PARIS — Saab has handed over the central and forward fuselage section for Europe’s Neuron unmanned combat aerial vehicle, marking a major step forward in the French-led, six-nation stealth demonstration program.

The Saab subassembly will be mated to the rear fuselage section, which was delivered by Helenic Aerospace Industries (HAI) in mid-January.

Other items are scheduled to follow in the coming months to pave the way for the first flight, set for mid-2012. The ordnance release pantograph is expected to arrive in late February from Switzerland’s Ruag and the delta wings from EADS CASA of Spain in early March. Alenia will deliver the bomb bay doors at the end of March and Saab the landing gear doors the following month. Low-visibility items­ — a key object of the demonstration — will be delivered between January and March by Dassault Aviation, which is leading the program and managing assembly work at its Istres facility near Marseille. Dassault also will perform final electrical, tubing and equipment installation.

Ground tests are scheduled for the final quarter of 2011 and first run of the Neuron’s Adour engine at year’s end.

The Neuron demonstrator is intended to showcase stealth and other key technologies for the next-generation European combat aircraft program, and establish a potential cooperation framework for its design, construction and deployment. It is currently funded through an initial phase of flight demonstrations, set to end in late 2013. But the French are studying a proposed five-year follow-on demonstration program with Great Britain that would pair Neuron with Britain’s Taranis demonstrator with a view to a possible joint-development initiative toward the end of the decade.

A road map for a common technology development and production path is slated to be completed by 2012 under a wide-ranging Franco-British defense cooperation treaty signed last November. However, how France’s Neuron partners view such an arrangement remains to be seen. Moreover, no European nation, including France and Britain, has yet defined a UCAV requirement.