Airbus prepares a new surveillance drone with the 'Made in Spain' label.

Airbus Spain is ready to start work on the SiRTAP heavy-duty drone for the Spanish and Colombian air forces, saying the first units could be delivered to Spain in 2026 if the government soon approves a contract.

Launched in 2015, following an initial request from Spain and later joined by Colombia, Airbus has been leading the SirTAP (High-Performance Tactical RPAS System) program -formerly known as the Atlante 2 MALE drone- aimed at creating a tactical air vehicle drone suitable for intelligence gathering and surveillance.

 The platforms will replace both countries’ aging fleets of Israeli-made drones: Spain’s Searcher MkIIs, made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and Colombia’s Hermes 450s, produced by Elbit.

Speaking to Defense News at the International Defense and Security Fair (FEINDEF), Jean-Brice Dumont, head of Airbus military air systems, stated that Spain is considering the acquisition of a total of 27 SiRTAPs, each consisting of three planes, a ground control station and data reception equipment. The drone is currently in the pre-design phase.

“Our goal would be to have the first batch of these aircraft delivered by 2026…which means we have to get in gear to make it happen,” Dumont said. However, no contract has been signed yet.

Both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation on the drone in 2019, followed by a formal proposal submitted by Airbus to the Spanish Ministry of Industry in January 2021. More recently, the Spanish Ministry of Defense approved investing 500 million euros of its defense budget in the drone project.

As for Colombia, it appears the country intends to buy six systems, including 18 drones, and some Colombian vendors will contribute design elements for the systems.

Those responsible for Airbus have previously highlighted the program’s premise to produce 90% of the drone components in Spain. However, Dumont points out that, in order to meet the objectives of accelerating the program, a compromise may have to be reached, opting in some cases for non-Spanish suppliers.

The SiRTAP is anticipated to have more than 20 hours of autonomy, flying at altitudes of 21,000 feet (6,400 m) and carrying up to 150 kilograms of payload. Its collapsible design allows it to be transported on the ground and by air in transport aircraft such as the C-295, which can carry two drones. 

According to Airbus, it is suitable for various missions such as intelligence gathering, maritime surveillance, convoy escort and force protection, as well as electronic warfare.

Dumont notes that the platform was designed primarily as a cost-effective solution to partly appeal to air forces with lower budgets but wanting to acquire advanced capabilities and certifications. 

Although SiRTAP is currently a Spanish-Colombian story, he added that other countries, including France, have shown interest in the drone and are closely following its development.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Bad