Argentina's Nostromo-Defensa has been awarded a four month demonstration and trials contract by an undisclosed domestic government agency to explore how its Cabure mini UAV could be used in law enforcement and homeland security roles.

The contract is a precursor to a possible Argentine government purchase of a fleet of UAVs in the medium term.

In parallel the company is preparing to deliver the first of two Yarara-class tactical UAVs to the University of Santiago in Chile as part of a joint demonstration of airborne magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) survey for the mining industry in that country.

The Cabure demonstration contract was awarded in August with the objective to allow Argentine government agency officials to explore how mini-UAVs could support a variety of homeland security type missions. These range from replacing manned helicopters in monitoring car hijacking situations to local area surveillance operations. At least 20 sorties a week are anticipated under the programme.

A lack of previous experience in the use of UAVs at a domestic level has resulted in a deliberate agency decision to pursue an incremental approach to any future acquisition: "It is a small contract but it is step by step. It is a clever idea and we are learning together" says Nostromo-Defensa technology and business development manager Marcelo Martinez.

Cabure is an all electric, hand launched system with the type making its debut flight in July 2006. The UAV is being actively marketed internationally with an extensive demonstration campaign, involving 50 flights, carried out for the Egyptian armed forces in May this year.

Supply of Yarara UAVs to the University of Santiago is being funded by Nostromo-Defensa as a means of supporting potential opening up of a civil market applications base in South America. The first UAV is to be handed over in December with the second early in 2008. The University of Santiago will be responsible for integration of the MAD sensor suite and a precision navigation suite that will include either a laser or a radar altimeter. One UAV will be operated in northern Chile, while the second is to fly in the central region.

Yarara was developed by Nostromo-Defensa under contracts from the US Southern Command with a system comprising three aircraft delivered in June 2006. Evolution of the design over the past year has seen an increase in the width of the undercarriage footprint to support rough field landings, while a new Zenoah 6.5hp engine will be integrated and test flown within the next two months. The existing powerplant is a Modellmotoren 3W 5.5hp two stroke system.

Nostromo-Defensa was set up nine years ago with its initial product line being target drones for the Argentine defence forces. The company started exploring surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs in 2000. Norwegian-based Simrad Optronics ASA paid NOK2 million ($360,000) to secure a 30% stake in the company in mid August this year.

Martinez says Nostromo-Defensa now plans to expand its range of UAV types into a family of systems that cover the bulk of the tactical marketplace.

This will include development of a manned surveillance version of its Azor ultralight aircraft as a precursor to the development of a high end tactical UAV with endurance capabilities. The prototype surveillance Azor will carry a Taman electro-optic sensor with initial flights to commence in the first two months of 2008.

The demonstrator is likely to initially be used in fire monitoring applications says Martinez.