Newsletter 127 May 2020
SOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) has confirmed deployment of Pipistrel “Surveyor” UAS aircraft
Using the Pipistrel surveyor aircraft as the starting point, then fitted with unique modifications, the Pipistrel Surveyor Military version has been confirmed by SOCOM contractors as being operational since 2013.
Exact specifications and payloads are restricted, but it is widely known that the aircraft operate unmanned, have over 30 hours endurance, a ceiling of +30,000 feet and many of the airframes are operating around 6000 hours every year.
A new class of low-cost, long endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has recently been confirmed by SOCOM and details are now becoming public after their entry into service 7 years ago.
Budget constraints in the armed overwatch program have opened the way for evaluation of different lower-cost platforms. The Air Force research laboratory (AFRL) has demonstrated the suitability of Pipistrel light aircraft for SOCOM, installing sensors to collect full motion video, lidar and signals intelligence with many units already deployed and operating around the globe.
Traditional SOCOM aircraft like the Pilatus U-28, the AT-6 Wolverine, MQ-1C Gray Eagle and the MQ-9 Reaper are immensely expensive compared to the military version of the Pipistrel surveyor. 7 plus years of operation have proven the value of other lower-cost aircraft for high-end endurance airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solutions.
On 13th of May as part of the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference where Colonel Melissa Johnson, the program executive officer for fixed wing aircraft acquisition, showed a picture of an operational Pipistrel Surveyor aircraft on a presentation slide adjacent to the Gray Eagle and Reaper aircraft. As part of the presentation, Johnson told the audience of industry attendees that SOCOM is actively seeking new, low-cost alternatives to the MQ-1 and MQ-9 for long endurance surveillance missions. We beleive this is the first public acknowledgement of the Pipistrel surveyor program existence by SOCOM.
Pipistrel confirms that US and other international partners are existing customers, along with many governments, ministries and non-governmental agencies who have deployed the aircraft for surveillance missions. Pipistrel understandably, can’t comment on the direct details of any military operators other than details released to the public by these services.
Pipistrel special program customers and partners are listed at: https://www.pipistrel-aircraft.com/aircraft/surveillance/customized-airborne-platforms/
The Pipistrel Surveyor platform can be deployed as modified manned aircraft for various surveillance work or individually designed OPVs or UAVs platforms depending on the mission. Fitted with a multitude of sensors, including EO/IR, Radar-based sensors, and signals intelligence, with endurance ranging from 8 through 30+ hours at low, medium and high altitudes, all at a fraction of the cost of conventional solutions. These platforms are designed to float on water, they can be dismounted rapidly and transported by trailer towed by a normal car. This means a hangar is not needed for storage, they can be deployed easily and quickly without gaining additional attention and the engines can operate on either normal car fuel (mogas), or avgas.
Original story appeared in Aviation Week Intelligence Network, May 21, 2020