Programme partners Airbus Defence & Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo have completed the system preliminary design review for a planned European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS).

The review marks the "final milestone" of the project's definition phase and enables the participating states – France, Germany, Italy and Spain – and manufacturers to start the aircraft's development with "aligned requirements" and a "clear picture" of the overall design, the three manufacturers say.

In October, Europe's OCCAR defence procurement agency invited programme leader Airbus to submit a tender for the development, production and initial in-service support of the unmanned twin-turboprop.

The manufacturers describe OCCAR's invitation to tender as testimony to the four nations' commitment to the programme after a "highly successful requirement alignment phase and a convincing demonstration of the quality and fitness for purpose of the proposed design".

A contract for the aircraft's development is expected to be signed in 2019, the manufacturers say.

Programme definition studies began in 2016, after France, Germany and Italy agreed to a joint effort the previous year; Spain joined the project in 2016.

The four nations intend to use the MALE RPAS from the middle of the next decade for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance missions over densely populated ground and in unrestricted airspace in Europe.