UAVs make Paris Air Show debut

ISR platforms dominated the international event

If there was any sure indication that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is becoming one of the driving factors in defense procurement, it is the fact that the organizers of the recent Paris Air Show, which has always been a monument to the glories of manned flight, permitted an unmanned aerial vehicle to participate in the flying display for the first time.

As befits the nature of ISR aircraft, the Austrian company Schiebel’s S-100 vertical takeoff and landing UAV that performed at the show every afternoon was not of interest to the crowd because of its aerobatic capability but because of the video images that the UAV transmitted back to spectators watching on a big screen.

In many respects, ISR platforms dominated the air show. A number of other important ISR developments were unveiled at the Le Bourget Airport, where aviator Charles Lindbergh landed after his transatlantic flight in 1927. Those announcements included the following:

  • At the behest of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden, the European Defence Agency will spend 50 million euros (about $70 million) in the next two years to develop technology that will permit UAVs to fly in civil airspace. Under a program to develop a midair collision avoidance system, 14 European manufacturers and research centers will work in collaboration with European civil aviation authorities, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics in the United States to develop sense-and-avoid technology for UAV navigation. Sweden is the lead country for the project, with Saab Aerosystems serving as the lead contractor.
  • Raytheon will develop a system that can control as many as three UAVs from the ground simultaneously. A new Pentagon requirement that separates the air element from the ground element for future procurements of unmanned aerial systems is driving the program. That means the Pentagon is likely to split contracts between the air vehicle and the ground segment, whereas in the past it bought both from the same contractor. Future ground control systems will likely operate under open architectures rather than proprietary software.
  • The United Kingdom will send its Airborne Stand-Off Radar surveillance system to Afghanistan later this year — its third deployment to the region as part of the system’s evaluation phase. The system consists of Bombardier Global Express business jets modified with Raytheon’s synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and ground moving target indicator (GMTI) sensors. During its last deployment in late 2008, it flew 18 missions and collected 149 SAR images and 107 hours of GMTI information, according to Group Capt. Harry Kemsley, the Royal Air Force officer in charge of the operations.
  • Rockwell Collins launched an e-book that company officials say will keep industry and the military up-to-date on all new developments in the field of unmanned aerial systems. The company’s goal is to encourage cultural acceptance of UAVs while highlighting technical advances in the field.
  • Europe’s EADS has completed a critical design review of Qatar’s National Security Shield, a nationwide system of land and naval radars, watch towers, and secure communications systems that conduct surveillance of the country’s borders and coastal areas that contain petroleum facilities. EADS is the prime contractor on the $333 million program and will now work with others in the industry to procure the network’s key components.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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