Document sets out EU "concept" for military drone use

A document recently made public by Statewatch sets out how drones could contribute "to joint operations in EU-led military operations and military missions" and sets out "basic guidelines on tasks and the environment in which to use RPAS, characteristics, capabilities and initial views for preparation and training requirements (including potential military support to civilian missions...)."

The document was produced in March by the European External Action Service - effectively the EU's foreign office - and is entitled "Concept for the Contribution of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems [RPAS] to EU-led Military Operations".[1]

Potential uses

Potential uses include, amongst others:

  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance;
  • Target acquisition ;
  • Strike;
  • Force protection;
  • Communications relay;
  • Electronic support measures;
  • Electronic counter measures; and
  • Maritime surveillance.

There are five "illustrative scenarios" in which drones could be deployed by or on behalf of the EU:

  • Separation of parties by force;
  • Stabilisation, reconstruction and military advice to third countries;
  • Conflict prevention;
  • Evacuation operations (non-permissive/segregated environment);
  • Assistance to humanitarian operations.

Whose drones?

The EU has no military equipment of its own and relies on Member States' contributions - a process that has generally not lived up to the expectations of those in favour of greater EU 'force projection'.

The EEAS paper makes no mention of whose drones would be used in EU-led military operations – they may well belong to the Member States. But the EU may also have plans afoot to try and acquire its own military equipment.

In June the Commission proposed an EU military research programme that would "promote synergies with national research efforts and encourage industrial cooperation." [2] It also stated that:

"[T]he Commission will undertake, with the High Representative [Catherine Ashton] and EDA, a joint assessment of dual-use capability needs for EU security and defence policies..."

The focus of the assessment will be on drones, satellite communications and cyber-security.

A 'Preparatory Action', currently with an estimated budget of 50 million euros, will pave the way for the military research programme, which the Commission intends to include in the next six-year EU budget, starting in 2021. Whether it will allow the EU to acquire its own military equipment alongside assisting national military production remains to be seen.

Armed drones

On the use of armed drones, the EEAS document says: "Some RPAS are designed to carry out strike missions. Using these RPAS, the operator can acquire, identify and engage targets from one platform." Furthermore:

"The RPA's sensors can also aid pre-strike intelligence (Pattern of Life) to support avoidance of collateral damage and strike authorization and post-strike reconnaissance information to facilitate battle damage assessment."

Under the heading 'AIR TO AIR SUPERIORITY', the EEAS considers that "some future RPAs might be allocated air to air combat missions acting as force multiplier controlled also from airborne manned platforms."

"Effective peace-time operation for the military community"

The document also states the importance of ensuring that military drones can fly within civilian airspace:

Today, military RPAS mostly operate in an AOO [Area of Operation] outside of European airspace. They can be employed from a location outside the AOO and will have to use common airspace in order to reach it. They may also have to take off and land from or to the EU airspace... Civilian regulations are not directly applicable to military RPAS since they are considered state aircraft, being operated as Operational Air Traffic (OAT). However, when military RPAS need to operate in an integrated manner with General Air Traffic, either compliance with civil aviation regulations or an equivalent level of safety will have to be demonstrated.


"The framework setup by the ERSG [European RPAS Steering Group, run by the Commission] could be used as a basis to integrate military and state RPAS into European airspace...


"An agreed comprehensive regulatory framework is a key enabler for defining the parameters for the development of the future generation of RPAS and for effective peace-time operation for the military community."

Further reading

[1] European External Action Service, 'Concept for the Contribution of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems [RPAS] to EU-led Military Operations', EEAS 00099/14, 28 March 2014
[2] On this topic, see 'Commission proposes military research programme', Statewatch News Online, 28 October 2014

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