Further EUR 200 million Study for Anglo French UCAS


France UK deal

It seems that Britain and France are getting closer to signing a deal to jointly develop an Unmanned Combat Air System to replace Typhoon and Rafale in the future.

However the latest deal falls short of what was previously expected and is little more than a EUR 200 million study. The real decision to proceed now seems to have been delayed to 2016 and no one is clear if in 2016 we can expect a further study or moving towards an actual demonstrator. It’s also interesting to note that talk of a replacement for Rafale and Typhoon has moved from 2030 to 2035 and the article hints strongly on a British F35/ UCAS mix.

In addition it now seems that serious consideration is being given to bringing in other European Nations into the program.

All in all this just seems like an expensive way to keep the design teams at Dassault and BAE busy well we dance around the bigger issues of French work share, Airbus involvement and MOD funding. The program has many of the hall marks of the early work on Euro fighter and if this is to be the only defence aircraft produced in Europe it will likely come up against the exact same problems of the 1980’s with the French wanting control of the project and also wanting an aircraft carrier variant. Add into the mix other European nations eager for work share but unable or willing to procure the aircraft in sufficient numbers and we can see the development of the same toxic brew that lead to Eurofighter and Rafale.

Given the UK’s track record in developing an indigenous UCAV demonstrator as well as its proven track record in generating foreign military sales one has to ask if participating in this program is worth our while. Will we spend hundred’s of millions on studies only to end up leaving again as with so many other European programs in the past two decades?

Would it not be better to pick up the work already done on Taranis and begin to develop an aircraft program on our own then invite other nations in offering work share in return for R&D spending and procurement spending.

Given the USA’s reluctance to share advanced stealth technology as well as unmanned combat systems there will surely be a future need for emerging powers such as Saudi Arabia and India to have such an aircraft.

If the government had just announced a EUR 200 million study for an armoured vehicle or frigate I am sure there would be many cries of money wasting yet spending such vast sums of money on an aircraft study hardly bats an eye lid.

One possibly more interesting point mentioned at the bottom of the article is that Britain and France are starting to look at requirements for Storm Shadow upgrades. This would likely form the basis for SPEAR 4 giving Storm Shadow a longer range and multi-mode seeker.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

“Would it not be better to pick up the work already done on Taranis and begin to develop an aircraft program on our own then invite other nations in offering work share in return for R&D spending and procurement spending.”

My first instinct is; yes.

I’ve long been of them opinion that indigenous development then selling to each other was a much better approach, Offset’s rather than workshare. Off the top of my head I can’t think of one of these collaborations that I would call genuinely successful, the best I can say about any of them is that they got there in the end.

I don’t blame anyone in particular it’s just the nature of the beast, each notion has it’s own interests, politics, budgets etc and will act upon them. Only natural. The best things to come out of European defence tend to be done by one nation and then flogged to others.

I’m always reminded of a quote from one of the Apollo team; “If we’d had more people, there’s no way we could of done it”. Too many chefs and all that.

I agree with the idea of a UK lead project, with other nations being invited in, trading R&D & procurement spending for workshare.
A single lead nation (the UK in this case) seems much less fraught.

But in doing this, wouldn’t it be optimal to look for partners who are significantly smaller (in terms of budget) than us, to avoid the “fighting between equals that can’t be ignored or pressured” that has plagued the other Euro programs?

E.g. UK + Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Australia, South Africa, India, Canada, Singapore.

[Engaging evil mode: then string along France & Germany with negotiations for them to join, which never get anywhere, but which prevent them from developing their own competing project – until it is too late for them to catch up. Mwahahaha!]


@Jedi / @Martin: Agree. Also, I would consider a UK partnership with Sweden to look at the export market, perhaps have a mixed fleet plus learning from the F35 a plan B!


Chris Werb

I think the biggest improvement to stormshadow would be a two-way datalink.

A preliminary study to share info could not do any harm as long as full disclosure takes place between the two nations, others joinng would be on what can you bring to the party.

Daniele Mandelli

Can someone explain to me why we do not just develop Taranis ourselves, and buy it for the RAF.

Why bring in the French?

Also, with the “special relationship” between the UK and US including such things as advanced aircraft R&D, such as that which goes on at SPS at Warton, won’t the US just cut us out of such access to their advanced technologies if we end up sharing it with the rest of Eurpoe?

Just build British. We are more than capable.


DM – MOD doesn’t do risk. Its banned by official order. Offering an option involving risk to MOD is like offering Count Dracula a gold cross to wear and an invitation to breakfast on fried garlic while watching the sunrise. The term ‘risk’ in this context means the risk of MOD being held responsible for problems, not the risk of problems happening. By making the project multi-national any poor performance can instantly be explained as different needs of other nations pulling the project in unexpected directions – a factor for which no sane person could hold MOD responsible.

MOD will engage on UK only projects providing all risk (read responsibility for failure) rests with industry not MOD. So PV development might gain MOD interest. But if the project goes to rats, even if the route cause was industry trying to meet MOD’s ever more onerous boundary-pushing requirements, MOD would point to industry as inadequate and unable to deliver what they promised.

OK so all the above is highly cynical. But Lord Levene referring to when he was responsible for procurement in the MOD stated that he insisted on risk resting where he believed it belonged – with the contractor. This has become a formal and institutionalised position – risk is not MOD business.


@Daniele Mandelli

‘Can someone explain to me why we do not just develop Taranis ourselves, and buy it for the RAF.

Why bring in the French?’

Because we said we would project-share with our friends across the channel and we wouldn’t want to upset them by trying to be efficient and actually getting some work done on our own now would we!

All politics my friend.

Red Trousers

£200m for less future Kevins sounds like an absolute bloody bargain to me. :)

Daniele Mandelli

Agree with all points! Although myself I love Strictly come Dancing, especially Susannah Reid last year….

At least common sense seems to have prevailed re Sentinel.


@Daniele Mandelli

I thought the official line on Sentinel was still that they will be retained until ‘a suitable replacement’ is found, whatever the hell that means!


i agree, purely politics with the french. BAE may be many things but i very much doubt they are incapable of building such aircraft on their own.


The issue with solo development of something like Taranis is that the unit price cost would be huge as the buy isn’t likely to be that large, and its unlikely the UK would want to develop a platform that it wasnt comfortable on sharing technology for export on.

So, the UK can either work with the French and come up with a solution which is cheaper and meets needs, or go for a Taranis development but accept the cost per airframe would be extremely high.


You could of course develop common propulsion, control unit and sensors with the French but integrate them into a unique airframe designed and built here.

The Other Chris


Definitely not an outrageous suggestion these days. The “commonality at subsystem level” line is starting to be used quite frequently.


“All in all this just seems like an expensive way to keep the design teams at Dassault and BAE busy well we dance around the bigger issues of French work share”

Surely you mean UK work share?

Neuron is flying with a UK engine, Spanish ground control station, Swedish mission system, Italian sensors + weapon systems, Swiss weapons interface… Meanwhile, how much work share has BAE been willing/able to give up on Taranis? They’re the ones who are going to have to learn to play nice with the other potential FCAS partners, not the opposite.


Greetings from Germany,
I have to agree with Martin and H_K. The total number of airframes that could possibly be ordered by any European airforce alone is too small to justify a national, go-it-alone programme. As pointed out by H_K the Neuron has been a well-run multinational programme where the participants didn’t quibble about workshare. Everybody paid for developing what they did best.
At a more basic level, I don’t understand why another study or demonstrator is required. The UK, Sweden and France should formulate a requirement and get cracking.


Dassault/BAe work share

Surely this depends on how much financial support the French government is prepared to commit to Dassault post Rafale. The are currently down to what 1.5 planes per month (or soon will be) and will drag out French Rafale production to keep them into the game. Whilst BAe is in a commercially stronger position (with both Typhoon, Gripen work share and F35 work share), I doubt the UK gov will be as supportive as the French will be as they’ll see this as a key national capability they’ll want to keep independent. They will certainly want to maximize Dassault’s position.

Isn’t the real issue that we have too much military production capacity in Europe, but not enough demand ? Just thinking about it we currently have

4 Typhoon assembly lines (UK, Italy, Spain and Germany)
1 Rafale assembly line
1 Gripen

plus the Hawk, M346 etc

something (some one) has to give here ?

By the way, wouldn’t we expect that UK Gov/BAe will want to scale back the Typhoon production line in the absence of any further export orders ? I would have that that Airbus Defence (or whatever they call themselves) would want to keep two lines (Germany/Spain) running for that long during Tranche 3 deliveries either and the Italian one will end up being shut down before 2020 ?


National programme too small to justify? Yes if you build it like the Rafale where every nut & bolt had to be developed in France, but if you build like the Gripen where off the shelf components were bought/licenced in, then it is viable.


Why not at least try a bilateral programme, it splits the development cost and lowers the production cost by increasing the production run. Given the MoD is, based on current considerations, likely looking at no more than about 60 airframes it is entirely logical. The key is to make sure everyone wants the same thing and everyone is being honest about how many they are going to buy.

FYI, last Typhoon deliveries, even at the currently lowered production rate, are 2017/18 without another export order.

@Nick: I think you’re on the money there. Unless the EU/NATO as a whole is really willing to start putting their money where their mouth is on military spending; at minimum everyone fulfilling the 2% commitment, there just isn’t enough work to go around.

I think a big problem with all this isn’t our political differences but our political similarity’s. Everyone it seems wants to maintain an independent ability to build everything. There’s also the same problem with exports further afield, no-one wants large numbers of anything built in another country, you don’t get a contract without local production nowadays. Even the biggest orders, like India and Rafale, you only really end up with a handful being built in Europe.

You can’t have your cake and eat it. The only real market for large European production runs is Europe, and she’s not buying. Everyone wants to maintain their arms industry, but no-one is willing to spend any real cash on it. I think Typhoon and Rafale lines will get eeked out a little more I think for example we’ll trickle Tranche 3/3+ orders to slowly replace our older less upgradeable Tiffies to keep ours open. I expect the French will do something similar, but post 2020-2025 there is a serious dearth of work for European fighter manufacturing even with a new drone and F35 workshares.

IMO unless we start developing a new fighter very soon at least one company is going to bite the dust and well no-ones willing to pay for it, so it isn’t happening. I can’t see typhoon/rafale successor being a European project, not without a serious cash injection for development and soon. More likely late model F35’s will be bought, F35E or whatever they end up calling it.


@mrg, I believe the reason for the programme to be seemingly backtracking over the next year is to see which of the neuron partners would come onboard.
– if you had spent all that money (I don’t mean Germany, but all the partners with Dassault leading) and then Dassault walks away with a new partner… that would not bode well for future co-operation?


Its interesting that the US doesn’t seem to indulge anyone by agreeing to set up an assembly line outside the US for its export sales.

The picture is actually a bit worse than that; post 2020 (ish) the F35 will be the only western fighter being built in the US/EU. Lockheed/Boeing/Northrop design teams will be supported by 6 gen design project and the new Bomber project alone.

The only logical (commercially) outcome for the EU is a BAe/Airbus/Dassault/SAAB merger with a sliming design of design teams to just 2 (to maintain a degree of competition) ?



probably should have added Alenia to that list. However, I don’t see it happening any time before a federal EU setting national budgets with a common EU armed forces as there are too many vested national interests at play right now.

At lease BAe/Airbus management understood the requirement, even if their shareholders (esp national government ones) weren’t willing to make it happen.

That’s the advantage of strong domestic demand and governmental support. They can afford to develop to a level beyond the competition and then hard ball the negotiation on foreign sales, because getting the order today or in 5-10 years after the customer’s next election/they’ve realised there’s no alternative/their production capacity has atrophied/whatever else makes little difference to them(outside a few blog headlines) and ultimately success or failure doesn’t hinge on that next export order normally, because the USG has committed to buying thousands. Whereas for an EU manufacturer the next order could well be a matter of life and death for their company, they need it and need it soon. This means any long term corporate strategy goes out of the window and places them in a very weak negotiating position and the people they’re negotiating with know it. This is the pay off of that government support they can think and act long term whereas European manufacturers don’t have the luxury.

I also think letting European manufacturers whither on the vine is very much part of that corporate strategy. They can offer just enough work share to squeeze the deal through politically and gain access to any tech they need. Then play the long game as their competitors slowly atrophy from all up military aircraft manufacturers to little more than sub-contractors. They’ve been at it for decades and they’re not going to stop. Why would they? They want to dominate the NATO market and it’s working slowly but surely.


European countries don’t want the risk, aren’t willing to find the development money and don’t have the numerical requirements for efficient production. It is worth remembering that the planned airframe strength of the RAF fast-jet fleet is only equivalent to just the UK ADV portion of the Tornado programme, the total UK Tornado buy was to equip 18 front-line squadrons whereas the RAF now has just 7 in total.



I agree the logic of a Dassault/Airbus (and Alenia) merger, but then it would be very hard for France to maintain their independence. That alone suggests France would want to be in the driving seat for the expanded Airbus Military, whereas Airbus seems to becoming more German lead (or is that my impression ?). Certainly any such merger wouldn’t want to end up with multiple assembly lines going forward.

A BAe/Airbus JV to co-produce the drone and any European Typhoon/Rafale replacement would certainly be optimum for the UK if we want to cost share development. I really doubt whether Europe as a whole would want to loose the hi-tech manufacturing that this capability adds to the civilian aerospace sector given the long term implication that expanded Chinese/(Indian ?) will eventually have on commercial aerospace.

I also wonder if BAe is talking to SAAB about a merger given the relationship between BAe and SAAB on Gripen ?

We’ve been down this road before though haven’t we; http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-10/why-the-eads-bae-deal-collapsed

They all want to treat it like a nationalised industry without actually taking the level of responsibility and making the appropriate investments in it required to run it as such.


Airbus defence and space is a division of the airbus group, very much now mirroring the Boeing structure. A dassault/bae systems merger would be much more likely that airbus taking dassualt over.


I am not sure how the Swedes would feel about increased BAE control… Just look at what happened to the IFV side, and indeed Swedish Army is without artillery due to “some delays”. In their ordered world that sort of thing is not supposed to happen, so they melted the old pieces” on time”.

That does not compare, of course, with what the German (new owners of Kockums) attempt was, to pre-empt the Swedish subsidiary from competing internationally. That ended up with a dawn raid, to make sure the IP did not disappear, and I believe the new proud owner will be Saab?

A Different Gareth

jim30 said: “The issue with solo development of something like Taranis is that the unit price cost would be huge as the buy isn’t likely to be that large, and its unlikely the UK would want to develop a platform that it wasnt comfortable on sharing technology for export on.”

If the intention as claimed is to replace Eurofighter and/or Rafale then won’t numbers have to be comparable in order to provide a similar capability? Number of units may even need to be bigger if the UCAVs come in with smaller weapons loads.


This funding is basically about keeping things going until the UK makes a decision at SDSR next year. There currently isn’t the commitment to a longer term UCAS programme because of cost, but this may be re-prioritised at SDSR. This also links into Defence Industrial Strategy as the UK needs to spend significant money to keep the UK Defence Aerospace Industry alive in the next few years, and Defence Aerospace is a massive contributor to UK exports as a whole.

For this programme, its basically preliminary design work for a likely demonstrator programme. However, the demonstrator vehicle will basically be a prototype aircraft for a follow-on production programme. The majority of R&D money goes into the demonstrator programme and then additional money would need to be found to actually build a number of them.

Or do we want to keep enough UK Defence Aerospace Industry to meaningfully contribute to a US 6th generation fighter a la F-35?