Aerospace & Defense

Drones over the skies of Europe?

A Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine
Getty Images

Europe risks losing its global standing if it doesn't come up with a unified defense policy – especially in new advances such as the use of drones, experts have warned.

The European Union's defense strategy is currently fragmented, with individual member states taking control of their own military policy, despite a common framework being in place.

The region's 28 leaders are set to meet next Thursday to discuss the region's defense policy against a backdrop of austerity and sharp budget cuts.

"We need to have the right capability to shoulder our own responsibility of security in the EU and beyond. There are certain things Europe is lacking and that is well known and I think and that is what will be discussed," a source close to the talks told CNBC in a phone interview.

(Read more: European defense companies call for European drone program)

The EU's defense policy came under fire on Friday from the chief executive of aerospace giant EADS, who said the bloc must spend money on developing a military drone or get left behind the U.S. and Israel.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVs) are operated remotely from thousands of miles away from the battlefield and have been highly criticized after evidence emerged that U.S. aircrafts had killed civilians.

But politicians have recognised the need for EU countries to adopt the technology to catch up in the global drone race. In a meeting in Brussels last month, defense ministers asked the European Defense Agency (EDA), the European Union's Defense arm, to start studying the military requirements and costs of a future EU surveillance drone that could be produced after 2020.

Dawn of the 'drone age'

Spending on drones, or so-called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is expected to double over the next decade from the current figure of $5.2 billion annually to $11.6 billion, totalling just over $89 billion in the next ten years, according to research from Teal Group. Israel and the U.S. are the largest exporters of drones.

(Read More: Dealing in Drones: Big Business of Unmanned Flight )

Analysts agree that the current patchy policy towards drones is hindering the EU's pace in becoming a global defense player.

"There has always been a need for much more harmonious and integrated development within Europe to develop its own indigenous capability," Derrick Maple, principle analyst at IHS Jane's ADS, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"Europe needs to develop its own way in the world because the future lies in more and more unmanned systems. So unless Europe has a long-term vision to address this, it will continue to be reliant on the supply of equipment form US and Israel."

(Read more: The Battle of 2014: A shrinking defense industry)

But agreements between individual governments over the use and development of drones are more likely to happen rather than an EU-wide policy due to political disagreements over their use, according to Paul Schulte, senior visiting fellow at Kings College London.

"If you are going to get serious about building drone capability you would want an associated combat drone program and it is not at all likely Europe would want to do that partly because of political difficulties with the idea of combat drones because of the way US are using them," Schulte told CNBC in a phone interview.

"The idea that Europe could become l leading player and research leader looks rather unlikely."

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal