army acquisition.”
The silence on Telemos in the post-meeting statement is deafening. The new administration in France said in May that it was going back to ‘square one’ on the development of a new armed drone and it seems as though France is keen for Germany and the European conglomerate, EADS to be allowed into the project to join BAE Systems and Dassault. Some in France are suggesting that France may opt out altogether of investing in a new MALE drone and simply acquire the Reaper from the US. If this happens in theory the UK could just continue with developing the new drone on its own – presumably based on BAE’s Mantis drone. By coincidence (!) BAE has just announced that the Mantis prototype is being brought out of moth-balls and will begin to undertake more flight tests. However the cost of developing and operating a new drone has been estimated by the MoD to be in the region of £2 billion – a huge amount to invest in a new weapon system at this time of severe economic difficulty.