September 14, 2012
Credit: Credit: Cassidian
A merger between EADS and Britain’s BAE Systems could strengthen European efforts to develop unmanned ariel drones, after competition between the two firms allowed the United States and Israel to dominate a growing market.
The attacks on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001 ended official scepticism over the value of drones and Airbus maker EADS has spent years and around 500 million euros ($645 million) working on the Talarion drone in the hope of an order from the project’s instigators France, Germany and Spain.
But then France’s Dassault Aviation and Britain’s BAE Systems stepped up plans for their own drone under a Franco-British defence pact signed in 2010, provoking anger and frustration from EADS.
Earlier this year, EADS threw in the towel because it failed to win firm commitments, and the project has been further hampered by a major shake-up at defence unit Cassidian that has included replacing its chief executive.
However, the efforts by Dassault and BAE to build their own drone so far do not seem to have borne much fruit either, with French Defence Minister Jean-Yves le Drian saying this week he had “major reservations” about the plan.
A combination with BAE would give EADS an opportunity to avoid losing more ground in drones, which are becoming more common in areas such as border control, especially in the United States, disaster investigation and protecting oil pipelines.
U.S. forces have become reliant on them for reconnaissance, including in Iraq, and to kill Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite public outcries over civilian casualties.
Merger talks between BAE and EADS were unveiled late on Wednesday, but it will take months to get any new company structure in place should a deal go through.
Research funding remains an issue too. Years-long talk of developing a European drone has so far failed to produce a finished product, as national governments hesitate to commit to such a project.