by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Feb 16, 2012
France and Britain are to launch a joint project to build air combat drones during a visit by Prime Minister David Cameron to Paris, newspaper Les Echos reported on Thursday.
Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will announce the project during a summit meeting on Friday, the newspaper quoted several sources as saying.
"The project will take the form of a joint letter of intent that will be non-binding but will open the door to the first preliminary studies," the business paper reported.
"Tens of millions of euros" will be allocated to getting the project off the ground, it said, and the goal to is to have a prototype drone ready by 2020.
The project hopes to avoid the "fratricidal European battle" that has opposed the Rafale fighter jet produced by France's Dassault and the UK-backed Eurofighter in bidding for warplane contracts, it said.
Dassault's Rafale this month won the right to be the sole bidder in a major contract to supply warplanes to India, beating out the Eurofighter consortium and sparking consternation in Britain.
Les Echos said the drone project would be a joint programme between Rafale and Britain's BAE systems, noting that it excluded pan-European aerospace and defence corporation EADS, which "will not be appreciated in Berlin".
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