European aerospace group EADS expects to be ready to put its new unmanned aircraft into service for surveillance and reconnaissance roles as early as 2009, EADS's military air systems chief said on Thursday.
EADS is aiming for a regular air traffic control license for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), known as "Barracuda", by the end of the decade to enable it to perform both military and domestic roles, Johann Heitzmann said at the Berlin air show.
Heitzmann said EADS planned to go ahead with a "full program" of test flights for the so-called UAV Demonstrator vehicle after it completed its first flight last month in Spain. The next flight was planned for the end of June or early July.
Key to winning customers will be the ability to offer several variants of the Barracuda, which may also offer the same role as EADS's future EuroMALE (European long-range medium altitude long endurance) UAV.
"It is the basis for products we want to bring to the market in the future," said Heitzmann. "We would need five to six different types of UAV to satisfy customers. So you have to come up with a certain modularity."
This could include being able to offer different wings and different pay-load configurations.
And while the Barracuda was not initially intended to be armed and used as an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), this could change based on requests from customers: "We believe this will come in some years, but not now."
EADS defense chief Stefan Zoller sees the UAV market as a key part of the company's plan to boost the group's defense business and reduce its dependence on its Airbus plane division.
He said in a recent interview he was eyeing an initial EUR2 billion (USD$2.57 billion) share of the global UAV market, which he estimates at EUR10 billion (USD$12.86 billion) by 2010.
Airbus contributed 65 percent of EADS's group sales of EUR34.2 billion (USD$43.98 billion) last year. But US rival Boeing last year generated 56 percent of its group sales of USD$54.8 billion from its defense business.