Civil and military use: Armament companies test anti-collision system for drones

In future, military drones will be treated the same as manned aviation.Then European air forces could also station the „Eurodrone“ in their countries and exercise with it outside military training areas. For this, an EU project is to develop general standards.

Bavarian company Hensoldt is nearing completion of a radar system that will allow drones to detect an impending collision. This was announced by the manufacturer in a press release. According to the release, a collision warning system has already been successfully tested in flight. Work on the interaction with an autopilot is also close to completion. The technology is to be used in large military drones as well as on board smaller civilian drones.

With the system, Hensoldt wants to enable the integration of unmanned aircraft into the airspace controlled by Air Traffic Management. There, the principle applies that pilots must avoid other aircraft. Numerous drone companies are therefore working on avoidance systems or have already developed them, according to their own statements. The „Predator“ drone, for example, is reportedly about to be integrated into US airspace after the manufacturer has successfully tested a corresponding technology.

Research for the Defence and Economic Ministries

While the EU Commission is opening up low altitudes for small and medium drones under initiatives such as „U-Space“, the rules of manned aviation apply in the weight class above 150 kilograms. This is an obstacle to stationing military drones in Germany and flying them for training purposes or exercises. The „Euro Hawk“ project failed in 2013 because of the approval required for this, and the future possibly armed German drones will therefore also be stationed in Israel from September this year.

Hensoldt specialises in sensor solutions for defence and security applications. For research on a „Detect and Avoid“ system, the defence company, which formerly belonged to Airbus, has already received German funding in military and civil programmes. According to the company, the radar sensor developed there on behalf of the Defence and Economic Affairs Ministries is „well advanced“ and is to be tested in the summer. The flight tests have so far been carried out with a „Dornier Do 228“ from the fleet of the German Aerospace Centre.

European avoidance system

The company also continues to participate in relevant research at the EU level. Together with other large defence companies, Hensoldt is developing a technical concept for the integration of large military drones into European airspace in the EUDAAS („European Detect and Avoid System“) programme. Algorithms calculate and evaluate an imminent collision risk; in addition to radar, such a platform uses data from transponders of other aircraft, but also information about obstacles, weather hazards and no-fly zones.

In addition to technical solutions, EUDAAS also aims to develop standards for airworthiness regulations for the certification of large drones. For this reason, the project cooperates closely with the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR). There, civil and military air navigation service providers, the aircraft industry, airlines and other organisations are working on standardising regulations for manned and unmanned aviation. To achieve this, joint simulators and „flight platforms“ are being used as part of the civil research programme SESAR2020.

Tests with three drones

Last week, the EU Commission provided details on EUDAAS in its answer to a written question. According to this, flight tests are also imminent in the military project, and the technology will be tested with various drones until the end of the project in 2023. These include the Italian fixed-wing aircraft „Falco Evo“ and the Swedish helicopter drone „Skeldar V-200“. Both drones are used for military and civilian purposes. While the „Falco“ was also tested by the EU border agency Frontex, the „V-200“ now flies for the German navy.

The EUDAAS project, which costs around 21 million euros, is financed through the EU Defence Fund and complements the development and series production of a „Eurodrone“ within the framework of „Permanent Structured Cooperation“. The avoidance system will therefore also be tested on the demonstrator of the EU armed drone.

Image: Hensoldt (press release).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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