Facing Drone Gap, Europe Plays Catch-Up on Capabilities and Ethics

Facing Drone Gap, Europe Plays Catch-Up on Capabilities and Ethics

With the U.S. slowly defining its drone policy, and with drones receiving increasing attention among European defense policymakers due to the recent military operations in Libya and Mali, Europe is laying out its own concerns over the ethics of drone use.

Though much of the debate focuses on the use of armed drones for strikes, as conducted by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, drones are also useful for surveillance and intelligence gathering, in both military and civilian policing operations. For instance, Frontex, the European Union border agency, has expressed interest in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor European borders.

Although in recent years Europeans have developed three fighter jets—the Eurofighter, Gripen and Rafale—and one military transport aircraft, the A400M, there are no European drones that can fly for long periods of time at medium or high altitudes. In a recent interview, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explained, “The entire defense community, as much the [defense] ministry as industry, had missed the strategic turn of this type of capability. This is true for France as much as for the rest of Europe.” Aside from the lack of strategic vision, there are other reasons behind Europe’s delay in developing drones: competition among EU member states and among European defense companies—especially between EADS and Dassault—as well as a lack of political will.

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