What BAE Systems was up to in its black-projects division at Warton over the past few years is now becoming clear, as the company continues popping out a series of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). BAE Systems disclosed at Farnborough today that it has started a small production batch of Herti UAVs, on its own money. However, the company is talking to multiple customers and expects that "the question will be how many we can build," according to Mark Kane, managing director of autonomous systems.
One reason for the rapid development of the Mantis strategic UAV, Kane says, is that it has been developed by the same team as Herti and uses a lot of common systems, including the containerized ground control station. Kane revealed a few more details of Mantis today: the prototype is powered by twin Rolls-Royce 250-B17 turbines, with a wingspan just over 22 m, but a production version would be bigger.
Also in the works: GA22, a 22-m long unmanned airship, mainly intended for civil applications. Tests are due to start in September.
A key feature of the BAE UAVs is a small "footprint" in terms of manpower and logistics. The vehicles themselves and the GCS are designed to be modular, and easy to support and repair. On Mantis, the autonomous flight management system will also control the payload, so the mission can be flown by a single operator, not two or more as on Predator. In operational testing at RAF Bastion in Afghanistan, Herti operated out of a single temporary shelter, apparently requiring much less support equipment and manpower than Predator. Both UAVs are designed to complete entire missions autonomously if necessary.
Since training has been a huge issue in expanding UAV operations, BAE sees its work on autonomy as a key discriminator as the market for UAVs continues to expand.
For more on this topic, read my story in June's edition of DTI: Overworked.