Its been a busy week for unmanned systems news.
The Army will deploy the Watchkeeper UAV system to Afghanistan in April next year, nearly a year later than originally planned. Watchkeeper is a system based on the Hermes 450 air vehicle but includes many modifications and wide range of supporting infrastructure projects as well.
More information on the background and history of Watchkeeper here
Three systems will be deployed to Afghanistan in April to work alongside the the existing Hermes 450′s operated under the Project Lydian banner. The existing Hermes 450′s are operated under a contract from Thales and will be gradually replaced by the full fat Watchkeeper systems. The Army will deploy ISTAR tactical groups on Viking armoured vehicles which will support ISTAR and UAV planning.
Coinciding with this is the news that Watchkeeper has been placed on the naughty boys project list. Following the Australian example of having a publicly available ‘projects of concern’ list it will highlight those projects that are failing to deliver or costing more than planned. It is hoped that the shame of being on this list will force everyone concerned to sharpen their pencils by impacted on shareholder value. It’s an interesting idea and lets hope it works.
Various reports cite Watchkeeper as being discussed by the Major Projects Review Board because it is hundreds of millions of pounds over budget but although it was originally estimated at around £700million the NAO Major Projects Report lists the Main Gate approval cost of £907 million which would seem to put ot pretty much on budget.
It is certainly late though.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) endorsed the Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) which will smooth the way to creating a unique environment within the UK for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to fly in segregated airspace. The revised airspace will become effective from 28 July 2011, allowing unmanned system development to proceed at a much quicker pace.
A few selected quotes from those involved…
“The ability to have dedicated airspace and facilities available in the UK is seen as key to ensuring that Wales and the UK are at the forefront of this new and growing sector. It provides Wales with a unique proposition to attract companies working in this sector and also has the potential to raise the profile of Wales in international markets. Our ultimate aim is to create sustainable employment opportunities in the region.”
Edwina Hart, Welsh Government Business Minister
“By working closely with the Welsh Government and other key stakeholders, the Wales UAS environment is unique in Europe and represents a world class facility for the development of unmanned aircraft systems and the critical sensors and technology they carry. Through the provision of managed airspace and QinetiQ’s safety oversight, we can support a range of operations that will enable manufacturers, users and potential customers to develop, demonstrate and train within an environment which the regulators have recognised as a focal point for UAS activity in the UK. This will support increased familiarity, awareness and understanding of UAS from a regulatory perspective, which in turn promotes informed development of UAS integration into the national airspace.”
Carl Davies, QinetiQ
Beyond Reaper, Scavenger and Telemos
Following the agreement between BAe and Dassault Aviation on a joint development of an autonomous medium altitude long endurance UAV to be called Telemos more information has been revealed on the shape of the Scavenger requirement (part of the wider SOLOMON project) that Telemos will be pitching for.
Background reading on Telemos here
These are certainly interesting times and the greater political and resulting military cooperation between France and the UK is being reflected in industry.
The gradual coming together of political will, industrial expediency and military requirements is pointing to a a system that just might pull off a successful collaborative project and create a decent system for both nations with decent export potential. Both BAe and Dassault have significant expertise, especially in systems integration and autonomous control systems and these are seen as key factors in reducing bandwidth requirements and flying in non segregated airpsace.
BAe and Dassault are not best friends in other areas of their businesses, with the Rafale and Typhoon going head to head in the Indian medium multrole fighter competition and things are complicated even more by the simple fact that Dassault are leading the European Neuron unmanned combat air system demonstrator. The alternative is the EADS Cassidian Talarion, EADS holds the French governments stake in Dassault.
The industrial permutations are enough to make your head spin but it should be obvious that the requirement is shaping up to signpost the future of European defence aviation. The winner of the MALE requirements will more or less be a shoe in for a future UCAV type designed to compliment Typhoon and Rafale.
The UK requirement is for a system with an initial operating capability of around 2018 that will replace the in service Reapers.
Reaper is said to satisfy approximately 80% of the Scavenger requirement with candidates likely to be the Predator C, the Talarion or Telemos.
To get the RAF to 2018 it is planning the ‘Additional Reaper Capacity’ or ARC that will comprise an additional 5 aircraft to be in service by the middle of next year. These additional aircraft will enable the RAF to fly three continuous orbits, using 44 crews. ARC is likely to cost approximately £135million, or £27 million each and this will coincide with the reconfiguration of 13 Squadron as the second Reaper unit, 39 Squadron being the first.
Mini and Micro
In order to provide dismounted infantry with information about what ‘is over the wall’ the MoD and Army are looking at options for mini and micro UAV’s. Because of the time it takes to task the Hermes 450 and Desert Hawk III’s in use with the Royal Artillery a requirement has opened up for something that is rapid and organic to the infantry patrol. It will allow them to identify firing points or simply look over the walls of a compound quickly and reliably.
The requirement is hoped to be fulfilled by the end of this year and leading contenders, trialled at last years URBEX, include the AeroVironment Wasp, Datron Scout, Cyberflight Maveric and the larger Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk III already in service.
No doubt there is a bit of a bunfight between the Royal Artillery and Infantry about who will use these and the simple answer might be to buy more of what we already have and push them down the organisational structure but a smaller system will provide a step up in capability for the infantry. Combined with a smaller, lighter and more power efficient ground control station and improved battery technology the project will seek to reduce the carried load.
Talisman is the collective name for a counter IED and route clearance capability, a collection of vehicles, sensors and other equipment in service with the Royal Engineers. I have followed the evolution of Talisman but always been a little reticent about publishing anything until it has been covered elsewhere, for obvious reasons, it is very sensitive stuff.
Reported this week is the experience if using unmanned Snatch Land Rovers mounting a range of sensors, likely to include ground penetrating radar, although details first emerged in summer last year.
The final selected version was from MIRA using its MACE2 technology with additional system integration from others including Thales. The latest news from Shepard is that the Army still hasn’t quite worked out the best way of using the remote Snatch and a number of issues remain with Talisman as a whole but as ever, things will be worked out in due course.