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U.K., France to Cooperate on Unmanned Military Aerial Drones

The U.K. and France will invest jointly in an unmanned drone program and explore plans for developing combat drones as part of their strategy of defense cooperation, leaders of the two countries said.

“It’s partly about our capacity, investment we’re going to make in our drone program,” Prime Minister David Cameron said at a joint press conference in Paris following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He said the two countries will be “cooperating over the most sensitive dossiers of all, including nuclear.”

The governments have asked BAE Systems Plc and Dassault Aviation SA to start work on a medium-altitude long-endurance drone for reconnaissance that would be available for flights from 2020, as well as to explore development of a UCAV, or unmanned combat aerial vehicle by 2030, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said after the briefing.

Sarkozy said that while plans are limited to France and the U.K. for now, those governments would be happy to admit other European governments also interested in investing in drone technologies.

UCAVs are fighter planes that can be controlled remotely by pilots either on the ground or in the air at distance from combat areas.

Third Countries?

“We are pragmatic,” Sarkozy said, when asked about third countries. “If other countries want to join in and help us shoulder the financial burden, they will be more than welcome.”

Cameron too said there “will be opportunities” to encourage other countries’ involvement.

The drone that BAE and Dassault are working on for 2020 is known as Telemos. Dassault said in June said the companies would ask about 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in funding from the two governments.

European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., the parent of Airbus SAS, has failed to line up government funding for its own drone, called Talarion, after two years of threatening to halt the project without government support.

EADS Chief Executive Louis Gallois during the Paris Air show in June said he was urging France and the U.K. to open their project to European partners.

“It can’t be only a Franco-British program,” Gallois told radio station RTL in June. “It must be open to Germany, Spain, Italy. We wish that it will be a European program, and then there will be room for all manufacturers, and, I hope, for EADS.”

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