Turgis & Gaillard, a French aerospace company, has entered into a partnership with Ukraine’s state enterprise Antonov to jointly produce a scaled-down and cost-effective version of the Aarok drone. This collaboration, initiated during a visit by a French delegation to Kyiv on September 28, holds promise for enhancing the capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. While specific contract details are yet to be finalized, it is clear that this drone will be exclusively utilized by the Ukrainian military and will not be available for export. The Ukrainian variant of the Aarok drone is designed for both reconnaissance and combat missions, with aspirations of equipping it to carry weaponry. However, the proposed timeline for the French-Ukrainian drone’s readiness by next year may raise concerns, as the foundational Aarok drone is still in the prototyping phase and has not undergone flight testing.
The Aarok drone boasts a wingspan of 22 meters and a takeoff weight of around 5.5 tons, including a payload capacity of 1.5 tons. The company aims to conduct its inaugural flight by the end of this year, with production readiness and service introduction slated for mid-2025. The prototype of the Aarok drone was developed in secrecy over a span of two years in Blois (Loir-et-Cher) and was entirely self-funded by ETI Turgis & Gaillard. Patrick Gaillard, co-owner of the company, is hopeful that the French military will show interest in their design. With its impressive specifications, the Aarok drone ranks slightly above the American Reaper (of which France has acquired 12 units) and the forthcoming European Eurodrone.
Despite these acquisitions, the French Armed Forces still grapple with challenges related to the saturation of large UAVs. The deployment of Safran Patroller drones experienced a substantial five-year delay, and they are still not equipped with armaments. In contrast, the much larger Eurodrone, led by Airbus, is not expected to be ready until 2030 at the earliest, with a high unit cost. The Aarok drone aims to fill the void by offering an affordable and mass-produced armed drone solution for France. To maintain cost-effectiveness, its creators have adopted traditional aircraft features, including a single propeller-driven engine, robust landing gear with wide spacing, and the ability to operate from unpaved runways as short as 400-500 meters, situated close to operational theaters. While the exact price of the production model is undisclosed, it is anticipated to be slightly higher than that of the Turkish TB2 but considerably lower than the American Reaper.
With six hardpoints capable of carrying up to 1.5 tons of payload, the Aarok drone can transport four AASM precision-guided bombs and two Hellfire missiles. In addition to its combat capabilities, it can also perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions, offering a standard endurance of 24 hours, which can extend to 30 hours in a clean configuration without armaments. The Aarok drone is equipped with advanced technologies, including the Thales Searchmaster radar, Euroflir electro-optical sensor, and Safran’s AASM precision-guided bombs. The manufacturer’s preferred engine is the Safran Helicopter Engines Ardiden 3TP, although an alternative engine may be considered if necessary, potentially aligning the UAV with the engine chosen for the Eurodrone, promoting interoperability within the armed forces. This collaboration between Antonov and Turgis & Gaillard heralds a promising future for both Ukrainian and French military capabilities in the realm of armed drones.