Fixed wings: in the fixed-wing range of unmanned aircraft there are four main sub-categories: the Hales (High Altitude Long Endurance), the Males (Medium Altitude Long Endurance), followed by the tactical drones and the electrically powered lightweights/microlights. However, a new variety is now emerging: the optionally manned.Despite cost concerns the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk continues to lead the High-Altitude, Long Endurance category. The first of seven YRQ-4A developmental aircraft flew in 1998. Four are still flying, of which two have been handed to Nasa-Dryden and one is based in Qatar (together with two of the seven US Air Force Block 10 RQ-4As) for operations over Southeast Asia. Following six Block 20 RQ-4Bs, the US Air Force plans 26 Block 30s with Asip (Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload) and up to 15 Block 40s with the Northrop Grumman/ Raytheon MP-Rtip (Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program) sensor, giving the service a total buy of up to 54 production aircraft.
The Department of Defense-wide/Joint FY2007 budget included $ 448 million for four RQ-4B Block 30s and one Block 40, plus $247.7 million for RDT&E. The Department of Defense wide/Joint FY2008 budget request for the Global Hawk is for $ 577.8 million to produce five RQ-4Bs, plus $ 298.5 million for RDT&E. Congressional concern over a General Accountability Office report giving a programme unit cost of $130.5 million (including RDT&E and ground control stations) has forced the manufacturer to publish its own figures for production cost.
The unequipped Block 20 RQ-4B costs approximately $ 29.4 million; a mission payload of $16.5 million brings unit cost to $ 45.9 million. The Block 30 costs $ 60 million with a $ 32.5 million payload. The Block 40 will cost $ 66.3 million, including a $ 39.0 million load. Operating cost is given as approximately $13,000 per hour.
The long-span RQ-4B takes the payload from 910 to 1360 kg and increases gross take-off weight from 12,110 to 14,628 kg. Unsurprisingly, there is interest in increasing the thrust of the Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan above the current 36.9 kN.
Global Hawks are being delivered to the US Air Force 12th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, where it operates alongside the Lockheed Martin U-2S that it is scheduled to replace. Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota is to be the second Conus (Continental US) operating location for the drone. The US Air Force plans to base three RQ-4s at Andersen AFB, Guam, from 2009, later increasing the number to nine.
Export sales of the Global Hawk will be restricted to America's closest allies. Australia, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom--all have some interest in the Global Hawk. However, as in the case of the much smaller Predator, exporting it would break Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rules, under which a Category I vehicle is defined as being able to carry a 500-kg payload over a 300-km range. In January 2007 Washington formally declined to sell Global Hawks to South Korea unless MTCR regulations are changed.
The RQ-4 has been selected (alongside the Airbus A321) as a preferred platform for the Nato Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme. In July 2006 AGS Industries announced that (to keep programme cost below 3.3 [euro] billion) the number of drones proposed had been reduced from five to four, while the A321s were reduced from six to four, and the Tcar (Transatlantic Cooperative Airborne Radar) ground surveillance sensor would be produced in only one version for both aircraft types. AGS Industries made its formal proposal to Nato in October 2006.
In February 2007 the German Ministry of Defence awarded a 430 million [euro] contract to EuroHawk, a 50-50 joint venture company formed by Eads and Northrop Grumman, for the development, testing and support of the Euro Hawk sigint, surveillance and reconnaissance system. One RQ-4B Block 20 is included in this first contract and will be delivered in 2010. The remaining four air vehicles planned are to be delivered between 2011 and 2014.
The Euro Hawk will replace the German Navy's Breguet Atlantics, which have been in service since 1972. The sig-int system is being developed by Eads to intercept both communications and radar emissions, and will be free of US trade restrictions. A prototype system was tested in six sorties by a US Air Force RQ-4 operated from Nordholtz in northern Germany in late 2003.
The US Navy has been flying two RQ-4As under its Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration programme. This is aimed at providing background for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (Barns) requirement for a drone system to augment operations by the manned Boeing P-8A Poseidon. Basically Block 10s, these two RQ-4As have additional radar modes, including a limited air search capability with an effective range of 160 km, and a Northrop Grumman LR100 sigint package.
The Bams requirement is for a system to provide 24-hour cover for a period of seven days at 3700 km radius from base and with 85% availability. In late 2006 there was an additional demand to positively identify the target vessel and to check on deck activity. This may call for improved sensors, or for the drone to descend to carry out these checks and then climb back to patrol altitude.
The RFP for Barns was released in February 2007, and it is anticipated that in September a single contractor will be selected for the SDD (System Development and Demonstration) phase. This should lead to contract signature before the end of 2007 and initial operational capability (IOC) with a single round-the-clock 'orbit' available by 2013 or 2014. Final operational capability will provide five orbits, one for each of the US Navy's deployed fleets. Reports refer to current US Navy procurement demands of up to 50 drones.
The principal Bams contenders are believed to be a modified RQ-4B Block 20, with a cruise altitude of over 60,000 ft and an endurance of up to 36 hours, and the Mariner version of the turboprop General Atomics MQ-9 Predator-B, patrolling at over 50,000 ft for up to 49 hours.
Lockheed Martin is supporting the Mariner proposal but is expected to submit its own stealthy Polecat if low observability is required. Other possibilities include the AV (formerly AeroVironment) Global Observer and an optionally-manned Gulfstream G550 (proposed by Boeing and/or General Dynamics).
The Pentagon is hoping that some of its allies will join in the Barns SDD phase, but so far only Australia has signed up. The RAAF has an Air 7000 Phase One requirement for a drone to complement its P-3Cs.
Of the Hale drones that may be proposed for the US Navy Barns contest the most revolutionary is the AV Global Observer. This is based on the company's experience with the Nasa-funded Helios and will be fuelled with liquid hydrogen. The company flew a sub-scale Global Observer with a hydrogen fuel cell in May 2005, and has successfully demonstrated a hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine of its own design in an altitude chamber, simulating a five-day mission above 65,000 ft.
An expected Joint Capability Technology Demonstration funded by the US Government will develop a full-scale Global Observer, which is to demonstrate a mission of five to seven days at 55,000 to 65,000 ft. The GO-1 option would weigh 1800 kg and carry a 160-kg payload, while the GO-2 would increase these figures to 4100 and 450 kg respectively.
The Lockheed Martin P-175 Polecat is a 4080-kg flying wing, with two 13.3-kN Williams International FJ44-3E turbofans. It was designed to carry a 450-kg payload and cruise at around 65,000 ft, and was intended to explore various new technologies for the US Air Force Long Range Strike Program. These include low-cost composite production, eliminating the need for curing in autoclaves. Despite reports of a stealthy drone being used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the P-175 first flew only in late 2005.
The real joker in the Hale pack is the jet-powered Predator-C, a project that has been on the back burner at General Atomics for literally years, while the company maximises sales of the piston-engined Gnat/Predator-A series.
Developing a Hale airframe-engine combination is well within the capability of several nations, if finance is available. Grob has proposed a G 600 Hale optionally-manned derivative of its G 180 business jet, powered by two Williams FJ44s. Gross weight would be around 7750 kg, allowing it to carry a 1200-kg payload for 18.6 hours at up to 60,000 ft. There have been rumours that Elbit is co-operating with Grob to produce a joint proposal for the Israel Defense Force to compete with a new Hale project from IAI.
Singapore Technologies Aerospace has reportedly been working with some French assistance on an optionally-piloted Lalee project aimed at both AEW and ground/sea surveillance missions, with a cruise altitude of around 65,000 ft.
At Air Show China in late 2006, Chengdu showed a model of a Hale design very similar to the Global Hawk. Chengdu was reported to be also working on a Soar Dragon Hale design with Guizhou, who in 2000 showed a model of its WuZhen-2000 (WZ-2000). Although looking rather like an RQ-4 and designed to cruise at 59,000 ft, the WZ-2000 is relatively small, reportedly grossing only 1700 kg, and carrying a payload of 80 kg for a flight of three hours. It is powered by a single WS-11 engine, a Chinese copy of the Ukraine's Progress AI-25TLK (developed for the JL-8 basic trainer), presumably derated.
Boeing was a pioneer of Hale drones, its 9000-kg Condor establishing in 1989 an (unbroken) altitude record of 66,980 ft for piston-engined aircraft. Powered by two 130-kW Continental engines and with an airframe of carbon composites the Condor had an endurance of 80 hours.
Boeing is reportedly working with Aurora Flight Sciences on the 2360-kg Orion, which is scheduled to fly in 2008. It is described as a high-altitude long-loiter (Hall) drone, designed for a four-day endurance at 65,000 ft. It will burn hydrogen in a modified, supercharged car engine. A proposed twin-engined development, possibly using the 61-metre wing of the Condor, would be able to stay aloft for ten days.
Northrop Grumman is studying concepts for an Ultra-Hale (or U-Hale) drone that could loiter for a month. The only image released indicates a thick flying wing design of a rectangular planform, with two tractor propellers. No information on the powerplant has been revealed, other than that solar power and hydrogen fuel cells have not been proposed.
The long-term work that AV, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are doing to develop drones of extremely long endurance is important, but the US Air Force urgently needs (and might already have) a stealthy ISR vehicle capable of penetrating the most advanced air defence systems.
In 2003 the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board reported that the service could develop a 20,000-kg low-observable drone that would carry an 1800-kg payload and loiter for 18 hours at 3700 km radius. Some such project may well be one of the 'black' programmes hidden in the Pentagon's annual budget requests.
The use of solar power in conjunction with an advanced energy storage system, giving extreme endurance, has been demonstrated by the AV Pathfinder/ Helios drone series. In the case of Helios, excess solar power was used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. During the night the gases, stored in high-pressure tanks, were fed to a fuel cell to generate electrical power.
Further research is being conducted by Qinetiq with its Zephyr air vehicles, using solar power and a rechargeable battery that is still under development. France's Onera is collaborating with Sagem on a Hale demonstrator named Busard, which would lay the foundation for a High Altitude Platform Station (Haps) to serve as a communications relay for military and civil users.
Darpa has recently announced a drone programme that has been named Vulture and is aimed at demonstrating the drone's endurance of several months at very high altitude through the use of solar energy. A more revolutionary approach is used by the agency's forthcoming Rapid Eye drone, which would be deployed ballistically from Conus to begin a Hale surveillance and communication mission at two hours' notice, anywhere in the world.
In late 2006 Alenia Aeronautica unveiled a model of its Molynx Hale project, a 3000-kg drone with a 25-metre wingspan and an 800-kg payload. Powered by two wing-mounted 186-kW car engines, the Molynx is aimed at an endurance of 30 hours and a ceiling of 45,000 ft. It is intended for both military and civil applications.
The Global Hawk currently leads in altitude and endurance, but the more affordable General Atomics Gnat/Predator series has higher production numbers and accumulated flight hours. The General Atomics Gnat-750 entered service with the CIA in 1989, followed by the I-Gnat in 1998. The I-Gnat was exported to Turkey and possibly the UK. The Predator passed from Darpa to the US Air Force in 1997, and IOC was declared in March 2005 after it had been in use for several years.
The Predator has also been the leading drone in the use of air-ground guided missiles. The first Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire was launched from an MQ-1L in 2001, and by early 2006 the operational usage rate from Predators had reached almost 60 per year.
The current baseline version is the MQ-1L Predator-A, a 1022-kg aircraft with a 78-kW Rotax 914F engine and a wingspan of 14.84 metres. It is capable of 40 hours endurance and a ceiling of 25,000 ft.
Over 150 MQ-1s have been delivered to the US Air Force, and at least a further 158 are planned, consisting of 24 in FY2008 (for $ 352.7 million), and 43, 49 and 42 in the following years. The fleet has well over 200,000 flight hours and is adding around 6000 each month. Individual MQ-1s have already topped 4000 hours. Future developments include an optical sense-and-avoid system, in view of growing air traffic control problems.
The US Air Force has three MQ-1 Predator-A reconnaissance squadrons (the 11th, 15th and 17th RS, components of Air Combat Command's 57th Wing) all based at Creech AFB, Nevada. These were joined in late 2006 by the 19th Attack Squadron. In addition, the 30th RS is a trials unit, formed in 2005 at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. Afsoc (Air Force Special Operations Command) currently has MQ-1s (scheduled to be replaced by MQ-9s) with the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, which is based at Creech but under the command of the 1st Special Operations Group at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
The US Air Force active MQ-1 inventory at the start of 2007 was given as only 57 aircraft. Aside from normal peacetime and wartime attrition, an undeclared number of early RQ-1s were used as expendable radar decoys during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
There are plans to form an Air National Guard MQ-1 unit at March AFB, California. Other Air National Guard and US Air Force Reserve units at Davis-Monthan and Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Hancock Field in New York, Grand Forks in North Dakota and Ellington Field in Texas are later to receive Predators.
There are two operational MQ-1 detachments from the 15th RS: the 46th Expeditionary RS, forming part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad AB in Iraq, and the 62nd ERS at Kandahar in Afghanistan. In-theatre Predators are controlled only in the launch and recovery phases by on-site ground control stations. In flight they are controlled via secure surface lines to a classified location in Europe, and thence via satellite links to the drones. For these 'remote split operations', the in-flight operators sit in the Predator Operations Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada (Poc-N). A deployed Predator system consists of four air vehicles, a ground control station, a satellite link and around 55 personnel.
Five MQ-1s have been sold to Italy and a further five are on order. Three of the Italian Air Force Predators are deployed with the 28[degrees] Gruppo Velovoli Teleguidati at what is now Ali (formerly Tallil) AB in southern Iraq. Britain has not purchased the MQ-1, but around 44 RAF personnel forming No 1115 Flight are attached to Nellis AFB to assist in US Air Force Predator operations over Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since March 2004 the US Army has used three General Atomics I-Gnat drones (similar to the unarmed RQ-1) in Iraq, primarily for convoy protection. These have recently been supplemented by two I-Gnat ERs.
In 2005 the US Army chose a derivative of Predator-A to be its new Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) drone, to replace the Northrop Grumman RQ-5 Hunter.
The US Army's resulting Warrior (referred to informally as Sky Warrior or MQ-12A) has a span of 17 metres, a 100-kW Thielert Centurion 2.0 dual-fuel engine burning JP-8 or diesel and a gross weight of 1360 kg, making possible an increase in external load from 136 to 227 kg. The new engine first flew in a Predator in October 2004.
The Warrior can be armed with four Hellfires and equipped with a lightweight (38 kg) General Atomics Lynx II synthetic aperture radar (Sar) in addition to its Raytheon AAS-52 EO sensor. It will have an endurance of 30 hours at up to 29,000 ft.
In August 2005 General Atomics was awarded the Warrior SDD contract, which included the manufacture of 17 drones and seven ground control stations. Reports indicate that a preliminary batch of six so-called Warrior Alphas (modified I-Gnat ERs with the big wing and new engine) was delivered to Iraq in late 2006, cleared to a weight of 1070 kg. The remaining SDD Warriors are evidently referred to as Block 0s, with a gross weight of 1360 kg and capable of carrying four Hellfires.
The US Army hopes to eventually field a 1630-kg Warrior, able to carry eight Hellfires and equipped with a 120-kW dual-fuel engine. However, the next more powerful engine (above 100 kW) from either Thielert or SMA produces 170 kW.
The US Army plans to acquire eleven Warrior squadrons, each with twelve air vehicles, five ground control stations and 115 personnel. Under congressional pressure, the US Air Force is to buy two Warrior systems to assess possible commonality with its later Predators.
The gap between the US Air Force's one-tonne MQ-1 Predator-A, typically operating at 22,000 ft, and the 14-tonne RQ-4B at 60,000 ft has long been evident. General Atomics has now bridged that gap by developing the 4.8-tonne turbo-prop-powered MQ-9A Predator-B, recently named Reaper by the US Air Force. Most of the early development (reportedly including the manufacture of ten airframes) was company funded. Two air vehicles were ordered by the US Air Force in late 2002 but the initial SDD contract (for $ 68.2 million) was signed only in March 2005.
Powered by a 670-kW Honeywell TPE331-10T engine and with its wingspan increased from 14.9 to 20.1 metres, the first YMQ-9A flew in February 2001. Relative to the MQ-1, maximum speed is doubled, from 222 to 445 km/hr, and operational ceiling jumps from 25,000 to 50,000 ft, necessitating more advanced sensors. Internal payload is increased from 204 to 363 kg. Despite an increase in fuel capacity from 272 to 1814 kg, endurance is reduced from 40 to 30 hours. More significantly, external payload is increased tenfold, from 136 to 1360 kg, making the 4772-kg MQ-9A Reaper a true 'hunter-killer' drone.
Two YMQ-9A developmental aircraft are reportedly operational in Iraq, armed with 227-kg GBU-12 LGBs. These have recently been joined by four pre-production aircraft, which can additionally employ the 227-kg GBU-38 Jdam. Clearance is also to be provided for the AGM-114P Hellfire, the GPS-assisted EGBU-12 bomb and (reportedly) the 'Special Project A'. General Atomics' advertising illustrates the Predator-B with two Jdams on the inboard pylons, eight Hellfires on the mid-span pylons and two Aim-9 Sidewinders outboard.
The first US Air Force MQ-9A production order appears as a request for $ 79 million for four aircraft in the FY2008 budget, associated with $ 61.1 million for RDT&E. The US Air Force plans to acquire a total of 50 to 70 MQ-9s by 2012. These are to equip nine operational systems, each with four air vehicles, the remainder of the total representing trials, training and attrition aircraft. The first operational unit is the 42nd Attack Squadron, established at Creech AFB in November 2006.
The $ 41.4 million order announced in January 2006 for five Predator-Bs may represent aircraft for US Customs and Border Protection (which has so far ordered four and crashed one), Nasa and the US Navy.
Britain has requested two Predator-Bs for use in Afghanistan and expects to sign a $ 77 million contract shortly. The RAF anticipates using the drone with a dual-band (day/night) long-range oblique photography camera such as the Goodrich DB-110 in an underwing pod (like the Raptor, developed for the RAF Tornado), sending target images via satellite link to a ground station.
As mentioned earlier, the Mariner version of the Predator-B is being proposed by a Lockheed Martin-led team as an alternative to the Global Hawk in the US Navy Bams contest. Originally referred to as the Predator-B ER (Extended Range), the Mariner's wingspan is stretched to 26.2 metres and its fuel capacity is further increased to 2720 kg by means of conformal tanks over the wing roots; this raises its endurance to 49 hours.
Another external difference from the Predator-B is that the Mariner has a pylon-mounted ventral radome. Ceiling is upped to 52,000 ft, internal payload is increased to 522 kg, but external payload is reduced to 900 kg. Maximum take-off weight is 4990 kg.
The Mariner first flew in March 2004 in the form of a modified Altair, a one-off Nasa-owned research aircraft, which had its maiden flight one year earlier. A total of three aircraft have now been modified to Mariner standard. Like the Global Hawk, the Mariner has been demonstrated in Australia in trials to assess the feasibility of using sensor-equipped drones to complement manned patrol aircraft and surface vessels.
If their efforts in the Male category are any guide, European armed services are no better than their American counterparts in regard to 'joint' planning. In June 2004 the French Defence Minister announced (conditional on multinational support) the 'launch' of the Euromale programme, in which Eads was to be prime contractor with Dassault supplying the drone and Thales the operational system.
The 'Eagle Two' Euromale air vehicle was to be based on the 3500-kg IAI Heron TP, which has a 900-kW turboprop engine. It was hoped to roll out the first Euromale in 2008 and to reach full operational capability with a European mission system (free from US export controls) by 2011.
By mid-2006 work on the Euromale had virtually ground to a halt, although development of the IAI Heron TP appears to be continuing with Israeli Ministry of Defense funding, under the designation Eitan (Strength). Its maiden flight occurred on 15 July 2006.
Euromale simply lacks the essential support from European defence ministries. The French Army is preoccupied with the Eads Sidm (Systeme Interimaire de Drone Male), based on the piston-engined IAI Heron (discussed below). As its designation suggests, Sidm is intended only as an interim system to replace the Eads CL-289 and the Sagem Sperwer, which are due to be retired in 2011 or 2012. Designated 'Eagle One', the prototype Sidm drone (evidently the first of an IAI-built batch of at least four) had its maiden flight at Istres in France on 2 June 2006.
Beyond Sidm, Dassault would like to develop its Neuron stealthy Ucav project, but that does not have a long-endurance configuration. Eads would likewise wish to further develop its Barracuda technology demonstrator, which first flew in April 2006 and crashed five months later.
Britain already has its Thales-led Watchkeeper programme based on the 550-kg Elbit Hermes 450, but France feels that this does not meet its requirements and may prefer (as an interim measure) a Male derivative of the Sagem Sperwer. For the time being, Sagem is developing the Sperwer B (formerly known as the LE for long endurance), which basically retains the current fuselage but adopts a wider-span wing. According to latest news, Sagem has not yet made a firm choice regarding the engine, which almost certainly will have to be fuel injected. As a European manufacturer, Sagem has scored reasonably well having sold its Sperwer to Canada, France, the Netherlands and Greece. Canada has been making heavy use of its Sperwers in Afghanistan, while the Netherlands has recently deployed theirs in that region. Denmark had also ordered the Sperwer but realised shortly after delivery that the system did not actually meet the nation's requirements. They have since been returned to Sagem.
Tight restrictions on the exporting of American drones, coupled with the small number of significant drone developments in Europe, have left the field virtually clear for Israel. In the Male category, the 1200-kg IAI Heron 1, powered by an 85-kW Rotax piston engine, has an endurance of 45 hours and a ceiling of 30,000 ft. In 2004 Washington pressured Israel into ending negotiations with China on the supply of Herons (following the successful sale of Harpy attack drones).
The Heron was first purchased by the Israeli Air Force under the name Machatz (Strike), although a small ($ 50 million) batch was later ordered under the designation Shoval (Trail). The latter was formally accepted by the IAF in March 2007. In 2006 operations against Lebanon the Heron was operated by a combined team of IAI and IAF personnel and carried a variety of payloads.
Heron production may well have been launched on the basis of an order from the Indian Navy, which received its first in 2002. The Heron is also operated by the Indian Air Force. In 2005 Sipri reported an Indian order total of 42 units. In March 2007 the Indian Defence Minister stated that the Air Force had so far received 30 IAI-built drones, and more were under contract. In January 2006 the Indian Army ordered 16 Herons for $ 220 million
In May 2005 Turkey placed a $150 million order for Herons. The Heron is also the basis for the Eads 'Eagle One' for the French Army Sidm (as noted earlier). The wing and other Heron components were used in developing the Northrop Grumman RQ-5C Hunter II.
In late 2006 it was revealed that IAI is looking for a US partner to assist in selling its later drones to the Pentagon. The Israeli Air Force meanwhile hopes to use US financial aid to Israel to purchase IAI-designed drones manufactured by US companies.
The Elbit Systems Hermes 1500, which is powered by two 75-kW Rotax engines, is the heaviest example in the known Israeli drone range. It was developed with assistance from the Israeli Ministry of Defense to provide a long-endurance platform for heavy sensors. The first example flew in 1998 with a 1500-kg gross weight (now increased to 1650 kg) and an 18-metre span. It has an endurance of 26 hours and a ceiling of 33,000 ft.
In June 2003 the Israeli Ministry of Defense awarded Elbit a $ 47 million contract believed to relate to providing a turnkey operation (possibly sigint) using the Hermes 1500. In 2005 Elbit flew a private-ventured maritime patrol version with an increased gross weight (around 1750 kg) and wing-mounted fuel tanks to boost endurance to 50 hours.
In a much lighter category, the Aeronautics Defense Systems Dominator is an 800-kg tailless configuration, powered by a 120-kW Lycoming engine. Ceiling is given as 25,000 ft but endurance information is not released.
Rest of the World
Developing a Male drone is within the capability of several other nations, given the necessary finance and motivation. For example, the Abu Dhabi-based Advanced Communications Systems Group (Adcom) has a Male project designated Yabhon RX-18, which could win orders from several Arab air forces if such products are not made available by the US and Europe.
In 2003 South Africa's Denel (benefiting from experience with the Seeker drone and Skua jet-powered target) announced the start of work on a Male project dubbed Bateleur, after a local bird of prey Grossing around 1000 kg with a 200-kg payload, the all-composite Bateleur will probably be powered by a Denel-modified Subaru EA-82T car engine. Ceiling is estimated as over 25,000 ft and endurance up to 24 hours. The project currently appears to be progressing only slowly, perhaps in the hope that another nation will join the programme. South Africa has a clear need for additional maritime patrol assets, as do nations such as Brazil and Canada.
At Farnborough in 2006 Turkey's Tusas Aerospace Industries announced its intention to fly its Tiha Male project before the end of 2008. The 1500-kg Tiha was credited with a 200-kg payload, a 30,000-ft ceiling and an endurance of 24 hours. Nothing was said of the powerplant, but a fuel fraction of only 17% indicates a piston engine.
If the best possible performance is to be achieved, then designing a drone from scratch is probably the optimum approach. However, it is clearly less expensive to convert an existing manned aircraft into an optionally manned form, which benefits the flight test programme and simplifies ferrying the aircraft through civil airspace.
In 2005 the Maryland-based Proxy Aviation Systems unveiled its optionally-piloted SkyWatcher/SkyRaider project, based on the Velocity Aircraft kit plane series. The proposal is for a self-co-ordinated 'constellation' of up to a dozen sensor-equipped aircraft to provide area surveillance to a network of up to 20 ground stations. The baseline 1350-kg SkyWatcher has a 150-kW engine, a ceiling of 20,000 ft, and an endurance of 15 hours with a 150-kg payload. The 1815-kg SkyRaider has a 195-kW engine, a ceiling of 24,000 ft and an endurance of 30 hours with a 150-kg payload. Proxy has proposed taking four SkyRaiders to Iraq for service evaluation.
In a similar weight category, the Rheinmetall Defence Systems/Diamond Aircraft Opale (Optionally-Piloted Aerial Long Endurance) platform is based on the DA42 Twin Star, which has a gross weight of 1785 kg with a 525-kg payload and is powered by two 100-kW Thielert Centurion or 134 kW Lycoming engines. The Opale has additional fuel tanks, giving an endurance of 14 hours. It was demonstrated in flight at Idex 2007, and the launch customer is expected to be Libya.
Below One Tonne
Although its replacement (the Warrior) is already planned, the 735/885-kg Northrop Grumman RQ-5A/MQ-5B Hunter (based on an IAI design) will remain an important part of the US Army inventory until at least 2009. Powered by two 42.5-kW Moto Guzzi or Mercedes-Benz heavy fuel engines in a push-pull arrangement, the Hunter was first operated over the Balkans in 1999 and subsequently over Iraq. It is typically employed to provide real-time video on the ground via a second Hunter, using a C-band line-of-sight datalink.
The US Army purchased seven Hunter systems, each with eight RQ-5As, and then a batch of 18 MQ-5Bs, the latter with provisions for GBU-44 Viper Strike missiles and BLU-108 munitions. It has also been tested with Textron's new Universal Aerial Delivery Dispenser. The RQ-5A has a ceiling of 15,000 ft and an endurance of 11.6 hours. These figures increase to 18,000 ft and 18 hours in the case of the MQ-5B.
The 550-kg Elbit Hermes 450 has been in service with the Israel Defense Force since 2000 and played a major role (reportedly including ground attacks) in the 2006 operations against Lebanon. However, its main marketing distinction is that it was selected for the British Army's Thales Watchkeeper system. The prime contractor is to be UAV Tactical Systems (U-Tacs), a joint venture by Elbit Systems and Thales UK.
Up to 94 re-designated 'WK450' drones will be purchased by Britain, and the system will be marketed globally. Israel has already sold Hermes 450s to Botswana, and the drone has been exhibited with a new Tadiran Elint payload. The drone is powered by a 39-kW UEL engine, giving an endurance of 20 hours and a ceiling of 18,000 ft.
The 425-kg IAI Searcher II, capable of carrying the Elta EL/M-2055 radar, is in service with the Israeli Air Force, although older Searchers are being replaced by the Heron. It has an endurance of up to 15 hours and a ceiling of 20,000 ft. A large number (possibly as high as 100) have been purchased for the Indian Air Force and Army. Indonesia has bought a small number and it also serves with the Singaporean Navy.
The majority of tactical drones are relatively crude old designs, with emphasis on low production cost. The larger examples were intended for runway operation, although some use catapult take-offs. In 2002 Galileo Avionica unveiled its 420-kg Falco, which was designed for stol performance. It first flew in December 2003. The Falco was aimed at replacing the Italian Army's Galileo Mirach 26 system, and in 2006 a carrier-based version was proposed. Although the manufacturer is still expecting a home order, it has scored abroad and is producing some 20 units for a customer believed to be Pakistan. Studies of a pneumatic catapult-launch system began with Robonic of Finland in 2006.
Another user of the Robonic catapult is the 350-kg Sagem Sperwer-B, which first flew in February 2004. A long-span derivative of the very successful 300-kg Sperwer, which is operated by the armies of Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands and Sweden, the Sperwer-B differs in having a compound-delta wing and a satcom antenna in the upper front fuselage.
The 280-kg Denel Seeker has been in service with the South African Air Force since 1991 and was certificated for use in South African civil airspace in 1994. This allowed SAAF drones to support police operations against illegal immigration, marine and game poaching and the stealing of high-value vehicles. Seekers have been sold to Algeria with one batch including a Saab-Grintek ESM payload.
The Seeker is in the same size category as Switzerland's 275-kg Oerlikon-Contraves/Ruag Aerospace Ranger, which is based on an IAI design and is a derivative of the 205 kg RQ-2B Pioneer. The Ranger achieved initial operational capability with the Swiss Army in 1999, and a version with increased fuel capacity was subsequently exported to Finland.
The 200-kg class includes Israel's Aeronautics Defense Systems' Aerostar, which is produced by General Dynamics and has been sold in small batches to the Israel Defence Force, US Navy, Angola and Nigeria. It has also been selected by Irkut as the drone component of the emergency response system based on the Be-200 water bomber.
The 195-kg Elbit Hermes 180 flew in 2002 and was originally to have been the 'low' element of the hi-lo drone mix for Britain's Thales Watchkeeper system. However, the Watchkeeper was reduced to a single type, keeping the Hermes 450 but eliminating the Hermes 180.
The US Army employs the 170-kg AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200 as a lighter complement for the RQ-5A/MQ-5B Hunter. The service plans to acquire 88 systems (of which 70 are already under contract), each with four drones. Poland is negotiating for two RQ-7B systems with a total of four ground control stations and ten drones (including two as spares). Total cost will be up to $ 73 million.
The 200 kg Shadow 400 was reportedly sold to the South Korean Navy, and the 265 kg Shadow 600 (with an endurance of up to 14 hours) has been sold to Romania and Turkey. Romanian Shadow drones have been deployed to Iraq.
The 160-kg Rheinmetall Defence Systems KZO is to be deployed to Afghanistan by the German Army, which has ordered six systems each with ten aircraft. It is being marketed in Norway.
One of the most significant of recent marketing events was the Australian Army's selection of the 250 kg IAI I-View 250A, which was backed by Boeing Australia. A major factor was its fully automated take-off and landing system effected by a catapult launch and guided parafoil recovery. The 250A is a stretched version of the 165-kg I-View 250 with the long-span wing of the Searcher II. Payload is increased to 80 kg. Deliveries begin in mid-2009. In Australian service it will complement the 5.5-kg Elbit Skylark I and the (leased) 18-kg Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle.
Australia's Aerosonde has been purchased by AAI. In 2006 the 14-kg Aerosonde Mk 4 set an unofficial drone endurance record of 38 hr 44 min, compared to the official time of 30 hr 24 min for an RQ-4A.
Russia has made little effort to exploit its undoubted aerospace capability with new developments in the drone area. Rosoboronexport's principal offering is still the 138-kg Yakovlev Pchela-1T, which is launched by means of a rocket booster from a truck-mounted rail and recovered by parachute. Equipped only with a TV camera, it was exported to North Korea before entering Russian service in 1997. It has been used operationally in Chechnya. The improved Pchelka-1T with a flir and low-light TV has been offered to India to support the Smerch-M artillery rocket system.
Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) developed the 125-kg Vulture drone specifically to support the artillery of the South African National Defence Force. It entered service in 2006. The Vulture is unique in using a vacuum-activated catapult to avoid the hazards of pressure-operated systems. For recovery it is tracked by laser and guided into a net, then falls on an airbag. A complete system with GCS, catapult, recovery system and two drones fits on three tentonne trucks. A modified Vulture intended for marine and coastal protection has been flight tested.
Lighter, electrically powered drones were discussed in Armada 2/2007. In retrospect, it might be added that it was virtually impossible to persuade drone manufacturers to reveal what batteries and electric motors they were using. US companies say this is ruled by Itar guidelines. Bren-Tronics. a leader in rechargeable military batteries, can say that its BB2557 and -2590/U lithium-ion batteries are used in many drones, but is not allowed to say which ones.
In terms of numbers, the most significant electric (or any other) drone is almost certainly the 1.9-kg AV RQ-11A Raven and RQ-11B Raven-B series, of which the US Army requested 300 systems costing $ 20.7 million for FY2008 alone. This follows 60 systems in FY2007 and 300 in FY2006. The 5000th Raven airframe was recently delivered (to an American customer) and approximately 5000 more are planned for delivery to the US Army alone over the next five years.
The Raven is a smaller derivative of the 3.76-kg AV FQM-151A Pointer, which pioneered hand-launched, battery-powered drones and entered service with the US Marine Corps in 1989.
The 2.7-kg, twin-motor, bungee-launched AV Dragon Eye is still used by the US Marine Corps, although in late 2006 that service decided to switch the remainder of its planned Dragon Eye procurement to Raven-B. A total of 467 systems are planned, each with three aircraft and one ground station. Dragon Eye production has consequently been terminated, as the line moved over to Raven-B. Whereas Dragon Eye operates fully autonomously, the 2.8-kg Swift version can also be flown manually and it adds the advanced communications capabilities of Raven.
The US Air Force employs the Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk for airfield security in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The service has purchased at least 21 systems, each with six drones. The United Kindom has ordered 60 drones and ten ground stations for deployment to Afghanistan from August 2006. The Desert Hawk III has a larger fuselage with a modular payload bay.
At Eurosatory 2006 Finland's Patria Industries unveiled its Modular Airborne Sensor System, which is in broadly the same category as the Desert Hawk. The drone employs plastic foam construction and is to be operated with air sampling sensors.
The 5.5-kg AV (Terra) Puma was developed as a Pointer replacement, and the 6.5-kg marinised Aqua Puma is in limited production for the US Navy. It has also been evaluated by the Royal Australian Navy.
A relatively new electric drone is the 3.0-kg EMT Aladin, which has been used by German (and later Dutch) troops in Afghanistan. Aladin is also being trialled by Norway. South Africa's 3.0 kg ATE Kiwit (Plover) was unveiled at AAD 2006.
France's Tecknisolar Seni is marketing its 3.5-kg Bardon drone with a flexibly-mounted Verney-Carron 44 mm twin-barrel handgun, firing rubber balls, dye balls or tear powder balls. At a conference in February 2007 IAI revealed that it is working with Technion on small solar-powered drones, including the hand-launched SunSailor.
There are at least two electrically powered vtol drones. Lite Machines promotes its 1.8-kg Voyeur, a cigar-shaped object with contra-rotating two-blade rotors, but declines to reveal project status. At Idex 2007 in January, Selex unveiled its ducted-fan Asio, developed with the Unmanned Technologies Research Institute in Rome.
Relatively little news has emerged regarding the micro-drone category since our previous survey in Armada 3/2006, perhaps because this is regarded by the Pentagon as a particularly important area that warrants special safeguards.
A guide to minimum drone size for outdoor operation may be provided by the award-winning 0.34-kg AV Wasp, which was developed under Darpa funding. Its lithium-ion battery also serves as the wing structure, making possible a zero-payload weight of only 170 gm and a gross weight of 340 gm. The Wasp has thus far demonstrated an endurance of 107 minutes.
Such small devices may appear vulnerable to the slightest wind, but the Wasp actually has a higher maximum speed than AV's much larger Raven (65 vs. 57 km/hr). On the other hand, its operational radius is less than five kilometres; only half when compared to the ten for the Raven.
In December 2006 the US Air Force announced that the Wasp had won its Batmav (Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle) contest. Production will begin before the end of 2007 toward a planned total of 314 Wasp Block III systems for the US Air Force.
The US Marine Corps is evaluating the Wasp as a complement to its Tier I Raven-B, using three spiral development blocks for a total of 21 systems and around 80 drones. The Block I of three systems and eight drones (wingspan 30.5 cm) was delivered in September 2005. The six Block II systems (delivered from late 2006) have larger motors and a 35.5cm span. The twelve Block III systems have a 72-cm span and a flir sensor.
The US Navy has tested a Wasp prototype in the North Arabian Gulf, presumably with the marinisation kit that allows it to land on water but adds 50 gm to take-off weight. The US Army intends to order 100 Wasp systems in order to conduct a pre-acquisition assessment. The first export order for the Wasp has already been signed, and AV expects to sign the second before the end of 2007.
For indoor-use only, Darpa is funding studies of ten-gram Nano Air Vehicles with no dimension greater than 75 mm. AV is competing in this programme with Draper Laboratories, Lockheed Martin and Micropropulsion.