The UK Ministry of Defence plans to complete a capability concept demonstrator (CCD) programme by March 2015 to investigate the utility of equipping the Royal Navy with a rotary-wing unmanned air system (RWUAS) post-2020.
Outlining its interest, in a 24 July contract notification, the MoD says: "Head of Capability Above Water has a requirement to understand whether a multi-role RWUAS can provide utility in the mine countermeasures, hydrography and meteorology, offensive surface warfare and general situational awareness capability areas." Its planned demonstration "will inform future maritime UAS requirements, potentially leading to an acquisition programme in the second decade", it adds.
The CCD programme will include a demonstration and analysis phase, "which is expected to involve a package of physical demonstrations of a vertical take-off and landing UAS and specialist sensors, supported by simulation and synthetic environment experiments", according to the notice.
The UK's Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation is seeking an air vehicle, ground control station and communications link offering "a low probability of delay due to unplanned maintenance or technical issues", the MoD says. The process also should "assess platform integration issues and the impact across the defence lines of development of bringing an RWUAS into service".
Potential prime contractors should submit expressions of interest by 24 August. An invitation to tender is likely to be released on 12 October, with responses to be sought late the following month. The MoD plans to place a contract for the CCD activity on 25 January 2013, with the programme expected to cost up to £4.5 million ($7 million).
An earlier scoping study conducted by DE&S and the state-owned Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) "identified the potential of a small or medium rotary-wing UAS to deliver the maritime capabilities being sought", the MoD says. It categorises these classes as covering systems weighing 100-1,000kg (220-2,200lb) and 1,000-3,000kg, respectively.
Anticipating the demonstration opportunity, QinetiQ and Northrop Grumman last year offered to convert a Eurocopter Gazelle helicopter for unmanned trials by incorporating the operating system used with the US company's MQ-8B Fire Scout. The UK's Army Air Corps cites the maximum take-off weight of its Gazelle observation helicopter as 1,900kg.
The UK has been interested in the potential of a maritime UAS capability for the last several years. Its Joint UAV Experimentation Programme team conducted at-sea trials with the Insitu ScanEagle in 2005, with an eye to derisking future naval requirements.