Flying high on tactical drones

Perth’s Orbital UAV is on a new trajectory as the benefits of being a supplier to a global company see it cruising at a new altitude.

The 30-year-old Balcatta-based company supplies propulsion systems for Insitu’s tactical drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by US and allied defence forces to gather intelligence.

Insitu, a wholly-owned Boeing subsidiary, recently extended its long-term agreement with Orbital, increasing the size of the supply contract which now includes five engine models across the fleet of tactical drones and is worth up to $350 million over five years.

Orbital’s new Modular Propulsion Solution (MPS) solves customer challenges of optimising tactical drone performance within an environment of evolving payloads and increasingly varied mission criteria.

CEO Todd Alder told BP Dig that Orbital’s MPS enables multiple propulsion configurations to be deployed quickly and cost effectively.

“With an increasing number of tactical drones being introduced to the market and each of these drones being required to carry out a wider variety of missions the timing of the MPS is perfect,” he says.

“Fundamental to the success of the MPS is the 80 per cent common componentry which could only have been achieved through the successful Orbital/customer collaborative development program.

“By becoming deeply embedded within our customer’s sales, innovation and procurement teams, and developing an understanding of their challenges, Orbital UAV has been able to provide an industry leading propulsion solution to the tactical drone market.

“We are developing this right now and will have multiple configurations in production for 2019.”

This year Orbital opened a new operational facility in the “silicon valley of UAVs” – Hood River in Oregon – just 11km from Insitu’s head office. Alder said upgrades to the Perth facility, which employs 65 people, and getting the five systems into production will be the priorities for next year.

“We’ve been looking at how we improve our quality processes through investments in facility upgrades and improved workflow management with the remaining investments in our most important asset – our people.”

Orbital also supplies components to the world’s other major player in the $14.6 billion tactical UAV market, Textron Systems.

“Insitu and Textron are the largest suppliers of tactical drones to the US and allied forces and Orbital is proud to support these dominant market players.”

He said it was an exciting time for the drone industry in WA, with Airbus announcing it would base its solar powered Zephyr project at Wyndham, with up to 20 staff set to based in the Kimberley.

“Hopefully it attracts further talent into WA. We already have a bit of a cluster of drone companies starting to develop so if we can add to that it can add to the cross pollination of ideas,” Alder said.

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