AUVSI Israel: Lessons learned generate mature UK UAV solutions
A British Army officer has claimed that the UK’s fleet of UAVs are now being effectively controlled in Afghanistan following previous errors made in their concept of operations.
Maj Mark Whittle, 32 Regiment Deputy Commander, Royal Artillery, British Army, told the AUVSI conference in Tel Aviv, Israel on 20 March that the three aerial unmanned systems the army operates were not performing as well as required due to the fact that they were being deployed with different regiments.
'We had to improve the way we deployed these services. We now have one single regiment, 32 [Royal Artillery], using it,' Whittle said. 'We answered significant questions that had been asked.'
Around 1,000 'products' are generated on every six-month tour of Afghanistan from UAVs and Whittle said that 'since 2007 the products produced have increased exponentially per tour each time'.
The Desert Hawk III small UAV has achieved 20,000 operational hours so far, while the Hermes 450 has flown 61,160 hours. The army also flies the T-Hawk VTOL UAV.
'Professional operators now lead the Hermes 450 better; they exploit the capability to the best of its ability. Our motto is “fly once, capture once, use many times”,’ he added.
'We take individuals, and their job is not to operate the UAS, but sit with the operator and understand the requirement,' and then they produce the mission plan that helps give a better understanding of the operations, Whittle explained.
'Our experience in Afghanistan is that not only is having the people there to exploit the data important, the time in which to do it is even more so.
'We find ourselves in a mature environment operationally,' he explained, and therefore 'the collaboration and fusing at the higher level must be done correctly'.
He also emphasised the importance of ISTAR layering, saying that the army 'must use all of the capabilities it has available'.
The systems are operational in the third busiest airport in the world, Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, so the army is 'destined to find itself in a difficult environment', and therefore collaboration with third parties is important, Whittle said.
With regards to the ‘inevitability' of being responsible for killing somebody with a UAV, Whittle commented: 'I suspect it's destined to happen at some point. Our job is to make sure that is as far away as possible, although we've had some close calls. We must ensure runway management with due consideration.'
As for to the Watchkeeper programme currently flying in the UK with the support of operators, Whittle concluded: 'We look forward to that capability being deployed later this year.'
Source: By Beth Stevenson in Tel Aviv, Israel - 20 March 2012 - Shephard News
Photo: Israeli Hermes 450 UAV (Photo by Shephard Group)