Frontex awards €50 million in border surveillance drone contracts to Airbus, IAI and Elbit


The EU border agency, Frontex, recently awarded contracts for border surveillance by drone to the companies Airbus, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit. For Airbus and IAI, the contracts follow on from trial flights conducted in 2018. The surveillance arrangement will see one of the three companies contracted for specific missions in response to calls from Frontex. The agency expects to seek "2000-3000 contracted hours [of surveillance] in total" every year; the deal will initially run for two years but maybe extended for two more.

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See: Frontex awards €50 million in border surveillance drone contracts to Airbus, IAI and Elbit (Stop Wapenhandel, link)

This arrangement, by which Frontex will not seek to acquire drone technology itself, but will instead acquire it on an 'as-and-when' basis from companies, continues an approach initially adopted some years ago by EU agencies in relation to drone surveillance. As the 2017 Statewatch/Transnational Institute report Market Forces highlighted:

"In 2013, EU border agency Frontex attempted to purchase a plane for aerial surveillance of the Greek-Turkish border, but received no bids from potential suppliers. Undeterred, in 2014 the agency tried again – but this time by contracting services from a company, rather than purchasing a plane and the associated surveillance technology outright. The contracted service provided for this pilot project, which involved surveillance of the Bulgarian-Turkish border, was described by the agency as “accessible, qualitative, effective and cost efficient, which stipulates new approaches in Frontex policy for future acquisition of operational assets and services.”

This model has recently developed significantly. In early 2017 the European Maritime Safety Agency signed contracts worth tens of millions of euros for maritime surveillance drone services. However: “EMSA decided not [to] buy the drones... but to rent their availability,” from Portuguese company Tekver, the Portuguese Air Force and Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica).225 Imagery and information obtained will be used by EMSA, the European Fisheries Control Agency, and Frontex in its mission for total surveillance of Europe’s borders and beyond.226 At Europe’s borders, largely away from public scrutiny or knowledge, a new public-private apparatus of surveillance and control is being constructed."

A similar approach can be seen in one of the methods adopted by Frontex to increase the number of deportation flights it finances and coordinates, as highlighted in Deportation Union, published by Statewatch earlier this year:

"In September 2019 the agency posted another tender notice, this time for a framework contract that would involve at least three and up to 10 different companies, for “Short Notice Chartering of Aircraft for Frontex Operational Activities”. The services provided will be mainly used for organising “emergency return flights” when there is no availability of aircraft under the existing contracts. The framework contract (FWC) itself would merely establish broader terms and conditions, with individual contracts to be signed for each particular expulsion flight – that is to say, the companies chosen to participate in the framework contract would make bids to conduct any given “emergency” deportation flight. The notice states: “The provision of specific charter will be organised following the calls for competition for establishment of the specific contracts under this FWC” – a sort of ‘deportation auction’. The framework contract is intended to last for 12 months, may be being renewed up to three times and has a maximum value of €10 million."

Further reading

16 July 2020

Border surveillance and deaths at sea: Frontex’s invisible flights come under scrutiny

27 February 2020

Drones for Frontex: unmanned migration control at Europe’s borders

30 September 2019

EU drone operations: Israeli military firm Elbit amongst maritime agency's subcontractors

17 September 2018

EU: Frontex tests drones for border surveillance: 6.5m for Leonardo and Israel Aerospace Industries

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