The UK Home Office is exploring development of a national unmanned air vehicle fleet to support police and emergency response operations.
The fleet would be developed over several years, most likely via the contracting of services rather than outright acquisition. The UAV types would range from mini to large endurance systems.
The proposed architecture would give short-term priority to the fielding of niche capabilities, says Home Office aviation adviser Capt Ollie Dismore, Royal Navy: "It is the looking over the hedge, around the corner."
Speaking at the ParcAberporth 2007 UAV airshow at West Wales airport, he said that UAVs are seen as a core element of future police air operations in the UK.
Development of the national capability would be driven centrally by the Home Office, including making available partial funding, to ensure fielding by all 43 police forces in the UK. "We are going to try and draft a basic user requirement for UAVs," said Dismore.
A paper exploring UAV capability as part of an effects-based approach to airborne policing is now being circulated within the Home Office, with this recommending use of service contracting for both manned and unmanned systems.
"Within that paper, rather than the police owning aircraft and assets as we do at the moment, if we can derive the capability that we need then service provision and getting industry to propose the solution is seen as an essential way ahead. Centralised funding is the key," he said.
Current trials by the Merseyside police and West Midlands emergency services of the Microdrone GmbH MD4-200 quadrotor are providing important guidance to that effort.
"The jury is still out as to the cost benefit of the Merseyside trial," Dismore said, however an early lesson has been recognition of the need to incorporate UAVs into the standardised UK police air operations manual.
Those modifications would include detailing how UAVs are to operate in co-operation with manned police aircraft and how air traffic deconfliction will be conducted.
The Merseyside trial is using ground teams of two - one operating the UAV and one safety and communications officer providing air traffic liaison - to allow co-operative manned and unmanned operations to occur.
"Where there is an incident and both attend, then a decision has been taken that the manned aircraft will take primacy in that area. When that task is complete the drone can resume operations," said Dismore.