During the inauguration of the Special Operations Units Support Base (SOUs) on December 8, at the new port facilities, four of VIKING NORSAFE LIFE’s Munin S1200 Armored high-speed vessels were prominently displayed. These vessels, which began arriving last spring, are part of a total procurement of 41 boats intended to equip the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 1st Amphibious Assault Squadrons, as reported by Savvas Vlassis and Doureios Ippos.
Notably, one of these vessels was undergoing trials with a new system specifically designed for the Special Operations Forces, and interestingly, it is of Greek origin. A team from the Greek company UCANDRONE was present to conduct tests on the MERA drone, a surveillance and reconnaissance ISR tool they developed and are now integrating into the amphibious assault fleet under contract. This is a very important development for the Greek SOF, especially in the dynamic threat environment of Aegean Sea.
The MERA drone, originally conceived for First Person View (FPV) attack missions, is also outfitted with advanced sensors for surveillance and reconnaissance tasks. Equipped with dual cameras for day, thermal, and night operations, it also includes low-altitude aerial photography and mapping capabilities for automatization of the operations during warfare. This feature allows the supporting vessel to receive real-time mapping data during operations, crucial for navigating areas where existing maps might not reflect recent geographical changes. MERA can also carry light munitions for strike operations.
The construction of MERA involves the use of advanced materials to ensure durability, strength, and efficiency. The frame is composed of several key materials:
- Aero TÜV-SÜD UV-Protective Coating: This coating is applied to protect against ultraviolet radiation, enhancing the longevity and integrity of the aircraft materials.
- Spead Tow TeXtreme® Hi-Strength Ultra-Light Carbon Fabric: This high-strength, ultra-lightweight carbon fabric contributes to the overall sturdiness of the aircraft while minimizing weight, thus improving performance.
- High Impact, Vibration, and Fatigue Strength Aramid Honeycomb: The use of aramid honeycomb material in the frame provides exceptional resistance to impact, vibration, and fatigue, ensuring the aircraft’s resilience under various stress conditions.
- Aero Twill Weave Carbon Fabric: This carbon fabric, featuring a twill weave pattern, offers additional strength and durability to the aircraft’s structure.
Regarding the wing materials, they include:
- Aero TÜV-SÜD UV-Protective: Similar to the frame, the wings are also coated with a protective layer to guard against UV radiation.
- Aero Plain Weave Glass Fabric: This glass fabric, characterized by its plain weave, adds structural integrity and resilience to the wings.
- Spead Tow TeXtreme® Hi-Strength Ultra-Light Carbon Fabric: The same high-strength, ultra-light carbon fabric used in the frame is also utilized in the wings, aiding in performance optimization due to its lightweight properties.
- Fine Industrial Grade Closed Cell Foam: The inclusion of closed-cell foam in the wing construction offers stability and contributes to the overall aerodynamic efficiency.
- Aero Twill Weave Aramid Fabric Live Hinges: The use of aramid fabric in the live hinges of the wings ensures flexibility and durability, facilitating smooth movement and functionality.
The drone, measuring 56×56 cm with a height of 35 cm and a diameter of 80 cm, features foldable rotor beams for compact storage, reducing its size to approximately 25×25 cm for easy transport. Weighing 2.1 kg without a battery, MERA can carry a maximum load of 1.5 kg, with a maximum take-off weight of 5.6 kg. Constructed from high-strength composites and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, its modular design allows for easy removal and interchangeability of parts without specialized tools.
MERA utilizes the Ardupilot Autopilot Suite, a comprehensive and advanced autopilot ecosystem built on open-hardware and software principles. This system is crafted to be accessible for beginners, yet it offers ample scope for customization, educational purposes, and research applications.
Hardware: The choice of the controller depends on specific requirements, expandability, and robustness. This is the primary selection for fully-featured packages is the latest Pixhawk 2 “CUBE” Autopilot, which provides:
- An integrated, single board/box flight controller.
- Ample I/O capacity for most applications without the need for expansion.
- Enhanced ease-of-use.
- Improved sensor performance.
- Boosted microcontroller resources.
- Increased reliability and simplified integration complexity.
Firmware: This is the “skill set” code that runs on the hardware and configures it for the type of vehicle in which it is installed. You can select the firmware and vehicle type that best suit your mission requirements:
- Flexible options allow for one autopilot to be adapted for any mission. A simple firmware update can repurpose your hardware for different functions.
Software: This is the interface with the hardware, facilitating:
- Initial setup, configuration, and testing.
- Mission planning and operation, plus post-mission analysis.
- Point-and-click intuitive interaction with your hardware, or advanced custom scripting for specialized mission profiles.
Ardupilot offers a versatile range of options, ensuring that every aspect of the unmanned system can be tailored to meet specific mission needs. MERA is powered by a 4,800 W electric system with a 17,000 mAh 6S Lithium polymer battery, and can accommodate a double 8,500 mAh 6S Lithium Ion battery for extended flight autonomy.
The drone’s maximum flight time is 60 minutes, reduced to 45 minutes with a 250 g load and approximately 30 minutes when fully loaded. It can achieve a top speed of 22 meters/second and a cruising speed of 10 meters/second. Designed for operation in light rain and snow, MERA features automated landing and take-off procedures, which are also functional during amphibious commando operations. A team aboard the speedboat can maintain the drone airborne at a distance of about 7-8 km, providing area control or target recognition, supplementing the ship’s sensor capabilities.
On the Munin S1200 Armored, a customized rig has been installed above the outboards and behind the last row of seats, capable of accommodating two MERAs. The drones are secured with strong magnetic surfaces, ensuring stability during the boat’s movement.