The France Government plans to acquire or lease yet unspecified number of ‘F-Heron TP’ Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial systems, to be developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries and Dassault Aviation. F-Heron TP will be based on the Israeli Heron TP currently operational with the israel Air Force. According to the French requirement F-Heron TP should be ready to replace the Harfang (Heron I) by 2014, when the Harfang is scheduled to retire. Harfang, was also built by IAI and equipped by EADS with various mission systems, is currently operational with the French Air Force in Afghanistan, in providing near-term Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability.
F-Heron TP is expected to remain in service at least until the early 2020s, as the new Telemos matures. Telemos, a bilateral research and development program launched in November 2010 by the governments of the U.K. and France is a development program shared by BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation. France is hopeful the cooperation with IAI will open opportunities for French industrial participation in the program, paving the way for wider French involvement in the development of the future Franco-British MALE UAV.
The French decision, published yesterday by Gérard Longuet, French Minister of Defense and Veteran Affairs, represents a major setback for EADS, that was counting on a possible French endorsement for further development of its own Talarion MALE UAV. It also diminishes the probability of acquisition of a competitive Off The Shelf system from the U.S. company General Atomics, which was earlier this year was considered imminent, at the time when negotiations between the French Ministry of Defence and Dassault Aviation were at a dead end.