The RAF will take delivery of its first Protector, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) this year and should achive Full Operating Capability by 2024. Protector is a modified MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAV made by General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems-Inc (GA-ASI) and will be used for armed ISTAR, carrying Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bombs. 16 Protectors will replace the legacy Reaper fleet and the UK contract with GA includes the option for a further 13.
As part of the FMAF, the RN envisions operating a land-based Maritime Protector variant. GA has developed the SeaGuardian derivative of the MQ-9B with a range of 6,000nm, able to stay on station for up to 25 hours, it has nine hard-points for a sensor or weapon payload of up to 2,100 kg. SeaGuardian can be equipped with a variety of maritime radar and EO sensors and even conduct ASW when equipped with a sonobuoy dispenser. Whether the UK will purchase SeaGuardian for this requirement is unclear for now but with Protector already in service, it would make sense as there would be commonality of logistic support and training. Although a US-made product, the Protector deal includes the involvement of British industry. For example, Isle of Wight-based GKN Aerospace now manufactures the V-tails for all MQ-9B variants.
The MQ-8B has a modular design and, to facilitate STOL operation the long tapered wings and tail planes of the base model are replaced. The STOL kit can be installed in less than a day and the core aircraft and its sub-systems remain the same. Kit includes non-tapered wings with a thicker aerofoil section that generates more lift at low speed. Their wingspan is slightly reduced and are power-folding to save deck and hangar space on the ship. The propellor has also been modified to produce greater initial thrust needed for take-off.
The re-designed wing and propeller reduce the take-off length required but will inevitably have a modest range penalty due to increased drag. Flight profile will vary depending on payload and weather but the GA simulation shows the MQ-9B making an unassisted taking off using less than 250m of deck and an unarrested landing using less than 200m. Of course, this concept has yet to be demonstrated at sea and there are many potential issues to resolve before this is a viable operational capability for any navy.Sea-Guardian-STOL-modifications
Despite its long range, the possibility of operating a MALE UAS from an aircraft carrier has a lot of attractions. As an organic part of the airgroup it would be fully globally deployable and responsive to the immediate mission requirements of the carrier strike group. STOL MQ-9B could perform several roles. Its range and persistence would make it ideally suited to replace the Merlin-helicopter-based Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control task. Project Proteus initially envisaged a rotary-wing UAS as the solution but a fixed-wing UAS would have vastly better endurance and service ceiling. (MQ-9B can operate up to 40,000 ft compared with the 15,000 ft of a Merlin).
A SeaGuardian-based solution could also act in the ASW ‘find’ role, supplementing the overstretched Merlin force with a sensor platform that can be airborne for days instead of hours. If armed, the MQ-9B could be used in the strike role to support amphibious operations. Integration with other UK weapons such as Sea Venom or Spear-3 also offers other possibilities to increase the reach of the carrier group. As a slow-moving RPAS, MQ-9B is theoretically not likely to survive long in contested airspace but in the ISR role its vulnerabilities are little different to a Merlin or MPA and more risk can be taken with an uncrewed platform. It is interesting to note that less sophisticated Bayraktar TB2 RPAS have excelled in combat in Ukraine despite Russian air defence capabilities.
The RAF recently cancelled Project Mosquito by mutual agreement with the industry following a technical review. This was a technology demonstrator to develop a ‘loyal wingman’ uncrewed air vehicle for F-35 and Tempest. The RN’s Project Vixen was considering a carrier-based loyal wingman, potentially a Mosquito derivative, this is a complex requirement that would require substantial modifications to the carrier to launch and recover these UAVs.
The ambition for Mosquito always seemed wildly optimistic in relation to the technical requirement – an autonomous jet capable of matching F-35 flight profiles with just £30M funding for a prototype supposed to be flying by next year. It may not be a bad thing that Mosquito was abandoned. An iterative ‘fast to fail’ development philosophy avoids wasting time and money on blind alleys. There are other more advanced loyal wingman projects in the US and Australia that the UK could potentially buy into and this does not necessarily signal the end of Vixen. What it does highlight is that STOL Maritime Protector, based on proven technology and not requiring major modification to the ships, could be a faster route to carrier-based uncrewed aircraft (although obviously fulfilling a different role to Vixen).
GA-ASI has already invested considerably in ensuring that the MQ-9B can be safely operated in civilian airspace. Building on the experience gained flying MQ-9A Reaper since 2012, Protector will be based at RAF Waddington and must also be able to navigate UK airspace. During a 2-week airspace integration trials activity in September 2021 SkyGuardian conducted a number of test flights around the UK and the Netherlands was certified as safe. Although Protector will mostly be remotely piloted by aircrew on the ground at Waddington, it is capable of automated take-off and landings and has detect/avoid radar system to deconflict with other aircraft. During the trial, SkyGuardian was treated as any other crewed aircraft would be in controlled airspace by the National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS). Aircrew at Waddington communicated with NATS as they would in the air and when in uncontrolled or military airspace, they were managed by RAF 78 Squadron controllers.
A Protector crew comprises of 3 personnel a Pilot, Sensor Operator and Mission Intelligence Operator. Potentially a carrier-based MQ-9B could be flown either from Waddington or from a containerised mission module installed on the ship but this would likely require investments in greater satellite connectivity and data bandwidth for the ship. GA-ASI intend that the STOL version would be integrated with the US Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) that was certified on HMS Queen Elizabeth in March 2021. This provides electronic guidance to aircraft landing on the ship and is integrated with the F-35. This will be especially important in the further development of Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) allowing the F-35B to land flying forward to provide extra lift to recover to the ship with unused weapons.
MQ-9B will be flown by satellite link for the majority of the time but a local line-of-sight data link will most likely be needed for carrier landing, launch and flight deck movements. This will require significant integration work on the QEC such as steerable antennas, communications and command workstations. The control logic for the aircraft during take-off and landing will have to be resolved, whether fully automated or piloted. How the aircraft reacts to the pitch and roll of the ship and turbulent winds are part of the complex technical challenges that come with naval aviation. With a low-power engine and large wings, the MQ-9B is likely to have a much smaller safe weather operating envelope, being more susceptible to crosswinds and turbulent air than either the much heavier and more powerful F-35 or Merlins.Sea-Guardian-QEC-Carrier
While having the obvious benefit of avoiding the overheads involved in the fitting of catapult and arrestor gear, there are big questions, particularly around the safety of recovering the aircraft. Getting off the deck is not especially complicated although whether before the ramp or from the ramp would have to be resolved. Bringing the aircraft to a controlled stop with only reverse thrust on the propeller and brakes on the small landing gear to help looks challenging, even in moderate sea conditions. An angled deck could be the only safe solution to ensure the aircraft does not run into other parked aircraft or personnel. Although the QEC has plenty of space, how the MQ-9B affects the operation of other aircraft would have to be carefully calculated. There are also a wide range of other details that the integration team would have to consider such as how well marinised is the airframe.
Carrier-based Maritime Protector appears to be a useful option for the UK naval aviation but, like the majority of the FMAF elements, is merely an unfunded possibility with potential at this stage. It would be especially attractive if the US Marine Corps decide to adopt this platform which could allow the costs of de-risking and integration to be shared.
this would be so sweet for UK carriers.
I think this is a doable option, especially if equipped with Seaspray radar and parachutes on wings, for added stopping power.
On the other hand the Bell 247 would be the ideal solution and we wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel.
how is this re-inventing the wheel?
This is certainly something that looks attractive to trial aboard PoW.
Although before committing we’d need to consider whether the USMC are buying it or not. The only downside for the Gator Navy is existing space aboard their carriers, which they are more likely to prioritise to F35Bs or helicopters.
If replacing Merlins carrying Crowsnest then it would need to be launchable in the same sea states as a Merlin, and the pilot would really need to be aboard the carrier.
But the vast space of the QE carriers is opening up options.
I really don’t see the USMC buying this, the whole point of their aviation force is supporting amphibious landings. Even the jets are second priority to the rotary wing force.
US LHDs have a secondary light carrier role for which this may be well suited. USMC have been trying to get their own uas for a while (see V-247) and have started operating Reapers but this may well be a useful next step.
I believe USMC have already bought 4 systems = 16 aircraft.
agree, if marines buy it it is a safer bet. can only think unmanned fixed wing is much better replacement for crowsnest.
Heck why not eh ? It’s not like anything else is flying off them………
Aside from F35Bs, Apaches, Merlins, etc,
Built for but seldom with mostly though.
Why do you think the UAV’s would spend any more time on the carriers the the F35’s or helicopters.
It’s the needs ships mission and of the various elements of air crew, maintenance crew and ships crew training and “home time-sea time” balance that determine which trips have and don’t have air vehicles on board.
I think you completely missed the fact It was sarcasm, loosely based on bare facts and the “What Aircraft” comments that pop up every so often…. Interesting further point is that F35B Ground crew recently returned from exercises having learnt new skills without ever touching an F35. “Spent most of it cleaning and washing up” said my little mate.
I understand the sarcasm, but I think the point needs to be made that seeing the carriers at sea with few if any air assets will continue to be normal going forward. Sometimes carrier force training will take place all as a group, but often each element will train separately.
Everyone has to scrub flats and do pot wash…Communal Party duties are all branch and all trades.
How else do you get incentivised to get a promotion where you dont need to scrub out and do pot wash!
That’s because, like all other navies with carriers, we only embark aircraft when they sail. ??♂️
Reckon ? have you not seen the Carriers sailing empty or pretty much empty for the last few years ? HMS Prince of Wales looked pretty empty on her latest voyage. Slap your head a bit harder, it might clear your mind !!!!
Educate yourself please
Like shown In the main picture above?
I’m reserved about these panacea – as are the Ukrainians evidently, now they’ve got first hand drone operating experience.
I get your point over F35Bs though, Capt. Unless I’m sadly mistaken, and I sincerely bloody hope so, I think the RN is going to have a fight on it’s hands getting them off the RAF when the shite kicks off.
It seems like a good idea, but I suppose it all comes down to whether the STOL can be made to work satisfactorily on the QE class, and how much it costs. I suspect the latter is going to be the stumbling block, and the RN will end up with some smaller, cheaper and less capable drones instead.
The USMC will most likely be buying this option, as may the USN for different reasons, if for no other than not to be outdone by the Turkish Navy, who is planning for UAV operations from their LPD. This opens up new possibilities for the UK, Italy, Australia, Japan and South Korea as well, providing an organic ISR capability to their smaller ‘carriers’.
Looks good in peacetime, but how would this cope in contested arena? I though the US were moving away from the mq-9 programmes due to their vulnerabilities and looking to the rq-180?
It would not be for contested airspace, these would likely keep their feet wet and work as fleet ISAR, ASW, EW assets.
Or for more low key operations that you don’t want to burn F35 airframe hours on. But for contested airspace, well that’s the whole purpose of an F35.
Small parachute on landing to reduce landing distance?
How would that work with the rear mounted prop?
It would slow the prop !
I would prefer full reverse thrust from the prop
As an Engineer with no aero experience my solution would be a hollow driveshaft for the prop with the parachute canister packed inside and attached to the airframe via a support bearing. Can i have £100,000,000 please?
But that’s where the 20mm Cannon sits.
In a Shielded Contra-rotating prop.
How about a easily erected crash barrier if required? Just to aid in the final deceleration if conditions are a little dicey?
How about Velcro on the wheels and a small area on the Deck “Hooked and Looped”.
Crash barriers rely on the deceleration gear of the normal arrestor gear set up.
Back to the 1920’s?
My company has a mechanical decelerator for tail hook captures just finished up an Air Force UAV 2,800 lbs under 250′ arrest. Sure wish I could get my foot in the door with these guys.
This doesn’t feel like a cheap or safe solution, but the path forward is pretty obvious. The RAF are buying these anyway and should be seriously considering the STOL version for austere operations. Buying a couple of conversion kits is a no brainer. So let the RAF test the drones first and figure out the operational practicalilities.
Ten years ago, people talked about MQ-9B costing four million per unit, but it never works out like that. The RAF programme for 16 Protectors was estimated at twelve times that by 2016. Last year the NAO said the budgetted cost of over one and a third billion gave it the largest post-approval percentage cost increase of any MoD major project. It had also had the highest pre-approval percentage cost increases from early estimates too!
It costs the same per plane as Spain is paying for its latest order of batch 4 Typhoons, and not far off the cost of an F-35B. That’s before a single UAV will be delivered, (now expected next year, five years later than the original estimate).
The Navy may have made a mistake in relying on the RAF to sort out Mosquito on which to base their Vixen initiative. Maybe the RAF can do better, cheaper than Mosquito, but giving up on a UK-built carrier UAV for the false promise of the STOL MQ-9B would be an even bigger mistake.
As a comparison, the WW2 Fairey Barracuda had a similar weight but smaller wingspan and was able to take off and land on much smaller Carriers. Quite how easily these Protectors could be Marinised, is another matter though as there are always heated discussions about this subject, think Sea Typhoon !
They are mostly composite so pretty easily.
It isn’t like Chinook and it’s need for a WD40 tanker…..
Merlin is a mostly composite airframe. Doesn’t stop the metal bits having lots of damaging interaction with salt-laden air.
Plus EMI/EMC in a naval environment is a lot more demanding than for land-based. All non-trivial.
How did we get onto Merlin?
Capt’n P was talking about Typhoon?
I was talking about Chinook – known issues.
Merlin is a bit of an exquisite dog’s breakfast of a cab. You would never design anything the way it was designed, ever again. It is the worst of all worlds: complex hard to repair composites with over complicated mechanicals (particularly the gearbox) and as you say metal components that are not the optimum alloy for the maritime environment.
Mind you nothing takes well to long term exposure to salt water cycles…..you can only mitigate…..but constructional complicity helps as does well designed access to apply the mitigations.
Your contention that because MQ9 was a mostly composite airframe, it’d be a piece of p1ss. Which as we both know, isn’t the case.
I agree nothing is simple with aircraft carrier operations.
It is all down to the plug and pray generation…….
I think it was your word “Composites” which are used in all modern aircraft including Typhoons and Merlins….. It was a Marinised Typhoon option that caused a lot of debate on places like this over the years…. The French planned it all along though.
I agree composites are used in almost all modern aircraft.
However, not all aircraft are essentially monocoque construction. As I understand the newer versions of the MQ9 are.
Let’s leave the maranised Typhoon topic alone…..that is enough of a rabbit hole.
It was a topic worthy of comparrison given the subject in question !
I take some of your points, but we need to remember that ALL modern airframes are going to be high proportion composites; we need to work out how to operate with them and repair them, rather than complaint hat they’re there.
Also, in terms of complex gearboxes, a lot of those advanced helicopter designs that the US are devloping have some complicated stuff. Again, I see this as an issue of upskilling to technology advances, rather than criticism of the systems.
On the composites you need to make the panels robust enough that you can knock a large hole in them and perform a field repair that is non structural or a temporary structural repair.
Sometimes solutions need to be a bit more Occam’s Razor and reduced to the simplest proposition that does the job. Rapid prototyping and production of closer to single function fleets is critical.
If you started the Merlin project now and re-engineered it you wouldn’t do it the same way but it is what it is a very very good cab that needs a lot of looking after.
Yes, fully agree- the composites need to be fit for purpose as well as the tools and skills among the maintainers. I see it as a learning curve- hopefully those lessons will be taken on board by industry and the military working together to get the material spec right and the training streams in place. But that’s me being optimistic again!
Marinising an aircraft like the Typhoon isn’t the problem. The cost is in the strengthening of undercarriage and airframe to cope with the shocks of a catapult take-off and trap landing.
As this drone requires neither, this is a far simple task.
It is a problem as highlighted above and a bigger problem for the RN in regards to your comments re C’s and T’s…..
Were’nt Barracudas an awful plane?
“ Its range and persistence would make it ideally suited to replace the Merlin-helicopter-based Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control task”
I’m not seeing how a drone of this size has a power output for an active search radar?
Passive yup, looking for ships and boats sure, taking up sniffer kit yup, so I can see loads of good uses for it. But I can’t see it as a CrowsNest replacement unless it is used in greater numbers much further fowards as a part of a wide area sensor network?
SB US marines also looking at this unmanned tiltrotor. been commented the blades may interfere with radar. there must be a ready made market for airborne early warning for F35b navies even without the marines.
Bell V-247 Vigilant Tilt-rotor Unmanned Aircraft System (naval-technology.com)
I totally agree that there is a decent sized market from the NATO and friendly F35B carriers which will outnumber the catapult carriers soon.
I think using this is a very sensible idea the issue is if the RAF ‘own’ it and it becomes another part time asset that disappears as soon as there is a flap on somewhere else. This really does need to be full time integrated into the QEC’s activities as it is needed even as a helo carrier.
That’s not and isn’t an ownership issue – it’s a numbers game. Especially just now. Same applies to Protector. You want multi-role and concurrent tasking… you need numbers and not just of the airframes! People, training tempo and down time underpin deployability and availability too.
With modern digital software driven radar, you can mitigate the effects of a rotating propeller. Especially if it is a constant speed one, as the doppler pattern is quite stable and recognizable. Though it is still better to not see it at all.
Hmme, but it is still Time Proportionally shuttered by the prop.
Which, at the very least, affects sensitivity.
Yes, but it can be mitigated. AESA helps massively in this situation, due to the very fast scan speed, highly directional beam angles and the formed beam’s diameter.
Say the propeller is set up for take-off with a coarse pitch and is spinning at 860 rpm or 14.33 rev’s per second. For protection against erosion, each composite blade has a titanium leading edge strip. This strip will provide a very good antenna that can reflect the transmission back at the radar.
The sector scan speed of an AESA panel, depending on the radar’s cost, can be measured from 0.1 per second to 0.001 per second (top to bottom and edge to edge in a continuous sweep pattern). The beam’s width of an X-band radar, like the Osprey 50, at the distance between the antenna array face and the propeller will be about 1 degree. It may be more, as it depends on how the beam is formed and the cross sectional area of the array, but also its overall shape (rectangular, square or round).
With the propeller spinning at a constant speed, a modern software driven AESA will be able to draw the propeller’s rotation and see through the gap between the next blade and so on. Therefore, in simplistic terms you can map the propeller’s blades and location at any given time. This gives the option of switching off the beam that would normally hit the blade, when the blade is in view (much like an machine gun interrupter gear on a WW1 fighter). Which is the simplistic technique to use. You can also keep the beam transmitting when the blade is in view, knowing full well that it will be reflected back and cause mutual interference. This can be filtered out through software, which recognizes the very short return time.
I’ve heard the ‘power’ argument before & always just accepted it but recently, I wondered, would it be possible to fit an APU in a pod to run the radars?
The one in a 737 kicks out 440kW for 250lb. Obviously there will be a loss of range due to extra fuel use but… Would this not be a possible solution? Obviously we wouldn’t use the actual one from a 737, it was just an example of light, compact power.
I’m sure someone on here once related Crowsnest to Artisan & said we’d need 30kW so an APU would smash that requirement.
I don’t really know what the power requirement for CrowsNest is and if I did I wouldn’t post it!
But if you go back the English Electric Lightening is was the first aircraft with 100kW (probably) pulse power.
Sure the RMS power is what is of interest, to sizing the power plant, and sure you can use some big capacitors to bridge that.
The thing is that if you are using the radar for EW you need an awful lot of power and also an awful lot of cooling.
The Merlin HC1 is rated at about 1,500kW and I think that it has been power upgraded since then anyway.
On top of that as Deep32 say below you need the processing power (lots of parallel processing) as well as whatever you are using to get the situational picture to wherever it can be fully made use of.
“I don’t really know what the power requirement for CrowsNest is and if I did I wouldn’t post it!” – Can’t tell if you’re being serious bud.
Cooling – it’s pretty cold at 30k feet. And Sampson runs cool doesn’t it? Do you know how we cool an AESA on a fighter? (not being sarcastic. Exploring the problem in my head).
Processing power – this is a good point & as an amateur, will bow to others superior knowledge. I’m just talking power requirements & asking, can this problem be overcome with an APU or similar?
Cooling is an issue for the electronics that generate the RF as well as for the actual transmitter receiver.
That is part of the reason why on an AESA a lot of the semiconductors are on the surface so they are distributed and not clumped and the larger surface area can be used for cooling as you say it is quite cold outdoors at 30kft. Electronic arrays are sensitive darlings and need to be kept at nice consistent temperatures so they are reliable: if they heat /cool too much there will be thermal cycling which will cause mechanical cracking.
Hard to compare Sampson as it has a blown air cooling system on a 7kt warship with, effectively, all the power in the world.
APU + fuel = lots of weight.
For a commercial airliner an APU is an easy carry for sure. The weight is insignificant. For a lightish drone it would hammer the useful payload.
This is why RR are working on jet engines with very high power generating cores.
Thanks bud. DaveyB added some good stuff too (below).
Assuming this is all correct, MQ9 is a non starter for AEW then.
It really depends on the demands of the radar. If were are looking at a very high power radar, such as an adaption of the Typhoon’s CAPTOR-E Radar 2+. I would say no! You can have the APU power up the radar, but not transmitting. With AESA radars, you can also limit how much power it transmits. So for testing you can have specific test mode, where it transmits at a very low level. Which isn’t much good for long range target detection.
What I can say is that the Tornado F3’s Foxhunter radar could not be powered by the aircraft’s APU, it had to use the ground power set or have one of the RB199s running that spun a generator to get the Radar to transmit. The radar was an absolute beast, nobody was allowed within 200ft in front of the antenna when it was transmitting. You could have the radar up and running in standby and with a generator or power set that was on its way out, have it run down or even stop when the radar was transmitting.
The other issue with APUs especially, is that they are not designed for constant use. As they don’t have an airflow going around them, as a Trent does for example. For buried jet engines like the Typhoon’s EJ200, it uses some of the by-pass and bleed air to cool the engine’s internals, APUs generally don’t have this function, as it adds massively to the cost.
Leonardo have said their Osprey series of radars, uses less electrical power compared to their peers. Which doesn’t really mean a lot, only that its component are probably more efficient. You still need a certain amount of power to generate the beam and transmit over a certain distance. There’s no way round RF physics in this case.
Thanks bud. Some good info there. Appreciate it.
If I understand yourself & Supportive Bloke above, MQ9 is a non starter & a drone AEW will need something with a high electrical power generating engine.
Then theres just the processing power & tranmission of signal & landing it on a carrier & a tonne of other things I don’t know about that we need to sort to make it all work. Sounds like a doodle ?
Got to agree ref use as a crossness replacement. Extra weight, power generation not only for the radar, but also for the required comms kit to transmit said picture to wherever! Don’t think this is man enough for that job personally. Happy to be corrected though.
They can carry Seaspray AESA already. But the long duration of flight also means that with 6 you could keep 3 up permanently. Far better than 1 CROWSNEST, and far higher too. the pressure it would remove from the Merlin fleet would be immense.
With X-band radars over a certain height is no longer relevant. The detection range will depend on the days atmospherics, how much power the radar emits, plus the receivers sensitivity. To increase the range, you are constrained by the inverse square law.
Which also militates towards a large area receiver which you can’t fit on a small drone…….
RAF Protectors are ridiculously expensive and running years late. At £1.35bn estimated cost for the 16, they aren’t cheap for the RAF. The RN would also have to starts playing around with STOL kits and carrier integration.
It’s time to start Vixen as a UK-built drone project. Expensive, perhaps but a lot cheaper than Protector.
Inclined to agree. I’ve never understood all the ‘concepts’ we developed into working examples haven’t really resulted in a competitior to MQ9 or Q4 (unless the have & we’re just not allowed to know).
If drones are “the future” and we want to maintain sovreign capabilities, surely deployment of a UK designed, tested and built drone has to happen now. Properly done, the market for all the STOVL carrier nations is not insignificant.
Agreed, there are other options for creating a STOL aircraft, that uses a much shorter wingspan. The obvious is by using a bi-plane configuration. With today’s composites you don’t need bracing wires between the wings. You don’t even need the end strut, if you sweep the wings one forwards and the other backwards. However, there are other methods to increase a wing’s lift generation that are nearly as good as using the bi-plane configuration. Which is by using a blown wing. By placing small ducts that blow air parallel to the wing’s upper surface. These will regenerate the boundary layer and increase lift. This can be done over the full upper surface if needed. It will give a single wing a very similar lift capability if not better to a bi-plane. However, the downside is how the blown air is generated. As you either using a separate pump or use bleed air from a jet engine. The blown air wings on the Buccaneer for example, used up to a 1/3 of the engines available power.
I’m no engineer and certainly not an aero engineer, but I do know a few. Given the tech, materials, modelling etc that we are allowed to know of, and the fact we know we’ve had successful flights etc in the past… don’t get it.
‘Other options’ – yep. They have options & already know how to solve the problem… why don’t they!? I wonder if we’d offered BAE £1.35B to deliver 16 Mantis, flat fee, we’d have them yet?
Get Vixen started.
I think some on here are more used to Blowing air than others truth be known…… not to mention the Tri Deckers that turn up on occasions…….
I think all serious commentators realise that drones are the future and it’s not if but when they will be deployed on naval assets. Would have been more impressed by this article if they had compared /contrasted options. The Bell Vs 280/247 are a realistic alternative, however, GA are obviously putting a lot of work into this offering, so many of the comments are less than thoughtful.
Not sure if i fall into the “Serious commentators” category but i do need to point out that drones have been deployed on Naval assets for quite some time.
Not seriously, Captain, and it’s time to get serious. A few Scan Eagles (now cancelled) and occasional use of hand thrown Pumas is no substitute for consistently employed surveillance drones on all OPVs and frigates. I think HMS Protector is probably the only ship that seems to have regularly based quadcopters (and even these are still technically on trial). Or are there others?
There are serious programmes for USVs (MCM in particular), and it’s time to match that commitment in the air.
And let me add, the standard version of those Sky Mantis quadcopters are less than £20K a pop. Would it kill the budget to stick a few on the OPVs? Post-hurricane surveys in the Caribbean couldn’t do with an extra pair of eyes?
They’re all “Drones” as are the MQ25’s, Puma’s, Banshee and many others.
We have MQ-25s? Even if they were just being tested on land that would be news.
Who mentioned “We”?, no one, certainly not me, my replies are based on the actual wording contained in the actual post’s I’m replying to.
I misunderstood. I thought, this being a Royal Navy focused site, that’s whose future were discussing. There are indeed many navies who take UAV drones seriously.
Yeah, I probably sounded a bit off there ….. It is a big part of the future for sure but I do believe “we” are somewhat behind.
It’s nonsense. As posted previously, this is a solution looking for a problem – or more precisely, a mug with a budget.
You only have to look at the undercarriage to realise it will lose an argument with a heaving deck. That also means weight and increased structure in the airframe. As others have noted – marinising something is a lot more than adding folding wings. Materials, airframe sealing, EMI/EMC – it’s a long old list.
That’s before we get to the impact it will have on deck operations. There isn’t a currently extant arresting system that will accept the MQ9 (the Mk 7 mod 4 is likely to reduce it to component parts).
Then the impact on safe parking area will be immense. Or do you fancy having a 5 tonne aircraft arriving at 50kts relative reliant on a non-existent arresting system or only on its brakes to stop it ploughing into a dozen £100M+ armed and fuelled aircraft?
To paraphrase a fictional character – “that’s a big gamble with several hundred million dollar aircraft loootenant”.
NATG, DMR and MAA will have a fit.
painted lines for angled deck landing zone
The landing gear legs have a lot longer travel than normal gear for 30 tonne F18
Hers a 5 T weight propeller carrier aircraft with some slender legs from britmodeller
Is that the one Beattie kept crashing ?
Surely that would mess up the parking zones though ? especially with a (ahem) full load !
Painted clearance lines (which will be significantly wider than the ones shown on the sketch in the article) by definition vastly reduce the safe parking area. Which is one of the primary design drivers for the ship – and its complement. If you have to move aircraft round the deck more often, you need more chockheads, which we haven’t got.
If you’ve ever seen a Sea Fury u/c up close, it’s a more robust beast than the thing on MQ9. More importantly, the arrestment/braking problem still remains – which means that the MAA, NATG and DMR will still have a fit.
Anyone done a SRVL since Westlant 18? No? I wonder why that might be…….
A huge amount of embu88erance for something for which the capability benefits are as yet undefined, other than perhaps, “it’s unmanned it’s the future, innit?”
I guess we could now add “She should have been built with an angled deck” to the other comments about C’s and T’s….. Quite how painting lines at an angle would work with a gurt oooge Ramp on the pointy(ish) end I have no idea but if it were a Ten Pin bowling alley, you’d deffo get a few Strikes…….I have on a few occasions seen the Sea Fury close up and flying, a Scary beast it is too.
Your info-graphic shows the UAS as having the standard undercarriage but this from GA suggests the undercarriage has been upgraded for Mojave. Going where no UAS has gone before: Introducing Mojave | General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (ga-asi.com)
Agree that Mojave will be a very good candidate.
One look at the undercarriage on the MQ-9 says it has np place on a carrier. Unless you are planning to operate the carrier on a mill pond.
General Atomics has been trying hard to find new customers for the MQ-9 because its US market is more or less saturated
The MQ-9 as it has developed breaks 2 of the 3 Golden rules for a UAV. 1. It is not readily considered expendable, 2. it is not easily replaced. Its only advantage (3.) is that it does not risk a manned crew and that could be achieved with the Turkish UAV..
Nothing with a modern AEW radar is going to be expendable. In fact any of the sensor packages that are useful at sea will come a cheap as even a high end camera system.
It wouldn’t be that undercarriage ??♂️
And theres this stalky undercarriage, surely it cant land on a carrier too
I really hate to be a nay sayer, but I am going to have to disagree with a lot, who believe this is an excellent idea.
The premise is that the aircraft can act as a valuable carrier based ISTAR platform, which is not in doubt. The problem comes when your enemy has the ability to find and fix the UAV, then be able to do something about it. The following statement is BS:
“It is interesting to note that less sophisticated Bayraktar TB2 RPAS have excelled in combat in Ukraine despite Russian air defence capabilities.”
This is because Russia did not interleave its air defences, it didn’t think the TB2 would be a significant threat. Even though the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, should have been a wake up call. Then there was its probable use being used for anti-ship missile targeting against the Moskva. By rights (on paper at least), the Moskva should have seen and acted against the TB2. When the TB2 has been used in Libya, the Russian supplied Panstirs have been having a field day knocking them down. So why didn’t they do the same in Armenia or Ukraine? This really is a conundrum, as there are videos showing TB2s circling above Pantsir, Buk and Tor air defence systems without either being seen or being shot at! However, recently Russia have released videos of both Pantsir and Buk taking out TB2s and other Ukrainian UAVs.
According to interviews with Ukrainian pilots. They are now saying, the Russian air defences over the Donbass are very strong and that it is almost a no go zone for manned aircraft. They have also said they have lost a significant number of TB2s over this region. It is clear, that Russia have learnt from their mistakes during the first months of the war. I’m surprised it took them this long, to be honest!
The MQ9 is not a small or stealthy UAV. Even though it has a high degree of composite materials making up its fuselage and wings. These are normally relatively transparent to radar. Thereby allowing a radar to see straight through to the internals of the aircraft, such as flight control rods, fuel pumps, engine etc. Let us not kid ourselves, MQ9s will be easy meat in any near peer or peer shooting match.
However, for use during peacetime and for asymmetric conflicts they would be ideal. Being able to operate from the carrier’s sovereign piece of territory, compared to the need for a approved land base in a foreign country, definitely has its merits. Its long range and endurance will help it to stay on station for very long periods of time, plus it can fly above the manpad maximum engagement height to stay safe.
The question of whether the MQ9 would be useful in a AEW role, is questionable. The size of the MQ9 will limit the type of radar it can carry. The trial version had a mechanical rotating X-band radar fitted in a gondola under the fuselage, just like in the images above. The smallish size of the aircraft, will limit how much power the radar can produce, but also limit its antenna size. Which significantly affects the radar’s output and receiver sensitivity. So using a lower frequency radar with a longer wavelength cannot be done using a gondola type arrangement. The version that has been used for the Sea Guardian trial is the Raytheon SeaView radar. Which is an old style mechanically scanned pulse doppler radar, very similar to the Crowsnest’s Searchwater.
For AEW it needs something better, preferably an AESA radar. But due to the size of the aircraft, even when operating from 30,000ft, when using an X-band radar, it will have a range limitation to around 250 miles or maybe less. Which will depend on a number of factors, notwithstanding the effective radiated power of the radar, its sensitivity and its level of signal processing. But perhaps more significantly how the atmosphere affects shorter wave (higher frequency) RF propagation. The air’s density and humidity can also affect how it refracts the radar wave over longer distances, by bending it upwards or downwards. By using a longer wavelength (lower frequency) radar, the atmospheric affects don’t effect the RF propagation nearly as much. Therefore, for providing a carrier task group with a decent (better than Crowsnest) AEW coverage, you will need at least 3 aircraft on station that use an X-band radar to provide similar coverage to one aircraft using a L-band or UHF radar.
However, as a maritime surveillance, ASW companion and passive ISTAR asset, I think it would do very well. It will need a high frequency X-band radar for the maritime surveillance and ASW role, as the higher frequencies will help to differentiate between the sea’s surface clutter and objects trying to hide amongst it, such as a sub’s periscope! Bearing in mind that a ship’s ESM “should” be capable of detecting the MQ9’s radar a long time before the MQ9 can detect the ship. The higher resolution radar will also help to identify targets before it gets in range of using its EO turret. Furthermore, if it can carry air-droppable sonar buoys brilliant, if it can carry a pair of air-dropped Stingrays even better.
Leonardo’s Seaspray 7500E V2 AESA radar has been integrated onto the non-STOL version of the drone. It’s pretty much ideal for RAF needs.
I understand and agree with a lot of your points but a better question is Would it be better on the role than a merlin?
I have been following Naval news for a while and I have never found an answer to my dumb question – Why does HMS QE need an angled flight deck to safely land one of these drones, why can’t they not just continue down straight down the middle of the deck and off the ski jump, back into the air, if the landing goes wrong, assuming the marked runway was always made clear before landing? Thanks
Because the first thing the drone has to do is to try and stop. Which means it has to apply reverse thrust and brake (hard). This will limit the ability of the engine to spin back up to full forward thrust if the aircraft has to execute a go-around. More importantly, heavy braking will also induce some interesting dynamic motions as the U/C legs load and unload. Which could lead to the aircraft pitching so badly that its prop hits the deck. Similar effects may occur in any launch off the ramp – people seem to assume it’ll be easy, probably not. Lots of tricky issues to think through, some fiendish maths and lots of simulation and then trials.
That’s before we think about what happens should the landing drone suffer differential braking or skid slightly on a wet, slightly oily deck packed with expensive aircraft full of fuel and potentially armed. Departure to starboard would end in tears…..
That’s it… just there…. the fact that Modern Jets land with full Throttle on C and T Carriers, just in case…. It also helps if on launching if grunt C removes a certain Intake Cover on those few F35’s we currently own….. Can’t really see any MQ9B’s being embarked any time soon…..
The F-35B comes with its own opening and closing doors. And isnt the pilo supposed to do his own walk around the final check on the ‘little things’ before getting into cockpit
I actually mentioned Jets on C and T equipped Carriers and yes the Pilot is supposed to do exactly that just incase someone forgets something.
Couple of issues here that seem to be conflated .
Its not a 60,000 lb class aircraft like the F35B or C , its 1/10 of that.
The undercarriage loads can also be expected to be maybe 1/20th as its not coming into land at 150 kts like a F35C. yes turboprops have more thrust at low speed unlike their jet brethren ( it was a major concern at the dawn of the carrier jet ag, but they managed)
Go arounds are only required for trap landings , in case you miss your wires. Since there are no wires, only reason to abort landings are a wave off while the prop is still high power not when its touched the deck and going into reverse thrust- which is much much more effective than braking. Brakes are only good for low speeds. R-T also can be used for limited on deck going backwards but not rotation as theres only one centre prop.
As for the clear deck , its required for a F35B takeoff anyway and we are only talking a small number ( not multiple squadrons worth) which have a very long cycle time compared to fast jets. Like choppers they can wait till the peak activity on deck has passed.
No one is under the illusion that everything will work ‘out of the box’ but then thats never happened for anything else. The conversion kit may well be just dreamware
In many ways the takeoff landing has a clearer path to solutions than the other main issue – whats its going to be used for.
There is a big difference in clear deck space requirements though, F35 B wingspan 35 ft…. MQ9B, 80 ft same goes for Osprey and Valor.
The wingspan of the stol Mojave version of the MQ9b that this article is about is reduced to 52′.
Mojave | General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (ga-asi.com)
79 ft on the Sea Guardian version. This article states the STOL version will have “Slightly reduced wingspan” …. if 27ft represents a slight reduction then fair play and I stand corrected.
To be fair, I’ve just researched the Mojave and although it’s a STOL version, I’m not entirely convinced it’s for Carrier use, can’t see any mention on their official site nor actually in this article other than the MQ9B……I guess the Seaguardian version is the more obvious choice but that has the 79 ft wingspan I previously mentioned……. Any Ideas or links ?
I don’t think anyone is confusing a 5 te UAV with a recovery speed of circa 50-60kts relative with a 25 te FA18 with a recovery speed of 110kts relative.
The undercarriage loads – and upstream structural loads – will still be proportionally higher than the original MQ9 design because the aircraft has to arrive at a steeper glideslope (to clear the round down) and may also be subject to vertical acceleration from pitch/heave of the ship. More importantly, the aircraft will still have to try and stop in a much shorter length (order of magnitude) than it was designed to do. Whether that is through reverse thrust or braking or a combination thereof, there will be dynamic effects on the undercarriage and the airframe will experience pitch oscillation, which may lead to undesirable prop/deck interaction (!).
In terms of go-around, you’re correct in that it primarily applies to trapping aircraft. The spool / intertia issue was in answer to the idea that a recovering drone might be able to use the ramp to take-off again. Which it probably wouldn’t, noting that no-one has yet proved you can get a rear-prop driven cab off a ramp in the first place. However, the angled deck would be required to at least try and ensure that a drone that didn’t stop went relatively harmlessly over the edge, without hitting the (hideously expensive and potentially explosively dangerous) deck park.
Which brings us to safe parking. It may only be one of two drone airframes being used. Trouble is you need safe deck parking for well over a dozen – sometimes more – F35 and helos. One can talk about recovering in “quiet” periods – but you may still need that deck park, which means you’d need to move aircraft to allow the drone to recover, which means more chockheads, which we haven’t got.
It’s also worth noting that in pretty much every carrier airwing for the last half-century, the first aircraft off the deck on first “go”/line 1 of flypro and last to recover is always the slow long-endurance one. Always. Partly because it needs more time to get out to station and partly because it tends to be less fuel-critical for recovery than the fast movers. Which means whether you like it or not, you’ve got 5 tonnes of aircraft approaching a crowded deck at 50 kts relative with a 100-150m tops of deck to stop in, using only R/T and brakes and hoping that it works.
Still a big gamble with several hundred million dollar aircraft Lootenant.
Thanks for the sanity check. I read you saying it might be dreamware, and I went hunting for information as to the state of play. Videos are either of the standard model, of Mojave, or CGI.
Then I just clicked the first link above (which I should have done in the first place). The first sentence in this article is misleading.
That’s not what they announced! They…
This is all future tense stuff. Probably not quite dreamware, but still a long way from actually existing.
Thanks for your excellent answers everyone, it was a real help.
I find it amusing that some here are happy for a simple drone to land conventionally on a flight deck. But then argue that we couldn’t have a CTOL carrier where a much more complicated (and robust) aircraft that would be landed by computer because ‘pilot qualification’.
I find it amusing that some are on here…………. !
Not as half as much as I do.
the choice was initially for a STOVL carrier . No one has never said a CTOL type carrier couldnt happen for the RN ( if thats was decided at the beginning) Im sure its an straightforward training for carrier STOVL pilots to convert to the other kind.
the USMC will have both versions of the F-35 and maybe already developing conversion courses
We are talking hypothetical arguments against CTOL.
I am still waiting for you to answer my question about P8 flight hours.
Question for Duker……. Do you actually own a Duke R ? if so, I’d be happy to meet up for a ride……… just sayin.
dukeofurl, I think you listen to it
Duke of Earl ? whats the r for ?
The whole handle is too long
But shorter when you spell wrong……..
Great article and pictures, not sure if this will be a good fit but it would give some extra capability.
I had a look at the state of play for the USMC. The off-again, on-again MUX initiative (large shipborne UAV), is currently slated to be fufilled by the MQ-9 series, alongside a “VTOL family of systems” for maritime strike and vertical lift.
External commentators have speculated the order of 16 new MQ-9 drones for the USMC will include the STOL kits, but I can’t find much evidence they will even be the MQ-9B rather than the MQ-9A Reapers, which the Marines have been migrating towards. The latest USMC aviation plan mentions in a footnote one of the squadrons (VMU-3) will transition from Blackjacks to MQ-9B in FY23 (which is probably in 2024 the way everyone else measures things, and around the same time as the RAF). That’s the only mention of MQ-9B as opposed to MQ9/MQ-9A.
Nevertheless, the Marines have stated that MQ-9 will have to fulfil their ship-based needs, and the STOL MQ-9B is currently the only identified path forward.
I’m less sanguine that if the STOL kit works for the US LHA/LHDs it will automatically be okay for the longer QE class. The ramp might prove an issue, and the diagonal path indicated in the diagram is about 40m shorter than the runways on the US amphibs.
Is the USMC plan to operate both on and off ships or just off with landings at forward bases on land?
From what I’ve now read, the Mojave STOL version, is primarily for land….. If it is equipped for long endurance surveillance, it needs a longer take off or Cats plus traps to be carrier enabled.
I can’t see any ship-based take offs without the option of ship-based retrieval. It’ll either be both or neither. In the case of Reapers, until recently I assumed it would be neither, and they’d be totally land based.
It may not quite suit the Queen Elizabeth, but I suppose there’s a bit of wiggle room. It’s too slow and too visible, so it won’t be operating alongside the F-35Bs as a loyal wingman; it also can not do aerial refuelling and presumably not electronic warfare either. Any low-intensity mission it could be sent on could be achieved by the F-35B. She’s certainly a UCAV and not of the Loyal Wingman kind. Queen Elizabeth would also then require a different aircraft to undertake electronic warfare, airborne early warning, or to accompany the F-35Bs.
That said, I see some use for her in a surface engagement against anything smaller than an aircraft carrier if she can carry the SPEAR 3. She should be able to sea-skim to the target whilst carrying a similar or superior number of AShMs than an F-35B can in its weapon bays, whilst also being relatively disposable. However, she proffers no air-to-air capability and is more a hindrance if she were to partake in other missions, if she could at all.
A more competent choice would be to simply partner with Boeing Australia on the development of a STOL variant with folding wings for the MQ-28 Ghost Bat; if not that, the Kizilelma should be taken aboard the Turkish LHDs Anadolu and Trakya when they set sail. They should be able to operate in tandem with the F-35Bs in strikes, whilst also proffering EW and I believe AEW capability. I think a minimum of 20-24 of them would operate off the Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales. 8-12 would be relegated for AEW, in contrast to the 4-6 Hawkeyes that USN carriers equip; 4 would be relegated to EW, again in contrast to the 4-6 Growlers that USN carriers equip; and the rest of the aircraft would be Loyal Wingmen for the F-35Bs that could if needed supplant downed AEW and EW aircraft as they have modular heads.
An aerial refueller is still needed however, the MQ-25 Stingray is basically the only drone type refueller I can recall that is carrier-launched — though I question its ability to take-off without use of a catapult of sorts. It also doesn’t have the same level of stealth that the F-35B has, which isn’t ideal. 4 refuellers aboard each carrier would be best suited for the RN otherwise. At the end of it all, I imagine Queen Elizabeth ideally carrying 20-24 F-35Bs, more than 24 drones, and 6-8 Merlin’s. Drones could further supplant the F-35B if deemed preferable, though I believe at a bare minimum she should command at least 16 of them.
Lets get that angle deck screwed on when QE goes in for refit and let’s hope these planes have a suitably fearsome name to threaten all comers. ‘Wildebeast’ anyone?
Just a comment. GA UAV Mojave’s stall speed is said to be 45 knots = 23.2 m/s. With 0.2G (2 m/s2) break, the landing distance is 134m. Only a half of the QE flight deck length. What is more, QNLZ can steam at 25 knots = 12.9 m/s, then the landing distance is only 26.5 m.
For example, locate the “crash barrier” around the 2nd-brigde. Then the “run-way” length astern is 100-120 m long. All “precious” aircrafts can be parked in front of it. Also area around the 2nd elevator will be safe.
Mojave UAV can fly for long. There is no need to “rush” pull the F35Bs and Merlins into the hangar and in front of the “crash barrier”. Take your time, Mojave can wait in the sky for “hours”.
Mojave UAV has strengthened landing gear, so larger descending speed will be ok. It may also be possible to use the ski-jump to take-off. How stable the landing is, weather permission, sea-states etc. of course needs operational research. Take-off operation will also need good “flight control software” to be developed.
But, basically it will be “doable”, if not easy.
With the kind of takeoff/landing distance you are talking about you can only fly a minimum package, 5 hours of fuel and no weapons, just ISR. Doesn’t that defeat the object of buying an expensive, general purpose drone? General Atomics drones aren’t cheap; 20 MQ-9Bs will probably set the RAF back about £1.5bn over the programme’s lifetime, and being lead user of Mojave (nevermind a new marinized Mojave) won’t come cheap either.
If all the capability you are going to use is 5 hours with an ISR package, you could just buy VTOL MQ-8B Fire Scout for a fraction of the price. It already in use by the USN (derisked) and has UK radar too. On top of that, Leonardo in Yeovil are already looking into a new RPAS UK rotary demonstrator for maritime use in the same weight class as Fire Scout and Mojave, endurance 10+ hours, expected to fly by 2024/25. Developing a UK vehicle has pros and cons including boosting UK industry, easier UK-weapons integration, along with higher risk than Fire Scout, but probably no higher than Mojave.
If the UK went with Mojave or STOL MQ-9Bs for carrier use, I think they’d need to differentiate themselves with extra capability to offset the higher price, and that comes with longer runways thence issues integrating into carrier ops. “Doable” is too low a bar.
1: First of all, MALE for CVF does not need to carry heavy weapons. Providing ISR for long period is the MALE’s figure-of-merit. Doing the same with F35B, Merlin or Wildcat needs huge huge load of maintenance and short endurance at sky. So, landing distance with ISR kit is the most important, and here comes my calculation.
2: Take-off distance is an issue, I agree, with loads of fuel. Looking at the Mojave brochure, with take-of-distance of 1050ft= 320m, it can fly for 20 hours with ISR kit. The distance is the same with “12x Hellfire with 4 hours endurance”, which means 600 kg (=50 kg x 12) more fuel gives 16 hours more endurance. But, all fuel will be consumed when landing, so landing distance does not differ.
QNLZ has a ~280m long flight deck, and ISR-Mojave with 20 hours endurance needing 320 m length can easily fly from her, taking into account the additional 25 knots provided from the ship (if it can sustain the G-force on the ski-jump). Adding a light-weight catapalt will be another option.
3: “20 MQ-9Bs … about £1.5bn over the programme’s lifetime”. Not a big issue. Their airframe is very simple, much simpler than MQ-8C. So most of the the “£1.5bn” life-cycle cost is spent on the “system”; secure communication, A/I navigation, ISR kits and its data-link, and maintenance/logistics. You cannot cut here, if you want similar capability. In other words, regardless of the airframe, you can make it much cheaper, only if you are happy with much reduced ISR capability. Of course, the “20 MQ-9Bs” can stay at sky much longer than other assets (because of long endurance and less maintenance, thanks to simpler mechanisms). If supporting similar capability, MQ-8C cannot be cheaper than MQ-9B (but MQ-8C has a clear merit of being VTOL, in place).
Mojave is new, yes. I agree that’s the un-known. But, that also means, UK will be able to force General Atomics to setup the production line for Mojave in UK, for example?
So, for me, doable is really doable.
Long endurance, capable ISR asset will never be cheap. Newly designing a Carrier-based patrol UAV will also never be cheap. On such regard, those MALE UAV can do something for sure, I think. The point is, what do RN/UK want. If it is long-endurace ISR, surely these MALE will be a very good candidate. If AAR, powerful AEW, and attacking is wanted, these MALEs are NOT the solution, of course. (but the latter asset will surely be much more expensive.
Gut instinct is to fit a partial angled deck and arresters as we fitted on early conversions like HMS Eagle in the 50’s. Low powered cats for launching starb’d of ramp. This would probably be the safest and most affordable way forward. Attractive to other Navies with small carriers and would open up the market for loyal wingmen.
I know the ‘Project Mosquito’ is an RAF project and this is a Navy site, but that doesn’t mean that its failure is a good thing! I mean, talk about bias!
Particularly after everyone saw the effectiveness of drones in Ukraine, UCAV exports are probably going to be big business in the coming years and the UK should be aiming for a slice of that pie.
Developing a UCAV is much easier than something like Tempest, and the work done would be invaluable to making Tempest the best it can be (as well as de-risking and partially subsidising the project through shared development costs and drone exports).
But the unrealistic goals, timeframe and budget killed that project from before it began. It’s like the 1957 Defence White Paper all over again… No faith in our engineering industry to be worldwide exporters.
Since the project was intended to be a path-finder, they could have split the project up into several stages e.g.
Stage 1 – Developing a UAV with sensors and control systems like an MQ-9 or TB2 that could be sold cheap and cheerful and is useful for reconnaissance & light strikes.
Stage 2 – Sub-sonic stealth reconnaissance and missile platform with some more autonomy & working together with other aircraft on a limited basis (like sharing sensor data with F-35s or being able to launch missiles based on data from another aircraft).
Stage 3 – The full-spectrum UCAV with the performance of an F-35 (like they seem to be aiming for) fully networked with other aircraft, manned and unmanned.
I don’t think an AWACS UAV is feasible in this size range as the radars used for that sort of thing are very large and heavy and require a lot of power, much more I think than anything like an MQ-9 would be able to produce.