Europe’s long-awaited Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS) programme has entered the definition phase. The contract has been awarded by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) – the European agency that manages collaborative defence programmes – to Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo. The contract kick-off meeting took place in early September but was officially announced on 28th September.
OCCAR awarded the contract in the name of the four programme participating states: France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The three companies are working together as co-contractors to perform the definition study.
OCCAR and the European Defence Agency (EDA) are cooperating in respect of Air Traffic Insertion of MALE RPAS and the potential participation of other states in future phases of the programme.
Previously known as MALE 2020, MALE RPAS is described as a remotely piloted air system for armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. The first step of the programme is a two-year definition study to define the baseline specifications/design for the future MALE RPAS. The definition study includes both a System Requirement Review (SRR) and a Preliminary Design Review (PDR).
Air traffic integration and certification of the MALE RPAS is a key objective of the programme.
Preparation for the potential next steps (development and production) will be part of the activities to be performed during the second year of the definition study. Following the study, the start of the development phase is planned for 2018, with a prototype first flight in early 2023 and a first delivery of the system in the 2025 timeframe.
Besides being an answer to the European armed forces’ requirements, it will take into account the need to optimize budgetary resources through pooling of research and development funding.
Critical requirements around the certification of drones and sovereignty of operations by Armed Forces are inherently built into the programme from the onset. The programme aims to foster the development of high technologies, as well as sustaining key competencies and jobs within Europe.