On 21 December 2016, the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA; the French procurement agency) awarded Thales a contract for 35 System of Mini-Drones for Reconnaissance (SMDR), consisting of three air vehicles each. The SMDR is intended to equip the forces, and in particular to replace the Front Line Reconnaissance Drone (DRAC) system in service with the French Army since 2008. The first systems will be delivered by 2019 and will be supported for 10 years.
An operational system consists of three SPY’RANGER mini surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) equipped with a high-definition day/night gyrostabilised multi-sensor optronic payload, providing detection, recognition, identification performance, a ground control station ,and the associated technical support. According to Thales, an optional 70 mini-UAS will be made available from 2018 and starting in the same year, Thales could provide French forces up to 210 mini reconnaissance UAVs.
With a wingspan of nearly 3.80m and a weight of 14.5kg, the new UAV has an endurance of the order of 2.5 hours. The system can be deployed in 12 minutes by two operators (installation of the launcher, assembly of the drone, initialisation of the ground station and testing before takeoff).
Thanks to its data link from the ELSA technology study (design and demonstration of a universal data link for autonomous air-land systems), the drone can transmit high-resolution video streams in real time, reliably and securely at distances of up to 30km from the ground station. According to Pascal Secretan, in charge of the Mini UAV product line at Thales, the datalink (Thales' μ-TMA) allows to transmit HD video and IR, two flows at the same time. To optimise flip management Thales used SMART FLIP, which allows efficient thru life support.
Thales has developed the SPY'RANGER in partnership with two French SMEs: Aviation Design (air vehicle) and Merio (optronic ball aka gimbal, which the company developed up to prototype delivery).
“Developed by Thales in cooperation with French SMEs Aviation Design and Merio in under 13 months, SPY’RANGER will offer French Forces a number of innovations that provide real capability gains,” Jean-Pascal Arrou-Vignod, Thales VP in charge of Optronics business, explained. “SPY’RANGER will therefore markedly contribute to the gathering of frontline intelligence and to the protection of forces in operation.”