Lots of activity this week over the Talarion and Predator unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). As reported by Aviation Week on the opening day of Eurosatory, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin announced he had sent the DGA procurement agency chief Laurent Collet-Billon to the United States on an information-gathering trip to look at the U.S. Predator B ... a great way to show the French industrialists present that their government has full confidence in them and which put them all in great good humor!
But, for reasons unknown, Collet-Billon's plane had to return to Paris after a diversion to Ireland so he missed meetings with General Atomics executives on June 15. He has apparently asked for the meetings to be rescheduled. Collet-Billon is particularly interested in how much technology transfer the United States would be willing to make.
Morin defended the potential purchase of the Predator, arguing there was only so much money available for buying equipment and all options had to be investigated. But he said buying an “off-the-shelf” solution to meet the French armed force's urgent requirements for such a system to be fielded in Afghanistan was not a “priority” and that he would be “thrilled” if a European solution could be found. But such a solution would have to meet the army's operational needs and be competitively priced.
Dassault Aviation and Thales with their proposed SDM UAV on the one hand, and EADS with its Talarion project both want France to procure a European-produced MALE system which would help maintain industrial capability in that field. A couple of weeks ago they had asked the government to make a decision on its purchase of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs and EADS had said it would freeze development of the Talarion until it got such a commitment.
And then today EADS, in an about-turn, said it was willing to dig into its own pockets to keep the Talarion project going, not indefinitely but with no fixed deadline for the moment, to give the French, German and Spanish governments time to re-examine their defense budgets. It has already spent almost €500 million ($418 million) on the project which is approaching the design review phase.
This all makes for great theatrics and wonderful fodder for reporters, but then again, this is just a conference - reality tends to return once everyone goes back to their day jobs. What do you think are the prospects of a Predator for Paris?