The UK's ambitious plans to field an operational 'swarming drone' capability by the middle of this year looks to be in doubt as the experimental unit dedicated to developing the concept has yet to be stood-up.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane's on 7 January that 216 Squadron has not yet been activated and that announcements pertaining to its status and future location are "to be confirmed". The unit was scheduled to be activated by the end of 2019 and the spokesperson did not give a reason for the delay.
In February 2019 the then-Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, said that by the end of that year the Royal Air Force (RAF) would operationally field "swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air defence systems". In July 2019 the then-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, clarified the minister's comments by saying that 216 Squadron would be stood-up by the end of the year to develop the concept, with the capability itself to be delivered by about July 2020.
"It is a far shorter timeline than you'd expect. Within a year [from the date of his remarks] we will have a capability, which we will then grow," ACM Hiller said at the time at the Chief of the Air Staff's Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC) in London.
"Volume is the key part to this [swarming UAV concept]. We have great capabilities in the RAF but not much of it. This mass is what constantly concerns me - we need to create more targets in the air; we need to grow mass," he noted.
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