WASHINGTON — Martin UAV’s V-Bat, a unique vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aircraft, will take on the U.S. Army and its allies in the service’s upcoming Joint Warfighting Assessment in Germany in May, in which it will service as a part of the opposition force designed to challenge the service’s capabilities.
The U.S. Army is holding its relatively new JWA — which evaluates emerging and gap-filling capabilities rapidly — overseas for the first time at the end of April into early May and has integrated the assessments into a few larger exercises taking place across training complexes at both Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany.
For Martin UAV, this is a chance to show the Army that the V-Bat capability can be a tactical game-changer.
The 84-pound drone (carrying a full payload and fuel) can stay on station for eight hours with another hour of reserve fuel, according to Heath Niemi, company vice president of global sales and development. It can reach dash speeds of 90 knots and has a range of 350 miles. It can also fly up to 15,000 feet.
The drone is designed to be multimission-applicable, and payloads can easily be swapped out in the field.
It takes roughly six to eight minutes to take a stored V-Bat out of its highly transportable case and assemble it, and a total of 19 minutes to get it airborne including loading flight plans into a ground control station, Blake Sawyer, Martin UAV executive vice president of global sales and development, told Defense News in an interview.
In addition to not needing launchers to get the drone airborne or systems to catch it, the aircraft can also be refueled at the tactical edge.
A two-person crew can control the drone, and training (including maintenance) takes four to six weeks.
The drone can also be handed off from one controller to another, so it can be launched and then passed off to a controller elsewhere on the battlefield to be refueled without returning home, for example.
The aircraft is uniquely suited for a wide range of missions such as forceable-entry. “You can imagine the 82nd Airborne mission set, a ranger battalion mission set or entering into denied areas,” Sawyer noted.
When Martin UAV set out to build a new drone, the company asked if there was a way to build a tactical, true VTOL drone, not a hybrid that fills gaps between Group 1 (Puma and Raven) and Group 2 (Shadow) UAS and Group 2 and 3. And for the company, the answer is V-Bat.
“If you can operate a Javelin missile in your infantry platoon or infantry battalion, you can operate V-Bat,” Sawyer said.
Hybrid drones are designed for endurance and takeoff using electric power, which burns that power to become airborne. A hybrid drone requires a transition to horizontal flight needed to recharge in order to have enough power to land, Sawyer explained.
But since V-Bat is more like a rocket in design than a traditional drone, it can transition to high altitudes and stay there; plus it has enough power to operate electric power-dependent payloads.
While payloads have become smaller, the power requirements remain high; so smaller drones ― while capable of carrying certain payloads ― can’t power them.
V-Bat has 500 watts of air vehicle power, which means it can accommodate a variety of payloads from signals intelligence to electronic warfare.
Niemi and Sawyer said V-Bat would have the capability to fly in manned-unmanned teaming formations and could help serve missions beyond aviation such as supporting fires units with a laser designator-type payload to help with targeting. There is also interest in the system at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Martin UAV plans to build one system that can be scaled from a Group 1 UAS to “theoretically” a 700-pound system that has a 100-pound payload, “all in the same design, same avionics, just different-sized aircraft,” Sawyer said.
The company is pitching the drone to the Army at a time when the service is at a crossroads. The Army must determine how much longer it keeps its current fleet of both manned and unmanned aircraft flying before it begins to modernize in the form of acquiring brand new aircraft.
The service has said for years that it doesn’t want unmanned systems that require a runway, but does want ones that can be easily and quickly deployed and recovered, even in the most austere environments.
The service is also looking hard at a future tactical UAS for brigade combat teams as well as advanced UAS for its reconnaissance squadrons. UAS used for reconnaissance, security, target and acquisition capabilities are now very focused on using full-motion video, but the future focus will be more on an electronic warfare capability.
Overall, the idea is for drones to do the dull, dirty and dangerous work on the future battlefield.
The Army is conducting a technology demonstration for a future tactical UAS but is also looking across the other services to pull together promising efforts.
But the Army will not wait for demonstrations and analyses to drive future procurement. If it finds something with great or truly disruptive capability now, it plans to move forward.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.