A new class of lightweight missiles and an innovative weapons launcher could enable unmanned air vehicles and even airships to perform precision strikes from standoff range, according to MBDA.
Releasing the results of its annual Concept Visions programme at the Farnborough air show on 9 July, the European guided weapons specialist unveiled two futuristic missile designs named Caelus and Gladius, as part of a wider Vigilus system.
Under its operating concept, the roughly 100kg (220lb) Caelus would provide surveillance and targeting cover, carrying an up-to-1kg warhead or deployable sensor load for a flight lasting up to 2h. With a launch weight of only 7kg, including a 1kg blast/fragmentation warhead, the complementary Gladius weapon would have a range of up to 16nm (30km).
MBDA staff from around Europe were in February invited to come up with ideas on how UAVs could be armed in the future. The best 20 of around 170 submissions were drawn on for the Vigilus design, says Chris Allard, MBDA's head of the Concepts Vision programme for 2012. Now in its third year, the internal initiative is aimed at showcasing technologies that could potentially be operational within around 20 years.
Another product of the scheme is the Armatus launcher, which would employ an innovative latch loading mechanism and use wireless power and data transfer to allow for simple integration with unmanned platforms. A graphic released by the company shows an airship with four launchers installed.
"We have gone to some major platform providers with the early concept to see how it could evolve," says Allard, identifying BAE Systems, Cassidian and Selex Galileo. "We have also talked to the militaries in the [company's partner] nations and received feedback."