Although land-based uncrewed aerial systems have yet to rival the capabilities of crewed maritime patrol aircraft on surveillance missions, the use of UASs in selected roles looks set to grow. Search and rescue missions, for instance, require a range of equipment that is still beyond the payload capability of existing UASs. The search and identification phase of an SAR mission is typically flown between 1000 and 2000ft, an altitude range at which UASs designed to patrol at high altitude offer significantly reduced endurance. UASs can, however, potentially supplement maritime patrol aircraft in roles ranging from maritime traffic surveillance to fisheries policing.
With this in mind, Safran is developing and promoting a maritime version of the Patroller medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS selected in 2016 to replace the French Army’s previous generation of tactical UASs. The contract calls for 14 Patrollers and four ground control stations to enter service from 2018.
The Patroller uncrewed air system is based on the S15 platform developed by Stemme of Germany and certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This modular one-tonne platform is designed to carry pod-mounted payloads for missions lasting around 20 hours at a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet.
With its modular design, payload capacity and sensor suite, the Patroller is ideal for maritime surveillance and coastal protection. Since 2012, Safran has tested this configuration repeatedly. First, the Patroller platform deployed a version of the gyrostabilised Euroflir 350 optronic ball with an HDTV channel, a third-generation HDIR channel and a laser range-finder. In 2013 the configuration was tested off Cherbourg as part of the European Commission’s Seabilla programme. Then, in 2014, the configuration’s ability to identify targets at greater ranges was tested using the new Euroflir 410 with a more powerful sensor offering 10mm resolution at several km. The platform also carried a distress beacon receiver and an AIS receiver informing operators of the identity, status, cargo, origin, destination and route of all vessels in a given zone. With AIS transmitters now compulsory for all commercial vessels over 300t gross, a Patroller M operator can track maritime traffic in real time over vast areas. The AIS receiver brings huge benefits for shore-based surveillance as it significantly extends the UAS’s range as a remote sensor platform.
Dozens of flights conducted since 2012 have confirmed the system’s ability to merge data from different sensors and transmit it to a fixed command & control centre or deployable shore station to build a common operational picture for coastal surveillance.
In late 2017, Safran was selected as a member of the Ocean 2020 consortium for the First Preparatory Action of the European Defence Research Runway, meaning that a Patroller would be used for a number of European naval exercises. The payload, comprising maritime patrol radar, and AIS receiver and a Euroflir 410 optronic ball, will transmit combat data to several ships and shore-based ops centres.
- Dimensions (l x ws) (m): 8.5 x 18
- Weight: 1.05 t
- Payload: 250 kg
- Endurance: > 20 h
- Speed: 50 - 170 kts
- Ceiling: 20,000 ft
More information in Mer et Marine Euronaval 2018 Special issue : "Naval Forces : focus on french technology"