PAS 2011: Empire Challenge highlights US Army VTOL shortages
The US Army is in the midst of evaluating requirements for a small, tactical VTOL UAV capability following this year's Empire Challenge exercise in North Carolina, according to an industry figure.
Speaking to Shephard at the Paris Air Show, programme manager for the Datron Scout VTOL UAV, Christopher Barter, conceded that the army had yet to release a request for proposals (RfP) but remained bullish about the potential for such a system in the tactical environment.
Describing trials at the exercise which took place at Camp Lejeune from 23 May to 3 June, Barter said the army was currently operating AeroVironment Raven and Wasp UAVs but lacked a VTOL capability.
Honeywell's T-Hawk VTOL UAV is currently used on operations in Afghanistan for route clearance and counter-IED operations although sources said the US Navy is in charge of the systems. Also in use with the British Army, T-Hawk has come under criticism for failing to withstand strong wind conditions.
Having completed a total of nine launches and recoveries in a maritime role, the Scout took part in three reconnaissance and surveillance scenarios which included recovery onto a boat. The UAV also demonstrated its 'hover and grab' landing solution; 10X optical zoom camera which now includes Flir's Tau 320 and 640 systems; 2.4km mission reach; and operation in windy conditions. The Scout, Barter added, can operate in wind conditions up to 85km per hour.
Elsewhere, Barter said he believed the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) had made funds available again for the procurement of a small or mini VTOL UAV. The MoD has revealed its intention to procure both mini and micro-UAVs within the next 12 months or so and Barter said Datron Scout was well positioned to respond to an RfP following participation in the Urban Warfare Exercise (URBEX).
Weighing a total of 2.6lbs, the Scout was used to monitor compound assaults on Salisbury Plain with requirements to identify facial recognition features and weapons from an altitude of 100m.
Finally, Barter said Datron Scout payload integration was 'customer-driven' and referred to potential for radio frequency relay and biometrics operations. However, he did admit that there were issues with the air vehicles endurance. Currently, it can operate for 20 minutes which did not satisfy the MoD's requirement for 45 minutes. But Barter said Datron was considering a variety of options including a 'daisy-chain' rotation of multiple systems.
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