The Royal Navy say here that they have pushed two different drone designs ‘to their limits’ in order to see how much utility they might have for front-line operations.

They say that both the Malloy Aeronautics T-600 quadcopter and Windracers Autonomous Systems’ Ultra drone “proved their abilities to carry heavy payloads of 100kg over long distance and more than 250kg over a shorter distance”.

The Royal Navy has been trialling the use of drones in a heavy lift challenge at RNAS Culdrose. Picture: DE&S

According to a news release:

“The aircraft impressed in the most recent trials which saw the Malloy T-600 fly with a 250kg payload while the fixed-wing Windracers Ultra dropped a 100kg payload 1,000km away to a platform replicating a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier flight deck. It was able to slow on approach and drop its package with pinpoint accuracy.”

Brigadier Dan Cheesman, Royal Navy Chief Technology Officer, was quoted as saying:

“The Heavy Lift Challenge is surpassing all our expectations. This is a genuine, game-changing collaboration between the Royal Navy, DE&S’ Future Capability Group and industry and has, so far, produced quite spectacular results – all inside the same commercial framework we are able to iterate as one-team. We are not there quite yet, but in perhaps as little as two months’ time, we will have the final ‘show don’t tell’ evidence we need to commence scaling to the hands of the warfighter at unprecedented pace.”

James Gavin, Head of the Future Capability Group, was also quoted:

“This an important milestone for the Heavy Lift Challenge. We have tested how scalable and usable the autonomous technology is, with promising results. We have demonstrated how our collaboration with the Royal Navy and industry partners can expedite the procurement process – enabling us to deliver cutting-edge technology at pace. Ultimately, this work will help the UK Armed Forces retain and grow its operational advantage and also deliver cost efficiencies.”

The Royal Navy Heavy Lift Challenge aims to increase the number of uncrewed aircraft systems available on the market. This is part of the overall Royal Navy effort to increase the usage of drones.

Alongside the above, carrier-based drones under ‘Project Vixen’ are also 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 refuelling, 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.

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. He also works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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BigH1979
BigH1979
7 days ago

I think the concept is a great way to proceed and is potentially the answer to many questions. But whenever i see a UK Team doing it it just reminds me of a load of enthusiasts flying their remote controlled planes and helicopters in the park. The tech and will to do it have been around for ages, where’s the cold hard cash?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
7 days ago
Reply to  BigH1979

The problem is that if you started a MilSpec program to do heavy drone lift, commercial tech would have overtaken it before it had matured. Such is the pace of development.

What is **probably** really going on here is to test out the secure control systems on commercial platforms. That is where the military angle needs to come in. Other wise you just end up with stuff like the Russians have that anyone with half a brain and a bit of kit can defeat.

BigH1979
BigH1979
6 days ago

Thanks for that answer. The seemingly slow progress makes sense now.

Mr Bell
Mr Bell
7 days ago

These drones should prove very cost effective for resupply of surface vessels and surfaced submarines on the peripheries of a battle group and/or distant patrol routes. out to 1000km range is impressive and going to prove cheaper than tasking a manned helicopter or Hercules A400M to deliver those supplies via a parachute drop. The true effectiveness will be when there are dozens and dozens of these drones undertaking replenishment at sea. Which then also adds the question of what alternative utility could these dozens and dozens of supply drones undertake? Could they have multimodal functionality so able to switch to… Read more »

Michael
Michael
7 days ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

As sceptical as most of us have been, this bodes rather well for the T32 project as a high-tech drone platform. It appears designing ships to specialise in unmanned vehicles may be rather sensible.

That said, I can’t help thinking the RN would do better with a 2-3 small throughdeck support ships in this role instead. I doubt they would be particularly expensive, since they wouldn’t need the hanger and servicing facilities of a CV or even a helicopter carrier. Then we could have T32 as a slightly improved T31 batch 2 without sacrificing offensive capability.

Monkey spanker
Monkey spanker
6 days ago
Reply to  Michael

Did you see the bae design a few years ago with 2 small runways down the hull.
comment image

Dan
Dan
6 days ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

Wouldn’t a layout like a mini aircraft carrier with a through-deck make more sense? That would provide more deck space for air operations.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago
Reply to  Dan

For a purpose-built UAV carrier, I think through deck would be better, but I love the idea of having a short angled runway on something like the T32 frigate.

Jonno
Jonno
6 days ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

I like that. We can even keep the 18″ on the foredeck and name them HMS Glorious, Courageous and Furious! Great for the Baltic too.

expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Monkey spanker

I remember that image but couldn’t find it again, its now starting to make sense looking at something like this. My concern is later politicians can the Carriers as they see these as replacements.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago
Reply to  expat

These are 8,000 ton ships. Nobody will see them as carrier relacements.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy
5 days ago
Reply to  expat

For future reference it was the BAE UXV Combatant. Also had a moon pool and flex deck.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UXV_Combatant

FOSTERSMAN
FOSTERSMAN
6 days ago

Excellent capabilities especially the slide, looks like covers all domains. Only questions really are how much? And can we afford to have literally hundreds of these or is it the usual dozen or so

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 days ago
Reply to  FOSTERSMAN

I think the point is the more the shell and power plant/pack of it is COTS then the more that can be afforded.

But I agree that in a lot of roles a lot of pretty simple drones, appropriately modified, are probably better than a few crazily bespoked ones.

That said the electronics will need hardening and the comms will have to be secure and probably multi channel and agile as well as being able to switch to satellite comms if surface to air comms are interrupted or vice versa.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago

I wonder if they are considering hybrid or variable lift airships, which have the ability to carry 50 ton payloads (or more) for thousands of miles. I admit dropping 20 ft equivalent containers with pinpoint accuracy might be more of a challenge.

AlbertStarburst
AlbertStarburst
6 days ago
Reply to  Jon

…hopefully they are, but problems like handling in strong-ish wind, lightning, storms, landing/take-off handling and excessive IR signature are tricky problems to overcome.

Mark
Mark
6 days ago
Reply to  Jon

Iv dropped on this before, could have a fleet of them like thunderbird 2 dropping of iso containers made of a composite lightweight material straight onto the deck of surface ships. Here’s a company working on something that could be used.
https://www.varialift.com/page/the-varialift-airships.
People commenting on theyed be slow moving sitting ducks forget that supply ships are even bigger and slower moving. If there autonomous it could revolutionise the world’s shipping.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago
Reply to  Mark

It has great stats, but I don’t think they’ve actually built anything yet. When reality hits, some of their statistics will be seen to be over optimistic. If you look at the story of Hybrid Air Vehicles’ bid (along with US companies) for the US Army’s LEMV project, the airship turned out to be considerably heavier than the original design, cutting the days in the air from twenty one to four or five. But the commercial ten-ton lifter they salvaged from it (Airlander 10) certainly works. As they are going down the road of green electric engines, the proposed fifty-ton… Read more »

Martin
Martin
6 days ago

So many British drone programs have come and gone over the past decade and all we have ever done is purchase foreign drones. Sea Vixen and mosquito are vital to rebuilding mass for RAF and FAS but I just don’t see anything happening beyond yet more design studies.

RobW
RobW
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

Mosquito demonstrator is funded to the tune of £30m and is expected to have its first flight at some point in 2023. I think the idea is that Mosquito and Sea Vixen will be the same, just slightly modified for RAF and FAA use. It is moving forward.

Spirit Mosquito – Wikipedia

Martin
Martin
6 days ago
Reply to  RobW

Taranis UCAV was funded to £185 million an produced nothing along with Mantis, Corax and HERTI. Anything at the MOD that does not have a billion in the tittle is little more than a design study. We have been studying UAV for 20 years and produced many pro types and never taken anything forward. I don’t see why the MOD would now change its tune and actually start developing hardware especially something as complicated as Sea Vixen and Mosquito. At best we might buy a couple of what ever the US comes up with in a decade or more.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

The drone has to be a step forward not a tiny increment?

No point is spending gazillions making something you know will be obsolete in 5 years time. At that point buy COTS And modify.

expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

Wouldn’t say Mantis resulted in nothing we collaborated with the French for a couple of years on UCAVs and then a Eurodrone appeared that looked just like Mantis 🙂

Martin
Martin
6 days ago
Reply to  expat

Yes abs much of Taranis may end up in the Franco German FCAS program.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy
5 days ago
Reply to  Martin

UK was very good at limiting tech transfers from Taranis when we were co-operating with the French…

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

I don’t agree, the US has been prototyping drones of this nature and testing very advanced AI based vehicles since the 90s yet very little has seriously reached service as yet, Northrop, despite winning awards have had nothing accepted into service esp in a strike role and only a tanker is presently in the pipeline for service in the Navy by Boeing. Yes they are now committed (again) for both army, Air Force and navy with these high end drones beyond that but are still some way off. Meanwhile the Australian Boeing loyal wingman seems to be coming along well… Read more »

Martin
Martin
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Where there is reaper, global hawk and triton as major programs that are publicised however there is also likely a number of black programs potentially operating drones that we don’t even know about RQ180 and RQ 170 appear to be confirmed in operation. In addition they have MQ25 in actual product development. In the same period we did zero.

Martin
Martin
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

A little bit of ambition we could have easily have had mantis instead of reaper/ guardian and we could have developed Taranis into a deep strike persistent recon platform and it could all have been done for pennies.

Rudeboy
Rudeboy
5 days ago
Reply to  Martin

Add in the MQ-8 series helos and Predator C (the stealth jet powered version, MQ-20 Avenger) is in service. The CIA bought at least 7…

Sean
Sean
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

The Boeing drone is already conducting test air to air refuelling of F35s.

Netking
Netking
4 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

“the US has been prototyping drones of this nature and testing very advanced AI based vehicles since the 90s yet very little has seriously reached service as yet” I don’t think you have been paying attention to this space. There is so much going on in the US military when it comes to drones, in particular, classified high end drones. Also keep in mind that what is operational publicly is usually a decade or two behind what is operational in the black projects world. Often times when they declassify a project it’s because they have already moved on to something… Read more »

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago

All good news and very impressive. Drones appear to be on the increase it seems! SMi MRAS 2022: iMUGS conducts Arctic demonstration, readies for swarming and autonomy trials07 APRIL 2022     “Speaking to Janes at the SMi Military Robotics and Autonomous Systems 2022 (SMi MRAS 2022) conference in London, Martin Jõesaar, chief of project office – integrated Modular Unmanned Ground System (iMUGS), Republic of Estonia Centre for Defence Investment, detailed recent and upcoming trials for the iMUGS project. iMUGS is a multinational effort that is seeking to develop a European standard unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). The project includes six demonstrations during three… Read more »

maxresdefault.jpg
Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

THeMIS UGV With Brimstone

EENYUzWWsAE_Qfn.jpeg
Martin
Martin
6 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

If only these were real and we could give them to Ukraine.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

They are and are currently on trial Martin.

detailed recent and upcoming trials for the iMUGS project.

DFJ123
DFJ123
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin

I’m pretty sure if you offered MBDA engineers some tasty bonuses they could knock it up in a shed by tomorrow morning. It’s an issue of the political will not being there to drive things like this at war-time pace rather than peace-time pace.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
6 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

How the Ukrainians could do with that.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Agreed and hopefully we too.

Interesting to see Germany finally coming to a decision on the drone front.

“Germany is to arm its medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a move intended for “improving the protection of soldiers on deployments abroad”, the Bundeswehr announced.”

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/air-platforms/latest/germany-to-arm-uavs

Last edited 6 days ago by Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

More good news for the UK and in particular those carrying heavy bergens and ammo!

Horiba Mira’s VIKING during demonstrations on Salisbury Plain, March 2022

“16 Air Assault Brigade has been chosen to become the British Army’s first robotic autonomous systems (RAS)-enhanced brigade, it was announced on 6 April.”

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/terror-insurgent-group/latest/smi-rmas-2022-16-air-assault-brigade-to-be-british-armys-first-robotics-enhanced-brigade

Titan_UGV_100pix.jpg
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

2025. Then 2030 for DRSBCT, then 2035 for the Armoured Brigades.
By then all will have changed again. The army is always about tomorrow which never seems to arrive before the next reorg.

expat
expat
6 days ago

So with the carrier heading into the wind and going at say 25 knots I guess a fixed wing drone with enough lift can approach the carrier in a perceived hover and just drop its cargo. Personally I think the Royal Navy should just buy J3 Cubs 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zDo7hkmCNY&ab_channel=SteveHenry

Steve M
Steve M
6 days ago
Reply to  expat

You could use those on LpD & bays. not sure t-45/31 though 🙂

Peregrine16
Peregrine16
6 days ago

I wonder what happened to the drone after it dropped its load after its 1000km fight?Ideally it would land on the carrier. Could a drone lightened by dropping its load land on and stop without needing arrestor wires?

It would be good to hear the state of progress on the request for proposals on the arrestor system. When the two projects integrate things will get very interesting.

Andy P
Andy P
6 days ago
Reply to  Peregrine16

500km still gives a pretty decent range assuming it has to return. You would assume that as its still at the fairly early stages things like payload, range and speed will increase.

This kind of thing seems to be the future so good to see we’re having a bash at it.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 days ago
Reply to  Andy P

In the way back sans payload it will have less power consumption?

peter fernch
peter fernch
15 seconds ago
Reply to  Andy P

Good phrase”Haveing a bash at it” sums up the british way, we,ll have a go wont we.Doesnt matter really

Coll
Coll
6 days ago
Reply to  Peregrine16

No doubt it will have a slower stall speed with those long wings and airfoil-shaped fuselage. Oh, and good brakes.

expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

if the the airframe has enough lift and the carrier going into a decent head wind a drone could land in a few meters.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
6 days ago
Reply to  Peregrine16

Was it the Storch Aircraft the Germans used. Saw one at the Shuttleworth collection, it pretty much touched down zero speed and vertically so surely we can achieve something similar and better these days if wind conditions at sea might be a serious test admittedly. Prefer a winged quad copter hybrid myself but they are still a few years behind what they are testing so likely a second gen machine.

expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Peregrine16

We could experiment with launching these from the back of a large aircraft, mother ship concepts. Some like the the A400 fly’s to a way point then drops 5 drones which resupply then return or fly onto a pre determine location.

Tommo
Tommo
6 days ago

Nice Photo my word, that many ground crew let’s buy Turkish proven delivery system as a stop gap FFBNW

Coll
Coll
6 days ago
Reply to  Tommo

What? Just because there are that many people in the photo, that doesn’t mean that is the amount of ground crew needed.

Last edited 6 days ago by Coll
Coll
Coll
6 days ago
Last edited 6 days ago by Coll
expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

Looks and sounds quite agricultural. But perhaps that what’s needed.

Coll
Coll
6 days ago
Reply to  expat

Very basic; came to mind. And that is not a bad thing. I’m just wondering how this will carry a Crowsnest Radar System or a refuelling system.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

These types won’t they will be far more advanced, these ones are basic dumb delivery vehicles.

Coll
Coll
6 days ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Yes, this will be pretty much just be a courier.

expat
expat
5 days ago
Reply to  Coll

I think Britten Norman have plans to automate the Islander. There as a maritime defender version.

BRITTEN NORMAN BN 2 Maritime Defender United Kingdom aircraft engine, power, speed (aircraft-catalog.com)

Coll
Coll
4 days ago
Reply to  expat

I did hear about that. It will be interesting to see if this gets more press and sales. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaEYygGskMk

Last edited 4 days ago by Coll
Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 day ago
Reply to  Coll

This was my first thought. Is a 100kg or 250kg payload good enough?

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

It’s very visually reminiscent of those speculative 20s/30s efforts that tried to foresee the future of aircraft design beyond the accepted but instead were almost exclusively dead ends. But if it does the job for now quick, cheap and cheerful then good luck to it, just seems very dated a concept longer term mind.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

I wonder how far the CAA special permission will take it. Will it have to recertify post-Covid? Or to the contrary, will it blaze a trail, knocking years off the certification route for similar drones.

Jon
Jon
6 days ago
Reply to  Coll

I looked up the company that was flying these things, Solent Transport, and next to their medical supply drone spiel was a picture of a hybrid fixed-wing/quadcopter. I didn’t recognize it and despite all the Union Jack decals the only thing I can find to match is a Chinese drone. It would be a pity if they’ve gone down that route.

Coll
Coll
5 days ago
Reply to  Jon

The company that owns the hybrid fixed-wing drone is owned by Apian. I still don’t know if it’s an original design or not.

Max Jones
Max Jones
6 days ago

Even if they are all in testing, It’s always nice to see new aircraft with ‘Royal Navy’ written on them.

James Fennell
James Fennell
6 days ago

The ULTRA UAV in the image is an impressive piece of kit. A sort of BN Islander UAV. Designed with the University of Southampton and Windracers on the Isle of Wight, it’s designed as a rugged low cost platform to deliver parcels to remote locations – 100kg out to 1,000km. It is low maintenance and has no single point of failure – systems are doubled up (you can see twin engines, twin tails etc.) – mostly made of aluminium to save cost and increase toughness for multiple loading operations – can drop loads to 10mx10m precision. As such it has… Read more »

Last edited 6 days ago by James Fennell
Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 days ago
Reply to  James Fennell

can drop loads to 10mx10m precision”

That would be more precise than Russian precision bombing?

DFJ123
DFJ123
6 days ago

Impressive. Could Ukraine use these to re-supply the likes of Mariupol?

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago

Off-topic but a worthwhile announcement. “The UK is planning to recertify and upgrade its inventory of Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles to Block V standard under a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case with the US government. Janes has learnt that the MoD plans to sign the FMS case later this year. The contract will last five years, with Raytheon Missiles and Defense taking the prime contractor role on behalf of the US government.” https://www.janes.com/defence-news/weapons-headlines/latest/uk-set-to-upgrade-tomahawk-inventory “Block V: A modernized TACTOM with upgraded navigation and communication Block Va: Block V that can strike moving targets at sea Block Vb:Block V, with a joint… Read more »

Last edited 6 days ago by Nigel Collins
expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

Whilst the Tomahawk is dated, to be able to hit targets 1000 miles is useful and unprotected supply ships or as part of a wide saturation type of attack it still remains current.

farouk
farouk
6 days ago

The drone in question has been in use with the Royal Mail for over a year now delivering Mail from Perranporth Airfield in Cornwall to St Marys airfield Scilly Isles a distance of 60 miles, a role it has expanded by using the same company to deliver mail to outlying islands across Scotland

Coll below posted the same story.

Opera Snapshot_2022-04-07_194555_www.youtube.com.png
Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 days ago
Reply to  farouk

Penzance used to have a heliport close to the station, I wonder if it is still active? I’ve used it on two previous occasions, both very windy days there and back as I recall!

Steve
Steve
6 days ago

It would be interesting to know what they mean by long range. Ship to ship transfer is useful but not game changing as it’s already possible by conventional means. It needs to be longer.

James
James
6 days ago

Britain unfortunately is behind in drone development compared to the US Turkey Israel, even behind China

expat
expat
6 days ago
Reply to  James

I’d agree, the BAe Mantis first flight was 2009. One commenter on here who’s be up close to a General Atomics drone stated these are not complex airframes to produce. If you include production of drones then Iran is also ahead of us, whilst quality is questionable you learn from fielding systems.

Armchair Admiral
Armchair Admiral
6 days ago

Like both of these UAVs. They are both basic and without frills so should be very affordable. In particular the Malloy vehicle could be so so useful if equipped with a small but half decent camera system on the nose (if it has one) not only to allow an operator to see what’s going on, but also to be used for a bit of recce. Quadcopters like this have been around for ages and I see the Malloy offering as “mature technology”, barring the military grade control links etc, but surely this is just equipment swapping? Perhaps it could carry… Read more »

expat
expat
6 days ago

I would have thought for larger payloads something like

https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/britten-norman-planning-to-automate-islander-aircraft/

BN Islander has a stall speed of 46mph. That’s almost a ground speed over the deck of zero when a carrier going into a mild head wind.

Sean
Sean
6 days ago

Will be interesting to see how this will affect the design of the new FSS shops. Presumably they’ll have drone hangers allowing for parts etc to be supplied over a 1000km radius of the ship.

James
James
3 days ago

Could this be scaled up to perhaps drop weapon systems for the ship’s magazine and or spare parts?

Graham Moore
Graham Moore
1 day ago

I understand the term for this role is Carrier On-Board Delivery (COD). What COD plan was originally envisaged for the new Carriers – using one of the Merlins? If that worked, why use a drone. How much could Merlin carry and over what distance? A lot more than a drone, surely. What is the heaviest load a carrier would require to be delivered by COD?