UK MOD Acquire ScanEagle, Buster and Desert Hawk UAVs
Many commentators have suggested that the UK has been rather slow to grasp the many advantages offered by UAVs. However, this delay has not been through a lack of interest by the military, rather it has been a direct result of the current UK government’s unwillingness to provide sufficient funding. However, the UK MOD has now stated its intention to introduce a Network Enabled Capability (NEC) for UK forces, a significant part of which is an enhanced Intelligence gathering, Surveillance, Targeting, And Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. To identify how UAVs can most effectively contribute to this enhanced ISTAR capability, as well as identifying the contribution they can make to the overall UK defence capability, the MOD commenced the Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP). This organisation, know as Team JUEP is actually lead by Thales UK and already operates an EADS Eagle MALE UAV, now wearing RAF titles and the serial ZJ989, which is currently being flown in various military exercises in the USA and Canada to support of UK forces.
On 4 Nov 04, in the latest part of this programme, Thales, Boeing and QinetiQ, signed a contract with the MOD for the Maritime element of this programme, to investigate the Joint Service operational requirements for future maritime UAVs. A single Boeing ScanEagle UAV will be acquired for this purpose and modified by Boeing to comply with UK safety and airworthiness regulations. ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher and usually flies an autonomous 15hr mission guided by GPS at around 50kts at 1000 to 3000ft. ScanEagle is equipped with an inertially stabilized electro-optical or infra-red video camera.
Personnel from Thales will fly the ScanEagle in a series of exercise that will investigate how the UAV can improve the detection, recognition and identification of both conventional and asymmetric threats in a maritime environment and the contribution it can make to command decision making and target prosecution. It is anticipated that the ScanEagle will also work alongside an RN Sea King 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (AS&C) helicopter to investigate how it can enhance its capability. The RN have also have a Maritime Airborne Surveillance and Control (MASC) programme to identify a new AEW system to operate from their two new carriers. As no UAV currently has a genuine AEW capability, it will be interesting to watch how this programme develops, assuming the carriers actually get built, which is by no means certain.
In another UAV development, under an Urgent Operational Requirement the UK MOD has purchased 12 Buster and 13 Desert Hawk UAVs. The Buster (Backpack Unmanned aerial vehicle Surveillance and Target acquisition Enhanced Reconnaissance) UAV is made by Mission Technologies Inc and will be used in various JUEP trials. The Buster typically operates at around 500ft and is designed to provide small units with tactical reconnaissance – the complete system consists of two or more 10lbs air vehicles, a ground control station and a launcher. The Buster was first demonstrated to British forces in Oct 03 at Larkhill in Wiltshire.
The Desert Hawk is a similar miniature tactical UAV system and is manufactured by Aeromech Engineering Inc under sub contract to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. The battery powered Desert Hawk is constructed of mold-injected expanded polypropylene – a flexible, damage resistant type of foam and weighs 7lbs. Launched by two people using a bungee cord, the Desert Hawk flies its mission fully autonomously at between 40 – 80km/h at a maximum height of 500ft. The 1lb sensor payload is carried in the middle of the fuselage and consists of either a colour video camera or a thermal imaging system for night operations. The Desert Hawk will be used by personnel from 22 Battery 32 Regt Royal Artillery in support of UK Forces operating in Iraq, and they have already been trained on the system in the USA.