As participant members of PESCO, Italy, France, and Spain, under the coordination of Germany initiated the development of the European Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems – Male RPAS, also known as the Eurodrone project (Hoyle, 2020). In mid-November 2020 OCCAR (Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation) and Airbus Defence and Space – the German industrial contractors who collaborate with Airbus Spain, Dassault, and Leonardo – successfully concluded negotiations on contract conditions, prices, and performance specifications (Donald, 2020). The formal contract for the project’s implementation is expected to be signed in early 2021, with first flight-tests scheduled for 2025 and market availability for 2028 (Hoyle, 2020).
The Eurodrone project was launched in 2015 as a government-industry joint initiative aimed at supporting European military operations through common strategies and equipment (Rossi, 2020). This MALE RPAS project aims to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and ground support with precision-guided weapons. From a technical perspective, the twin-turboprop installation is similar to that of the BAe Systems Mantis; however, the airframe will be larger than the MQ-9 (Osborne, 2018). Furthermore, the Eurodrone project has been funded by the European Defence Fund to an amount of 100million euros. The current contract provides for 20 Eurodrone systems, each comprised of three airframes, for a total of 60 twin-engine platforms (Machi, 2020). Jana Rosenmann, the Executive Vice President Head of UAS and Eurodrone at Airbus, stated that the final assembly of the MALE RPAS will take place at Airbus’ Manching facility in Germany (Jennings, 2020).
The MALE RPAS is the first system of its kind in Europe; it has a fully digital design based upon the DDMS concept (Dalvik Debug Monitor Server). The DDMS encourages non-linear development paths, including both manufacturing processes and maintenance requirements, from the outset. In addition, possible inconsistencies are identified from the beginning through virtual engineering methods (Donald, 2020).
Remotely piloted air systems present several challenges due to the absence of a pilot on board; the “see and avoid” or “remain-well-clear” functions need to be replaced by efficient and highly developed technological solutions to avoid undesirable incidents. Data links must guarantee constant communication between the remote pilot and air traffic control, or other airspace users as needed, and are fundamental to safe operation (ICAO, 2017).
The Eurodrone project aims at creating armed remotely piloted air systems, which means that RPAS will not only be used for military training, surveillance capabilities, or logistics for military operations; they will also be potentially deployed on the battlefield. This feature can, for example, change the conduct of European military operations. The installation of weapons on drone aircraft is a topic that laid the foundations for debates in the Bundeswehr. The new military agenda aims at introducing armed combat drones for military use, but considering the nature of this technology, the German army has been blocked by the German Parliament, who are preventing drone aircraft from carrying weapons (Werkhäuser, 2020).
Similarly, the report “Artificial Intelligence in European Defence: Autonomous Armament?” by Christoph Marischka and supported by The Left in the European Parliament raises several concerns regarding a possible rearmament using autonomous systems, and Marischka states (TheDefensePost, 2021):
“This is not about crisis management; it is about war in a near future”
France’s position is different to that of Germany, as its armed forces have already used armed drones in its missions in the Sahel, while Italy and Spain are currently using unarmed drones for their military operations (Villa, 2019).
Despite divergence between internal politics and international cooperation, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have shown deep interest in the finalisation of the project since its initiation in 2015. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, referring to the failure of previous pan-European drone projects, stated (Knight, 2018):
“We made mistakes, and we’ve learned from our mistakes [..] That’s why we have decided that for joint projects, the first thing we will do is make sure that we speak with one voice. That means that with every project, there will be one lead nation. Second point: Regardless of how many countries take part, there will be one design, one set of requirements — and no national specifications.
Written by Lucia SANTABARBARA , Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
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