Developed by Skunkworks of Lockheed Martin, the Desert Hawk III was first flown in 2006 and designed along the lines of a reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The Desert Hawk III system is a dimensionally larger, lighter upgrade of the original Desert Hawk UAV appearing in the early 2000s. The original system was used to good effect during the early stages of the War on Terror concerning Afghanistan primarily by the British Army for the tactical surveillance role. The model was superseded by the newer Desert Hawk III series which brought along several improvements to the line - including a flight time endurance increase.
The 8lb Desert Hawk III vehicle is powered by a single, low-signature electric motor driving a two-blade propeller unit fitted to the front of the fuselage. As a low-cost alternative to more feature-heavy, dimensionally larger UAVs, the Desert Hawk III is rather simply hand-launched by the operating crew to which control of the airborne is then managed through a briefcase-style Ground Control Station (GCS). Since the Desert Hawk III lacks a traditional wheeled undercarriage it is recovered by way of a belly landing and also features an inherent "break apart" design which allows for hard landings while preserving the critical components of the UAV. The UAV can reach speeds of up to 55 mph.
Outwardly, Desert Hawk III has been given a conventional aircraft layout with shoulder-mounted wing mainplanes, a single vertical tail fin, and a fuselage housing all applicable operating and mission-based components. The fuselage takes on a tear-drop shape from nose to tail and its wing mainplanes are straight appendages. A 360-degree traversing optics fit is located at the vehicle's center mass at the belly. The UAV's compact dimensions and lightweight, rugged construction allow for ease of transport - by way of a hard case or backpack.
The 15lb GCS allows for remote-piloting of the Desert Hawk III with full tracking support and control of up to four Desert Hawk III UAV vehicles through the single GCS. A hand-held controller is provided and operators are specially trained in the handling, operation, launching, and recovery of this UAV system. Waypoints can be preprogrammed into the unit and fed to the UAV which allows for automated flights over target areas - launching and landing actions are solely controlled by the operator. The GCS showcases in-flight retasking, a moving map display, mission playback feature, and other capabilities.
The Desert Hawk III series supports Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and can undertake SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT) and COMmunications INTelligence (COMINT) sorties as well through a "Plug-and Playloads" design feature. It can be outfitted with InfraRed (IR) sensors, Electro-Optical (EO) sensors, Long Wave InfraRed Imager (LWIR) equipment, and a laser illuminator to provide the necessary surveillance capabilities required by modern warfighters in-the-field. Versatility is a plus as operations can be held in both day and night time environments.
At one point, the Lockheed Desert Hawk III made up nearly half of the UK UAV inventory. It has also seen service with American forces.