FINDER – Autonomous, Expendable UAV / SAIC

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Finder is a low cost, (retrievable or, optionally, expendable) autonomously navigated UAV developed under a Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) initiative. Finder uses waypoint navigation to perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions. For autonomous navigation, waypoints can be updated during the flight, responding to changing user requirements and interest. It can be launched from a runway, catapult or by air insertion from another aerial vehicle such as the MQ-1 Predator. Finder will be able to enhance the mission flexibility and effectiveness of the Predator UAVs, by pursuing low level missions into high threat area. At a total weight of 60 lbs (27.2kg) pounds, Finder can carry a payload of 11 lbs (5 kg), has 100 watts of available power, and endurance of seven hours.

The system is currently being evaluated as an optionally expendable mini-UAV enhancing the effectiveness and flexibility of the Predator MQ-1 unmanned systems. An MQ-1 Predator can carry a mixed payload of one Hellfire and one FINDER, or two FINDERS. The new Warrior will be able to carry mixed payloads of four items while the MQ-9 Reaper is able to carry multiple stores of FINDERs and weapons.

Finder is also planned for deployment from AC-130 Spectre gunships and other Special-Operations platforms. Finder could be equipped with various mission payloads including chemical sensor/sample collector and meteorological sensor payload for post strike chemical bomb damage assessment, or a high resolution, low-level electro-optical still imager. Using piston engine, FINDER is capable of flying missions up to 7 hours. The platform is capable of carrying 11 lbs of payload and has available power of up to 100 watts. To better adapt for combat environment, FINDER is undergoing testing with an electric propulsion and noise abatement modifications. Sofar, electrical propulsion systems and batteries did not meet the required endurance specifications.

FINDER is designed to fly autonomously through predesigned waypoints or controlled in real-time via line-of-sight datalink using standard FalconView interface. It can also be controlled beyond line of sight, using the Predator’s satellite datalink. In operational tests FINDER navigated autonomously and executed dynamic retasking performed via the Predator GCS.

As the system integrator for the Finder UAV, SAIC is upgrading the Predator Ground Control Station to display FINDER data in near-real-time. The system was tested with full-motion IR video sensor, providing medium to low altitude recce, surveillance and target acquisition for ground users. A new high resolution EO payload is under development by Goodrich. An imagery data synchronizer is also developed, to insert the Finder’s digital imagery data into the Predator digital communications datalink.