UK Seeks Autonomous Heavy Lift Drones for Naval Service

Image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Dec 29, 2020 9:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK's Ministry of Defense is looking to acquire a heavy-lift drone for the Royal Navy. It has issued a request for information to inform requirements for an "autonomous maritime airborne heavy lift capability" for the service - in essence, an up-scaled version of commercial drone delivery. 

The RFI parameters call for solutions that are autonomous, crewless and capable of operating over the horizon. Ideally, they will have interchangeable payloads and an open architecture, and they must be maintainable. The cargo payload goal is significant: the MoD is seeking "accurate delivery of payloads exceeding 200 kilos," or 440 pounds. 

The payload figure aligns with a heavy quadcopter drone developed by UK-based Malloy Aeronautics for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. The T-400 can carry up to 400 pounds of equipment, munitions or (in a medical emergency) personnel, and it has a range of about 12 miles. The Royal Navy has contemplated using it in an offensive role to target enemy warships by dropping torpedoes. The U.S. Navy has also contracted with Malloy for a test of a similar device, the Tactical Resupply Vehicle. 

In October, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines tested a smaller quadcopter from Malloy, the T-150, which can deliver up to 60 kilos over a distance of up to 40 miles. The services used these delivery drones to drop ammunition, food and personal supplies to combat units as they carried out a mock amphibious assault on an exercise area in Cyprus. 

In addition to the tactical trials, the Royal Navy's NavyX and DARE R&D branches have been working with Malloy on a heavy-lift drone specifically designed to move supplies onto ships.

“While the next steps are well defined, where should the end goal be? For me, I am really looking forward to proving automated [onboard] recovery on our . . . T-400 aircraft, to a larger vessel of course," said Jack Wakley, a lead engineer with Malloy. “Being able to autonomously deploy 180 kilogram payloads from a Royal Navy vessel at [12 miles] stand-off would be an exciting capability to deliver.”