AIRSHOW-European defence cos call for European drone programme

PARIS, June 16 Sun Jun 16, 2013 11:30am EDT

PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) - Three European aerospace companies called on Europe to launch its own independent drone programme to equip armies across the continent at a time when budget cuts weigh on national defence spending and air forces rely on foreign-made equipment.

France's Dassault Aviation, EADS Cassidian and Italy's Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi said in a statement on Sunday they were ready to work together on the so-called medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) drone programme.

"European sovereignty and independence in the management of information and intelligence would be guaranteed while at the same time delivering a robust system resilient against cyber attacks," the three companies said in the statement distributed by Dassault.

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said earlier this year that he wanted to buy U.S.-made Reaper drones, criticising the lack of a European alternative, after the country's interventions in Libya and Mali showed France had to rely on drones operated by the United States for intelligence.

Competing programmes in Europe between EADS, Dassault and Britain's BAE Systems, among others, have allowed the United States and Israel to dominate the growing drone market.

Northrop Grumman signed a $1.7 billion contract with NATO in May last year for a new surveillance and intelligence system that will include five drones and transportable ground stations.

Fourteen NATO members, including Germany, agreed to pay for the new system, due to be ready between 2015 and 2017, which NATO will then operate and maintain on behalf of all 28 allies, according to NATO's web site.

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