French Must Choose: Patroller or Watchkeeper?
On static display at the Paris Air Show is the Patroller, a new medium-altitude long-endurance (Male) UAV, which has been developed by Sagem from the German Stemme S15 motor glider. The Safran subsidiary will propose it for a French Army requirement for 30 tactical UAVs, and it will compete against the Thales Watchkeeper. The latter has received more publicity, but Sagem is quietly suggesting that its long-winged bird 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 that is the standard electro-optical system on the NH90 helicopter,” a Sagem spokesman told AIN. “Moreover, we are building on our extensive operational experience with the Sperwer UAV that 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 was flown on the French UAV test range near Istres airbase. In March 2012 came the first flight tests with the Euroflir payload. Last March, Sagem took the Patroller overseas and flew it “in a desert environment.” This month, it has been flying from Sagem’s UAV research and development center in Eragny, near Paris, with a Sagem Comint system in an under-wing pod. In this configuration, plus 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 heavier than the Watchkeeper by some 350 kilograms, it would be cheaper 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 admitted to AIN that the Watchkeeper had still not been certified by the UK’s Military Airworthiness Authority. The process has taken much longer than expected, but the UAS should receive its ticket by the end of the year, 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.