Warplanes: Dutch Ditch Sperwer For Mystery Bird


January 24, 2009: The Netherlands is looking for a suitable mid-weight (300-900 pound) UAV for their troops in Afghanistan. The Dutch want to rent something, and several Israeli firms are pitching their popular, and combat proven, models. The leading contender appears to be the Aerostar. This is a 460 pound UAV, that can carry 110 pounds of sensors and batteries. Endurance is about twelve hours, maximum altitude is 18,000 feet. The Aerostar can operate up to 200 kilometers from its base station radio (or use an optional satellite comm. link and operate over 600 kilometers away). With a wing span of 21 feet, the Aerostar moves at from 108 to 200 kilometers an hour. The Aerostars cost $1.5 million each. But add in ground equipment, spares and training, costs per aircraft are about 30 percent more (close to $2 million per UAV.)

Holland, like Canada, sent troops to Afghanistan, equipped with Sperwer UAVs. Having heard of Canadian dissatisfaction with the Sperwer, the Dutch soon found out for themselves. The $2.6 million Sperwer LE (Long Endurance) weighs 772 pounds, carries a 110 pound payload, is 12 feet long and has an endurance of 12 hours. Sperwer can operate up to 200 kilometers from its ground control unit. But the Sperwer uses a noisy engine (think lawnmower) and flies low enough to be heard. The Sperwer has suffered from the heat, dust and wind that is so abundant in Afghanistan. At first, the Canadian troops came to depend on their Sperwers, and wanted more of them, than another, newer, UAV. The troops have learned that operator experience is a major factor in UAV success, and much of that would be lost if they switched a new model. But the Sperwer proved increasingly unreliable, while Dutch officers were able to see other, more reliable UAV models in action.


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