Scaled-down drones able to assist manned assets such as the RAF’s Protector aircraft are under development by the UK’s Ministry of Defence – and the “drone swarm” units could take to the skies by next summer. The swarms of so-called Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAV) drones will be used to obliterate enemy air defences, aid cyber attacks, while supplying live video footage to military commanders on the other side of the world.
Some drones may even be adapted to carry weapons or even sent on ‘suicide’ missions to destroy targets breaking cover on the battlefield.
Ultimately, you can put things that go bang on them
Blue Bear’s Mr Williams-Wynn
The MoD has invested £4 million in British company Blue Bear to develop a system of networked drones carrying multiple payloads, funding marched by the company.
Blue Bear believes approximately £5 million could provide the MoD with a fleet of 20 drones ready for deployment inside of six months.
Ian Williams-Wynn of Blue Bear told The Telegraph: “The Russians used drones to great effect in Crimea and now we’re seeing Azerbaijan buy Turkish drones and fly them in the same way [in the war with Armenia].
“Islamic State used model aircraft and were devastatingly effective.”
Military experts had hoped drone swarm units would already be in service by last year.
However, the RAF’s 216 Squadron is now known to be conducting trials and development activity with the drones.
The Squadron is racing to fastback bringing the cutting-edge concepts to the frontline of military service.
Trials have already been conducted at Cumbria’s RAF Spadeadam, Europe’s only electronic warfare trials facility allowing aircrew to test new drone tactics against radar systems.
The MoD agreed in July to purchase the three Protector drones for £65 million, with a view for them to be ready for action in 2024.
But drones far cheaper and smaller than the Reaper will be available much sooner.
And an additional advantage is such small-scale drones are invisible to most radar and leaving negligible noise signatures.
Mr Williams-Wynn feels there are the twin benefits of resilience and flexibility in having a large fleet of cheaper drones.
He said: “The platform is irrelevant. It’s a digital backbone and a nervous system to enable a mix of airborne, land and maritime assets.
“Ultimately, you can put things that go bang on them.”
Blue Bear is preparing two different models drones, each with a specific function.
Cobra is operated by two people, can carry up to 15kg and is able to operate at approximately 16,000ft (3 miles).
Ghost is a Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) UAV capable of taking off and landing vertically, and boasts a temperature-controlled internal payload bay which could carry medical supplies to casualties on the battlefield.
Ollie Witt, Blue Bear’s design engineer and test pilot, believes drones will soon be standard issue to the armed forces.
He said: “You’ve got to look at it as a system, that’s where the swarming idea is coming in.
“We’ve got different UAVs doing different jobs, all collaborating to form a complete mission system.”
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