Keenly aware of shrinking defence budgets and the inevitable consolidation in Europe’s defence sector, Alenia Aermacchi has one eye on the future. It is already engaged, along with Dassault and EADS’s Cassidian division, in a venture to develop a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle.
But, says Ugo Vinti, Alenia's chief operating officer, business, this will not be enough on its own. “I think that if Europe wants to maintain a defence capability in member countries, considering the budget restrictions, considering the development of other countries in the world, and considering there is strong completion in the market – the only way to achieve this is to build on a common defence programme.”
He cites the Eurofighter consortium as an example of what can be achieved, but warns that without a clear road-map for the future, the skills underpinning the programme and the wider manufacturing sector will be lost. “This UAV project could be the seed for further collaboration between the ministries of defence and industry,” he says.
Ultimately, a pan-European MALE UAV would lead into a programme for a similar unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), he says. However, despite being a participating company in the Dassault Aviation-led Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator, Vinti is dismissive of the approach behind the Neuron that saw one prime contractor and five other subcontractors.
“The concept of having a prime and a number of sub-primes does not work. If Europe wants to survive it needs to do something as Europe,” he says.