The Canadian army has grounded its newly acquired Elbit Systems Skylark I hand-launched unmanned air vehicles from use in Afghanistan after a spate of unidentified failures. The order comes just weeks after the UAVs entered service, and affects only Skylarks in theatre, as aircraft remaining in Canada have shown no signs of similar problems, says Capt Rob Sanders, technical authority for the Canadian army interim small UAV programme.

Speaking at the US National Defense Industrial Association's UAV, targets and ranges conference in Panama City, Florida last week, Sanders said: "Most of them aren't flying in Afghanistan. For some reason, in some parts of the country it will fly great, or today it will fly. The same one, at a separate time tonight, won't fly. So they have grounded them all trying to figure out what is going on."

Investigations are under way into the deployed system incidents, says Sanders. "We just cannot figure out what is going on with them in theatre. We are sending a couple of specialists over there to sort that out."

Sanders says the Skylark acquisition has also raised problems over sharing information with the army's Sagem Sperwer tactical UAVs also deployed in Afghanistan. "Skylark and Sperwer don't talk," he says. "Skylark won't talk to any of the other assets we have got over there."

Canadian units have found the Skylark ground-control system susceptible to wash-out, with users required to rig up sun-shields from cardboard. "As soon as they got sunlight on the screen, they couldn't see anything," says Sanders.

Canada began negotiations with Thales Canada last June for the purchase of five Skylark systems comprising three UAVs each. The deal was officially announced in late September.

Elbit declines to comment on Canada's operational experience with the Skylark, but says its customer service "provides logistic support and responds to every predicament that may be incurred in the field". Elbit says Israeli ground forces "successfully operated the Skylark during the last war in Lebanon to their full satisfaction".

Source: Flight International