The focus of industry efforts has turned towards improving the payloads carried by unmanned air systems (UAS), rather than the platforms themselves.
The reason is simple – a UAS in most cases is actually a “truck” that has to take payloads to where they are needed to support operations, and get them back in one piece.
This mission requires small changes to existing unmanned platforms – and the industry is doing just that.
In Israel this is obvious, as for some years UAS manufacturers – mainly the two big ones, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems – have invested in putting more payloads and sensors on their existing unmanned platforms.
This began with work to meet the operational requirements of the Israeli air force (IAF), but other air forces have since followed suit.
The requirements necessitated some changes in the inner systems of the UAS. At IAI, for instance, additional sensors brought the company to use two separate computers – one for the flight control and another for controlling the growing number of payloads.
“We use now two separate computers, and that allows UAS to control more payloads for different missions more efficiently,” says Avi Bleser, director of marketing and sales for the Malat UAS division of IAI.
Bleser added that the growing demand for “exotic” sensors required a payload-dedicated computer.
For example, he pointed to the operational requirements of many customers for the Elta Comint/DF payload, which uses communications on the ground to pinpoint the location of the enemy.
All the signs point to a trend – existing UAS will carry more payloads, but the changes in most cases will not “touch” the airframe.
Many companies are still developing new UAS, but these are for missions that cannot be accomplished only by a vast array of sensors.