The UK and France have moved a step forward in demonstrating their commitment to defence cooperation under the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty with the announcement that France will undertake operational assessments and trials of the Thales Watchkeeper unmanned air system (UAS) in 2012 and 2013, with a view to cooperating with the UK on Europe’s most advanced tactical UAS system. The announcement was made after a bi-lateral meeting in London between UK Secretary of State for Defence Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Victor Chavez, chief executive of Thales UK, said: “The battle-winning operational edge that UAVs bring to operations is well understood and these systems are rightly a central pillar of UK-French defence collaboration. The announcement today that France will undertake trials of Watchkeeper demonstrates both nations commitment to cooperation on the battlefield and in the development of this strategically important sector.”

Pierre Eric Pommellet, SVP of Thales Defence Mission Systems commented: “Collaboration offers perspectives for widespread benefit for both nations – shared support costs, joint development of enhancements to what is already one of the world’s most advanced tactical UAV systems, the ability to harness the capabilities and innovation of both British and French industry, and most importantly the provision of world leading intelligence capabilities for British and French Armed Forces. Joint technological, industrial and interoperability advances were at the heart of the Anglo-French Treaty, and today’s announcement demonstrates concrete progress towards those aims.”

Victor Chavez added: “Industrially, UAVs are central to the defence sector’s renewal over the next period, and there are huge opportunities for European companies to succeed in this growing market. Watchkeeper, as Europe’s largest UAS programme, positions Thales as a leading company in the design, development and deployment of UAS systems.”