Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for CBRN Reconnaissance

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Due to the rapid advancement in UAVs and experience that has been gained by many nations involved in contemporary operations worldwide; CBRN detection in its current form is very likely to experience a fast transition towards a decade of new capabilities. Generally in the past the main focus has been concentrated around mounted and dismounted CBRN reconnaissance. With the emergence of new technologies and the focus on force protection in all operations; capability requirements are now addressing a new topic of unmanned platforms (UP) as part of CBRN Defence operations.

The operation of UP by armed forces is nothing new; the topic of drones has been prominent in world news and despite some bad press, UP has clearly contributed to the success of many an operation.  The CBRN domain however, has seen limited UP utilisation. Although several unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and robots have been equipped with a variety of sensors, the utilisation of flying platforms (UAV, rotary and fixed-wing) still seems to be a challenging topic.

Within the given CBRN context it must be pointed out that UGV will for sure not be High Altitude Long Endurance/Medium Altitude Long Endurance (HALE/MALE: operation above 15.000m/ operation between 5.000m – 15.000m) but could be categorised as a Tactical UAV (TUAV; operation up to 5.000m) or VTOL (Vertical Taking Off and Landing: operation up to 4.500m). This comprises rotary wing as well as fixed-wing solutions. Whatever the propulsion concept will be, the restrictions (buzzword: legal aspects) and limitations (in particular payload) will probably be the same for both concepts. Despite these challenges, Bruker has forged ahead together with an integration company experienced on working with UAVs to set-up a R&D project. Bruker teamed-up with the German company ESG with the aim to combine the µRAID (Rapid Alarm and Identification Device) chemical sensor with the UMAT (Unmanned Mission Avionics Test Helicopter) VTOL UGV. The focus of this ongoing project is to confirm the feasibility of mounting a C-sensor in a VTOL and develop a solid base for future tests.

Using the VTOL as the platform for this R&D activity provides a variety of advantages. Among others the vertical landing capability, the hovering mode as well as the availability of a multi-role payload bay serve as good examples.

From the technical perspective the biggest challenge was to combine the avionic flight system of the UAV, the chemical sensor system and the wireless communication link while guaranteeing the absence of any mutual interference. Crucially it was not known to what effect rotor movement would influence detection performance. As such, intensive ground and preparatory flight tests were conducted.  These tests resulted in the design and production of a nose mast (see picture) that acts as an air inlet and negates the negative impact that the rotors have on detector air/gas intake.

So far the project is on time and despite some bespoke developments, there have been no significant setbacks. The next milestone will be to conduct a scheduled series of test flights, including the final confirmation of in-flight chemical detection capability. This series is scheduled to take place later this year.

Looking to the future, the intention of both companies, ESG as well as BRUKER, is to continue with this project.  Our aim is to further exploit the CBRN detection capability of the “UMAT” VTOL in order to gain further understanding of the potential that UP can offer. The integration of additional C and R sensors will be accompanied by the development, description and assessment

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