The US Army is to deploy an undisclosed number of Science Applications International (SAIC) Vigilante 502 vertical take off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicles equipped with nuclear and chemical agent detection systems to Iraq within the next three months.
The VTOL UAVs will be equipped with radiation detectors supplied by SAIC's Canadian subsidiary Exploranium GS, a chemical agent detector, and an L3 Wescam 12DS200 turret-mounted electro-optic EO sensor.
The first production air vehicle for the programme is in the final stages of flight testing at the army's Aberdeen, Maryland proving ground. SAIC officials at the Association for Unmanned Systems International's Unmanned Systems North America show at Anaheim, California earlier this month said that the multi-air vehicle order was placed by the US Army late in 2003.
The UAVs will be used to perform very low-level, wide-area survey work, which is now performed by US Army Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters. The surveys entail flying at under 500ft (150m) and at speeds of below 20kt (37km/h), with manned helicopters highly vulnerable in this flight profile.
The UAVs will support the ongoing search for hidden Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as radiation source material looted from secure storage areas by civilians.
SAIC says the radiation detector will be used to localise emitting sources with the EO sensor to provide visual identification of the suspect site. The chemical agent detector will primarily be used to monitor the UAV airframe for contaminants that could harm its ground-handling crew.
Vigilante 502 is based on the Ultrasport 496 sports helicopter. Initial versions of the UAV were developed in response to the US Navy's VTOL tactical UAV requirement won by Northrop Grumman with its RQ-8 Fire Scout UAV.
PETER LA FRANCHI / ANAHEIM
Source: Flight International