HMS Tamar has made extensive use of a small Puma remotely piloted aircraft during trials as the ship practices for ‘constabulary duties’ when she deploys for the first time this summer.
The Royal Navy say that constabulary duties – counter piracy/terrorism/smuggling – are a key role of the new batch of River-class ships.
“Typically the vessels will work with Royal Marines boarding teams – a 50-man mess has been built into the ships to accommodate them. But there may be occasions when Tamar may be called on to work with local law enforcement agencies (such as her sister HMS Medway has been doing in the Caribbean, striking at drug-runners with the US Coast Guard).
The combined training with the Metropolitan Police in the Channel proved extremely useful for both the Navy and UK’s largest police force. The Met used Tamar as their ‘floating headquarters’, turning her into a command and control vessel to marshal their RIB speed boats. The latter are used to the sheltered waters of the Thames – their normal domain ends at Dartford Creek – and found operating in the choppy Channel rather difficult.”
Puma is relatively cheap – certainly much cheaper than sending a helicopter up – easy to launch and recover, is difficult for foes to spot and keeps the ship out of harm’s way. In short, Puma gave Tamar ‘eyes in the sky’.
“The Puma could fulfil some of the helicopter’s intelligence-gathering role – with its 50-times zoom camera it feeds live footage back to a mother ship at ranges up to a dozen miles. Building on their experiences aboard HMS Albion in the Mediterranean last year, a team from 700X Naval Air Squadron – the Fleet Air Arm’s only pilotless squadron – brought their drone to Tamar.
Just over 4½ft long, with a wingspan of 9ft and weighing as much as six bags of sugar, Puma can survey an area of up to 270 square miles of ocean – that’s larger than Greater Manchester – looking for suspicious activity during sorties lasting up to 2½ hours.”