Tag Archives: drones Europe

Flying off the Shelves: the entrenching of drone warfare

Wing Loong II, 2017. Image from wikipedia

A 2018 report published by Drone Wars UK reveals that over the last five years the number of countries actively using armed drones has quadrupled. Drone Wars: The Next Generation demonstrates that from just three states (US, UK and Israel) in 2013, there are now a further nine who have deployed armed drones in a variety of roles including for armed conflict and counter-terror operations. The report also shows that a further nine states are very close to having armed drone capabilities, almost doubling the number of existing users. To this number, we have added five non-state actors who have used armed drones, which will take the number of active operators of armed drones to over 25 in the next few years.

As is well known, China has sold armed drones to a number of countries around the world. Since 2013, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE and Egypt have begun operating armed Chinese drones whilst another four countries (Jordan, Myanmar, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) are thought to have recently taken possession of, or be in discussion about the sale of, Chinese drones. These Wing Loong and CH series drones are cheaper and less powerful than US Predators and Reapers.  As, according to their specifications, they are not capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km they do not fall into the category of systems that would be refused under Category 1 of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as the US systems do.

Turkey, Pakistan and Iran are actively using their own manufactured drones. Iran has, it seems, supplied Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis with armed drones while ISIS and the PKK  (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) have attached small explosives to off-the-shelf drones. Turkey are thought to be concluding deal with Qatar and the Ukrain eand South Korea are very close to beginning production of their own armed drones.

As for the larger countries that one might expect to have already deployed armed drones, such as Russia and India, they still appear to be some distance from producing workable models…Several cross-European projects are underway to develop indigenous armed drones within the EU.

Excerpts from New research shows rise in number of states deploying armed drones, Press Release from Drone Wars UK, May 17, 2018

State Capitalism in the Drone Industry

nEUROn-Dassault Aviation company 2013

Though they make smaller drones, European suppliers have flown only experimental big machines and haven’t manufactured any large drones to offer for sale. That is because governments have been unwilling to earmark funding for development programs, and even five years ago military-procurement agencies weren’t pushing hard to get homegrown products into the air.  France has decided to quadruple its fleet of four aging surveillance drones—one of which is out of order—with the purchase of 12 brand-new Reapers from General Atomics Inc. of the U.S. The U.K.’s Royal Air Force operates a squadron of five Reapers remotely from a U.S. base in Nevada.

European Union politicians and industrialists are increasingly concerned that in failing to launch an ambitious large-drone program, the bloc is both abandoning sovereignty and missing out on one of the most dynamic segments of the military aerospace market. “We’ve lost at least 10 years in Europe, and the longer it takes, the more the Americans and Israelis will dominate the large UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] market,” EADS Chief Executive Tom Enders told reporters in June (2013).

Annual global spending on all types of drones, including research and development, could double from today’s level to $11.6 billion by 2023 and will be an important engine of growth for the aerospace industry, according to Teal Group, a consultancy based in Reston, Va.  European governments have collaborated on military-aircraft programs such as the A400M transport plane, made by EADS unit Airbus, and the NH90 heavy helicopter, made by the NHIndustries consortium, composed of three European aviation companies: Eurocopter, Finmeccanica SpA’s AgustaWestland and Fokker Aerostructures.

But, like many military procurement projects on both sides of the Atlantic, execution of these contracts was late and over budget. Part of the problem is that governments have differing requirements and won’t settle for a “standard” version.  The NH90, for example, has more variants than the number of governments that ordered it because their militaries insisted on receiving aircraft that met specific requirements, thereby limiting the potential for economies of scale.

In recent years, EADS, BAE Systems PLC of the U.K. and Dassault Aviation SA of France have been chasing seed money from their respective governments to develop separate, large-drone prototypes, without much coordination.

In France, Dassault was tapped in 2003 to lead the “nEUROn” project to experiment with technologies for a stealthy combat drone. Dassault paired up with companies from Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland and tested a prototype in France in December last year (2012).

In the U.K., BAE worked on its own plan but has had to cope with an unexpected hurdle. Since British civil-aviation rules forbid flights of drones in civil airspace, BAE couldn’t test its stealthy attack-drone demonstrator, called Taranis, in U.K. airspace. The company instead had to dispatch the aircraft and engineers nearly to the other side of the globe for a test in Australia.

Germany had opted for a middle-ground route: develop a drone on the basis of a U.S. aircraft, the Global Hawk made by Northrop Grumman Corp. But the €1 billion ($1.36 billion) project turned into a debacle when the German government realized the plane couldn’t be certified to fly at home or elsewhere in Europe, and later scrapped it.

The French and U.K. governments are discussing ways to synchronize and possibly combine their attack-drone programs, with Dassault and BAE leading the way, but no formal decision has been made…

European governments are still dragging their heels to come up with a strategy for homegrown surveillance drones, while the industry seems much more gung-ho.  Last June, EADS, Dassault and Finmeccanica issued a joint statement urging European governments to launch a surveillance-drone program, saying they are prepared to work together if the governments can agree to begin a program.

In May, the French government said it would spend €670 million to buy the U.S.-made Reapers because European companies had no product available to meet urgent needs, notably in Mali, where the French military is currently reducing its presence after a campaign that started in January against Islamic militants.

The absence of a pan-European, cooperative approach—no single country has a budget to create its own program—raises the risk that emerging competition from countries like China, South Africa and Turkey will move into the empty space, analysts and aerospace executives said.“Clearly, drones are the future for dull or dangerous missions,” said Dan Jangblad, chief strategy officer for Sweden’s aerospace company Saab AB.

By David Pearson,European Defense Firms’ Drone Push Remains Elusive, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 2013