Braunschweig: Large drones on collision course

For certification in Germany, Bundeswehr drones require a system to avoid threatening collisions. The Ministry of Defense is now testing such procedures. Until these systems are ready for series production, German armed drones will be stationed in Israel.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is conducting flight tests with drones in Braunschweig to prevent collisions. This was announced by the German government in October in response to a parliamentary question. A prototype specially developed for the project will be used, the first flight of which is now being announced for „the end of 2018“.

The tests are carried out in the program „Sense and Avoid national“ (ProSAn), which is financed by the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) with 13 million Euro. This is a German study, which is carried out within the project „MID-air Collision Avoidarice System“ of the European Defence Agency. The aim is to develop and test avoidance procedures for larger drones. According to the Ministry, DLR has already been commissioned in the past with studies on „avoidance concepts, procedures and manoeuvres as well as associated algorithms“. The Institute is also currently conducting flight tests with larger helicopter drones for the Federal Police.

Flights currently only with special permit

So far, the Bundeswehr drones only have so-called assistance systems („Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance Systems“; TCAS) that can give indications of a possible collision. In an emergency, however, the drone pilots must initiate an the manoeuvre themselves. A TCAS is not sufficient to put military drones on an equal footing with civil aviation. For this reason, the Bundeswehr in Germany must apply for a special permit for tests or training flights. The flights may then only take place in closed airspaces. Presumably for this reason, the Bundeswehr armed drones are stationed in Israel for training purposes and to serve as a base.

According to the Federal Government’s response, the flight tests in Braunschweig will take place in the 4th quarter of 2018 and in the 2nd quarter of 2019. In addition to DLR, the companies Hensoldt and Diehl Defence GmbH are involved in ProSAn, while the Bundeswehr is involved as an observer. Hensoldt, a spin-off of the Airbus Group, specialises in the manufacture of electro-optical sensors. This makes it possible, for example, to determine distances on the basis of which the drones initiate avoidance procedures.

German drones with NASA technology

Further details on the prototype used in Braunschweig and its mode of operation will not be given until the end of 2019 in a final report. The results of the flight tests could then be incorporated into the certification of the „Eurodrone“, which Airbus is currently developing on behalf of five EU member states.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the avoidance system developed in ProSAn should also be able to be used for „High Altitude Long Endurance“ (HALE) drones. In the „PErsistent German Airborne SUrveillance System“ (PEGASUS) project, the German government plans to procure three HALE-class spy drones. The unmanned aerial vehicles used there do not have an avoidance system either. The contract for two billion euros will also be signed in one year. According to the German government, NASA could have developed a fallback technology ready for series production by the time the high-flying drones are delivered, which the Bundeswehr would then also like to use.

Image: The „Eurodrone“ is to fly in civil airspace when it is ready for series production in 2025. This requires a collision avoidance system (all rights reserved Airbus).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.