Honeywell plans to begin delivering its next-generation gas-powered micro air vehicle (gMAV) to the US Army's Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team by 2011, providing improvements to the noise and reliability of the hover-and-stare vertical take-off design.
Both the army and the US Navy have versions of the MAV, with the former designating its aircraft as RQ-16 T-Hawks. The type is in use in Iraq, providing route reconnaissance and other tasks as part of early deployment of the technology, originally developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Key aspects of the 8.2kg (18lb) gMAV have come under criticism by the government recently, with a report citing poor reliability and an acoustic signature that compromises its effectiveness. Officials have also said the vehicle can be seen at a distance of 4km (2.2nm). Honeywell says this is "not credible", given the gMAV's small size.
While not denying the other points, the manufacturer notes that the system has been "successfully used by soldiers in combat" and that it is developing with its partners "a new rotary engine and exhaust system for the second-generation aircraft that will significantly reduce the acoustic signature of the system in the threshold version".
Honeywell says it is also incorporating "a number of design enhancements for fielded versions" of the system to enhance reliability, including the new rotary engine, as well as making operator training "more robust".
Army programme manager for unmanned aircraft systems Col Gregory Gonzalez says that the gMAV, as a proof of concept technology, "is not a fully developed system" and "hasn't gone through all the wickets".
"It may not matter that it's loud," says Gonzalez. "What matters is that it can hover and follow. If it meets the niche capability for our forces, we will continue to refine it."