As UAV technology becomes more widespread, Gulf companies bet on drone-to-satellite link upgrades


The Shadow 50 drone on display at UMEX2022. (Photo provider: Agnes Helou)

Beirut: As unmanned system technology becomes more widespread around the world, Gulf-based companies seek to enter the market with sufficient high-tech to use satellite links for long-range missions, not just battlefield drones. is.

“Even non-state sponsor groups like Da’esh [ISIS] Mexican drug cartels are now able to create effective battlefield drones. So I hope that all states interested in small battlefield drones in the region will be able to build their own drones almost immediately, arguably within the next decade. ” David Des Roches, an associate professor in Asia, said. The South Asian Security Research Center told Breaking Defense.

Beyond the basic battlefield UAV, officials from the UAE and Saudi Arabian companies recently described their continued push to provide drones with satellite link capabilities for navigation. Mark Rikli, Head of Global Risk and Resilience at the Geneva Security Policy Center, has proposed to Gulf governments to find a market beyond the obvious benefits of ISR from long-term operations.

“It also reduces the risk for human operators who can operate from a safe distance, which reduces the potential political cost of losing their soldiers’ lives and increases their incentives to use them. You can, “says Rickli.

Rickli recently pointed out that the Turkish TB2 Bilactal showed a remarkable performance in Ukrainian operations against Russian troops, which only scratched the surface.

“For example, Turkey’s TB2 drone has a range of about 150km. Drones that rely on satellite communications have a much longer range of operation, hundreds of kilometers,” he said. “For example, the MQ-9 Reaper has a range of 1850km.” (The Turkish company that produces Bilactal reportedly suggests in 2020 that an upgraded version of its drone will have a satellite link. I did, but that’s not the feature the manufacturer is currently promoting.)

This is the market that companies in the Gulf countries want to get their attention.

United Arab Emirates company flight test satellite-linked drone in 2023

In the United Arab Emirates, defense company Halcon is currently developing multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that utilize satellite navigation.

The Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), which combines GPS, GLONASS, and other satellite-based navigation systems, is the company’s Shadow 25, Shadow 50-TJ, Shadow 50-P, RW-24, and Reach-S wandering weapons platforms. Used in. The company says.

“Shadow is a family of wandering UAV systems that provide defense forces with powerful, long-range, high-speed ammunition. The fixed-wing aircraft family provides precise air-bombing capabilities for fixed-wing aircraft,” said Halcon’s CEO. One Sayed Armansuri told the Breaking Defense. “The Shadow 25 and 50-TJs are equipped with turbojet engines, and the Shadow 50-Ps are equipped with piston engines. These UAVs can quickly neutralize stationary enemy targets. I am aiming. “

The RW-24 is a smart wandering ammunition that provides autonomous ground attack capabilities against different types of targets. He said the accuracy could be improved by upgrading the control system with GNSS and an optical seeker head.

Reach-S, on the other hand, is a medium-altitude, long-term durability (MALE) UAV. The reusable platform makes it suitable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

According to Al Mansoori, each system was developed “alone” by Halcon without the use of Western IP. He said the company plans to fly the drone by the beginning of 2023.

According to the company, all Halcon UAVs are achieved in the range of 200km to 300km, respectively, beyond the control of the line of sight (BVLOS), even if not far beyond the range of the bilactal.

Al Mansoori did not specify which satellites Halcon’s UAVs are linked to, or how they are protected from interference. This is an additional concern with satellite upgrades.

“Halcon’s UAVs are securely linked to satellites and can communicate with operators or ground control stations via GNSS,” said Armansur. “These systems provide the military with high-precision long-range air-to-ground attack capabilities and a practical ISR. This is made possible by a powerful satellite-based navigation system.”

Saudi Arabia is working on a domestic satellite for drone operation

At the World Defense Show in Saudi Arabia in early March, two Saudi companies, Intra Defense Technologies and Taqnia Space, signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a drone with satellite communications capabilities.

“The integration of the ability to link the UAV to the satellite was done in collaboration with Taqnia Space, a test of the Haboob UAV after the integration was successful and the satellite link via the antenna allowed the drone to fly over 200km of line of sight. The flight took place, “Asim Qureshi, director of technology and engineering solutions, told Breaking Defense.

The Haboob is a Saudi Arabian unmanned aerial vehicle, a locally manufactured derivative of the Turkish drone Vestel Karayel-SU.

Two Saudi organizations are working on the use of the SGS1 Nilesat, a satellite designed for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is expected to support military communications.

During the WDS, IntraDefense Technologies unveiled the Samoom UAV prototype. The company is working on equipping a large UAV (about 3 tons in weight, 24 meters from tip to tip) with satellite communications to support its target 55-hour flight.

(Some) communication risks when satellite links come

Interest in long-range drones may be high, but drone makers and the armed forces that use them also need to address the new threats associated with new technologies, especially if the drone is piggybacking on a commercial satellite.

“Commercial satellites are not safe for military use. If the military has high-value targets that they want to protect from drones, they adopt electronic warfare measures (including sabotage) against drones and are of significant success. You will achieve the scale, “Derosch said.

However, while it may be relatively easy for prepared troops to defeat the drone, Des Roches said security forces in most areas are not currently ready to undertake the drone.

“Therefore, GPS turmoil, spoofing, sabotage, and other electronic warfare measures are successful as part of an integrated hierarchical defense against drones, but most security forces may see such measures. Is low, so they remain vulnerable to drone attacks, “he emphasized.

And whether or not Gulf countries buy satellite-enabled drones, De Roche said he expects UAVs to have a significant impact on military operations in the region over the next few years.

“Drone technology has spread very rapidly, driven by the miniaturization of electronic devices and cheap communications. National and non-state actors in the Middle East are commercial technologies, regardless of their Western production engineering expertise. Has the ability to produce functional drones by combining them, “he said.

Des Roches said unmanned systems are primarily disruptive technology, providing reliable aerial capabilities to Middle Eastern countries and non-state actors, even when range and payload are limited.

“This means that countries that have made large investments in the traditional Air Force will find that some of their investments have lost their value. What exacerbates this problem is The fact is that most ground forces in the region are not trained to recognize and respond to unexpected threats, “he said.


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