France, U.K. May Deepen Ties on Drone Warplane


The governments of France and the United Kingdom may formalize their pact to develop a drone warplane at this year’s Farnborough International Air Show, Aviation Week reports.

The two countries earlier this year pledged to work together on a project potentially worth $374 million to spend two years studying how to jointly develop an unmanned future air combat system, according to the article. A memorandum of understanding was expected to be signed this summer and a contract awarded this fall, it states.

The drone, or a version of it, may someday complement or even succeed the F-35 fighter jet in the French and British fleets. The Lockheed Martin Corp.-made stealth aircraft was expected to headline this year’s show, but its international debut was cast into doubt after an engine fire in Florida led to a fleet-wide grounding of the plane.

While the F-35 is expected to fly for the next 50 years or more, governments and companies, particularly those in Europe, are rapidly developing and experimenting with unmanned and autonomous technology.

The Europeans have close to 1,600 unmanned platforms built by some 500 companies, slightly edging out North America in both categories, according to a database maintained by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group.

One of Europe’s highest-profile drone projects is the Neuron, an unmanned demonstrator developed by Dassault Aviation and other companies with some $554 million in funding from six countries.

The Neuron in March became the first unmanned stealth aircraft to fly in formation with other manned aircraft. The demonstrator flew for almost two hours over the Mediterranean Sea with four planes, including a Rafale fighter, a Falcon business jet and two observation planes, according to published reports.

The Brits, too, have spent about $300 million developing their own unmanned combat air vehicle, though with much less publicity. The BAE Systems Plc-led design, called the Taranis, conducted its first flight last summer.

Indeed, unmanned systems will get their own stage at Farnborough this year. The so-called Intelligent Systems Zone will provide outdoor space for companies to showcase their unmanned aerial vehicles, ground systems and other autonomous technology, according to promotional materials.


Expect the drone zone to feature small unmanned systems, like the so-called quad- and octo-copters popularized by Domino’s Pizza and the online retailer — not medium- and high-altitude military systems such as the American-made Predator.

In fact, Predator-maker General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. doesn’t plan on bringing any aircraft to this year’s show, only models, a spokeswoman said. That’s a shift from last year, when the San Diego-based company went out of its way to display a Predator B, known in Air Force parlance as an MQ-9 Reaper, at the Paris Air Show.

Still, executives will be on hand to promote the company’s products, including the export-ready Predator XP, an unarmed version of the aircraft equipped with radar and sensors for wide-area surveillance.


The United Arab Emirates has already announced plans to buy the Predator XP as part of a nearly $200 million deal, and other countries in the Middle East have also expressed an interest in the technology. One likely selling point this year: The export version successfully conducted its first flight a few weeks ago at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The General Atomics booth will also feature the company’s latest Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station, or GCS, which features cockpit-like controls and touch-screen technology designed to simply the decision-making process for operators.

Another big player in the U.S., Northrop Grumman Corp., maker of the high-altitude Global Hawk surveillance drone and the X-47B — the first unmanned aircraft to land aboard a moving aircraft carrier — won’t be participating in this year’s show, a spokesman said.

The Falls Church, Virginia-based contractor made the decision several years ago to pursue interests in other markets.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Dickie Cockpit

    It’s good the Brits and Frenchies are working on this. You never know when the USA might elect some sort of rogue president and go flaky on the world.

    • hibeam

      Show some respect, the guy is a little bit busy sending lawyers down to the border to deal with the surging refugee camps.

    • XYZ

      Show some respect, it’s the president of the USA. Ostensibly your party didn’t win the last two elections, boo hoo. I’m not a fan of the guy either, but he earned the win twice and he deserves respectful politeness for that.

      Unless, of course, you’re not American. In which case, obviously I’m not telling you to respect our president if you don’t want to.

      • hibeam

        He did win. And then eight hard drives all crashed at the exact same time. So now we are having a heck of a hard time recreating the winning strategy.

    • After Supporting Europe through WW2 and the Cold War, America is tired of carrying the load by ourselves. Unlike Clinton and the Bushes, Obama had the balls to tell you that. Now that Putin is showing Russias real face, what the hell are you going to do? America isn’t going to bring thousands of troops to Europe to start playing Captn come save a hoe again.

  • hibeam

    If you want to advance drone technology then tell the FAA to get the heck out of the way and allow Amazon to start delivering packages with drones. What the heck has happened to this country? It takes us six years to think about a pipeline.

  • rtsy

    Might this be the beginning of a Europe that can work together to protect itself again?

  • hibeam

    Drones? Those things work great and are clearly the future of Aviation. But won’t this divert money from the F-35 Joint Grounded Boondoggle?

  • hibeam

    Let Amazon work on drones. That way they will very soon be everywhere, cost very little, be self aware and intelligent. They can walk your dog. DARPA can work on advanced lightweight horse shoes.

  • rtsy

    Really? France has been one of our best allies, has helped us keep the dollar the worlds currency, and they did help us win our country in the first place.

  • ghostwhowalksnz

    So how is the US satellite program going with Russian rocket engines ?
    You could get some French space rockets to help out

  • tiger

    Bill, your humor is a poor as your defense annalist skill.