European missile house MBDA unveiled the results of its latest Concept Visions initiative yesterday: the CVS301 Vigilus. This concept seeks to define a system that could provide manned and unmanned aircraft with on-demand effects from around 2035.
Now in its third year, MBDA’s Concept Visions process involves inviting novel concepts and ideas from around the company. These are brought together into a single conceptual project that could provide the basis for future development. User experience from MBDA’s customers is a key factor in driving these concepts.
This year weaponization of UAVs is the subject. One of the key objectives is to increase the standoff range of UAVs in all conditions, therefore increasing their survivability. Another objective is to provide increased proportionality of response, and to reduce the command chain so that troops on the ground can engage multiple targets. Other aims of the system are to provide flexible modes of operation, and to allow operators to stay in continuous contact with the target.
Initiated in January, this year’s Concept Visions initiative drew 170 responses, resulting in the Vigilus system revealed here at the show. The CVS301 comprises three main elements: the Armatus integrated communications and launcher; the Caelus persistent target identification and tracking missile; and the Gladius lightweight missile.
At the heart of the Vigilus weapon system is the Armatus smart launcher. Weighing 77 kilograms, the launcher attaches to the air vehicle with a standard Mil Std 1760 interface through which it only needs to draw positional information from the carrier platform. The Armatus system does not intrude into that of the carrier, as all other weapons links are contained internally. Onboard mission planning is performed within the launcher, which also provides a link between ground operators and the other elements of the system, such as Caelus and weapons.
Armatus offers a 300-kilogram payload and is intended to carry a variety of weapon types for mission flexibility. The concept envisions that weapons are held in simple clamps that can accommodate ordnance of various weights and body diameters. This removes the need for traditional bale lugs and sway braces, and also drag-inducing attachments on the weapons themselves. All connection between launcher and weapon, carrying data and power, would be handled wirelessly.
Another key element of CVS301 is the Caelus vehicle. Weighing around 100 kilograms, the vehicle would be dropped from the Armatus. Folding wings of around two meters span and an electric ducted fan (EDF) engine would give an endurance of about two hours. It would carry a sensor suite that includes visible and uncooled long-wave IR capability, plus laser designator. The EDF offers very low infrared and noise signatures, and a good speed range.
The operational concept for the Caelus is for it to be dropped by the UAV (or manned platform) to go in closer to the target than is possible with larger vehicles. It can also go under the cloudbase to maintain persistent contact, removing one of the constraints that hampers current UAV operations. Although primarily intended for ISTAR purposes, the Caelus is also envisioned with a small payload bay that could accommodate a one-kilogram warhead. So armed, the Caelus could be used for immediate attack against ultra-critical targets. An alternative payload for the bay could be small unmanned ground vehicles, or unattended ground sensors, that can be seeded into the target area.
While the Armatus launcher is planned to handle many weapon types, MBDA has designed a weapon that would be ideal for application to the Vigilus system. Known as Gladius, the missile weighs seven kilograms and has a 44-centimeter wing span, its foldout wings having upturned winglets for greater aerodynamic efficiency. It is essentially a subsonic glide weapon, but has a rocket booster for initial launch to give a range of around 30 kilometers.
Low collateral damage effect is a key driver in the design of the Gladius, and it is envisioned with a multi-mode, in-flight-programmable one-kilogram warhead with explosively formed projectile or directed fragment effects. Guidance would be by a multi-global navigation satellite system with anti-jamming technology, and terminal precision provided by a low-cost strap-down dual-mode sensor with visual/near-IR and semi-active laser guidance.
One of the benefits of the Concept Visions program is to identify technology areas where further work is needed, and to help customers shape future weapon systems requirements. Last year’s program, the CVS401 Perseus anti-ship/deep-strike concept, has already spurred some UK MoD development work. Regarding the Vigilus, two key areas where development is being focused are further sensor work and the electric ducted fan. Low-level work on EDFs is already under way as part of a joint UK MoD/French DGA program.