Two UAVs to support British operations in Afghanistan as lead-in to Project Dabinett

The UK Ministry of Defence is awaiting US government approval for its planned purchase of two General Atomics Predator B unmanned air vehicles to meet an urgent operational requirement. The development follows UK Treasury permission for funding to be brought forward from the MoD's Project Dabinett long-range, long-endurance intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) programme.

A letter of request has been submitted, and Congressional notification of the proposed sale is expected soon, says Air Cdr Nick Gordon, the UK's director equipment capability, ISTAR. The UK wants to field the UAVs to provide a full-motion video capability to support operations in Afghanistan by May next year. The purchase will include electro-optical/infrared and Lynx synthetic-aperture radar payloads and both line-of-sight and beyond line-of-sight communications equipment. Initially, Gordon says, the UAVs will be operated from the control centre at Nellis AFB in Nevada, where UK personnel are already part of the team operating US Air Force MQ-1 Predators over Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gordon told last week's AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America conference in Orlando, Florida that the Predator purchase will be paid for "in a novel way" that involves bringing forward funding from the Dabinett project to fill a gap in the UK's ISR capability. Now in the concept phase, Dabinett is scheduled for an "initial gate" decision in February 2007, with full operational capability planned for 2017.

Dabinett will provide an "adaptable ISR" capability to include cross-cueing sensors and systems, target acquisition and potentially weapons delivery. Although platforms like Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAV are candidates, Gordon says the UK is also looking into the potential for a UAV with a three-month endurance based on hydrogen fuel-cell power technology being explored by Qinetiq. "It's early days," he says.

At full operational capability, Dabinett is to provide "deep and persistent" ISR over enemy territory, which could involve the use of satellites or require a low-observable UAV. "We will have a UAV capability. Equally it may involve overhead capability," he says, adding: "It will be a system of systems approach."

Source: Flight International