ILA: Trio advance plans to field European MALE by 2020

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The latest attempt in the protracted effort to create a common European unmanned air system (UAS) has moved a step forward.

Airbus Defence & Space, Alenia Aermacchi and Dassault Aviation have delivered a proposal to the defence ministries of France, Germany and Italy to further define a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS.

The development follows on from the companies’ call at last year’s Paris air show for the development of the new aircraft.

Their proposal for a definition phase is also backed by an industrial agreement on work share. This calls on the three countries’ governments, armed forces and industry to define their requirements for a MALE system, while seeking to minimise the programme’s financial and development risks. This would have to be followed by a commitment from the governments to proceed, with the aim of having “an affordable and certifiable solution ready by 2020”.

Airbus Defence & Space chief executive Bernhard Gerwert says: “We have reached an important milestone for the development of a European MALE drone. The need for our armed forces is indisputable. We are highly motivated to continue our discussions with the ministries of defence and are looking forward to launch this first step soon.”

Eric Trappier, his counterpart at Dassault, adds: "For the first time industry starts a project by having a full agreement on the general work share of the MALE 2020 programme."

At 2013’s Paris air show Trappier attacked a tendency by European governments to buy US military systems at the expense of their European counterparts. He was particularly critical of the French and UK governments’ failure to commit to the development of a joint UAS that would have had the same 2020 timeframe as the new project. Both nations instead operate the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9, or Reaper.

The need for a European solution to UAS requirements was also emphasised by Alenia Aermacchi chief executive Giuseppe Giordo: “Now is the time to drive technology forward and secure Europe's capability in building the next generation of military air system as well as maintain talent and expertise in our industry."

The multinational co-operation is also designed to make the most of tight budgetary resources through pooling of research and development funding.

Last December, an EU defence summit concluded that the development of a MALE UAS was a key future capability for European defence.