LONDON — Britain and France on Tuesday signed two agreements paving the way for greater cooperation between the neighbours on the use of military drones.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian pledged closer military ties and said the deals represented "a new positive step in Franco-British cooperation on Unmanned Air Systems".
"Cooperation is essential at a time when defence budgets are under pressure," the ministers said in a joint statement, as Le Drian made his first visit to London since taking office in May.
The first agreement will enable France to cooperate with Britain on the Watchkeeper Tactical unmanned air system, which provides the British armed forces with surveillance and reconnaissance.
The ministers said the second deal represented the first phase of a collaborative "demonstration programme" for a Future Combat Air System (FCAS), another unmanned air system, to be completed by the years 2030-40.
The pair agreed to spend 12 million euros (£9.3 million, $14.5 million) with French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation and British defence giant BAE systems on new designs for the FCAS, an aide to Le Drian said.
Under an eight-million-euro programme, France will test the Watchkeeper system made by French company Thales and the Israeli firm Elbit until mid-2013, when it will decide whether or not to use it permanently.
Meanwhile, an aide to Le Drian said an announcement would be made in the coming weeks on plans by Britain and France to jointly develop medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles.
The neighbours already have a close defence relationship.
British and French jets spearheaded the Libyan intervention, which later became the NATO-led air campaign that led to the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi's regime in October.
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