* France/UK to work together on unmanned planes
* Pressure on defence budgets drives collaboration
(Adds statement, background)
PARIS/LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA) and BAE Systems (BAES.L) have made a joint proposal to develop unmanned planes for Britain and France as the two countries adopt closer military ties, defence sources said on Tuesday.
The move is an attempt to capture growing interest in collaboration on unmanned projects due to pressure on defence spending, but the two firms are likely to face competition for the work from rival defence companies including EADS EAD.PA.
France’s Dassault and its British counterpart BAE spelled out their ideas in a letter to leaders timed to coincide with Tuesday’s Anglo-French summit on defence co-operation. [ID:nLDE6A10MM]
“There has been a joint offer,” one source familiar with the matter said.
A second source said the letter suggested that if Britain and France wanted to maintain military aircraft capability, “then they really need UAV programmes to sustain that and given budget pressures, collaboration is probably the most sensible way to go”.
In a joint declaration after London talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain and France pledged to work together on the next generation of medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned systems.
They said a competition would be launched in 2011 with a view to delivering equipment between 2015 and 2020. Such drones are used for surveillance but can be designed to carry arms.
EADS is in talks with France, Germany and Spain on simliar types of drones but discussions have proceeded slowly, with EADS warning that Germany’s aircraft industry could be damaged if Berlin does not make a decision soon on supporting the plan.
Britain and France also pledged to work on the next generation of unmanned combat air systems, which would succeed the current generation of fighters and are expected to come into service from 2030. Analysts say future stealth fighters may be unmanned but that this would need a costly leap in technology.
The statement said the joint move could lead to a decision in 2012 to launch a demonstration programme from 2013 and 2018.