The Royal Air Force’s new squadron of “network-enabled swarm drones” may not be ready by the end of 2019, despite Gavin Williamson’s claim that they will be.
In his speech, Williamson said “we expect to see these [drones] ready to be deployed by the end of this year”.
Many cast doubt on this claim early on, with Ulrike Franke, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, highlighting that drone programs historically take far longer to enter service.
So somehow I don't see Britain deploying "swarm squadrons of network enabled #drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences" by the end of the year. But if Williamson proves me wrong, I'd be more than happy to write about this. (end)
— Ulrike E Franke (@RikeFranke) February 11, 2019
When asked about the new drones, the MoD told us that “the details of who will build the drones, the tender process and the technology which will be employed, will be developed over the 3-year programme“.
The statement implies the programme is still in the very early stages, with the build plan and the technology the drone will use still yet to be decided. The statement also confirms it will be built under a tender process; a competition will be opened to industry partners to apply for the contract.
Some have even suggested therefore that 3 years is optimistic – there’s some doubt as to whether the technology for ‘networked swarming’ is currently ready.
Fundamentally therefore, “deployed by the end of this year” would appear to be deeply optimistic. But moreover, the MoD’s plan for the drones’ procurement directly conflicts Gavin Williamson’s plan.
The full response from the Ministry of Defence can be found below.
Question: Regarding the “swarm squadrons of network enabled drones” – who will these be built by?
- Will the process be completive?
- Is there existing technology or will JFC innovation be needed?
Answer: “The RAF will form a new squadron with a new concept, able to deploy swarms of network-enabled drones. The details of who will build the drones, the tender process and the technology which will be employed, will be developed over the 3-year programme”.