ROME — A plan by companies in France, Germany and Italy to launch a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV program will get a boost Monday when defense ministers sign a Declaration of Intent for a two-year definition study.

The defense ministers of the three countries will sign the agreement at a meeting of European defense ministers in Brussels on Monday, an Italian defense source told Defense News.

"The agreement is for a definition study and for preliminary project for design," the source said.

The two-year study will also involve the European Defence Agency, he said.

A deal by the governments to kickstart launch studies was in the cards, but not until the Paris Air Show next month.

In March, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a new European drone would be ready by 2025 and able to fly in European skies.

Monday's deal is in response to lobbying efforts for to work on a European MALE program by the firms three European firms, Dassault, Italy's Alenia Aermacchi and Airbus.

They jointly called for a MALE program on the eve of the Paris Air Show in 2013, claiming it would pool resources, allow for the incorporation of emerging European certification requirements, and safeguard jobs and know-how, while guaranteeing "European sovereignty and independence in the management of information and intelligence," they said in a statement.

Since then, little progress has been made and the European MALE market is currently dominated by the US Reaper and Israeli-designed machines.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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