Textron Systems Unmanned Systems unveiled its Nightwarden tactical unmanned aerial system (TUAS) at the 2017 Paris Air Show.
Derived from Textron’s Shadow M2 developmental platform, the Nightwarden is a lightweight drone with a payload of 65 kg. It has an endurance and maximum speed of 15 hours and 90 knots, respectively. With its optional satellite communications (SATCOM) package, the Nightwarden can fly a range of 1,100 km.
Textron is positioning the Nightwarden as a dual-use intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and attack platform. Users can arm the Nightwarden with the Textron Systems Weapon & Sensor Systems Fury air-to-surface precision-guided munition. The Fury is a 6 kg semi-active laser-homing missile.
In its press release, Textron states that the Nightwarden “features an open architecture … allowing for additional capabilities such as communication relay, sense-and-avoid equipment, or additional payloads such as electronic attack, signals intelligence or communications intelligence.”
The Nightwarden is also ‘runway-independent’ in that it can land on unfinished surfaces.
According to Textron, the Nightwarden had undergone over 400 flying hours, including demonstrations to potential customers from Europe, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific.
Notes & Comments:
In terms of non-Western and non-NATO markets, Textron will be competing against the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) for market-share in the strike-capable drone market.
Through its divisions –i.e. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) – AVIC secured many markets for its drones (i.e. Rainbow and Pterodactyl-series) in Africa and the Middle East. This success can be attributed in great part to Washington’s prior – and largely continuing – reluctance to release armed drone technology.
For Textron Systems, the Nightwarden TUAS adds to its unique and asymmetrical warfare-focused product line. Like the Textron AirLand Scorpion, Beechcraft (also a Textron company) AT-6 Wolverine light attack and King Air 350ER ISR aircraft, and Textron G-CLAW munition, the Nightwarden could be pitched as an affordable and effective solution for close air support (CAS) and counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.
Outside of the U.S. and NATO, Textron’s major customers include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Pakistan has ordered equipment from Textron divisions Bell Helicopter (AH-1Z), Beechcraft (King Air 350ER) and Cessna (208B and T206H). However, its primary drone suppliers are domestic and Chinese entities, such as Integrated Dynamics and CASC, respectively. Iraq and Saudi Arabia also operate Chinese UAVs.
Overcoming China’s presence in these markets will be challenging, but Textron can package its products as a comprehensive and integrated solution. For example, Textron could highlight assured connectivity between its ISR assets and the Nightwarden TUAS, which may not be possible with CASC and CAIG drones due to U.S. regulatory (i.e. ITAR) and vendor sensitivity issues.
Alternatively, countries unable or unwilling to procure Chinese drones (e.g. U.S. allies in Asia and Central Europe) could consider the Nightwarden, but even this would not be a certainty considering the presence of comparable Israeli, Turkish and South African options.