US Army Africa Command plans Skydweller solar-powered aircraft


U.S. Military Africa Command supports the development of the Skydweller solar-powered aircraft that it sees being used by the United States and its partners to counter violent and destabilizing extremist activity in Africa.

The aircraft was showcased in Spain on June 14, when civilian and military leaders from US Africa Command, France, Luxembourg and Spain gathered at Albacete Air Base to formalize their support to a technology demonstration of the unmanned, carbon-neutral Skydweller airframe.

The aircraft is expected to become capable of continuous flight for several months and has potential beyond intelligence gathering that supports the efforts of the United States and its partners to counter violent and destabilizing extremist activity in Africa, said Africom.

“The bottom line is that a long-lasting and persistent SRI platform has the potential to provide a wide range of capabilities to us…and our African partners at lower cost while adopting a low-carbon solution” , said Brigadier General Rose Keravuori, USA. Africa Command Deputy Director of Intelligence.

The aircraft – the 10-year-old solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 – was acquired by Skydweller Aero (partly owned by Leonardo) and was developed and tested with US government support in Spain.

Skydweller is modeled after the Solar Impulse 2 which circled the globe in 2015 and 2016 using solar power, but will be unmanned. Removing the driver will give estra payload capacity. Skydweller will be able to fly at 180 km/h, at an altitude of 14,000 meters, with up to 350 kg of surveillance equipment such as radars and cameras.

“With long shutdown duration, there is potential for persistent monitoring of natural disasters to help provide better disaster response,” Keravuori said. “Our African partners would welcome a persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) that can track piracy, receive indications of illicit trafficking, illegal oil bunkering, illegal poaching or predator fishing.”

Speaking about the potential effects of climate change in Africa and how this change leads to instability that benefits adversaries to the detriment of societies, governments and people, Keravuori said that “the added capacity to monitor the movements of animals and the spread of desertification is particularly important”. critical as we watch for signs of climate change.

The development and implementation of the aircraft – best known for its solar-powered circumnavigation of the globe in 2016 – drew support from dignitaries in partner nations for the shared benefits of ending the sector’s reliance on solar power. fuel aviation and enable armed forces to address security in an innovative and effective manner, Africom explained.

“I would like to express our gratitude for the consistent and extensive support provided by our Spanish hosts,” Keravuori said. “We would also like to thank the Luxembourg government for agreeing to transport the prototype Skydweller aircraft to an operational demonstration site in the Caribbean where we can learn more about its capabilities.”

The aircraft designers are working hard to make the Skydweller self-sufficient and, coupled with its tendency to perform better around the equator given weather conditions and sun exposure, the Skydweller would be an ideal platform for use in Africa.

“Africom, together with the research and engineering arm of the US Department of Defense and…Southcom (US Southern Command) are pleased to assist in the development of a carbon-neutral, long-lasting surveillance platform that can help generate greater security and development in partner countries,” said Keravuori. “We are interested and eager to explore the possibilities of coordination with the military delegations present here today from France, Luxembourg and Spain.

“The bottom line is that a long-lasting and persistent SRI platform has the potential to provide a wide range of capabilities to us…and our African partners at lower cost while adopting a low-carbon solution. “

Solar Impulse 2 is the brainchild of Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard and Swiss engineer Bertrand Borschberg. After its record flight around the world, it was bought by Skydweller Aero in 2019. After months of modifications, it flew again for the first time in November 2020. Since then, it has made about ten test flights in Spain and is in the process of transforming it into a drone. The aircraft could be deployed as early as 2023.

Skydweller Aero hopes to offer the aircraft as a pseudo-satellite for commercial services, but has also received $5 million from the US Navy to investigate the aircraft’s ability to conduct maritime patrols. The Defense Innovation Unit, responsible for developing emerging technologies for the US military, awarded Skydweller a $14 million contract, CNN reported.

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