Discover the Australian VTOL combat drone concept ‘STRIX’

The STRIX mockup was displayed on Tuesday at the BAE Systems Australia stand at this year’s Avalon Airshow in Geelong, Australia, which runs until Sunday. Innovaaero, a Perth-based aerospace company, has joined BAE Systems Australia in the development of STRIX, which brings its experience in the design and rapid prototyping of aerospace products for the Australian market. BAE Australia is said to have leveraged its own portfolio of autonomous platforms and its Vehicle Management System (VMS) technology, which is currently guiding the MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone for the Royal Australian Air Force’s autonomy program .

The STRIX mockup on the BAE Australia stand at the Avalon Airshow. 1 credit

“STRIX builds on existing and proven technologies to provide affordable and cost-effective, configurable and scalable capability in response to emerging technologies or threats,” said Ben Hudson, managing director of BAE Australia, in the company’s announcement.

The war zone Contributor Roy Choo was on the ground at the Avalon Airshow and learned that STRIX was conceptualized in mid-2022. It was around the same time that the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 was gaining notoriety in the Ukrainian conflict. Choo says STRIX’s publicity brochures highlighted how TB2 stood out by combining an inexpensive platform with the ability to strike from a distance. However, BAE Systems Australia says STRIX builds on the company’s experience with autonomous systems such as the Taranis and Mantis unmanned demonstration aircraft.

According to information provided by BAE Systems Australia both at the Avalon Airshow and on the company’s website, STRIX, which is named after a species of owl and, more famously, a demonic owl from the Greek mythology, will have a collapsed footprint of 8.5 feet by 14.8 feet (2.6 meters by 4.5 meters). The UAS will be designed to offer a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 1,985 pounds (900 kg) and carry a payload weighing up to approximately 352 pounds (160 kg) over distances of approximately 497 miles (800 km) .

Any other technical and performance specifications do not appear to be included in the company’s documentation available on BAE Australia’s website. However, an animated promotional video states that STRIX can hover for up to two hours and has a “flexible range”. The company said that while work on the prototype is ongoing, STRIX is not expected to enter an operational state until 2026.

The STRIX model incorporates forward-curved wings and a V-shaped tail, each fitted with a hybrid propeller motor for a total of four. It also has two landing gears, with the front pair being raised significantly when the drone takes off and lands on its tail.

The platform’s exotic configuration aims to provide VTOL capabilities. BAE Systems Australia also said that in addition to being able to take off and land vertically, STRIX transitions to conventional horizontal flight via its tilting body. For this reason, the UAS will provide the ability to be runway independent, eliminating any need for a runway or catapult launch system, thereby reducing its overall operational footprint and significantly expanding its point of operation. departure.

BAE Australia’s animated video shows STRIX being stored and transported in a standard 20ft shipping container before being deployed from an austere location with no airfield and really any supporting infrastructure. The video also explains that STRIX requires minimal assembly in the field. It is important to mention that platforms with rapid deployment capability, small logistics footprint and runway independence emerge as key capabilities to operate forward in an Indo-Pacific war against regional adversaries like the China.

Screen capture from BAE Australia video showing STRIX deployed with its wings folded from a standard shipping container. Credit: BAE Australia

Using BAE Australia’s VMS technology, STRIX “will ideally be operated as a mostly stand-alone system most of the time,” said Mic Crump, senior technologist at BAE Australia in a separate promotional video. “Take-off and landing and the transition from vertical to horizontal flight will be fully autonomous. Autonomous technologies are not intended to replace the human on the modern battlefield, but rather to augment it.

In addition to its high degree of autonomy, BAE Australia specifically describes STRIX as a multi-domain, multi-role UAS. This means the drone “could be used for a variety of missions, including air-to-ground strike against hostile targets and persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)” in high-risk environments. BAE Australia says STRIX will also feature target acquisition (TAR) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, completing a comprehensive set of “ISTAREW” missions that can be carried out on land, in the air and at sea.

STRIX renders as well as its mockup show the drone with an unnamed electro-optical/infrared sensor mounted in the front of the fuselage under the aircraft’s chin. A video from BAE Systems Australia explains that various payload-agnostic configurations will be available for the drone thanks to the open systems modular approach taken in its design, making it easier and more affordable to add and remove incremental components. system as needed.

Screen grab from BAE Australia video showing STRIX’s chin-mounted sensor payload. Credit: BAE Australia

In a strike role, the company says STRIX will be able to transport and deploy a variety of air-to-surface munitions that can be found in service with the Australian Defense Force, all from its two mounted weapon stations. on the window. At the Avalon Airshow, Choo learned that this would include APKWS II 70mm laser-guided rockets, as well as Hellfire and Brimstone missiles.

BAE Australia also unveiled an all-new, locally-made missile that the company says has been designed to complement STRIX’s capabilities. This system was dubbed RAZER and, according to the company, “consists of a wing/body kit and a tail unit fitted with a GPS/INS navigation and control system, intended for vehicle-based operations unmanned combat aircraft and rotary wing aircraft”. The winged configuration would give STRIX more survivability when attacking targets in high risk areas.

A rendering of the RAZER Precision Guided Munition. Credit: BAE Australia

“RAZER fills an obvious gap in the Sovereign Guided Weapons market. This will allow our Australian Defense Force easy access to world-class ammunition right here in Australia,” Hudson said. BAE Australia’s website explains that development, acquisition and testing of RAZER will take place in the coming months, but did not offer an expected go-live schedule.

Choo said an MBDA Sea Venom/ANL anti-ship missile could also be seen alongside the STRIX mockup at the event, which speaks to the drone’s potential maritime operations. These could include anti-submarine warfare or mine countermeasures missions. Alongside this, an additional BAE Australia animated video of STRIX in a maritime environment shows how the drone could even be configured with sonobuoy dispensers or dipping sonar for submarine detection.

You can view a BAE concept video for STRIX marine applications here.

BAE Systems Australia particularly highlights how STRIX is designed to work as a “faithful wingman” for rotary wing platforms. The ability to be operated from a helicopter would expand the mission set of both platforms while keeping human crew members out of harm’s way. Australia is already exploring similar concepts with its Boeing-made MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones.

STRIX pilots can fly the drone using what the company described as an “easy-to-use” ground control station, with the aforementioned autonomy systems aiding in flight, navigation and mission operations. However, any additional information on exactly how STRIX communicates with command and control does not appear to be made public yet.

Screen capture from BAE Australia video showing a render of STRIX’s Control Station interface. Credit: BAE Australia

When asked by Choo, BAE Australia representatives said that STRIX was not developed for a specific requirement, but that they were targeting the Australian Army or the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as the platform’s first customer. form. While the mockup depicts the drone with Australian Army markings, the animated maritime promotional video shows another deployment from an RAN Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock and future Hunter class frigates.

Hudson also said Reuters that there was strong interest from two unnamed international customers. The outlet asked if the United States was one of them, and he responded by saying, “What I would say is that we need a fuller business case for something like this. And I mean the US market is huge.”

All told, the launch of STRIX by BAE Systems Australia could be seen as a major development that has the potential to become a popular runway-independent UAS solution if it proves actually feasible in testing. While it’s still a long way off, VTOL drones with significant range and weaponry are increasingly sought after overall, so the unveiling of STRIX seems timely.

A rendering of STRIX. Credit: BAE Australia

Of course, cost will be a huge factor. What additional cost, if any, will runway independence incur compared to other types with similar capabilities that use short airstrips? The maritime environment, where VTOL can be absolutely essential, is perhaps another story. BAE Systems Australia says low cost is a major design driver for STRIX, so they clearly realize the value proposition is key to overcoming competition in an increasingly crowded mid-altitude, mid-endurance market ( MAME).

Above all, STRIX is another example of how Australia is progressing to become an advanced weapons producer, which has the aforementioned strategic advantages, but also significant export potential. Hudson echoed this truth saying, “We are delighted that this is the first UAS of its kind to be developed in Australia and we look forward to working with partners across the country to bring this capability to customers. .

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