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Australian navy details manned/unmanned teaming plan

The Royal Australian Navy will introduce its new vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicle capability on 29 April, after selecting the Scheibel S-100 Camcopter. The service is to buy one system, with an option for another, to support test and evaluation activities ahead of a potential operational acquisition.

Current operations by the navy use the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle from a variety of ships. The service plans to add a hyperspectral payload to the tactical air vehicle this year, and to establish a full UAV squadron. By the end of 2017 it will be operating two unmanned flights at sea, wherever possible partnered with a manned capability.

Cdre Chris Smallhorn, commander of the service’s Fleet Air Arm, says a maritime UAV can be teamed with an NH Industries NH90 – locally designated as the MRH90 – or Sikorsky MH-60R under such a manned/unmanned teaming concept, but notes that the Sikorsky already has its own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to rapidly establish a maritime picture.

Smallhorn told the IQ Defence International Military Helicopter conference in London on 31 January that the service expects to team the Scan Eagle with the MH-60R and a future operational VTOL UAV with the NH90.

Australia’s navy will have 30 helicopter-capable ships by 2040, but only eight flights of MH-60Rs and three with MRH90s. The latter type (below) has reached initial operational capability at sea, with full capability in this and other roles expected within “a couple of years”, Smallhorn says.

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Commonwealth of Australia

Meanwhile, the navy plans to retire the last of its S-70B-2 Seahawks at the end of 2017 after 27 years of service. “If we go through 2017 without crashing one of those helicopters, it will be the first combat aircraft type in Australian history to have entered service and have not lost one on the way through,” Smallhorn notes.

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