The governments of France, Germany and Italy have signed a declaration of intent to proceed with a study to define a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle, to bring an end to European reliance on foreign designs.

Many did not expect it to even reach this stage – partner companies Airbus Defence & Space, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica pitched the idea to their respective governments in June 2013 because they were fed up with being marginalised by imports – and it is not really clear where the programme will go.

The declaration claims that the two-year study could lead on to a development programme, with the European Defence Agency also believed to be supporting the effort. But this is all still in the very early stages, despite Europe having bid tirelessly to have a global place in UAV design by stressing its engineering experience of days gone by.

While others in the industry have secured their place – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9 Reaper is ubiquitous – or are rapidly proliferating, as with Chinese and Russian designs, Europe seems stagnant.

The unmanned combat aircraft market could be where Europe takes the lead, but that is still years away from being developed and required. BAE Systems’ Taranis and the pan-European Neuron are purely demonstrators – and seem set to stay that way.

Source: Flight International