Magazine article National Defense

Plan for European Manufactured Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Uncertain

Magazine article National Defense

Plan for European Manufactured Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Uncertain

Article excerpt

* Europe is edging closer to the development of its own indigenous medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle that could threaten U.S. and Israeli manufacturers' business, experts said.

The United States and Israel have long been leaders in the global UAV market with ubiquitous systems like General Atomics' Reaper and Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron flying around the globe. Some countries, such as Italy, France and Germany, are keen on creating a native European system that could alleviate their reliance on foreign drones, defense ministers from each respective country have said.

This summer, the three countries signed a two-year declaration of intent to study the possibility of manufacturing a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone that could be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. After the study is complete, a decision will be made whether to proceed with the development and procurement of the system.

Airbus Defence, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica have been at the forefront of the project, which has been in the works for years. In 2014 they submitted a MALE unmanned aerial system study proposal for a 24-month "definition phase" followed by a development stage.

After the signing of the declaration of intent in May, all three companies' CEOs said they were pleased by the decision.

"The next generation MALE UAS represents a step ... [forward] for the European defense and security agenda," Mauro Moretti, Finmeccanica's CEO said in a statement. "This initiative is a unique opportunity to pursue a joint technological path built on proven industrial leaderships all contributing to a single objective."

Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, said the decision was a welcome announcement and stressed that an indigenous capability is necessary for both military and security missions.

Bernhard Gerwert, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space, said the signing was a milestone for the European defense industry.

It "clearly recognizes that sovereignty in [the] development of new systems --and specifically in military reconnaissance and unmanned aviation--is of strategic importance for European security," he said.

The current definition phase, as part of the declaration of intent, will focus on "tailoring new developments to customer requirements," said Giovanni Soccodato, executive vice president of strategy, markets and business development at Finmeccanica. "It is the first phase of a system development and serves to reduce financial and development risk to a minimum--thanks to a trade-off process--before the launch of the subsequent full-scale development."

During this stage, the contractors will address issues regarding competitiveness, sovereignty, growth potential, compliance with joint requirements and certification. This process will involve industry, customers, armed forces and procurement agencies, he told National Defense in an email.

Finmeccanica is ready to start the definition phase and is looking forward to getting the "green light from our governments as soon as possible," Soccodato said. All three companies plan to evenly share the work during this phase.

Over the past decade, European aerospace companies have initiated a number of development efforts in order to kick start an independent industrial and technology capacity in the region that is "capable of rivaling the world's major players," he said.

The effort to procure the system had previously been known as MALE 2020, with the number signifying the year the first system would be operational. Because of delays, that timeline has been pushed back to 2025.

The drone, which will be used for surveillance purposes and have an armed capability, will be able to fly at altitudes of more than 29,000 feet for 24 hours. It is also likely to have an array of advanced sensors, said Huw Williams, unmanned systems editor for IHS Jane's International Defence Review. …

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