On December 1, 2012, the first European-made combat drone, the NEURON, took to the air for the first time from Istres air base 125, in the Bouches-du-Rhône, for a flight that lasted 25 minutes at above the Berre pond. This event was the result of 9 years of efforts on the part of the Dassault Aviation teams and its European partners, Italians, Swedes, Spaniards, Greeks and Switzerland, and offered Europe the opportunity to position itself at the top in the field of drones. stealth combat, called to become crucial in the air wars to come. 8 years later, the demonstrator program has not given rise to any operational conversion, or even to an industrial program, while at the same time, the major military nations, such as the United States (Skyborg, Stingray), the Russia (S70 Okhotnik-B) and China (GJ-11 Sharp Sword) have all started industrial production of this type of equipment. How to explain this phenomenal French and European failure? And above all, is it too late today to make the NEURON program the essential operational combat drone for the European air forces in the years to come?
Objectives and History of the NEURON program
The NEURON program, initially launched in 2003 by French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie, responded to a need clearly identified by the Air Force Headquarters: by 2030, densification and performance anti-aircraft systems could prevent conventional combat aircraft, such as the Rafale, from carrying out their missions, depriving the French air force of a key capability, that of “entering first” over contested territory. This is why it was decided, on the basis of the work carried out by Dassault on the Petit-Duc and and Moyen-Duc demonstrators intended to study stealth technologies and combat drones and started in 1999, to entrust the French aircraft manufacturer the preliminary study of the “Grand Duke”, which would later become the European Neuron program.
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