A full-scale model of the European medium-altitude long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft system (MALE RPAS) was unveiled at the ILA Berlin airshow today. The design was confirmed as a low-wing, T-tail configuration powered by twin pusher turboprops. Leaders from the three airframe partners “reaffirmed their total commitment” to the long-delayed project.
Airbus (Germany and Spain), Dassault (France), and Leonardo (Italy) are working on a two-year definition study for the Euro-MALE RPAS, which the four nations contracted through the pan-European OCCAR procurement agency in September 2016. But the project’s origins stretch back to 2009 when Airbus predecessor EADS first received government money to study what was then conceived as a twinjet named Talarion.
“This innovative partnership eases the countries’ constrained budgetary situation through clever pooling of research and development funds,” claimed Dirk Hoke, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Unmanned technologies represent one of the key foundations for the future evolution of European defense industries,” said Lucio Valerio Cioffi, managing director of Leonardo’s Aircraft Division.
In an obvious reference to potentially competing MALE UAS solutions from Israel and the U.S., Eric Trappier, chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, said the project would “offer new alternatives to the off-the-shelf acquisition of non-European products…and guarantee the strategic autonomy of Europe.”
OCCAR agreed the twin-turboprop configuration in mid-2017, which the three airframers say will supply ample on-board energy for the mission system and provide proper redundancy to limit restrictions when operating over densely populated areas in Europe. A system preliminary design review (SPDR) is now scheduled for the end of this year. Despite Hoke’s reference to the “urgent capability requirements of Europe’s armed forces,” the Euro-MALE RPAS is not due to enter service until the middle of the next decade.
Although the primary mission is ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance), the new UAV will have an option for the carriage of weapons, according to Hoke.
Separately, four key European suppliers of avionics, communications systems, and sensors said they would combine to offer mission systems for the Euro-MALE RPAS. Elettronica (Italy), Hensoldt (Germany), Indra (Spain), and Thales (France) said they could provide “a coherent ISTAR functional chain.” Thales chairman and CEO Patrice Caine noted the importance to the project of four key digital technologies: artificial intelligence, big data, connectivity, and cybersecurity.