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Neuron : Europe’s UCAV Demonstrator


Neuron : Europe’s UCAV Demonstrator

A Structuring Project for the European Defence Industry. Source: Dassault Aviation. June 14, 2004.

The European Combat Aircraft Industry, at the beginning of the 21th century, has to face three main challenges:

  • Development of its strategic know-how.

  • Upholding of its skill and excellency. In a lot a areas, European industry has technical competence and field excellence.

  • Workload for the European production facilities.

The best way to take up these challenges would be to launch a new Combat Aircraft Programme in Europe, based on an entirely European development. Unfortunately, if one looks at the need for replacing existing combat aircraft in Europe, it appears clearly that the next fighter programme needed will be at the horizon 2030 at the earliest.

In front of such a situation, it is clear that the risk for European Industry is to loose competencies and capabilities. Facing such a situation, the French Government has decided to react, launching a European technological project in order to fulfil challenges described previously.

The Neuron Demonstrator : Photo Dassault-Aviation.

The Neuron Demonstrator

The aim of French Initiative on the Neuron Demonstrator is to provide European design offices with a project which will allow them to develop know-how and to maintain capabilities in the coming years. The difference with other studies already launched in Europe Union is to make this project not only as a paper work, but to manufacture a technological product.

The French initiative is also a way to implement an innovative process in terms of co-operative programme management and organisation. To be effective, a co-operative programme management needs a single point of decision, and a single point of implementation.

For that reasons, the Neuron technological Demonstrator project is organised as follows:

  • An unique Executive Agency, the French DGA, will award a main contract to the Prime Contractor and which will manage the project

  • An unique Prime Contractor, Dassault Aviation, will be in charge of the main contract implementation.

The French authorities have clearly stated that the UCAV technological Demonstrator project is defined as an European programme, fully open to co-operation. As such, half of the tasks, in value terms, will  be done by non-French companies.

In terms of management, this organisation will guarantee the best efficiency in a full partnership approach and cooperative relations between the various actors.

To achieve such a target, Dassault Aviation as the Prime Contractor has to create a team of European companies. The French DGA, as the Executive Agency, has to discuss with representatives of European governments in order to finalise the terms and conditions of their participation to the project.

This innovative organisation is expected to fulfil requirements in terms of performance, budget and planning.

Neuron, Europe’s UCAV demonstrator, is a Technological Demonstrator: that means it will not answer to military operational requirements or needs, but it will allow application,  integration and validation of technologies already existing or to be developed for unmanned flying vectors.

Its aims is not to perform military missions, but to demonstrate maturity and effectiveness of technical solutions.

Of course, this technological Demonstrator will use all the Command, Control, Communication, Coordination and Information technologies for Unmanned Air Vehicle, integrated in tomorrow’s Network Centric Warfare.

It is not a target for this project to develop new sensors or new weapons; nevertheless, it is the intention to perform demonstration with a modular and reliable avionics system, using COTS-based modular on-board computers, and high-productivity and high-quality critical real-time softwares.

The Neuron programme has been launched by the French Defence Minister at the last Le Bourget  airshow.

The aims of such a project are:

  • Mastery of UCAV technologies in Europe,

  • Maintaining the necessary level of European know-how and key technologies

  • Preparation of the future European Combat Aircraft.

The project itself is planned as follow:

  • Main Contract award in the second half  of 2004

  • First flight of the technological Demonstrator itself by 2009

The demonstration goals will be:

  • Performance of an Air to Ground mission, inserted in a Network Centric Warfare.

  • Stealth platform (Radar cross section and Infra red).

  • Air to Ground weapon delivery for internal bay with stringent tempo constraint.

It is clear that through these goals, the objectives are to demonstrate technologies around command and control of an Unmanned Vehicle of a size similar to a combat aircraft, with all back-up modes insuring necessary safety end security. This Vehicle will be inserted in a Network Centric Warfare, giving capabilities of control and information exchanges.

The Neuron platform will be stealth. In this field, mature technologies have to be demonstrated.  

The last but certainly not the least important technology to be demonstrated is the capability to load and to deliver weapons from an internal bay. Today, European aircraft have external loading capabilities for bombs and missiles. At a later stage, it is envisaged also to implement various carrying capabilities inside the internal bay such as recce equipments or others.

The scenarios to be performed in this demonstration are as follow:

  • Air to ground subsonic mission. The range of the mission is not considered as a critical parameter.

  • Test range airspace insertion. It is not a target to demonstrate a complete traffic insertion of the technological Demonstrator inside the Air traffic, where this subject is studied by other working groups in Europe.

  • Air to Surface weapon delivery from internal bay, with external designation.

As far as the planning is concerned, the major steps are: Right now:

Signature of agreements between governments concerning terms and conditions of participation to the project. Discussions and signature of Memorandum Of Understanding between European companies concerning work packages .

  • From the award of the main contract, up to 2009, the partners will design, manufacture and test the technological demonstrator.

  • From 2009, the demonstrator will be delivered to the Executive Agency for experimentation.

To day, in the phase of creating partnership with European companies, the co-operation strategy followed by Dassault Aviation is to offer 50% of the work value to European companies, which in this case means non-French industrials.

In order to achieve such a target, Dassault Aviation as the Prime Contractor of the project will proceed to selection of partners based on:

  • Experience and excellency. The objective in this project is not to create new capabilities everywhere in Europe but to take full benefit of existing technological niches.

  • Ccompetitiveness: The project has an ambition to find ways for costs reduction. Each partner in addition to the technical excellency, is invited to apply for the most efficient "value for money".

  • State budget allocation: It is a condition fixed by the French DGA that each country having ambition to participate to the Neuron project will contribute to its financing. For more flexibility, no constraint in term of "geographical return" is assigned to this project. That part is negotiated at governmental level.

As a conclusion, Neuron is a great chance for the European industry.

  • To develop its capabilities in the UAV field

  • To keep and maintain its competence in order to be ready for the next European combat aircraft,

  • To experience a new programme management process in a more efficient way.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).