The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is looking at the use of small drones to deliver mail drops and other supplies to ships at sea.

According to this news release:

“The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) – whose ships and sailors have supported Royal Navy operations since 1905 with fuel, food, spare parts, ammunition and other supplies – is looking into the possibility of crewless aircraft performing some of the more routine, lighter duties. The classic image of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is of a tanker sailing parallel with a warship and either pumping fuel into its tanks via a hose, or transferring supplies in crates and on pallets on a jackstay line slung between the two vessels. But helicopters are also used extensively to move loads around the fleet, typically in large nets carried beneath the aircraft.

During the recent Carrier Strike Group deployment supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth’s mission to the Pacific and back, supply ship RFA Fort Victoria shipped nearly 900 loads to the carrier and other ships in the task group, encompassing food and drink, general stores, spare parts, medical supplies, mail and parts for F-35 stealth fighters and Merlin and Wildcat helicopters – over 354 tonnes of supplies in all – while tanker RFA Tidespring carried out 67 ‘vertical replenishments’ as they are known. While some loads are too heavy for current small-scale drones to transport, seven out of ten resupply missions involve the transfer of loads up to 100lbs/45kg, so the head of the RFA, Commodore David Eagles, wants to see if the work is ‘dronable’.”

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expat
expat
1 month ago

I do think this has taken too long to get to this stage. Drone capabilities have been getting better and better. The push in the auto sector will lead to battery revolutions over the next 10 years. imo UK has fallen behind and defence investment is key to driving commercial successes. Its also obvious flight deck space needs to be a key consideration for future vessels to allow multiples of drones to operate simultaneously.

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

Its a problem that you can see in a lot of countries. In the XXI centuries, the armies cannot be leading in edge technologies without massive investments, from money to politicians. Its something that only 3 countries are doing on the planet. In an overall range(All spectrum of technologies) => US and China(And that’s why they have a totally different level since the last 10y) In a limited range => Russia In the other hands, countries like France or UK, are not really giving the possibility to their defense industry to create real innovations, our industrials can really do this… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Hermes
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

I enjoy your posts Hermes. I can follow your English no problem at all.

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
1 month ago

😂

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Hi Hermes,

I like to hear from people from other countries. I find it very interesting to hear how others see us Brits.

Thank you for your posts and Merry Christmas.

CR

Deep32
Deep32
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Hi mate, have to say your English is a lot better then my French!!👍😂

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

My thought too! Mine is ****!

Stephen McCreadie
Stephen McCreadie
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

We’ve had world wide destruction and melting buildings in the past… Heading towards a re-run with laser tech…we just can’t help ourselves

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago

This is the story of Humankind.
From the moment when our ancestors was able to take a rock or a piece of wood to fight others…
Maybe the only thing older than wars are rapes…

Imagine what we will do in the future when the battle for moons, planets, stars will begin…

You just cant live if you see only these things.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Anyone watched The Expanse, a US professor recently wrote an interesting article upon how based on history that it is exactly how to expect expansion into the Solar System, with all the greed involved, will unravel. Not an encouraging thought but as we are now seeing with energy and resource shortages and how that is being exploited by powerful players political and industrial, it’s pretty much inevitable if society actually survives long enough to create a space roaming ‘civilisation’ that the same will happen… only worse.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Hermes, unfortunately you seem to have a warped view of innovation. The military complex historically is not a hotbed of innovation and never has been, except in extremis (times of war). Dictatorships like Russia and China produce few innovations and rely heavily on industrial espionage. The US is undoubtedly number 1 in industrial innovation, largely due to scale and the UK comfortably number two, largely due to wealth of talent and access to first class institutions. The uninformed media may paint this silly picture of Chinese surpascism but it is far from the truth. Just as Japanese surpascism was nonsense… Read more »

Hermes
Hermes
1 month ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Everyone use massively industrial spying to progress, nothing new under the sun. Its not a spec of Russia nor China. Also, China’s innovations are growing since the last decade, stop looking at them as primitives. Its clearly not the case. As for the UK in 2nd… Its clearly not the case… Far to be… Fine to be proud, but better to be realist. Just take a look for the numbers of patent for a country (Even if its not the most accurate, its the best data). (Data 2020) China (x4! for the last decade, from 300K to 1.4M!!) USA (Far… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Hermes
Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 month ago
Reply to  expat

I agree that it has taken too long – the new carriers were conceived of back in the 1997/8 Defence review. Why are we only just thinking about COD (Carrier On-board Delivery) now?
What did we do in the Invincible class era?
A heavy drone may well need a quite heavy cats and traps system – how much will that cost?

olanrewaju
olanrewaju
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Moore

Weren’t the QE carriers designed FBNW catapult systems in mind for future refits so as to allow for fighter wing diversification away from the F35b?
In the interim, isn’t there potential for heavy lift VTOL/STOVL drones? They could also relieve the Merlins from their supplementary AEW role.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
22 days ago
Reply to  olanrewaju

The QE carriers were originally going to be FBNW cats and traps – but that changed – deleted as a savings measure. Very short-sighted, as we are totally reliant on F-35B (or a similar successor) for the 50-odd years of hull life.

The Merlins fitted with Crowsnest are dedicated to AEW (its not a supplementary role for those helos), and don’t need replacing by a drone – that would waste all the money spent on Merlin/Crowsnest, and invoke another spend.

Pacman27
Pacman27
1 month ago

This is good thinking based upon good data that will save a load of money.

now we need to execute – if there’s a few crashes we can use as a learning experience and move on.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
1 month ago

Thats it then. The next set of cuts will scrap the Fleet Solid Support ships contract. Drones will re-supply the fleet when on active service. Herman Goering reasured the Wehrmacht 6th Army at Stalingrad that the Luftwaffe would re-supply them. Look what happened

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

I don’t think so David. The ammunition, fuel, solid stores, water, all still has to be stored on a ship. This is just another RAS method alongside the traditional. The need for the shipping remains.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago

Yes must admit when this was a subject on here that it was about long range supply which struck me as pushing limits. However if it is about short range delivery between ships in a fleet or perhaps close to land then a very different craft would be desirable. Electric e-VTOL, would surely be the ideal as long as a compact and folding design can be made practical. Can see why Bae and others are exploring the potential of such designs.

Max Jones
Max Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

These are replacing a role (one of several) of the Merlins on board the dry stores ships, they aren’t replacing the stores ships.

It means HC4s will be freed up for other jobs, it isn’t occupying anyone’s role. It’s not a bad thing at all.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Ha. Being picky though, the Reichsmarschall assured Hitler that 6th Army could be supplied, not the army.

Von Paulus and the other army generals knew the idea to be cobblers from the start, including the Luftwaffe General Von Richthofen commanding the assets involved.

Hitler was influenced by the previous successful airlift of supplies to the Demyansk pocket, where much of the transport fleet was lost.

Today, we are still cutting transport aircraft!

David Steeper
David Steeper
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Go on youtube and type TIK documentaries if you want to know anything related to Eastern Front in WW2.

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

During the 70s-90s we converted around 30 ASW helicopters – obsolete Wessex and then Sea King variants – for VERTREP and SAR by removing their ASW gear. However most VERTREP is for small items – essential spares, medical supplies, xmas mail, specialist engineering equipment and tools, personnel transfers and so on, the big stuff goes over on jackstays from the RFAs. With only 55 Merlins and 28 Wildcat, and increasing demand for ASW and Tac Lift helos for the CSGs and LRGs, it makes sense to use drones for VERTREP, to leave the Merlins and Wildcats free for their primary… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by James Fennell
Mark Forsyth
Mark Forsyth
1 month ago

The problem will be that once it gets to DE&S to spec the requirements, they will want a gold plated solution capable of working at -20 to + 50, in sea-states 0 to 10, with a range of 500 Nautical miles and capable of carrying 500 kg. What they would actually need for 70 to 80% of the “small tasks”, is a £5K max and can carry 25kg over line of sight. That way, mail etc could all be delivered to the “one” RFA ship by helicopter and then just divided up and “flown by drone” to the various ships… Read more »

Ian M
Ian M
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

Ah! DE&S, Disastrous Excuses and Stupidity🤬

Steve M
Steve M
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

not quite gold plated, but more than enough Nuuva V300 Cargo Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Slovenia (aerospace-technology.com) could be used to deliver mail to RFA / Carrier or any merlin capable flight deck.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Forsyth

Hi Mark, I couldn’t agree more. When it comes to developing the requirements there is often a lack of discipline and realism, however, to be fair there will need to be some ‘standards’ applied as these things will need to be capable of operating where the fleet does if the navy is looking to achieve the capabilities on that slide by 2030. The biggest challenge will be moving all of the Merlin’s back to ASW as they will need operationalised AEW drones with no ‘slack’ for off the shelf systems. That does not prevent DES cutting some slack on the… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

I agree if you can remove a load of small tastings like mail and small spares from the Merkin repertoire then flight hours, airframes and budgets are freed for core tasks..

chris stocken
chris stocken
1 month ago

For a viable UAV delivery system! They would need to be a fair old size. A decent cargo capacity would require fuel. But if it is just ship to ship over a mile or so? and just the mail for the Captin!!!!. I am not going to hold my breath.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

The big problem with all of these Electric vehicles is that the batteries are a very big problem around managing fire. If the batteries are damaged and you get chemical mixing they become a pretty difficult fire and explosion risk to manage. The create a runaway reaction that is self igniting and realises both toxic and explosive gas clouds. The greater the battery density the greater the risk, and electric vehicles ( especially large drones) need a very great battery cell density. The fire from a lithium Ion battery is considered a liquid fire and needs to be managed as… Read more »

expat
expat
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

That’s why the industry is looking to go solid state, it will remove the fire risk, increase discharge rates and decrease charging times. It’ll come because we all don’t want to spend 20-30 minutes recharging our cars at service stations.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a38349967/solid-state-lithium-batteries/

Steve
Steve
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The other issue is sheer mass, the power required for a large drone will be significant and if it needs to operate for a couple of hours to get all the supplies across, that problem gets bigger. As the batteries get bigger, you then need more power to lift the batties and bigger drone etc. Battery tech has come on a long way over recent years but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t quiet there for this type of activity.

Conventional fuel is probably a better option but that brings its own problems.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

That’s a good point Steve, the increase in car range comes from increasing the density and number of cells which is extra weight to carry, so electric air vehicles will always have significant range limitations, which is fine on land for specific roles, but more problematic for using at sea, a 30knot head wind will strip the range and if you only have 60 miles in the tank….you may end up with a few drones ditching…. Even with electric cars we will probably always have a selection of ranges as if your not really ever using a car for more… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Hybrid power packs.

Big enough battery to provide power for take of and landing boost – cruise on fuel cell or AVGAS?

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve

Battery swap systems are already operating in bikes at one end and trucks the other so I suspect if deemed a requirement it would be part of the equation until further progress has been made, probably available within the decade for military application, which in this case probably equates to a second gen machine by the time it becomes common place. Seems to me ICE systems would be a short life dead end accordingly and eVTOL while initially not perfect most like will have more advantages than disadvantages especially in terms of reliability and give a smoother ride to the… Read more »

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Why can’t we have a look at the Israeli mule drone?
Surly it fits the profile and would only need conversion to a bio fuel for the green crowd.
https://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/airmule-uav/
And it’s pretty well developed.

Ian
Ian
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark

Hi Mark
The mule drone looks the way to go… no cats & traps
I don’t think we need to worry about bio fuel though…..
Ian

Steve M
Steve M
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipistrel_Nuuva_V300 has better range/payload i think especially shore to ship rather than internal wihin fleet but could land on any ship.

Mark
Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve M

It’s just a paper plane at the moment 10yrs behind the mule which is actually flying and wouldn’t take to long to be trialled.

George Parker
George Parker
1 month ago

The development of these unmanned support systems is lagging behind and long overdue. Entirely down to poor planning and under funding.

Armchair Admiral
Armchair Admiral
1 month ago

Malloy already make heavy lift drones. Granted the range is not great but adequate for ship delivery.
They have already been trialled. Buy a batch. Get on with it, it is only by actually using these things that you see what’s really needed.
AA

James Fennell
James Fennell
1 month ago

Yes and Malloy are working with BAe on a version for the RN requirement.

Mark B
Mark B
1 month ago

Drones might not be pulling the trigger in the future but they will be involved in almost everything else.Countries which are in denial about that or don’t get their act together quickly enough will get a rude awakening.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago

Hope I’m wrong but I could see all these AI/drones being hacked & either falling out of the sky, being captured or attacking ourselves. Russia & China seem streets ahead of us in aggresive hacking.

Armchair Admiral
Armchair Admiral
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank62

Overland I might see that as being plausible, but for resupply/cross-decking etc at sea much less so. I have had a better look at the Malloy site, and their t400 drone is a whopper! Great graphics on the BAE underwater systems page with a merlin on the flight pad of a T26 frigate and three (torpedo) ? Carrying drones ahead of it. The sort of thing I want to see right now! Perhaps we might have to wait for the new lightweight torpedo, but nonetheless. I still like the Kingfisher depth charge idea as an additional layer of defence or… Read more »

olanrewaju
olanrewaju
1 month ago

When will we see RN airborne early warning drones on the QE carriers? Isn’t this an ideal role that could free up the Merlin’s?

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
5 minutes ago

this looks very interesting in regard to moving goods between fleet assets or ship to short and no doubt other uses over time. Seems a very good solution and until electric solutions become far more practical. Equally the general design itself will be complementary to that eventual transformation.

https://newatlas.com/drones/parallel-flight-technologies-firefly-drone/