25 Mei 2012

Australian Navy to Trial Embarked UAVs

25 Mei 2012

RAN will conduct tests on ScanEagle, Aerosonde and Camcopter UAV (photo : Shephard)

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has secured funding for flight trials of a number of embarked UAVs as it works towards its ambition of having a naval UAV squadron before 2020.

Speaking at the UV-Pacific conference being held on the Gold Coast, Australia on 24 May, Lt Cdr Bob Ferry, naval UAS development project manager, said that over the coming financial year trials would be carried out on the ScanEagle, Aerosonde and Camcopter.

‘We are about to tap into the existing Insitu Scan Eagle contract – we are signing up for 300 hours in the next financial year to continue experimentation. I am going to spread it amongst these three [platforms] – primarily Scan Eagle for 300 hours,’ Ferry said.

He noted that first of class flight trials (FOCFT) would be carried out on an ANZAC frigate in September 2012 and would then take place on HMAS Choules in early 2013. Open ocean warfare experimentation would be carried out in November 2012 while the navy plans to do patrol boat trials using ‘hub and spoke’ land-based operations.

The RAN currently has no UAS systems in service and there are no acquisition projects in place. However, there are plans for this to change and a Naval Unmanned Aerial Systems Development Unit (NUASDU) was formed in February 2010 to study the issue through to mid-2013.

With Australia working on a new defence white paper, which is expected to be released next year, there is expectation that naval UAV operations will be mandated, despite the ‘current fiscal and manpower constraints’ that are hampering its introduction.

‘The 2009 white paper made mention of UAVs on ships. It said we could operate them but didn’t give us much leverage to go and spend millions of dollars. A force structure review paper on UAVs was specifically asked for by CN [Chief of the Navy] and he endorsed it in February, with the intent of it going forward into the next white paper,’ Ferry explained.

‘What’s it going to say? What I hope it says is what I wrote for CN – all navy vessels will be fitted for and with a UAS. We need to have them out there and they need to be involved in everything we do.’

Ferry noted that the Naval Aviation Vision 2020 forecasts the establishment of a naval UAV squadron before 2020 and the navy is still tracking towards that.

The issues that need to be resolved for this to happen include: determining what the UAS controller/maintainer qualifications ought to be, especially given the UAS will be required to operate in civil airspace; what the system certification be and would they be state registered, ADF owned or civil registered; and interoperability between ship classes and other ADF assets.

‘We have got to make sure there is interoperability, not just between our ships but between those others we play with and that’s one of the nuts we need to crack as well.’

To help resolve some of these issues, the navy has embedded two personnel into the Royal Australian Air Force Number 5 Flight, which operates the Heron UAV, to bring back feedback from their experience.

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