MALE RPAS Eurodrone
The Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) signed the Eurodrone global contract on 25 February 2022, which includes the development and manufacturing of 20 systems and 5 years of initial in-service support. Airbus Defence and Space GmbH signed the deal in representation of the three Major Sub-Contractors (MSC) Airbus Defence and Space S.A.U in Spain, Dassault Aviation in France and Leonardo S.p.A. in Italy, while OCCAR signed on behalf of the four launch nations: Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
“This signature kicks-off the development of one of the most ambitious European defence programmes,” said Mike Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Eurodrone is the result of collaborative work between the industry, OCCAR and the nations. It will deliver the most advance Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in its segment, generate more than 7,000 high-tech jobs within the industry and will strengthen European industrial sovereignty, know-how and collaboration between nations.”
The Eurodrone is primarily intended to meet the requirements of airborne, imaging and signaling reconnaissance and surveillance. It will have electro-optical sensors as well as infrared and RADAR, and will be used to support ground troops with high precision and speed of reaction. The euro drone will be an unmanned aerial vehicle that can operate at medium altitude for a long time. The conclusion of the contract was planned for 2021, so that the first Euro drones can probably be delivered in 2029. The Bundeswehr currently uses the Israeli Heron 1 system for airborne and imaging reconnaissance and surveillance. The more powerful Heron TP will replace its predecessor in the future.
With a planned 21 units, Germany is currently the largest buyer of the new reconnaissance drone. With the Euro drone, Europe will have its own competencies in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles and thus strengthen European sovereignty through an independent technological basis. To further leverage synergy effects in future use, the project is also part of PESCOPermanent structured cooperation(Permanent Structured Cooperation; in German: Permanent Structured Cooperation) of the European Commission. The common approach in the multinational “Eurodrohne” project not only saves costs and increases efficiency, it also promotes European cooperation in the field of security and defense.
The Eurodrone venture involving France, Germany, Italy and Spain was announced in 2015 as a way for European countries to reduce their reliance on American-made Reaper drones. Pan-European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is the main manufacturer of the planned medium altitude and long range vehicle, with the participation of French Dassault Aviation and Italian Leonardo. But disputes over the cost of the drone delayed the official start of development and manufacture. The four governments have set a budget of 7.1 billion euros ($ 8.4 billion) to acquire 63 Eurodrones, spread over three operating systems.
The European MALE RPAS (Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) will be operated worldwide to especially support ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions. The MALE RPAS is the first unmanned aerial system designed for flight in non-segregated airspace and will be capable of performing a range of missions in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, both wide area and in theatre. A twin-turboprop propulsion system will deliver energy for the mission system and provide proper redundancy to limit restrictions when operating over European densely populated ground and unrestricted airspaces.
The first step of the Programme is a 2 years Definition Study to define the baseline specifications/design for the future MALE RPAS. The design-to-cost activity will provide the basis for full development, affordable to the Participating States, and optimising operational performance. The two major milestones of the Definition Study are a System Requirement Review (SRR) and a System Preliminary Design Review (SPDR). The SPDR will demonstrate the quality and fitness for purpose of the proposed design. Especially, Air Traffic Integration (ATI) and certification of the MALE RPAS is a key objective of the Programme. This will give the Participating States full confidence that the Development step can be launched with acceptable residual risks.
Preparation for the potential next steps (Development, Production including initial ISS) would be part of the activities during the second year of the Definition Study. In August 2016, the MALE RPAS Programme was integrated into OCCAR and the Definition Study contract was signed on 26 August 2016. The Participating States endorsed in July 2017 the baseline configuration “twin-engine turboprop” for the further Definition Study activities. Further, in January 2018, the SRR was passed and accepted by OCCAR-EA.
The requirements and specifications for a project had been negotiated and aligned between the end-users (Germany, Spain, France and Italy) and the contracting authority (OCCAR), as well as on the industrial side with all major participating industry partners (Dassault Aviation, Leonardo and Airbus Spain), before an offer for full development and production had been submitted and a contract had been awarded. The industrial partners organised into a co-contracting group successfully passed the system’s Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in November 2018. So for the first time, the requirements and specifications for a project had been negotiated and aligned between the end-users (Germany, Spain, France and Italy) and the contracting authority (OCCAR), as well as on the industrial side with all major participating industry partners (Dassault Aviation, Leonardo and Airbus Spain), before an offer for full development and production had been submitted and a contract had been awarded.
On 29 May 2019, Airbus Defence and Space Germany has submitted its offer for OCCAR’s European MALE RPAS programme. The offer comes with an extraordinary setup of the programme, which will provide the European Nations with an unmanned aerial system with outstanding capabilities, and will grant them, and the European industry, the sovereignty they need and deserve. In its offer, Airbus committed to a very challenging timeline for the development, enabling customers to enter into service already in 2027, based on a timely development start. Contract negotiations are ongoing.
The MALE RPAS will be designed to become one of the main pillars of any future combat air system, prepared for real integration into civil airspace based on minimal restrictions and easy transportability due to its modular design. All anticipated roles, whether for homeland operations, ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) or even armed ISTAR, can be conducted with full operational sovereignty and, thanks to its anticipated design, there will be superior growth potential for the future.
The MALE RPAS programme is seen as a ‘lighthouse’ program, not only within Airbus, but also for the entire aeronautics industry in Europe and shall be the basis for future defence progammes, such as the Future Combat Air System.
Airbus will apply a Digital Design, Manufacturing and Service (DDMS) system that will not only pave the way for significant improvements to development times and cost reductions, but will increase quality at the same time. DDMS will also be the backbone of an advanced logistics concept that will be set up so that training can start during the development phase and be fully rolled out for initial in-service support.
Meeting on Wednesday June 26, 2019, under the chairmanship of Mr. Christian Cambon, Chairman, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and the Armed Forces examined the report on Bill 558 (2018- 2019) authorizing the ratification of the treaty between the French Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany on Franco-German cooperation and integration. Christian Cambon, president, observed "regarding the MALE drone - medium altitude long endurance -, an area in which our dependence on American REAPER drones is obvious, Franco-German cooperation has been launched, alongside Spain and Italy, the objective being to reach a global contract in 2019. France denounces since the beginning of this project a problem of “obesity”, because of the German specifications. With two engines and a weight of ten tons, this drone will be too heavy, too expensive and therefore difficult to export. We need this drone in Mali and in the Adrar des Ifoghas massif, the Germans, for their part, want to carry out urban surveillance over their territory. So they want two engines for safety reasons, the drone cannot crash into a city."
France is convinced that an agreement on the development of a joint European military drone project will be signed this year, after the conclusion of difficult price negotiations with manufacturers, the defense ministry said on 16 September 2020. “Some small details” have yet to be worked out, but “we are rather optimistic about this project”, said an official of the Minister of Defense Florence Parlysaid the office.
On 03 February 2021, the governing parties joined forces with the CDU Christian Democratic Union / CSU Christian Social Union and SPD Social Democratic Party of Germany and agreed to contractually support the development of the Euro drone. "The industrial contract does not include arming the Euro drone," said the coalition committee's paper. The Federal Ministry of Defense also emphasizes that development and production will take place predominantly in Germany. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on 16 April 2021 : "Thanks to the Bundestag for agreeing to #Eurodrohne . With the euro drone, we will strengthen the European ability to act and European technology. At the same time, I will continue to advocate armed drones to protect our soldiers."
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