Males: the Male sector has been dominated by the General Atomics Predator series, which derives from the Gnat 750 of 1993, thanks principally to the demands from the American armed services and the CIA. Technically they are on a par with several products from Israel.
As mentioned earlier, the 268th and last MQ-1B Predator for the US Air Force was delivered in March 2011, and the manufacturer is now marketing the unarmed Predator-XP internationally.
The Predator-A also lives on in the form of the US Army's 1633-kg MQ-1C Grey Eagle. Like the MQ-1B and MQ-9, the primary mission of the MQ-1C is officially described as "reconnaissance with an embedded strike capability against critical, perishable targets", but the MQ-1C also has "the unique mission of communications relay".
The MQ-1C was the outcome of the service's ERMP (Extended Range, Multi-Purpose) drone requirement to replace the Northrop Grumman MQ-5 Hunter. The General Atomics Warrior (later Sky Warrior) flew in 2004, and was selected for ERMP in 2005. It was renamed Grey Eagle in 2010, after an Apache Indian chief.
The MQ-1C can carry four Hellfires, double the load of the Air Force MQ-1B. It also has a Thielert Centurion heavy fuel engine with auto restart, TALS (Tactical Automatic Landing System), the Northrop Grumman ZPY-1 STARLite lightweight (30 kg) radar with Sar/GMTI facilities, the Raytheon AAS-52 MTS (Multi-spectral Targeting System), fuel jettison capability, datalink encryption, and self-destruct provisions.
The US Army deployed a four-aircraft QRC (quick reaction capability) platoon of MQ-1Cs to Iraq in August 2009. The unit was moved to Afghanistan in December 2010, joining another QRC platoon, which had deployed there in September 2010. The first complete Grey Eagle company, 'Fox 227', with three four-aircraft platoons and 128 soldiers, entered Afghanistan in April 2012.
The US Army plans to acquire seven deployed companies equipped like F/227 and ten Conus-based 'dwell' companies, each with 128 soldiers but only four air vehicles. To these 128 Grey Eagles were to be added 21 attrition aircraft and seven for training, giving a total of 152 aircraft. On that basis the latest available SAR (Selected Acquisition Report) gave a Pauc (Program Acquisition Unit Cost) of $116 million per platoon, and a corresponding APUC (Average Procurement Unit Cost) of $169.4 million.
The MQ-1C appears to be far more expensive than the MQ-1B. Its average procurement cost rose from $14.21 million in FY2011 (39 aircraft) to $16.23 million in FY2012 (43 aircraft) and a remarkable $ 39.45 million in the FY2013 defence budget request (19 aircraft).
The LRIP-1 contract covered 24 Grey Eagles plus two for attrition. The LRIP-2 was for 24 aircraft plus five for attrition. The LRIP-3 contract for 29 more was approved in June 2012. The full-rate production contract for Gray Eagle is scheduled for signature in June 2013. The Grey Eagle programme was originally to run from FY2005 to FY2017, but reports indicate that the US Army now plans to stretch acquisition to a total of 164, with a final buy in FY2022.
In US Air Force operations, the piston-engined MQ-1 is being replaced by the turboprop General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (which the manufacturer terms the Predator-B). That service has a formal requirement for 319 MQ-9s, enough to operate 65 Caps (combat air patrols) on a 24/7 basis, and capacity to surge to 85. The procurement of 404 is planned (that number including three RDT&E aircraft) to allow for attrition.
The point is worth emphasising, that the Predator-B represents a completely different category from the Predator-A. Maximum take-off weight jumps from 1022 kg to 4762 kg, and annual operating cost per aircraft (according to the latest SAR) is increased from $1.21 million to $2.99 million.
The SAR also indicates an average Reaper procurement cost of $32.4 million in then-year dollars, or $29.4 million excluding RDT&E. The annual budgets indicate an aircraft cost of $17.78 million in FY2011, rising to $19.67 million in FY 2012, and $36.89 million in the FY2013 request. The US Air Force Reaper factsheet refers to a four-aircraft system costing $53.5 million in FY2006 values.
In 2007 the UK purchased six Reapers and three mobile ground stations for $247.5 million. In the following year Italy bought six Reapers and three mobile ground stations for $175.3 million. In 2011 the UK bought five more Reapers and four more ground stations for $213 million. Germany has requested three Reapers and four ground stations, and Australia has requested pricing and availability data (which Turkey has already received on both the MQ-1 and MQ-9).
The latest MQ-9 variant offered to close allies is the 5310-kg ER Predator-B with stronger undercarriage, increased wingspan and two external tanks.
The BAE Systems Mantis proof-of-concept aircraft, which is powered by two Rolls-Royce M250B-12 turboprops and first flew in October 2009, is presumably in the five-tonne class. A somewhat larger Mantis with far more powerful engines and a gross weight of around nine tonnes is expected to form the basis for the British proposal for the Franco-British Telemos Male drone programme, assuming that this continues despite the current economic climate.
In October 2011 the Russian Ministry of Defence awarded the Kazan-based Sokol a $66 million contract to develop a twin-turboprop drone grossing around 4750 kg. The resulting Altius is due to fly in 2014.
* HERMES AND HERONS
As hinted in our introductory paragraph, Most of the market competition in the Predator-A category has come from Israel, notably in the form of the 500 kg IAI Searcher II, the 550 kg Elbit Systems Hermes 450, the 1180 kg Hermes 900, the 1250 kg IAI Heron I.
By 2010 Israel had sold over 1,000 drones to 42 countries. The Searcher II was exported to at least eleven countries, including India (which has purchased over 100), Russia and South Korea. The same company's Heron I has been sold to 20 overseas customers, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India and the United States. The Hermes 450 has been exported to at least eleven countries, including Georgia, Britain and the United States.
The Hermes 900, which first flew only at the end of 2009, chalked up its first order--from Heyl Ha Avir--only five months after its maiden flight. The big advantage of the Hermes 900 is that it uses the same ground infrastructure as the smaller Hermes 450, which the Israeli Air Force operates, of course. Orders have already been received by Chile, Colombia and Mexico.
TAI is now marketing the Heron NG with a new communications system, an advanced engine, refined aerodynamics, and upgraded mission and flight computers. The Heron has been shortlisted alongside the Hermes 900 in Switzerland, which needs a replacement for the Ruag Aerospace Ranger, itself a derivative of the IAI Scout. Final selection is due to take place in the first half of 2014.
One newcomer in this category, and probably a serious future contender given the industrial capability of its designer--TAI--is the 1600 kg Anka, which first flew in December 2010. Featuring a fully retractable landing gear the Anka has a heavy fuel engine, and is capable of an endurance of 24 hours at up to 30,000 ft. The five aircraft built so far (though one is believed to have crashed) have been used to verify the aerodynamic configuration, which was finalised in January. TAI is now finalising the terms of the production contract for the Turkish Air Force with the government. Should all go according to plans, TAI is expected to roll out the first of 10 production units in 2015.
The Primary electro-optical sensor of the Anka is the 300T gimballed assembly developed by Aselsan (the 300T already equips the Heron drones operated by Tukey). The aircraft is also intended to carry a synthetic aperture radar. Also developed by Aselsan, the radar is still under development and is expected to equip a specific--B version of the Anka. According to a recent interview held by the author with a TAI official the radar is to be test-flown this summer. Egypt has also voiced its intention to acquire ten Ankas.
* FALCO EVO
In the near-male category, mention must be made of the Falco Evo. This project initiated at the time of Selex Galileo, has been "on" and "off" for some time, but displayed in real-size mock-up form at Idex in February 2013. As its name suggests, the Evo is an evolution of the Falco originally developed, produced and exported by Selex Galileo a few years ago. The project for a larger version had been in the air for a while when it was more formally announced by the Italian company at le Bourget show in 2011. Selex ES (this time) displayed a full-scale model of the Evo at Idex last February.
What the Evo does, in fact, is to wear extensions to its graceful gull-wings to extend them from the original 7.2 metres to 12.5 metres. In order to enable the rudder to counter the increased countering torque opposed by the considerably longer wingspan, the tail booms also have been stretched to provide the necessary yaw leverage. The Evo thus tips the scales at 650 kilos (instead of 420 for the Falco) and the resultant payload capacity increase to 100 kilos enables the bird to move from a pure electro-optical observation role to that of a deeper electronic warfare investigator. The Falco Evo is indeed offered with a variety of sensors, including of course the Selex Picosar synthetic aperture radar fitted in the nose, and the Sage Elint suite with its sensors mounted in the aircraft's wingtips.
Talking of Selex ES here commands a few words about a somewhat ambitious project involving the P.180 Avanti aircraft designed by Piaggio and also unveiled at the recent Idex show (one has to remember that the United Arab Emirates have a heavy stake in Piaggio). As the picture herewith shows, the idea is to turn the Avanti into a full drone (as opposed to optionally pilot-inhabited aircraft) and call it the P.1HH Hammerhead. The project actually seems to be pretty advanced and taxiing tests were already underway at Idex time (February) and a maiden flight is expected by the end of this year. Again, with an endurance of 16 hours, the Hammerhead does not really match the last two letters of the male category designation, though with an operational altitude of 45,000ft it does comply with the first two.
Quite a few companies are testing their luck on the male drone market. Better known for its target drones (reportedly successfully sold to Russia), for example, Abu Dhabi-based Adcom has for some time now been working on the United 40, an umpteenth iteration of the Smart Eye 2, renamed in 2012 (on making its debut at the Dubai Airshow) to mark the 40th anniversary of the formation of the United Arab Emirates.
China has displayed many models at various shows over the recent years, and created several Male drones in the one-tonne class. The 1100 kg Avic/Chengdu Wing Loong (Pterosaur), for example, looks like a Chinese copy of the Predator-A, but with a more practical (Bonanza V-type) tail. The Casc CH-4 is similar though slightly heavier, weighing 1260kg in unarmed (CH-4A) form and 1330 kg in armed (CH-4B) form. The Harbin BZK-005 is believed to be in the 1200 kg class.
Russia has been slow to develop large drones, its interim needs evidently being satisfied by the 500 kg IAI Searcher II, licence-built by the Ural Works for Civil Aviation (UWCA) as the Forpost (Outpost).
In late 2011 the Russian Ministry of Defence announced a contract for the St Petersburg-based Tranzas, to design a drone weighing 600-800 kg. It is believed that this led to the 640 kg Dozor-600, powered by an 85 kW Rotax 914 engine. This has evidently been chosen for development, over the 600 kg Vega Aist (Stork) with two 45 kW engines. The Aist crashed on take-off in January 2010 (see YouTube). Sokol is reported to be developing a drone in the one-tonne class, named Inokhodyets (Wanderer).
Other Male projects include Brazil's Avibras-designed Falcao. This now comes under the aegis of Harpia Systems, which is owned 51% by Embraer, 40% by AEL Systems (an Elbit Systems subsidiary) and 9% by Avibras). DRDO Rustom 1 first flew in November 2009. Iran's Shared-129 appears to be similar in design to the U-Tacs Watch keeper.
Caption: Based on over 300,000 operational flight hours with the Hermes 450, Elbit Systems has developed the 7180-kg Hermes 900, which is capable of 36 hours endurance at up to 30,000 ft. The first contract with the Israeli Air Force was signed in 2070, and the Hermes 900 has since been sold to Chile, Colombia and Mexico. (Elbit Systems)
Caption: The General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle (so named after an Apache Indian chief) is shown in 'Triclops' configuration, with the fuselage-mounted General Atomics Lynx radar and Raytheon AAS-53 EO/IR pod supplemented by two underwing Raytheon DAS-2 sensors, controlled directly by oldiers on the ground. (US Army)
Caption: The IAI Heron was used as a basis for the French armed forces SIDM, in which the I again stands for interim. Deployed to Afghanistan, it is known as the Harking. (Sirpa Air)
Caption: Carried by the TAI Anka, the Aselflir 300T gimballed assembly houses a high-resolution infrared camera, a laser rangefinder-target designator, a laser spot tracker, a colour camera and a colour spotter sensor. Fully equipped with its electronic and cooling/heating suite, the 526mm diameter unit weights 93kg. (Aselsan)
Caption: The retractable landing gear Anka has every required design provision to be turned into an armed aircraft, using Rockesan Cirit laser-guided rockets (TAI)
Caption: When these pictures were taken at Idex last February, the Falco Evo had aready logged some 18 flight hours. It might prove a cost-effective near-Male option to a number of nations. (Armada/Eric H. Blass)
Caption: A window in the nose of the Falco Evo display model reveals the possible position of the Selex Picosar synthetic aperture radar. The wingtips of the aircraft (see the other picture) are an interesting location to house an electronic warfare, sigint or elint, suite (Armada/Eric H. Biass)
Caption: The P-180-based Hammerhead will feature a higher aspect and reinforced wing, more powerful 950hp Pratt & Whitney engines turning lower noise-generating five-blade Hartzells. Lack of passengers mean more capacity for fuel, and massive unpressurised space for sensors and communications equipment in the nose and underbelly stations, and for satcom gear on the upper airframe, not to mention external hard-points for ISR payload. (Armada/Luca Peruzzi)
Caption: Amongst the small scale models profusely displayed by Chinese companies at major defence exhibitions, this model of the Norinco Sky Saker was shown at Idex 2013. What is happening in China never has been clear, but it appears that Norinco has been allowed to take the Casc CH-4B (see text) and repackage it with a new missions and weapons suite and offer it on the export market. (Armada/Eric H. Biass)