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France eye Predator drones

Oct. 18, 2010 at 3:13 PM
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PARIS, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- France is considering the purchase of unmanned aircraft to tackle growing demands in its combat operations in Afghanistan.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin told his country's lawmakers that he preferred the option as a short-term solution until an Anglo-French cooperation proceeds to build a European system in the medium term.

"It seems to me preferable to retain an intermediate system with effectively an off-the-shelf purchase, all the while looking in the medium term for a lasting European solution, allowing France and the United Kingdom to position themselves at a higher level," Morin told the French parliamentary defense committee showed.

Defense News reported that the minister's testimony paves the way for the purchase of the Predator UAV from General Atomics and "pursuit of a joint effort by Dassault and BAE Systems in the medium term."

The country's procurement office and military brass is said to be considering certain drone offers. The EADS European aerospace giant has offered to produce the unmanned aircraft but it is at a very high cost and would take at least 10 years to manufacture.

In testifying before the defense committee Morin said that while he wanted to boost the French defense industry with the production of such required UAVs, an off-the-shelf acquisition should be the easiest to pursue given the past procurement of AWACS and Hawkeye surveillance aircraft as well as the C-135 tanker fleet that supports the air wing of the nuclear deterrent.

An acquisition of Predators would make them deployable within three years, military experts say. They would also be close to budget costs prescribed by the military for 2010.

Meantime, over the weekend France said it was ready to help pay for and develop a U.S. prescribed anti-missile shield but only to complement, rather than replace, the country's nuclear deterrent.

Until now, France seemed reluctant to back the missile shield saying it would vex already tense relations between NATO member states and their adversaries. The military alliance has been pushing the missile defense project as a key project of its future strategy.

The chief of the alliance, in fact, lobbied the importance of the strategy during a recent visit to Paris.

France's objections were dropped only days before French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Moscow for high-level talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

The system is set to be activated within 2011. Member states of the military alliance are due to vote during the upcoming Lisbon summit should be included in their mission.

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