U.S. Air Force Readies new Tactical, Endurance UAVs for Afghanistan

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The US Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded a contract worth $13.1 million to Aero Mech Engineering, to deliver a new type of unmanned aerial vehicle optimized for route surveillance, spotting suspected IED locations along the operational routes in Afghanistan. Four of these stealthy looking drones, known as Sand Dragon, will be sent for field evaluation in Afghanistan as soon as they are completed toward the end of 2010.

The Sand Dragon will be based on Aero Mech’s Fury B flying wing drone, which was developed as a scalable platform. The air vehicle is designed with stealth capabilities in mind. Powered by a Cosworth heavy-fuel engine, the Fury B is designed to support missions where radar, visual, infra-red, and acoustic detection is to be avoided. Its payload will consist of a miniature dual-band radar and EO/IR sensor, collecting volumetric synthetic aperture radar (V-SAR) data from an aircraft circling and staring at an urban area and process it into real-time target tracks. Total payload weight will be around 45 lbs and its power consumption 500 watts.

This capability was requested by the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) for a relatively small UAS (Tier II class) capable of performing missions characteristic of much larger platforms, including operating multiple sensors for extended periods (over 24 hours), carrying a datalink covering ‘Beyond Line of Sight’ communications while simplifying operation, manning and support. Like the Fury B, Sand Dragon will be runway independent launch and recovery utilizing a rail catapult for takeoff. Part of AeroMech’s rapid delivery capability is based on the architecture of the Fury B system that utilizes the commercial CANBus architecture, allowing for ease of payload integration. The ground control system also utilizes the STANAG 4586 compliant Shark Fin mission control system, enabling intuitive control and mission planning in real time.