Is the Eurodrone really more expensive than General Atomics' MQ-9B Skyguardian?

We are indeed in danger of heading towards an economic absurdity of which only Europeans have the secret. Indeed, according to the article by journalist Vincent Lamigeon, very familiar with defense issues, published by the economic site Challenge.fr, it seems that the representatives of the 4 countries involved in the development of the Eurodrone, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, would find themselves in a impasse concerning the negotiations around the price of the European MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) drone system, known by the name Eurodrone.

Indeed, the invoice presented by the European industrial consortium led by Airbus DS would be 30% higher than the forecast presented in 2017, reaching €9,8 billion where the initial amount was €6 billion, and where the maximum amount ready to be financed did not exceed €7 billion. Very timely, the American manufacturer General atomics began a lobbying campaign to praise the qualities of its Skyguardian MQ-9B, derived from the Reaper, considered more economical by many European observers and politicians.

And indeed, it is likely that the SkyGardian will present a price 35 to 50% lower than that of the European system. But will it still be cheaper?

GA MQ9B Skygadian Germany | Defense Analysis | Combat drones
The MALE MQ-9B Skygardian Drone from GA has characteristics and performances that are the polar opposite of the European drone

Nothing is less sure ! Indeed, as we have repeatedly discussed on Meta-Defense, equipment designed and manufactured by the French Defense industry produces a budgetary return significantly higher than its acquisition price, due to the effects on employment and the budgetary savings generated. Obviously, when you import equipment, the budgetary return is zero. France certainly has a privileged economic context to obtain an optimum budgetary return in terms of Defense investment, but Italy and Spain show a return of more than 80%, and Germany a return of more than 70%, without taking into account potential exports. On the basis of these elements alone, even twice as expensive as the Skyguardian, the Eurodrone would cost less to the public finances of each of the European countries involved in its construction than the American solution.

But that is not the only aspect to consider. Indeed, it will have escaped no one's notice that the Eurodrone is a twin-engine aircraft, this partly explaining its higher price. The subject has been debated at length, and often unfairly criticized solely through the effect on the purchase price. Because a more in-depth study shows that single-engine drones, and in particular Reapers, are seriously lacking in long-term reliability. However, when you lose the engine on such a device, a crash is almost inevitable. With two engines, the Eurodrone will be able to return to its base, or at least to a clearing area. A maxim from multi-engine pilots (of which I am one) says that the advantage of twin-engines is that when you lose an engine, you have one left to fly!
However, if we integrate attrition observed from Reapers in service, we see that this exceeds 10% in less than 5 years. Over 20 years, there is therefore an attrition of 40%, which will require either ordering additional systems or degrading its operational capabilities.

Drone TB001 Chinese Scoprion Germany | Defense Analysis | Combat drones
China is also developing a twin-engine drone, the TB001 Scorpion

Finally, the Eurodrone was designed according to demanding specifications, allowing in particular integration into the air traffic civilian, the overview of urban areas highly populated at lower altitudes, and the border crossing without tilting in military flight. In addition, the European drone will be much faster than its European counterparts, and will be able to carry a higher payload. In other words, like a Rafale which can carry more ammunition at a longer distance than a Mirage 2000, the Eurodrone must be compared with its American counterparts for equivalent operational potential.

Individually, these elements are enough to justify European investment compared to an off-the-shelf American acquisition. But above all, they combine! Which would make any decision in favor of the Skygardian absurd in many respects, without even taking into account that this would further undermine the objective of strategic autonomy targeted by the Europe of Defense and President Macron.

The fact remains that ideas and paradigms die hard, and it will be very difficult to get political decision-makers to agree to remove the blinders that restrict the perception of the subject as a whole. This can only come from one concerted effort between manufacturers, based on more than concrete elements, and probably strong commitments to guarantee the relevance of the model. But since this is a €10 billion market, it is likely that it will be worth the effort!

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