Two Eurofighter Typhoons from Spain’s 11th Wing, along with their accompanying pilots and maintenance personnel, arrived in France late last week to conduct evaluation flights against the stealthy Dassault nEUROn drone (technically speaking, an unmanned combat aerial vehicle or UCAV). The intent of the exercises is simple: assess how effectively the Typhoon’s suite of onboard sensors can detect and engage the annoyingly capitalized nEUROn, rumored to be among the most capable unmanned combat vehicles on the planet.

nEUROn and Rafale M in flight over the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. (Courtesy of Dassault)

According to a statement released by Spain’s Ministry of Defense, the evaluation flights will include efforts to target the UCAV with “air-to-air radar, IRST (Infrared Search and Track), and IRIS-T missiles,” which will allow them to gauge the UCAV’s stealth capabilities and determine if it truly could operate in moderately to highly contested regions as it was designed to do.

The nEUROn is more tech-demonstrator than operational military aircraft, the product of a joint European effort that has seen significant contributions from France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland since its inception in 1999. Spain joined the developmental program in 2006, but has since become heavily involved in the UCAV’s data link systems as well as elements of the airframe itself.

Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon (Flickr)

Although Spain’s Typhoons are not equipped with the latest or most advanced sensor suite around, they’ll likely offer the new drone a formidable opponent and will serve as a solid indicator of what the European UCAV may face in combat. Aside from a potential conflict with China or Russia, it stands to reason that most airspace these drones will operate in won’t include the most advanced fifth-generation fighters, nor the most advanced radar or infrared detection technology. In fact, the Typhoon’s somewhat dated suite of systems may still be more advanced than the UCAV may face for some time in most conflicts around the world.

The results of these flights will inform the future of not only the nEUROn program, but the UCAVs that will undoubtedly follow in its digital footsteps.