After months of debating specifications and costs, the Joint Armaments Cooperation Organization [OCCAr] finally signed the contract for the development and production of the future MALE drone [Moyenne Altitude Longue Endurance] European [ou Eurodrone] to Airbus Defense & Space GmbH, the prime contractor for this program, conducted in conjunction with Dassault Aviation [chargé notamment des commandes de vol électriques] and Leonardo.
However, one detail still had to be arranged, and not the least: the motorization of this future device, which will need two turboprops to move its ten tons. Two manufacturers were in the running: the French Safran, with the Ardiden TP3, and Avio Aero, the Italian subsidiary of the American General Electric. [GE]with catalytic converter [ex-Advanced Turboprop, ou ATP]
On March 25, Airbus put an end to the tension in a press release: while the Eurodrone is widely said to be an important program for European strategic autonomy, the main contractor choice was ultimately centered on the Catalyst, which, designed by GE, will also equip the Beechcraft Denali from the American manufacturer Textron.
“The Catalyst was chosen for its increased competitiveness. We have a solution that is more mature, which is a test flight on a commercial aircraft […], we estimate a lower development risk in the comparison,” explains Jean-Brice Dumont, the boss of Airbus Military Aircraft. “It’s very important in a collaborative military program where schedules are tight and where we have a jump start that’s complicated to manage,” he added.
In addition, the Airbus manager has argued that the Catalyst offers better technical performance while being more fuel efficient.
But even if it is produced in Europe, the question arises whether the Catalyst is subject to ITAR regulations. [International Traffic in Arms Regulations]allowing Washington to block the export of military equipment once it contains components of American origin.
“The catalytic converter is an engine” […] Fully developed and produced in Europe, designed not to be subject to ITAR rules, making it possible to overcome additional export requirements,” underlines Airbus in its press release. And this, even though some parts will be American. “We made sure of that with an audit,” says Mr. dumont. Only, Washington shouldn’t change its rules…
Obviously, such a question was not an issue for the Ardiden TP3, as Safran had emphasized that its turboprop was completely European-designed. In addition, the French engine manufacturer had established collaborations with the Italian Piaggio Aerospace, the Spanish ITP and the Germans MT-Propeller and ZF Luftfahrttechnik.
“On the bike” [de l’EuroDrone]Safran offers a solution that is both efficient and competitive, developed under the European Clean Sky programme. […] Safran is the only manufacturer that offers countries a truly European solution. And in the spirit of the European Recovery Plan, it would be shocking if European taxpayers’ money were used to fund a competitive motorization solution, which is currently being certified with US authorities,” said Franck Saudo, CEO of Safran Helicopters Motor. , in an interview published by La Tribunein June 2021.
And this one to insist: “Finally, the choice of engine is, of course, a matter of sovereignty for Europe, which must maintain its autonomy in the field of motorization. The French authorities are clearly mobilized. It only remains for me to wish that Airbus and the nations make the right decisions.”
As a reminder, this European program provides for the delivery of 60 drones [soit 20 systèmes] to Germany [21 appareils]to Italy to France  and to Spain  for an amount of 7.1 billion euros. With a length of 16 meters and a wingspan of 26 meters, the Eurodrone will be able to fly at a speed of 500 km/h for a range of 40 hours.