The British Army has accepted the Marconi Avionics-developed Phoenix unmanned air vehicle into service - six years later than scheduled.

The company has also embarked on a study of potential upgrades to the system.

Deliveries of 50 air vehicles and eight ground stations to two Royal Artillery regiments were completed recently, following a series of successful training exercises undertaken in Canada.

The Phoenix system has been at the centre of considerable controversey in the UK because of late delivery and the high cost. The system was originally due in service in 1992 but was dogged by technical problems, many of them associated with the unconventional method of recovering the vehicle by landing it upside down.

Phoenix was intended mainly for target location for MLRS rockets and AS90 self-propelled howitzers but its roles are being extended to include battlefield intelligence and peacekeeping reconnaissance duties - partly as a result of improved stabilisation of the gimballed thermal imager undertaken during the 'fix-it' programme Marconi has been working on over the last three years.

The army is continuing to seek further improvements for the UAV. Marconi Avionics is currently studying a range of upgrade options - primarily associated with the sensor package and the ground stations - in what is likely to be a rolling programme of improvements to the Phoenix system.

Source: Flight International