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Eurodrone Arrives

23 April 2021

After gaining approval of the Bundestag on 14 April 2021, the Eurodrone contract between Airbus, OCCAR, and the four Member States, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy will be signed in the coming weeks. (Machi, 2020). The signing of the contract would be a great step forward for the German and European defence industry regarding remote operations and technical interoperability between Member States.

This European drone has been developed through several years of studies by each client state to prepare for its development. The Eurodrone will carry out long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions with different payload capabilities (Dassault Aviation, 2021).

Among other goals, the Eurodrone programme is dedicated to thinking about the future of previous drones and cooperation between European armies. We remember the nEURon, a European stealth combat demonstrator that allowed six European countries to work together between 2006 and 2016. Today, the Eurodrone will distinguish itself from previous generations by its innovative and specific capabilities.

The German Bundestag approved a budget of €3 billion for the development of this drone. Airbus Defence and Space (DS) CEO Dirk Hoke notably said: “This is an important milestone towards a contract in the next few weeks and it is even more important for the German and the European defence industry as it is ensuring sovereignty in important capabilities and it is paving an important roadmap towards a Future Combat Air System (FCAS) that will definitely change … European defence procurement and strategy. [I am now] looking forward to the contract signature”. The MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) drone programme, also called MALE2020, is led by Airbus in partnership with Leonardo and Dassault Aviation (Reuters, 2021).

The Eurodrone has impressive characteristics. It will be more than 15 meters long, and the space between its wings will be 30 meters. It will be able to fly for more than 24 hours at more than 13,000 meters. Its cruising speed is 500km/h, and it has a payload of over 2 tonnes.  In addition, the drone will be equipped with new logistical tools. It will be able to carry weapons, although this point is widely discussed (Sprenger, 2020).

The French, German, Spanish, and Italian armies will receive their respective drones via this contract. For example, the German army will receive 21 drones, including 12 control stations and four simulators. Deliveries of the Eurodrone should start in 2030.

At Germany’s request, the Eurodrone will have two turboprop engines. Moreover, its storage capacity will be five times greater than that of the American MQ-9 Reaper. However, given the renewal of the American MQ-9 and the late arrival of the Eurodrone (2030), one wonders whether it will be continuously updated to technological developments and, therefore, to new upcoming threats.

The new American drone in preparation which is supposed to operate in more contested airspace thanks to its performance and stealth, is planned to arrive at the end of the decade: the same time as the Eurodrone. While the advantages of the Eurodrone will still be highly valued in 2028/2030, small technological benefits can be substantial and make a difference in a conflict theatre. Therefore, it would be interesting to already think about a replacement or improvement of the Eurodrone in the years to come, as technologies continue to develop.

The German Parliament gave the green light to the programme last week. (Jennings, 2021). It must be noted that this drone programme had some difficulties in getting off the ground. This drone programme was first proposed in 2013. It was the subject of numerous negotiations between the manufacturers involved and between the four European state clients, notably on the cost of the Eurodrone. A first offer from the prime contractor Airbus, close to €10 billion, had fairly exasperated the client states in early 2019. The 60 Eurodrone aircraft ordered to date will be assembled in Manching, Germany, to keep costs down.

In Germany, the decision to join the drone programme follows a long debate in the German parliament on whether to arm the German army’s military drones. Within the Bundestag, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democrats were clearly against the idea of an armed drone in the months before the development of the drone was authorised.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said she would continue to push for armed drones, even though the German parliament insisted on the Eurodrone to remain unarmed for the time being. It has to be noted that the Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology, and In-Service Support of the Bundeswehr will control the costs related to the Eurodrone project (Sprenger, 2021).

Thus, it can be observed that the Eurodrone project has given rise to debates on whether to arm drones within the armed forces, as shown by the debates in the German parliament (Wachs, 2020). Unlike German opinion, France is not against it. The French Air Force Chief of Staff, General Philippe Lavigne, recalled that if the Reaper drone was adapted to the needs of today, the EuroMALE “should be adapted to those of tomorrow”, which included the Eurodrone capacity to be armed.

The European Defence Agency will be responsible for assisting the insertion of the Eurodrone into air traffic, its airworthiness and certification.

One of the main criticisms levelled at the Eurodrone programme remains the timetable, which Paris and Berlin had chosen. They are aiming for the drones to enter service between 2035 and 2040. Nevertheless, the companies involved in the project have already made it known on several occasions that, due to the technology required and the scale of the project, the planned deadlines could certainly not be met (Tran, 2021).

It remains to be stressed that the use of the Eurodrone within the European armies will be beneficial to the European defence effort and is essential to make up for the low technological capabilities of the European forces in terms of volume that continue to be created. For example, in 2030, the French army will still be supplied with aircraft and tanks designed in the 1980s-1990s. Therefore, the Eurodrone has a clear advantage and utility. Still, the question is: will the Eurodrone be equal to its competitors and the challenges to come in the current and future theatres of conflict?

Finally, it should be noted that the Eurodrone could be declined in a maritime surveillance version. Indeed, the French Navy is looking to monitor and protect strategic areas from the air. The Eurodrone and its new capabilities, as well as its great autonomy, could be of interest.

Written by Antoine DECQ, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre


Dassault Aviation, ‘Eurodrone’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 22, 2021].

Jennings, Garreth, (2021). ‘Germany agrees Eurodrone contract’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 21, 2021].

Machi, Vivienne, (2020). ‘Airbus prepares for ‘Eurodrone” contract signing in early 2021’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 22, 2021].

Reuters. ‘Germany backs 3 bln euro contract european military drone’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 21, 2021].

Sprenger, Sebastian, (2020). ‘German French defense ministers push for Eurodrone progress’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 22, 2021].

Sprenger, Sebastian, (2021). ‘German defense minister vows to keep fighting for armed drones’. [online] Available at: [Accessed: April 21, 2021].

Tran, Pierre, (2021). ‘Airbus led eurodrone project moves ahead’. [online] Available at:  [Accessed: April 21, 2021].

Wachs, Lydia, (2020). ‘The Latecomer: Germany’s Debate on Armed Drones’. [online] Available at:[Accessed: April 21, 2021].