In the last eight years, the Tactical Drone System (SDT) Patroller program has come a long way in development and implementation for the French Army. Developed by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) and Safran, this cutting-edge drone technology is set to take military surveillance to the next level.
The Patroller Program and its Challenges
The program faced several hurdles, the most notable of which was the loss of a Patroller drone in December 2019. The incident, which occurred during an industrial reception flight, was caused by a malfunction in the flight control computer. As a result, the delivery schedule was revised, making room for more extensive testing procedures.
Delivery and Deployment
The revised schedule has the first ten drones marked for delivery to the DGA in 2022. This is part of an overall order of fourteen drones. The 61st Artillery Regiment (RA) of the French Army is slated to start operating the SDT starting from the first half of 2023.
SDT Patroller Capabilities
At the heart of this program are five drones and two ground stations, based on the Patroller drone, which was evolved from the German glider Stemme S15. These drones boast impressive capabilities, such as:
- Flying at 20,000 feet for a duration of 20 hours
- Equipped with a Euroflir 410 optronic ball
- Featuring a laser targeting pod
- Carrying an electronic warfare payload
- Incorporating a Leonardo PicoSAR AESA radar
Even though the SDT received DGA certification in February 2023 and was used by the 61st RA during the Orion joint exercise, it is yet to be fully operational. Its predecessor, the Tactical Drone Systems (SDTI) “Sperwer”, were retired after encountering several issues.
The French Military Programming Law (LPM) 2024-30 has plans to acquire five systems, a total of 28 drones before 2030. The French Army's Technical Section (STAT) announced the reboot of the SDT Patroller system via LinkedIn. Its effective ROIM and RADAR sensors will amplify action intelligence at division and corps levels.
The success of the program can be attributed to the collective endeavors of multiple parties. These include the STAT, DGA, Safran, the State Aeronautical Security Directorate (DSAé), the 61st RA, and the Chaumont Drone School. Their efforts culminated on February 6, 2024, when the first Patroller of the French Army took flight, signaling the start of a series of training flights.
From April onwards, a series of technical and operational evaluations will begin. The team responsible for these evaluations will gradually increase in strength, with the goal of testing the SDT Patroller in all operational aspects. This will pave the way for potentially promising operational employment opportunities.
Restoring Lost Capabilities
The Patroller is set to restore some of the lost capabilities of the French Army. This includes functions similar to the Cougar Horizon helicopter used for battlefield surveillance with radars.