November 19, 2008 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been the major innovation of modern warfare in the last decade, offering invaluable and unprecedented information about what the enemy is doing. Though US forces currently have 30 unmanned combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day over Iraq and Afghanistan, increasingly, the need for situational awareness on a micro scale is driving technological development of manpackable UAV systems. Now BAE has announced yet another major UAV breakthrough – a compact mortar-based launcher for small Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs).
UAVs provide front line units with vital real-time intelligence without the need for conventional air support. Until now, the ability to rapidly deploy these platforms by individual Platoons has been limited to very small systems (typically weighing 3-5 kg) which have limited capability. More capable UAVs have not been suitable due to a need to use large, cumbersome catapult or rocket-based launchers.
The new device, developed under a programme code-named ‘Project Artful’, is simple, easy to use, and portable. It allows UAVs of up to 25 kg in weight to be paired with a mortar-based launch mechanism, which has European and world-wide patents pending. This makes it possible for individual front line units to rapidly deploy such systems, significantly enhancing their operational effectiveness.
“ We identified that the burden of transporting launch and support equipment has been a major factor in preventing the use of small UAVs on the front line,” states Chris O'Brien, from BAE Systems. “This new system dispenses with the need for specialist launch equipment such as rockets and catapults, bringing Brigade-level capability to individual Platoons. It can work with a wide variety of different UAVs and mortars without the need for re-qualification.”
‘Project Artful’ was initially developed by BAE Systems’ Military Air Solutions business, based in North West England, but quickly grew into a partnership involving a number of small and medium enterprises including IBEX Ropes, Cranfield Aerospace and Blue Bear Systems Research. The Company’s Land Systems business was also part of the ‘Project Artful’ team.
A key goal was to develop a method of reducing the enormous forces produced by the mortar launch to a level survivable by the UAV.
Rebecca Darby, a graduate engineer for BAE Systems explains, “By developing and applying scientific methodologies that hadn't been used in this area before, we were able to design an innovative UAV launch mechanism. By using a simple bungee cap based device we have been able to reduce the launch loads placed upon the UAV by a factor of twenty. The system has been extensively trailed to demonstrate its versatility and reliability.”