During the month of June, several Belgian soldiers from the new Integrator platoon, belonging to the ISTAR Battalion, are taking part in the Unified Torch exercise in Deelen, the Netherlands. Together with their Dutch colleagues from the Joint ISTAR Command (JISTARC), they train for four weeks in intelligence gathering with the unmanned reconnaissance system Integrator.
“Good launch, steady climb”, we hear. The X-300 Integrator UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) begins its six-hour training flight. A team of Belgian and Dutch soldiers carefully controls the drone from the ground. The objective is to observe fictional criminal events around Deelen Air Base.
“As part of an intelligence unit, we take aerial photos and video footage of the area. For example, we can detect enemy activity or track certain High Value Target vehicles”, explains Ewan, the commander of the Dutch section of JISTARC. “These images are viewed, analyzed and documented live. »
Operating an unmanned aircraft system like the Integrator requires a full team.
“The most important people are the ground crews,” explains Emil, the Belgian Air Vehicle Operator (AVO). “They make sure everything is ready. Also, we have a sensor operator. He manages the Integrator’s camera and films everything. And then, of course, there’s the operator, who controls the system and is in contact with the radios,” says Emil. “At a higher level, there is of course the head of mission, who monitors everything and who is in contact with, for example, a forward air controller (JTAC).”
First solo flight
After a year of training in the Netherlands and a final exam in Aruba, some Belgian operators are currently making their first solo flight in the Netherlands.
“It’s really exciting,” says Cédric. He too is an air vehicle operator in the Integrator platoon of the Belgian ISTAR battalion. “Before, I worked with the scouts on the ground, now I see everything from the air. Too bad there are clouds, because I would like to fly above four thousand feet once,” he adds.
Since 2020, Belgium has had two Integrator systems. If we add the three Dutch systems and the two Luxembourg ones, the Benelux has a total of seven Integrator systems. All these systems are part of a pool and are therefore available for all three countries.
“This means that a full Belgian crew can fly a Dutch aircraft and vice versa,” continues Ewan. “The Netherlands provides the training and are also responsible for the maintenance of the equipment. In addition, all systems are registered in the Netherlands, which means that the devices must comply with Dutch laws and regulations.”
Each system comprises two drones.
X-300 Integrator in Lombardsijde
The Belgian Integrator drone platoon is still under development. With the first AVO graduates and an analyst in training, it is increasingly taking shape. Its own flight simulator is still installed in Heverlee for the time being, but will move to Lombardsijde, as will the military, in the future. By 2024, this platoon should be fully operational and will participate in a large-scale ISTAR exercise in Norway.
Source: Belgian Ministry of Defense Press Release