A few weeks ago, the French Senate adopted a budgetary amendment calling for procurement of the General Atomics Reaper UAV while safeguarding funds for development of a new-generation combat drone planned as a common project with Britain. The amendment seeks to reverse a government decision to acquire the Heron TP drone from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), partnered with Dassault Aviation. To read the article from UAS Vision, click here.
Although the exact details have yet to be sorted out, the amendment calls for EADS to modify seven US-built Reaper UAVs at a total cost of 297 million euros, versus the Dassault and IAI offer of seven Heron TP UAVs at total cost of 370 million euros. As to why the Senate made the decision that they did, Defense Minister Gérard Longuet summed it up when he said “the Heron TP was 30 percent more expensive and 20 percent less effective than the Reaper.”
What’s surprising to me is not that the French Senate chose the less expensive and more capable option – that should be a given for any reasonable decision within defense procurement – it’s that the Senate’s decision effectively shuts out a key domestic manufacturer from an important military program. The decision is well in-line with the fiscal austerity caused by economic uncertainty sweeping the globe, but at the same time it’s a bitter pill to swallow for those in favor of protecting domestic manufacturing.
Here in the US, we have seen and will continue to see the same challenges play out in our defense industry. The balance between capability/cost and domestic manufacturing has become exacerbated over the last few years. We can expect to see this balance become more of a contentious issue as uncertainty around the US defense budget, and the global economy for that matter, continues to worsen.