UK carriers could get jet-powered drones under Project Vampire

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is looking to begin the procurement of a series of jet-powered drones this year that will operate from Royal Navy platforms, potentially including the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, to provide enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

In an Invitation to Tender (ITT) notification, published on January 17, the MOD stated that the contracting authority – the Royal Navy – was seeking to assess the potential for maritime airborne uncrewed or autonomous UAS to operate in the ISR, electromagnetic operations (EMO), and threat simulation roles.

HMS' Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales in Portsmouth
The UK's new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers could in future have the capability to launch and recover jet-powered drones from the flight deck. UK MOD/Crown copyright

The timeline for platform delivery stated that Phase 1 of the programme, which has been dubbed Project Vampire, will run as a four-year effort, with options, intended to procure and maintain UAS capabilities, and certify the system through financial years 2021-22, and 2023-23. The value of the contract was stated as being £6.7m ($9.1m), with evaluation of the ITTs received due by February 21 this year.

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