Frontex wants to station its own drones in the Mediterranean. Until then, the EU border agency will use a drone service provided by the Maritime Safety Agency. This service is also being expanded; numerous European governments have now ordered drone missions.
A long-range drone, which monitors Greek maritime borders on behalf of the EU border agency Frontex, crashed during take-off. This was reported by the Greek platform Protothema which documented the crash on January 8 with a photo. According to the image, it was a “Hermes 900” of the Israeli armament company Elbit.
The report states that the incident occurred on the runway of Tympaki airport in Crete. Protothema says the possible cause was a malfunction in the propulsion system or human error. The aircraft is said to have been severely damaged and will be replaced within two weeks. However, there have been no reports as to when the drone surveillance of Crete was resumed.
Monitoring of the “pre-frontier area”
The unmanned flights of Frontex were carried out by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which has a contract with the Portuguese company CeiiA for this purpose. The drones are presumably controlled by technicians from Elbit. The company transmits the information recorded in this process in real time to Frontex’s situation centres. They feed into the surveillance network EUROSUR, which in turn is part of the information picture of the “pre-frontier area”.
In addition to Frontex, individual governments also use the EMSA drone service. Initially, the Icelandic government made use of it. In the meantime, the EU Commission has published a list of other interested countries. According to this list, Bulgaria, France, Great Britain, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal have requested EMSA drones for next year.
Frontex launches own drone service
Before the end of this year Frontex wants to station its own drones in the Mediterranean. Their endurance should be at least 20 hours, and flights should take place in all airspaces, in all weather conditions and at day and night. The border agency has issued a call for tenders to find companies that fly drones from Malta, Italy or Greece. The bids are currently being evaluated and the contract is to be awarded soon.
The future contractor will also provide ground stations for receiving and transmitting reconnaissance data to Frontex. The contract has a term of two years and can be extended twice for one year. Frontex intends to spend 50 million euros on it.
“Predator” with anti-crash-system
Frontex states that the payload of the long-range drones must be at least 230 kilograms. This means there are only a few suppliers that can be considered. Only arms companies have developed corresponding aircraft, including the Israeli “Heron 1”, which Frontex has already tested in Crete.
General Atomics has probably also applied for the Frontex contract. In December, the US company had presented its “Predator”, which has been built in various versions for 20 years, in a new version for maritime surveillance at a military airbase in Greece. The drone was equipped with a crash avoidance system that should allow flights in civil airspace.
Image: The “Hermes 900” flying for EMSA in Iceland (Elbit).