Desert Hawk is
a miniature UAV system
developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works group. It is currently
of the US Air Force’s
Airborne Surveillance System, or FPASS.
20 Desert Hawk systems (out of 48 ordered) are used in Afghanistan
by the USAF, to augment the
protection of airbase perimeters,
searching for suspected vehicles and people with shoulder-fired
missiles lurking to attack aircraft.
Desert Hawk can fly at altitudes of less than 330 m' and can see
about 10 kilometers beyond the perimeter of the base.
Desert Hawk is constructed of
expanded polypropylene - a
Styrofoam-like material which is
flexible, damage-resistant type of
Kevlar skids are used on the nose and tail to improve durability.
The sensors are carried in the middle of the fuselage, peeking
down at the surface through a notch opened in the lower fuselage.
Both color CCD or infrared cameras can be used. The GPS antennae
and communications links are mounted on the wings.
It uses an electric motor and
therefore maintains a quiet operation.
Launched into the air by two people
using a bungee cord as a slingshot, the mini UAV flies its mission
fully autonomously, at speeds of 40 to 80 km/h, following a flight
path that has been plotted out beforehand on a laptop using GPS
coordinates. The plane can be directed to circle over an area of
interest, or the operator can alter its flight path while the
plane is in the air. Its payloads comprise of interchangeable
systems, including an infrared thermal imaging system for night
use, or a set of three color cameras for daylight.
Each Desert Hawk system, which
consists of six aircraft, a ground station, and spare parts, costs
$300,000. An improved version of the desert Hawk is currently in
development. Most of the improvements will focus on system
integration, including cooperative target engagement, with UAVs
automatically assigned to locate and track targets detected by
ground surveillance radars.
Of the 48 systems ordered, four have been delivered to the British
Army and more are planned for delivery to special forces units.
The British system was tested in Iraq, but deemed unsuitable for
operations in Iraq as its downlink was jammed by interference from
the Iraqi mobile phone network system.