Maritime UAV no fish out of water

Singapore Air Show » 2008
February 11, 2008, 8:32 AM

Britain’s Warrior Aero Marine has formed a team to produce innovative maritime unmanned systems. The project has resulted in the construction of the seven-foot-long Gull 24 model, which has already undergone successful trials in a wide range of sea and wind conditions. The UK Ministry of Defence has designated this as a UXV, with the “X” indicating a combination of both aerial and water surface capabilities to differentiate it from the more common UAV.

The trials of the Gull 24’s surface launch and recovery systems conducted under a UK Defence Technology Council contract have proved the concept of a practical seaborne UAV system. To this end, Warrior worked with Roke Manor Research to develop sensing technologies to aid automated management of the aircraft when operating in surface mode.

The Gull 24 opens an array of new concepts of operations and maritime objectives not considered before. By adding aircraft speed and range to a robust vessel capability, Warrior has demonstrated that the UXV concept can extend the reach of maritime payloads. The Gull trials overcame many challenging automation and integration issues, including interfacing with a ship without imposing on its airspace. A UXV can leave and approach a vessel at speed while on the surface, which permits simultaneous operation with other aerial systems.

Warrior is encouraged by the success of the proof-of-concept Gull 24 and is focusing on a larger 13-foot Gull 36 model to achieve larger and contrasting payloads as well as longer range objectives. The payloads will include airborne and surface-operated electronic surveillance tasks as well as operating dipping and towed sonar. Following a technology evaluation consortium led by Flight Refuelling, Warrior is under contract to build two Gull 36 systems for Australia’s civil Astrea UAV program.

On the face of it, several parts of the Asia Pacific region, such as Indonesia’s archipelagos, are ripe territory for introducing floatplane and seaplane air taxi services. Warrior, represented here at the Singapore Airshow by the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium, also wants to address that market with a new generation of seaplanes. The proposed six-seat Centaur that has resulted from the effort makes use of company founder James Labouchere’s new-concept hull forms. However, further development depends upon attracting partners willing to help fund the project.

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