MADRID — Airbus Spain is ready to start work on the high-endurance drone SiRTAP for the Spanish and Colombian air forces, saying the first units could be delivered to Spain by 2026 if the government approves a contract soon.
Launched in 2015, following an initial request from Spain and later on joined by Colombia, Airbus has been leading the SirTAP (Sistema RPAS Táctico de Altas Prestaciones) program – previously known as the Atlante 2 MALE drone– aimed at creating a tactical unmanned aerial vehicle suited for intelligence gathering and surveillance. The platforms are set to replace both countries’ aging Israeli-made drone fleets, Spain’s Searcher MkIIs manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) and Colombia’s Hermes 450, produced by Elbit.
Speaking to Defense News at the Feria Internacional de Defensa y Seguridad (FEINDEF) exhibition here, Jean-Brice Dumont, head of military air systems at Airbus, said that Spain is considering procuring a total of 27 SiRTAPs, each of which consists of three aircraft, a ground control station and data reception equipment. The drone is currently still in a pre-design phase.
“Our objective would be to have the first batch of these delivered by 2026 … which means we have to hit the ground running to make this happen,” Dumont said. No contract has yet been signed, however.
Both nations signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation on the drone in 2019, followed by a formal proposal submitted by Airbus to the Spanish Ministry of Industry in January 2021. More recently, the Spanish MoD obtained approval to invest approximately USD $542 million (€500 million) from its defense budget into the drone project.
As for Colombia, the country is reportedly looking to buy six systems, including 18 drones, with some Colombian suppliers contributing elements to the design of the systems.
Airbus officials have previously stressed the program’s premise of producing 90% of drone components in Spain. However, Dumont points out that in order to meet the goals of fast-tracking the program, a compromise may have to be reached in possibly opting for non-Spanish suppliers in some cases.
The SiRTAP is envisioned to have over 20 hours of endurance, flying at altitudes of 21,000 feet while carrying up to 150 kilograms of payload. A collapsible design means forces can eventually transport it overland and by air in transport aircraft such as the C-295, which can carry two drones. It is suited for various mission sets including intelligence gathering, maritime surveillance, convoy escort and force protection as well as electronic warfare, according to Airbus.
Dumont notes that the platform was primarily designed as a cost-effective solution to appeal in part to air forces with lower budgets but wishing to acquire advanced capabilities and certifications. Although the SiRTAP is currently a Spanish-Colombian story, other countries are said to have shown interest in the drone and are closely monitoring its development, including France, he said.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.