Avalon 2017: ADF progresses UAV capability

Australia’s latest acquisition – the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 was on display at the Avalon Air Show near Melbourne, where the three branches of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) displayed almost the full range of UAV types currently in service.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) recently signed an order for two S-100 systems (with a single aircraft in each system) under Navy Minor Project 1942, which will be used for evaluations as the navy moves towards selection of a UAV system for future warships.

In about August the RAN will conduct its first embarked trials of the S-100 aboard a frigate. It will be operated by the Naval Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit (NUASU), which was originally formed in 2011 as a UAV development group.

As well as the S-100, the RAN also operates the Insitu Scan Eagle, with eight aircraft currently in service. Three have petrol engines and are used for shore-based training, while another three have heavy fuel engines that permit them to embark upon warships.

The RAN plans to use both fixed-wing and rotary-winged UAVs for use aboard ships. In around 2023 it will order UAVs under further phases of Joint Project 129.

Duggan said the RAN’s current intent is to operate a mixed fleet, but work needs to be done to explore the correct mix and crewing.

One NUASU member said that rotary-winged platforms were preferable aboard ships because of their much smaller footprint, where the UAV can share space with a helicopter inside the hangar, and can take off and land from the flight deck.

Furthermore, the catapult launcher and skyhook currently used by the ScanEagle add considerable weight, in the order of 2t, to ships.

The Australian Army, meanwhile, previously conducted successful evaluations with the tiny Prox Dynamics PD-100 Black Hornet nano-UAV and AeroVironment Wasp AE micro-UAV. The infantry and armoured corps employed these on exercises, for example.

The army is buying greater quantities of each type. Shephard understands that the army is procuring 150-200 Black Hornet kits, with each kit containing five miniature UAVs (two with daytime cameras, two with thermal cameras and a spare). A tender for this capability closed in August 2016, and the intent is to roll out these nano-UAVs to both the cavalry and infantry.

It is believed the army is also acquiring 78 examples of the Wasp AE under Project Land 129 Phase 4, which seeks UAVs for the battlegroup level. XTEK – teamed with AeroVironment, Sentient Vsision Systems and General Dynamics Mediaware – was selected last April as preferred bidder.

The army’s largest UAV is the AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200, which is operated by the 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment. Shephard learned at the Avalon Air Show that work is ongoing to exploit integration of the Shadow’s laser designators with aircraft like the Tiger helicopter and Hornet/Super Hornet fighter.

This year the army will also certify the Shadow for use on dirt airstrips.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also operates the Heron 1, while the General Atomics Reaper and IAI Heron TP were slugging it out at the Avalon Air Show for the right to supply Project Air 7003 Phase 1’s requirement for an armed MALE UAV platform.

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