PAS 2023 – Weaponising Leonardo’s Falco Xplorer

Paolo Valpolini

First public appearance for the weaponised version of Leonardo’s Falco Xplorer at the Paris Air Show, the UAS being armed with MBDA’s Brimstone 3

A few years ago the Falco EVO broke the ice of weaponising an Italian UAS, the Astore version, the Italian name of the goshawk bird of prey. With its 650 maximum take-off mass the Astore has a 120 kg payload capacity, the weapons considered being mainly laser guided 70 mm rockets. With the Falco Xplorer more than doubling the payload capacity, actually it is short to treble it, Leonardo saw the opportunity of developing a UAS with a much improved attack capacity.

The Italian company is currently buy in the certification of the Falco Xplorer Block 10, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance version, which is being carried out at the PISQ, the Defnce joint test range in Sardinia. Leonardo aims to have the system fully certified by year-end.

In the mean time it is developing the Block 20, the armed version. To accelerate the integration process Leonardo selected an existing weapon in the form of MBDA’s Brimstone precision surface attack weapon, the la test Brimstone 3 version featuring an enhanced radar/semi-active laser seeker and an IM-compliant multi-effects tandem shaped-charge warhead with adaptive fusing. With a range of around 20 km when launched at altitude from an aircraft the Brimstone gives the weaponised Falco Xplorer a considerable punch against armoured vehicles and tanks. The choice was also dictated by the fact that some potential clients have already that weapon in their inventories.

According to Leonardo representatives the integration work was carried out very efficiently thanks to the close cooperation between the platform provider and the weapon manufacturer. This allowed to start in a short time the work on the interface and on the integration of the store management system and pylon units, laboratory integration completion being planned before year-end.

In Paris the Falco Xplorer was exhibited with a single Brimstone under the right wing pylon. However EDR On-Line was told that a solution with two twin-launchers is already envisaged, the around 50 kg of the single missile being fully compatible with a four-missile configuration, pylons being capable to carry up to 150 kg each.

Leonardo is also developing the mission system, to cope with increased performances by sensors, which considerably augment available data, processing providing target data both for surveillance as well as for attack purposes.

The data link allows a line-of-sight operational range of 200 km, the cyber assessment on the system having already been done on the Falco Astore. The over 24 hours endurance of the Xplorer would allow a much greater range using a SATCOM data link; here the problem is latency when launching against a moving target, link resiliency also being an issue. These problems have however already been solved by other nations, and a solution should be found to allow the man-in-the-loop to operate properly.

Photos by P. Valpolini