A definition study contract has been launched to commence the development of a European, medium-altitude long endurance (MALE), remotely piloted air system (RPAS).
Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo-Finmeccanica will jointly conduct a two-year definition study as equal partners.
The study will be followed by the development phase, which is expected to begin in 2018.
MALE RPAS will be designed for use by the armed forces of France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The system will have the ability to perform long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions with a variety of payloads, as well as ground support missions with precision weapons.
Operational requirements of the nations will be defined in close cooperation with the Armed Forces, Airbus Defence and Space said in a statement.
Dassault Aviation chairman and CEO Eric Trappier said: "This cooperative programme will contribute to European Industry leadership and autonomy in the strategic field of surveillance drones and provide Armed Forces with high performance and sovereign operational systems.”
The first prototype will be ready to fly in early 2023, with planned delivery in 2025.
Leonardo-Finmeccanica aircraft division managing director Filippo Bagnato said: "The European Male RPAS programme is a unique opportunity to promote the development of high technologies expertise, capabilities and jobs, of fundamental importance within Europe.
“Technological and operational sovereignty will be delivered to nations, relying on the experience of decades of European cooperation in military programmes.”