9 Dec 02. Andrew Chuter of Defense News gave details of a new information-sharing agreement that will give the United Kingdom access to classified U.S. technology used in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including Boeing’s X-45 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) demonstrator, according to sources.
The two governments signed the technology exchange agreement after more than 12months of negotiation, and its implementation is expected to begin within weeks.
European industry sources said they believe the British are the only nation in Europe with whom the Pentagon is prepared to share the highly sensitive technology in the X-45.
The talks initially revolved around British access to the X-45, but widened in midyear to cover other UCAVs, the UAV Battlelab in Florida and UAVs, including General Atomics’ Predator and Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, according to a U.S. Air Force source at the Pentagon.
Maj. Gen. Ted McFarland, the U.S. Air Force’s assistant deputy undersecretary for international affairs, signed the exchange agreement about five weeks ago, Air Force officials said.
The deal principally involves the U.K. Ministry of Defence, the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
It remains unclear whether the agreement might lead to British participation in developing or building UAVs with the United States, although one industry source said that the accord may lead the two sides in that direction.
British officials have said that UCAVs could play a key role in the Royal Air Force’s Future Offensive Air System, their planned deep strike capability slated for fielding around 2018.
Intended to replace the RAF’s Panavia Tornado GR4s, the deep strike system is in the concept phase; this system of systems may include UCAVs, cruise missiles, manned aircraft and a command, control, communications, computers an intelligence system. A decision to move from concept to assessment phase is expected from the British Defence Procurement Agency in about a year, with a procurement decision slated for 2008.
“The deal is designed to help us understand the wider issues of operating UCAVs and UAVs,” a Defence Procurement Agency spokesman said. “We are evaluating ways in which vehicles of any origin might operate. We have made no decision on acquiring any particular UCAV at this stage.”
The fast-rising British interest in UAVs goes beyond X-45. For example, UAVs will be central to Britain’s Watchkeeper program. Further out are various electronic warfare and precision-guided munition programs that will have a UAV component, including a possible requirement for armed vehicles similar in concept to the Predator/Hellfire missile combination recently employed by U.S. forces.
The U.K.- U.S. deal could disappoint other European governments and firms if British interest in other cooperative development efforts flags as a result of their participation in the U.S. deal. The British signed up last year for the six-nation European Technology Acquisition Programme aimed at investigating future airborne weapon systems, including UCAVs.
According to analysts, it is unlikely the Pentagon will share this kind of cutting-edge technology with other European nations. France and Sweden, for example, are both pursuing their own UCAV programs. One leading European aerospace executive said that, as far as he was aware, involvement in the X-45 program “was not open to other countries in the region.”
The executive said he would “like to have a European program in this sector, as it is important we build up a joint capability. That does not mean, however, that we do not have any contact with the USA.”
Officials from Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles, declined to comment about the technology agreement. Officials from San Diego-based General Atomics were not immediately available for comment.
(Defense News’ Gail Kaufman contributed to this report from Washington, a full te