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10 Aug 2022

UK accelerating heavy lift drone project for Royal Navy

UK accelerating heavy lift drone project for Royal Navy
Photo : Trials / UKDJ
Originally posted by UK Defence Journal (UKDJ) by George Allison

The Ministry of Defence has announced that the Uncrewed Air Systems Heavy Lift Capability (UASHLC) framework has been created “to accelerate the development of a range of autonomous Heavy Lift UAS for use predominantly, but not exclusively, in the maritime domain”.

Last year, the Royal Navy announced that it is developing new approaches to acquire autonomous solutions to support operational activities – such as how to get supplies to the frontline of operations. Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose hosted the inaugural Heavy Lift Challenge, calling on drone manufacturers to showcase crewless technology which could be adapted to carry supplies and cargo to ships and personnel.

According to a tender notice published by the MoD this week.

“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 notice also states that 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”.

The notice states:

“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 purpose of the UASHLC framework, according to the notice, 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”.

According to the notice, the Framework is designed specifically to:

  1. Provide Sponsor / User confidence in the potential for UAS systems to provide recoverable, adaptable, Autonomous/remotely piloted air systems, capable of accurately delivering heavy payloads at range;
  2. Enable the Authority to identify and as appropriate fund the most viable solutions in the market for accelerated further development in order to meet the Authority’s minimum requirements (the MVPs) within the timescales stated,
  3. Provide the Authority with a mechanism for end users to potentially acquire systems for further evaluation or other use.

“The framework is open to all Industry Partners who can articulate how their technology/capability can enhance the Heavy Lift UAS market, thereby not constraining the framework to only Platform providers, as underpinning and novel UAS related technologies and capabilities are also in scope. These underpinning and novel technologies and capabilities can encompass (but aren’t restricted to) payloads, fuels, software, and Counter UAS technologies (ground or platform based). The first tasking within the framework will be based around two confirmed sprints as articulated below, with scope for an additional three sprints as the programme develops (Authority requirement and funding dependent).”

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