in Defence

MoD contracts Leonardo to deliver RWUAS CCD Phase 3 TDP

Posted 25 July 2022

The UK Ministry of Defence's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Future Capability Group (FCG) has awarded a four-year contract valued at £60 million (€71m) to Leonardo to deliver the Rotary Wing Uncrewed Air System (RWUAS) Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP), RWUAS CCD Phase 3 TDP, enhancing the position of Leonardo’s Yeovil site as the future hub for UK uncrewed military VTOL expertise.

Above: An advanced uncrewed aircraft demonstrator will be designed and developed in a £60 million contract DE&S has awarded to Leonardo Helicopters.
Courtesy DE&S

The UK Ministry of Defence's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Future Capability Group (FCG) has awarded a four-year contract valued at £60 million (€71m) to Leonardo to deliver the Rotary Wing Uncrewed Air System (RWUAS) Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP), RWUAS CCD Phase 3 TDP, enhancing the position of Leonardo’s Yeovil site as the future hub for the UK’s uncrewed military VTOL expertise.

This programme funded through Defence Innovation, will include the flight of an advanced uncrewed VTOL prototype referred to by the UK MoD as Proteus, which is a key element of the Royal Navy Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF) vision for Anti-Submarine Warfare support.

The award supports the company’s strategic goal for its site in Yeovil, Somerset, already the ‘Home of British Helicopters’, to expand and also become the UK’s hub for uncrewed military VTOL aircraft. Internationally, Leonardo is already at the heart of numerous forward-looking uncrewed research and innovation programmes ranging from advanced air mobility to uncrewed combat air, counter-UAS technologies and uncrewed traffic management. The company has demonstrated its expertise and capabilities in the sector during major European exercises such as Unmanned Warrior, Italian Blade and OCEAN 2020.

Driving innovation in future Royal Navy capability, the project will support up to 100 highly skilled engineering jobs at Leonardo’s Yeovil site.

Testing the viability of larger uncrewed aircraft for the Navy, the three-tonne demonstrator – less than a fifth of the weight of a Merlin helicopter – could provide an innovative alternative to existing aircraft for tracking adversary submarines.

Trials will test the capability of the aircraft to drop “sonobuoys” – small tube-shaped buoys that track and communicate submarine activity – enabling the aircraft to alert a crewed helicopter such as a Merlin and call for support if a submarine is located.

Designed to operate at lower cost than crewed aircraft, capabilities derived from the demonstrator could also reduce the exposure of Royal Navy personnel to hostile threats. The uncrewed helicopter is due to undertake its first flight in 2025.

Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin, said: “The global threat is changing and it is crucial we remain at the forefront of defence innovation. Exploring cutting-edge, new defence capabilities through programmes with key British manufacturers, will help to ensure our Armed Forces are equipped to deal with the latest threats.”

If successful, the new aircraft would provide a platform capable of delivering improved surveillance and intelligence, enabling crewed Navy helicopters to re-deploy on alternative missions if required and bolstering UK defence capability.

Sir Simon Bollom, DE&S CEO, said: “Our team were able to make use of a novel and agile delivery approach to ensure that we can accelerate potential new technologies through to the demonstration phase so that they can be delivered into the hands of the UK Armed Forces at the earliest opportunity if required.”

Director Develop Royal Navy, Rear Admiral James Parkin, said: “Proving the benefits of larger uncrewed aircraft (rotary and fixed wing) will be key to understanding whether such aircraft can effectively contribute to future Royal Navy capabilities, particularly for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).”

Capable of carrying a large load, combined with the ability to operate in harsh environmental conditions, the aircraft could also demonstrate its utility across a range of requirements. Beyond ASW, the project will assess other potential uses including ship-to-ship resupply and casualty evacuation.

James Gavin, Head of DE&S Future Capability Group which awarded the contract, said: “Exploring and proving the use of modern delivery approaches is critical if the MoD is going to deliver capabilities which can deliver operational advantage to time, quality and cost requirements with an increasingly limited headcount.”

The four-year contract will deliver an uncrewed demonstrator as part of intentions outlined in the Defence Capability Framework for future find, strike and lift capabilities to be increasingly delivered by uncrewed and autonomous systems.

In the UK, Leonardo is a close partner of the MoD and has already invested substantially in uncrewed military capabilities onshore. In Yeovil, the specialised helicopter design and engineering skills have made the site a focus for uncrewed systems. The company has previously conducted a number of advanced research projects under RWUAS phases 1 and 2. Phase 3 will sustain and grow this onshore design and technology development capability by readying a brand new uncrewed prototype for its maiden flight.

Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK), said: “Uncrewed VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft will transform military capability whilst also having application in other market sectors, both in the UK and around the world. This contract represents a major step towards our future in next generation uncrewed military technology and the sustainment of unique engineering skills onshore.”

Following on from experience and technology developed through the first two phases of the RWUAS CCD programme, Phase 3 will see Leonardo create an up to 2-3t demonstration aircraft that will have modularity at its core. The dual-use RWUAS prototype will be adapted to deliver a wide range of roles in the military and parapublic domains. These include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, maritime specific missions and logistics supply. The high payload and large volume capabilities, combined with ability to operate in harsh environmental conditions, are expected to be of interest to a wide range of potential users.

The majority of the programme, which leverages Leonardo’s full range of end-to-end capabilities, from design to manufacture, will be conducted at the company’s facility in Yeovil. It will sustain and grow critical skills and generate high value design engineering opportunities. A core team of around 60 people will be employed on the programme, which is expected to expand to around 100 people.

The UK MoD’s RWUAS CCD Phase 2 contract built on the research and development activity which began under the RWUAS CCD Phase 1 programme between 2013 and 2015. Under Phase 2 further research, development, analysis and experimentation took place, which related to VTOL air-vehicle technologies and platform operations, within future operating environments, fleet mixes and the overall defence aviation capability structure.

Leonardo says it is the only company in Europe able to provide complete solutions by designing and developing all the elements of uncrewed systems: platforms, sensors, mission systems, control stations and offer customers a certified low risk, high effective, fully integrated capability. The continuous development and integration of cutting-edge solutions across all domains of remotely piloted and autonomous/semi-autonomous systems and technologies is a key element of Leonardo’s BeTomorrow2030 Strategic Plan.




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