Solar-powered spy drones to join Britain’s fleet of military aircraft
A British-designed solar-powered drone operating at the edge of space will soon join Britain’s fleet of military aircraft, allowing special forces to observe or eavesdrop on adversaries for weekson end.
Michael Fallon, defence secretary, was set to announce on Tuesday night the imminent signature of a £10.6m contract to acquire at least two Zephyr 8 “pseudo satellites” — high-altitude endurancedrones — from Airbus Defence and Space.
Mr Fallon will highlight the deal as a significant step in the government’s “commitment to provide next-generation battlefield intelligence capabilities to the UK armed forces”.It also underlines the potential cost savings to be had in defence procurement from using more unmanned aerial vehicles. At £10.6m for two aircraft, the cost is substantially lower than the price
tag on any modern manned aircraft.
The MoD said the Zephyr would be “a persistent presence over the battlefield and provide intelligence at much greater level of detail than was previously possible”.
Airbus claims the unmanned aircraft is the only vehicle to have demonstrated sustainable, unmanned and solar-powered flights to date. The aircraft is designed to fly at 65,000ft, roughly twice as high as a commercial passenger jet, and can stay in the air for up to three months.
Cloaked in solar panels, it uses sunlight to fly and recharge its batteries. The Zephyr 8 weighs about 30kg without its batteries and can carry up to five times its own weight.
Zephyr launch - med : Airbus : Zephyr pics©Airbus
With its development partially funded by the MoD, the design of the latest generation of Zephyr is so secret that even the blueprints for the propeller tips is top secret. An MoD official said the aircraft would be able to do anything that a satellite could do, from communications to surveillance. “This is state of the art,” he said.
The acquisition follows months of speculation after David Cameron signalled in November’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR) plans to invest in advanced high-altitude surveillance aircraft. He said the government would double investment in equipment for the special forces “to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and global strike capability”.
The MoD will take two Zephyrs for operational trials, which will continue through to next year. It will then decide on its requirement for the special forces, an official said.
“This contract allows the UK to understand whether a high-altitude pseudo satellite can fulfil a requirement for persistent surveillance capability as announced in the SDSR,” the MoD said in a statement. “Alongside this, the programme will also explore wider requirements across all front line commands to understand further capability benefits to defence and other government departments.”
An Airbus executive said recently that the group had been discussing the sale of up to three unmanned aircraft. The MoD will be the first customer, but both Germany and Singapore are understood to have expressed an interest.
Airbus says Zephyr has clocked up more than 900 hours of flight time to prove its technology. The craft holds three world records, including the endurance record of 14 days, which Airbus claims is four times longer than any other unmanned aerial vehicle.
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aw63 40 minutes ago
Certainly worth trying. What are the risks to its operation? How easy is it to detect and how easy will it be to 'take it out'? And who would have the capability - ISIL or Russia? Will it have enough payload capacity to carry a defensive aids suite as well as reconnaissance sensors?
The Zephyr is a high-altitude endurance drone built by Airbus Defence and Space
“An MoD funded research programme was recently completed with Airbus to demonstrate the technology underpinning the Zephyr programme
The Zephyr UAV will eventually stay airborne for 90 days.
It has been described as a potential "game changer" in the battle against extremists in Iraq and Syria.
Makers of The Zephyr, Airbus, claim it "endures like a satellite, focuses like an aircraft and is cheaper than both of them".