The French presented a prototype of a new self-produced drone, Aarok. The Aarok Unmanned Aircraft System, or UAS, is a new addition to the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone segment and is designed for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) as well as strike missions.
For strike missions, the drone will carry the French-made AASM Hammer, a precision-guided weapon with an extended kill radius and varying warhead sizes. The firing range is over 35 kilometers.
Aarok is a product of French defense contractor Turgis & Gaillard. The drone, weighing about 5.4 tons in its maximum take-off configuration, attracted attention for its size. Its wingspan is 21.9 meters, slightly larger than the US-made MQ-9A Reaper, with a wingspan of just over 21.03, but the fuselage is significantly bulkier in comparison.
Power for the Aarok is provided by a 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop engine driving a conventional forward propeller. In the future, Turgis & Gaillard plans to install a Safran Ardiden 3 or GE Aviation Catalyst turboprop engine.
In addition to a maximum take-off weight of 5.4 tonnes, the Aarok’s published specifications include an empty weight of approximately 2.5 tonnes and a maximum payload of 2,721.5 kg, including up to 1,500 kg of weapons.
The drone will be able to operate for more than 24 hours. These parameters place the Aarok in a category broadly similar to the MQ-9A Reaper, which is already in service with the French Air Force.
Aarok is designed to perform “reconnaissance missions, standoff strike missions, maritime surveillance, and multi-domain communications relay.” The last of these roles will see Aarok used as “sort of a French BACN”.
The BACN payload allows air platforms to act as highly specialized air communications nodes that can quickly relay information to and from various air platforms to other air platforms and forces on land and at sea. This communications gateway system has been installed on both manned E‑11A aircraft—modified Bombardier Global Express series business jets—and retired EQ-4B Global Hawk drones.
The ISR package for Aarok will include “high-performance optocoupler and electromagnetic sensors”, with IHS Janes suggesting the Wescam MX-25 or Euroflir 610 as the most likely sensor options.