Thus, Italy is working with its local industry and soliciting possible foreign partners on the project. It had been in talks with London and Paris on the endeavor, but the Franco-British strategic defense cooperation agreement signed in 2012 has not produced a clear path forward on the MALE UAV. “As far as we know, this [strategic agreement] is not proceeding very well,” says Alenia Aermacchi CEO Guiseppe Giordo. “So we won't wait for France and the U.K. We are working with other countries.”
As chief of Alenia's top aircraft maker headquartered in Turin, Giordo will be integral to the project. “We have a specification. We are working on the preliminary requirements,” he tells Aviation Week. “We want to be engaged on a new generation of MALE applying our technologies and capability that we have developed.” Specifically, Alenia will draw on work it has done with the Sky-X and Sky-Y demonstrators as well as the six-nation, stealthy Neuron combat UAV demonstrator.
Italian officials are mum about which partners are being considered, though Giordo says, “we can have partners not only in Europe but outside Europe.”
A partnership with Israel, which has extensive experience in UAV work, may be under consideration. Israel agreed to purchase 30 M-346 advanced trainers last year, strengthening the relationship between the two Mediterranean countries. Alenia also has strong ties with Turkey, a possible contender, on various projects, including the U.S.-led F-35.
“We will have a new generation of MALE and we will not stay with the Predator UAV fleet. . . . I am referring to a very coordinated action between the industry and the government,” Giordo says. The new MALE “should be more capable than the Predator, [and] we need to have something [so] that we can be independent from American production.”
Debertolis refers to the project as a “Super MALE,” noting that armed surveillance is a key requirement.
Beyond the MALE project, Giordo agrees with other European executives that there should be a cooperative project in Europe to develop a stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) capable of surveillance and strike. Unlike the MALE project, he says, this combat system should be European in nature. “In the case of the UCAV program, European aeronautical industry should [proceed]. Otherwise there is a danger that . . . we will remain completely in the hands of U.S. companies in terms of new-generation systems.” Such a system would likely be fielded around 2022 at the earliest.
A stealthy UCAV effort is also underway in China. The most advanced program is proceeding in the U.S., where the U.S. Navy's X-47B, made by Northrop Grumman, achieved the first catapult-launch of a low-observable, tailless UAV from an aircraft carrier last week (see page 16).