Royal Navy flagship HMS Albion is the first Royal Navy warship to deploy with a Fleet Air Arm drone flight to support operations.
The lightweight Puma is undergoing its first operational testing on Albion’s autumn deployment to the Mediterranean. UAS operators from 700X Naval Air Squadron’s Phantom Flight – normally based at Culdrose in Cornwall – will use the deployment to develop new tactics and work out how it, and other unmanned aerial systems can be used side-by-side with other Royal Navy vessels and equipment.
Just over one meter long, with a wingspan of close to three meters, Puma flies for up to two hours potentially monitoring an area of up to 270 square miles of ocean.
Given its size and weight, the small drone can be launched from Albion’s flight deck, or from the open decks of her much smaller landing craft. It requires just three sailors: a vehicle operator to control the camera in flight, a mission operator to pilot/navigate the Puma and a flight commander who integrates the drone with the ship and other aircraft in the area.
Puma provides the operations team with extra ‘eyes in the sky’, feeding back a live image in various weather/environmental conditions allowing commanders to make quick and accurate decisions.
With a top speed of over 50mph it can keep up with and track fast inshore attack craft threatening Albion or her task group, or ‘go-fasts’ used by drug-runners to traffic illegal narcotics, providing high resolution images and video for intelligence purposes, and provide oversight of Royal Marines as they are carry out raids.
As well as the work being carried out by 700X, Puma is being tested by the Future Commando Force teams from 42 Commando as they develop their ability to target enemy defenses close to shore.