14 March 2011

BAE Systems signs up for UK-French drone

By Amy Wilson
The Telegraph

BAE Systems has signed an agreement with French defence company Dassault to build a self-piloting drone which will be used by both countries' air forces, as part of the Government's plan to cut defence costs by purchasing more kit with other nations.

The Reaper (above) unmanned aerial vehicle is flying in Afghanistan with the RAF already - the next generation of UAVs may pilot themselves.

The memorandum of understanding between BAE and Dassault, builder of the Rafale fighter jet, will see the two companies fund a development programme.

They hope that will lead to an order from the two governments within the year, to build a demonstrator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the ability to fly itself as well as being operated remotely.

EADS, the parent company of Airbus, is also working on a UAV which could be a rival to the BAE-Dassault offering. EADS has already held talks with France, Germany and Spain on developing the aircraft, called Talarion.

Neither the Ministry of Defence or the companies have put a value on the UAV demonstrator programme, but BAE has already spent 100m building the Mantis UAV, designed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

A lot of the technology from Mantis will go into the new aircraft in the joint programme, said Kevin Taylor, head of BAE's military aircraft division.

The new drone doesn't have a name yet, but it will be designed to fly for between 24 and 36 hours depending on what equipment it is carrying. The Mantis demonstrator aircraft was about 20 metres across and 14 metres long, Mr Taylor said.

He estimates the work with Dassault will sustain about 500 jobs at BAE's site in Warton, Lancashire, where the Eurofighter Typhoon is built.

BAE announced 298 job losses at Warton in September, as part of 740 redundancies in its military aircraft division.

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