216 Squadron, currently trialling swarming drones, will be joined by at least one other squadron.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston’s delivered a keynote spoke at the Global Air Chiefs’ Conference 2021, the following excerpt discussed the UK’s swarming drone programme.

“Our drone test squadron, 216 Squadron, has proved beyond doubt the disruptive and innovative utility of swarming drones under our ALVINA programme. Working with our Defence science laboratory and specialist industry partners, I can say that we have exercised swarms of over 20 ultra-low cost drones operating together against threat systems to brilliant effect.

We have been focused on confusing and overwhelming adversary air defences but we are already contemplating new disruptive missions, that I will leave to your imagination. That success, in little over a year, points to the operational utility of swarming drones. I aim to declare it operational in an equally short period of time, with more than one squadron, such is its impact; and we will spirally develop it year by year, moving swiftly where the technology allows and the threat invites.

Our swarming drone squadrons will be part of that mix of piloted, remotely piloted and autonomous platforms that come together as the Future Combat Air System. As part of this year’s Review, the UK Government announced a £2Bn investment over the next four years and in partnership with international allies like Italy and Sweden we are taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones, and mixed formations of uncrewed combat aircraft as well as next-generation piloted aircraft like Tempest.

We’re also exploring exciting wider international partnerships, such as with Japan. The vision is futuristic and ambitious, and we are already on the path to turning it into a reality.”

Earlier in the year we reported that a swarm of 20 drones has completed the largest military exercise of its kind in the UK, according to the Ministry of Defence.

The exercise was the culmination of Dstl’s ‘Many Drones Make Light Work’ competition, funded under the MoD’s Science and Technology Portfolio through the ‘Defence and Security Accelerator’.

Following 2 earlier phases, the £2.5 million contract for Phase 3 was awarded in January 2019.

This was reportedly for an Integrated Concept Evaluation activity to explore the technical feasibility and military utility of a swarm of up to 20 small UAVs operating collaboratively.

The swarm consisted of 5 different types and sizes of fixed wing drones, with different operational capabilities, together with 6 different payload types, flying representative tasks at RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria.

“Three operators in Blue Bear’s Mobile Command and Control System (MCCS) managed the entire swarm whilst simultaneously handling different, collaborative payload analysis tasks. The UAVs flew simultaneous Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) cooperative tasks, with Blue Bear collaborative autonomy ensuring they all contributed to overall mission goals.”

Throughout the 2 weeks of trials, more than 220 sorties were undertaken.

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Goldilocks
Goldilocks
7 days ago
Last edited 7 days ago by Goldilocks
Andy a
Andy a
7 days ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

Yes the Babel fish is a thing which allows platforms speaking different languages and codes to swap info via a third platform (voyager) doing the data conversion

James Fennell
James Fennell
7 days ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

Yes this is what the US is using to replace JSTARS – its the Sentinel replacement – instead of using one radar sensor on one platform (like Sentinel) you network all of the sensors of your various platforms (sattelites, UAVs, F-35, Tyhpoon, Wedgetail, P-8, Reaper/Protector etc. – even ground based sensors like Ajax) through nodes on a tanker to create a multi-sensor battlespace picture. Voyager becomes Sentinel on acid. https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/usaf-seeks-to-modify-tanker-transport-fleet-into-command-and-control-nodes.

Last edited 7 days ago by James Fennell
Goldilocks
Goldilocks
7 days ago
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Goldilocks

Long overdue given the endless cancellations over decades of modernisation of the RA.

How many MFP are acquired remains to be seen.

Peter S
Peter S
6 days ago

I read the link too. Looking at the claimed range for even a 39 calibre barrel, does the mean that AS90 could be upgraded rather than replaced by a wholly new system? The vehicles haven’t been used intensively.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

I do not know. But I believe funding has already been allocated to MFP.

Trevor Holcroft
Trevor Holcroft
7 days ago

The drones pictured seem pretty lightweight. So what effective ‘payload’ could they carry?
By definition a swarm could not be very expensive or powerful. So again, what payload could it carry.

The statement talks about capabilities and disruption. A barrage balloon fits that bill, and for me we need to think carefully before assuming all this talk about drones is going to be some attacking force.

Goldilocks
Goldilocks
7 days ago

They may just be kind of suicide drones, but most of this kind of stuff is classified so learning more stuff on this would be hard

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
7 days ago

You should look at how drones were utilised in the recent Armenia V Azerbaijan conflict that wasn’t widely reported they proved to be of the chicken dinner variety . I think if memory serves they destroyed 224 Armenian tanks . Game changers. These TB2 types cost way less than the predator/protector variants. I think it’s safe to assume that whatever plans HM forces have for drones will be light yrs ahead of what those nations vision for them are All in all I think when it comes to this kind of thing the U.K. is absolutely top of the class… Read more »

Mark B
Mark B
7 days ago

Well said.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
7 days ago

Indeed I read a third of Armenian tanks were knocked out by what on the World stage relatively cheap ‘unexciting’ drones supplied by Turkey who developed them internally in around 5 years when they were refused access to American drone technology. I think they were influenced by the Israeli Heron drone which looks not dissimilar though the Turkish equivalents are in some regards more advanced by all accounts. They even knocked out some of the Russian supplied SAM batteries. Indeed there is some film about purportedly showing one of their drones avoiding said missiles trying to engage them using both… Read more »

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
7 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Yes indeed as I’m sure I’ve stated once or twice or was it old Bob ? Anyways “The Times they are a changing”

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇬🇧

TrevorH
TrevorH
7 days ago

Doctrine. If you stand up and wave at your enemy he will shoot you. But thats what I said about ‘barrage balloons’. Drones can disrupt your enemy they can prevent him from finding targets as well as wanting them hit. But in a one sided war it strikes we there should be limits one conclusions to be reached. Drones are here to stay because without countermeasures they can be dangerous. But there are countermeasures and life will live within them. Armenia was out gunned in every way, not least brains, and not just in drones. Only when Russia started some… Read more »

The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
The Artist Formerly Known As Los Pollos Chicken
6 days ago
Reply to  TrevorH

Aye man but I read it wasn’t viewed as being one sided on eve of war it was the drones and their use that made it one sided.

who knows ?be interested to find out some more about it all.

All I was saying was I believe drones are the future and are going to play a big part in warfare going forward.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇬🇧

James H
James H
6 days ago

Although i appreciate the huge success of the Turkish drones, against Armenia, Syria and Libya the only thing i think about is that so much is based on their success, with Ben wallace mentioning it many times in the defence review for cuts to Armour for example yet the opponents equipment and situation don’t really get mentioned. Armenia and Syria were scared of putting planes up because of the threat of losing them, their equipment is soviet Era etc, i dont for one second think unmanned wont be the way forward but sometimes it appears to be the magic bullet… Read more »

Andy G
Andy G
6 days ago

Turkish drones wiped out half of Syria’s armor in a day, this included many Russian Pantsir air defense systems.

DaveyB
DaveyB
6 days ago
Reply to  Andy G

Yet, they didn’t do to well in Libya. Mind you the Chinese ones the UAE provided faired even worse. Turkey has had a lot of operational input from Ukraine. The TB2 had been used in prototype form in Ukraine before it was used against Armenia and Syria. From the “Ukrainian conflict” Tussia have developed a new SPAAG to deal with higher flying drones. This is called the 2S38 Derivaciya PVO. Based on the BMP3 chassis, but mounts an automatic 57mm gun with programmable fused shells. If you are going to compare a conflict that involves UAS, then I’d base it… Read more »

Paul T
Paul T
5 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Armenia got too complacent, internal Politics with a new leaning towards the West (EU) much to the chagrin of Russia, the usual corruption and reluctance to modernise their Armed Forces, compare that to Azerbaijan with their Oil Wealth funding the Modernisation of their Forces, newly invigorated and determined with a clear plan, Armenia could never hope to repeat past victories.

DaveyB
DaveyB
5 days ago
Reply to  Paul T

Cheers Paul, makes a lot of sense

Peter S
Peter S
7 days ago

Confusing and overwhelming adversary air defences is the only bit I sort of understand. But how this is achieved, with what payloads and at what ranges and altitudes I haven’t a clue.
I suppose the next big thing will be lightweight,affordable anti drone defences. Perhaps a spirally developed drone killer drone.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
7 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

The Americans interestingly flew something of this nature recently though I don’t know any real details of its modus operandi.

Heidfirst
Heidfirst
6 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

apparently they carried Leonardo Briteclouds

DaveyB
DaveyB
5 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

It can be achieved in a lot of ways. Clearly these types of drone can’t mimic the speeds of a manned attack aircraft. But they can cause confusion in other ways. One of which is to copy what the RAF did during WW2. They dropped large bundles of chaff to blank out areas that radars were searching. They did this to hide approaching bombers or to spoof defenses to think something was coming. Today, chaff is made up of lengths of fiber glass coated in aluminium. The lengths are cut to 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16 of the wavelengths of the… Read more »

James Fennell
James Fennell
6 days ago

I believe they are primarily aimed at electronic attack to take down A2AD systems. So non-kinetic payloads. One is carrying Britecloud (same as the Spear 3 EA).

Last edited 6 days ago by James Fennell
Pete
Pete
6 days ago

Both China and India are investing and developing this capability very rapidly and China last year reached the stage of publicly displaying progress. I dare say there will be countermeasures but those will need to be effective, adaptive, available and efficient.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=o5RH7xDAT4o

harry crick
harry crick
2 days ago

Nothing new about the concept, I participated in a bid for harassment drones in the 1970s. Don’t laugh at the old technology at the time, but we proposed a battery of 32 remote controlled model aircraft mounted in containers stacked on the back of a lorry. Powered by cheap lawnmower engines and retractable wings they would be expelled from the containers, wings deployed and take up holding circuits above SAM sites until the SAM radar was activated. One of the drones would be equipped with a radar seeker head and explosive charge. We went from there to developing the Chevaline… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
7 days ago

Interesting to see how similar some of those drones are to the larger e-copters now all the rage in prototype form, that will generate considerable cross fertilisation from that rapidly developing market to gain the greatest flexibility and innovation. That could be good news for carrier operations eventually.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I just hope we don’t broadcast to the e-world absolutely everything we are doing with swarm drones otherwise if might give encouragement to those countries who might have an even bigger “population” of drones. I’d like us to keep a bit of British understatement. Other countries are no doubt exploring similar ideas anyway.

BigH1979
BigH1979
6 days ago

I remember watching the ‘Enthusiasts’ flying their model aeroplanes from a bare patch of ground on Woodbury Common in the 90’s. That video doesn’t look much diferent to me 😂😂

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago

Really interesting. But I’m with Peter S, awaiting to see how these swarms accompany our Typhoons at long range, not just a test with model aeroplanes.

DP
DP
6 days ago

I’ve followed articles about drone and UAV/USV tech on here for some time now and, although I’m impressed and open-minded about their use I remain a bit cynical, especially in a ‘high-tech’ peer-on-peer scenario. Not because I’m old school but because of the very obvious weak link in the system, the radio link between operator and drone. Like any radio system, it is susceptible to jamming so in anything other than a one-sided, low-tech v high-tech scenario the use of a swarm would be limited, would it not? It sounds like the Armenians were caught on the back foot when… Read more »

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
6 days ago
Reply to  DP

Hi DP, You are right to raise the jamming issue as it is definately the dig weakness in using drones. However, autonomous drones can continue their mission if the link is broken. What matters then is the rules of engagement. So if you are fighting a so called low intensity war such as the wars we have been fighting for the last 20 years, you are likely to to have a man-in-the-loop requirement to try and avoid collateral damage. Under these conditions loss of a communications link would be a ‘mission kill’. On the other hand if you are fighting… Read more »

Sonik
Sonik
5 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

It’s not an insurmountable paradox, if your low intensity adversary is low tech themselves then your technical advantage can keep a man in the loop.

The problem occurs, when it becomes a proxy conflict, with technical assistance from a more sophisticated arms length opponent, who likely has less scruples when operating from a position of deniability.

But twas ever thus…

Last edited 5 days ago by Sonik
DP
DP
5 days ago
Reply to  ChariotRider

Good points CR, thank you. I suppose the tech has been around for years now to allow a drone/swarm, cut-off from its operator, to get home, terrain following navigation etc as per Tomahawk missile etc back to base ….. though, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want a lost Tomahawk coming back to base!!!  😆 

ChariotRider
ChariotRider
5 days ago
Reply to  DP

Yeh, that would be a good day to be out of the office 😉

AI / autonomous vehicles is an interesting area of development and clearly they are becoming useful, but I think there is a huge amount still be to learnt by all involved.

Lots of interesting stuff yet to be done, I think.

Cheers CR

Andy G
Andy G
6 days ago

We are a decade late with this, China is generations ahead of us.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago

Just read the rest of ACM’s speech.

Some very interesting sections and also some absolute gobbledegook.

Rob
Rob
6 days ago

Here is my preference for the drone Sqns.

ian
ian
1 minute ago

how easy is it to jam the drones? What frequencies do they use?