STUTTGART, Germany — The cogs are churning for the four-nation Eurodrone unmanned aerial system program, with a development contract approved last month and formal contract signing expected early next year, an Airbus official said Dec. 9.

Speaking at the company’s annual trade media briefing, Airbus’ Unmanned Aerial Systems director Jana Rosenmann shared that the company reached an agreement Nov. 19 with the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) to develop the next-generation medium-altitude, long-endurance drone. OCCAR is managing the Eurodrone program on behalf of the four European partners: Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

The program’s industrial team, composed of lead contractor Airbus Germany, along with Dassault Aviation and Leonardo, submitted a bid for the program in June. Since then, the companies have been involved in “very interesting and very lively discussions” with OCCAR, Rosenmann said during the briefing, which was held virtually.

“I believe that what we have now, today on the table, is a fair and reasonable offer for both sides, both for the customer, as well as for industry,” she said. While a formal contract signing is expected in nearly 2021, the industry teams will now prepare for the Eurodrone program’s ramp-up, to include filling 7,000 new technical positions around the continent.

Rosenmann also revealed that the Eurodrone’s final assembly will take place at Airbus’ hub in Manching, Germany. “We will only have a single final assembly line,” she said. “This is for efficiency purposes, and clearly also for cost reasons for our customers.”

Certain elements may be manufactured elsewhere, and then transferred to Manching for final assembly and ground testing. The delivery center will also be located in Manching, she noted. The aircraft fuselage will be fully integrated and assembled in Spain, before being transferred to Germany, Rosenmann added.

Meanwhile, questions remain on who will supply Eurodrone’s 120 total engines. “As we are in a competitive process at the moment, we’re not at liberty to reveal any further details,” Rosenmann said.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption to industries around the world, and Airbus was not exempt, Rosenmann noted. But the UAS division began to pick up steam once again at the end of calendar year 2020, and is eager to maintain momentum on its portfolio of programs, including Eurodrone, she said.

While the company awaits the formal contract signing, Airbus anticipates Eurodrone’s first flight in 2025, and deliveries to begin in 2028, per Rosenmann. The current contract provides for 20 Eurodrone systems, each of which will include three aircraft for a total of 60 twin-engine air platforms. Currently, Germany as the program’s lead nation is on contract for seven systems, while Italy has committed to five systems. Spain and France are each targeting four Eurodrone systems.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct drone’s characteristics. The MALE acronym stands for medium-altitude, long-endurance.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

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