The news comes as the MoD stated the Uncrewed Air Systems Heavy Lift Capability (UASHLC) programme had been created to be deployed across maritime services. Such technology will allow a practical and autonomous method to supply front-line operations in a timely manner without the need for vessels to return to port.
The initiative to build such a drone was launched by Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose Heavy Lift Challenge, which called on manufacturers to demonstrate crewless technologies that could be adapted to send supplies to ships at sea.
MoD officials published a tender last week on the matter.
It read: “The intention is to address the lack of current options in the market by increasing the number of delivery-ready platforms in order to help support and develop the Authority’s understanding of the potential capabilities and operational uses for such uncrewed systems.”
The tender also said the MoD will “facilitate accelerated development of one or more Supplier UAS to meet or exceed the requirements of Authority defined Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), along with complementary and underpinning technologies that will enhance UAS operational capabilities.”
It added: “Our intent is to ensure that Defence will have access at the speed of relevance, to current and future emerging cutting-edge capabilities for use within the Royal Navy and other domains.
“The Authority will facilitate, via the use of this competitive framework, an environment whereby suppliers are able to demonstrate current capabilities, set out product development and commercial exploitation roadmaps and work with both the Authority and potentially with other suppliers to accelerate pace of development and reduce time to market.”
The main purpose of the project, according to the MoD is to: “support and inform the development of Maritime operating concepts and enable assessment, analysis, exploration and evaluation of the use of UAS for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) payload delivery and broader UAS capabilities.”
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Britain also used a wide variety of combat-capable drones within its reserves.
Included in the RAF arsenal is the MQ-9 Reaper, built by US-based General Atomics.
Furthermore, the RAF deploys the SkyGuardian Protector, once again made by GA.
The British Army use the Watchkeeper.
This drone was built jointly by Thales UK and the Israeli company Elbit Systems.
It is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone.
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There is also the futuristic Taranis drone, currently a demonstrator aircraft jointly funded by the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems.
The MoD is also developing work around the use of swarming drones (that is, at least 10 – 20 small drones acting in concert) under the name ‘Alvina’ but much of this is taking place behind closed doors.
The then Chief of the Air Staff, Stephen Hillier told the Air and Space Power Conference in July 2019 that he was re-forming RAF Squadron 216 to develop drone swarming capability and deliver it to the frontline.
However, a report published by Express.co.uk earlier this year suggested the project has yet to deliver viable results at this stage.
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