Two US-made MALE UAV’s in the Polish Tender. Will They Be Better Than The Israeli Competitors?

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According to the announcement made by the Polish Ministry of Defence, three offers are being considered within the scope of the MALE-class UAV procurement programme, also known as “Zefir”. Two of them come from the United States, and have been submitted by the General Atomics company. Here we mean the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle systems. Hermes 900 platform is the third proposal, made by the Israeli Elbit Systems company.

According to the information obtained from Bartłomiej Misiewicz, spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Defence, the intergovernmental negotiations involving the states that have MALE UCAV technology at their disposal, three, not two potential choices are being ultimately considered.

On the basis of the talks with the administrative organs of the countries that have proper MALE UCAV systems at their disposal, proposals pertaining to the following platforms are being analysed: MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1C Gray Eagle and Hermes 900. However, details related to the armament of those platforms remain in strict secrecy.

Spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Defence, Bartłomiej Misiewicz.

The Israeli Elbit company submitted a proposal involving the Hermes 900 UAV platform, quite popular around the world. This UAV system is widely used by the Armies of Israel, Switzerland, Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. The UCAV in question has a flight endurance of up to 36 hours, it is also capable of carrying 300 kilograms of usable payload, including the reconnaissance equipment of a variety of typeselectro-optic, radar and ELINT systems, along with electronic warfare suites. Moreover, Hermes may also be used in an offensive role. So far, the Israeli Armed Forces have been using the Hermes 900 platform, together with the Spike ATGMs. Should Poland select the Hermes, it is going to become the second user of this type of UCAV platform around the world.

The remaining two proposals come from the United States of America, and they are offered within the framework of the Foreign Military Sales procedure. MQ-9 Reaper platform, which has already been promoted in Poland, is the first of the US designs taking part in the tender. This is the most popular MALE-class UCAV in the world, 350 examples of this system are being used by the US Air Force and by the armies of Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France. However, at the moment solely the platforms used by the United States and the UK are capable of carrying armament. Nonetheless, back in November 2015 Italy was authorized by the US Department of State to acquire armament for the Predator and Reaper platforms they are using. Total value of the planned procurement is defined as USD 130 million. MQ-9's 1.4 tonne combat payload may include 14 AGM-114 Hellfire or Brimstone missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-38 JDAM bombs.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle is the other UCAV platform offered by the General Atomics company. This airframe has been used by the US forces since 2010 and target number of them has been defined as 150 examples. They are being used, primarily, by the US Army.

Even though Gray Eagle is based on the Predator design, the changes place it within the MALE class, with flight endurance of 25 hours and maximum ceiling of 8800 meters. Performance this good was achieved thanks to expanded wingspan of 17 meters, and thanks to the fact that flaps were fitted within the structure of the wings. Moreover, Gray Eagle also uses a new, much more powerful engine. The new engine also offers better high-altitude performance and better fuel consumption profile. Gray Eagle is, thanks to the above, able to carry twice as much payload than Predatorfour, instead of two, Hellfire missiles.

Even though this platform carries much less armament than the MQ-9 Reaper does, it is going to be, without any doubts, cheaper to operate. Potential selection of the Gray Eagle may also be motivated by the fact that this UAV cooperates with the AH-64E Apache gunships. And this rotorcraft may be chosen within the framework of the Polish Kruk attack helicopter programme.

Final decision pertaining to the “Zefir” UAV tender is to be made once the “Gryf” UAV platform is selected. Thus, we should not expect any concrete results any-time soon. Change of the procurement concept may also turn out to be relevant. Up until now “readily available” designs were being considered. Nonetheless, General Adam Duda, head of the Armament Inspectorate, stated during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary National Defence Commission that acquisition of four systems “[...] will be carried out with a relevant technology transfer and establishment of the potential within the territory of Poland.” It is hard to asses, what was meant by the term of “establishing the potential”, and whether this concerned the MALE UAV technologies or other capabilities that are currently needed by the domestic defence industry.