In late 2012, Dassault Aviation and the French defense armaments agency (DGA) made history, sending Neuron, Europe's first stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) into flight. The feat, which required political finesse and helped establish Europe as a place for unmanned technology, earned the Neuron team Aviation Week's 2014 Defense Laureate.

Rather than create new technologies, the challenge of Neuron was to integrate Europe's best on the UCAV while seeking the best value for the money. The aircraft is designed to attack targets such as air defense systems and mobile ballistic missiles that remain on the move. Neuron draws stealth from Dassault's radar-absorbent materials and structures and has stealth-compatible air data systems, a Selex-Galileo electro-optical midwave infrared targeting system and a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour engine that is also being used to power BAE Systems' Taranis UCAV.

While half the technology demonstration was financed by France, the team also had to navigate the policies and economies of partners in Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland on a budget of about $500 million. Dassault and DGA confronted considerable obstacles along the way. In 2005, Forecast International cast doubt on the project, suggesting that Sweden and Italy could pull their funding.

Still, the program weathered potential financial derailment and navigated the bureaucracies of several European governments. The Neuron team streamlined the UCAV's development as well as procurement difficulties that have slowed other collaborative programs such as Eurofighter's Typhoon.

Other nominees in the category included the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, whose integrated flight test showed how the fire-control system for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system can be used as a forward-based missile warning asset; the Saab Gripen Demonstration Program, for its cost-effective improvements on the JAS 39E; and Northrop Grumman for its “switchboard in the sky,” the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node that provides communications to ground forces even in the harshest conditions.