Drones could “allow the opportunity” for Britain to put an air wing on both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales at the same time.

The current plan is for two aircraft carriers and one air wing that would sail on whichever aircraft carrier is being held at “very high-readiness”. It was however suggested at a Defence Select Committee evidence session that drones might allow for a second carrier  air wing. The transcript is below.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin:

“Are we matching what the Department has always said, which is that the carrier full operating capability matures at the end of 2024 and needs to be able to deploy 24 jets on an aircraft carrier? We are absolutely on track to be able to do that, and I think that has always been a very clear aspiration and it has been laid out.

Within the Navy—so not yet a departmental plan—how might we be able to look to provide a second carrier air wing? In the modern world, does that mean purely more jets, or is it what I think most of us would see as being a hybrid force of both jets and drones?”

Chair: “Littoral.”

Admiral Tony Radakin:

“No, drones from the aircraft carrier. If you look at what is going on with the Air Force and their Mosquito and LANCA programme, and if you saw what happened in September with HMS Prince of Wales flying the first jet drone, that is the area that we want to pursue. Then we can start to give Ministers choices around whether or not it might be feasible, but not at the expense of buying lots of expensive aircraft even more quickly. Are there opportunities with the cost of drones? Does it become a better offensive capability to blend drones with crewed jets? And does that then start to allow you the opportunity for two carrier air wings to marry up with both carriers?”

Drones on the carriers?

Carrier based ‘Vixen’ drones are being considered for a range of missions including combat, aerial refuelling and airborne early warning but what could they look like?

According to an official Royal Navy publication, titled Future Maritime Aviation Force, which was originally published in December 2020, the Royal Navy aims to replace its helicopter-based airborne early warning (AEW) platform, the Merlin HM2 Crowsnest, with a fixed-wing UAV, currently known as Vixen, by 2030.

The Royal Navy also expects to utilise Vixen in surveillance, air-to-air refueling, electronic warfare and strike roles. A slide from the publication shows that Vixen could be used for airborne early warning, strike, aerial refuelling and more.

You can read more about the aerial surveillance side of things by clicking here and the aerial refuelling aspect by clicking here.

What will they look like?

Project Vixen also parallels the Mosquito project, part of the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) initiative.

What will the Royal Navy’s new Vixen jets look like?

Naval Technology reported here that the Royal Navy and RAF are working together to study potential platforms for Mosquito and Vixen, suggesting that a common drone could be fielded fby both services.

We reported recently that the uncrewed fighter aircraft demonstrator for LANCA, known as Mosquito, will begin a flight-test programme in 2023.

Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin, gave a keynote speech at the RUSI Combat Air Power conference outlining the plan.

“Our £30m contract to design and manufacture the prototype for an uncrewed fighter aircraft, known as Mosquito, is supporting more than 100 jobs in Belfast. In 2023 we will be looking to conduct a flight-test programme for the demonstrator.”

Known as a ‘loyal wingman’, these aircraft will be the first uncrewed platforms able to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and intercept surface to air missiles.

“The uncrewed combat aircraft will be designed to fly at high-speed alongside fighter jets, armed with missiles, surveillance and electronic warfare technology to provide a battle-winning advantage over hostile forces. Known as a ‘loyal wingman’, these aircraft will be the UK’s first uncrewed platforms able to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive against surface to air missiles.”

CGI of Mosquito via Spirit AeroSystems.

Team MOSQUITO, which also includes Northrop Grumman UK, will mature the designs and manufacture a technology demonstrator to generate evidence for the LANCA programme.

If successful, Project Mosquito’s findings could lead to this revolutionary capability being deployed alongside the Typhoon and F-35 Lightning jets by the end of the decade.

“The Project will deliver a demonstration of a capability that the RAF may wish to develop further in the future,” a spokesperson from the RAF said.

“It is not intended to output an operational capability at this stage, but it will inform future decisions for the future UK combat air capability.  We are exploring the optimum way in which such capabilities could complement platforms such as Typhoon, F-35, and Tempest.”

Most commentators believe that Vixen and Mosquito are likely to share a common platform.

How will the drones be launched?

Earlier, we reported that the Ministry of Defence is currently seeking information on the potential for industry provide assisted launch and arrested recover systems for a range of air vehicles, which would be suitable to fit to a vessel within 3 – 5 years.

The Ministry of Defence say that this request for information is to support the development of the Royal Navy’s Future Maritime Aviation Force (a presentation on which is where the slide above came from) with potential for use with both crewed and un-crewed air vehicles.

The Ministry of Defence add that it is looking to assess the availability of electromagnetic catapult, and arrestor wire systems for the launch and recovery of air vehicles.

While the Request for Information looks to assess the “availability of electromagnetic catapult and arrestor wire systems to launch aircraft” from a ship, words associated with the previous effort to explore converting the vessels to ‘CATOBAR’ in order to launch carrier variant F-35Cs, it shouldn’t be taken as indication that the Royal Navy are abandoning the short take off and vertical landing F-35Bs and returning to catapult launched fighters. On the contrary, they’re looking to augment the F-35Bs.

In fact, the upper and lower weight limits of the catapult and recovery system outlined aren’t enough to launch or recover any variant of the F-35 in normal conditions.

The launch and recovery options mentioned would be utilised for larger uncrewed aircraft as the armed forces begin to rely on them more and more in place of crewed platforms.

Anyway, on to the Request for Information itself.

“Potential supplier and interested parties are invited to provide information in relation to potential solutions which are sufficiently technically mature to be fitted to a suitable ship from 2023.”

According to the Request for Information, the Ministry of Defence have set out the following requirements.

“Potential arrestor solutions ideally should offer:
a. Max trap 47000lbs / 21318Kg
b. Min trap 11000lbs / 5000Kg
c. Energy damping method
d. Potential for energy reclamation

Potential catapult solutions ideally should offer:
a. Max launch weight 55000lbs / 24949Kg
b. Electrical power input required against launch cycle time.”

According to the Ministry of Defence, the intended outcomes of the Request for Information are as follows:

“a. Develop further MoD understanding of the different technologies and capabilities available in the market, both current and emerging.
b. Alignment of potential future MoD requirements with industry standards and processes for procurement of maritime un-crewed and autonomous capabilities; and,
c. Enable the Authority to develop a procurement strategy that will deliver best value for money for Defence.”

The Royal Navy say that the DEVELOP Directorate leads the development of the Royal Navy’s future warfighting capability and “acts as the platform for the through-life capability for all maritime capabilities in order to achieve the optimum mix of present and future warfighting technologies for a modern, global and ready Royal Navy”.

The Royal Navy is driving hard to introduce a range of un-crewed air vehicles and to “give wider options for the use of different air vehicles types within the Fleet”.

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Ron
Ron
4 days ago

I still think a standard carrier wing should be 24 F35Bs, four Merlins for Crowsnest,( when Crowsnest is replace then four of the replacment type), eight Merlins (mix ASW, Troop), four Wildcats, four Apaches and 16 ‘Vixen’. A total airwing of 60 aircraft. Yes I know why Apache, a good anti swarm platform and with some skill get in close enough to kill any ship. The issue that I see is that if the Carriers and future Amphibious ships have their full helicopter compliments then there will not be enough for the frigates and destroyers. We have 30 Mk2s ASW,… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
4 days ago
Reply to  Ron

Regards the low numbers of helicopters. That is why I would rather see money increasing that fleet than large numbers of expensive F35B way beyond what is needed to utilise the potential of the carriers.

Regards the airwing, I don’t think Wildcat or Apache will play any regular part. Wildcat is needed on the escorts, and Apache with the land forces.
If the AAC Wildcat moved to the FAA that could change.

Steve R
Steve R
4 days ago

Part of me thinks maybe they should do that; give the Wildcats to the FAA and just go in with the RAF on a medium helicopter.

Could probably get 100+ Black Hawks for a good price and split them between AAC and RAF.

David Steeper
David Steeper
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Problem would be Yeovil would close.

Steve R
Steve R
3 days ago
Reply to  David Steeper

I thought I read somewhere that the US said they were potentially open to them being built here under licence.

David Steeper
David Steeper
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Apart from assembly it’s hard to think of how much work that would provide for Yeovil. If we changed it to provide more that would prob increase cost and def delay date we could get them into service.

john clark
john clark
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

The only problem with that Steve is they will be double the cost if we don’t buy them straight from US Army production lots.

We need to follow the highly successful AH64E procurement model.

Steve R
Steve R
3 days ago
Reply to  john clark

Even if they were double the cost it’s still less than a Wildcat, which is £26 million per airframe.

Angus
Angus
3 days ago
Reply to  David Steeper

How you figure that one? It’s a very large base and been a ‘SUPER’ base for decades. CHF there and all the wildcats which the RN use the major share of anyway. Not going to happen.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Angus

He means Yeovil helicopter factory, not the RNAS.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 days ago

Exactly can’t see Leonardo wanting to sling together Black Hawks. My major concern however would be the short sightedness of endangering our only helicopter design and build facility when the World is about to enter a whole new world of drone and eVtol air vehicles. We are already in a relatively poor position to exploit this sector and ‘Westland’ may not now be the best business to even exploit it but I certainly wouldn’t want to cut it out while this sector is in such flux for the skills and facilities there just may become crucial for a domestic supplier… Read more »

Tarnish
Tarnish
3 days ago
Reply to  Angus

Angus I think they are talking about Yeovil not Yeovilton.

Tarnish
Tarnish
3 days ago
Reply to  Tarnish

Daniele beat me to it.

Tommo
Tommo
2 days ago
Reply to  Tarnish

Yeovil Leonardo helicopter factory doubt if its RNAS Yeovilton Tarnish

Tarnish
Tarnish
2 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

That’s exactly what I am saying Tommo

Tommo
Tommo
2 days ago
Reply to  Tarnish

Okeedokee Tarnish

john clark
john clark
3 days ago
Reply to  David Steeper

That summaries the problem with UK defence procurement David. We should furnish equipment the military actually needs in a timely manner, instead of blowing eye watering amounts of cash reinventing the wheel on projects like Wildcat we can’t sell ( apart from tiny numbers) and the Army have no use for. If Leonardo wants to keep Yeovil open, then complete with a medium support helicopter as capable as Blackhawk, at a comparable level of reliability and the same guaranteed price point and delivery schedule. If they can’t, then the UK tax payer (and our defence budget) shouldn’t be paying huge… Read more »

David Steeper
David Steeper
3 days ago
Reply to  john clark

In my own mind i’m 50-50. Your argument is sound. But then you get into national security problems. We get into a conflict and the US, France or whoever supports the other side. They cut off weapons, spares etc for crucial kit. What would/could we do ? The other argument is economic the industries that supply our military employ people in constituencies around the country ensuring a lobby for defence spending. You can see why I struggle to find the right answer.

John Clark
John Clark
3 days ago
Reply to  David Steeper

Absolutely David, it’s a thorny problem.

For me personally Leonardo and the MOD blew my good will when they developed and funded the ridiculous Wildcat, though an excellent Naval helicopter, it’s utility version is about as much use as a chocolate tea pot!

Sales are dire and unlikely to change….

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 days ago
Reply to  john clark

That’s rather short sighted in various ways some I have covered elsewhere. It’s hardly to keep Leonardo in business, it’s about keeping sovereign capabilities and an important defence manufacturer invested in Britain literally and in mindshare which covers much more than helicopters. When you see how helicopter and drone technology is beginning to overlap and the potential within a decade or so to write off a potential centre of excellence would be something that likely will come back to seriously bite and cause a political and public outcry once any such short sightedness potentially came into vivid vision in a… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark
2 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Hi mate, I see your point, but would disagree. Our selection of Blackhawk, as opposed to a Leonardo or Airbus offering would have little impact on projects like Tempest. We lead the way with Tempest and as a potential massive international project, foreign contractors are now clambering to get on board. My concern over the Leonardo offering is that the MOD will insist on a series of modifications to create a bespoke UK solution that will sky rocket the price and cause serious delays and reduce numbers procured to the minimum. We all know development costs always run out of… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Could probably get 100+ Black Hawks for a good price and split them between AAC and RAF.”

Sold! Could have got those years ago for £300 million rather than 1 billion on Wildcats.

Usual problem, home build. Pros and Cons.

In some ways the cons hamstring the military.

Joe16
Joe16
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

I’d go AW149 built in Yeoville, but otherwise agree.
I know Blackhawks have the mass behind them to get really cheap orders, but the AAC and RAF combined don’t have enough aircrew for 100 airframes. Unlike Wildcat, the AW149 is not a custom platform and has very broad export potential, so I don’t see it becoming a billion-pound gold-plated restriction to airframe numbers. We could get the economic benefits of domestic production and still come in cheap enough for sufficient airframes for our needs (hopefully).

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
2 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Exactly, it has the advantage of being built here retaining the very important facilities and skills active and we have been promised the lead for military sales of the platform while benefiting from Leonardo world wide network, facilities, influence and reputation. You will never get that option again while if it doesn’t prove a great success then at least you have maintained the option for involvement in the new expansive drone sector if it proves an option and viable market for Yeovil to enter and if not then decide to close it down and accept you will forever more be… Read more »

Joe16
Joe16
2 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Exactly, I think it makes sense in the long run if we can just avoid making too many spec changes that only suit us.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that AW are licence building one of the Boeing (?) tilt-rotor aircraft and building up an understanding of them. If we want a hope of a domestically produced future vertical lift platform to replace merlin et al, it’s worth keeping Yeovil going.

john clark
john clark
3 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

Spot on Steve, Wildcats to the Navy, additional Apaches for scouting and a big buy of Blackhawk for the RAF and Army.

We won’t of course, we will spend substantially mone money on 30 or 40 of the Italian offering, reinventing the wheel.

It’s how we conduct procurement in the UK, piss the money away….

AlexS
AlexS
3 days ago
Reply to  john clark

Wildcats area a waste as RN uses them.
RN need medium helicopters with +100km range missile and ASW capability.

Army: AW 149
Navy: Merlin

We won’t of course, we will spend substantially mone money on 30 or 40 of the Italian offering, reinventing the wheel.

There is no reinvention, AW 149 are operational and are part of a big family, several AW 189 (AW 149 civilian version) operate in Britain including HM rescue service in naval SAR.

John Clark
John Clark
3 days ago
Reply to  AlexS

I take your point Alex, but you know as I do that the MOD will add a whole level of sophistication and cost to the basic design, countermeasures, increased lifting weights, power etc, leading to gear box upgrades, structural alterations and on and on…

They will specify, this, specify that and it will progressively get bogged down and very expensive, you just know it!

Blackhawk, is tough, affordable, utterly proven, reliable, upgraded and available almost immediately.

It also allows the possibility of procuring Pave Hawk special operations versions to compliment our Chinook SF force too.

AlexS
AlexS
2 days ago
Reply to  John Clark

Why the MOD would want to change the AW149 but not the Blackhawk?

John Clark
John Clark
2 days ago
Reply to  AlexS

Well basically Alex because the Blackhawk is already a fully developed and matured medium battlefield helicopter.

It could be flown into Benson next year.

The AW149 isn’t fully developed as such, requiring considerable development work to meet the necessary specifications.

It’s an unknown quantity and I’ll guarantee its unit price will be at least double the Blackhawk or more…

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
2 days ago
Reply to  AlexS

And it’s sister copter from which it is derived is a massive seller even in the US. Committing to it is a risk like any programme but is it worth copping out of to get a load of cheap Blackhawks to do the business for a while and then nothing to offer thereafter as a benefit. Geez if we have that attitude why bother with Tempest or Mosquito et al and just buy far cheaper off the shelf options, indeed we should never have built Typhoon and thus lost the ability to even build those new projects. This Country has… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
2 days ago
Reply to  john clark

It’s actually the way nearly all growing defence spending Countries are increasingly working in fact from India, through Turkey to Australia. All are trying to bring skills and output onshore rather than simply buying the cheapest option abroad. We have already seen how British ability to sell missiles abroad has been deliberately sabotaged by the US to the extent we have removed their tech to enable foreign sales so taking this even further into reliance on others affecting sovereign skills seems very short sighted to me. The fact that Australia in particular are committing to a longer term sovereign defence… Read more »

Cripes
Cripes
2 days ago
Reply to  Steve R

The Wildcat AH1s have a specific and valuable role in the AAC. They are the stealthy forward recon that locates and lights up enemy positions, for the Apaches, lying below the treeline or ridge, to pop up and blast them. That is the route the US is going down too, it concluded that the Apache was not so good in the recon role, replacing the Lakota, and was very vulnerable. One of two competing designs for the future US replacement is in fact very similar to the Wildcat in size and layout. The big difference in the US army is… Read more »

James Fennell
James Fennell
3 days ago

TBH we need two relatively cheap LPHs, or to somehow make two MRSS per LRG have the same aviation capability. The LRGs will carry a 250 strong FCF battlegroup which is designed to be deployed over the horizon by air, so that would ideally require 8+ Merlin + an Apache/Wildcat package and UAVs for each LRG.

Last edited 3 days ago by James Fennell
Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Agree. Radakin is on record as saying it was a pity the Aircraft Carrier Alliance was wound up before it could produce a couple more LPHs.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
2 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

That would have been LPH’s instead of the River B2’s?

I agree that having honed large warship construction down to a pretty fine art we then shut that down and kept a skeleton key yard staff to build the B2’s.

How on earth we would crew two LPH’s I have no idea given that Ocean had to cut to crew PoW?

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Agreed.

Goldilocks
Goldilocks
3 days ago
Reply to  Ron

90 RN helo’s are alright, not great but good

Joe16
Joe16
3 days ago
Reply to  Ron

To be honest, I wouldn’t assign ASW (or air assault) Merlins to the carrier as part of the air wing, unless you’re thinking of distributing them out to the ASW frigates? I’m not aware of the USN operating their ASW airframes from the carrier, they distribute them out to the Burkes to actually do the job even if they are officially part of the air wing. That being the case, it would relieve the strain on helicopter numbers slightly, because I think you’re “double dipping” for the ASW role by assuming that the attached frigates in the carrier group will… Read more »

OOA
OOA
3 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

This..

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Sold!

James Fennell
James Fennell
3 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Yup. Although our escorts can only carry one Merlin apiece, so that’s four, and RN seems to like Wildcat with the CSG for force protection work. On CSG21 the Vertrep HC4 cabs were farmed out on Fort Victoria.

Joe16
Joe16
3 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Yeah, I’d only want the Merlin on the T26s though, with Wildcats on the T45s. Merlin sticks with the specialist ASW platform, and can be augmented by the faster flying Wildcat from the T45 (who may be out of position for carrying out ASW because of their AAD mission) if necessary. Most of the time the T45-based Wildcat can be used for force protection out at the edges of the CSG. I’m still looking at 4 dedicated ASW platforms on the escorts though, because of the Firescout-type drone. I believe the RN are looking at rotary wing drones as well… Read more »

James Fennell
James Fennell
3 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

Yes on firescout / AW Hero. Should be at least 2 in the T26 mission bay for ASW missions. They can maintain persistent surveillance with the Merlin put up to prosecute contacts,

Last edited 3 days ago by James Fennell
Joe16
Joe16
2 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Yes, exactly that. The Firescout B and C models have endurance of up to 12 hours and are actively deployed by the USN with all kinds of ISR fits, while also being capable of launching their equivalent to martlet. They even did tests of it launching sonobuoys and stuff with Ultra.

Deep32
Deep32
2 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Evening James, not entirely sure what you mean by Firescout/AW Hero conducting persistent ASW surveillance?

You go through an awful lot of Sonobuoys when trying to locate/track a SSN/SSK, it’s one of the reasons Merlin has a dipping sonar.

These drones won’t be conducting ASW ops by themselves, but acting as a mule, carrying extra sonobuoys or lightweight torpedoes.

James Fennell
James Fennell
2 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

Hi Deep. Loitering in a designated search box and conducting the initial detection takes up much of the airframe hours of MPAs and helicopters – UAS can do this for longer and much more cheaply. Other sensors such as MAD and underwater imaging can also be used, or an onboard processor connected with seabed sensors (the US have developed a subsurface laser imaging system called LASH). Obviously radar to detect masts and surfaced subs. Sonorbouys can also be dropped. The UAS can be on station for longer than the Merlin searching boxes, allowing the crewed platform to respond to and… Read more »

Last edited 2 days ago by James Fennell
Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  James Fennell

What existing UAS can do all of that from a frigate?

Deep32
Deep32
19 hours ago
Reply to  James Fennell

Evening James, thanks for the reply. Yes, appreciate much of the airframe hours are taken up transmitting,/searching for targets, but that’s SM hunting for you. All of the ait assets are usually queued onto a search area by other assets – normally something with a TA, and or IUSS data. Afraid I’m a bit of a sceptic when it comes to oft quoted capabilities of drones. Not just UAVs, but especially XLUUV types. I can see the attractions of using them in this fashion, but remain unconvinced of their abilities to actually do it at present. Certainly as sensor technology… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS
2 days ago
Reply to  Joe16

I agree Joe, i would maximize the attack force the carrier. if the AEW can be put into a destroyer/cruiser even better.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Joe16

Quite a bit of nonsense in Joe’s post. The Royal Navy puts all the ASW Merlins onto a carrier because that’s the best place to maintain and operate them from. The escort ships do not deploy ASW Merlins. The function they perform is ASW defence of the CSG. The carriers are equipped to carry a force of Royal Marines that would be deployed by Merlins of both types. Wildcats are deployed on the escorts to provide close in group protection. The carriers were designed to carry 36 fast jets and 14 Merlin sized helicopters. If both carriers were deployed together,… Read more »

Last edited 1 day ago by Ron5
Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron5

PS the Junglie Merlins were primarily deployed to the RFA to perform VERTREP.

Joe16
Joe16
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron5

There’s nothing like the internet to influence one’s choice of words towards the combative, is there?! No worries, I’ll admit that I have never served in the navy, so my thinking may not match up with the practicalities of it. In my head, the T26s are at the very edge of the CSG when they’re not having a PHOTEX- potentially 10-20 km away from the carrier at the centre (maybe even more?). To me it makes far more sense to have the ASW Merlins flying from them, rather than have to add ~30 km+ flight time to an ASW sortie… Read more »

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Joe16

My advice: Try researching why the Royal Navy do things the way they do before offering opinions on how you would do it differently.

Joe16
Joe16
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron5

Thanks, I will. Any sources?

George Parker
George Parker
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron

Ron, shuffling the pact is no substitute for investment in hard assets. The primary role of the carrier is to permit our air power to be projected globally. That means our most accomplished and ONLY fixed wing carrier capable aircraft, currently the F35B. The FAA should have sufficient airframes to fully equip both carriers and have a reserve for BCR. Those in addition to a larger number of RAF F35’s of whatever model is deemed best for their needs. I suspect F35A or even F35C given it’s longer range. That is until Tempest can be introduced “like for like.” One… Read more »

Ron
Ron
1 day ago
Reply to  George Parker

Hi George, I agree, if I could find the money I would make sure that the carriers had three squadron each of F35Bs plus ‘Vixen’ type drones. Plus the required reserve that would mean about 120 F35Bs just for the FAA. Whilst many would mention cost, mapower etc what a lot of people would need to understand from my point of view is that the RAF would operate from where we have airbases UK,Europe, Gib, Cyprus etc. The RN with with the FAA would operate where there are no air bases available. The RAF for its combat wings requires three… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
3 days ago

This is *probably* the future for Western air wings, some kind of hybrid manned/unmanned squadron set-up.

The issue is the manufacturing them, if we are going to build these drones, they have to be treated as an asset that can be quantitatively superior than an unmanned system. IE we need to mass produce the sh!t out of them. Give the CHICOMs and Russians something to think about.

Thomas
Thomas
3 days ago
Reply to  Thomas

Sorry for the typo, I meant “superior than a ‘manned’ system.”

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago
Reply to  Thomas

Hi Thomas,

That would certainly work well for a land based system as you can build up a stockpile of spares that you can quickly access if and when needed.

Not so easy for a carrier to access the stockpile if it is deployed out of area. So I would suggest a mix of high end and cheap(er) systems… However,…

Cheers CR

Steve
Steve
3 days ago
Reply to  Thomas

It’s more than just building. Is there a single unit that can do this that is anything other than a paper concept. First you need a built concept anywhere in the world that comes close to the ability, then you need to find a way to build them and build within budget, which will realistically happen for the bigger powers first. We are probably 20-30 years off that currently. Great vision for the future but I would be surprised if one of the carrier’s aren’t sold off well before the realistic application is there.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Thomas

Why do they have to be “qualitatively superior” to manned solutions?

Pretty sure the idea is for UAS to perform tasks that are on the whole either too boring or too dangerous for manned aircraft. NOT to perform every single thing the manned aircraft can do.

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
3 days ago

I see the RN moving towards UAV’s for AEW, AAR, loyal wingman combat roles and ASW. Obviously, not all from the same platform the latter role could see quadcopters dropping sonobuoys and or light weight torpedos and operating from escorts. As for the carrier air wings it all depends on how capable the new drones will be. If they can carry a good payload, say better than half the payload of an F35B and you can team 3 with a F35B then you are looking at a very capable combination. A drone in that bracket would be smaller than the… Read more »

SwindonSteve
SwindonSteve
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Do you really think that they might convert/add-on cats to the QE’s?

Whilst feasible, I do wonder whether they might just shift that whole drone launch and recovery operation to a cheaper to produce ‘drone carrier’ – for exactly the reasons you mention about sortie rate and choreography.

We’d only need two of them.

Goldilocks
Goldilocks
3 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

My idea is a a largish drone to be launched off the QEC’s future catapult that’s main job is AEW but is capable of Aerial Refuelling as well – Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) could be delivered by a similar platform. This approach is like the USN – latest E-2’s perform AEW and Aerial Refuelling whilst the C-2 Grayhound is based on the E-2 but is modified for transport and COD. For the US they usually operate 5 E-2’s or a squadron – so maybe that’s what we do and then 2 COD drones – the US also has five fighter… Read more »

Daveyb
Daveyb
3 days ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

The E2 definitely does do air to air refuelling, receiving yes, giving no! The USN currently uses its F/A-18s for air to air refuelling, using its internally fuel plus that housed in five large external fuel tanks, which is killing their airframe hours. These will be replaced by Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray UAV, which is currently going through its trials program. It has already been used to refuel all the USNs carrier based aircraft (F/A-18, F35C, V22 and E2C/D) except helicopters, it has yet to land on a carrier. The USN are also looking at using the Stingray in a limited… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 days ago

Just wondering how many drones an F35 could support before the pilot would become overwhelmed by the workload/information overload. I know Israel was looking at the case for a two seater version of the F35, but not seen anything recently.

Deep32
Deep32
3 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan

An often overlooked point when posts about drones doing this and that appear! If the F35 were a 2 seater then yes I can see them controlling several at once, but isn’t it a big ask for one person??

Jonathan
Jonathan
2 days ago
Reply to  Deep32

Yes there was a very good reason a lot of 4 generation strike aircraft were 2 seater. There was a very good study ( I’ve lost the link) that looked at the effectiveness of 2 seater strike aircraft vs single seat and the was a great increase in effectiveness. I know the theory was that 5 generation aircraft would reduce the pilot burden and increase awareness making one person as or more effective as two. But I’m pretty sure all that modelling of workload was based around present weapons and sensors and not the work load to control drone swarms… Read more »

expat
expat
2 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan

And probably why China has produced a 2 seater J20.

Deep32
Deep32
2 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan

A 2 seater F35 will be an interesting concept, as it creates all sorts of new problems from a stealth perspective! If you keep the size as is, then something else (fuel/payload) will have to give.
It’s probably a much needed capability, certainly helps with the workload, just can’t see it happening, it would be v expensive in an already expensive programme.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Jonathan

You are thinking that drones would be “flown” by their controllers. That’s a misconception.

You should be thinking more like: go to this area, patrol it and let me know if you find anything that could be a target.

Or: keep station on me, 50 miles to my port and 50 miles ahead and send me any interesting radar returns.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron5

Hi Ron, but remember we are talking about weaponised drones, keeping track of the information flows as well as targeting, firing weapons will always be more affective with a two man crew. I’m not seeing western nations giving complete autonomy to engage and destroy to any armed heuristic system anytime soon, which means a person will need to keep satiation awareness and control.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Jonathan

I don’t agree that a 2nd crewman is required. Neither do the air forces that are developing such systems. Nor do I agree giving UAS autonomy automatically confers the ability of the drone to engage targets without human intervention.

Don’t forget that the levels of autonomy that can be applied to UAS can also be applied to the manned aircraft to ease the pilot’s workload.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron5
Ron5
Ron5
21 hours ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Interesting. Thank you 👍

Jonathan
Jonathan
21 hours ago
Reply to  Ron5

No worries, the diplomat is a nice little journal around Asia/Pacific geopolitical movements/defence and is always worth a check out for anyone with an interest in the field.

Daddy Mack
Daddy Mack
3 days ago

Sounds great on paper but how far away is a naval capable unmanned drone?
I believe the US have signed a deal with Boeing for refueling planes recently, but thats alot different from a fully combat capable fighter/loyal wingman?
Seems to me the politicians are getting their excuses in early for not commiting to buy more F35, rather than the RN getting new capability.

Last edited 3 days ago by Daddy Mack
Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
2 days ago
Reply to  Daddy Mack

Yes Northrop got very pissed off with that decision and didn’t even compete for the refuelling drone despite being the most advanced drone manufacturer. It will most like come back into its own on strike drones though be it the airframes or just it’s AI platform. Glad to see it as part of the UK programme even though much of that proven capability will not one presumes be directly accessible due to US restrictions. But at least they know and can advise the best roads to head down no doubt so not reinvent various wheels and save development time.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Daddy Mack

Loyal Wingman types are flying today as prototypes. The RAF one will fly next year so they’re not too far away.

Although I do share your cynicism 100%

Paul.P
Paul.P
3 days ago

Will these be RN drones or RAF drones….?
I’ll get my coat… -)

Jonathan
Jonathan
2 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

Army

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
2 days ago
Reply to  Paul.P

As long as they don’t drone on too much 🙂

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Paul.P

The question ought to be: should they be RN drones or not?

Ron Stateside
Ron Stateside
3 days ago

Only 36 comments? Mostly about helicopters? I think the carrier groups are going to be losing helicopters and replacing them with drones (AEW & Anti-Submarine), freeing the helos up for other escorts. I see a mix of F35B, Top Cover/Wingman Drone (Vixen?), and MQ-25 Stingray catapult-launched or something similar. The AEW drone could also be catapult-launched & fixed-wing and maybe have 12 hours endurance. So 3 of those to replace 4-5 Merlins? Wildcats on the escorts and maybe you only wind up needing a couple of Merlins on the carrier for utility. Then you could have something like a little… Read more »

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago
Reply to  Ron Stateside

I don’t think we are going to see UK refueling drones. The carriers are not set up (and could not be setup without huge expense) to operate anything as large as they would have to be.

F-35B’s with drop tanks is much more likely.

simon alexander
simon alexander
3 days ago

this could be genius or a very expensive dead end. just to say i like cats but currently don’t have any at home, vet bills have massively gone up and the heartbreak if one did not return home.

Ron5
Ron5
1 day ago

Dogs are better. Quite a few in the RN’s past to chose from.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
2 days ago

Australia seems to be moving forward with Loyal Wingman.

“The RAAF announced that the second Loyal Wingman prototype performed its maiden flight in early November, while the first aircraft raised and engaged its landing gear for the first time during recent a flight at Woomera in South Australia.”

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/air-platforms/latest/australia-progressing-loyal-wingman-development-programme

Last edited 2 days ago by Nigel Collins
expat
expat
2 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins
expat
expat
2 days ago

Interesting and not unrelated read. Honed in on this, so in Mosquito also Vixen in another configuration.

 modular design of the Mosquito airframe allowed for five different wing shapes to be interchanged with a fuselage in 10 minutes. Different payloads could also be easily added or removed. 

https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2021-11-08/storm-warning-comes-uk-form-project-tempest

Last edited 2 days ago by expat
Airborne
Airborne
2 days ago

As a force multiplier to spread out the F35s maybe, but certainly not as a stand alone air wing of drones surely. But with the speedy advances in drone/UAV tech who knows!

George Parker
George Parker
1 day ago

I want to be 40 years younger and serve through this new era.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
1 day ago

I think the first priority should be getting 2 wings set up, even if they half fill each carrier and can double up for a full wing if needed. That could do the job for next few years while we have 2 carriers on the ocean. I don’t know how long 2 carriers will be at sea so take advantage while they can

Max
Max
1 minute ago

What about taranus? Or was that just a demonstration platform?