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There are a number of UAV developments under way in Asia in an effort for nations in the region to be able to operate domestically developed and supported systems to compete with a rise in systems being produced by China, and included in this are Singapore, Japan, and South Korea.

A new infrared search and track (IRST) technology will be integrated on a new UAV development of an undisclosed Far Eastern partner, Leonardo announced. The so-called Skyward-AB will be provided for integration on a tactical UAV that is nearing the end of its development phase, and two units will be delivered to the aircraft’s manufacturer in 2019.

Giorgio Balzarotti, VP of IRST programs at Leonardo, told described the customer as having an “interesting” business model, and it is expected that the UAV will ultimately enter full-scale production.

Building on its experience in developing the electro-optical passive radar technology for fighters, the company has identified requirements for IRST integration on UAVs, having already delivered it for the pan-European Neuron UCAV effort in 2005.

Other potential business areas for Leonardo could include working with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to explore integrating this type of sensor onto its family of medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs.

Another key development for Leonardo’s IRST family of systems is the developmental Multi-Aperture Infrared (MAIR) product, a new distributed aperture variant that uses multiple cameras around an aircraft. Balzarotti said that the company is awaiting a customer for MAIR, and there are a number of acquisition programs ongoing, adding that ground trials have already been carried out. Flight trials onboard a test rotorcraft are expected to take place in 2019, although it will have applications on fixed-wing types as well.

Leonardo is additionally providing IRST for a developmental fighter program in the Far East, apparently South Korea’s KFX program being led by KAI.