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A fast moving drone world: unquestionably, the drone world is one of the fastest moving sectors of the defence industry. This page provides a brief account of the events that have taken place since Armada began this series of articles at the beginning of 2003. (UAV Update).

The current proliferation of unmanned aircraft is now posing a serious safety problem, as the airspace has to be shared with manned aircraft. Kentron, as an example, is the national co-ordinator for South African UAV certification for Ucare--a non-legislative aviation certification body within the European Unmanned Vehicles Society (Euro UVS). For quite some time, Kentron has been engaged in a process with the South African Civil Aviation Authority and the Military Airworthiness Board of the South African Air Force for certification of the Seeker drone. While the actual process still needs to be approved, the Seeker II (seen in the title picture) has already been allocated a Zulu Uniform registration. The aircraft actually broke new grounds when, as claimed by Kentron, it became the first unmanned aircraft to fly in a controlled airspace. Kentron and the Civil Aviation Authorities are working hand in hand to establish an Icao rule-based certification that would allow the operation of drones in joint operations in Africa with UN-based forces.

However, a totally under publicised fact in this context involves the Swiss Ranger (which actually finds its roots in Israel): it had to be CAA approved in Switzerland to be able to enter service a few years ago due to the very constricted airways of that country.

The development of a US Army Hunter UAV able to carry and launch a new version of the Northrop Grumman Bat submunition is moving apace. Called the Viper Strike since January 2003--this Bat munition, modified to receive a laser spot seeker, has scored seven direct hits in nine attempts against targets in tests conducted by the US Army on 29 and 30 March 2003. The targets ranged from compact pickup trucks through multiple rocket and missile launchers to a countermeasures-protected tank. Co-sponsored by the Army's Precision Fires Rocket and Missile Systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Project Offices, the drops were performed at White Sands Missile Range and were aimed at validating the concept of the Viper Strike and to demonstrate the operational capability of the combined systems. The Viper Strike has the same general appearance as the Bat, but no longer carries wing-tip acoustic probes. The US Air Force's project also involving the Bat, but launched from a Predator, which, on the other hand, appears to have been put on the back burner.

Northrop Grumman's helicopter-based Fire Scout undertook its maiden launch from a US Marine Corps S-788--a Hummer-mounted Ground Control Station (GCS). This flight was one of two conducted the same day; the other, a 20-minute demonstration flight for senior aviation members, was controlled from the US Navy's S-280 GCS less than an hour before the S-788 flight.

DRS, in the meantime, has received a five million dollar order from the US Navy for an undisclosed number of Neptunes, the company's latest unmanned air vehicle. The Neptune is catapult-launched but can either land conventionally on its tricycle gear, or belly land on water. Therefore, the Neptune can also be operated from relatively small vessels. A system includes three aircraft, while the payload consists of a colour camera and a thermal imager. However, the Neptune can be configured to actually drop payloads of up to ten kilograms. Its ground control station is the size of a suitcase and allows mission planning and flight plan updates with 100 waypoints. Its operational range is just under 40 nautical miles.
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Author:Biass, Eric H.
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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