Warplanes: Sperwer Fades Away


February 25, 2014: The French Army has purchased five more Sperwer UAVs with an option to get two more. Although not as successful as American and Israeli competitors, the French made Sperwer continues to serve the French military and is expected to continuing doing so until the end of the decade. A French firm is developing a replacement, the Patroller, which is designed to appeal more to the export market. Most of the 150 Sperwers produced since the 1990s were bought by the French Army. Sperwer got its first heavy use during the Balkan peacekeeping missions in the 1990s. Five other nations also bought Sperwer, but most have since retired theirs and bought American and Israeli UAVs.

Starting in 2003 Canada, for example, bought 21 Sperwers, including ten second hand ones obtained from Denmark. The Canadians used their Sperwers heavily in Afghanistan and paid to improve the Sperwer flight control software, to make the UAV more stable when landing under windy conditions. It's often windy in Afghanistan. Still, troops were envious of UAV models they saw used by other nations. Canada stopped using Sperwer in 2009.

The $2.6 million Sperwer LE (Long Endurance) weighs 351 kg (772 pounds), carries a 50 kg (110 pound) payload, is 3.9 meters (12 feet) long, and has an endurance of 12 hours. Sperwer can operate up to 200 kilometers from its ground control unit. It is launched from a vehicle mounted catapult but lands conventionally.

The Sperwer uses a noisy engine (think lawnmower) and flies low enough to be heard. This has not proved to be a problem, as the people below, if they are Taliban, either start shooting at the UAV or try to run away. Despite this, Canadian troops came to depend on their Sperwers and many preferred to have more of them rather than another, newer UAV. The troops learned that operator experience is a major factor in UAV success, and much of that would be lost if they switched a new model. Canada eventually replaced their Sperwers with Israeli Herons.

The Sperwer suffered from the heat, dust, and wind that is so abundant in Afghanistan, and there were several attempts to get an improved UAV to the troops. For a while, Canada was going to buy some Predators, not just because these one ton UAVs are more capable than Sperwer but because Predator could carry Hellfire missiles. But this became a political issue in Canada, where many politicians did not like the idea of an unmanned aircraft carrying, and using, missiles, even if the actual firing was done by a human operator on the ground. Everyone agreed that a larger UAV would be better, especially one that could carry a laser designator and be more stable in the wind. By 2009 Canadian troops in Afghanistan began using the Israeli Heron and that proved satisfactory.





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