British robot set for Bosnia spy mission: French Army wants to use a pilotless plane built in the UK to monitor Muslim safe areas

A BRITISH robot reconnaissance plane could soon go into action in Bosnia - with the French Army.

The small pilotless plane was developed in just a year and will enable the French to oversee large areas with fewer troops, exploiting the West's biggest advantage over the local militias - technology.

The British Army is committed to a much more expensive system, Phoenix, designed in 1985 and not due in service until 1995. It takes six weeks to train soldiers to use the French Army system, whereas it could take six months to learn to use Phoenix.

The French Army first tried the British 'toy plane', which they call Mart (Mini Avion de Reconnaissance de Telepilote), in the Gulf in 1991. They were so impressed that they recently invited experts from UN headquarters in Zagreb to trials in the south of France and Champagne region, where the terrain is similar to Bosnia. The UN team has sent its report to New York where the final decision will be made, but the French are already preparing to send the Mart section of 6th Artillery Regiment to Bosnia.

The trials showed that the spy plane will extend a French battalion's coverage by 30 miles - the sort of coverage normally associated with a division of 20,000 troops. The French have a 1,900- strong battalion based in north- west Bosnia and 800 troops in Sarajevo. The plane's uses could include monitoring the position of stockpiled weapons and route reconnaissance to prevent ambushes, which have occurred recently.

The firm that builds the system, Laserlink of Maidenhead, has tried to interest the Ministry of Defence, but yesterday it received a letter from Jonathan Aitken, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, saying that the MoD was 'aware of the system they had to offer' but that the requirement for an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) is to be met by the GEC-Marconi Phoenix system.

Mart costs just pounds 3m for 12 of the small, propeller-driven planes, two launchers and two ground stations where the controller can see what the plane is seeing in 'real-time'. He can zoom in on areas of interest and, if he sees anything, can take a print with the exact date, time, height and location recorded. Mart is powered by a two-cylinder 342cc engine and carries two cameras, one pointing forwards and a moveable one that points downwards. The cameras can be any combination of colour or black and white TV, low-light television or infra-red which reacts to heat. At night, Mart would usually have the low-light TV facing forward and the infra-red downward.

The cost of the much more expensive Phoenix is being kept confidential but the Independent understands that the pilotless planes cost pounds 250,000 each, a launcher more than pounds 1m and a ground station pounds 4m.

UN forces in Bosnia are being doubled, from about 7,000 to more than 15,000, to oversee the six UN 'safe areas' for Muslims. None of the extra troops will be British, and it is not certain whether the French will send more. The UN already has satellites and manned aircraft over Bosnia but the 'toy plane' will give an army colonel his own very precise source of information.

By spying ahead, the plane also reduces the risk to ground troops. And if the locals try to shoot down Mart it does not matter. Expensive aircraft and irreplaceable pilots and soldiers are not put at risk.

Mike Way, the project co-ordinator, said yesterday: 'It took a year to develop. A lot of it was off- the-shelf and a lot of it we tested and built ourselves.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project