Defence minister François Bausch visited the Skydweller Aero hangar in Spain to sign an agreement with the start-up and defence firm Leonardo.  Skydweller Aero Inc

Defence minister François Bausch visited the Skydweller Aero hangar in Spain to sign an agreement with the start-up and defence firm Leonardo.  Skydweller Aero Inc

Luxembourg defence minister François Bausch (déi Gréng) on 14 June signed a letter of intent with defence firms Leonardo and Skydweller Aero to develop solar-powered drone flights.

Bausch in March had said observation drones could be an area that Luxembourg wants to invest more heavily in. The country is looking to as it spends only around 0.6% of GDP on defence, well below a 2% pledge made by Nato countries in 2014. 

Through this cooperation, the partners aim “to accelerate the development and demonstration of the first mission-capable, solar-powered, autonomous aircraft,” the ministry of defence said in a press release.

Skydweller Aero, a US-Spanish aerospace startup, develops solar-powered drones able to cover long distances without a pilot. The company is supported by defence contractor Leonardo, which works with governments world-wide as a technological partner. The company is the Luxembourg department of defence’s prime contractor, the ministry said.

Leonardo SPA--the group’s parent company in Italy--is blacklisted for investment by Luxembourg’s pension fund for controversial weapons activities. SES Government Solutions--the US-based subsidiary of Luxembourg satellite operator SES--in March bought the in a $450m transaction. SES GS exclusively serves US government clients. Skydweller Aero also has a contract with the US department of defence.

Under the agreement signed on Tuesday, Skydweller Aero will work on combining Leonardo’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology with the drones.

Towards a greener defence and civil aviation

“This project is perfectly in line with the Luxembourg directorate of defence’s ambition to decarbonise the military, to reduce military emissions and fossil fuel dependency and thus to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector,” Bausch commented on the agreement.

The Skydweller aircraft developed by Skydweller Aero is a fully electric aircraft able to carry large and heavy payloads over long distances. The model boasts long endurance and zero-emissions, lining up with

At the end of 2021, Bausch identified five main sources of pollution contributing to the 19,330 tonnes of greenhouse gases generated by the miliary in 2019: emissions from the production of goods and services purchased by the defence department, military aviation, heating of buildings, motor vehicles and finally the emissions from the manufacture and launch of the GovSat-1 satellite.

Bausch added that “fostering the development of green dual use projects like Skydweller will also have a long-term beneficial impact on civil aviation.”

The grand duchy’s directorate of defence will initially help the businesses transport the drones from Spain to the Caribbean for testing.

(Additional reporting by Cordula Schnuer)