BAE Systems has successfully flown the Mantis, largest fully autonomous unmanned aircraft ever to be built in the UK. The first flight took place October 21, 2009 in Woomera, South Australia. During subsequent flights, the twin-engine Mantis successfully completed a series of trials demonstrating the capability of the system and the potential of large unmanned systems to support future UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) operational needs. The trials have concluded the 19 month technology demonstration program, funded jointly by UK MOD and UK Industry.
The 20 meter wingspan Mantis is BAE Systems’ first all-electric aircraft. The system is intended to be easily deployable and can be broken down to fit into a military transport aircraft. Mantis is designed to be quickly reconfigured by introducing mission-specific “plug and play” elements in the mission system, and the ability to carry a wide range of sensors.
The Mantis will be able to carry multiple payloads performing wide area (radar, panoramic cameras) and narrow field (stabilized EO) payloads, performing intelligence gathering at long distances. In addition, it will be able to carry guided bombs and missiles for hunter-killer, interdiction or close-air support operations. The air vehicle is designed for fully autonomous operations, being able to execute its mission with a much reduced need for human intervention by understanding and reacting to its environment.
A close-up on the Mantis nose section, showing the main EO payload and two video/thermal cameras, providing forward view for flight monitoring, support auto-landing and could also provide input for future sense-and -avoid systems. Utilizing the fixed cameras in a forward position relieves the main payload for the reconnaissance mission. Photo: Defense Update by Noam Eshel
Such autonomy increases operational effectiveness allowing the user more focus on the mission without the usual concerns over vehicle control. It also reduces manpower requirements and the risk of accidents due to human error and the communications/data link requirements between the vehicle and the ground. Mantis shares a common UAS control infrastructure with other BAE Systems UAS’ such as Taranis and Herti. BAE partners on the program include Rolls-Royce, Qinetiq, GE Aviation, Meggit and Selex Galileo.
Originally BAE Systems and MOD were hopeful that the program could be continued further to demonstrate more of the operational capabilities, however, due to the budgetary shortage and the fact that the Reaper has already been fielded with the RAF, the chances of Mantis being funded through the full scale development and fielding is remote. Yet, the ability to fully integrate the UAV with the UK’s C4I infrastructure could significantly enhance the British sovereign operational capabilities. Sharing a common UAS control infrastructure with other BAE Systems UAS, such as Taranis and HERTI is also a strong supporting argument for further fulfillment of the potential offered by the Mantis.
A view of the Mantis, displayed at the AUVSI 2009 demonstration at the U.S. Navy Webster Field. The aircraft is shown with the air data probe boom, installed for the flight tests. It is displayed with a range of weapons and stores, including four Paveway II laser guided bombs, and two hellfire II class Brimstone mm wave guided missiles. Photo: Defense Update by Noam Eshel
A recent field experiment held by the French and German forces in Germany evaluated advanced warfighting concepts introduced by modern command, control, intelligence and weapon systems, paving the way for further studies as part of the Air-land operational digitalization study (Bulle Opérationnelle Aéroterrestre – BOA). The ARTIST experiment was managed by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), the French Army, and an industry group including Thales, Nexter and Sagem.
The forces operating in the experiment included a command centre, four armored vehicles, three types of robots, a drone and two groups of soldiers, demonstrating the effectiveness of the battlefield digitization in combat mission in a built-up area, addressing intelligence preparation and reconnaissance of a village, seizing a village and repelling an enemy counter-attack.
For the experiment the units were equipped with an advanced, all-digital tactical communications system provided by Thales, connecting different units (vehicular and dismounted) providing full coordination between the French and German units, in voice, data, maps, video and fire coordination.
The vehicles included the German Wiesel II tracked light vehicle and the AMX10 VOA platform and , specially equipped with advanced armored vehicle vetronics systems provided by Nexter Systems. This electronic ensemble included battle management, observation and target acquisition systems, enabling the crew to perform observation and engage targets through a specialized Man-Machine Interface. The vehicles were also equipped with the Robot Spotter robotic control systems, provided by the French company Robosoft, enabling the control of unmanned ground vehicles such as the wheeled Miniroc and tracked Telemax, from within the armored vehicles.
Sagem provided the basis for the operational command and control segment, with a system designed to integrate with both German and French land forces combat command systems, including performing information exchange with the FELIN, employed by French infantry warfighters. Sagem has also provided multi-screen, multimedia work stations providing for the exercise control.
The BOA, performed under close partnership between the DGA, the French Army and the Thales-Nexter-Sagem industrial group was launched in 2006 to demonstrate to the Army how digitization can transform the modern battlefield. Three field experiments being conducted in the current phase (TACTIC) are scheduled to continue until 2012. ARTIST (or Architecture Real Time Integration System Testbench) was the first of the three, demonstrating the basic added value of digitization. Lessons learned from BOA will pave the way for the future force modernization, under the French Army SCORPION program.
Photos above: top: the AMX-10 VOA taking part in the experiment was a unique vehicle, equipped with mast-mounted, stabilized multi-sensor electro-optical surveillance system and digital vehicle electronics (Vetronics) and Robot Spotter robotic control system, enabling the crew to provide area surveillance, targeting and control operations of unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), such as the six-wheeled French Miniroc (left) and four-track German Telemax (right). Photos: French Defence.