An important milestone in the development of the “Eurodrone” cannot be reached. When the aircraft is delivered in 2030, it will be fallen out of time.
The German and French companies involved in the development of the “Eurodrone” have failed to reach an important milestone. This is according to the latest armaments report published by the German Ministry of Defence last week. The construction of the first prototype, which was supposed to start in September, could therefore be delayed further.
The “Eurodrone” is to be used by the air force for reconnaissance from 2030 and can also be armed. Designed as a long-range drone, it is being implemented as part of a programme by the governments of Germany, France, Italy and Spain. The Bonn-based Joint Organisation for Armaments Cooperation (OCCAR) has been tasked with its implementation. Japan joined the programme as an observer in November.
The German Armed Forces want to procure 21 drones and 16 ground control stations; in total, the partners initially want to order 63 drones. The overall project will cost at least €7.6 billion, with Germany accounting for half of this sum.
In the armaments report, the Ministry of Defence also states a cost increase of 40 percent in the overall project. However, these additional costs were already known and, in accordance with the specifications of the Bundeswehr Special Fund, will now be presented up to 2035 instead of just 2030, the ministry told “nd” at the Federal Press Conference. The additional costs amount to €1.39 billion.
The main contractor for the planned long-range drone is the German defence division of Airbus, based in Bremen, where the final assembly could also take place. Airbus is working together with Dassault Aviation (France) and Leonardo (Italy). Even before the co-operation began, the companies were at loggerheads over the supply of key components, such as the propulsion system. Airbus commissioned the Italian company Avio Aero to manufacture it with propeller engines, thereby eliminating a French competitor that Dassault had also lobbied for.
The current delay is also said to be due to a disagreement between the German main contractor and the French subcontractor. The Ministry of Defence writes of “ongoing coordination problems”. Airbus is attempting to solve the problems “comprehensively and promptly”, according to the report.
The overall project had already been delayed several times. The initial plan was for development to be completed by 2025. When the contract was signed two years ago, the final date was 2027. Series production can only begin at this time. As a “bridging solution”, the Bundeswehr is using drones from Israel, which can also be armed.
According to the plans, the “Eurodrone” will also be optionally equipped with interception technology for radio and other communications. The project partners commissioned a feasibility study for this in December 2022. The contract for this “Signals Intelligence” is likely to go to the German defence company Hensoldt, a spin-off from Airbus in which the German government has held a blocking minority since 2020. Hensoldt is currently installing the same technology in three military aircraft.
The “Eurodrone” will also be allowed to fly in general airspace alongside civilian aircraft. This requires a radar to detect and avoid the risk of collisions as early as possible. Hensoldt has also been awarded the contract for a corresponding study.
From 2040, the “Eurodrone” is also set to become a component of the new FCAS cyber fighter jet, which Airbus is also involved in developing. The drone could then fly ahead to accompany the fighter pilots, reconnoitre enemy territory or even carry out attacks. In military jargon, this task is referred to as “loyal wingman”.
To support the financing, the EU Commission has included the “Eurodrone” in the “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO), in which the EU member states work more closely together in the area of security and defence. The EU is providing €100 million in “start-up funding” for this. The Czech Republic has joined this PESCO project and seven other governments are observers.
According to experts, the “Eurodrone” will be out of time by the time it is completed in 2030 (if this deadline can be met). With a wingspan of 28 metres and a take-off weight of around eleven tonnes, the unmanned aerial vehicle is cumbersome. The very high unit price makes it uneconomical to deploy over enemy territory, where there is always the threat of being shot down.
Many armies around the world are therefore focussing on smaller and cheaper armed drones. This niche has been filled by Turkey, which has now issued export licences for its “Bayraktar TB2” to over 30 countries. The country is regarded as a leading new drone power.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: German MoD.