“Why not a EuroDrone?”

By Fabrizio Gualdesi
posted on March 24, 2014 in Leadership, Security/Intelligence

Fabrizio Gualdesi outlines the economic and practical advantages and challenges to a common European Drone program.

It goes without saying that drones are not the latest toys for grown ups but the next big business of the Defence Industry. In 2012 the world market grew up to 7 billion dollars. Within seven years it is estimated to grow up to 130 billion dollars. Today, about 70 countries own them – at least 16 European - and their cost is relatively low (5 million dollars) compared to a Jet Fighter (more than 60).

However, while in 2000 the US expenditure was already 284 million dollars, in Europe we barely spoke about them. Despite active European companies in Germany (EADS-Cassidian), France (Dassault Aviation) and Italy (Alenia Aermacchi, Piaggio Aero and Selex ES), at this stage, most drones are still bought outside the EU, predominantly from the two major industry leaders: the United States and Israel.

The European industry is seeking to enter the market and is continuously considering joint ventures to build a “European Drone”, most likely a “MALE” (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) model. A European program, framed under the Common Security and Defence Policy, would be essential in terms of costs sharing and would be very useful in defining a common strategy for their use. However such a decision faces 3 major obstacles.

Firstly, some members states, like the UK, still consider NATO the only platform for military defence spending and planning, keeping the EU has a complementary option. The United States mainly use drones in counter-terrorism actions - would the EU be able to use them in any common mission?

Secondly, defence remains a topic that we still considerably tend to approach on a national level. In 2011 the Italian and German Defence ministries signed a memorandum on the drones, however in 2013 Germany signed an agreement with France who in turn already signed two agreements with Great Britain. Last November seven EU countries (France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain) signed a "letter of intent" tasking the European Defence Agency to study a joint production of a MALE craft. If we want to build something together, we should start working together.

Thirdly, it is a problem that, as mentioned, some countries already bought many drones from the US, which would add up to those eventually produced in Europe, doubling their costs in obtaining a proper fleet. Therefore, if a European production could suffice, Europeans could stop buying drones from outside the EU as this practice also has its flaws. Some countries (Italy) lamented that the US did not deliver the kits for arming the drones they bought. Other countries, such as Germany lost half a billion euros when bought the Global Hawks since the Americans did not deliver the codes to have them flying in European skies.

Only time will tell whether Member States will decide to use the EU or NATO as a common platform to develop a European drone or whether they will continue buying from abroad.