Under the Future Tactical Uncrewed Air System (FUTAS) programme, the RN has selected the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter which will operate in the intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance role, initially from warships based in the Persian Gulf.
The Rotary Wing Uncrewed Air System (RWUAS) can provide real-time imagery and radar data back to a parent ship and will become operational in mid-2024, with HMS Lancaster likely to be the first vessel to carry the aircraft. Peregrine will fly in conjunction with the Wildcat helicopter but its data can be fed directly into the ship’s combat management system, (unlike the Wildcat which lacks a TDL), aiding situational awareness and rapid decision-making.
The standard S-100 can be launched rapidly, has a 6-hour endurance, a top speed of around 120 knots and a range of around 180 km (97nm), although this varies depending on the payload.
Thales is the prime contractor and systems integrator, providing their I-Master radar, a compact, lightweight airborne surveillance radar that offers ultra-fine Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, Maritime Moving Target Indication (MMTI) and Ground Moving Target Indication (GMTI) modes. I-Master was first integrated with the S-100 in 2013 is capable of detecting small and slow-moving targets. Thales says the radar can detect ships at up to 100km, vehicles at 35km and infantry movement at 15km. (The I-Master radar can be seen in the main image above as the main payload carried below the aircraft. The EO camera is mounted in the nose.) Peregrine will also have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the CarteNav AIMS Mission System for multi-sensor integration, planning, collection and information dissemination.
The contract with Thales is initially for 2 years with an option to extend. This very cautious approach will allow the RN to learn lessons from RWUAS operations that will inform decisions around the Future Maritime Aviation Force programme. The Austrian-made Schibel S-100 is a very mature platform that has been in service with civilian and military users since 2005. Accumulating more than 100,000 operating hours, it has performed more than 2,000 deck launches and recoveries from ships including in challenging winds and sea states.
As we have previously observed, is hard to understand why the RN did not grasp the opportunity to bring this capability into service years ago as it dramatically extends the area that a single warship can monitor at a fraction of the cost of launching a crewed helicopter. It is also a lot less unwieldy than the Scan Eagle UAS the RN experimented with between 2014-17.
The aircraft has been named after HMS Peregrine, the former Royal Naval Air Station Ford in West Sussex. The air station was the Fleet Air Arm’s test and development centre in the early years of carrier-borne jet aircraft but was closed in 1959 and is now the site of an open prison. There is another link to naval image gathering as HMS Peregrine was also home for many years of the RN School of Photography and the ‘Peregrine trophy’ is also the name of the annual RN photographic awards.