British UAV Officials Talk Future Hopes, Needs
By Angus Batey
Source: Defense Technology International
In one project, the ministry's Defense Science and Technology Laboratory has partnered with an industrial consortium to demonstrate the viability of conducting UAV operations involving multiple aircraft types from a single ground station. The crew would be led by an RAF flight lieutenant, but include Royal Artillery personnel who now operate Hermes 450 and will operate Watchkeeper. The concept of operations means that a fully qualified pilot with weapons training would act as the mission commander alongside operators from other backgrounds. This would allow routine ISR tasks to be met by Watchkeeper, while allowing a seamless platform swap with Scavenger should a strike be required.
Another question that has yet to be answered—but which hovers in the background of all discussions about Scavenger —is the future plan for the RAF's Reaper fleet. The systems were procured under a UOR and funding for their use will end when they are no longer needed in Afghanistan. However, the specific terms of the UOR may permit the ministry to continue operating Reaper as an ISR platform under the post-combat mandate to support the Afghan security services.
It is unlikely to be politically viable to simply dispose of the equipment, particularly as the RAF in October will stand up a second Reaper unit. Under current plans, by 2015, all U.K. Reaper missions over Afghanistan will be flown from Britain. The General Atomics airframe does, therefore, appear to have a key advantage over other systems in competing to win the Scavenger contract. General Atomics, Selex and Cobham have been working in this direction, culminating in a recent test of an “open architecture” Predator B carrying a Selex radar.
“Our gold-plated solution—and I'm not saying we're going to achieve this—would be to make all the ground elements of Watchkeeper, Reaper and Scavenger as common as possible,” says Sargent. “And with the data dissemination, there is the desire to make all that intelligence common, too. That's clearly where we'd like to pitch. The challenge is that it costs money to do that; but also the programs aren't always aligned.”
Adds Sargent, “Industry is getting fairly savvy to the fact that these are financially challenging times. They need to pitch at individual component systems, not just the full solution and big platforms. Open architecture will make this simpler.”