French Must Choose: Patroller or Watchkeeper?

 - June 21, 2013, 11:45 AM
The Sagem Patroller is adapted from the Stemme motor-glider, and is cheaper to acquire and operate than equivalent UAVs, according to the company.

On static display at this week’s Paris Air Show was the Patroller, a new Male UAV that Safran subsidiary Sagem has developed from the German Stemme S15 motor-glider. Competing against the Thales Watchkeeper, Sagem will field the Patroller to meet a French Army requirement for 30 tactical UAVs. The Watchkeeper has generated more publicity, but Sagem is quietly suggesting that its long-winged contender is better.

“The Patroller is based on an existing European airframe that is already certified. We’re offering our own primary sensor, the Euroflir 410, which is the standard electro-optical system on the NH90 helicopter,” a company spokesman told AIN. “Moreover, we are building on our extensive operational experience with the Sperwer UAV, which was sold to the French and German armies as well as Denmark, Greece, Holland and Sweden, ” he added.

The Patroller first flew at a test center in Finland in June 2009. A year later it flew at the French UAV test range near Istres airbase. The first flight-tests with the Euroflir payload were conducted in March last year. This past March, Sagem took the Patroller overseas and flew it “in a desert environment.” This month, it has been flying from Istres again with a Sagem Elint system added. In this configuration, with additional wing-mounted fuel tanks, it has an endurance of more than 20 hours at 20,000 feet. Synthetic aperture radar, electronic warfare equipment and light weapons could all be added, according to Sagem.

Like the Watchkeeper, the Patroller has an automatic takeoff and landing system. Unlike the Israeli-origin UAV, however, the Patroller could be an optionally piloted vehicle. That could be useful for homeland security-type missions over populated areas, Sagem says.

A senior Safran official told AIN that although the Patroller is some 350 kg heavier than the Watchkeeper, it would be less expensive to acquire and operate. He said that it is being certified by the French procurement agency DGA at the company’s expense.

Meanwhile, Thales UK officials told AIN that the UK’s Military Airworthiness Authority (MAA) has still not certified the Watchkeeper. The process has taken much longer than expected, but the UAS is now slated to receive its ticket by year-end, the officials said. Until it does, the British Army cannot bring it to fly over the major training area on Salisbury Plain. The Watchkeeper has been adapted from the Hermes 450 UAS.