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”.
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.