In early December, European arms procurement agency OCCAR formally issued the go-ahead for the European Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance Remotely-Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS, known informally as the Eurodrone). The notification follows the successful conclusion of negotiations in mid-November between OCCAR and Airbus Defence and Space (Germany), which is the prime contractor on the four-nation industrial effort. With the contract conditions, prices, and performance specifications now established, national procurement processes are currently underway in the four nations participating in the program, which are France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The Stage 2 full development and production contract is expected in early 2021, provided that the national processes are completed without issues.
Airbus Germany, along with sub-contractors Airbus Spain, Dassault, and Leonardo representing the other Programme Participating States (PPS), submitted their Best and Final Offer on November 18, encompassing development, production, and a five-year initial servicing and support element, with a total contract duration of 13 years. Included in the pricing is the production of 20 full Eurodrone systems. Each system comprises three air vehicles and ground segments. The current split of PPS's requirements comprises seven systems for Germany, five for Italy, and four each for France and Spain.
Airbus, Dassault, and Alenia (now Leonardo) mooted a “EuroMALE” RPAS in 2014, but it was not until August 26, 2016, that a two-year definition study was launched under the auspices of OCCAR. A system requirement review was concluded in January 2018, a full-scale mock-up was presented at the ILA show in Berlin in April the same year, and a system preliminary design review was passed in November, around the time that Airbus was invited to tender for the Stage 2 contract.
Eurodrone is a twin-engined design, with the powerplant selection currently in the competitive phase. The system is being developed using a fully digital design, manufacturing, and services (DDMS) concept. It is the first of its kind in Europe and, as such, the Eurodrone is acting as a technology pathfinder for the larger FCAS program.
DDMS discards the traditional sequential development path in favor of non-linear development, in which elements such as manufacturing processes and maintenance requirements—traditionally considered at the later stages of development—are included from the outset. As part of this approach, the team is using virtual engineering to identify inconsistencies at an early stage of the process. The team is establishing identical linked system plateaus at each of the four main development sites for concurrency.
Separate Eurodrone components will be built by each of the contractors and will include fully integrated sub-assemblies, such as complete fuselages being built by Airbus Spain. Final assembly and pre-delivery flight-testing are to be conducted at Manching in Germany. Assuming that the Stage 2 contract is awarded as expected, a first flight is scheduled to take place there in 2025, with deliveries slated to begin in 2028.