The Ministry of Defence has reopened its Uncrewed Air Systems Heavy Lift Capability (UASHLC) Framework to address the current lack of market options and ensure rapid access to emerging technologies.

This initiative, valued at £95 million, seeks to accelerate the development of advanced autonomous heavy lift uncrewed air systems (UAS), particularly within the maritime domain.

According to the tender notice, the MOD explained the need to reopen the framework to ensure rapid access to emerging technologies. The notice stated, “The intention is to address the lack of current options in the market by increasing the number of delivery ready platforms in order to help support and develop the Authority’s understanding of the potential capabilities and operational uses for such Uncrewed systems.”

The framework, which will run until December 2027, invites industry partners to join and contribute to the development of cutting-edge UAS technologies. It aims to create an environment that supports rapid development and commercial exploitation, reducing the time to market for new UAS technologies.

The notice highlights, “The Authority will facilitate accelerated development of one or more Supplier UAS to meet or exceed the requirements of Authority defined Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), along with complementary and underpinning technologies that will enhance UAS operational capabilities.”

Key aspects of the framework are as follows:

  • Accelerated Development: The MOD will facilitate the accelerated development of supplier UAS to meet or exceed the defined Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). The framework is designed to “support and inform the development of Maritime operating concepts and enable assessment, analysis, exploration and evaluation of the use of UAS for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) payload delivery and broader UAS capabilities.”
  • Market Expansion: The framework is open to all industry partners capable of enhancing the heavy lift UAS market, including those offering novel technologies and capabilities such as payloads, fuels, software, and counter UAS technologies. The MOD states, “These underpinning and novel technologies and capabilities can encompass (but aren’t restricted to) payloads, fuels, software, and Counter UAS technologies (ground or platform based).”
  • Operational Confidence: The initiative aims to provide end-user confidence in the potential of UAS systems to deliver heavy payloads accurately over long distances. The MOD intends to, “provide Sponsor / User confidence in the potential for UAS systems to provide recoverable, adaptable, Autonomous/remotely piloted air systems, capable of accurately delivering heavy payloads at range.”
  • Evaluation and Acquisition: The framework will enable the MOD to identify and potentially fund viable solutions for further development and evaluation. It aims to “identify and as appropriate fund the most viable solutions in the market for accelerated further development in order to meet the Authority’s minimum requirements (the MVPs) within the timescales stated.”

The tender notice also mentions the importance of collaboration between suppliers and the MOD, as well as the potential for partnerships with other suppliers to drive innovation and efficiency.

Industry partners interested in participating in the UASHLC Framework must submit their applications by 17:00 on 12 August 2024. The MOD’s procurement process aims to attract a diverse range of suppliers, “ensuring that the best and most innovative technologies are brought forward to support the UK’s defence capabilities”.

This sounds familiar

We reported previously, back in 2021, that the UK was looking for ‘an autonomous maritime airborne heavy lift capability for the Royal Navy’.

The Royal Navy previously said that the use of unmanned air vehicles in the logistics role offers a range of advantages, including reduced costs, quicker missions, and the ship’s company not being exposed to certain risks.

“NavyX and DARE (Discover, Analysis and Rapid Exploitation) have been working with UK drone firm Malloy Aeronautics and Planck Aerosystems in the development of the unmanned air vehicles for the purpose of moving supplies onto ships.

The heavy-lift drone has already been put through its paces in the harsh environment of the Arctic Circle in the Royal Navy’s Autonomous Advance Force exercise. In northern Norway earlier this year, it proved it could be operated safely in all conditions and could successfully deliver stores.”

You can read more about the previous trials by following the link below.

Royal Navy trials heavy lift drones to supply ships at sea

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_833270)
10 days ago

Another £95 million gone? Add to the hundred something million the other day to study ABM ideas. So near quarter of a billion? So this money is being paid to “industry partners” to try and develop a product that can do x. So we can then ignore it, or say what you’ve come up with doesn’t meet the spec? Which it seems is our position on drones and UAV for many years. Are we going round in circles? And if they do come up with something, we pay them again to build it?! No wonder the MIC has got it… Read more »

FieldLander (@guest_833278)
10 days ago

Agreed. I am not convinced this will come up with a useful capability. What is considered heavy and how does it compare to Helicopter replenishment? I will not talk about RAS.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_833287)
10 days ago
Reply to  FieldLander

I assume this expenditure is in the R&D budget?
I also keep hearing we need better procurement and be smarter with the big budget MoD have.
So, is this actually smart? I’m not convinced.
And why exactly does is cost that amount? Is that wages? The fuel bill? Coffee machine? Do flight trials of a small machine like a Drone cost that much?
If so, why?
I hope Healey makes sense of it. I may even start to support the bloke.

Jon (@guest_833307)
10 days ago
Reply to  FieldLander

There were two strands to heavy lift: Maritime Intra-theatre lift (MITL) – entry payload 100kg; MVP 200kg; Stretch 300kg; range entry 5nM; MVP 10nM; Stretch 50nM. Maritime Inter-theatre lift – entry payload 50kg; MVP 75kg; Stretch 125kg; range entry 150nM; MVP 300nM; Stretch 550nM For some reason, the MITL requirement now seems to be running at the stretch goal of 300kg, and despite the Malloy prototype T-600 comfortably exceeding the MVP goal of 200kg at 30km (16nm), nobody is ordering any. The same is true of the Windracers drone on inter-theatre. Capable of carrying 100kg for 1000km (539nm), and despite… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Jon
FieldLander (@guest_833328)
10 days ago
Reply to  Jon

Let’s stick to the Helo, me thinks, at least until someone develops a worthwhile capability. Needs to be able to deliver more than the post and the papers (oh we do not need those now).

Sarah (@guest_833437)
10 days ago
Reply to  FieldLander

Looks like this is what is happening

Tomartyr (@guest_833485)
10 days ago
Reply to  FieldLander

They can deliver a stingray 20km+, that could potentially free the Merlin’s up for more distant threats.
We won’t know till we buy.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_833305)
10 days ago

Totally, a hell of a lot of money, for doing exactly what and why does it all cost so much to do? As you say Daniele, hope Mr Healey will clamp down on the easy million of monies-go-round and hold people and processes to be accountable.

BigH1979 (@guest_833322)
10 days ago

Im guessing that because technologies are emerging so quickly that MOD keep looking ‘around the corner’. However my first instincts are to support a framework that keeps the MOD engaged with industry and all over the R&D. I guess that some of the £95 mil is the price of access to the IP nowadays?

BigH1979 (@guest_833326)
10 days ago
Reply to  BigH1979

PS Looks like a great time for me to get into UAS Project Engineering.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_833330)
10 days ago

Do you think anyone ever has the idea of sitting down in a quiet room and thinking “what do our armed forces actaully need?” I’m not talking about the upcoming Strategic Defence Cuts Review, just simple question and answer stuff.🙇

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke (@guest_833335)
10 days ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Yup but that list then gets twisted out of shape due to:- sunk costs/ongoing projects; political placing of contracts (marginal constituencies); keeping skills alive (Westland); ship building (SNP); not annoying the US; not annoying the French too much (unless it is AUKUS)…..

Slightly tongue in cheek but by the times you have put a sensible requirement through those lenses you end up with…..

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_833340)
10 days ago

In other words, as I keep saying, the MoD budget is there to appease political decisions and to support industry.
NOT, to supply equipment to the number required for the military to carry out the roles expected of them by HMG.
Quality is another issue. Do we always need state of the art, or is good enough sufficient in some areas to enable more mass?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke (@guest_833360)
10 days ago

Given how useless the land based Russian kit is there is an argument for the 90% stuff.

That said precision is the deciding factor bringing knock out and surprise in one. If you have to take a second shot everyone knows what is going on.

In the air I think less than perfect spec may have some traction. I think we will see an F16 airforce still has legs which tells us Typhoon has excellent legs.

Sub surface is where perfectionism still rules.

Lonpfrb (@guest_833387)
10 days ago

Different domains have different costs for getting it wrong.

For example, Motorcycles are dangerous!

Statistically not, but the consequences are harsh compared to a vehicle with crush cells and air bags. So learning skills and avoiding injury is more difficult. Thus MC over represented for trauma injuries.

Submarines don’t have ejection seats…

Agree on 90% for Land domain. It’s field testing where flexible is more valuable than perfect.

Lonpfrb (@guest_833383)
10 days ago

The Entry / MVP / Stretch construct is supposed to enable the engineering product maturity life cycle so that the most effective and efficient products can be evaluated.

It’s best practice for technology procurement and proven to avoid the sunk cost fallacy (White elephant/Nimrod).

So MVP is by definition good enough so enables mass.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_833397)
10 days ago
Reply to  Lonpfrb


ChariotRider (@guest_833751)
9 days ago

Hi Daniele, I have commented on this process in the past, possibly even to your good self 🙂 I can see why you question the research framework approach. As Lonpfrb says above it is best practice to help innovation especially within small companies. However, as I said in the past we need to buy a few of these ‘development’ aircraft so that the military and the suppliers can gain real world experience otherwise, as you point out, there is a very real risk that the UK will waste yet more money. My concern is that the MoD is backing off… Read more »

Rudeboy (@guest_834913)
5 days ago

This is a ‘Framework’. Which has been given a business case of a maximum spend of £95m

Doesn’t mean it all gets spent…

Steve (@guest_833715)
9 days ago

At this point I wonder why defence companies bother, they know the MOD has to intention to actually place any orders for drones, just want to be seen to be doing something about this massive new threat without actually doing anything.

They should be placing orders for thousands of cheap drones to be used across the forces.

Last edited 9 days ago by Steve