At DSEI 2023, BAE Systems and QinetiQ signed a framework agreement to collaborate in the area of autonomous uncrewed air systems (UAS) and mission management systems. According to the joint statement, “the framework agreement will explore the potential to collaborate and develop a family of UAS, and associated mission management systems, to support interoperability with existing and future crewed and uncrewed systems; generating operational effects and providing a concentration of combat air power.”
“The UK and other nations want to field high performance uncrewed air systems capable of delivering military effects across a range of operational scenarios. Our agreement with QinetiQ will see us work together to deliver this capability to our customers,” said Dave Holmes, Managing Director of FalconWorks, the BAE Systems Air business’ advanced research and technology division.
“Our customers have a growing need to increase combat mass, protect lives and reduce costs. Our collaboration with BAE Systems enables future mission-critical operations to be conducted without the traditional costs associated. All of this will provide our customers with better intelligence, protection and capability to defend against adversaries and protect our national interests,” stated Mick Andrae, Global Campaign Director, Robotics & Autonomous Systems, QinetiQ.
In the first stage of the collaboration, the joint team will explore the use of BAE Systems’ autonomous mission management system on uncrewed platforms developed by both companies to work alongside each other – and with existing and future crewed and uncrewed combat aircraft.
The first application of this collaboration agreement will be the Jackdaw UAS concept which was unveiled during DSEI 2023. “Jackdaw is a disposable multi-role uncrewed air system that is designed for operations with existing crewed and uncrewed air systems for now and for the future,” said Edwark Timpson, Qinetiq Lead Solution Architect, presenting the UAS model on BAE Systems stand. The Jackdaw is described as a low-cost, high-performance ‘disposable’ UAS capable to provide significant and affordable combat mass and battlespace capabilities, suitable to be used for air, maritime and land domain applications.
“Designed for swarming and collaborative autonomous operations including crewed-uncrewed teaming, Jackdaw is designed to fulfil four main missions including reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to support commanders’ situational awareness; electronic warfare for the utilisation of the electromagnetic spectrum to counter adversaries; active and passive decoy to represent higher value or crewed systems in order to protect lives and vital assets; complex and advanced threat representation, providing operators with swarming threats and sophisticated threat payload to ensure they are trained and operationally ready for the highly complex environment of the near future,” explained Timpson, describing the new UAS capabilities.
The Jackdaw’s platform has been defined as modular by design and as such is developed with the objective to support 30 kg of internal payload while achieving over three hours of endurance in theatre, reaching speeds of 400 knots and altitudes of about 9,100 meters. Bsed on released images and on the scale model exhibited at DSEI it appears that QinetiQ has built on the high-experience developed with aerial targets, in particular the Banshee series, the general layout being similar to the Jet 80 series platform, with cropped-delta wing and single tailfin. However, the Jackdaw features a pair of jet engines mounted on the rear sides of the fuselage instead of an internal propulsion plant as in the Banshee model.
The Jackdaw is being developed in collaboration with other companies including BAE Systems, which is providing the autonomous mission management system, and Inzpire. It is part of a family of UAS that will operate together seamlessly and coherently, according to QinetiQ. The Jackdaw design programme is ITAR free and well underway, currently developing autonomous mission management and human machine teaming capabilities, with platform development phases commencing soon. The Jackdaw disposable UAS capability will be available from the mid-2020s and will have an iterative development roadmap with innovative functionality and design updates over time.
Jackdaw’s autonomous goal-based mission management system is intended to integrate with NATO and Allied open architectures, ensuring interoperability with existing and future crewed and uncrewed systems. This, combined with the very low-cost aerial target design philosophy, makes the Jackdaw highly suitable for use as a disposable UAS in air, maritime and land domain applications.
Images courtesy QinetiQ and P. Valpolini