The Eurodrone program, Europe’s first common unmanned aerial system (UAS), could take off in the next few months “once Spain is officially onboard”, said a top official involved in the design of what is believed to be a cutting-edge drone.
The Eurodrone program is a four-nation program between Germany, France, Spain, and Italy and is managed by the international armament agency, OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d’Armement).
This agency is responsible for promoting and managing cooperation between European countries in the fields of defense and security. Being a four-nation program, the development, procurement, and operation will all be conducted jointly, thus saving costs and increasing efficiency.
It will be a twin-engine, medium-altitude, long-range (MALE) drone and is expected to have a length of 16 m, a height of 6 m, and a wingspan of 26 m, according to military magazine Janes.
Airbus Germany, Dassault Aviation, Leonardo, and Airbus Spain are the industry partners representing Germany, France, Italy, and Spain respectively, in the Eurodrone program.
The Eurodrone has been designed in a way that it can form the foundation of future combat air systems as it is prepared for real-time integration into civil airspaces with minimal restrictions. It also has a modular design thus making it easy to transport.
Airbus Germany is the primary contractor of the Eurodrone program and is responsible for the flight management and the air-space integration system while Airbus Spain will build fuselage and empennage systems, the ground safety-critical control system, tactical communication assets, and the engine and fuel systems.
Dassault Aviation will have the responsibility to develop the safe flight and landing system, mission communication, the air central maintenance system, and the ground and mobile central maintenance systems.
Leonardo, on the other hand, will develop the wing, along with the airborne electrical and environmental control system, the airborne mission system, and the airborne armament system.
EuroMALE is the first unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed for flight in non-segregated airspace. Characteristics will include mission modularity for operational superiority in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. #ILA2018 https://t.co/IB9PMquFR1 pic.twitter.com/YY3S1GQ2lY
— Airbus Defence (@AirbusDefence) April 26, 2018
The final assembly will be done in Manching, Germany, as announced by Airbus in 2020, Defense News reported.
The design of the Eurodrone is going to provide it with multi-mission capabilities for conducting several homeland operations such as intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and combat mission, as claimed by Airbus.
Eurodrone Contract To Be Signed Soon
In her speech at Airbus’s annual Trade Media Briefing on November 30, Daniela Lohwasser, chief Eurodrone engineer for Airbus Defence and Space, said the deal could be signed in the “next couple of months”, as soon as all the four partner nations have concluded their review processes.
“We have the green light from Germany, from Italy and from France, and we are in the waiting phase, basically every day now, on Spain”, Lohwasser said. “Once Madrid is officially on board, it will take maybe a couple of months more until we will be ready to finally go for the full contract signatures,” she added.
Airbus previously believed that the contract would be signed in early 2021. Once the contract is fully signed, the industry partners are going to face an extremely tight schedule with the preliminary design review in the next 18 months, the first flight by the next five years, and the delivery of the first aircraft by the year 2029.
However, the signing of this contract is not the only big step in the way, Airbus is yet to decide which engine is going to power the Eurodrone and is in process of evaluating the proposals from two vendors for building 120 propulsion systems.
“We are working on the finalization of the last offers. … The plan is that right after contract signature, we will announce the engine bidder, but not before,” Lohwasser said.
According to Lohwasser, the Eurodrone will be powered by two engines as she noted that while a twin-engine configuration increases the up-front costs, there will be less maintenance required in the upcoming years, thus reducing lifecycle costs. “We are seeing more and more unmanned vehicles with twin engines…I would say this is going to become the new market normal,” she said.
The Eurodrone program is going to open up over 7,000 jobs across its partner nations. In Spain and Germany, Airbus has announced plans of employing more than 1,000 new personnel specifically for the Eurodrone project.
While the partner nations for this program at present are Germany, Spain, France, and Italy, Airbus believes that more countries will join once the formal contract is signed. The four nations have ordered 20 systems including two ground stations and three aircraft which ensures uninterrupted operation with one drone in the air, one in maintenance, and one ready for takeoff at all times.
Lohwasser also said that each individual system is going to comprise five stations for supporting weapons packages, additional fuel tanks, or other capabilities according to the countries’ individual needs. “Whatever they will choose, the weapon systems are not part of this development”, Lohwasser said. “What we are doing is … building provisions so that if later on, somebody wants to deploy something, it is possible,” she maintained.
Pointing out the Eurodrone’s ability to fly in civil airspaces, Daniel Lohwasser said, “We don’t have to go for detours to ensure that we reach this and that emergency location”.
“Because of the high reliability and robustness, we can do direct flight path planning — this saves fuel and in the end, even CO2 emissions,” she further explained.