In France, the military has recently issued a request for information for its tactical unmanned aircraft. The goal is to define what a future requirement should look like, industry officials say. The army undertook a similar exercise several years ago, but never moved to procurement.
Sagem, a previous provider of that capability to the French army, is looking at the Patroller-S UAV as a candidate. The modular UAV can be fitted with pod-mounted payloads for flights lasting 20-30 hr. at a maximum altitude of 25,000 ft.
Sagem recently completed a series of 18 test flights of the system during flight trials conducted in March. The UAV carried a new version of the Sagem Euroflir 350 gyrostabilized imaging pod, including a high-definition television channel, third-generation high-definition infrared channel and a laser rangefinder. Patroller also flew a ship automatic identification system receiver used for real-time monitoring of cooperative maritime traffic as well as a distress-beacon detector.
Patrick Durieux, vice president of sales for Sagem UAVs and aerosurveillance, said the tests proved Patroller's ability to fuse data from different sensors and transmit it to a command and control center for coastal surveillance. These tests also showed the ease with which new payloads can be integrated into the 1-ton-class drone's mission system, and the complementary capabilities of the optronic and electronic sensors in tactical situations. Durieux estimates Sagem can deliver Patroller S for €25-30 million ($32-$40 million) per three-aircraft system.
EADS has focused more on the potential interest of the French army in a helicopter UAV. There is also interest in such a system from the French navy, with political pressure, at times, for a combined purchase. Flight trials have confirmed the Tanan system should meet an 8-10-hr. endurance target set for the 300-kg vehicle, Chamussy says. Specific fuel consumption of the diesel engine is surpassing expectations, he notes. EADS is now ensuring that production can also be industrialized.
Larger questions in France hang over the way forward in the medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV sector.
During a Franco-British summit held in February, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to forge ahead with joint development of a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone by 2020.
While the accord singled out Paris-based Dassault Aviation and Britain's BAE Systems to study design concepts, the new government of President Francois Hollande is reviewing France's broader UAV strategy. By July 14 French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has vowed to provide more clarity, including whether France will proceed with an interim purchase of a MALE system planned by the previous administration. The French air force would like to field a system with weapons-delivery capability.
Dassault has been promoting the purchase of Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron-TP, while EADS is pushing continuation of the current Harphang—a version of the basic Heron—rather than making an interim purchase, noting that the government could decide whether it would be largely an off-the-shelf system or a system more tailored to French needs.
At this point any decision would be helpful, notes Eric Trappier, executive vice president-international at Dassault. “At least it would give us some clarity,” he says.