The UK Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP) was established in 2003 and is based at RAF Waddington to explore the further potential of UAVs and determine their utility in both the single service and joint service arena. As part of this wide remit, the JUEP intend to acquire a range of different vehicles, ranging from small Micro UAVs to High Altitide Long Range (HALE) UAVs. Various ideas and suggestions have already been examined and tested, utilizing a number of different UAVs, ranging from the ScanEagle to the EADS Eagle. The UK already has a group of 44 RAF personnel, 1115 Flt, embedded within the USAF Predator organisation as the Combined Joint Predator Task Force (CJPTF) gaining valuable experience on the operation of this proven UAV. The UK armed forces and the RAF in particular, would love the UK government to commit to a formal purchase of a number of Predator B UAVs and their supporting equipment and it has been reported that the UK is currently in negotiations with Washington to purchase two Predator B air vehicles and a ground station for delivery in early 2006 to support a major deployment of the British Army to Afghanistan later that year.
In 2005 the JUEP decided to investigate whether it would be possible to enhance the already sophisticated reconnaissance capability of the Predator B by the addition of a LOROP sensor. In a trial held at China Lake in the USA and known as ‘Falcon Prowl’, the electro-optical / infrared LOROP sensor from a RAPTOR, the DB 110, was installed in a purposed built pod and fitted under the port wing of a Predator B. This allowed the Predator B to still use its existing sensor ball, whilst adding the considerable additional capability of being able to deliver high definition imagery, in the visible and infrared bands, over extremely long ranges. During the trial the DB 110 system imaged targets at over 70nms range from an altitude of 40,000ft. The data captured was then fed over a US satellite link to the Storm Shadow Mission Planning Cell at the UK’s Permanent Joint HQ at Northwood, demonstrating one particular use for this capability. This trial will have been of considerable interest to the USA, particularly as the DB 110 sensor is actually built by Goodrich in the USA.
The Canberra PR9 retired in the summer of 2006 and, among other things, Project Dabinett has been examining how best to replace the capability provided by this unique aircraft, in particular, it’s LOROP capability. If successful, ‘Falcon Prowl’ may well have demonstrated one particular option available. With advances in UAV technology proceeding at a rapid pace, the JUEP will not be short of work as they continue their various trials, whilst cementing the various relationships they have established with other UAV operating nations, particularly the USA. Nevertheless, under current plans, the JUEP is to be formally disbanded in Mar 06, however, given the work that could still be undertaken, it will be an odd decision if the life of this organisation is not extended further.