The French, German and Italian governments have signed a declaration of intent (DoI) to carry out a definition study on a future European medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle.

On the eve of June's Paris air show, the DoI that was signed on 18 May comes two years after Airbus Defence & Space, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica pitched their MALE 2020 vision during the show in 2013, calling for the governments to invest in a sovereign European design.

The two-year definition study carried out by the companies will serve as a risk-reduction effort for the nations, and upon its completion a decision will be made on whether or not to begin production.

MALE 2020 was thought up by the companies to encourage the respective nations to invest in a sovereign European capability. This would end a reliance on non-European technology, such as the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Predator, a US design that has become synonymous with MALE UAVs and which, alongside its larger MQ-9 Reaper variant, is operated by a number of European nations, including France and Italy.

Italian Predator B - Italian air force

An Italian air force American-built MQ-1 Predator MALE UAV

Italian air force

In May 2014 the companies issued a study proposal to the three governments that called for a 24-month “definition phase”, immediately followed by a “development phase” that would allow for first deliveries of a potential system in the early 2020s.

“Besides being an answer to European armed forces’ requirements, it will take into account the need to optimise the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding,” a joint statement from the three companies on the MALE 2020 effort says. “With a sovereign European development, critical requirements around the certification of drones are inherently built into the programme from the onset.”

Additionally, the European Defence Agency is expected to be involved in the process, aiding with certification and airworthiness issues as well as the potential introduction of other nations into the MALE 2020 programme at a later date.