On 16 December, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that it has awarded a £129 million ($156.5 million USD) contract for 254 “‘portable’ and ‘packable’ mini drones” to Lockheed Martin UK. The new drones will replace older British Mini Uncrewed Aerial Systems (MUAS) such as the Hawk 3. Their main role will be to provide small British formations with greater ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capabilities.
The contract includes “159 rotary-wing Indago 4 devices” and “105 fixed-wing Stalker VXE30 drones”. The Indagos weigh in at 2.27 kilograms and are small enough to be folded up and carried by individual soldiers. Once deployed, the drone has a range of about 13 kilometers and comes with a high-definition camera capable of identifying targets both day and night. The Stalker VXE30 weighs about 10 times more and is “able to cover around 60 miles” (97 kilometers). Both drones are already in service with the US military.
According to Andy Start, CEO of British military procurement organization Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S):
“These remotely piloted systems will enhance the ability of our soldiers to gather crucial intelligence and capture essential imagery in a tactical environment. […] As well as equipping the UK Armed Forces for operations now and into the future, this key program supports highly skilled jobs for the next decade.”
Lockheed Martin UK will also play a key role in the British TIQUILA Enterprise which aims to bring small, medium and large suppliers together with a “commercial model that benefits both the innovators and the System Integrator”. Air Commodore Steve Bentley from UK StratCom commented on the approach being taken with TIQUILA:
“Employing a Systems Integrator approach will ensure that UK Defence is able to make the most of innovative development and Project TIQUILA’s rapid capability integration cycle, to deliver the latest and best capability into the hands of our users on the front line. […] Project TIQUILA will leverage competitive advantage from across the full spectrum of SMEs and Prime contractors, to ensure the UK is equipped with the best of breed and is able to make the most of the rapid pace of capability evolution.”
The official government release also boasted that the contracts will add over a dozen new full-time jobs in the United Kingdom. In other words, the contract has the potential to lower the nationwide unemployment rate from 3.7% to 3.7%. The first Lockheed drones are expected to become operational in 2024