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

    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.

    • Chris

      Uh… Being a commercial pilot, I can tell you that complete drone integration is still years away when it comes to the national airspace system and with good reason: the FAA can’t even roll out the “next-gen” airspace system on time and the safety needed to operate an UAS in US airspace just isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. It’s not as simple as you may think.

      • hibeam

        The private market moves 10 times faster and 10 times better than big government. Look at Obama’s web site. Do we want more of that? Turn the free market lose. Get rid of the FAA. Get rid of the VA. Get rid of Public schools. Its all garbage.

    • Guest

      I am no expert, but I seem to recall reading stories of a high number of crashes and some reports of drone collisions in the air in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t know about you but I don’t mind this being a well thought through plan, I can wait a a few more minutes for my pizza and a couple extra days for my amazon delivery rather than have my house serve as a drone landing pad.

  • 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.