Meet Australia’s homegrown ‘STRIX’ VTOL Combat Drone concept

The STRIX mock-up was displayed on Tuesday at BAE Systems Australia’s booth at this year’s Avalon Airshow in Geelong, Australia, which will run through Sunday. In developing STRIX, BAE Systems Australia joined forces with Perth-based aerospace company Innovaero, who contributed their experience in the design and rapid prototyping of aerospace products for the Australian market. BAE Australia would have used its own autonomous platform portfolio and its vehicle management system (VMS) technology, which currently powers the MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone for the Royal Australian Air Force’s autonomy program.

The STRIX mock-up on the BAE Australia stand at the Avalon Airshow. Credit: Roy Choo

“STRIX leverages existing, proven technologies to provide an affordable and cost-effective capability that can be configured on-the-fly and upgraded in response to emerging technologies or threats,” said Ben Hudson, CEO of BAE Australia, in the statement. company announcement.

The war zone employee Roy Choo was on the ground at the Avalon Airshow and learned that STRIX was launched in mid-2022. This was about the same time that the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 rose to prominence in the conflict in Ukraine. Choo says STRIX’s publicity brochures highlighted how TB2 differentiated itself by combining a low-cost platform with the ability to strike remotely. However, BAE Systems Australia says STRIX is building on the company’s background with autonomous systems such as the unmanned demonstration aircraft Taranis and Mantis.

According to information from BAE Systems Australia, both on the Avalon Airshow and on the company’s website, STRIX, named after a species of owl and, more famously, a demonic owl from Greek mythology, will have a collapsed footprint of 2.5 by 4 meters. feet (2.6 meters by 4.5 meters). The UAS will be designed to provide a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 1985 pounds (900 kg) and carry a payload weighing up to approximately 352 pounds (160 kg) over distances of approximately 497 miles (800 km).

All other technical and performance specifications do not appear to be included in the corporate literature available on the BAE Australia website. However, an animated promotional video says STRIX can hover for up to two hours and has a “flexible range”. The company has said that while the prototype is being worked on, STRIX is not expected to be operational until 2026.

The STRIX mock-up features forward-tilted wings and a V-shaped tail, each equipped with a hybrid propeller engine for a total of four. It also has two sets of landing gear, raising the front pair significantly as the drone both takes off and lands on its tail.

The exotic configuration of the platform is aimed at providing VTOL capabilities. BAE Systems Australia has also said that STRIX can not only launch and land vertically, but also transitions into conventional level flight via its tilting body. This will allow the UAS to be runway independent, eliminating the need for a runway or catapult launching system, reducing its overall operational footprint and dramatically expanding the place from which it can operate.

The animated BAE Australia video shows STRIX being stored and transported in a standard 20-foot shipping container before being deployed from an austere location with no airfield and really any support infrastructure. The video also explains that STRIX requires minimal field mounting. It is important to mention that platforms with rapid deployment, small logistics footprint and job independence are emerging as important capabilities to operate forward in an Indo-Pacific war against regional adversaries such as China.

Screengrab of the BAE Australia video showing STRIX deploying with its wings folded from a standard shipping container. Credit: BAE Australia

Thanks to BAE Australia’s VMS technology, STRIX “ideally will be used mostly as a mostly self-contained system,” says Mic Crump, chief technologist at BAE Australia in a separate promotional video. to level flight will be fully autonomous. Autonomous technologies are not intended to replace humans on the modern battlefield, but rather to enhance them.”

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 strikes against hostile targets and persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)” in high-risk environments. BAE Australia says STRIX will also come with target acquisition (TAR) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, completing a full ‘ISTAREW’ mission set that can be performed on land, air and sea.

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

Screengrab of the BAE Australia video showing STRIX’s chin-mounted sensor. Credit: BAE Australia

In an attack role, the company says STRIX will be able to transport and deploy a variety of air-to-ground munitions in service with the Australian Defense Force, all from its two belly-mounted weapons stations. At the Avalon Airshow, Choo learned that this includes APKWS II 70mm laser-guided missiles, as well as Hellfire and Brimstone missiles.

BAE Australia has also unveiled a brand new locally made missile that the company says is designed to complement STRIX’s capabilities. Called RAZER, the system, according to the company, “consists of a wing/body kit and tail unit equipped with a GPS/INS guidance control and navigation system, aimed at operations from unmanned combat and rotary-wing aircraft.” The winged configuration would give STRIX more survivability when attacking targets in higher threat areas.

A view of the RAZER precision guided munitions. Credit: BAE Australia

“RAZER is addressing a clear gap in the sovereign guided weapons market. It will give our Australian Defense Force easy access to world-class munitions here in Australia,” Hudson said. The BAE Australia website explains RAZER development, acquisition and testing will take place in the coming months, but offered no expected timeline for fieldwork.

Choo said an MBDA Sea Venom/ANL anti-ship missile was also on display at the event alongside the STRIX mock-up, which speaks to the drone’s potential naval operations. This includes conducting anti-submarine warfare or mine countermeasures missions. In addition, an additional animated BAE Australia video of STRIX in a marine environment shows how the drone can even be configured with sonobuoy dispensers or dipping sonar for submarine detection.

You can watch a BAE concept video for STRIX’s marine applications here.

BAE Systems Australia highlights in particular how STRIX is designed to perform as a ‘loyal wingman’ for rotary wing platforms. The ability to be operated from a helicopter would extend the mission of both platforms while keeping human crew members away. Australia is already exploring similar concepts with its Boeing-made MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones.

STRIX pilots will be able to control the drone using what the company has described as an “easy-to-operate” 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 appears to be yet to be made public.

Screengrab of the BAE Australia video showing the STRIX checkpoint interface. Credit: BAE Australia

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

Hudson told it too Reuters that there is strong interest from two unnamed international clients. The outlet asked if the US was one of them, and he responded by saying, “What I would say is we need a more complete business case for something like this. And I mean, the US market is huge.”

Taken together, BAE Systems Australia’s launch of STRIX can be considered a major development that has the potential to become a popular runway-independent UAS solution if it proves to be actually workable in testing. While that’s still a long way off, VTOL drones with significant range and weapon capability are generally becoming more sought after, so STRIX’s unveiling seems well timed.

A view of STRIX. Credit: BAE Australia

Of course cost will be a big factor. What additional costs, if any, will runway independence entail compared to other types with similar capability using short runways? The marine environment, where VTOL can be absolutely essential, may be a different story. BAE Systems Australia says low cost is a key driver of STRIX’s design, so they clearly realize the value proposition is critical to overcoming competition in an increasingly crowded medium-altitude, medium-endurance (MAME) market. ).

Above all, STRIX is another example of how Australia is progressing towards becoming a leading arms producer, which has the strategic advantages mentioned above, but also potential large export benefits. Hudson reiterated 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 deliver this capability to customers.”






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