Building the Drone Hive

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British-based BAE Systems is proposing a sea-going mother ship for unmanned vehicles (UXV) of various types. A BAE news release sent out a few days ago describes the new warship as the UXV Combatant, designed to operate in a future battle space dominated by land, sea and air unmanned vehicles. Using a proven naval hull form to launch, operate and recover large numbers of small unmanned vehicles for extended periods, the UXV plays the role of mother ship -- a permanent base and control centre for the futuristic unmanned land, sea and air vehicles...

An artists concept of the 8,000-tonne warship shows a low-observable (stealth) design with two large island structures amidships, recessed missile launchers forward, and a large flight deck area aft for operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). The ships hull and combat systems will be a development of the Type 45 destroyer.

The first Type 45 destroyer -- HMS Daring -- is now on sea trials. The Royal Navy plans to procure eight of these ships, which have a full-load displacement of some 7,350 tonnes and are 500 feet in length. The gun/missile-armed ship has helicopter facilities.

The UXV support ship, apparently based on an enlarged Type 45 design, will have a lower hangar deck for storing and maintaining UAVs, while the two flight decks will have a variable ski-jump ramp to accelerate the launch of heavily loaded UAVs.

The ship would also support Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) and Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV).

While the Royal Navy has made no commitment to construct such a ship, BAE Systems believes that a UXV support ship could be operational by 2020.

The U.S. Navys Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program that is now underway provides for at least three LCS mission configurations -- anti-surface craft, anti-submarine, and mine countermeasures. All of these configurations will make extensive use of UAVs and, depending upon the configuration, will also operate surface and underwater unmanned vehicles.

The U.S. Navy is also developing a large, carrier-based Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) based on the technology demonstrator designated X-47B. Developed by Northrop Grumman, the UCAV derived from the X-47B will be a multi-mission aircraft with a flying-wing configuration. It will operate from large-deck aircraft carriers. They will operate employing arresting gear and catapults, as do manned aircraft, and they will be integrated into conventional carrier air wings.

But the proposed BAE Systems UXV support ship will -- with the U.S. Navys LCS program -- be the worlds first specialized ships for operating unmanned vehicles. These will certainly lead to a marked change in the nature of naval operations.

-- Norman Polmar

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