EU Defense Council Discussing Deployment of Drones

Written by | Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

European foreign and defense ministers have gathered for a two-day meeting in Brussels yesterday (18 November) to discuss future deployment of drones for civilian operations, ranging from disaster prevention to deterring human traffickers on the EU’s borders. The unusually long conclusions of this Defense council will likely stress the importance of advancing the development of common European capabilities on drones and air-to-air refueling technologies, thought essential for European air forces in distant operations.
The ministers will also discuss other important issues, such as developing a specific research ‘action’ focused on defense, with a different budget line from Horizon 2020, the EU framework program for research for the 2014-2020 period. High on the agenda is also the proposal by Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino, to launch a military mission in the Mediterranean Sea to tackle human trafficking following the recent tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa. Another objective of the meeting will be to ensure that drones can receive EU research funds as dual-use capabilities, which means that they can be used for civilian and military purposes. The Commission and some EU member states plan to push for a clearer budget line for military research, which would include drones. Any deal concluded during this two-day meeting will increase the prospects for the EU Summit in December, which will deal with defense matters. Such a development would be welcomed by the EU industry, which has openly supported a joint drone program.
Drones, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) as they are known in the EU jargon, have been long identified as a shortfall in the European defense, which has so far relied completely on American and Israeli technology in this area. It was specifically during the war in Libya in 2011 that exposed the limits of the European capabilities, especially for drones and air-to-air refueling. In July 2013, the European Commission presented a paper aimed at strengthening the EU defense industry which is facing serious risks of technological losses due to deep cuts in defense budgets. Drones were included in the paper as eligible for EU funding for prototypes and for research projects with a dual use, both civilian and military. A report issued last month by the EU High Representative for Foreign and Defense Policy, Catherine Ashton, repeatedly appealed to EU member states to develop drones with cooperative projects.

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