Germany, France, Italy and Spain signed Thursday a 7.1-billion-euro contract to build and operate a fleet of surveillance drones, said Airbus, leader of the consortium of defence firms tapped for the project.
Baptised Eurodrone, the twin-motor aircraft with a 30-metre wingspan similar to some commercial planes, will be able to carry out intelligence-gathering, surveillance as well as combat operations.
The remotely-piloted 10-tonne drone, to be built by a consortium lead by Airbus, will be capable of operating for 20 hours and help provide round-the-clock surveillance capability for European nations.
The first Eurodrones are expected to take flight in 2026 and the contract is for 20 systems that include two ground control stations and three drones each.
Eurodrone “will deliver the most advanced Unmanned Aerial System 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,” said Mike Schoellhorn, chief excutive of Airbus’ defence and space subsidiary.
The project, which has already been seven years in development, also includes Italian defence firm Leonardo and France’s Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the Rafale fighter jet.
It was launched in 2015 after several attempts to build a European drone failed to bear fruit. Eurodrone should permit the continent to recover some lost ground in the development of drones and reduce dependence upon the US Reaper and Israeli Heron drones currently in use.