The Netherlands is to issue an initial invitation to bid for its medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle requirement early this month, ahead of expected funding approval from the Dutch parliament in October-November.

An initial five air vehicles and three ground control stations (GCS) are sought, including four UAVs and two GCS for deployed operations. The remaining equipment will be kept in the Netherlands for training and homeland security missions. Two UAVs should be capable of providing a 24h surveillance capability for up to a week, with each vehicle required to offer 16h on station at an operating range of 1,020km (550nm).

The total number of UAVs will rise to eight in the medium to long-term, says Cdr Jan Ouwens from the Dutch defence ministry's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programme staff. The three main contenders for the Netherlands requirement are Elbit Systems' Hermes 1500, General Atomics Predator B and Israel Aircraft Industries' Heron, Ouwens says.

A decision on whether to pursue an off-the-shelf or developmental solution is planned for year-end, with participation in a co-operative European MALE programme still viewed as an option, says Ouwens. This includes possible involvement in a proposed French/German/Spanish effort to develop a MALE version of EADS's Barracuda demonstrator. However, an off-the-shelf solution appears more likely to meet the Netherlands' required schedule, with plans to sign a production contract in mid-2008.

The Netherlands plans to spend €450 million ($570 million) over the next five years on new airborne surveillance capabilities, including MALE, short-range and mini UAVs and the country's proposed contribution to NATO's Alliance Ground Surveillance programme.

Source: Flight International