On Dec. 1, the “nEUROn”, the technology demonstrator for a European UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), made its first flight from Dassault Aviation company’s flight test base in Istres, France.
Image credit: Dassault Aviation
The nEUROn, a project involving France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, had rolled out on Jan. 20, 2012, after five years of design, development, and static testing.
With a length of 10 meters, 12.5 meters of wingspan and an empty weight of 5 tons, the first stealth combat drone developed in Europe has a shape that reminds that of the American X-47B. But, unlike the U.S. killer robot that the U.S. Navy is preparing to launch from aircraft carrier, the nEURONn is only a full-scale technology demonstrator (powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca “Adour” engine) for an UCAV and will not be produced in series.
Image credit: Dassault Aviation
Still, UCAVs developed from the nEUROn concept will be much more advanced than the current “Predator-class” Unmanned Aerial Systems, that in the MQ-1 and 9 (Predator A and Reaper) variants have been intensely involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
After its maiden flight, the nEUROn will be involved in a testing campaign in France until 2014, when it will be deployed to Vidsel range, in Sweden and then to the Perdasdefogu range in Italy, where its stealthiness and capability to drop PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) through the internal weapon bay, will be evaluated.
Image credit: Dassault Aviation
In early February it was announced that France and the UK were working together on a joint drone project, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance surveillance drone with a possible secondary offensive capability.
According to an article appeared on Feb. 23 by the Telegraph newspaper, a high level executive from Dassault Aviation had his briefcase containing sensitive documents stolen from the Gare du Nord (Paris) railway station whilst en route toLondon for a high level meeting to discuss the drone.
It would appear that the thief (or thieves) used a typical deception stunt to pull off their rather brave crime: one man harassed a female colleague of the executive and whilst the executive had turned his back to deal with this, an accomplice struck and took the bag. This all took place at 5.00 PM LT whilst the platform was crowded with travellers waiting to take the Eurostar train to London via the Channel tunnel and the crime was captured on the stations CCTV cameras.
The article does speculate that the one in Paris could be a hit from a foreign intelligence agency but does come to the more mundane conclusion that this was a couple of well rehearsed opportunist thieves, not really understanding what was contained within the bag.
Dassault and the British Government brushed off the incident stating that the documents were not that secret, however, the episode does pose the question about security of possible secretive information in the days of video conferencing with document sharing, encrypted hard disks and USB tokens, and biometric authentication.
Although we don’t deal with multi-million dollar projects, we use Virtual Private Networks, SSH Tunnels, and strong authentication for data communication, signing, encrypting and decrypting texts, E-mails, files, directories, partitions etc.
Why was this executive carrying what one must assume is paper documents (as nothing is mentioned about a laptop/notebook computer) about a future military project?
Even if we assume the executive was carrying a contract or something similar that required signatures from both parties, wasn’t a private flight with an business jet much safer than public transportation?
The drone project itself was agreed upon during a meeting in early February between Nicolas Sarkosy and David Cameron and aims to develop a next generation unmanned air combat system with a prototype to be flown by 2020.
It is thought that British company BAE systems and Dassault Aviation are teaming up together to develop the new drone, to the annoyance of EADS who have their own UAV project in development called Talarion.
Details of the new UAV, that is believed to be based on the BAe Mantis drone demonstrator, are not really clear as the project is so new and quite clearly hasn’t got that far at present. However, someone somewhere could have, if not the technical specification of the robot, maybe the contractual details of the French/British project.
And elsewhere there’s someone working on an intelligence service or industrial competitor willing to pay to have a look.
Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti
BAe Mantis UAV demonstrator (image credit: BAe Systems)
Has Dassault won a 60 jet deal with the UAE?
French newspaper La Tribune reported on Feb. 2, 2012, that France could be on the verge of winning a long-awaited $10billion 60 jet deal with the United Arab Emerates which could be signed as soon as April.
Citing unidentified sources, the paper said on its website that President Nicolas Sarkozy would go to the UAE in March or early April when the contract is likely to be finalised.
The rumor comes only days after Dassalt virtually won the Indian MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) deal and few months after Eurofighter consortium, beaten in the “mother of all tenders”, received an RFP (Request For Proposal) by the UAE Air Force.
The deal has been in the pipeline since 2008 but negotiations stalled when the UAE described it as “uncompetitive and unworkable.” and had asked for information about the Typhoon. Althought how the deal was unlocked remains unclear a source told La Tribune that every issue has been solved.
If confirmed, this new order will unlock the possibility of further middle east deals for Dassault and Rafale in the Gulf, where countries could benefit of inter-operability that a common platform could offer. Qatar Emiri Air Force whose Mirage 2000s have taken part to the Air War in Libya operating side to side with the French Air Force combat planes out of Souda Bay, Crete, could buy 24 to 36 Rafale to replace its ageing Mirages. Kuwait last year said it was also considering buying Rafales.
Richard Clements for TheAviationist
Photo by Alessandro Fucito
On Jan. 20, the nEUROn, the technology demonstrator for a European UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), was officially presented by Charles Edelstenne, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation to the representatives of the countries that have been contributing to the project France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece.
The nEUROn, whose shape reminds that of the American X-47B, is the first stealth combat drone developed in Europe and was rolled out after five years of design, development, and static testing. The first engine tests will be carried out in the next weeks, while the maiden flight is expected to be conducted in mid 2012. Following the first flight a testing campaign in France, Sweden and Italy will begin to evaluate the handling of the drone, its stealthiness, its capability to drop PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) through the internal weapon bay, as well as the integration in a C4i environment (command, communication control, computer and intelligence).
Although the nEUROn is only a full-scale technology demonstrator for an UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) and will not be produced in series, it is the first step of the six partecipating countries towards the advanced technologies used in future stealthy combat ‘bots.
The UCAV developed from the nEUROn will feature capabilities, payloads and ranges, similar to to those of the manned combat planes and will be much more advanced than the current “Predator-class” Unmanned Aerial Systems, that in the MQ-1 and 9 (Predator A and Reaper) variants have been intensely involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
All images via Alenia Aermacchi