The Netherlands' military withdrawal from Afghanistan later this month will bring to an end an innovative service provision where the nation has obtained surveillance data from a contractor-operated fleet of tactical unmanned air vehicles.
Dubbed Project "Lintel", the managed service has been provided from Tarin Kowt since June 2009 by Qinetiq and Aeronautics Defense Systems, which provides Aerostar UAVs. Around 10 industry personnel are deployed at the forward operating base, working alongside the Dutch military.
"We can do two sets of targets with two air vehicles within 24h," says David Tilly, Qinetiq's business group manager for unmanned systems managed services.
Flights in support of the Dutch armed forces have so far totalled almost 2,000h, he adds, with typical mission endurance being around 6-8h.
Industry personnel receive a mission tasking 24h in advance of a sortie, but Tilly notes: "We'll launch whenever we're needed to look at troops in contact." Four Aerostar vehicles are available across variants: baseline and extended endurance for use in hot and high environmental conditions, both carrying a Controp electro-optical/infrared camera; and equipped with an array of communications intelligence equipment (below).
"We get the aircraft and the sensor in the position that the Dutch intelligence centre wants," says. "They are buying data - we're buying everything else." The service will come to an end on 31 July, and the Aeronautics/Qinetiq team is seeking another operator in Afghanistan to use the Project Lintel equipment, either as a capability enhancement or gap-filling service.
"We are seeing a change in attitude towards a contractor service," Tilly says.
The companies are also eyeing a potential border surveillance requirement from within the UN.