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Unmanned Warrior - Home on the range

10 October 2016
The teams have moved north. Some of course have been here for several days.

Others have still to arrive as their schedules, visit programmes and operator programmes dictate.

With over 400 participants and 150 invited high level visitors spread over NW Scotland there are a lot of moves to orchestrate.  

The QINETIQ teams who run the ranges under the Long Term Partnership Agreement with MoD have turned themselves into a combination of Butlins Redcoat and serious scientist technician.

Not only have the autonomous demonstrations to be done and run smoothly but everyone will want to watch - and be told what they are watching (most of the systems are brand new) and well, generally hosted.

There are four ranges: Hebrides centred on Benbecula in the Western Isles and some extras being added in Stornoway further north, the underwater test centre (BUTEC) at the Kyle of Lochalsh by Skye with nearby Balmacara, and further north at Applecross where dummy minefields have been laid for the Minehunting challenge.  

Each one is busy and bursting with enthusiasm.

They need to be. There really are a lot of moving parts.

Benbecula is no stranger to Unmanned Air Systems.  Part of the Army testing facility in the 1960s the range tested the Canadair CL-89, later AN/USD-501.  This was put in service by Germany and Britain as the ‘Midge’ operated by the Royal Artillery.

Operating in pre-GPS days the system used ground mapping to finds its way and produced visual observation on celluloid film in black and white.  A later system was used in the intervention in Kuwait in 1990.

Today a sprawling camp lies near Benbecula Airport, with workshops and accommodation. Twelve miles away is Range Head and the imposing Range Control Building which has been turned into an Operational HQ with RN and industry personnel working together to link in with Joint Warrior. 

This is the centre for the aerial side of Unmanned Warrior.  As the winds eased at the weekend, time was put in to get the first UAVs into the skies in preparation for the week ahead.

First flights (in the UK) were the Schiebel ‘Camcopter S100’ mini helicopter, the US Navy’s NRQ 21 fixed wing system, the twin engined ‘Sea Hunter’ and a VIDAR (visual detection and ranging) fitted Boeing ‘ScanEagle’ (an updated version of the system seen in the film Captain Philips) and the Leonardo’s, formerly Agusta Westland, Solo helicopter, which can fly with a pilot on board - or not.

Seventeen hours of flying. A great start.

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