European Industry Collaborates to Build a New Medium-Range RPA


2016-10-01 According to a press release dated September 28, 2016 by Airbus Defence and Space, the definition study for a European industrial consortium build of a new medium range Remotely Piloted Vehicle has been officially launched.

Since beginning of September the development of a common European drone has entered a new phase.

The contract for the Definition Study of the European MALE RPAS (Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) Programme, assigned to Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo-Finmeccanica has been launched by a kick-off meeting chaired by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) with the attendance of the programme participating States France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

European MALE

MALE RPAS will be a new generation remotely piloted air system for armed Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. Air traffic integration and certification for European densely populated environment are part of the key distinctive objectives of the programme.

The two-year definition study starts from September 2016. It will be jointly executed by Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo-Finmeccanica Aircraft Division with an equal work allocation. The three companies are co-contractors to perform the definition study.

Following the study, the start of the development phase is planned for 2018, with a prototype first flight in early 2023 and a first delivery of the system in the 2025 timeframe.

Operational requirements of the nations will be defined in close cooperation with the Armed Forces.

“Successfully teaming European nations, industries and defense ministries to improve sovereignty and independence is an outstanding mission, and today marks a new milestone in this innovative partnership” said Dirk Hoke, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Defence and Space.

“This cooperative programme will contribute to European Industry leadership and autonomy in the strategic field of surveillance drones and will provide Armed Forces with high performance and sovereign operational systems” emphasized Eric Trappier, Dassault Aviation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

“The European Male RPAS programme is a unique opportunity to promote the development of high technologies expertise, capabilities and jobs, of fundamental importance within Europe. Technological and operational sovereignty will be delivered to Nations, relying on the experience of decades of European cooperation in military programmes,” said Mr. Filippo Bagnato, Leonardo-Finmeccanica Aircraft Division Managing Director.

An article on the website of the organization which is in charge of the contract, OCCAR, highlighted the importance of the effort:

The MALE RPAS Programme will further develop and strengthen the European industrial expertise and skills in this essential technological area. OCCAR awarded the contract in the name of the four programme Participating States France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The three companies Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo S.p.a. are working together as co-contractors to perform the Definition Study. OCCAR and the European Defence Agency (EDA) cooperate in respect of Air Traffic Insertion of MALE RPAS and the potential participation of other states in future phases of the Programme.

OCCAR-EA, EDA, Participating States and industry teams. Credit: OCCAR.
OCCAR-EA, EDA, Participating States and industry teams. Credit: OCCAR.

MALE RPAS will be a remotely piloted air system for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. The first step of the Programme is a two-year Definition Study to define the baseline specifications/design for the future MALE RPAS.

The Definition Study includes both a System Requirement Review (SRR) and a Preliminary Design Review (PDR). Air Traffic Integration and certification of the MALE RPAS is a key objective of the Programme.

Preparation for the potential next steps (Development and Production) will be part of the activities to be performed during the second year of the Definition Study.

The entry into service of MALE RPAS is aimed at the 2025 timeframe.

Prior to the contract award, the MALE RPAS Programme was formally integrated into OCCAR with the signature of the respective Programme Decision by the members of the OCCAR MALE RPAS Programme Board. The OCCAR MALE RPAS Programme Division will be located in Munich/Hallbergmoos.

And on the European Defence Agency website more details are provided about the RPAS program.

The program is clearly not just about a new platform but also about shaping a new context within which the air platform would be used in European Airspace and beyond.

Among some of those efforts are the following:

An EDA Research & Technology Joint Investment Programme (JIP) on RPAS was launched in November 2013. Ten Member States are now involved in this activity (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom).

This programme provides the forum to generate R&D projects for the development of key technological functions enabling safe integration of RPAS into non-segregated airspace. The following three projects are currently conducted in this framework:

MIDCAS: MIDair Collision Avoidance System

The MIDair Collision Avoidance System (MIDCAS) project on demonstrating the sense and avoid function for RPAS was launched in 2009 with five Member States: Sweden (lead nation), France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The MIDCAS industry consortium is composed of eleven companies of the five participating Member States.

The aim of the MIDCAS programme is to provide the technical content of a collision avoidance system standard proposal for RPAS and thus to contribute to the RPAS integration in civilian airspace by proposing a baseline of solutions for the “Unmanned Aircraft System Mid-air Collision Avoidance Function” acceptable by manned aviation. Successful flight tests and simulation campaigns were performed in 2015 and the focus is now on using those results to develop related technical standards.

DeSIRE: Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe

EDA and the European Space Agency (ESA) established their cooperation in the RPAS sector in 2010. Two feasibility studies were carried out in order to analyse the required work for demonstrations in the area of secure C2 data links for RPAS using satellites.

Based on the results EDA and ESA launched the joint DeSIRE (Demonstration of Satellites enabling the Insertion of RPAS in Europe) project in 2012. The aim of the project is to demonstrate the safe integration of RPAS in non-segregated airspace using satellites capabilities for RPAS command and control, air traffic control communications and mission data transfer to ground, in order to satisfy the needs of potential user communities. 

The demonstration was carried out in Spain in Spring 2013 through several flights using a RPAS (Heron platform) providing airborne maritime surveillance services to the Spanish users involved in the project. 

A follow-on project (DeSIRE 2) with ESA was launched in February 2014. This activity contributes to preparing a midterm development of RPAS independent satellite data-link service.

Close involvement of rulemaking stakeholders allowed for the seamless consideration of critical certification and rulemaking issues from the beginning. 

This principle, combining demonstrator development, testing generic functions and operational concepts, allows all relevant partners in European and international aviation to participate in the creation of a dual-use regulatory framework for safe RPAS operations.

ERA: Enhanced RPAS Autonomy

RPAS automation is a key enabler for the integration of RPAS in non-segregated airspace, particularly to ensure the operation safety levels in degraded or emergency modes. Automation in RPAS take-off, landing, and taxi phases will be required for airport (civil and military) operation.

The main objectives of ERA are to establish the technological baseline for automatic take-off and landing, autotaxi, nominal/degraded mode automation functions and emergency recovery. This will be done alongside support to the regulation and standardisation of these capabilities, by providing  safety assessments, procedures, simulation and flight demonstrations .

This project launched in 2015 is funded by France, Germany, Poland, Sweden and Italy.

The presentation below made by the EDA with regard to the program in 2014 outlines the main features of the effort:


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