Leonardo has delivered the first Falco EVO system to one of two customers in the Middle East/Gulf for the larger version of the surveillance UAS. The Falco EVO first flew in 2012, and offers a 120-kg payload that can be flown for more than 22 hours, compared with 70 kg and 14 hours for the original Falco. The two customers for the Evo are probably Jordan and Saudi Arabia, both of which bought the earlier model.
The delivery was made last September but not announced until the Dubai Airshow in November, where Leonardo exhibited a Falco EVO equipped with the company’s own Gabbiano lightweight multimode radar. This is offered as an alternative to the PicoSAR/GMTI radar, also made in-house by Leonardo, which says it is “the only company in Europe able to offer a complete end-to-end RPAS system including sensors, mission management system, and ground control station.” The Leonardo Sage ESM/ELINT sensor and LEOSS EO/IR sensor turret are also offered, although the aircraft exhibited in Dubai was carrying an L-3 Wescam MX-8 system.
Leonardo says that more than 50 Falco systems are currently in operation on three continents, having logged more than 10,000 flying hours. The launch customer was Pakistan, and Turkmenistan is believed to be the other customer in Central Asia. Leonardo will only acknowledge one Falco customer, the United Nations, for which it is providing a managed service in the Congo as part of the MONUSCO stabilization mission. Leonardo has recently partnered with certified air operator Heli Protection Europe (HPE) with a view to expanding its "drones as a service" offering into the civilian domain.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has used the Falco for surveillance of insurgents in its northwest border areas, and has received licensed-produced examples from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) in Kamra. A senior PAF officer told AIN recently that operational experience with the Falco had been “mixed”; some of the UAVs had crashed after failure of the control datalink. But he acknowledged that this was “partly our fault, for not buying the entire ground station package from the Italians.”
Pakistan has sought an armed UAV capability for some years. The Falco was not originally supplied with this capability, and the U.S. refused to supply MQ-1 Predators or MQ-9 Reapers to Pakistan (although it covertly employed them in Pakistan airspace to strike terrorists). The country’s National Engineering and Scientific Commission therefore developed its own armed UAV named Burraq. This was publicly revealed in March 2015, after a successful test firing of an indigenous laser-guided air-surface missile named Barq.