UK-based QinetiQ unveils new disposable 'Jackdaw' combat UAS

Based in Farnborough, England, UK, QinetiQ has just unveiled its concept for a new "disposable," cheap but effective UAS called the "Jackdaw."
Christopher McFadden
Artist's impression of the new drone.


UK-based company QinetiQ has unveiled its new "disposable" unmanned aerial system (UAS) concept called "Jackdaw." Reportedly designed for "swarming and collaborative autonomous operations including crewed-uncrewed teaming," the new drone will, QinetiQ explains, "fulfill multiple missions including surveillance, electronic warfare, airborne decoy, and threat representation."

Built for mass

"Jackdaw" will allow the UK military to minimize "operational risks" and boost combat power by quickly deploying numerous UAS in situations that currently rely on a limited number of costly manned aerial platforms. "By teaming large numbers of 'Jackdaw' with other UAS and crewed platforms, mission effectiveness will be enhanced, the threat to human lives mitigated, and the cost of conducting operations significantly reduced," explains QinetiQ.

“The 'Jackdaw' concept leverages QinetiQ’s expertise in very low-cost high-performance aerial targets—such as the Banshee family—and is enhanced with autonomous mission management and human-machine teaming capabilities," explains Mick Andrae, global campaign director, robotics & autonomous systems, QinetiQ. "Critically, 'Jackdaw’s' autonomous goal-based mission management system is intended to integrate with NATO and allied open architectures, ensuring interoperability with existing and future crewed and uncrewed systems. This, combined with the very low-cost aerial target design philosophy, makes 'Jackdaw' highly suitable for use as a disposable UAS in air, maritime, and land domain applications," he added.

Interestingly, "Jackdaw" is described as a low-cost, "disposable" drone that allows commanders to sacrifice assets if necessary. This is similar in concept to the United States' recent announcement about its "Replicator" program to produce large numbers of "attritable" UAV assets to combat potential adversaries like China. Therefore, the "Jackdaw" drone could represent an alignment in NATO-member thinking around a similar concept.

Developed in collaboration with the likes of BAE Systems and Inzpire, drones like "Jackdaw" should operate seamlessly and coherently, making deployment more agile and easier to manage from a central operations center. QinetiQ is currently developing the Jackdaw concept for four main use cases:

  • ISR – reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to support Commanders’ situational awareness
  • Electronic Warfare – utilization of the electromagnetic spectrum to counter adversaries
  • Active and passive decoy – representing higher value or crewed systems to protect lives and vital assets
  • Complex threat representation – providing operators with swarming threats and sophisticated threat payloads to ensure they are trained and operationally ready for the highly complex threat environment of the near future

The "Jackdaw" platform is intended to be modular and has been designed to support 66 pounds (30 kg) of internal payload. It can achieve over three hours of flight in theatre, reach speeds of 400 knots (740 kph), and reach altitudes of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The platform has been designed, manufactured, and tested in the UK but can, QinetiQ adds, be readily modified for other nations' armed forces.

Ready by mid-2020s

According to QinetiQ, the "Jackdaw" design program is progressing well, and they are currently working on developing autonomous mission management and human-machine teaming capabilities. The company is also confident that "platform development phases" for the drone should be able to begin very soon. "The Jackdaw disposable UAS capability will be available from the mid-2020s and will have an iterative development roadmap with innovative functionality and design updates over time," explains QinetiQ.

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