MALE Failure and All the Defense News from Paris
Europe’s failure to launch a medium-altitude long-endurance (Male) UAV to compete with long-established offerings from Israel and the U.S. was a major talking point at last week’s Paris Air Show. AIN’s team of editors and reporters provided full coverage of the world’s biggest aerospace event; all the stories can be found online at www.ainonline.com–some of them in longer form than we were able to publish in our four print editions of Paris Airshow News.
The leaders of Dassault, EADS-Cassidian and Finmeccanica called for the launch of a European Male program, but the president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, maker of the Predator/Reaper series, said Europe should not try to replicate existing Males, but instead concentrate on building a stealthy unmanned combat air system (UCAS). In fact, Europe’s first stealthy UCAS was on display at the show, after a fashion. The Neuron technology demonstrator was housed inside a plastic “bubble” that prevented visitors from getting too close.
Although top French military brass gathered in front of the Airbus Military A400M, and President François Hollande even flew into the show in the airlifter’s jumpseat, the aircraft has still not yet been accepted by the French air force. Ironically, the airlifter that might have replaced the A400M before its development was even launched–if the German defense minister at the time had prevailed–was also at Paris. The Antonov An-70 has since fallen on hard times, with two crashes and a rejection by the Russian side of what was once a joint project. This was its first appearance at a Western airshow since 1998. Antonov was emphasizing its short-field capabilities.
Russian heavy metal made a welcome return to Paris, in the form of the Sukhoi Su-35 combat aircraft. AIN published an exclusive interview with test pilot Sergei Bogdan, who flew an extraordinary routine in the thrust-vectoring jet. The Russians also brought the Yak-130 trainer. Other fighter jets on display were the Saab Gripen, with news of an optionally manned version, and, of course, the Dassault Rafale, fresh from another combat outing over Mali and with the French maker expressing optimism that the huge Indian deal will soon be concluded. A Eurofighter was on static display only; the company announced progress on integrating the MBDA Meteor long-range air-to-air missile. Lockheed Martin provided a briefing on the F-35 program in some detail, days after the U.S. customer issued a “much improved” report card on the stealthy fifth-generation jet. But there were no U.S. military aircraft on display at Paris, thanks to budget cuts imposed on the Pentagon though sequestration.
Alenia Aermacchi’s static display focused on the company’s 100th anniversary. The company showed the armed MC-27J version of its tactical airlifter, and announced a new version of the M-345 jet trainer. BAE Systems had a Hawk advanced jet trainer on static display, as news emerged of the rescoped Polish competition. Argentina’s government-owned aircraft factory was at the show to promote a new version of the Pampa jet trainer. Fresh from its confirmation as winner of the U.S. Light Air Support competition, Embraer showed the Super Tucano in the markings of the Mauritanian air force. Only a few steps away, the vanquished Beechcraft AT-6B Texan from the LAS competition was also on static display, alongside the company’s King Air 350ER demonstrator. The U.S. company had news of its Baron ISR conversion.
Missile Defense was a major theme. Eurosam showed the complete SAMP/T mobile system, which has recently demonstrated its missile intercept capability in an end-to-end test. Raytheon’s pavilion included interactive displays of engagements by the SM-3 system guided by the big TPY-2 radar. Raytheon also showed new technology for joint tactical air controllers (JTACs).
Thales had a large pavilion showing the diversity of its product line, from the RBE2 AESA radar for the Rafale through the Amascos maritime patrol system to various command-and-control and ISR systems. The Watchkeeper UAV in French army colors was there, but it faces competition from the Sagem Patroller, which was also on display. Piaggio unveiled the HammerHead unmanned version of its Avanti twin-turboprop business aircraft. EADS showed some new UAV developments, which we will cover in next week’s Defense Perspective.
As usual, the Israeli industry had large displays, with a variety of new systems and equipment from Elbit, IAI and Rafael on show. FLIR Systems introduced a new line of high-definition EO/IR cameras. An unusual candidate for border surveillance was displayed by U.S. company Iomax: the ArchAngel has been developed from the Air Tractor armed agricultural aircraft.
Eurocopter’s product line was in a new location this time, outside the EADS pavilion. A fully armed Tiger attack helicopter included the new “smart” rockets that are being developed by Thales subsidiary TDA. Russian Helicopters brought the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator to the show for static and flying displays. AgustaWestland gave briefings on the latest developments of its extensive product line, and showed the exotic-looking Project Zero tiltrotor demonstrator. Ruag showed a Swiss Air Force Super Puma that it has upgraded.