For years UAVs from the United States and Israel have dominated the larger end of the unmanned market, but now a number of new players have begun to emerge. While they have yet to threaten the dominance of the “big two,” newcomers from other countries are increasingly chipping away at the marketplace and threatening to take sales away from the established suppliers.
In response to increased scrutiny of armed UAV operations by human rights groups, British legislators and the United Nations, the British Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) has stepped up efforts to reassure the public. Late last year, it allowed media (including AIN) access to the Royal Air Force Reaper ground control station (GCS) at RAF Waddington for the first time. New documents describing UK operational procedures, including targeting, have been released. The UK is one of only three countries to have fired weapons from UAVs in combat, the others being Israel and the U.S.
Spain is forging ahead with plans to become one of Europe’s leading nations in the unmanned arena through the launch of two connected initiatives that will place the country, and the region of Andalucía in particular, at the forefront of unmanned air vehicle research and test.
Fast-jet pilot training in the UK has been thoroughly modernized, thanks to the introduction of new simulators, courseware and the BAE Systems Hawk T.2 trainer. Ascent, the contractor that is taking over the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS), says the new set-up is “affordable, and demonstrably good value for money.” Still, there are grumblings from those opposed to the commercial provision of British military flying training, on either philosophical or practical grounds.
The Heron 1 UAVs that have been providing imagery for the German air force (GAF) over Afghanistan have now clocked more than 18,500 hours in four years. The lease-operate-maintain contract has already been extended twice, and will likely be extended for a further six months, as the German ponders its long-term UAS policy.
MBDA successfully undertook two CAMM (common anti-air modular missile) launches in recent weeks, the company announced. The firings were carried out at the Vidsel overland range in northern Sweden on May 29 and June 5, and were the first seeker-guided launches for the CAMM. Instrumented-only firings of CAMM were conducted in April last year.
The latest generation of the “Gorgon Stare” wide-area surveillance system has reached initial operational capability (IOC) in Afghanistan, lead contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) announced on July 1. Fitted to a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, the system is providing the U.S. Air Force’s only operational capability for day/night persistent wide-area motion imagery, the company said.
Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufacturer Insitu is developing a growth variant of its Integrator, the basis of the U.S. Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack tactical UAS. The new UAS is aimed at the military market but Insitu offered few other details.
Despite recently acquiring the GA-ASI Reaper UAS from the U.S., the French air force has extended the service of its predecessor UAS, the Harfang, until at least the end of 2017. The Harfang UAS consists of IAI Heron 1 UAVs that are equipped with a communications and control system designed by Airbus Defence & Space (previously EADS Cassidian) in France. The French defense procurement agency, DGA, has recently signed contracts with main contractor Airbus D&S, and with IAI, for the upgrade and continued maintenance of the Harfang system.
Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy conducted the first flight of an MQ-8B Fire Scout equipped with a new maritime surveillance radar that will “drastically” improve the Navy’s long-range surface search capabilities, the contractor said. The Navy plans to field the radar on the unmanned helicopter next year.