Italy, France and Germany agreed on Monday to develop a European drone programme for reconnaissance and surveillance, seeking to inject momentum into a proposal first considered in 2013 to reduce reliance on U.S. and Israeli technology.
In a joint signing ceremony, the defense ministers of the three countries pledged a two-year study to lay the basis for a European drone to be operating by 2025 and said Spain and Poland had expressed interest in joining the plan.
“This signing for the implementation of a Eurodrone is a very important step for European cooperation. First of all, because it is a critical asset which we must have at our disposal in many theatres of operation, and its control requires independence,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said alongside his German and Italian counterparts on the sidelines of an EU foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
“And so the fact that we are engaging together in this way is, I believe, quite significant,” Le Drian added.
After false starts at the national level, the three countries appear ready to cooperate on research into drone technologies. Competing national needs, corporate rivalry and a lack of government support have undermined past efforts.
Airbus, Dassault and Alenia Aermacchi are likely to develop the drones.
Large drones operated by European armed forces are mostly based on U.S. or Israeli designs, creating a dependence on foreign technology that some European companies and officials see as bad for European industry and military capabilities.
“We lay today the cornerstone for a Eurodrone. We think it’s important that we have the know-how for a reconnaissance drone in Europe so that we bring the latest technology in Europe and develop this key capability independently. This makes us, Europeans, independent. The goal of the Eurodrone is that Europeans can themselves decide what we scout for, where we use the Eurodrone and how we use it,” German Defence Minister Ursula Von Leyden said.
The EU’s aim is to develop a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) drone, a category that can fly at an altitude of up to 9,000 metres for 24 hours.
It wants a flexible surveillance drone that could be used for civilian purposes such as border control, fire-fighting and disaster monitoring. One EU diplomat said they could also have a military role, carrying weapons