The Royal Navy plans to use aerial drones to refuel its aircraft carriers – Zone Militaire

According to figures put forward by the US Navy, 90% of logistics deliveries provided by its V-22 Osprey and C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft [voire ses hélicoptères MH-60] to its aircraft carriers concern packages weighing less than 25 kg. Most often, these are electronic components and mechanical parts needed to repair a system or perform maintenance operations.

Hence the idea of ​​using drones for such missions, which would, at the same time, save the potential of its aircraft or use them for other tasks. In 2021, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division [NAWCAD]established on the Patuxent River naval air base, tested the Blue Water drone, from the Texan manufacturer Skyways, to deliver a package of ten kilograms to the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford from Norfolk.

“Aircraft carrier logistics is a complex and diverse set of issues. Sometimes the delivery of a small part to the ship has a big impact on the availability of an on-board system or an aircraft. Having drones like Blue Water can improve our ability to respond quickly to specific logistical needs where payload and ship location allow,” the USS Gerald Ford pasha commented at the time.

Subsequently, another trial, just as conclusive, consisted of using the same type of drone to provide a link between the “destroyer” USS Bainbridge and the oil tanker USNS Joshua Humphreys, these two ships being then at sea.

According to Skyways, the Blue Water drone has a range of 800 km and can carry a payload of around 12 kg. Its flight system is based on an artificial intelligence algorithm allowing it to connect different points autonomously. He can deliver a package either by dropping it or by landing on a ship.

NAWCAD now intends go further by assigning four “logistics” drones aboard an aircraft carrier [l’USS Gerald Ford ou l’USS George H. Bush] from next fall. This experiment should last for two years.

For its part, the Royal Navy is also examining the delivery of parcels to its two aircraft carriers [les HMS Queen Elizabeth et HMS Prince of Wales] by aerial drones.

Thus, recently, as part of the “Heavy Lift Challenge” program, the 700X Naval Air Squadron [X pour eXpérimental, ndlr] evaluated two types of aircraft: the T-600 quadcopter from Malloy Aeronautics and the fixed-wing Ultra from Windracers Autonomous Systems, which is able to drop a load with extreme precision. Both have demonstrated their ability to carry heavy payloads [de l’ordre de 100 à 250 kg] over long distances [1000 km maximum]

The Heavy Lift Challenge aims to determine which drones can be adapted for the needs of the Royal Navy, including the delivery of supplies [munitions, pièces de rechange, matériel médical] to his ships. As such, Malloy and Windracers have each been notified of a contract worth £300,000 to modify and develop their respective aircraft. And all with the objective of having such capabilities fairly quickly.

“We have demonstrated how working with the Royal Navy and our industry partners can speed up the procurement process, enabling us to deliver cutting-edge technology quickly. Ultimately, this work will help the UK Armed Forces retain and develop their operational advantage and achieve cost savings,” said James Gavin, Head of Defense Equipment’s Future Capability Group. & Support » [DE&S]the British equivalent of the French DGA.

For the moment, the refueling of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle [et d’autres navires, comme les porte-hélicoptères amphibie, par exemple] does not seem to be a priority for the French Navy [ou de l’Agence de l’innovation de défense]while such a capability could be interesting to explore…

Photo: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum, RNAS Yeovilton/Royal Navy

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The Royal Navy plans to use aerial drones to refuel its aircraft carriers – Zone Militaire


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