A european drone by 2025?

A european drone by 2025?

The View from Italy and Spain on EUROMALE

By Alessandro MARRONE / Senior Fellow, IAI & Felix ARTEAGA / Senior Analyst, Real Instituto Elcano


In May 2015, Italy agreed with France and Germany the launch of a definition study for a weaponized MALE RPAS which would able to carry out both ISR missions, target acquisition and engagement. Spain joined the group in December 2015. This cooperative effort is in principle open to other participants, following agreement of common operational requirements, and Poland could be an interesting new partner considering its planned investments on RPAS. The Italian Ministry of

Defence will bear 23 per cent of the EUROMALE costs, namely 13.8 million euro, similar to French and Spanish MoDs, and supported the decision to task OCCAR to manage a 2‐ year long contract for the EUROMALE definition study. The contract is supposed to be assigned to a consortium of European industries including Airbus, Dassault and Finmeccanica. However the industrial agreement is not yet entirely defined. But cooperative programs are not easy to manage as particular goals of the partners use to diverge even if there are only four members as in the European MALE RPAS in this phase.


The “italian way”

Firstly, EUROMALE it is a cooperative effort including two of the three EU member states to which Italy traditionally looks to for defence cooperation, namely France and Germany. Italy wants to remain engaged with the largest military spenders and DTIBs in Europe, despite budgetary constraints caused in recent years by both economic stagnation and austerity measures. Italy assumes that the establishment of effective cooperation is possible only within a small group of like-minded countries, whereby high operational requirements would be set up without lowering the ambition to the minimum common denominator among a larger group.

What is more, the “transaction costs” are reduced in terms of time and complexity of negotiations with partners.

One more feature of the Italian way to defence cooperation reflected in the EUROMALE programme is the importance attached to the industrial return for the national DTIB. In 2013, Italian aerospace, defence and security industry had a turnover of roughly 15 billion euro and directly employed around 50.000 personnel (plus the indirect employment), while its 2014 export amounted to 2.9 billion of euro. It is therefore obvious Rome’s defence industrial policy looks to maintain such DTIB also through national procurement, European cooperation and export support. In this equation, cooperative programs like EUROMALE play a fundamental role as the only tool to achieve the necessary critical mass of investments in cutting edge technologies, by ensuring participating countries such as Italy will keep pace with US competitors. Moreover, if properly managed, this cooperative programs could help to set European standards, which are absolutely needed to avoid a market fragmentation which will in the end damage all European industries in favor of American competitors relying on a much larger internal market. 


Spanish great expectations

The program would permit Spanish Armed Forces to acquire a strategic/operational capability able to match their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance requirements (long distance, autonomy, permanence and flexibility). The participation would also permit Spanish industry to assess the maturity of the European technologies and to take advantage of the European MALE experience in order to reinforce the national technological and industrial base supporting the lower categories of RPAS (Classes I/II). Such categories offer better opportunities for the Spanish industry to find niches of excellence and open civil and military markets than the upper ones.


The decision to continue with the development and production of the system is contingent upon many factors. On the one hand, the rapid pace of technological change threatens the results of long‐term research programs applied to the military systems. On the other hand, warfare needs change faster than ever, thus co‐operative programs run the risk of delivering military systems to the battlefield too late, and with little military utility. Therefore, the potential cutting‐edge technology of the future European MALE RPAS is key to compete with third countries for external markets. That factor will determine the number of RPAS to be acquired for each State member, pooled among them or delivered to third customers.


As Spain expects some technological returns for its industrial base, the decision to continue with the development phase will be based mainly on the potential spin‐offs of the project for the lower spectrum of RPAS systems. In this respect, the possibility should also be considered that other non‐European competitors may offer significant offsets to European industries at that time. Financing will be another factor to be considered. In times of austerity for the military budgets decisions will have to be costand‐risk based. Together with governments and industries it would be convenient to involve the some common funding of the European Union to support the research and development phase. RPAS are considered a CSDP priority for the Council. In addition, the Commission, together with European Defence Agency, are exploring new ways of financing security and defence research and development programs with high impact on the European civil technological and industrial base. Thus their implication in the European MALE RPAS project would make sense.

Although it is expected that the first system will be delivered in 2025, previous experiences suggest expecting a longer period of delivery and a bigger cost. As in other co‐operative programs in the past, delays in the deliveries and cost increases encourage partners and customers to abandon programs, which in turn further complicates cooperation.


A European perspective

In recent years Italy has devoted increasing attention to dual‐use technologies and products, because of the economies of scales possible by pooling defence, security and civilian users of the same item, of the technological advancements out of the defence sector, of the EU funding for dual‐use research, and because of the fact investments in dual technologies are less exposed to criticisms by domestic public opinion than purely military spending. In this context, EUROMALE has to first and foremost satisfy the armed forces’ needs, but its use for border control and security‐relate purpose is positively seen by Rome. It would enlarge the pool of buyers to national law enforcement agencies in Europe and EU institutions, thus increasing the economies of scale and decreasing unitary costs. To this end, the work on regulatory and technical issues related to the flight into non‐segregated airspaces is crucial.


When it comes to defence cooperation Italy tends to keep in mind the European perspective, and to frame its national interests in a way compatible with the European one. Rome has traditionally been a supporter of European defence cooperation and integration, and the 2015 White Book establishes a clear priority and political mandate in this regard. Accordingly, EUROMALE is considered instrumental to pursue European interests in three main ways: first, by equipping armed forces in Europe with an adequate and common platform which they can operate, maintain and upgrade together and autonomously; second, by ensuring EU strategic autonomy from non‐European suppliers in this crucial field; third, by enabling EDTIB to compete in the growing RPAS world market.


European MALE RPAS may deliver a critical ISR capability to the Spanish Armed Forces, given the challenges that insurgency and jihadist combatants are posing in North Africa and the Middle East. Spain as an EU and NATO border country will have to resort to MALE RPAS in order to answer those challenges. A common European platform would increase the interoperability of European Armed Forces as well as develop new CSDP pooling & sharing opportunities. Nevertheless, the participation in the European MALE RPAS program will be conducted under strict political and social monitoring, in order to make sure that operational and technical goals are properly achieved.

In a period when European defence cooperation is flagging, with no successors of large scale cooperative programmes such as Eurofighter and NH90, EUROMALE is one of the few real mini‐lateral investments on the future of armed forces and DTIB on the Old Continent. As such, it is as important for Italy as it is for Europe.