PARIS Nov 28 French industrialist Serge
Dassault attacked a parliamentary move to buy unmanned military
aircraft from the United States, saying it would cost jobs and
stifle France's arms industry.
A French Senate committee voted last week to chop funding
for Israeli Heron TP drones, which Dassault Aviation SA
(AVMD.PA) plans to adapt for use by France's military in
Afghanistan. It opted instead for the cheaper MQ-9 Reaper from
If approved, the move would overturn a decision in July by
Defence Minister Gerard Longuet to favour the Heron TP from
Israel Aerospace Industries on the grounds it would give France
a step up in developing key drones technology.
The Senate foreign affairs and defence commission found the
Israeli platform offered by Dassault would cost an extra 109
million euros, or 50 percent more than the U.S. alternative.
But Dassault, who sits in the French Senate as a member of
President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservative UMP party, said
the decision to buy American would end up costing France more.
"We proposed the Israeli drone to meet an obvious gap in
drones today," the 86-year-old head of the family group that
includes Dassault Aviation SA (AVMD.PA) told Public Senat tv.
"That is just while we wait for a French drone. If we buy
an American one, well then everything is screwed up and we'll
spend more money, drive up unemployment and reduce exports - if
that's what you want, I don't understand."
The number of jobless people in France rose in October to
the highest in nearly 12-years in the latest sign of an ongoing
deterioration in the labour market five months from a
presidential election. [ID:nL5E7MS3ZD]
Israel and the United States dominate the technology for
unmanned aerial vehicles and European defence companies are
locked in a fierce battle for funds to develop a home-grown
alternative from around the end of the decade.
Dassault Aviation is involved in a Franco-British effort
together with BAE Systems Plc (BAES.L) to develop a future
generation called Telemos, while European aerospace group EADS
EAD.PA is struggling to win support for its rival, Talarion.
The immediate row is over a stop-gap purchase needed to
meet shorter-term requirements from mid-decade. The debate has
already dragged on for two years.
France's defence ministry weighed a choice between the
Heron TP offered by Dassault, the U.S. Reaper reportedly backed
by military commanders or an extension to the life of older
Harfang drones supplied by EADS, also based on an Israeli
The commission, whose findings were first reported by
French magazine Challenges, said the Heron TP would cost 318
million euros instead of 209 million for the Reaper Block 5,
expected to be delivered in 2015. It diverted the difference of
109 million euros towards other projects, including a new
The battle for drones funding has soured relations between
EADS and the French government and put EADS directly at odds
with Dassault Aviation in which it owns a 47 percent stake as a
result of the complex history of French defence companies.
EADS and Dassault are also involved in bitter competition
to sell fighter aircraft to India and the Arab Gulf.
Dassault's comments came as the French Senate prepared to
vote on the 2012 French defence budget late on Monday. Funding
must be discussed further by the lower National Assembly.
France has often been criticized by U.S. defence companies
for blocking imports of U.S. systems to protect its industry.
Longuet has said the country needs to develop vital
(Reporting by Marie Mawad, Elena Berton, Tim Hepher; editing
by Andre Grenon)