The Royal Navy are trialling the use of heavy-lift drones for future use on warships.

The Royal Navy say that the use of unmanned air vehicles in the logistics role offers a range of advantages from reduced costs, missions being completed quicker 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.”

The latest round of trials were to prove the Malloy drone could land and launch on moving vessels, something it will be required to do if introduced into the navy.

It is understood that before taking it to sea, it was tested on land, tasking it with landing on a van’s trailer moving at different speeds and with the trailer swerving to reflect the range of conditions at sea.

Peter Whitehead, DARE project lead, was quoted as saying:

“These trials with Malloy and Planck are the next evolution to making unmanned systems increasingly autonomous and of benefit to the navy. It increases their utility at sea and their use in future Royal Navy operations. Using this drone in this way reduces the level of human involvement and interaction in logistics and shows how the Royal Navy wants to move forward in its use of the latest technologies. We cannot wait to prove its uses at sea in the near future.”

Jack Wakley, head of the engineering team from Malloy Aeronautics, said the latest round of trials was an important step in enabling maritime autonomy with Malloy technology.

“While the next steps are well defined, where should the end goal be? For me, I am really looking forward to proving automated recovery on our 370kg T400 aircraft, to a larger vessel of course. Being able to autonomously deploy 180kg payloads from a Royal Navy vessel at 20km stand-off would be an exciting capability to deliver.”

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Andrew
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Andrew

A glimpse of the future to come……

ETH
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ETH

When a V22 Osprey can sling 6800kg across ships, does this drone really count as ‘heavy’ lift?

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

Yeh, the drone shown is listed on Malloy’s website as being able to lift 68kg, a hundredth of the V22’s capability, but a pretty big load for a VTOL drone of this type it seems.

I wonder if they could be used to drop sonar buoys, for example, to improve the combat capabilities of smaller vessels..?

Cheers CR

Andy P
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Andy P

Aye, its can give a vertrep capability to units that are too small to support a helicopter or even just to save the hours on helos to transfer smaller items. Long term I can see a big future in something like these, as you say, if you can develop one that can carry a couple hundred kg then you’re starting to get into the realms of a fair few options, a ‘brain and some buoys or even a 50 cal depending on the role. I’d have thought the ability to transfer stores in most weather conditions with minimal risk to… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

It’s the most weather conditions that I wonder about. Current small drones of this type can only operate in pretty mild conditions.

Andy P
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Andy P

You might be right Steve, I was assuming that if these things can lift a heavy enough mass then you would be pretty robust but I suppose everything has its limits.

ETH
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ETH

Launching say 20 of these and dropping 20 sonar buoys in the water at any given time would certainly help with hunting subs. Perhaps as a way to pinpoint its location, potentially even dropping lightweight torpedoes in the future.

No doubt the usefulness of unmanned systems will grow exponentially in the years to come.

Rudeboy
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Rudeboy

Why drop sonobuoys and lose them? The latest multi-static sonobuoys are not cheap, and there isn’t an endless supply. The majority of contacts turn out to be nothing. A simple solution would be to use a Rotary UAS, like the Leonardo Hero (not an electrically powered quad copter, they don’t have the range). Pair up a couple with a Merlin, manned-unmanned teaming and fit a small winch with a Sonobuoy sensor as the payload to the Hero. Just use it as a Dipper alongside the Merlin. The datalink would already be there to pass the data to the ship and… Read more »

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

Hi Rudeboy, Hmm, not a bad thought. The only word of caution I’d put forward is that it can take quite sometime to generate a fix / track passively. Having said that modern subs are so quiet that there is an increasing move toweards active hunting especially for surface escorts. So the effectiveness of using the FLASH in active mode could be enhanced by additional passive bouys and as you say by not dropping them you safe money and reduce waste and pollution (read somewhere recently that there are thousands of old sono bouys with batteries in them lying around… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

68kg doesn’t sound very useful to me for naval operations.

That isn’t even the weight of an average person, so not sure what it is going to be lifting, would need to be pretty small supplies.

Lusty
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Lusty

A couple of tins of baked beans and some sausages!

Joking aside, I am encouraged by these developments. Drones will be able to augment and enhance the RN’s capabilities, but I guess at the moment it’s baby steps.

David
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David

Or a Wren!

Lusty
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Lusty

Hah!

Julian
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Julian

Early tests are often more proof of concept than immediately useable items. The technology does need to scale but I hope the next step up might be close. The Malloy web site lists two products (not counting battery packs), the T-80 and T-150 with payload capacities of 30kg and 68kg respectively. The Malloy guy however is quoted at the end of this article as saying… “I am really looking forward to proving automated recovery on our 370kg T400 aircraft, to a larger vessel of course. Being able to autonomously deploy 180kg payloads from a Royal Navy vessel at 20km stand-off… Read more »

ChariotRider
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ChariotRider

Hi Julian, I’ve been wondering for awhile now about UAV’s as a capability enhancer, particularly for ASW. The bigger drones you mention coupled with the fact that they appear to fold up to next to nothing (looking at the pictures) and you have the potnetial to put quite a reasonable capability together on a relatively small hull. Sonar dropping UAV’s coupled with ASROC as a basic system could be fitted to something the size of a Batch 2 River class, or added to the mission bay of a larger vessel as an enhancement. If they do get to a bigger… Read more »

Daveyb
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Daveyb

What is interesting to note is that the T150 has a larger payload to the Schiebel S100 camcopter (50kg), yet can be packed away in to a smallish peli-case. There is a lot of similarity between the Mallory quadcopters and the small toy versions. By having the same style of folding arms and rotors, it means it can be packed away very tightly, so it won’t take up a lot of space. The Scheibel by comparison is just over 3m long. Yes you can fold the blades, but the tail boom is fixed, so its footprint is much larger. The… Read more »

Julian
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Julian

Fitting a small IC engine to bigger Malory units would indeed be interesting. Would I be correct in thinking that you mean as a mini gen-set to power electric motors as opposed to converting the motors to oil-based fuel? I assume the former since once you put liquid fuel engines on each of the rotor arms maintenance, storage (folding up) and deployment (unfolding) all become more complicated since there are fuel lines to worry about and multiple IC engines to service. This is just the sort of thing (putting a mini gen-set onboard) where some more support via MoD-funded projects… Read more »

DaveyB
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DaveyB

Yes, I have always gone on the premise of “keep it simple stupid”! In this case including gearboxes and driveshafts would add significant complication as well as weight. The thought would be an IC engine spinning a generator that then powers the motors. This will cut down on weight. There will still be a net gain, even though the generator is not as efficient as gearbox and drive shafts, due to the weight saved. The generator would only be marginally less efficient anyway. The weight of the engine plus generator and fuel will probably be heavier than the battery. But… Read more »

Mark Latchford
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Mark Latchford

On the other hand I’d assume that a drone is much, much cheaper than an Osprey. And I’ll bet future drones will have bigger payloads…..

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

Hybrid eVTOL UAV is where we might go to in future instead of V-22 Osprey, V-280 Valor or V-247 Vigilant options. Eliminate the complicated mechanical drive systems in favour of a turboshaft engine coupled to a generator to generate electrical power for lift fans. This future platform then becomes the AEW, COD and air tanker capability for carriers and amphibious groups if operating independently of a carrier. The Rhaegal RG-1 eVTOL linked to below uses a standard helicopter turboshaft engine with similar output to a single Wildcat engine to provide VTOL payload of up to 5,400 lbs / 2,455 kg… Read more »

Daveyb
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Daveyb

The CEO delivers a stumbling presentation, which is available on Youtube. In this they unveil the Rhaegal A prototype and announce that they are also developing a larger Rhaegal B version, which they’re hoping will have a military function. If their prototype Rhaegal A meets their pronounced specifications, it will be quite the aircraft. They have also said the larger version has the option of folding wings. It’s early days, but could this be the aircraft we’re looking for, for our carriers? A word of caution though! There has been a history of failed projects that used ducted fans for… Read more »

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

Time will tell if this or some other form factor prevails but the core hybrid propulsion approach in combination with a wing is, IMO, the key technology enabler to achieve the required performance for carrier tasks at low cost. We have some time though as Merlin-based Crowsnest is likely to be in service for at least 10-15 years.

It might also be a tool for army logistics support and perhaps higher level tasks.

Julian
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Julian

Woah! That Rhaegel stuff looks very, very interesting. Glad you provided a link though since apparently Rhaegel was a character in Game of Throwns and tends to swamp out initial search results (adding “VTOL” to the search terms mostly fixes it since the dragons were more STOL than VTOL). Here’s a link to the interview on Youtube that I assume Daveyb was talking about – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Aljtrf690M My one slight disappointment with the proposed Rhaegel-B spec for our carriers is service ceiling. Ideally it would be good if one class of heavy UAV could do all of resupply, AAR and AEW… Read more »

Julian
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Julian

Oops. Got a decimal point wrong there. VTOL payload of 5,400 lbs not 54,000 lbs so definitely nowhere near adequate for AAR. Silly me, what was I thinking?

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

Current RG-1 service ceiling is similar to V-22. A larger engine, different aerodynamics and perhaps using open propellers rather than ducted fans all seem like possible options to get a hybrid powered UAV to E-2D ceiling or higher. But then you are also going to need to carry (and pay for) radar and other sensors that can take advantage of the additional height. If operating at 35k feet then radar horizon is ~230 nm , at 25k feet horizon is at ~190 nm, so the question is how critical is the extra 40 nm. Those ranges are in addition to… Read more »

Daveyb
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Daveyb

On the whole, a ducted fan will supply more thrust than an equivalent sized open propeller (both being fixed or variable pitch). This is because you have the higher pressure air below the blade spilling over the blade tip edges and mixing with the low pressure air creating drag. The duct blocks the majority of the high pressure air travelling over/around the blade tip. The tighter the tip’s tolerance to the duct the less spillage. So if the duct was in a fixed horizontal or vertical position, they work great (e.g. F35B). When you put a radial lip on the… Read more »

Steve R
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Steve R

Maybe not, though it’s a good capability to have as that way we’re not having to use a Merlin or Wildcat to deliver a smaller load like 180KG between ships.

Useful when our helicopters are in such a very limited number and during operations will be very busy. Also saves on fuel costs.

Monty
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Monty

Couldn’t agree more, helicopters are a precious commodity in today’s Navy and these drones will be useful to transferring smaller loads from ship to ship. As time goes on the the carrying capacity of these drones will only get heavier relieving the strain in the current helicopter fleet and potentially reducing the risk for air crews.

Steve R
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Steve R

Precisely.

Clearly there is no will to invest in more helicopters, leaving them a scarce resource, so using drones like thos makes perfect sense to save the helicopters for combat/ASW duties or ferrying marines and heavy equipment between ships.

And as you say, their load capability will only increase. The first helicopters could hust about carry their pilot, now they can carry massive loads. These current drones could lift smalll stores or pallets equivalent in weight to one fat man. The next generation will likely lift several times that.

Mr Bell
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Mr Bell

Yeah I was thinking that. Until I tried to work out the cost per flight hour or more accurate flight hour per ton on vertrap operations. Then UAVs do have a role to play. Maybe not this exact model but scale it up and this is potentially the future saving expensive helicopters and V22s for essential manned missions. Flight time per hour for a helicopter is thousands £

Jason Holmes
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Jason Holmes

180kg…really going to end rotary wing replenishment work isnt it? I suppose if Amazon were to get a much needed PS5 to our ships, that could be a good use for it?

Rob
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Rob

So for vertrep this looks fine BUT is it better than a helicopter? Remember a helicopter can help fight the war too whereas this drone at the moment has no military utility. So if it is one or the other I’d stay with helicopters but research is fine.

Andy
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Andy

Well it could drop a 180kg bomb on your head, so I suppose it has some utility.

Surely using this to supply commandos ashore is a great use case, and it’s also not as if we are replacing helicopters with these.

Presumably they also cost a lot less, and no one is going to die if the get hit with a missile.

Rob
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Rob

Andy,
Good point about supporting amphibious ops and I guess good for delivering aid pallets from ship to shore. Eventually they may be able to do dipping sonar, recce, even fire torpedoes & missiles too. They are probably going to be cheaper to buy & maintain than manned aircraft as well. All I was saying is not yet.

Bob
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Bob

Rob, surely logistics and resupply IS the military utility. It means that you could continue to use the manned asset to conduct combat missions concurrently to utilising the UAV to resupply. That’s the very definition of force multiplier.

Rob
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Rob

Get your point but not if there is only enough physical room on board for one or the other.

Cam
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Cam

Makes sense, autonomy would be great and would save money.

maurice10
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maurice10

What measures would have to be in place to avoid the load being a terror device? Okay, it will be launched by RN personnel, but as we know the terrorist has a nasty habit of getting through. If this was a manned craft the likelihood of electronic interception, would be reduced. Some code systems would be required to detect if the package is genuine both from dispatch to landing point. Sorry for the cautious approach, but the whole issue of drone operations needs careful regulation.

Daveyb
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Daveyb

There is nothing you can do if someone decides to use a UAV like this as either a “bomber” or suicide drone. The method has been proven and used successfully in Iraq and Syria. It is also used now in Yemen and Libya. Once the genie is out of the bottle it’s nigh on impossibly to put it back in!

Rob Collinson
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Rob Collinson

No doubt, there is a place for this type of delivery. Drones will be able to do much of the light delivery. But an F35 engine? Ammunition for the planes? Aircrew?

What about refuelling the F35? With about an hour of flight time, how are the aircraft to be refuelled if there are no flying air fuel stations of an ally for an F35 to use? It is like sending a cage fighter into the ring with a 1000lb weight tied around the waist.

Time to think seriously about this!!!

Glass Half Full
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Glass Half Full

Hi Rob, I’ll double post this given your interest and in case you don’t see it above. Hybrid eVTOL UAV is where we might go to in future instead of V-22 Osprey, V-280 Valor or V-247 Vigilant options. Eliminate the complicated mechanical drive systems in favour of a turboshaft engine coupled to a generator to generate electrical power for lift fans. This future platform then becomes the AEW, COD and air tanker capability for carriers and amphibious groups if operating independently of a carrier. The Rhaegal RG-1 eVTOL linked to below uses a standard helicopter turboshaft engine with similar output… Read more »

Rob
Guest
Rob

A really interesting idea. If this could be scaled up to refuel a flight of F35s. Could it be used to refuel? Secondly, is the speed fastest enough for an F35 to refuel, as this is why any form of conventional helo use as a refuel option?

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

The Rhaegal RG-1, best case, cruises between 1/2 to 1/3 the speed of the A400M or Airbus A330 tanker respectively and about 2/3 that of a KC-130 tanker so in theory fast enough, but not impressive.

However, once we recognize that the USMC are looking to MV-22 to re-fuel F-35B, then the RG-1’s ~200 kn cruise speed vs 250-300 kn of the MV-22 doesn’t look so far off a meaningful capability from a speed perspective.

In practice, a future solution would probably need to be faster and of course larger to handle a significant fuel load.

Julian
Guest
Julian

At 5,400 lbs payload the fuel carrying capacity looks pretty light compared to a single F-35B’s internal tank capacity of 13,500 lbs. Even for a pair of F-35Bs that’s going to give a max 20% of full fuel tank top-up for each aircraft. Is that anything like enough for realistically useful AAR (genuine question)? The CTOL max payload weight is quoted at 10,000 lbs so if the runway length and ski jump on a QEC would be sufficient for a CTOL that would help. The UAV is not really going to need to worry about doing a VTOL landing with… Read more »

Glass Half Full
Guest
Glass Half Full

Probably not enough fuel capacity to be useful in this current RG-1 solution, although there might be some use cases. For example, the 5,400 lbs is the delta between an F-35B and F-35A fuel capacity and about 1,000 lbs light of F-35C fuel load. So a flight of five RG-1s could in theory top up a squadron of F-35Bs on the out leg, return, re-fuel and then top up on the return leg to perhaps deliver similar range for F-35B to the F-35A/C variants. That’s a lot of re-fueling though. The CTOL numbers require a long runway of 914 m… Read more »

Levi Goldsteinberg
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Levi Goldsteinberg

You really get the impression that drones are the number one hot ticket item for the MoD at the moment

Herodotus
Guest

Yes, the MoD or Ministry of Drones 🙂

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

Yes, but they never order any! What is the betting 5 years from now another round of initial gates / appraisals / studies / informing exercises arrive.

Meanwhile, I believe other nations have them already? I forget the name, that helicopter type UAV? Ah! Fire Scout.

Julian
Guest
Julian

The Australian Navy are also using Schiebel S-100 Camcopters (https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2020/03/schiebel-completes-heavy-fuel-acceptance-tests-for-royal-australian-navy/)

No complaints from me about the focus on this area although, as you say Daniele, let’s hope it turns into purchases of usable assets and doesn’t end up being a trial that gets de-funded e.g. the RN Scan Eagle trial a few years ago.

dan
Guest
dan

When I think of heavy lift I think of something like a CH-47s. Not a small drone that carries 400 pounds. lol