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Textron, Airbus to bid on expected French UAV tender

Jun. 19, 2014
 
Sagem plans to offer its Patroller UAV for an expected French program.
Sagem plans to offer its Patroller UAV for an expected French program. (Olivier Lapy/Sagem)

PARIS — Airbus Defence & Space has teamed with Textron to prepare a joint bid for an expected French tender for a tactical UAV, a competition likely to attract a lively clutch of international offers, said Senior Vice President Jens Nielsen.

“We are basically waiting for the [request for proposal] to come out and as soon as this RFP is there, we will answer with Textron,” Nielsen told media here Tuesday at the Eurosatory land defense and security show.

MORE FROM EUROSTATORY: Exhibitors preview new UAV

Safran’s Sagem, meanwhile, is poised to pitch its Franco-German Patroller UAV for the French contract, said Executive Vice President Frédéric Mazzanti, director of the Optronics & Defense Division. Sagem is working with Thales on the sensor payload, a Sagem spokesman said.

Airbus D&S has signed an agreement with Textron that “we will make a common proposal,” Nielsen said. The offer will be based on the Textron Shadow, with Airbus supplying the payload operated on the Harfang UAV. The French Army has flown the Harfang some 18,000 hours, so little training would be needed and the sensor package would be “a low-risk solution” and “combat proven,” he said.

The Airbus unit expects the French tender to open at the end of the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter, with a selection in the first half of 2015.

While the sensor would be the same as that on the Harfang, the Shadow is a different class, Nielsen said. The French authorities have signed a deal to continue use of the five Harfang units as a bridge to 2020.

Airbus sees opportunities in the US for the planned Shadow UAV package deal, he said. The French tender is expected to be an open competition, he said.

Sagem’s Mazzanti said the Patroller UAV “will be a product which will be [international traffic in arms regulations]-free and exportable.

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“We do not want to depend on a US export license nor an industrial agreement which shuts the door. We have our own product, not to be sold only to France but worldwide and to be the masters of our own destiny. That’s the difference.

“The difference is to create a French industrial sector in tactical drones exportable to the world market.”

An industry executive at the trade show said the competition would likely attract bids from General Atomics, Thales UK, Alenia, Israel Aircraft Industries and perhaps from Turkey.

Thales UK has received certification for the Watchkeeper tactical UAV, built through a joint venture with Elbit of Israel for the British Army.

“The French Army requirement was almost identical to the British Army,” said Matt Moore, head of Thales UAS tactical planning.

The French Army has trained up and tested the Watchkeeper under a bilateral deal with Britain.

Meanwhile, France has sent across the English Channel a véhicule blindé combat d’infanterie to the British Army, hoping to win an order for the infantry fighting vehicle.

French media have reported the British tactical UAV and French fighting vehicle are inextricably linked.

Sagem has on display at the trade show its Patroller, bearing a new sensor suite. ■

Andrew Chuter contributed to this report.

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