The UK Ministry of Defence has initiated an agile procurement approach which is to be undertaken via a collaboration between Defence Equipment & Support’s Future Capability Group (FCG), the Royal Navy Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), and the Royal Navy’s UAS Test and Evaluation Centre of Expertise, (700X Squadron).
This collaboration has been created with an objective to identify a Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) to be used to transport critical cargo and supplies between ships and to troops on the frontline.
Dubbed the ‘Heavy Lift Challenge’, Industry companies were invited to demonstrate via test trials that their RPAS had the capability to carry a payload larger than 100kg and pass tests for speed, endurance, and accuracy of the payload delivery. The challenge also acted as a pilot to test the efficacy of the Rapid Agile Prototyping Scaled for Operations (RAPSO) commercial framework.
After successful trails the challenge resulted in two companies- Malloy Aeronautics and W Autonomous Systems- being awarded £300,000 contracts for development of their RPAS to carry a payload beyond 200kg with a further potential to gain further funding to supply such systems in future within the same framework.
The theory behind the agile procurement project is that when developed, such systems can be used for autonomously transporting light cargo loads between ships at sea and critical supplies lie ammunition and sustenance to front line operating troops. Therefore, reducing the operating costs of crewed aviation as well as protecting life by sending un-crewed systems into conflict zones.
Head of FCG at DE&S, the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence, James Gavin said: “This project is about exploring emerging technology which could be of future use to the Royal Navy and other front-line commands and new acquisition approaches like RAPSO to ensure any operational advantage can be delivered to our UK Armed Forces at pace.”
The demonstrations from each company took place at Preddanack Airfield, Cornwall. Usually used as a training airfield by the Squadrons housed at RNAS Culdrose and is being developed as a centre of excellence in RPAS research.
700X Naval Air Squadron hosted the event and their commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Martin Howard, said: “It has been great to be involved in this exciting project which is pushing the boundaries of technology as well as the method by which defence procures equipment. Heavy Lift Challenge has showcased, Predannack’s utility as an RPAS trial’s location with opportunities for Defence and the Commercial sector.”