France sees launch of joint European military drone project this year

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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 Wednesday.

“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.

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 goal is for each drone to cost around 160 million euros, well below the 200 million euros per Reaper, with each flight hour costing 3,000 euros instead of 4,000 for the American rival.

“We’re pretty much there,” the ministry official said. “Obviously there are development costs, membership to have a European drone – sovereignty has a cost, not at any cost, but we accept that.

If this materializes this year, the first Eurodrone system would be delivered to Germany in 2027 and to France in 2028.

Thursday, Parly will meet his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer at the French air base at Evreux, in north-western France, to inaugurate a new hangar housing a Franco-German squadron of C130J transport planes.

French officials say squadron is a concrete example of closer military cooperation between EU members pushed by president Emmanuel Macron, who warned that the NATO alliance was “brain dead.”

Parly and Kramp-Karrenbauer will then travel to an Airbus site in Manching, Germany for presentations on the Eurodrone as well as the next generation European fighter aircraft.

The aircraft with its associated technologies, known as the Future Combat Air System, is expected to be operational in about 20 years, after the initial research and development contract was signed earlier this year.



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