RAF putting first UAV into war exercises

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 16, 2006, 10:30 AM

In November the UK Royal Air Force’s UAV Battlelab plans to integrate an unmanned air vehicle into a military exercise for the first time, as part of Project Sabrina. An earlier attempt in June was cancelled due to technical difficulties, but the Battlelab is optimistic that the UAV’s participation in the next Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor (CQWI) exercise will go ahead.

The UAV Battlelab was created in March this year within the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington. It expands upon the work previously undertaken by the Joint UAV Experimentation Team (JUET), which was tasked with evaluation work across the entire UAV spectrum. JUET’s work involved the team undertaking numerous trials, including several flights of a General Atomics MQ-9 Predator B equipped with a Raptor long-range reconnaissance pod.

Project Sabrina is aimed at integrating at least one UAV into the RAF’s twice-yearly CQWI exercise, which typically involves up to 60 aircraft including AWACS. The UAV trial will allow the Battlelab to explore how a UAV operates within the framework of UK operations, as well as providing cues as to how they may best be used. The accent will be on how the UAV can be used by forward air controllers to reduce the kill-chain by rapid targeting.

UAV manufacturers are invited to take part at no cost to the Battlelab. While the agency benefits from the UAV’s participation, the manufacturer enjoys the rare ability to demonstrate and evaluate its product’s performance in a large multi-aircraft exercise. However, Wing Commander Mike Humphreys stressed that the participation of the UAVs should not disrupt the exercise’s main purpose of training fast-jet crews.

Project Sabrina is expected to expand to cover the sub-2,000 foot altitude UAV arena, and in two years it is hoped that full three-tier UAV coverage can be provided. In the June exercise Qinetiq’s Observer UAV was planned to take part, but for the November exercise additional manufacturers have been invited.

As well as Sabrina, the UAV Battlelab continues its evaluation of all unmanned systems. An important task at present is the creation of a detailed database of Predator A operations.    –D.D.

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