Vertical take-off: German military buys modernised reconnaissance drones

After more than a decade, the Bundeswehr is replacing its 145 quadrocopters with a revised model. It comes from the same company, is foldable and can mark targets. The overall system in the backpack weighs 15 kilograms.

The Armed Forces‘ branches can look forward to145 new quadrocopters for „imaging reconnaissance.“ The order was placed via the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw), which is now providing information about it. The contract was awarded back in May.

The new drones will be handed over in Summer 2023, with delivery to be completed by 2024. Operator training should also be completed by then.

Predecessor in service since 2011

The contract was awarded to the German company AirRobot from Arnsberg in the Sauerland region for its AR100-H drone, a modernized version of the AR100-B, which has been in service with the Bundeswehr in the same numbers since 2011.

According to the manufacturer, the drone has now completed more than 24,000 flight hours. As recently as 2018, the BAAINBw had awarded a new maintenance contract for the AR100-B to AirRobot.

The procurement has taken place within the planned time frame, the office emphasizes. It was preceded by a Europe-wide tendering competition by its responsible contract and project units. The bids were evaluated after a flight demonstration by the Wehrtechnische Dienststelle (WTD) 61 in Manching.

Optional „look-along“ system

The BAAINBw describes the quadrocopter as a „state-of-the-art system.“ AirRobot cites a payload of 450 grams with a takeoff weight of nearly 3 kilograms. Endurance is around 25 minutes. This puts the vertical takeoff drone behind other commercial suppliers of similar systems.

On board is an 80x day-vision zoom camera, a thermal imaging camera and an IR targeting laser. This allows the AR100-H to be used by artillery units to fire on enemy troops. Video data is transmitted in encrypted form to a sunlight-readable touchscreen display. Optionally, the company offers a „view-along“ system for displaying video and metadata.

Two soldiers were still required to operate the old system, but now one person is sufficient. Compared to its predecessor, the AR100-H is foldable and „glove-compatible operable“ in the temperature range from -19°C to 49°C.

Possible sale to other civil authorities

The complete package, housed in a carrying backpack, is said to weigh under 15 kilograms. It includes the aircraft, ground control station, batteries and a spare parts package. Not included in the backpack is a charger.

The upgraded AR-100 drone could soon be sold to civilian agencies. AirRobot promotes the system as suitable for special forces or other agencies and organizations with security missions.

The company is part of the Nordic Unmanned consortium, a global provider of services using unmanned systems. The EU Maritime Security Agency (EMSA) also flies drones from Nordic Unmanned.

Part of the „micro reconnaissance drones“ project.

At the German Armed Forces, the AirRobots are used in the „Micro reconnaissance drones for local areas“ (MIKADO) project. In addition to the AR-100s, the also aging vertical takeoff Fancopter from EMT Ingenieurgesellschaft fly in it. The company from Penzberg in Bavaria was taken over by Rheinmetall after its insolvency last year.

In a similar weight class, the German Air Force operates around 60 MATRICE 200 quadrocopters made by Chinese manufacturer DJI. There, they are used for tests and to calibrate a system for countering smaller drones. During this process, the drones can also be destroyed.

Image: The new AR100-H weighs three kilograms and stays in the air for 25 minutes (BAAInBw).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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