Britain’s Defense Ministry today announced that it has awarded a design and development contract for a new unmanned helicopter for the Royal Navy to Italian defense giant Leonardo.
The money isn’t huge – £60 million ($71.5 million) in a four-year deal to deliver three tons of technology demonstrator – but the payout could be big, as the MoD sees the new system meet multiple capacity requirements. , Although the priority is to support anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions, the Defense Ministry also suggested possible use cases for ship-to-ship resupply and casualty evacuation.
The Royal Navy currently uses the Merlin Mk2 helicopter for ASW missions, which is equipped with a Thales sonar payload, Sting-ray torpedoes and Mk11 depth charge.
According to a Defense Ministry statement, the demonstrator is expected to weigh just 20% of the 10,000 kg Merlin Mk 2, which will be designed to “track and communicate submarine activity” by deploying sonobuoys. According to the statement, in case of detection of the submarine, the unmanned helicopter will request the support of the crew’s means.
According to Britain’s Minister of Defense Procurement, Jeremy Quinn, the new aircraft could “provide a platform capable of providing enhanced surveillance and intelligence, if necessary, to redeploy manned Royal Navy helicopters on alternate missions.” allows.”
The Defense Ministry statement continues, “Designed to operate at a lower cost than manned aircraft, the capabilities derived from the demonstrator can also reduce the risk of hostile threats to Royal Navy personnel.”
The crewless helicopter is scheduled to make its first flight in 2025. A spokesman for Leonardo told breaking defense That “the architecture is still being studied, so we can’t share anything else at this time.”
There is a history between Leonardo and the Ministry of Defense when it comes to unmanned rotorcraft. In 2015, the company completed a two-year study in support of the MoD’s Rotary-Wing Unmanned Aerial System (RWUAS) capability demonstration program. The effort featured the company’s SW-4 Solo helicopter, which successfully made a mock landing at Llanbader Airfield in May 2015.
The UK is also part of a European effort exploring an alternative to the Merlin, with France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands in June to define requirements for a new medium multirole helicopter for €26.7 million ($28.2 million). ) signs the deal.
Massive Modernization Efforts
There has been intense British government activity at the Farnborough Air Show: the Secretary of Defense, Benjamin Wallace, and the outgoing Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, have both made appearances at the fair.
“I want you to know that this government believes in British aviation, in British technical talent, and in our power to create jobs and growth in our country, to bring the whole country together and level it up,” Johnson said on Monday. Is.” “And that’s why we’re investing in defense so massively, the biggest increase since the end of the Cold War.”
The Defense Ministry on Monday announced its intention to fly a demonstrator of the Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS) within the next five years. According to the MoD, the demonstrator will “play a key role in testing the technology and design principles required for the UK’s FCAS”, which is targeted to enter service by 2035.
The inaugural flight is expected to include a single-crew aircraft flying at supersonic speeds and will be operated in coordination with FCAS partners Italy and Japan.
“FCAS isn’t just a spacecraft. It’s pretty much the platform for technological change and all kinds of industrial spin-offs, because the fighter jet systems of the future are going to be very different, even from Typhoons and Some of them will be manned, some of them will be manned and some of them will not,” Johnson said. “And in developing these new technologies and maintaining the air superiority that we have enjoyed for so long and which is so important to our long-term security, I want our country to take the lead.”
Meanwhile, the companies bidding for the new medium helicopter of the Ministry of Defense (NMH) presented their solutions in Farnborough. The Defense Ministry is seeking 44 medium- and multi-role helicopters as part of a £900 million ($1.072 million) seven-year programme.
Rivals that could replace the current UK fleet of Airbus Helicopters Puma HC2s and AS365 Dauphins and Bell Helicopters 212 and 412 from 20214 include Leonardo’s AW-149; Bells 525 Relentless; AceHawk Aerospace’s ML-70 Black Hawks; The S-70M Black Hawk from Lockheed Martin, and the MH-139 Gray Wolf from Boeing. (However, the Defense Ministry did not provide any formal update on the NMH program at Farnborough.)
And in February, the US and UK announced an agreement to conduct a feasibility assessment of the Future Vertical Lift Program. The agreement covers four lines of work that include the US military’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programs; future unmanned aerial systems; Air-launched effects, and open systems architecture.
This assessment will give the UK Ministry of Defense access to US military requirements documents, which can be used to inform its decision-making processes, which are not currently available to other NATO partners. These documents may aid in the development of future helicopter requirements by the UK Ministry of Defence, which will also be in a position to receive FVL capabilities from the US military in the future.
Interestingly, the United States and the Netherlands on Wednesday announced a similar, though shallow, deal on the development of future helicopters.