GÖTTINGEN, Germany — The German Defense Ministry is assuming the leadership role for development of a European drone, the so-called Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted aircraft system or MALE RPAS. In a statement, the ministry also announced that Spain will participate as an equal fourth partner in the project.

According to the ministry, Germany will take over 31 percent, or €EUR 18.6 million (US $20.3 million) of the cost of the definition study. for the MALE RPAS. France, Italy and Spain each will contribute EUR €13.8 million (23 per cent) to fund the study.

The German ministry German Defense Ministry further announced that on Nov. 25, November the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) was commissioned to manage with the management of the definition study for the MALE RPAS. At the same time Spain was accepted as an equal fourth partner in the project, the ministry said.

"There is a will to enter in the program. We will be in, but we still have to negotiate it," a source from the Spanish MoD said. The same source told Defense News, "there is not a hurry about it, the decision will be adopted by the next government."

On Dec. 20, 20th December Spain will elect a new president of government. The ruling center-right People's Party is leading the polls, but to govern it might need a second party for support.

The two-year definition study will examine in particular the operational requirements of the nations under a cost- and risk-based angle. In a further step of the survey, Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica will then develop a system design. The study will be jointly executed by the three companies.

"There is already a clear plan, how to distribute the work packages between the parties," an Airbus spokesman said. Contract The signature of the contract for the study is expected in the first half of 2016.

After the study's termination, the next a following development of the MALE RPAS — based on an industry proposal from the industry — should ideally be managed by a prime contractor. The other companies will be included as subcontractors, the German MoD stated. Airbus estimates the development costs at about €1a billion. EUR. However, the results of the study would have to be considered first, a spokesman said.

Which of the companies involved will act as prime contractor is currently still an open question. The Germans support Airbus due to their "ministerial leadership" in the program. Also The company itself also seeks the position,  as prime contractor, as the Airbus spokesman confirmed.

If the program proceeds as planned, In case of a positive decision for the MALE RPAS, the first systems may be delivered in 2025. , so the Ministry. The main task of the remotely piloted aircraft will be reconnaissance and surveillance, but it also will be armed if necessary.

While OCCAR will perform the preparatory work for the contract, the European Defence Agency (EDA) supports the project in the fields of airspace integration and certification. The German MoD stressed that in the future, the project should not be limited to the four initiating countries. Participation of other European nations in the next phases is possible.

The foundations of the MALE RPAS were laid May 18, when the defense ministries of Germany, France and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding to develop for the development of a European drone by 2025.

In the summer, France and Germany held detailed talks, reaching an agreement that Berlin would hold a stake of just over 30 percent and leadership of the program, French procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon told the French parliamentary defense committee in early October.

The French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sees the program as important, and the UAV is expected to fly a little before 2025, he said.

"The definition of the sensors will count just as much as the platform. We will pay close attention; our industry will be given full consideration in view of its high level of competence," he said.

The German Defense Minister minister of defense, Ursula von der Leyen stressed during an interview in June that the independent development of a drone is vital quite important for Europe to avoid the dependency on "other powers" in this field of technology.

By the end of the year, the German MoD wants to decide which drone will be procured as a temporary bridging solution until the MALE RPAS is available. While the co-governing Social Democrats want the Israeli Heron TP, the Conservatives are waiting for a military assessment before starting the political process.

Esteban Villarejo in Spain and Pierre Tran in France contributed to this report.

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