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Drones High on Agenda for Upcoming EU Defense Ministers' Meeting

Nov. 14, 2013 - 02:12PM   |  
By JULIAN HALE   |   Comments
Establishing a fleet for air-to-air refueling capabilities is one area in which EU defense ministers will be making recommendations ahead of a December EU summit.
Establishing a fleet for air-to-air refueling capabilities is one area in which EU defense ministers will be making recommendations ahead of a December EU summit. (US Air Force)
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BRUSSELS — The subject of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) will be one major point of discussion by EU defense ministers at a Nov. 19 meeting that will focus on several long-term EU cooperation objectives. The aim of the meeting is to finalize the ministers’ contribution to the summit of EU heads of state and government on defense matters on Dec. 19-20.

At the Nov. 19 meeting, EU defense ministers will be asked to commit to launching programs and roadmaps for RPASs to lay the foundations for a European solution in the 2020-2025 time frame. They also will deal with establishing air-to-air refueling capabilities to create a multinational fleet by 2019; government satellite communications to prepare the next generation of satellites by around 2025; and will grapple with cyberdefense, focusing on technology, training and protecting EU assets.

Other highlights include discussion on research and innovation, certification, and the assessment of a pooling and sharing code of conduct.

Letter of intent

A European Defence Agency source said the objective of the RPAS initiative is not to develop the next generation of medium-altitude, long-endurance RPASs, but for EU defense ministers from France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain to sign a letter of intent to establish a “European MALE RPAS User Community.” Given that the number of RPASs in Europe is limited and fragmented among different member states, the EDA proposes setting up a user community for RPASs that are currently operated or will achieve initial operating capability within five years.

The aim is to exchange information and facilitate cooperation among EU member states that operate such systems in order to streamline resources; to exchange operational experience and best practices of operating MALE RPAS; and to identify cooperation opportunities regarding training, logistics and maintenance of similar assets.

In parallel, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK are due to sign a joint investment program to insert RPASs into regular airspace. This will take the form of a regulatory framework and development of sense-and-avoid technologies. No budget has been agreed yet.

“The objective is to enable RPAS insertion into non-segregated airspace by 2016,” said an EDA source, but “that may take until 2020.”

In a related move, EU defense ministers will be asked to sign a political declaration on certification and airworthiness. Here, the EDA is suggesting tasks for itself that include developing the European framework needed to support the certification of military RPASs, and using experience gained from military airworthiness to develop European military requirements in other areas.

“A harmonised approach for certification across EU member states is crucial for reducing development costs and the efficient management of new programmes,” writes the EDA in a background paper.

Satellite Communications

Defense ministers also will be asked to approve a roadmap for government satellite communications. The existing five constellations of satellite communications, owned by France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, will be out of service in the next five to 10 years. The EDA’s plan for now is to increase cooperation among these countries and set up a “community of users” to prepare the next generation of satellite communications by around 2025.

Air-to-Air Refueling

The EDA wants to establish a multinational fleet for air-to-air refueling by 2019. EDA members Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands (lead country), Poland, Portugal and Spain, plus non-member Norway, signed a letter of intent to do this in November 2012.

Research and Innovation

The EDA will also propose that EU defense ministers back the defense industry in Europe, including small and medium enterprises, by supporting research and innovation in Europe through the prioritization of investment in critical defense technologies.

Given the need for better situational awareness in increasingly complex environments, the EDA is proposing a joint investment program on Joint Advanced Networking in Urban Scenarios, which would be launched in 2014 to demonstrate improvements in command-and-inform capabilities by applying future information technologies. A senior official said, “better access to dual- use research under the EU’s Horizon 2020 program” would be discussed by EU defense ministers as “the potential for dual use is huge.”

Pooling and Sharing

With regard to the EDA’s code of conduct on pooling and sharing, which EU defense ministers signed in November 2012, the EDA will recommend that EU countries share with the EDA the timelines of their national defense reviews and their procurement and modernization plans; the impact of budget cuts so they can plan how to pool capabilities that are near or below necessary levels; and that pooling and sharing in training, maintenance, logistics and support be maximized.

“There is awareness that not even France and the UK are able to acquire the capabilities they need individually,” said an EDA source. “The idea is to get pooling and sharing into their DNA.”

Referring to the NH90 helicopter as an example, he said that the idea is “to get member states to see if they can achieve economies of scale to keep 23 variants of the helicopter flying.”

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