The UK's Joint UAV Experimentation Programme enters its third and probably final year close to completing the last of its 27 initial objectives

A small organisation that plays a pivotal role in the UK's evaluation of future unmanned air vehicle technologies is entering its third and – according to current plans – final year of supporting a campaign to place the UK at the forefront of unmanned system capabilities. Formed in April 2003, the tri-service Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP) office has been responsible for managing numerous exercises involving micro, mini and medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs and has also worked to assess the legislative challenges confronting their use in controlled airspace.

Key objectives

JUEP has been working to meet 27 objectives, with broad topics of activity including the demonstration of persistent intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), support for maritime operations and the close surveillance of urban operations. Once identified and planned, trials are conducted by the Joint UAV Experimentation Team (JUET) using additional personnel and assets from the individual UK armed services. Five serving officers are assigned to the experimentation effort, along with two operational analysts and one contractor employee, with three Defence Science and Technology Laboratory personnel based at Portsdown West. Two civil servants within the Defence Procurement Agency's tactical UAV integrated project team deal with procurement issues. The JUET is based at RAF Waddington in eastern England and under the command of British Army Lt Col Dick Park, JUEP reports to the UK's director equipment capability (ISTAR).

A key objective for JUEP has been to look at capabilities not planned for introduction with the UK's future Watchkeeper UAV removing "requirements creep" and risk from the Thales-led project, valued at around £800 million ($1.5 billion). Watchkeeper is the UK's only planned UAV acquisition beyond urgent operational requirements contracted around the 2003 Iraq campaign.

In addition to informing the Watchkeeper project, JUEP's work could also feed into other future military projects, such as the UK land forces' Future Integrated Soldier Technology effort and Project Dabinett, which is intended to replace the RAF's English Electric Canberra PR9 fleet. Much of the equipment so far used by the test team has been leased from industry, reducing overall costs and enabling it to pick and choose the optimum system elements for any given trial. "We experiment with this payload and that platform employing that architecture," says Park.

Another JUEP objective has been to encourage closer relations between the test community, military uses and the commercial contractors, and to place equipment into the hands of military personnel much faster than has usually been the case. This approach also fits with an emerging UK trend to field equipment that can be developed over time to provide full operational capability to the warfighter. "We've experiment with this payload and that platform employing that architecture," says Air Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, chief of joint operations for the UK's Permanent Joint Headquarters. Experimentation conducted in the year ending 1 April 2005 included operations to demonstrate the provision of maritime and persistent overland surveillance and the use of small UAVs in urban operations. Detailed operational analysis of the team's activities is under way, and the preliminary results of its work are set to be released in the next month.

Maximum effort

The funding model for JUEP, under which its year-three resources will be approved around mid-year, caused delays for the recent maritime demonstration of Boeing's ScanEagle long-endurance UAV. The work was conducted off the Scottish coast during February/March, where poor weather conditions and technical issues limited the work's original scope under a deal awarded to a Thales-led team also including Boeing and Qinetiq. Initial plans called for the UAV to be launched from and recovered to a ship and controlled from a naval helicopter, but constraints forced the team to operate from land.

However, despite these difficulties, the team achieved the UK armed forces' first control of a UAV from a maritime vessel, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Sutherland. Thales' synthetic environment analysis tool battlelab at Crawley in southern England played a key role in de-risking the ScanEagle tests, underlining the important role of simulation in future UAV trials.

A second major year-two objective for the JUEP effort was achieved in the USA early this year, with the integration of a Goodrich DB-110 reconnaissance sensor on a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator B MALE UAV. Also the primary sensor for the RAF's Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR), the DB-110 was housed within a modified Virginia Air National Guard Lockheed Martin F-16 trials pod. The DB-110's weight was reduced to around 540kg (1,200lb) for integration with the long-range, long-endurance UAV.

Supported by personnel from RAPTOR-equipped 13 Sqn from RAF Marham, who provided experience in the planning and execution phase, exercise Falcon Prowl could provide information for the UK's future Project Dabinett ISTAR requirement. "Falcon Prowl was hugely successful, and there is a lot of interest to conduct further experimentation along those lines," says Park.

Recent trials of small unit-level UAVs supplied by EADS had mixed results and continued use of the company's Quadrocopter micro-UAV has been ruled out after the JUEP team concluded that the lightweight system was too difficult to control in its current version. However, its rotary-wing Scorpio mini-UAV "provided a stable, static eye in the sky", says Park, who adds that further trials could use the system in closer proximity to land forces. Another mini-system likely to undergo further trial is the in-service Buster vehicle acquired during year one of JUEP's activities. The system is expected to participate in a force protection exercise on Salisbury Plain this year, after completing an engine and avionics upgrade in the USA.

Park says 24 of JUEP's 27 objectives have been fully or partially met and that a further two focused on electronic survivability and electronic attack could be addressed during a possible follow-on to the Falcon Prowl trial, which could use the DB-110 sensor to cross-cue signals intelligence sensors. However, the programme's last planned objective – to study the use of armed UAVs – has now been dismissed on cost grounds. The UK late last year conducted its first offensive strike with an unmanned air vehicle against Iraqi insurgents using a US Air Force MQ-1 Predator.

Other likely objectives for year three could expand the recent maritime operations to include launch and recovery from a ship and Level 4 control from a Westland Sea King AEW7 helicopter, potentially during an exercise to co-ordinate naval gunfire support. However, the funding level for JUEP's year three activities has yet to be revealed, but the programme – like many other UK Ministry of Defence efforts – was stripped of funds last year, and the total UAV experimentation effort will receive around a third less money than the £65 million initially planned to be assigned to the three-year effort.

The JUEP organisation plans to share trial results with the wider UK UAV community and intends to establish a secure website for this purpose. It is supporting the UK MoD and industry-funded Niteworks network-centric warfare initiative during its existence and supports an initiative to establish a national unmanned systems "community of excellence".

The team will also send observers to a French military mini-UAV trial this year and hopes to gather information on the lessons learned during coalition use of UAV operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Evolving role

Park believes the JUEP organisation will evolve to continue longer-term experimentation with unmanned technologies and operations for the UK armed forces. "For the future, JUEP may develop to form the nucleus of the UK community of excellence and also partner industry and academia, involving organisations involved with the UK's formative unmanned systems defence technology centre.

The UK's approach to UAV testing has drawn plaudits over the last two years. Describing JUEP as "a guerrilla organisation", Steve Krause, director unmanned systems for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, says: "They are finding ways around things, and that's the way to go."


Source: Flight International