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MoD Details UAV Usage, Plans

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Remotely Piloted Air Systems: Written evidence from the Ministry of Defence (excerpt)

(Source: House of Commons Defense Committee; issued Oct. 25, 2013)


The following is excerpted from MoD’s written evidence prepared for yje Defence Committee’s report on Remotely-Piloted Aircraft.


What UAS capability does the MOD currently possess or operate?

3.5 The British Army currently operate four unarmed UAS systems in Afghanistan. All were procured on an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) basis. They are Hermes 450 (a Tactical UAS) - Desert Hawk - Tarantula Hawk, which operates solely as part of the TALISMAN Improvised Explosive Device (IED) route clearing capability, and BLACK HORNET, a hand launched nano-UAS (i.e. miniature UAS). Army operated UAS are used for passive ISR purposes only. They are not armed, and have no offensive role. Their current purpose is to support UK, ISAF and Afghan forces. The supported forces will submit an ISR request in advance and, once a UAS has been tasked, the mission will be planned in close cooperation with the Ground Force, and communications maintained throughout the mission to ensure threats and opportunities are exploited rapidly.

3.6 The RAF operate REAPER. This is the UK’s only armed RPAS and has been armed with precision-guided weapons since May 2008, providing an offensive capability if needed by ground commanders.

3.7 The Royal Navy plan to operate SCANEAGLE beginning later this year which is a working surveillance system. A concept demonstration was conducted for the Royal Navy from a Bay Class Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship during December 2012. In June 2013 Boeing UK was awarded a contract for Maritime UAS in support of Royal Navy and RFA ships. The SCANEAGLE system was developed by Insitu and is currently in service with nine other nations and operated from more than thirty platforms.


5. Tomorrow’s Potential: What additional capabilities will the UK seek to develop from now to 2020?

5.1 The MOD is considering whether UAS (REAPER, DESERT HAWK III, BLACK HORNET, TARANTULA HAWK) acquired as UORs for Op HERRICK should be retained as core programmes or not, when UK forces redeploy in 2014. WATCHKEEPER will be the core UAS capability for Tactical Army ISR when it enters service. The MOD also has in place programmes that could deliver new UAS fleets in the period to 2020 and research to determine the future beyond that. Detail of future programmes is in paragraphs 5.2 - 5.7 and at Table 2 below. Legal issues regarding procurement and introduction into service are considered later in Section 7.

5.2 WATCHKEEPER: A tactical UAS, this is the UK MO D ’s largest current UAS procurement programme (approx £1Bn) and will provide operational commanders with unmanned day/night all weather capability to detect and track targets without the need to deploy troops into potentially sensitive areas. The system consists of unmanned aircraft, sensors, data links and ground control stations. There are no plans to fit weapons. The WATCHKEEPER Development, Manufacture and Initial Support ( D MIS) contract was awarded to Thales UK (Prime) in 2005 and is being produced at UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (UTacs) in Leicester , UK . The first UK flight took place in Parc Aberporth, West Wales in April 2010 and since then over 400 hours of operational flight trials have taken place. WATCHKEEPER is planned to be delivered through an incremental development programme to allow the system to benefit from both existing and emerging future sensors and air vehicle technology. WATCHKEEPER did not achieve its forecast in-service date of April 2012 as the system was not yet proven against Release to Service regulations. The delay to the introduction of WATCHKEEPER into service is being mitigated by the continuation of the Hermes 450 service provision to ensure there is no capability impact on current operations.

5.3 SCAVENGER: The UK SCAVENGER Programme will deliver the future UK capability for deep and persistent armed ISR collect from 2018 to 2030, currently provided by the REAPER UOR. The programme is pre-Initial Gate. It is currently planned to be met by a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS. A MALE UAS operates at approx 20,000ft and is capable of conducting ISR across a very wide area; it also has the potential to be armed and to therefore deliver a solution to meet the SCAVENGER requirement. The SCAVENGER Assessment Phase is focused on maturing and de-risking the sole-source acquisition of a future variant of REAPER, as a Military-Off-The-Shelf solution. The UK is still considering acquisition options to satisfy its SCAVENGER capability requirement, including retaining its REAPER as a Core Capability. Nothing has been ruled out and UK remains open to considering cooperative options.

5.4 TARANIS: The MOD has long held a requirement for capabilities that allow the timely engagement of targets deep behind enemy lines. While this has historically been fulfilled by manned aircraft, it is recognised that an UCAS could offer a cost-effective solution in the future. The TARANIS programme will result in a one-off flying Technology Demonstration Vehicle (TDV) comparable in size to a Hawk trainer aircraft. The current contract is for approx £180M.

The TDV will demonstrate the successful integration of off-the-shelf technologies, including, automation, command and control, sensor integration, and payload integration. The TDV is not designed to drop weapons, but will include simulated weapon release as part of a mission representative scenario. UK policy is that there will always be a human in control of any decision making process involving weapons.

(From table 2):
Project TARANIS is a UCAS technology demonstrator programme focusing on the next generation of Low Observable intelligence and attack aircraft. It will provide the MOD with experimental evidence on the potential capabilities, helping to inform decisions on the future mix of manned and remotely piloted systems. UCAS will not replace any of the RAF’s front-line aircraft in the short term, but in the longer term a mix of manned fast-jets and UCAS could be used on operations.

TARANIS ground tests commenced in 2010 and flight trials took place in 2013. TARANIS investment will be exploited in Future Combat Aircraft Systems which will offer more advanced capabilities compared to the current generation of aircraft. Given the nature of combat operations there will always be a role for highly skilled operators and pilots to ensure that remotely piloted combat missions are conducted appropriately, proportionately and legally.


5.5 Any future in-service systems based on such a concept design will at all times be under the command of highly skilled ground-based crews controlling a platform able to operate in contested airspace behind enemy lines unlike current unmanned systems.

5. 6 Future Combat Aircraft Systems (FCAS): The UK and France have a requirement to examine the options for the next generation of combat aircraft systems after Rafale and Typhoon are due to come out of service in the 2030 timeframe. One option being considered is UCAS. The FCAS Preparation Phase contracts are progressing. The UK must make a strategic capability decision at SDSR15 on FCAS and therefore the next phase of the programme is important to de-risk critical technologies, this work will underpin SDSR15 decision making.

5.7 Maritime. The introduction of SCANEAGLE will permit Royal Navy experience of operating UAS and lead to consideration of further UAS development in the maritime domain. In addition, concept work is being conducted to assess the viability of rotary wing UAS in the maritime domain to operate from smaller vessels although it remains in the conceptual development stage. The Navy aspires to introduce a fleet of assured and integrated UAS to deliver Mine Counter Measures, hydrographic capabilities, maritime surveillance and force protection functions.


What Current and Prospective Partnerships working on UAS is the UK Engaged in?

5.8 Industry: ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) is a UK industry-led consortium which is focusing on the development of technologies, systems and procedures with a specific emphasis on unmanned aircraft systems. It was created in 2006 to research and demonstrate how a remotely piloted aircraft could be safely integrated into airspace shared with other aircraft. The consortium is unique in its holistic approach to the challenge, addressing both the human-side of the equation (legislation and the operational control of remotely piloted aircraft), and the technical challenges.

5.9 The consortium is led by seven UK companies (AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, Qinetiq, Rolls Royce, Thales) plus a further 70 SMEs and universities. The aim of the programme is to enable the routine use of UAS in all classes of airspace without the need for restrictive or specialised conditions of operation. It is a £62M programme, which was split into two phases (each lasting for three years). Phase 2 ended on 31 March 2013; 50% of the funding came from the industry partners, with the remainder from government.

5.1 0 The MOD is an observer of ASTRAEA, not an active participant. It is impressed with the consortium’s approach and progress to date.

5.1 1 Multinational. The UK will continue to support the Anglo-French Defence and Security treaty through all of its cooperative equipment programmes. At the 2012 Summit UK and France agreed to examine cooperation opportunities for WATCHKEEPER and an initial study concluded that there was potential for mutual benefit as a result of cooperating on the system. The UK agreed to support France to conduct an Operational Assessment of the system in France to help inform their investment decision for a Tactical UAS. In order to facilitate the Assessment , UK MOD established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide access to the WATCHKEPER training facility and the loan of UK MOD equipment to enable live flying in France . The WATCHKEEPER MOU was signed by Defence Ministers on the 24 July 2012. As described above, UK and France are also examining remotely piloted systems as an option for the next generation of combat aircraft systems. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the written evidence download page, on the Defence Committee’s website.

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