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.
The Thales-led Watchkeeper program is on schedule for entry into service with British forces in 2010, having flown for the first time this year in Israel, where Elbit Systems designed and produced the Hermes 450 WK platform. Designated Hermes 450B, it will have a dual payload comprising gimbaled electro-optical/infrared cameras plus a laser target designator, together with a radar in a second gimbaled pod.
Officials from the UK’s up-and-coming UAV test airfield are negotiating here this week with several American companies who have expressed frustration with the lack of timely cooperation from their own Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Elbit Systems has been awarded a contract valued at some $20 million to supply Hermes 450 UAV systems to an unnamed European country. The order specifies both air vehicles and complementary ground systems, for delivery next year.\
As the British subsidiary of a leading American defense contractor majoring in sensitive communications and intelligence technologies, General Dynamics UK (Chalet A34) treads an interesting but complex path. On the one hand, the company is a portal for the import and adaptation of U.S. systems that help the British armed forces achieve connectivity and interoperability.
With no fewer than three on show, the Elbit Hermes 450 outnumbers any other machine type in the static park at Singapore ’08. The UAV has proved a major success for Elbit, with a number of important overseas sales, including to Singapore. The type has now logged more than 70,000 hours–mostly in operations supporting the Israel Defence Force. It can carry a 150-kilogram payload and flies at 16,000 to 18,000 feet.
Thales is targeting the huge potential for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for coastal surveillance in Southeast Asia by offering a compact, lightweight radar system called the Coastmaster. The UK group’s aerospace division developed the 66-pound system from the ground surveillance radar being fitted to the British Army’s Watchkeeper UAVs. (Helicopters and small manned aircraft could also carry the new radar.)
The final configuration of the Thales Watchkeeper UAV for the British Army is unveiled here, outside the Thales pavilion. Now that the critical design review is successfully accomplished, Thales is showing this intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) system to other potential customers.
An impressive array of innovative, advanced and sophisticated products and systems mark a significant increase in Israel’s presence at the Paris Air Show this year. A new pavilion accommodates Israel’s 12 leading defense companies, while an array of products for civilian markets are also featured.
Thales Aerospace boss François Quentin sees in-flight entertainment (IFE) equipment as the fastest growing of the division’s businesses. It will improve the civil/military balance and the proportion of U.S. revenues, he said. Quentin is also keen on explaining how Thales’ so-called multi-domestic strategy is paying off.