June 02, 2011 Andrew White, SHEPARD GROUP
London - The UK armed forces' latest unmanned initiative went operational in Afghanistan this week under the codename 'Operation Panama', defence sources have revealed.
Comprising approximately a dozen unmanned Snatch Land Rovers and associated sensor suites and data links, sources told Shephard that the vehicles were now working in conjunction with other manned land platforms as part of 'Operation Talisman'- the UK effort designed to counter IEDs.
Sources said a single system, consisting of two Snatch UGVs and ground control station, were working in each of the six Talisman teams which already comprise two Buffalo Rummage and four Mastiff 'Protected Eyes' vehicles; two micro air vehicles; two HMEEs; and two Talon UGVs. It is understood that the MoD has a total of six Talisman teams in operation as part of a £260m programme.
A source said: 'Talisman is providing positive effect in theatre to enable safe passage, thereby allowing more taskings to be met. It also provides surveillance at distance with base protection an emerging requirement.'
As part of a £15m contract, sources said the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) had selected a MIRA unmanned Snatch ahead of offerings from BAE Systems and Marshall Land Systems. With additional integration of specialist equipment from Thales UK and Exponent, the UGVs were originally slated to deploy in March following extensive field trials in Jordan last year. Shephard is unable to specify particular sensor payloads due to operational security implications.
Meanwhile, the MoD is still compiling a business case for the use of UGVs for base protection. Options include Israeli company G-Nius's AvantGuard system with small systems such as Dragon Runner offering potential for situation awareness, ISR and counter-IED capabilities.
MIRA remote-control technology is fitted to the Snatch Land Rovers allowing it to be driven by operators within a convoy. Sources said the vehicle could also be easily reverted back into a manned platform for use inside bases such as Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand province. However, sources said concept of operations for the system were continually evolving.