Airborne Counter-IED

An Afghan boy walks through a dried poppy field, observing as a route-clearance team, with Special Operations Task Force-South, deploys and detonates a mine-clearing line charge during a clearing operation in Khakrez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, May 31, 2011. The operation, led by Afghan commandos with the Afghan National Army's 3rd Commando Kandak, resulted in the removal of four suspected insurgents, as well as the exploitation of IED-making materials and a weapon-sighting device. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daniel P. Shook/Released)

In an age where improvised explosive devices (IED) are being used with devastating effect in a variety of geographic regions, an ability to counter this threat quickly and at no risk to service personnel has become an important strategic imperative worldwide.

The London-based company SteelRock Techonolgies (SRT) provides unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and counter-UAV products as well as solutions designed for government and military clients.

Developed in conjunction with technology partner, Richmond Defence Systems (RDS), the SteelRock SRW03 Protector is a UAV-borne IED disrupter that is able to neutralise a wide range of IED threats either from the air or on the ground. Combining SRT’s leading-edge UAV technology with RDS’s highly effective, laser-guided disrupter technology, the Protector offers a highly effective counter-IED solution.

The SRWO3 Protector UAV is a state-of-the-art rotary-wing UAV that has been designed and configured for IED threat identification and mitigation. Using an interchangeable payload system comprising a sophisticated thermal electro-optical (EO) camera and a 40mm recoilless IED disrupter with an encrypted fire control, the system has been developed as a “seek and destroy” solution to this increasing threat.

The platform is built around an X8 KDE Direct brushless motor/rotor drive system with two counter-rotating propellers and motors at each corner. The platform has been designed with heavy lift payloads and stability in flight for a wide range of operating conditions. The platform integrates a Selex Hawk thermal camera and the RDS recoilless disruptor with a laser targeting system, all configured for use on the WO3 platform.

With a maximum speed of 100 km/h, the SRW03 UAV has a maximum telemetry range of 150 km from base station and can carry a 50 kg payload for up to 2 hours. A series of trials at SteelRock’s test facility in South Wales the Protector system has successfully disrupted and neutralised IED threats both at ground level and while airborne.

The ST Engineering Stinger UAV armed with an Ultramax U100 Mk.8 5.56mm machine gun. (David Oliver)

A similar C-IED system has been adopted by the Singapore company, ST Engineering with its Stinger Intelligent Network Gun Equipped Robotics system. The system is under development as part of ST Engineering’s Future Soldier Solution and includes a quad-rotor UAV armed with the world’s lightest 5.56 mm machine gun, the 6.8 kg Ultramax U100 Mk.8 with a constant recoil system with low-felt recoil which enables it to be fired accurately in full automotive mode from a UAV. It is able to carry 100 rounds and the systems can also include a laser-range finder with an accuracy of up to 300 m.

The system can be controlled by ST Engineering’s Shielded Advanced Eyewear System (SHADES), an intelligent see-through Head-Up Display (HUD) that provides real-time reality information to the Future Soldier for command & control (C2) over wireless weapons stations. SHADES is designed for the man-in-the-loop interaction with unarmed platforms including the Stinger UAV when the soldier is able to provide intuitive commands to the UAV for improved fire support response. This capability allows the soldier to receive real-time information of what lies ahead, while maintaining their “eyes-out” on the reality of his situation to remain vigilant, and have their hands-on-the-trigger at all times to be prepared for any threat.

It is being developed to increase soldier survivability and reduce casualty loss by providing immediate aerial fire support and disarming targets, including IEDs, remotely.  In addition the Stinger system could provide tactical advantage to ground troops while reducing numbers of them required for missions, and minimizing collateral damage in urban environments.

For area surveillance inside built-up areas, forward sensors can be deployed with SHADES through Brain Computer Interface (BCI) controls. This capability allows the soldier to receive real- time information of what lies ahead, while maintaining their “eyes-out” on the reality to remain vigilant, and have their “hands-on-trigger” at all times to be prepared for any threat.

ST Engineering’s Unmanned System Datalink (USDL38) is designed for use with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs). The system enables the command, control, video streaming and telemetry information of up to a maximum of three UAVs simultaneously over a range of up to 30 km, with a maximum data rate of 4Mbps per data link per UAV. The USDL38 is able to switch to a different modulation scheme automatically based on the signal to noise ratio received, thereby achieving better spectrum efficiency.

An Airborne Data Terminal (ADT) is connected to the UAV control system and is linked to the camera onboard the UAV platform. Together with the Ground Data Terminal (GDT), which is connected to the UAV ground control system (GCS), will allow the operator to remotely view video feeds and perform telemetry and uplink control, as well as downlink telemetry of the UAV.

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A defence photo-journalist for more than 30 years, and member of the Independent Defence Media Association (IDMA) and the European Security and Defence Press Association (ESDPA). David is the author of 18 defence-related books, and is former IHS Jane’s consultant editor and a regular correspondent for defence publications in the UK, USA, France, Poland, Brazil and Thailand.