British Army Deploys Micro-UAV, But Not Watchkeeper

 - February 22, 2013, 1:45 PM
The British Army demonstrated its “nanocopter,” also known as the Black Hornet micro-UAV, on Salisbury Plain last week. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The British Army is using what may be the world’s smallest UAV yet deployed on military operations. The Black Hornet “nanocopter” is eight inches long with a rotor diameter of about five inches and weighs less than two pounds. It can provide video and still imagery of difficult-to-reconnoitre targets such as walled compounds and even the interior of buildings. It was recently introduced in Afghanistan and demonstrated in public for the first time last week during a pre-deployment exercise on Salisbury Plain in the UK, for the next British Army task force to be sent there.

This micro-UAV has three apertures providing forward, forward-depressed and vertical-down views. It is operated by a simple hand controller, with the imagery displayed on a PC notebook-size screen at a resolution of 800- by 400 pixels. The “fuselage” also houses a GPS sensor and a datalink with a range of at least half a mile. Endurance is up to 20 minutes, typically allowing a five-minute transit, and five minutes to inspect the area of interest. The soldiers demonstrating the Black Hornet told AIN that they learned how to operate the system in two days. They said that bad weather affects its operation, but they managed to fly it in near-zero temperatures, with light snow and a steady breeze. It cannot provide thermal imagery, which limits use to daytime operations, they noted.

Prox Dynamics, a Norwegian micro-UAV specialist, developed the Black Hornet, which incorporates advances in mobile phone and battery technologies, coupled with video and signal-processing know-how. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) bought 160 units for $30 million via a British prime contractor, Marlborough Communications.

Unfortunately, the British Army has not been able to deploy its much larger surveillance UAV, the Thales Watchkeeper. The MoD said recently that the much-delayed system has not yet achieved airworthiness certification, and service entry is not expected until “later this year.


It's puzzling the the UK press hasn't held MOD's feet to the fire over Watchkeeper, and programme that has spectacularly failed to meet its objectives.

They claimed they needed it for use in Afghanistan, but got along quite well with cheap rented drones.

This was a very profitable project for Elbit Systems, but Thales and the UK taxpayer haven't done so well, I believe.

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