The troubled EuroMALE UAV, currently being given the last rights by EADS, should serve as an example to future collaborative European UAV projects of how quickly things can go wrong, how rapidly technology changes and why narrow national interests, particularly if the French are involved, will nearly always prevail over wider European co-operation.
The rapid emergence of UAVs as an essential part of integrated military operations effectively caught the European Aerospace industry unawares and ill-prepared to produce designs capable of competing with Israeli and in particular American designs. In June 2004, in an attempt to rapidly catch up, the French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie launched the EuroMALE demonstrator programme, which intended to combine the differing capabilities of French industry rivals such as Dassault Aviation, EADS-France, Sagem and Thales. The programme was open to other countries and the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Turkey and Switzerland all expressed interest, but unsurprisingly the specification was tailored to meet a French Air Force requirement for a MALE UAV that could provide strategic and theatre reconnaissance, intelligence collection and communications support. This required a large UAV in the Predator B class with an 85 foot wingspan and able to fly at 44,000 ft with a 24 hour endurance carrying a 1,100 lbs internal payload and capable of also carrying an additional 1,980 lb payload externally on underwing pylons.. The vehicle was named Eagle 2 and was effectively a scaled-up version of the IAI Heron.
Unsurprisingly the EuroMALE UAV proposal moved forward at a snails pace and, although they had initially expressed an interest in participating in the programme, many European countries quietly began to develop UAVs of their own, tailored to their requirements, rather than to those of France. In addition, these countries also became concerned about the amount of Israeli technology involved and believed their own aerospace industries would gain more benefit by developing the technology themselves, particularly the necessary mission software and began to actively promote their own solutions. Meanwhile, France had already decided to purchase an interim MALE UAV from EADS, the Eagle 1, a derivative of the IAI Heron UAV fitted with avionics, sensors and communications provided by EADS. Gradually the planned demonstration date of the EuroMALE started to slip and the projected costs increased, confirming in many countries the idea of going for a smaller vehicle, around the size of the Predator A. Some countries even began negotiating with the USA on a possible purchase of the Predator A UAV.
By the 2006 Farnborough International Air Show it was obvious that the EuroMALE was effectively dead and Franceís plan to lead various other countries in this programme had been scuppered. Itís unlikely that any new European MALE UAV programme will emerge for some time. Instead itís likely that a whole raft of different proposals will emerge for collaborative programmes but, whatever the eventual outcome, itís unlikely that France will be able to impose their national proposals on other nations. Meanwhile, despite all the problems with the Euromale, NATO's premier aerospace think tank, the Joint Air Power Competency Centre (JAPCC) have recently stated that they believe that NATO has a requirement for 50 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs and 20 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs. The JAPCC believes that these UAVs will need to be acquired by the end of 2009 by a collaborative acquisition, but given the history of the Euromale, I imagine almost every NATO member state is already planning how to tailor their own UAV to meet this requirement, rather than investigating possible collaboration with another country, particularly France.
Updated Jan 2007