The Royal Navy has begun a two-week military exercise devoted to the demonstration and testing of new unmanned systems. Having been several years in the making, the exercise will help define the service’s use of unmanned vehicles over the coming decades with a number of industry contracts expected upon its conclusion.
Among the industry products being tested is a new version of the Royal Navy’s current Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), the ScanEagle which has been deployed from surface vessels in the surveillance role but will be phased out next year. Built by Insitu, a subdivision of Boeing, the ScanEagle was a military development of a commercial UAV designed for fish spotting use by trawler and fishing fleets in Alaska. It is highly portable being very small and is launched from a catapult allowing it to take off from the helicopter deck of a typical frigate. The new version the Royal Navy will be testing over the next two weeks will combine the range and endurance of the current ScaEagle with a significantly improved multi-sensor intelligence gathering capability.
Another fascinating type on test is the Leonardo Helicopters SW-4 Solo Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV)/Rotorcraft Unmanned Air System (RUAS). Based on the Polish PZL SW-4 light helicopter, the SW-4 Solo has been developed with funding from the UK and Italian defence ministries and will be used as a technology demonstrator during Unmanned Warrior. The aircraft will utilise a wide array of sensors to establish exceptional levels of situational awareness for either a pilot or a ground operator if operating in unmanned mode.
Despite being a Royal Navy affair, the exercise is being monitored with interest by several nations who have sent observation teams to the west of Scotland where the trails are being carried out. The Royal Navy has been somewhat slower than their Army or Royal Air Force comrades in embracing unmanned systems but in recent years has been making strides towards fully exploiting the benefits such systems afford the modern military. In August 2015 tests were even carried out from HMS Mersey with the University of Southampton involving a mini-UAV created using 3D printing.