Saturday, July 24, 2021

UK MOD Tender for nUAS (Nano) worth 20 million pounds.

Falcon 8 from Ascending Technologies

UK Newspaper The Guardian reports that the MOD is making 20 million pounds available for Nano UAS. This is the second story this week in which military organizations seem to be looking for small multicopters. A market to date that has been ignored by the big defence contractors and a space owned by small start ups. No doubt some of those small start ups will soon become big defence contractors!

MoD seeks toy-size spy drones for Afghanistan

Contract available worth up to £20m to supply up to 100 miniature drones to improve battlefield surveillance

Swarms of miniature drones, weighing as little as 200gm (7oz) each, are being sought by the Ministry of Defence for rapid deployment to improve battlefield surveillance in Afghanistan.

The MoD has put out a public tender notice for a contract worth up to £20m for the supply of up to 100 Nano unmanned air systems, to be ready by the autumn.

The expenditure has been authorised as the government announces deep cuts to the RAF and other services – a coincidence that will underline the military‘s growing reliance on robot technology. Several years ago the US defence department set itself the target of having a third of its fighting strength made up of unmanned vehicles by 2015.

The RAF is already using Predator drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), armed with Hellfire missiles and Paveway bombs, in Afghanistan. The Royal Artillery is also launching the smaller Desert Hawk spotter drones, weighting 3.5kg each, in close support of ground troops in Helmand province.

The use of tiny UAVs – compared by one defence source to “toys in Hamleys” – represents a significant expansion of military resources into new areas of combat technology.

Last month a US defence contractor, AeroVironment Unmanned Aircraft Systems, exhibited its Nano hummingbird spy drone. Remotely controlled by a ground operator, it weighs only 19gm and resembles a hovering bird. The Nano unmanned air system (NUAS) sought by the MoD is required to be slightly larger.

The tender notice for the contract says: “The MoD may have an urgent operational requirement for deployable NUAS.” The drones should be available “off the shelf”, powered by a rotary wing, weigh less than 1.7kg,and able to operate in “typical conditions found in Afghanistan and the UK”.

The note about their use in Britain is thought to refer to training flights at RAF and military bases in the UK before deployment abroad. But other security agencies could also find a use for the NUAS in the UK; at least four English police forces have used drones for domestic surveillance.

The “battery-powered” NUAS will carry cameras to send images back to British soldiers on the ground shadowing Taliban members or monitoring movements. They are required to be able to stay airborne for at least 20 minutes, climb to 300m, and be hard to spot from the ground, having a “low visible/acoustic signature at optimum operating altitude”.

Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at Sheffield University, who has been a critic of military use of drone technology, said: “At that weight they are likely to be blown away by the wind. They wouldn’t be carrying weapons. My worry would be that the police end up using them.”

Gary Mortimer
Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.