BAE System’s Mantis MALE UAV may find a new role as a national technology demonstrator as part of the UK’s civil ASTRAEA project. TIM ROBINSON reports.
BAE Systems has revealed it is considering donating its Mantis MALE UAV prototype to become a national demonstrator, potentially for the UK’s civil ASTRAEA UAS project. Martin Rowe-Willcocks, head of International Business Development at Future Combat Air Systems, BAE Systems said: “essentially, we would gift it”.
Rowe-Willcocks reveals that the company has been responding to an internal goal, announced in 2012, to ‘see what it would take’ to fly the Mantis in UK airspace, with the aim of flying it this year. Previously BAE has had to fly its larger UAVs over test ranges in Australia, incurring increased time and expense. Mantis, which first flew in 2009, was developed in a record 18 months and test flown an unspecified number of times in Australia.
The UK’s ASTRAEA project, a consortium that is focused on unlocking civil airspace for regular UAS flights, is set to conclude its Phase 2 in March. A British national UAS demonstrator is therefore seen as the likely next step for Phase 3, following on from the key groundwork in synthetic and surrogate UAV testing that ASTRAEA has already undertaken. Though over 170 UAS operators have been licensed to fly UAVs in UK airspace, the vast majority of these are in the mini or micro class and operate under line-of-sight rules.
Rowe-Willcocks says that after plans to fly the Mantis in UK skies were announced, there have now been a number of other companies and organisations, such as Selex-Galileo, that have come forward with an interest in testing payloads or payloads and systems on the vehicle in the UK.
Mantis is attractive in this way because it incorporates a modular ‘plug and play’ into its design, with a central ‘keel’ which allows payloads to be added or removed without structural concerns or recertification. Moreover its triple-redundant flight control system and twin-engines make it a natural fit for a large UAS for initial flights in controlled airspace, where safety will be the prime focus.
Though the Mantis has been designed as a military MALE, helping to shape requirements for the RAF’s combat ISTAR and Scavenger, BAE reveals it has already had the first civil interest in the UAV, from New Zealand entrepreneurs who wanted to buy two vehicles to patrol the country’s exclusive economic zone and catch illegal fisherman.
Meanwhile, Rowe-Willcocks admits that the Anglo-French Telemos project, revealed in 2011, is now essentially ‘stalled’ due to a shake-up in the French acquisition process, following the Presidential election. Telemos is a joint BAE/Dassault MALE programme, to be developed from Mantis and was one of the centrepieces of the Anglo-French defence treaty signed in 2010.
However, while this MALE effort is on hold, related joint UK/French UCAV definition work Demonstrator Preparation Phase Program (DPPP) is still ongoing with a report due in the autumn. With both BAE Systems and Dassault having their own UCAV demonstrators in Taranis and the pan-European nEUROn, the key question being asked by industry and stakeholders says Rowe-Willcocks, is: “Do we need another [UCAV] demonstrator or is it time for a development programme?”