The fate of the Franco-British combat drone seems compromised

In her interview given to the weekly “Le Point”, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced that the British had changed their position regarding the stealth drone project which was to be developed in collaboration with France. Thus, the British now seem to be moving towards a reconnaissance drone, and not a combat drone, as the project was initially defined. In fact, the project will evolve towards the common design of elementary building blocks that can be used by the British project and the French project, and no longer a drone common to the two countries.

The stealth combat drone project, launched by the Lancaster House agreements, served as a framework for the design of two demonstrators, the Taranis on the British side, and the Neuron on the French side, which brought together 5 other European countries (Greece, Italy, Switzerland , Sweden and Spain). It was suspended by the British authorities for a year following the vote in favor of Brexit, before being relaunched 2 months ago. The announcement by the Minister of the Armed Forces is therefore an obvious disappointment on the French side, which is working to maintain close ties between the United Kingdom and the EU as part of the construction of Defense Europe.

If this announcement is a disappointment, it is not a surprise. Indeed, the United Kingdom has become the pivot of European strategy regarding the F-35, a position reinforced by the electoral victory of parties hostile to the project in Italy.

While just a few months ago, many voices were being raised across the Channel regarding the excessive costs of the F-35 program, today it seems that both the RAF and the British government are acting as powerful sales representatives for the American fighter. .

Under these conditions, the design of a stealth combat drone, a drone intended to first enter a heavily defended zone to eliminate enemy detection means and anti-aircraft defenses, appears to be an attack on the customer promise of the F- 35, which is based precisely on this capacity. 

Conversely, for France, the development of a combat drone is an operational imperative, with a short timetable, since it must enter service in 2030. Indeed, such a drone will allow Rafales French to maintain this essential ability to enter first, even in the face of very advanced anti-aircraft defense networks, such as the upcoming Russian S500.

It should be noted that the design of combat drones is different from that of first generation stealth combat aircraft, such as the F22 or the F35, which makes them more difficult to detect, particularly by radars in the VHF or UHF band. However, these radars are expected to be used more and more in the years to come, making the stealth of these aircraft less and less effective.

On the other hand, if Germany confirms its decision to replace its Tornados with Typhoon, it is likely that she will join the French program, facing the same needs. In fact, it is likely that the combat drone will be integrated into the Franco-German FCAS program. In the end, the Franco-British FCAS project, which was to create a stealth combat drone and then a new generation combat aircraft, will have evolved into the Franco-German FCAS program, having exactly the same scope...

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