Imagine a well-secured base in a threatened zone at night time. The base is networked with cameras, alerting fences, radars and security posts. Suddenly, a mortar shell is fired from a remote site towards the military base. The base commander orders to launch the VTOL UAV, which takes off immediately, operating its airborne infra-red camera, detects the shooters and follows them without their being aware, while constantly streaming data to the combating forces. The UAV mission endures some two hours in all weather conditions and at any time of the day. When the UAV needs recharging it will alert its “twin” UAV which will arrive at the scene and take up its role in the mission. Sounds imaginary?
Missions that in the past required the involvement of air force, helicopters, prioritizing resource allocation, risking air warriors, etc. have been gradually becoming part of the past. Current advanced unmanned systems technologies are providing almost autonomous solutions to the forces in the field, and the technology keeps improving.
The buzzword of the operational UAVs in recent years is VTOL – Vertical Takeoff and Landing UAV. The VTOL is the natural evolution of the fixed-wing UAV with all its advantages – resilience, load-carrying capability, and long endurance, combined with the advantages of the multi-copter drone or helicopter, namely the vertical take-off and landing capability without a runway. Thanks to its compact dimensions, the VTOL can actually take off and land everywhere, anytime – from a vessel, forest clearing, or dense urban area.
The Israeli defense industries developing operational systems for military forces and law enforcement agencies say the future lies in the VTOL UAVs.
Moshe Levi, IAI’s EVP and CEO of the Military Aircraft Division said at the AUS&R Unmanned Systems broadcast organized by iHLS: “We are facing a considerable challenge. We want to take very small vehicles and leave them in the sky for long endurance. The soldier can not carry heavy loads or deal with complicated systems. He has to be available for combat. This challenge is currently pushing the industry to develop solutions. The major vector is VTOL – the platform which has a minimal interface with the soldier, requiring almost no effort.”
As said, the Israeli defense industries have been developing VTOL for operational customers, yet the first to arrive at the finish line has been the small UAV manufacturer BlueBird Aero Systems. Last March, the company reportedly signed a deal worth dozens of millions of euros for the sale of 150 WanderB and Thunder B VTOL UAVs to a European customer. According to the report, the UAVs will serve infantry forces, armor units, artillery corps and special operations forces.
The deal turned BlueBird into the first Israeli company selling a VTOL UAV to an operational customer, and also the deal that included the highest number of UAVs in the world.
Itai Toren, the company’s VP Business Development Sales & Marketing said: “These VTOL UAVs liberate the end user from any infrastructure such as an airport or even the need to find the adequate, large enough area for launching the UAV from a launcher and recovering with a parachute and airbag. This leads the way to the use by field users requiring take-off and landing at a precise location, independent operation, and the whole set of proven operational capabilities of BlueBird’s systems.”
The VTOL UAVs are expected to be a force multiplier for the security and defense forces both at the battlefield and in the drive against terror and crime, regarding ISTAR capabilities – intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. These systems can be operated at any point at time and from any location, with long endurance, at all weather conditions. They can detect the target, identify, and track it with X30 focus, providing the forces with full situational awareness that has never been available in the past.