French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the European Defence Agency has been tasked with drawing up a list of military requirements, with the ultimate goal of creating a “European generation” of drones within 10 years.
Some Europeans fear they are falling behind in an area that may determine military aviation’s future. Many aerospace experts believe the days of piloted fighter aircraft are numbered. In June, three major European defence contractors — pan-European EADS, Italy’s Finmeccanica and France’s Dassault — called for a concerted effort by Europe to catch up.
What Le Drian called a “club” is open to any European Union nation that operates drones or intends to within five years. The group was established at a meeting of European Union defence ministers in Brussels. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain joined, the European Defence Agency said in an announcement.
During its intervention this year against Islamists in Mali, France relied on U.S. drones as well as refuelling planes. Germany already uses unarmed drones, including the Israeli-built Heron 1 model, for reconnaissance purposes in places such as Afghanistan.
Last summer, German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said his country would work with France to develop a new generation of armed aerial vehicles. “We have a gap in our capabilities that we would like to close,” he said.
The European Defence Agency said it will now consider military requirements, costs, technological capabilities and other factors, and draft a report that could become the basis of a European drone program.