Weapons concept set to enhance military flexibility

A futuristic weapons concept for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that would allow soldiers to quickly order localised missile strikes was unveiled this week.

The proposed system, developed by European missile manufacturer MBDA and revealed at this week’s Farnborough Airshow, was designed to show how UAVs might provide more flexible military capabilities by 2030.

Known as CVS301 VIGILUS, the concept includes a miniature scout missile that would be launched from the main craft to gather detailed data about potential targets, allowing the main UAV to remain out of the enemy’s range.

The use of military UAVs, commonly referred to as drones, is expected to increase dramatically over the coming decades and MDBA’s project, the latest output from the company’s annual Concept Visions programme, was designed to generate ideas about how innovative missile systems could play a role in this.

Chris Allard, MBDA’s principal engineer for advanced technologies and head of the project, told The Engineer the concept initially drew on 170 ideas suggested by employees from across the company’s European operations.

‘Then we went out to different users, different platform providers and said: “What would you like in the future? What kind of weapon systems in 2030 could there actually be?” So then we put that all together and came up with what we’ve got today.’

The system comprises four elements: the explosive missiles, scout missile and launcher — which have been produced as scale models — and a software interface to allow ground troops or a command base to operate the technology.

The 100kg scout missile, named Caelus, would use an electric ducted fan propulsion system powered by batteries to give it a two-hour flight time as it collected video and infrared images used to build a 3D model of the area.

This would enable ground troops to gather information about an area containing suspected or known threats and identify potential targets with real-time data using a computer interface integrated into the arm of their uniforms.

‘You engage the target and can collect battle-damage assessments looking at the images provided by Caelus to make sure the target is destroyed,’ said Philippe Ranque, technical project manager for future systems at MBDA.

Allard said the most important advantage of Caelus was increasing the distance from which the UAV could engage targets while remaining out of reach of the enemy (known as its stand-off range).

The smaller and cheaper scout missile would take the risk of enemy fire and be able to manoeuvre close to the ground to gather its data but would also be harder to detect because of its relatively quiet electric propulsion and low infrared signature.

The 7kg low-collateral damage explosive missile, named Gladius, would have a range of up to 30km and be equipped with rocket motor propulsion and anti-jamming technology to prevent enemies from disabling its satellite navigation systems.

The missiles would be loaded via connector-free interfaces into an adaptable launcher that could be attached to a variety of different UAVs and configured with different sized projectiles depending on the mission, all controlled by on-board mission planning software.

MBDA consulted companies, including BAE Systems, Dassault and Cassidian, along with the armed forces of France, Germany and the UK, in the design of Vigilus but there are no plans to fully develop the technology, although elements of the concept may feed into future systems.

Allard said the electric propulsion system, connector-less missile interface and 3D modelling software in particular could present the biggest engineering challenges if they were to be developed.