Preparations for a European armed drone are entering the final round, and its development is set to begin in a year’s time. Four years later, a first model could be launched for test flights.
The German Ministry of Defense wants to purchase 21 so-called „Eurodrones“. This was written by the federal government in response to a small question. They form seven complete systems, each with two mobile ground control stations. The aircraft are controlled by a pilot and a payload operator, which processes the reconnaissance data. The Bundeswehr will have a total of 16 ground stations, two of which will presumably be kept in reserve.
The „Eurodrone“ is a project of the German, French and Italian governments, to which Spain later also joined. After years of preparatory work, the countries might soon sign the development contract. The „Eurodrone“ project is until now led by the arms company Airbus, joined by Dassault Aviation (France) and Leonardo (Italy). The drone can be equipped with both rockets and surveillance technology. A payload operator operates the cameras and radar equipment.
Consultancy firm conducts negotiations
The Joint Organisation for Armaments Cooperation (OCCAR) was commissioned to carry out a definition study. It consisted of a concept and design phase: In a first step, its requirements were agreed between the military involved in the project and finally jointly approved.
The aircraft created in the design phase was first shown as a model at the Berlin Air Show in 2017. By then, the four governments had invested 85 million euros in the project. In recent years, Airbus has also received a three-digit million euro sum for research into the predecessors of the „Eurodrone“ and the necessary satellite technology. This concerns funds from civil security research and the Ministry of Defence.
The German Ministry of Defence has brought Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft mbH (IABG) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) on board to provide consulting services. The two partners will receive 7.3 million euros for the project, one of the tasks being to support the project in „monitoring results, developing national technical positions and preparing decisions and national self-validations“. This also includes the subsequent certification of the drone and its integration into European civil airspace. IABG is also to negotiate with Airbus about the later price of the drones.
Project transferred to PESCO
Companies need the purchase guarantees that have now been issued for investments to start the production-ready „Eurodrone“ development. However, the price of the systems to be made available from 2025 onwards is not yet known. Nevertheless, the Spanish government has also promised to buy 15 systems for the air force. Delivery is not expected until 2026.
The four founding nations of the „Eurodrone“ had successfully proposed to transfer the project to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which is intended to increase European defence spending. The governments hope to gain advantages in financing the drone.
The Bundeswehr wants to actively support the „Eurodrone“ project. As early as 2016, the Federal Office of Equipment, Information Technology and Utilisation of the Bundeswehr set up a „Project Management Organisation“ for this purpose, which has now grown to 14 posts. The three Commandos Air Force, Army and Cyber and Information Space also contribute „technical expertise“, as do the Bundeswehr Aviation Office and Planning Office and the Military Centre for Geoinformation Systems.
Czech Republic joins consortium
EU Member States participating in PESCO will be put under pressure to participate in the „Eurodrone“, which they co-finance through the „Permanent Structured Cooperation“ budget. Last week, the European Defence Agency presented the new list of PESCO projects. It shows that the Czech Republic has now joined the drone consortium. According to speculations, the Czech armaments company Aero Vodochody will be involved in the production.
Now the participating governments want to conclude an agreement on „development, procurement and initial flight operations“. According to the Ministry of Defence, the „realization phase“ could begin in a year’s time. After four years a first prototype should be finished.
Image: The first model of the „Eurodrone“ (European Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft – MALE RPAS) was shown at the start of the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show (Airbus).