France’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 5 February, 2024, that the Director General of Armament (DGA) ordered 15 mini airborne drone systems (SMDM) for the French Navy, from Super Copter, a subsidiary of Airbus, at a cost of €30m, ($32.4m) adding to a fleet of 15 SMDM already delivered.

The new contract was signed on 30, December 2023, and delivery is expected to begin at the end of 2024. 

The SMDM is an electric powered maritime-use drone, weighing 16kg with a 50km range. It is capable of taking off and landing on ships without a helicopter pad, but it is typically deployed by catapult and recovered by net at the end of its mission. 

Known as the French Navy’s “remote field glasses”, according to manufacturer, the aerial system will be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes, with images and data transmitted from onboard sensors in real time.  The contribution to French Naval operations is in the identification and photography of unknown ships, search and rescue missions, according to a release from the MoD. 

The systems will be equipped upon high-sea patrol boats, overseas patrol boats, and surveillance frigates. SMDM currently in use with the French Navy have been certified and qualified by the DGA, and have been full satisfactory in operations according to the MoD. The contract for the original delivery was signed with Survey Copter in 2020. 

Beginning in September 4, 2023, the SMDM system has been deployed in a coastal setup to aid in search and rescue missions in the English Channel, under the guidance of the Gris-Nez (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) Regional Surveillance and Rescue Center (CROSS).

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Located in the Drôme region of France, Survey Copter, established in 1996, specialises in lightweight tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). A part of Airbus since 2011, the company provides a variety of products designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), as well as for protection and surveillance tasks, catering to both military and civilian applications. 

Survey Copter’s capabilities include the development of systems for airborne platforms, ground stations, autopilots, Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) payloads, along with expertise in data transmission, encryption, and Remote Video Terminals.