It’s official. Thales will deliver its Spy’Ranger remotely piloted air system (RPAS) to the French army starting in 2018, according to concurrent statements by the manufacturer and the French DGA procurement agency. Even if this firm order concerns “only” 35 systems, each of which includes three mini RPASs, Thales has already confirmed its capacity to produce all 70 systems evoked in the mini surveillance and reconnaissance SMDR (système de mini-drones de renseignement) programme within the next two years.
Starting in 2018, the Spy’Ranger will replace the DRAC and, most likely, Skylark systems which the French army have been using since 2008. Neither Thales nor the DGA mentioned the contract value, but the budget earmarked for the SMDR programme amounts to some €100M for 201 RPASs, a decade of maintenance, and training the operators. The call for tender was launched in April 2015 and won by Thales in a strongly fought competition against French companies Safran, Airbus Defence and Space and Delair Tech, and Israeli companies Elbit Systems and Aeronautics Defense.
With a range of 30km and autonomy of 150 minutes, the 15kg Spy’Ranger’s unique carbon fibre structure was designed in partnership with the SME, Aviation Design. The RPAS is protected by a landing cushion made of a patented foam combining Kevlar, abrasive and absorbent materiels. The complete system (RPAS, ground control station and launch ramp) weighs less than 25 kg and can be deployed with no tools in about 10 minutes by two people.
One of the Spy’Ranger’s strengths is its gyrostabilised optronic payload, developed in partnership with French company Merio. Entirely retractable so that it is well protected on landing, the payload includes two HD video canals, one day and one infrared, and a laser designator. Spy’Ranger also has a data link developed from the upstream ELSA (Étude et démonstration d’une liaison de données universelles des systèmes autonomes aéroterrestres) research programme for a universal datalink designed specifically for air-land autonomous systems based on an algorithm developed by Thales for the Reco NG pod on the Rafale fighter aircraft.
You can read more about the Sky’Ranger in our article published on 23 June 2016.