The UK-designed solar-powered, high-altitude, long-endurance Zephyr unmanned air vehicle is to fly in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Developed by UK technology company Qinetiq, the latest versions have an 18.2m (59.6ft) wingspan, 30kg (66lb) mass with a 45kt (83km/h) cruise speed. Zephyr is designed for surveillance or communications missions and has achieved flight endurances of 54h and 82.3h.
"We are in the final throes of an agreement of how to move forward to operationally test [Zephyr] outside the USA. We are very close to getting an operational solar-powered system," says Cdr Eliot Gunn of the office of the secretary of defence, advanced systems and concepts, unmanned systems joint capability technology demonstrations programme, oversight executive.
Long-range signals intelligence is the US Department of Defense's primary interest in Zephyr, Gunn told the A&D Forum's Unmanned Air Systems 09 conference in London on 19 May. The DoD may also want to provide Zephyr to other "combatant commanders" beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, he adds.
A Zephyr prototype is being flown at the US Army's Yuma proving grounds in Arizona for additional testing. Zephyr 5 prototypes have been flown at the White Sands missile range in New Mexico.
Gunn says the endurance record setting prototype was called Zephyr 6, but that a contract has now been awarded for Zephyr 7.