In another indication of how the effectiveness of smaller UAVs in conflict situations like Ukraine’s defense against invading Russian troops is leading modern armies to integrate the craft in ever larger numbers, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has ordered $156.6 million in portable drones for deployment by its armed forces.
The MoD made the announcement this month, naming Lockheed Martin UK the organizer of the multi-company effort to produce over 250 cutting-edge portable drones to replace aging aerial assets in the Mini Uncrewed Aerial System program. Like armies in the US, France, Germany, China, and elsewhere, the UK is moving to exploit the proven capabilities of tech-packed smaller craft to perform a wide range of critical activities with similar effectiveness – but at far lower costs – than the far larger UAVs that had previously been used.
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The MoD said the transportable Stalker and Indago 4 drones will replace existing Desert Hawk 3 UAVs and other aerial assets, and be used on the same kinds of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance missions the US military already deploys them on.
The vertically launched Stalker UAV has a wingspan of 4.88 meters and weighs 20 kgs. It packs cutting-edge imaging tech that can collect more than eight hours of data over a 60-mile range of nearly silent flight.
The foldable, backpackable Indago 4 weighs 2.27 kgs, and can be set up and deployed inside two minutes to take high resolution, super-zoom images capable of accurately identifying – at day or night – people, objects, vehicles, and weapons filmed over eight-mile zones.
Lockheed Martin UK will act as the systems integrator for the MoD’s new drone order, which will involve several large and small tech and aviation companies. Over the 10-year duration of the contract, operational and technical capabilities of the craft are to be continually upgraded as onboard components improve to provide forces with maximal performance abilities .
“As the global threat changes, it’s crucial we remain at the forefront of innovation, delivering cutting edge capabilities to our deployed forces,” said UK Defence Procurement Minister Alex Chalk. “This is another fantastic example of British industry supporting UK defence technology.”
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The British and international companies Lockheed Martin UK will interface with on the project will operate as a consortium known as TIQUILA. That organization is intended to facilitate the collective effort to produce evolving state of the art compact drones for MoD force operations.
“Employing a systems integrator approach will ensure that UK Defence is able to make the most of innovative development and Project TIQUILA’s rapid capability integration cycle, to deliver the latest and best capability into the hands of our users on the front line,” said Steve Bentely, consortium senior manager of air communications.