Singapore Air Show

EADS forges ahead on two UAV programs

 - January 27, 2010, 9:57 AM

EADS is moving forward with its Talarion medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV, with an eye to flying it in 2014. In the meantime, its Barracuda demonstrator is gearing up for a series of trials to demonstrate the employment of UAVs in a netcentric environment.

The European group’s UAV demonstrator has evolved from two programs: the company’s own Barracuda unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), and the Agile UAV funded by the German government. The first prototype flew on April 2, 2006, but in September of that year it crashed at Murcia-San Javier in Spain due to software problems in the flight control system. A second air vehicle was rolled out at Augsburg, Germany, in May 2008. The fuselage was built in Germany, while the wings were constructed at Getafe in Spain.

The Barracuda is a 7,165-pound vehicle with a 661-pound payload. It was originally designed for low observability trials, which explains its configuration with a dorsal intake and edge alignments. However, low observability subsequently was dropped as a requirement on cost grounds, and features such as a thrust-vectoring flat engine nozzle were not incorporated.

The Barracuda is built using a vacuum-assisted carbon fiber process, and has detachable wings for transportation. There is an internal payload bay measuring around six and half feet in length and 16 inches in width. The vehicle is fully autonomous, with a triplex flight control/navigation system. It uses differential GPS with a space-based augmentation system, and so requires no ground infrastructure. Most of the systems are electric, with hydraulics required only for undercarriage operation and nosewheel steering.

A modular mission computer lies at the heart of the Barracuda. The system is easy to upgrade as the flight safety critical elements are segregated. Most of the systems were tested on a Dornier Do 228 aircraft provided by the
German DLR organization.

In its current incarnation the Barracuda is configured for Germany’s Agile UAV research program. It has a Zeiss turret mounted under the belly, with electro-optical and infrared sensors, and a laser designator. The aircraft also has a datalink installed. The Agile UAV is a wide-ranging program to evaluate operational concepts, interoperability, sensor fusion and data distribution for UAVs, with the aim of accelerating the reconnaissance/attack cycle. Finland joined the program in late 2006, and Switzerland followed last year, having already had some involvement in the earlier Barracuda.

Test Program Under Way
EADS shipped the Barracuda to Goose Bay, Labrador, for the first flight trial campaign. The vehicle first flew on July 10 last year, and during the second flight the landing gear was retracted. On the third and fourth flights the Barracuda employed the Zeiss turret to demonstrate its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as part of the Agile UAV program. Using the sensors, the Barracuda successfully performed target searches in a given box, and point reconnaissance. The system demonstrated the ability to hold a stable broadband link while maneuvering.

The Barracuda’s next campaign is scheduled for next year and will probably take place at Goose Bay again, where the ranges provide a vast unrestricted airspace and a variety of terrains. The next round of tests will focus on sensor-to-shooter operations in a peace enforcement type of mission. The Barracuda will spot targets, hand them off to a fighter and then perform follow-up battle damage assessment.

This round of trials is likely to involve a Luftwaffe Eurofighter as the shooter, and may extend to control of the sensor or the UAV itself from the cockpit. Three to five flights are planned, and at the very least the handover of an accurate geo-location is expected. It is hoped that compressed video or still images can be transmitted. For these tests EADS is working on accurate four-dimensional navigation and onboard automatic target recognition for the vehicle.

Beyond the 2011 sensor-to-shooter tests, EADS has a number of possibilities for the Agile UAV, including a two-UAV trial and demonstration in the search-and-rescue role. A fast emitter location system could be added to evaluate employment in the defense suppression role, while netcentric/C4I functionality may also be expanded. The Barracuda is likely also to be a vehicle for testing systems such as sense-and-avoid for the Talarion MALE vehicle.

Originally known as the Advanced UAV, the Talarion is being developed to answer a joint requirement from France, Germany and Spain for an in-theater I-STAR platform. Turkey is also an interested party, and EADS is courting other European nations–including the UK–to participate.

In the summer of 2008 the three partner nations confirmed their intention to proceed with the program, and at the end of May last year a risk-reduction study was finalized, allowing EADS to submit its proposal. The Talarion was officially unveiled at last year’s Paris airshow.

A definition phase was launched in August, which is to culminate in a system preliminary design review to be held in the middle of this year. Pending the outcome of a review by the three national armament directors, EADS aims to have the Talarion in the air by 2014, the first delivery at the end of 2015 and initial operating capability achieved by the end of 2017. Customers see this schedule is as vital.

The Talarion is a twin-engine UAV with the ability to operate at over 50,000 feet. It has an internal payload of 1,764 pounds and external payload of 2,204 pounds. Wingspan is 92 feet. Among the key technologies are advanced laminar-flow wing section, low observable materials and an advanced structural health monitoring system. Technologies destined for the Talarion are being tested in ground facilities, in a UAV “battlelab” and on existing designs such as the Barracuda and SIDM (the EADS Eagle used by France, based on the IAI Heron TP).

In terms of sensors and comms, the Talarion will have a satellite communications antenna in the forward fuselage, a large EO/IR/laser turret under the rear fuselage and a modular payload bay. The latter can accommodate a weapon carrier module, e-scan radar, extended range fuel tank, or other sensor options.  

AURA Radar for the Talarion

Building on its experience of electronically scanned antenna (e-scan) radars such as DO-SAR, CAESAR, SOSTAR-X, BÜR and MEADS, EADS is developing an advanced radar that will become one of the Talarion’s prime sensors. “For us the Talarion is a radar with wings, an IP node in the sky,” said Martin Pirkl, vice president for radar/IFF at EADS Defence & Security’s defense electronics division. “Advanced UAVs need a new class of radar, and this bird needs advanced eyes.”

Known as AURA (advanced UAV radar architecture), the sensor is being developed in cooperation with Indra and Thales, and is currently in the risk reduction phase. AURA is a 360-degree radar that employs an e-scan array with 500 to 1,000 transmit/receive modules, with rotating capability to compensate for aircraft maneuvering. It offers synthetic aperture radar capability in both swath and spot modes, and ground moving target indication (GMTI). Spot SAR and GMTI can be performed simultaneously. AURA offers the ability to cover around 1,930 sq mi in an hour, far greater than is possible with mechanically scanned antennas.

As well as AURA, EADS is working on the smaller SmartRadar family of sensors for a variety of applications, including lightweight podded versions. Much of the backend architecture has been air-tested already from a Transall C-160, albeit with a mechanically scanned antenna. An e-scan version is due for air-testing around the end of the year.

SmartRadar technology advances will be fed into the ongoing AURA development effort.