The Royal Air Force’s swarming drone project is understood to be “exceeding expectations”, with 216 Squadron preparing for the role of operating the RAF’s future fleet of network enabled drones.
Baroness Stern, asked via a written question:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made on (1) the ‘Mosquito’ project, (2) the ‘Many Drones Make Light Work’ programme, and (3) other work to network-enabled or ‘swarm’ drones; and when they anticipate such network-enabled drone capability to be operational.”
Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, replied:
“Project Mosquito is a technology demonstration being conducted in two phases. Phase 1 is complete, and the Ministry of Defence is currently evaluating the proposals for Phase 2. As Project Mosquito is a technology demonstrator, it is not anticipated that the project will result in an operational capability. The Many Drones Make Light Work project explores the technical feasibility and military use of a swarm of up to twenty small unmanned aircraft vehicles, operating under the control of one individual. The project is in its final phase, Phase 3, delivering a structured flight evaluation programme of this new capability with the successful first trials held in March 2020.
The Royal Air Force’s swarming drones project continues to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office with progress during recent trials exceeding expectations in several areas. Following the successful first trials, 216 Squadron was reformed at RAF Waddington on 1 April 2020. They will take on the operating role for the RAF’s fleet of network enabled drones.”
Last year, the MoD awarded £2.5m to a consortium led by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd to develop the drone swarm technology. The Ministry of Defence say that a swarm could support lower operating costs, greater system efficiency as well as increased resilience in the following areas:
- Situational awareness
- Medical assistance
- Logistics resupply
- Explosive ordnance detection and disposal
- Confusion and deception
According to a news release from the MoD last year:
“Currently, operational systems require one or more operators to pilot the aircraft or to closely manage the flight mission. This is manpower intensive and consumes time and resource to train operators. The UK Armed Forces are actively seeking robotic solutions to provide a ‘Force-Multiplier’ effect whereby a greater military capability is delivered by fewer people and equipment. The swarm system is one possible solution to this multiple domain requirement as it will cover larger areas of battlespace more quickly at lower cost and reduced man hours. It also removes the operator from potentially harmful situations.
The future project phase will seek to establish a more ‘self-sufficient’ UAS swarm, providing the military with the ability to operate in increasingly complex and contested environments. Effective Human Machine Teaming will remain at the core of this research to ensure that the human remains firmly in control of the system.”
The other project mentioned, Project Mosquito, is part of the wider Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept based around offering increased protection, survivability and information to inform the development of an operational concept in the future.
The MoD said in a release last year:
“Under LANCA, a technology demonstrator project known as ‘Mosquito’ has awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the work, which will produce a preliminary system design for an unmanned air vehicle and assessment of the key risk areas and cost-capability trade-offs for an operational concept. Initial flight test of the demonstrator air vehicle could take place as early as 2022. Phase 1 will include the exploration of novel design, development, prototyping, manufacture, and support, to enable low-cost rapid development and evolution of a potential future unmanned combat air system. Dstl, which provides science and technology for the defence and security of the UK, is delivering the technical oversight, project management, and partnering for Project Mosquito.”
For Phase 1, contracts were awarded to three teams led by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd, Boeing Defence UK Ltd, and Callen-Lenz (Team BLACKDAWN partnered with Bombardier Belfast and Northrop Grumman UK Ltd). LANCA originated in 2015 studies to understand innovative Combat Air technologies and concepts that might offer radical reductions in cost and development time. Subsequently LANCA was brought into the RAF RCO as part of the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI).
Project Mosquito has two planned phases. After the 12-month Phase 1, Phase 2 will select up to two of the Phase 1 solutions to further mature the designs, complete manufacturing of the technology demonstrator and conclude with a limited flight-test programme.