The Scene is Set – European UAV Rumble

BAE-Mantis

Interesting news recently from the MoD on the subject of future unmanned research and a contract with BAe for £40 million.

The four-year Future Combat Air System (FCAS) focused research contract aims to sustain and develop the UK’s critical technology and skills in this field. It will inform the MOD’s unmanned air system strategy over the coming decades to ensure that the best use is made of these new technologies.

So we have a new acronym, FCAS, although it has been bandied around for a while.

Not much news on what FCAS aims to achieve apart from simply informing future decisions and £10m a year does not seem like a lot in aerospace research but this is one area where against all odds, the UK actually has a decent set of technology advantages.

In the summer of this year, with the backdrop of increasing UK/French defence cooperation and discussions on a BAe/Dassault Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV project moving on from the BAe Mantis demonstrator called Telemos, EADS warned that without a broad European agreement i.e. everyone agreeing that the EADS Talarion is the way forward, they would look at other partnerships.

With no successor to Typhoon planned the long term viability of the European defence aerospace sector obviously depends on unmanned systems.

Despite the earlier UK/French love in it is obvious from the shenanigans over the Euro that this cooperation may not survive when national interests are at stake and one only has to look at the shareholders of EADS to see the seeds of future ‘issues’

There seems no love lost between Dassault and EADS (despite EADS owning 40% of Dassault) and approaches from the Italians have been rebuffed. With the poor export showing of the Rafale, Dassault are fighting for survival once the production run has finished.

EADS and Finmeccanica’s Alenia have responded by recently signing a memorandum of understanding on unmanned systems.

To complicate matters, Finmeccanica is the MoD second-largest supplier with ten thousand UK employees after their extensive investment in ex-ministers and senior officers via their well-oiled revolving door mechanism, Mark III for the use of.

BAe has many advantages and a decent track record on unmanned systems but their relatively small stake in F35 and nothing thereafter means that they also need some skin in the game.

It seems everyone has woken up to the fact that any development party of more than two is a disaster waiting to happen and European defence cooperation has a spectacular track record of creating living nightmares.

On the other hand, where there are only two partners, the story is different with a number of examples of these partnerships churning out decent kits at reasonable prices.

Whilst Telemos might look like a bit of a Reaper clone just as Reaper evolves under the skin are some significant differences and significantly, isn’t American. It is obviously a stepping stone to the more exotic combat-oriented stealth concepts designs.

This brings us back to the contract with BAe, £10m a year seems like a very small amount given what is at stake.

Perhaps we need to think again about the quantities of F35 and see that as an interim capability, reducing them to the bare minimum and concentrating on the unmanned sector?

The scene is set for a knockdown winner takes all fight in the European UAV industry and it is one the UK cannot afford to be on the losing side.

European defence collaboration, as my kids might say, ‘whatever’

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