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By Arie Egozi
The idea of a UAV carrier now seems more realistic than ever.
The aircraft carriers have proven their effectivity in many navies. The same happened with helicopter carriers. These floating air bases have a mission in every major military conflict that erupts where nature put seas and oceans. In recent years, navies have come up with an increasing number of operational demands to have UAVs on their ships.
This is happening, and some Israeli manufacturers of UAVs have begun to think of the idea during the last several years.
Aeronautics, the Israeli UAV manufacturer, is offering the option to operate its Orbiter-3 UAV from navy ships. The Orbiter-3 has a wingspan of 4.2 meters, a max takeoff weight of 28kg, and an endurance of 7 hours. It can carry a 5.5 kg payload.
In ground operations it is launched with a catapult and recovered by a combination of parachute and airbag. On ships – a special net is used to catch it at the end of the mission.
The adaptation of the Orbiter-3 for sea operations comes three years after its smaller version, the Orbiter- 2, was adapted for that mission and is already in operation on the Israeli Navy vessels.
According to Aeronautics, there is a growing demand for the operation of UAVs from combat ships. In some navies, this is the direct replacement of a deck-operated helicopter. The aerial platforms are needed mainly for early detection of “wave height” threats.
In recent years, some companies in Israel, including Aeronautics, have invested in converting different types of manned helicopters for unmanned operation but these efforts were terminated mainly because of technical difficulties.
So far, the UAVs that can operate from ships are the relatively small ones. But as the saying goes, “appetite comes with eating” – the increased use of medium-size and large-size UAV and the amazing growth in their capabilities have created an operational demand.
People in the industry envision a dedicated carrier with a deck that would enable large UAVs like the Heron-1 to take off, probably with assisting systems, and also would facilitate the use of unmanned rotorcraft.
So as UAVs in Israel accumulate more flight hours than manned aircraft, the idea of a UAV carrier seems more tangible.