Two new medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAVs are due to make their first flights next year as European aerospace companies challenge the lead in this field established by Israel and the U.S. The BAE Systems Mantis technology demonstrator, unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in July, might become airborne as early as next month in Australia.
Alenia has said it will fly the Molynx, which is twin-turboprop pusher design like the Mantis. The Italian and British armed forces are already flying single-engine Predator and Reaper UAV systems, respectively, both supplied by General Atomics. However, BAE Systems persuaded the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to partially fund the Mantis demonstrator, amid concerns about the lack of operational sovereignty over the Reaper system.
From briefings and a recent MoD statement, AIN understands that the RAF was unable to set up its own ground station to control Reaper missions over Afghanistan. A British plan to acquire 10 more Reaper systems has been quietly shelved. Meanwhile, the Italian Air Force has been offered four Reaper systems and support for $330 million. Alenia says that the Molynx MALE system has a wide variety of civil and security applications.
A Thales official said last month that European design capabilities would be “killed” if governments continued to buy Predators and Reapers from the U.S. The Thales approach is to adapt Israeli UAVs by adding European sensors, ground stations and communication systems. It has sold the Watchkeeper tactical UAV, based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV, to the British Army, and is proposing a similar set-up to the French Army. And with Dassault and Indra, Thales proposes to adapt the IAI Heron TP to meet French and Spanish MALE UAV requirements.
Germany also has a MALE requirement, and EADS would like all three countries to buy its jet-powered Advanced UAV, as we reported last month. However, the German government cannot wait until EADS’s UAV is ready 2015, and has thus shortlisted the Reaper and the Heron TP as an interim solution.