France certifies Airbus Aliaca ‘mini-drone’ for use by Navy vessels

Airbus drone French Navy

France’s military has announced certification of the Airbus Aliaca maritime reconnaissance, monitoring, and data collection “mini-drone” – a somewhat approximate description of a UAV with a 2.2-meter wingspan and payload capacity of 16 kgs that will soon be accompanying French Navy vessels.

France’s Direction générale de l’armement, which oversees specific criteria qualification and procurement of material for the nation’s military agencies, announced its acceptance of the new aerial asset today. Deployment of Aliaca mini-drones comes under a contract signed last year with Airbus worth $19.7 million to provide aerial systems to France’s Navy. 

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Indulging its nearly Soviet-grade adoration of long, acronym-necessitating titles, the French military is calling the program and material in it “Systèmes de Mini Drones aériens embarqués de la Marine” (SMDM) ­– essentially, “Navy mini-drones.” The move by France’s Navy – and French armed forces more broadly – towards aerial observation and data-collecting technologies is part of a global trend underway among military planners. 

The motivating factor behind that has been the effective use of data-centric methods for both defensive and offensive purposes that essentially allows machines to take over not just the gathering of intelligence, but also the automatic analysis and conclusions drawn from it. 

That evolution has accelerated even more since Ukraine forces have demonstrated the astonishing ways that use of visual and digital data gathered by drones both large and small have allowed them to battle the far more numerous and better equipped Russian Army to a standstill – or better.

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Each of France’s new 11 SMDM Airbus platforms contain two Aliaca mini-drones, which were certified for use by France’s Navy following a series of tests at sea. The craft will perform a range of situational awareness, reconnaissance, and monitoring of waters surrounding patrol ships. 

Each of the not-so-mini fixed wing craft are capable of three hours of maximum flight over a 50 km range, and carry gyro stabilized electro-optical and infra-red sensors for image collection in all kinds of operating environments.

Set up in under 15 minutes by as few as two operators, the catapult-launched Airbus Aliaca mini-drones rely on their virtually silent electric motors to perform both routine and secret stealth missions under French Navy use. When those are completed, the UAV returns to its host ship and automatically touches down – of sorts – in a specially designed net.

The Airbus SMDM systems will be deployed aboard the French Navy’s high sea patrol vessels, overseas observation ships, and surveillance frigates in both military situations and non-combat mission such as locating people in rescue situations.

“These capabilities will allow the SMDM to investigate far-away zones, to identify structures at greater distances than radar ranges, and to characterize the threat in a real-time video feed,” the French Ministry of Defense said its communique. “The drones will be capable of identifying unknown vessels, discreetly detecting vessels of interest, or help in the search for shipwrecked individuals.”

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