Britain and France are to join forces to build a new generation of lethal drones as part of a controversial defence deal.

President Francois Hollande is due to arrive in Britain tonight for a summit with Prime Minister David Cameron at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where they are expected to agree to develop an Anglo-French Predator-type military drone.

Britain's current programme relies upon American technology and is primarily operated out of the United States because of restrictions on flying unmanned aircraft in European airspace.

The move follows on from the 2010 Lancaster House accord, in which Britain and France agreed to a series of measures including sharing aircraft carriers, joint expeditionary forces and training.

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A Downing St source said it was clear that unmanned combat systems, such as drones, were where defence technology was going and it was becoming clear that it was an essential piece of kit for both British and French forces. Production will not begin for at least three years.

British defence company BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, the French maker of Rafale fighter jets, will lead the project, which is also expected to involve Rolls-Royce.

During the summit the leaders are also due to sign a 500 million ($1 billion) memorandum of understanding to build anti-ship missiles for French and British attack helicopters.

In addition, they will confirm progress on creating a combined joint expeditionary force of 10,000 troops by 2016.

- Independent