On 5 April, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the Montluçon factory of Sagem (since late May known as Safran Electronics & Defense) to witness the signing of the contract ordering the Patroller UAV to answer the French Army’s tactical UAV requirements. An initial buy covers 14 air vehicles, comprising two systems with five UAVs each plus ground control stations, and four vehicles for training. First delivery is due in 2018, with initial operating clearance to be achieved a year later.
Safran ED has been providing the French Army with an interim UAV capability since 2004, when its Sperwer UAV entered service with the 61st Artillery Regiment. Experience with this vehicle, including 10 years of operations with several forces in Afghanistan, led the company to develop a larger UAV, based on the Ecarys (Stemme) ES-15 motorglider from Germany. Using a commercial manned aircraft as a basis for a UAV has several key benefits, including existing certification and the potential for optionally manned operations.
The unmanned Patroller first flew at the Kemijarvi test centre in Finland on 10 June 2009. The type has subsequently undertaken numerous trials and demonstrations, including a thorough evaluation during the French Army procurement process.
In terms of sensors, the French Army Patrollers will be equipped with a Safran ED Euroflir 410 electro-optic turret and a synthetic aperture ground-mapping radar. The imagery from the EO sensor is exceptionally sharp, allowing the operator to discern if a person is an armed soldier or a civilian from a range of 3km, and can be streamed to individual soldiers in the field. Signals/ communications intelligence sensors could be added later.
Patroller features a 6,000m ceiling and a 20-hour endurance with wing tanks fitted. Mission payload is 250kg. The aircraft has fully automated take-off and landing capability, and triplex avionics for inflight reliability.
Safran ED has received considerable interest in the Patroller, and is hopeful that this may increase further following the French Army selection.
Last September the company announced a teaming with AOI-Aircraft Factory in Egypt to offer the Patroller to the Egyptian forces, with local assembly and a training centre included in the proposal.