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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker