“Europe is going to get there, but it requires some investment,” Teal Group’s Phil Finnegan said at the air show just before the EADS-BAE talks emerged. “So far, Europe has really relied on imported technology.”
Suppliers in Europe would be at the ready if a new drone ever takes off, but caution that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.
MTU Aero Engines and Italy’s Avio Group agreed earlier this year to explore opportunities related to propulsion systems for medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs and combat drones.
“This is a move forward to demonstrate here we are, we are prepared to do something, but there is no programme, no programme in sight to develop a UAV in larger volumes that requires specific engine technology,” MTU Chief Executive Egon Behle said at ILA.
And Diehl Defence, which was at one point hoping to be involved in the Talarion project, is still looking at providing weapons capability for any European UAV project.
“There is no research programme as such, but we are looking at concepts. It wouldn’t be advisable to think about it only when the definitive decision has been taken,” Managing Director Claus Guenter said.
EADS CEO Tom Enders said this week he was pretty confident some progress would be made in coming years, but for now the German Bundeswehr plans to start using the Euro Hawk, made by Northrop Grumman and EADS’s Cassidian.
The Euro Hawk, which was also on display at the Berlin air show, will make its first test flights in Germany later this year, once it has received the necessary certifications, and Enders said he hoped it would come into use in 2013.
The Bundeswehr has leased three Heron drones, which it is expected to keep until 2014 and is considering buying some U.S.-built Predator B drones, which can carry weapons as well as perform reconnaissance. An alternative could be procurement of the Heron TP.
Overall, the Bundeswehr plans to procure 16 UAVs in the long run.