Spy’Ranger – a New Mini-Drone for the French Army

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Spy'Ranger will replace the DRAC in service with the French Army. Photo: Thales

The French defense procurement agency (DGA) selected Thales to provide up to 70 ‘Spy’Ranger’ Mini-Drone Reconnaissance Systems (SMDR) for the French Army. Induction of the first batch of 35 systems is expected to begin in 2019. The total cost of the contract, with options, could reach €104.3 million (US $108.8 million).

Each Spy’Ranger system consists of three drones, a ground segment (launcher, control unit, and communications module) and associated technical support. Its man-portable configuration consists of two drones and the ground segment packed in two backpacks weighing 25kg each. Thales developed the Spy’Ranger system in less than 13 months, under a cooperation Thales established with two small French companies – Aviation Design and Merio. The Spy’Ranger will equip the services and succeeds the Airbus DS Drac system, which entered service with the Army in 2008. The Spy’Ranger won over the rival Airbus and SurveyCopter that offered the SkyGhost ER.

The French army required a reconnaissance system that consists of mini-UAVs that can operate in day and night over a distance of up to 30 km, with an endurance of 150 minutes. The drone’s maximum take-off weight is 14kg, including payload weighing up to 1.2 kg. Battery powered and electrically propelled, it is inaudible at 200 meters. The Spy’Ranger has a wing span of 3.8 meters; it can operate at an altitude of 4,500 above sea level, at speed up to 90 km/h. Its endurance is 180 minutes. The drone can operate at wind conditions below 19 m/s. According to Thales, the system operation is simple and does not require special skills.

The new mini-drone weighs 14.5 kg on takeoff. Electrically driven by battery power, the drone is inaudible from a distance of 200 meters. Photo: Thales

Mission preparation would usually take about 12 minutes, preparing the mini-drone to launch from a light ramp provided with the system. Once airborne Spy’Ranger is fully autonomous, operated by a single operator. Operating options include assisted modes, providing dynamic route selection to follow moving targets. The system also employs electronic stabilization, automatic target detection, geotracking, and video tracking.

The mini-drone carries a single gyro-stabilized multi-sensor electro-optical payload and protected, tactical datalink that transmits the video in real-time to the user. The high resolution of the HD IR&TV system enables positive identifications of objects on the ground. The system will be able to operate under a regimental intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance command, and control system (C4ISR) or independently, as a stand-alone asset operated at the tactical level.

The selection of Thales for this contract strengthens the French group’s position in the unmanned systems sector, offering complete systems from micro-drones, mini and tactical drones, as well as on-board sensors, communication means, and ground control stations.

The Spy’Ranger system consists of three drones, and a ground segment comprising the command unit, communications link and launch rail. A man-packed system that includes two drones weighs around 50 kg. Photo: Thales