Earlier in the week, I noticed that Royal Navy preparations for an unmanned vehicle exercise later this year, Unmanned Warrior, are well under way, presumably under the command of Commander Peter Pipkin (RN), the Fleet Robotics Officer.
Needless to say, this got me a little bit curious about the UK’s current state of drone activity. A cursory web search didn’t turn up much of interest at all, and can be quickly summarised…
- A handy categorisation by Alexander Clarke identifies three classes of naval aerial drone: land based UAVs, carrier based UAVs and “Escort, Auxiliary & Small Ship” UAVs. The first two require special take and off landing support, the latter can be rather more portable… From a quick search, it seems as if 700X Naval Air Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm operates the Royal Navy’s UAVs (flying Boeing ScanEagle drones among other things). I’m not sure how surface drones and UUV (unmanned underwater vehicles) are managed operationally, although I think that the Fleet Diving Groups may be responsible for operating some of the underwater ones? Certainly, it seems as if UUVs have been used in support of mine warfare roles. Surface-wise, I guess I should start looking out for unmanned RIBs on the Solent!
- In the Royal Air Force, 13 Squadron and Number 39 Squadron (General Dynamics Reaper (Predator)), both based at RAF Waddington, head up the RAF’s operational drone activity flying. (For an RAF take on drones, see this conference keynote by Air Vice-Marshal Jon Lamonte, Chief of Staff Strategy, Policy & Plans: The Future of UAVs: Concepts and Considerations. Note that the Reapers are to be replaced, but what with?! Maybe just an updated Reaper?)
- British Army wise, a rather dated webpage suggests that 32 Regiment, 47 Regiment and 104 Regiment (Reserves) of the Royal Artillery are responsible for operating various flavours of aerial surveillance drones: Honeywell T-Hawk, Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk and Thales Watchkeeper. I’m not sure to what extent the British Army is also exploring the use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs)?
Slightly more interesting was the September, 2015, Research Briefing from the House of Commons Library – Overview of military drones used by the UK Armed Forces – but there again, a lot of the references seem to be ones my web search turned up!
There’s also a Joint Doctrine note on The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Joint Doctrine Note 2/11 (JDN 2/11)), but that’s dated 30 March 2011. Has nothing really changed in doctrinal thinking since then?!
I haven’t read the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (SDSR) but a quick search of it doesn’t turn up a lot on either unmanned or autonomous.
Also on the “to read” list (and I should probably bump it up a bit), is the Commons Select Committee Report on Remotely Piloted Air Systems – current and future UK use.
I still think that there must be a seam of info on this that I’m missing, though…?! Maybe I should trawl through the references of Drone Theory, which continues to be the scariest, and one of the most disturbing, things I’ve ever read…
PS A word we need to watch out for: robomachia cf. theomachia #justSayin…