MBDA Unveils Company-level UAV Concept

 - September 21, 2018, 1:19 AM
Spectre is an electrically powered vertical take-off UAV that can launch weapons from its fuselage body. (photo: Beth Stevenson)

MBDA has revealed an eVTOL unmanned aerial vehicle concept based around its developmental Enforcer lightweight weapon, which the company envisions will provide troops with a company-level organic close air support (CAS) capability. Spectre will be able to carry two of the seven-kg weapons within its hollow fuselage, providing company commanders with the option to deploy a low-cost countermeasure, rather than having to call on high-value assets to carry out the CAS mission.

“We recognized that a lot of close air support is difficult for companies…so we started to explore the use of UAVs in this role,” Stephen Scott, head of future battlefield weapons at MBDA, told media at the DVD exhibition in Millbrook, UK. “We think we have identified a capability gap; there are lots of UAVs that deliver ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconaissance], but not ones that can also deliver effects.”

Currently at a TRL 3 development stage, the concept has been developed using internal research and development funding from MBDA, and it is now undergoing flight-testing. Scott says that there is a five-year development plan for Spectre, and MBDA is looking for industrial partners that can provide additional capability such as advanced avionics.

MBDA has used the building blocks of its missile expertise to develop the UAV, which can alternatively carry one of the company’s 15-kg (33-lb) MMP missiles instead of the two Enforcers. The current endurance of the UAV is some 60 minutes, which Scott says is expected to increase approximately threefold by the time that UAV development is complete as a result of progress in consumer battery technology. Fully expanded, the UAV measures around two meters (33 inches) square, although with the wings folded—something that will be incorporated into the design to make it easier to deploy—it will be around 2-by-0.5 m.

While the UAV is designed around the Enforcer missile, the 25-kg payload capacity of Spectre will also allow it to be used as a cargo-carrying system that will be able to deliver logistical supplies and resupply weapons—including the Enforcer—to troops. The company is exploring developing a door for the belly of the fuselage for this application, said Scott.

He added that, while development contracts for the UK’s Autonomous Last Mile Resupply program were awarded ahead of Spectre being developed, MBDA would be keen to position the new capability for the program should the finalized requirement call for such a system. He also noted that a suitable application for Spectre in its offensive configuration might be against swarms of unmanned ground vehicles, and MBDA is exploring a swarm concept for the UAV, in which multiple examples could be operated in unison.

Enforcer is a multi-national development across MBDA, while Spectre is primarily being developed in the UK with input from the German arm of the company. Qualification of the Enforcer missile is expected to complete by the end of 2019, and the first customer for it is expected to be the German special forces. Basic firing trials using the Spectre concept are scheduled to take place over the coming 18 months, with ejection trials planned for 2019.