First of type UAV aerial firing approval in Australia

Brisbane, QLD: Skyborne Technologies, a Defence Tech company specialising in smart aerial robotic platforms, have performed a “first of type” aerial firing demonstration of the company’s weaponised 5-shot 40mm UAV, the Cerberus GLH. The demonstration was performed in Australia under Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) approvals. The approval/testing site is on a Queensland rural property, on which Skyborne has partially leased, to support ongoing testing and development.  

Current Australian Civil Aviation Safety Regulation prohibits the operation of a weaponised Remotely Piloted Aircraft on private land within civilian airspace. Skyborne first demonstrated the Cerberus GL UAV (single shot 40mm grenade) prototype in Georgia, USA near Fort Benning for a US Army Demonstration Program called Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment in December 2019. The demonstration was the first to fly and fire the unique tri-tilt rotor man-packable weaponised UAV with an aerial firing activity for a US Army audience.

The COVID-19 pandemic stalled all company plans to return to the US in 2020 to continue testing and customer demonstrations. Skyborne embraced the challenge to steer through red tape and regulation hurdles to perform aerial firing testing in Australia. The company first contacted the civilian aviation authority (CASA) in June 2020 to propose the aerial firing activity on private land for research and development purposes. Seventeen months later, in October 2021, Skyborne performed the “first of type” aerial firing demonstration. This is not only a significant achievement for the company and its technology development pipeline, but also for Defence Industry and Defence. 

The company’s aerial firing approval will allow Cerberus’s technology development to continue from the design and prototype phase to field testing to mature and test the weaponised UAV’s targeting accuracy and reliability, achieving a higher Technical Readiness Level (TRL). This accelerates the Cerberus UAV towards delivery to Defence end users for Test & Evaluation.

Federal, State and Council regulatory stakeholders were involved with Skyborne’s aerial firing approval including CASA and the Queensland Police Service.

The approval is conditional on the company having the following supporting documents:

  • Operation manuals, including the weaponised operation procedure and pilot training
  • Civil Aviation Act permission for carriage of dangerous goods on an RPA
  • Weapons Act exemption for Cerberus weapon payloads
  • Licence to use explosives for certain ammunitions under the Explosive Regulation
  • Temporary range authorisation from Queensland Police
  • Council material change for use of land

The Cerberus GLH is the next generation tactical-level aerial fire support UAS. Designed to be the first man-packable multiple-shot UAV on the market, the Cerberus GLH provides operators with up to 30 minutes of flight endurance, 5 shots of 40mm rounds (selectable) and VTOL launch capabilities. The Cerberus GLH also has day/night optics, AI edge processing and an onboard target laser range finder for accurate targeting.

Adrian Dudok, Chief Business Officer, headed up the approval process. He says: “This aerial firing approval is the ‘first of type’ in Australia on civilian land and it was a significant roadblock for Skyborne’s Cerberus UAV development. Australia is filled with regulation red tape hurdles which directly impacts innovation and commercialising efforts in this country. The Australian Governments and ADF mandates Sovereign Capability, however, when industry delivers capability there is limited support to test and further develop the capability, in addition, to allow the ADF to test, evaluate and train with such new and emerging technologies. Skyborne has invested significant internal resources over the past seventeen months to get this aerial firing approval off the ground, despite the many naysayers encountered along the way. This demonstrates the company’s ability to deliver cutting edge technology to enhance Defence Force’s capability while navigating around red tape and absorbing the costs associated with the ongoing long journey”.  

Dr. Michael Creagh, Chief Executive Officer, says “This is the first time that the 40mm HAVOC launcher has been fired from the air. Skyborne staff present at the demonstration were absolutely ecstatic with the result. The recoil response from the Cerberus GLH was an order of magnitude improvement over the old single-shot variant demonstrated in the US in 2019.

The trial took on a crawl, walk, run approach. We tested critical subsystems one at a time, including geofencing, emergency return to home and auto-landing, before firing a single shot. The next step was firing all five rounds consecutively from the chamber and everything performed perfectly. The next steps for us will be to dial in the targeting system with practical experimentation, using a baseline from our sophisticated simulation software.

We’re eager to get the complete Cerberus system into the hands of our ADF and other friendly forces for trials and feedback. Skyborne has developed fantastic relationships with CASA and the various other regulatory bodies involved in this process, and we take our hats off to these bodies, who have ultimately allowed innovation to progress in Australia.”