The UK defense ministry has issued a request for information (RFI) for the potential development or procurement of an autonomous heavy lift unmanned aerial vehicle for the Royal Navy.
The defense ministry stated that the purpose of the RFI was to review a range of maritime airborne autonomous capabilities which currently exist or are in development within the marketplace to support the development of the RN’s autonomy network and the creation of the Future Maritime Aviation Force.
According to the RFI, the ideal solution should support autonomous/crewless operation, be capable of delivering payloads exceeding 200kg and performing over the horizon operations. The system should also feature open architecture and rapidly interchangeable, multiple payload types.
The RFI did not state whether the UAS should be capable of taking off and landing on Royal Navy ships. Should that be the case, however, the options would come down to UAS with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. It is worth noting that there are not many VTOL systems with these payload capacities that have been operationally proven. The Schiebel S-100 UAS and the UMS Skeldar V-200, two of the most prominent systems flown by navies, both have a maximum payload capacity of about 50 kilograms.
The only other systems supporting these payloads that have been tested in an operational environment are the Northrop Grumman-developed MQ-8B and MQ-8C Fire Scout UAS. MQ-8B is based on the Schweizer S333 manned helicopter and offers a payload capacity of 320 kg at short ranges. The MQ-8C is based on the Bell 407 helicopter and offers a similar payload capacity.
Companies interested in taking part in the Royal Navy RFI will have until January 22, 2021, to apply. More information can be found here