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The German Federal Armed Forces Technical Center for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment (WTD 61) in Manching has investigated the potential and technical limits as well as weaknesses of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS) using the MIKADO micro reconnaissance drone introduced in the army. On behalf of the German procurement agency BAAINBw, WTD 61’s task is to evaluate the system’s properties as a prerequisite for the further development of existing systems and the procurement of new ones.

In May 2019, WTD 61 conducted the necessary tests on the Feilenmoos test site together with the Air Force Aerospace Medicine Centre. During the entire process of planning, execution and evaluation, the test team was supported by the technology base Camouflage and Deception of the Munster Training Center as well as the Special Forces Command (KSK).

In various tasks, both the aeronautical handling of the aircraft as well as the transportability over various obstacles and the commissioning of the complete drone equipment were tested and evaluated.

On an obstacle course, the operators had to transport the packed device with their complete personal equipment (including hand weapons) over obstacles such as bumps, ditches and inclines, unpack it at the destination and put it into operation. The focus here was on the weight, dimensions and robustness of the transport container and to assess the load limits for the soldiers and the operational safety of the device.

In order to determine the manoeuvrability of the UAS, there was a slalom course as well as several fly-through tunnels consisting of half-open tents and camouflage nets. This is where the agility of the aircraft and the pilot’s control performance (unmanned aerial vehicle controller, ULfz controller) had an effect on the system’s performance; WTD 61 is looking for approaches to improve the system’s performance by technical changes as well as by training the pilot.

Another test evaluated the reconnaissance capability of the system. For this purpose, an experienced UL vehicle controller carried out a specially developed “reconnaissance order” and subsequently evaluated it. The task consisted of clarifying and identifying various targets in the visual and infrared spectrum using the UAS MIKADO.

To this end, objectives were set up in various tactical situations. These included target representations in confusing terrain (for example meadows with tall grasses) and in the style of buildings. Heatable targets were also used to check the reconnaissance capabilities and requirements in the visual and infrared spectral range.

The test results show the strengths and weaknesses of the system, which consists of aircraft, control system and operator. The evaluation will generalise the results where possible and draw up a catalogue of requirements for enhancements or future systems. The soldiers as users receive information on how they can make realistic military demands on unmanned reconnaissance systems. This enables the systems to be optimised to meet the increasingly complex operational demands.

Gerhard Heiming