£60m deal for Leonardo Helicopters to develop unmanned aircraft demonstrator – Reuters


Boosting innovation in future Royal Navy capabilities, the project will support up to 100 highly skilled engineering jobs at Leonardo’s Yeovil site.

Testing the viability of larger unmanned aircraft for the Navy, the three-tonne demonstrator – less than a fifth the weight of a Merlin helicopter – could provide an innovative alternative to existing aircraft for tracking enemy submarines.

The trials will test the plane’s ability to drop “sonobuoys” – small tube-shaped buoys that track and communicate underwater activity – allowing the plane to alert a manned helicopter such as a Merlin and to call for help if a submarine is located.

Designed to operate at lower cost than manned aircraft, the capabilities derived from the demonstrator could also reduce the exposure of Royal Navy personnel to hostile threats. The unmanned helicopter is due to undertake its maiden flight in 2025.

Defense Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin said: “The global threat is evolving and it is crucial that we remain at the forefront of defense innovation. Exploring new advanced defense capabilities through programs with key UK manufacturers will help ensure our armed forces are equipped to meet the latest threats.

If successful, the new aircraft would provide a platform capable of delivering improved surveillance and intelligence, allowing manned navy helicopters to redeploy on alternative missions if necessary and bolster the UK’s defense capability. United.

Sir Simon Bollom, CEO of DE&S, said: “Our team has been able to use an innovative and agile delivery approach to ensure that we can accelerate potential new technologies through to the demonstration phase so that they can be delivered to the UK Armed Forces as soon as possible if required. ”

Director of Develop Royal Navy, Rear Admiral James Parkin said: “Proving the benefits of larger unmanned aircraft (both rotary and fixed wing) will be key to understanding whether these aircraft can effectively contribute to the Royal Navy’s future capabilities, particularly for anti-submarine warfare (ASW).”

Capable of carrying a large payload, combined with the ability to operate in harsh environmental conditions, the aircraft could also demonstrate its usefulness in a range of requirements. Beyond ASW, the project will assess other potential uses, including ship-to-ship resupply and casualty evacuation.

James Gavin, head of the DE&S Future Capability group which awarded the contract, said: “Exploring and proving the use of modern delivery approaches is essential if the MOD is to deliver capabilities that can deliver operational advantage to time, quality and cost requirements with an increasingly limited workforce.”

The four-year contract will provide an unmanned demonstrator as part of the intentions outlined in the Defense Capabilities Framework for future search, strike and lift capabilities to be increasingly provided by unmanned and autonomous systems.

Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK), said: “Unmanned VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft will transform military capabilities while also having applications in other market sectors, both in the UK and globally. This contract represents a major step towards our future in next-generation unmanned military technology and maintaining unique engineering skills ashore.

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