France recently showcased their newest tactical drone contender as the superpowers race to develop the most sophisticated and potent unmanned aircraft system (UAS) since Russia invaded Ukraine.
SURVEY Copter, an Airbus subsidiary, unveiled its “CAPA-X” unmanned drone concept at the opening of the Special Forces exhibition earlier this week.
The French multi-mission drone concept features a three-blade propeller and fixed tricycle landing gear capable of performing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL).
According to SURVEY, the design of the UAS seeks to be adaptable to multiple configurations and airworthiness requirements in order to perform a wide range of missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and target detection and tracking.
Airbus subsidiary SURVEY Copter presents a new modular & multi-mission UAS concept CAPA-X, a flexible drone system that can be easily adapted to a wide range of needs in terms of missions, configuration, airworthiness regulations & sovereignty. #SOFINShttps://t.co/DsQ0skN2cy pic.twitter.com/6IR0Gzxp2I
— Airbus Defence (@AirbusDefence) March 28, 2023
It can likewise conduct target investigation, damage assessment, freight transfer, communication relay, and search and rescue missions.
Janes further noted that the French drone could accommodate up to three different warheads in a ten kilograms-capacity internal bay and is reconfigurable to operate horizontal take-off and landing (HTOL) through a runway or VTOL, in which four electrically powered rotors need to be installed.
Furthermore, operators of the future CAPA-X can choose between two wing options: 1) long-winged, which is better suited for missions that require range and altitude, and 2) short-winged, for low-speed maneuverability, usually ideal for loitering missions.F
Through its pusher propeller powered by an internal combustion engine, the UAS drone would reach heights of 3,000 meters (9,642 feet) and reach a maximum speed of up to 81 knots (150 km/h), Airbus claimed.
The aircraft’s reported operational weight is between 75 and 100 kg, “depending on the payload, wing, and propulsion configurations,” while the setup for its remote control will be via a beyond-line-of-sight data link. Though, Airbus representatives informed Janes that the company is considering to establish a satellite communication system.
Drone tactique léger modulaire, multi-mission, multi-configurations et souverain, CAPA-X peut s’adapter à tout type de missions, civiles ou militaires. pic.twitter.com/xCsRHvl6Ar
— Noel 👨🏻🚀 (@ChristNoel_) March 29, 2023
The French firm stated that once completed, CAPA-X unmanned drone design will be capable of meeting varied safety criteria on land, at sea, and even on the front.
Since 1996, SURVEY Copter has become one of the pioneering companies known for developing unmanned drone-related systems, including its aerial platform, ground station, data link, and the unmanned drone itself, among many others. Among its armed forces customers are the French Army, Foreign Armed Forces (land and naval), Special Forces, and others—aiding military units for the last decade in ISR missions, coastal surveillance, anti-piracy operations, and peacekeeping.
Taking Notes From Ukraine
Despite being recognized as a low-cost alternative, the French military has been quite reserved about investing in UAS drones. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian war last year, however, the Land Army seemed to have had a change of heart.
Recognizing the efficacy and significance of drones on the battlefield, the French Minister of the Armed Forces embarked on a quest for the finest UAS design in the country, with the initiative commencing last May.
In partnership with the French Government Defense procurement agency, the nation’s Defense Innovation Agency (AID) collected proposals from 19 tech companies and revealed by early March that the competition had been narrowed down to two.
Clearly “fallen behind” in the new era of sophisticated weapon technologies, Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu told reporters he had expressed concerns to French Lawmakers in late January about the country’s lack of drone munitions, seeking to have “at least 1,800” of these low-cost loitering munitions by 2030.
“That’s part of the lessons learned from Ukraine,” said Lecornu, quoted by Breaking Defense.
The top two teams that made it into the Colibri (Hummingbird) project were MBDA/NOVADEM’s rotor-blade drone concept, “bigger than the NX70 that Novadem has previously delivered to the French Army,” and Nexter Systems’s fixed-wing drone proposal with the latter reported to be working with an undisclosed French drone manufacturer.
Both teams are slated to undertake demonstrations of their respective models by the end of this year for the first round of evaluation, AID said in a statement.
“They will provide knowledge of the capabilities of these types of solutions from a technical and operational point of view, as well as aspects relating to the safety of deployment,” it added.
Furthermore, the defense agency says that MBDA/Novadem’s “Sphinx” design would be most effective in urban or contained environments, whereas Nexter’s fixed-wing aircraft would be better suited in vast, open areas.
Besides ISR and loitering missions, these small UAS are slated to carry warheads serving as kamikaze drones.
In an earlier statement, Nexter said that its munitions unit has been working on developing warheads for the upcoming unmanned drones, Break Defense reported.
According to overseeing agencies, these drones must be small, inexpensive, easy to use, light, flexible, capable of carrying and dropping explosives, and able to stay airborne for at least 30 minutes, among other things features.