Military Review

Marine UAVs


For a long time surface ships remained the only effective instrument of warfare at sea, and only in coastal areas could coastal artillery provide them with some competition. The emergence of submarines and marine aviation (deck and coastal) radically changed the face of naval warfare and fleets. Now, with the beginning of the development and implementation of a significant number of the most diverse unmanned submarines and aircraft, one can observe the beginning of a new stage of cardinal changes in the structure of the fleets of the leading sea powers.

Underwater drones are at the very beginning of their development, and it will take considerable time before they can play a significant role in naval activities. On the contrary, sea unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are experiencing a period of rapid development. In the structure of the US Navy, they already play a significant role, which should grow significantly over the next decade. Many maritime powers are following the path of catch-up development, but they also pay quite serious attention to marine unmanned systems.

It is worth noting that, as in the case of manned aircraft, the tasks and capabilities of different classes of UAVs differ significantly. One of the options for the classification of UAVs, which is used by the Department of Defense of the United Kingdom, involves the division of all UAVs into three classes according to the maximum take-off weight. The first class corresponds to drones up to 150 kg, the second - from 150 to 600 kg, and the third - more than 600 kg. This classification is very conditional: for example, the third class includes samples as different in capabilities as the strategic reconnaissance UAV MQ-4C Triton (maximum take-off weight is about 15 tons) and the MQ-8B Fire Scout tactical drone (maximum takeoff weight - about 1400 kg).

The main advantages of UAVs are their significantly smaller size compared with manned aircraft, which allows for an increase in shipboard air groups, as well as the deployment of air groups consisting of UAVs on ships that are poorly adapted to manned aircraft. Also, UAVs are usually less costly. In addition, drones can be in the air for much longer than manned helicopters and airplanes. Finally, the use of UAVs in a combat situation avoids the threat to the lives of pilots.

"Strategic" sea UAV

In May, 2013 we witnessed a number of significant successes of creating “strategic” programs (considering their size, cost, and range of tasks performed; the term HALE - High Altitude, Long Endurance) in the US naval unmanned systems is often used in the West. On the morning of May 14, 2013, from the deck of the aircraft carrier George Bush, made the first take-off of the Northrop Grumman UAV X-47B. This UAV is one of two prototypes created by Northrop Grumman as part of the contract with the Navy under the UCAS-D program (Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration) concluded in 2007. As part of this program, it is planned to work out the take-off and landing of a UAV on an aircraft carrier, as well as refueling in the air. Air refueling tests are scheduled to be held until October 1 2014.

UCAS-D precedes the start of the UCLASS program (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike), which involves the creation of an inconspicuous heavy deck drone. Such UAVs will have to carry out reconnaissance and strike at ground targets. With the development of anti-ship missiles, non-nuclear submarines and other so-called. “Access restriction systems”, UCLASS UAVs have high hopes. Among experts and representatives of the American leadership, there is an opinion that the future of carrier-based aviation and the aircraft carrier component of the US Navy depend on the creation of a strike UAV with a large (about 1800 km) combat radius. Research and development (R & D) under the UCLASS program should begin in 2013. They are planned to be allocated 2,3 billion dollars. The combat readiness of UAVs developed under the UCLASS program should be achieved by 2020.


Nevertheless, there are fears that the UCLASS program is capable of degenerating into the creation of a deck drone, which will be focused on carrying out reconnaissance tasks, and the shock functions will play a secondary role. In addition, the UCLASS UAV can eventually be created using a significantly smaller number of stealth technologies than the existing X-47B. Brian McGrath, one of the leading US naval experts, voiced fears that the UCLASS UAV could be created as a deck analogue of the Predator family combat UAVs. It is worth recalling that General Atomics Corporation, which is the creator of the Predator family, participates in the UCLASS program with the Sea Avenger UAV. Such a UAV will undoubtedly strengthen US naval aviation, but will not be able to operate effectively in the presence of the developed “access restriction systems”. Speaking about the reasons for countering the creation of a truly inconspicuous drone UAV, McGrath notes competition from the fifth-generation F-35C deck fighter program, which should take on the functions of a “first day of war” strike aircraft, reducing US military spending, and conservativeness representatives of the naval aviation command.

The second type of "strategic" UAV, which in the near future should become an important tool of the US Navy, is the coastal MQ-4C Triton long-range reconnaissance UAV from Northrop Grumman, which made its first flight 22 in May of 2013. This UAV is created in the framework of the BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) program based on the RQ-4B drone of the United States Air Force Global Hawk.

Four MQ-4C will be able to provide constant patrols of a given sector of the oceans. They will carry out long (up to 28 hours) patrolling of large spaces (the radius of the patrol zone should be about 3700 km). Also MQ-4C will be able to perform the functions of a repeater to maintain communication between the dispersed forces in the theater of operations. The MQ-4C Triton is being developed as a supplement to the coastal-based patrol aircraft P-8A Poseidon produced by Boeing. UAVs should remove from the P-8A most of the tasks of patrolling the sea and reconnaissance, which will allow the Poseidons to focus on other tasks, including the fight against surface ships and submarines.

In total, it is planned to purchase 70 MQ-4C, including two prototypes. The cost of the program should be 13,2 billion dollars (including 3,3 billion for R&D), and the final cost of a serial drone - 189 million including R&D and $ 138 million of serial samples. Australia has officially confirmed its interest in the purchase of Triton UAVs. In addition, it is likely that the MQ-4C will be of interest to India, which is purchasing the P-8A. Triton should achieve operational readiness in 2016. First of all, UAV data will be deployed in the Middle East in the area of ​​responsibility of the Fifth fleet, where the experienced BAMS-D UAV is now successfully operated, then on the island of Guam in the zone of responsibility of the Seventh Fleet, at the base of Sigonella in Italy (Sixth Fleet) and, finally, in the continental United States.

Heavy tactical sea UAV

Costly "strategic" sea UAVs are complemented by significantly cheaper, heavy tactical helicopter-type UAVs that can become naval aviation workhorses, complementing helicopters.

The most striking example of such UAVs is the MQ-8B Fire Scout, which was developed by Northrop Grumman based on a Schweizer / Sikorsky S-333 light helicopter. This UAV takes up half the space of a standard US Navy MH-60R Seahawk deck helicopter, and can perform many of the tasks assigned to the helicopter. The size of the UAV can significantly increase the number of aircraft on surface ships. On board the coastal zone warships (BKPZ) of the LCS type, which are the main data carriers of the UAV, one or two Fire Scout will almost always complement the manned Seahawk. And on board the frigate can be placed four MQ-8B. It is worth emphasizing that such UAVs are planned to be used primarily not as a replacement, but in addition to manned aircraft. Thus, the study showed that, in terms of the “cost-effectiveness” criterion, a mixed air group on coastal warships is preferable to an air group consisting only of UAVs or helicopters.

Using onboard equipment and electronic systems MQ-8B, Northrop Grumman has developed a larger drone MQ-8C based on the Bell 407 Jet Ranger helicopter. The corporation developed the development at its own expense, but the US Navy had a new model to their liking and they refused to further purchase the MQ-8B in favor of the MQ-8C. In 2012, the corporation received a contract to build the 30 MQ-8C. The new version of Fire Scout is characterized by a maximum take-off weight increased to 2 tons, almost twice the payload (about 500 kg), a higher speed (around 260 km / h) and a longer flight time (up to 11-14 hours). The test flights of the MQ-8C should begin in September of this year, and they will reach combat readiness at the end of 2014. Due to the increased size and significantly improved performance characteristics, the Navy plans to get by with fewer data on UAVs on ships. So, instead of 4 MQ-8B, 3 MQ-8C will be based on frigates.

Similar work in the interests of the French Navy is currently being carried out by Boeing together with DCNS and Thales: in the fall of 2012, the tests of the H-6U UAV Unmanned Little Bird based on a Boeing MD-530А helicopter were completed. H-6U is a combined aircraft, that is, it can be used both as a UAV and as a manned helicopter.

The main functions of the MQ-8 is intelligence and target designation, but the Navy also plans to arm the data of the UAV - in particular, 70-mm high-precision APKWS missiles.

Helicopter-type UAVs have certain limitations on the duration and range of flight, which raises the question of developing fixed-wing marine UAVs (the term MALE - Medium Altitude, High Endurance) is often used in the West, which can be based on small ships. The Agency for Advanced Technologies of the US Department of Defense (DARPA) launched the TERN program (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), which involves the development of a similar UAV, the payload of which should be about 300 kg, and the operational radius from 1100-1700 km, and the associated system, which will ensure its takeoff and landing on BKPZ and other suitable ships. TERN drones will have to perform both reconnaissance and strike functions.

Light tactical UAV

UAV RQ-21A Integrator

Along with heavier UAVs, lightweight UAVs take their place on the deck of the ships, similar to the reconnaissance fixed-wing UAV ScanEagle manufactured by the subsidiary Boeing Insitu, which is operated in the US Navy with 2005, as well as successfully used by the fleets of other states. In 2012, Singapore entered into a contract for the supply of these UAVs for its fleet. By July 2011, the ScanEagle made a total score of 56 thou. Thousand sorties, their total flight exceeded 500 thou. Hours, including about 250 thousand hours in the interests of the Navy, and their total strength in the American fleet exceeded 120 units. It is noteworthy that the Navy does not buy ScanEagle, but use their services under contract with the manufacturer.

These UAVs precede the implementation of the STUAS (Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System) program to create an unmanned reconnaissance system with larger RQ-21A Integrator UAVs in the interests of the Navy and the US Marine Corps, which Insitu implements under the 2010 contract. The maximum take-off weight of the drone will be about 60 kg. The first flight from the deck of the ship RQ-21A made 9 on April 2013. In total, the Navy plans to acquire 36 STUAS systems, each of which will include five UAVs.


Horizon Air S-100

Unlike the United States, the development of marine unmanned systems in Russia is just beginning. And although the adoption of "strategic" UAVs remains a matter of long-term perspective, the development of tactical UAVs of various ranges is already underway. Speaking directly about marine UAVs, it is worth mentioning the S-100 model of the Horizon Air based on the Camcopter S-100, which was shown by JSC Horizont (Rostov-on-Don) at the International Navy Show in St. Petersburg in 2011 . The company assembles UAVs under license from Austrian Schiebel. These drones are already actively exploited by the French Navy and fleets of other states, including, according to some sources, the PRC.

Horizon Air is a helicopter-type UAV with a maximum take-off weight of 200 kg, which can be used for night and day patrols, monitoring and monitoring ground and surface, conducting search and rescue operations, participating in disaster relief and man-made disasters, and border security. Moreover, the S-100 can be armed: this PBLA successfully launched Thales light multipurpose LMM rocket. Now the drone is at the certification stage.

In November, the first complex with the S-2012 UAV for the needs of the Coast Guard of the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia was delivered for trial operation. A preliminary decision on the purchase of one complex with the Horizont Air UAV for trial operation was also taken by the Navy. Interest in the data of the UAV and expressed the Ministry of Interior.

The development of unmanned systems is not a priority for naval construction in Russia. This is connected both with the priority of the task of updating the ship fleet composition and with the technological lag in this area. However, the development of unmanned systems can enhance fleet aviation, coast guard and other agencies. Carrying out patrol and intelligence functions, sea UAVs will contribute to the protection of Russia's national interests in the oceans.
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  1. Nayhas
    Nayhas 7 October 2013 10: 09
    Our naval aviation needs an analogue of "Triton" like air, not to mention Poseidon. Again this sad topic about UAVs ... What was previously a curiosity is gradually becoming commonplace.
    1. Civil
      Civil 7 October 2013 11: 50
      Again they stepped on a callus, well, no, we don’t have ...
  2. sven27
    sven27 7 October 2013 10: 16
    The company collects UAVs licensed by the Austrian Schiebe
    Interestingly, is this the next large-site assembly, or are we getting the necessary technology?
  3. ramin_serg
    ramin_serg 7 October 2013 14: 57
    The drone era has long come and yet the best cars of the Jews
  4. rotor
    rotor 7 October 2013 21: 12
    A modern surface ship is already unthinkable without helicopters based on it. A ship's helicopter has too many important functions. This includes anti-submarine defense, and horizontal detection of surface targets, horizontal targeting of naval weapons, radio reconnaissance and electronic warfare, advanced control of airspace, control of autonomous and remotely controlled systems over long distances.

    One or two aircraft simply will not be able to cope with this set of functions, without which it will soon be impossible to talk about a full-fledged warship. Replacing a decked manned helicopter with unmanned ones is still impractical. But here it will be necessary to supplement two or three helicopter-type UAVs in the near future. A UAV will increase the air group of ships of even a small displacement.

    Yes, the Horizon Rostov company mastered the production of a very successful Austrian UAV Camcopter S-100, creating for it a domestic control system and target load options. It will be purchased by the FSB Coast Guard. The Navy took one such complex into trial operation. However, for a naval deck UAV, one optical reconnaissance system will not be enough. But a more serious target load requires a heavier apparatus. In the interests of the Navy, Russian Helicopters are developing systems with three large UAVs with take-off mass of up to 300 kg (Roller, aka Ka-135), up to 700 kg (Ka-175) and up to 3 tons (Albatros). But to see these devices before 2015 is unlikely to succeed.

  5. gunnerminer
    gunnerminer 8 October 2013 01: 16
    Russian new-built large reconnaissance ships of project 18280 were designed without the use of UAVs. Heads of the Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Navy are not able to plan and take part in the development of a technical assignment for the construction of reconnaissance ships of various classes.
  6. Beiderlei
    Beiderlei 17 January 2015 16: 24
    The article is good!