The British government is close to ordering two solar-powered high-altitude Zephyr surveillance drones from European aerospace giant Airbus, it said Wednesday.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in a statement that the deal was worth £10.6 million ($15.2 million, 14 million euros), in the first ever order for Airbus Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“The MoD is pleased to announce it is close to signing a contract with Airbus Defence and Space to build in the UK and test two Zephyr UAVs as part of a commitment to provide next-generation battlefield intelligence capabilities to the UK Armed Forces,” it said.
The Zephyr is a highly sophisticated UAV capable of flying for long periods at very high altitudes and can carry a payload of up to five kilograms (11 pounds).
The drone flies at 70,000 feet (21 kilometers) above sea level — more than twice the altitude of a commercial airliner — for up to 45 days at a time.
The MoD added that it would use the Zephyr drone for surveillance and intelligence missions, in line with the government’s defence strategy given last November.
“High altitude aircraft will provide next-generation battlefield intelligence to our armed forces,” Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in the statement.
“They will be able to fly higher and for longer to gather constant, reliable information over vast geographical areas.”
The Zephyr drone was originally developed by British defence research company QinetiQ, but the program and its staff were acquired by Airbus in 2013.