The future of unmanned air warfare with drones

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Since 2011, the French Thales Group has been producing the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM), also known as the Martlet, for the UK Ministry of Defence. These versatile air-to-surface missiles were originally designed for use on the British Armed Forces’ AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat helicopters, but have also proven effective when launched from ships, naval combat scenarios and portable launch pads.

Weighing up to 13 kilograms, 1.3 metres long and with a range of up to 6 kilometres, the Martlets are renowned for their accuracy and counter-attack resistance.

Although originally designed for helicopter and not UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) missions, a version of the LMM adapted for UAVs was quickly developed. As the technology evolved, new launch platforms and LMM variants emerged, including the ‘free-falling’ variant, the FF-LMM or Fury, which was particularly suited to UAV deployment.

The legacy of the Martlets can be traced back to the Blowpipe surface-to-air missile of the 1960s and 1970s, used by the British Army and Royal Marines, although Thales’ missiles differ significantly in that they are not portable and cannot be shoulder-launched.

Pioneering drone-based missile deployment with JACKAL

Recently, a drone-adapted version of the LMM was tested with the JACKAL drone, marking a significant step towards the future of unmanned aerial warfare. JACKAL, developed by UK-based Flyby Technology in partnership with Turkish companies FlyBVLOS Technology and Maxwell Innovations, is a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) platform designed for a variety of roles, from disabling tanks to assisting in aerial combat and unmanned operations.

JACKAL drone
JACKAL drone

Its vertical take-off and landing capability eliminates the need for a runway, a significant advantage for military forces as it allows for covert launch sites.

Flyby Technology has developed two JACKAL drones specifically for deploying LMM missiles during tests. With the help of Thales’ Belfast centre, the tests were completed in a few weeks. Flyby’s CEO Jon Parker, a former fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, believes that the days of unmanned combat aircraft are numbered and that future warfare will take a completely different form.

Coming to terms with the implications of drone warfare

Parker admits that “they probably won’t like him for ending my kind”, but maintains that war is about winning, and drones, including the JACKAL system, can help achieve that goal. As unmanned aerial warfare continues to evolve, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks and ethical implications of this technology alongside its strategic advantages.

Source: thalesgroup.com

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