A new era of dawn patrols has arrived in the Australian Capital Territory with the deployment of Army Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to monitor spot fires during the early morning hours when conventional aircraft are preparing for the demanding hours ahead.

Integrated into the extensive ACT Emergency Services Agency’s intelligence collection capabilities, the small reconnaissance aircraft are fitted with an infrared video camera which is ideal for looking into the heart of a spot fire.

The Wasp III Small Unmanned Aircraft System, a light-weight air platform that provides beyond-line-of-sight imagery, is being used to observe the Orroral Valley fire.

The aircraft is equipped with two on-board cameras to provide real-time intelligence to its operators, and its small size makes it easier than larger unmanned aircraft to integrate into the air movements coordination that is necessary in modern firefighting.

Gunner Scott Fressand, of the 20th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, is a team member operating the Wasp III over the burning slopes of Mount Tennant, near the village of Tharwa in the south of the ACT.

He said the system was normally used at the tactical level for tasks such as providing imagery of what is over the next hill.

“For this operation we’ve been watching the fire and looking for spot fires, which can be concealed by smoke,” he said.

“Then we relay the information to our headquarters. It’s been great to help, and it’s a valuable tool to use at a time of day when other air assets aren’t available.”