France awards tactical mini-UAS programme to Thales

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The French Ministry of Defence's armament procurement organisation, the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), has awarded prime contractor Thales to supply the Spy’Ranger tactical mini-unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to the French Army. The contract was signed on 21 December 2016 and announced by the DGA on 5 January 2017. It covers a firm order for 35 systems. Each system is composed of three aircraft and one ground segment. Initial systems will be delivered until 2018. The contract also includes a 10-year technical support package, based on Smartfleet solution of Thales.

An option for an additional 35 systems was included in the contract. If exercised, the total order will see the delivery of 210 air vehicles. 

The Spy'Ranger was jointly developed with other local companies such as Aviation Design for the airframe and Merio delivering the electro-optical payload. 

The DGA launched an effort as part of the SMDR programme (Système de MiniDrones de Renseignement) to procure fixed-wing mini-unmanned aircraft in April 2015 with the aim to gradually replace the Airbus Defence and Space DRAC (Drone de Renseignement Au Contact) system fielded since 2008. The system will provide an information, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) role to the combined arms tactical groups, the Groupements Tactiques Interarmes (GTIA). 


First demonstration of eight operational flights of the Spy’Ranger system took place in April 2016 for personnel of the DGA, Army Technical Section, the STAT (Section Technique de l'Armée de Terre) and the Special Operations Command, the COS (Commandement des Opérations Spéciales).  

The aircraft is composed of a fixed-wing airframe principally made of carbon fibre, and its landing cushion is made of a patented foam that combines Kevlar material, an abrasive matter and an absorbing material for safe landing; communications antenna; electric motor; rear-mounted carbon-made two-blade propeller; S. Dualsky Models Xpower H.E.D. 1000 lithium polymer batteries; data link unit; processing module; and Spy´s Ball retractable multifunctional micro electro-optical head. 

Other essential associated items  are tripod-mounted data link relay; carbon-made lightweight launching system; Spy'C multi-UAS ground control station consisting of commercially available rugged or standard notebook with associated joystick for command and control operation and running specific command and control software; and transport bags. A commercial radio control unit can be used to assist in safe landing operation. 

The nose-mounted gyro-stabilized optronics payload consists of laser pointer, high-definition visible channel and infrared camera near high-definition, with full -high-definition planned in future. 

High-speed communications which are assured through tactical datalink technology are secured and encrypted to maintain service availability in jammed conditions and to prevent intrusions into the system. 

It features weight of 14.5 kg, 3.70 m wingspan, 2H30 of autonomy, maximum range of 30 km and top speed of 100 km/h. The system also is available for export. 

This is the second large contract for a UAS by the DGA in 2016 after an order was placed with Safran Electronics & Defense for three Patroller fixed-wing long-range tactical unmanned systems as part of the SDT programme (Système de Drones Tactiques) for the French Army, fending off competition from the Thales Watchkeeper system.