The Belgian army has acquired eight systems comprising three “Raven” mini-drones. These will enable company or squad commanders to gather information about the surroundings in which their soldiers are advancing during an operation. The Defence Minister, Steven Vandeput, indicated on Thursday that the cost of purchasing these is €4.5 million.
These machines are based in Heverlee, managed by the battalion ISTAR, responsible for reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Each weighs a little over two kilos, flying at an operational height of 30 to 150 metres, for up to between an hour to an hour and half, over a maximum distance of 10 kilometres. The Belgian army is already using similar devices made by the Puma brand, as part of its mission in Iraq, but the latter are actually hired.
The Ministry of Defence is using B-Hunter which is larger equipment and flies at a higher level. They are in particular used to detect marine pollution. Being smaller, Ravens are better adapted to tactical operations. A “set” includes three aeroplane drones and ad hoc equipment which fits into two ruck sacks. Besides reconnaissance missions, Ravens can be used to secure convoys or monitor aerodromes. Civil usage is more difficult to conceive as low-altitude airspace must be fully cleared.
The use of drones now appears to be unavoidable when designing a given military operation. The Defence Minister anticipates buying other similar machines in the future. He is particularly interested in the MALE (Mid-Altitude Long Endurance) drone, a type of drone where the pilot is on the ground and can be armed.
This acquisition will fall within the framework of a Benelux partnership. The Netherlands already has the Raven, and Luxembourg acquired four of these at the same time as Belgium. The three have agreed to cooperate in partnership in training pilots, device maintenance, and purchasing spare parts. Mr Vandeput stressed, “Europe’s Defence Strategy will only develop by collaborating on specific projects and by finding common ground.”