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Europe’s UCAV Demonstrator Neuron Will Be a Stealth Platform

Europe’s UCAV Demonstrator Neuron Will Be a Stealth Platform

Paris Air Show 2005. June 10th, 2005. Source: Dassault Aviation.

  • A Structuring Project for the European Defence Industry.

Charles Edelstenne presents the Neuron to French President Chirac (Dassault Aviation Photo).

Charles Edelstenne presents the Neuron to French President Chirac (Dassault Aviation Photo)

    For the next twenty years, the European Combat Aircraft Industry has to face three main challenges:

  • The development of the strategic technologies that the US are mastering – or will master – and that will never be transferred to Europe;

  • Upholding of its skill and excellency. In a lot of areas, European industry has technical competence and field excellence and, because of a lack of workload, this know-how might disappear;.

  • Workload for the European design offices.

The Neuron mockup is unveiled for President Chirac (Photo Dassault Aviation Photo).

The Neuron mockup is unveiled for President Chirac (Dassault Aviation Photo)

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 there will be no such opportunity before the horizon 2030 at the earliest.
Facing such a situation, the French Government has decided to take the initiative by launching a project of unmanned combat air vehicle technological demonstrator in European co-operation.
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. This project will be go beyond the theoretical studies that have been conducted until now in the European Union, as it plan the building and flight demonstration of an aircraft.

The Neuron mockup at the Paris Air Show (Photo Hugues Dumont).

The Neuron mockup at the Paris Air Show (Photo Hugues Dumont)

The French initiative is also a way to implement an innovative process in terms of European 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, awards a main contract to the Prime Contractor and manages the project

  • A unique Prime Contractor, Dassault Aviation, is charge of the main contract implementation.

Ever since the beginning of the programme, the French authorities have clearly stated their will that the UCAV technological Demonstrator project should contribute to the build-up of a European defence identity by fully opening it to co-operation. As such, half of the tasks will be entrusted to non-French industrial partners.
In terms of management, this organisation will guarantee the best efficiency in a full partnership approach and cooperative relations between the various actors, as well as an improved budgetary control.

Dassault Aviation has entrusted 50% of the work value to European partners, which in this case means non-French industrials. Dassault Aviation Photo. 

Neuron Photo de famille avec les coopérants du projet Neuron (Dassault Aviation Photo)

The Neuron programme has been launched by the French Defence Minister at the last Le Bourget airshow (2003).
The main contract of the Neuron project has been initialised with the prime contractor during the first half of 2005. The industrial partnership contracts have been signed concurrently and the first flight of the technological demonstrator is planned for 2010:
The demonstration goals are:

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

  • Designing a stealth platform (Radar cross section and Infrared).

  • Weapon delivery from an internal bay with stringent tempo constraint. 
     Nota: 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 aim 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, new weapons or a specific new power plant; 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 software.
It is clear that through these demonstration missions, the goals are to validate 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.

Neuron will be the first large size stealth platform designed in Europe. Dassault Aviation Picture. 

Dassault Aviation Picture

The Neuron platform will be stealth. In this field, mature technologies have to be demonstrated. Neuron will be the first large size stealth platform designed in Europe.
Building on the experience gained from recent projects, for the first time in a military project, it will be designed and developed within the frame, a completely integrated PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) environment, through a virtual development platform, allowing Dassault Aviation and its five partners, in five countries, to simultaneously work together on the same design, independently from the location where the work is performed.
The main technological challenges to be addressed during the design are the forms of the vehicle (aerodynamic, composite structure, internal weapon bay), higher reliance on electrical systems and advanced conditioning system, the insertion of this type of aircraft within the airspace, the high-level algorithms necessary to develop automated processes, as well the place of the human factor within the mission loop.
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 other working groups in Europe study this subject.
  • Air to Surface weapon delivery from internal bay, with external designation.

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

  • To date:  The various Memoranda Of Understanding between European companies concerning work packages have been concluded.

  • Right now, the industrial team have started the conceptual definition and the feasability studies of the technological demonstrator, aiming at a first flight mid-2010.

  • From 2010, the demonstrator will be delivered to the Executive Agency for experimentation. 

In accordance with the guidelines defined by the DGA, Dassault Aviation has entrusted 50% of the work value to European partners, which in this case means non-French industrials. In order to achieve such a target, the prime contractor has proceeded 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. 

  • Competitiveness. 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 has been negotiated at governmental level.

 After consultation with many European countries, both at Government and at industrial levels, the resulting industrial team answers these criteria and offers the best guarantees for success of the project. It includes (in the chronological order in which the agreements have been signed):

  • SAAB (Sweden) which is entrusted with the general design, the equipped fuselage, the avionics, the fuel system and part of the flight testing;

  • Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) is responsible for the rear fuselage, the exhaust pipe and the test rig;

  • EADS (Spain) will bring its experience for the wings, the ground station, and the data link integration;

  • RUAG (Switzerland) is taking care of the wind tunnel tests, and the weapon interface;

  • Alenia (Italy) will, among others, contribute with a new concept of internal weapon bay (Smart Weapon Bay), as well as by the design and development of the electrical power system, the air data system and the flight tests.

In addition to being the design authority, Dassault Aviation takes care of the general design and architecture of the system, the flight control system, the final assembly and the ground tests as well as the flight tests.
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.

Contacts: Gérard David: (Corporate Communications) -- Yves Robins: (Military Exportations).



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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).