Leading defence ministers in key EU countries have agreed to start development of Europe’s own military drone hardware to reduce dependence on US and Israeli technology.
The project, which has been under discussion since 2013, is likely to be carried out jointly by Airbus, Dassault and Alenia Aermacchi and provide Europe with an unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance drone capable of flying at the altitude of up to 9,000 metres for 24 hours.
The agreement signed by the defence ministers of Italy, France and Germany binds the three countries to conduct a two-year study that would establish the basis for the programme.
It has been suggested that Poland and Spain may also be interested in joining the programme, which aims to see the technology operational by 2025.
"It's a very important step for European cooperation, a critical cooperation which we must have at our disposal in many theatres of operation," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said during the signing ceremony.
Currently, European countries use military drones designed by the US and Israel – a situation considered by some to be unhealthy for Europe’s industry.
Europe’s new drones should be able to conduct surveillance missions, but also perform a multitude of civilian tasks including border control, fire-fighting and disaster monitoring.
The programme has been delayed due to competing national needs, corporate rivalry and a lack of government support.