Navy tenders for interim VTOL UAS capability

written by australianaviation.com.au | April 1, 2016
Saab Skeldar
Saab’s Skeldar could be offered for the Navy’s interim UAS requirement. (Saab)

The Royal Australian Navy is looking to acquire an interim vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aircraft system (UAS). 

A request for tender (RFT) for the Navy Minor Project (NMP) 1942, released on the AusTender website on February 26 (with a closing date of April 11), seeks to procure a “proven” VTOL ‘Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System – Interim Capability’ (or MTUAS-IC) and associated engineering and logistic support for the Navy “to extend and enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of a parent unit or ship to increase situational awareness using a variety of sensors”.

Tender documents note the “RFT is seeking the procurement of one training MTUAS and associated support system initially and subject to successful acceptance testing and operational test and evaluation (OT&E), options to acquire further systems to be operated at sea.” (A system may comprise one or more air vehicles.)

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An initial spares and support arrangement for three years and 1,500 operating hours is required under the tender, as is a training package.

Requirements for the MTUAS include being able to search an area of 400nm2 per hour for four hours at a range of 60nm from the parent ship and being able to carry two payload types concurrently, such as ESM and radar or EO/IR and radar.

The project will also allow the Navy to develop experience with and concept of operations for a maritime VTOL UAS ahead of plans to acquire an operational ‘Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft’ flagged in the recent Defence White Paper’s Integrated Investment Program (IIP) document.

“To improve the situational awareness of ships on operations, we will acquire a new tactical unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft system that will complement other sensors and systems by extending the area able to be held under surveillance. These systems will be progressively introduced over the decade to FY 2025-26. They will be able to operate from a range of vessels of varying size, including the future frigates and patrol vessels,“ the IIP reads. Elsewhere the IIP also notes that the Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers will also embark “tactical unmanned systems”.

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The IIP lists the ‘Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft’ as having a 2018-2030 timeframe and a $500-700 million budget.

8 Comments

  • Derrick Aguero

    says:

    It will be interesting to see what airframe the navy will choose, we could go with the proven MQ-8 or MQ-8C. Both are now in operation with the US navy.

  • Law

    says:

    The requirements seem to have been pulled straight from the SAAB Skeldar V-200 brochure which, to me, indicates this is the likely choice.

    140km/h, 6 hour endurance with a range of >100km. It also “has a dual payload capability” from a choice of EO/IR, SA Radar with GMTI, Electronic Surveillance etc. Direct integration into ship Combat Management System consoles, which on the ANZAC and Canberra are also supplied by SAAB (convenient!). Only requires a minimum of 2 personnel to operate. It’s also small enough that it could sit alongside a Seahawk in the rather small ANZAC hangar (as an MQ-8B probably wouldn’t fit)

    All of this fits very neatly within the required specification and makes for a remarkably easy ‘plug and play’ option to both gain some experience and enhance the daily operations of the navy until the new frigates start coming to fruition.

    I have little doubt that any new frigate chosen will have at least an enlarged hanger specifically to accommodate a UAS alongside a full sized manned machine. Once these ships are in place, with practiced UAS skills in hand, the navy could move on to a larger armed option such as the Fire Scout.

  • Jason

    says:

    This is a three year ‘interim’ capability designed to “…develop experience with and concept of operations for a maritime VTOL UAS ahead of plans to acquire an operational ‘Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft…”

    The three year contract suggests it will be out of service around the time the first OPVs and maybe new frigates are entering service, which highlights it as being more of a training capability which will be scaled up to a full project later on.

    Apart from Skeldar, I would put the Schiebel S100 Camcopter in the mix too.

  • Law

    says:

    Yes, you’re quite right Jason, the S100 ticks all the boxes too. Both have surprisingly similar features and specifications. I wonder what they cost respectively? Being able to fit 3-4 of these in the place of a manned helicopter is an interesting thought, especially if larger armed versions are introduced in the 2020’s.

  • Paul Johnstone

    says:

    Fascinated in the idea of VTOL UAS and particularly the specs of this Navy Minor Project! Still wondering why the RAN moved away from the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle given it shipboard origins, previously used by Australian Army, world wide pool of operators and rather small launch and recovery footprint. At an endurance of more than 20 hours and range of over 100kms it is a system could be used from Armidale Patrol Boats to Canberra Class sized ships.

  • Jason

    says:

    Navy trialed Scan Eagle from an FFG last year, perhaps it wasn’t successful.

    My guess is ship captains aren’t comfortable at the thought of a fixed wing UAS travelling straight towards their ship at 50+kts.

  • Bill

    says:

    The Skeldar is certainly an interesting piece of gear. My thoughts are that a helicopter is better suited to operate from ships set up for rotoary ops, so integrating something like this in won’t be hugely difficult (Ha! Famous last words)

  • Josh

    says:

    This makes sense only when the UAV does not take a hangar space away from a more flexible manned helicopter. The MQ-8C is in experimental use with the US Navy (It is not an operational capability) and requires a full hangar to itself. It also required the same maintenance workload as a conventional helicopter, but with less operational flexibility. V-200 makes far more sense for the moment, at least until the results of the US Navy/DARPA Tern program is known.

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