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UK targets April for ‘swarming drones’ development unit

13 January 2020
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The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) expects to stand-up an experimental unit dedicated to developing an operational 'swarming drones' capability in the coming months, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane's on 13 January.

216 Squadron will be reactivated at the beginning of April, the MoD said, though the unit's location has yet to be disclosed. "The RAF's ambitious swarming drones project continues to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office [RCO], with progress during recent trials exceeding expectations in several areas. 216 Squadron will be reformed on 1 Apr 2020 to bring the capability into service and continue its development", an MoD spokesperson said.

The MoD's confirmation of the stand-up date for 216 Squadron came days after it told Jane's that the unit had not been activated by the earlier announced planned date of the end of 2019.

As previously reported by Jane's , the then-Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, said in February 2019 that by the end of that year the 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 Hillier said at the time at the Chief of the Air Staff's Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC) in London on 17 July 2019.The RAF plans to field a 'swarming drones' capability to add mass to its capable but numerically limited aircraft. 216 Squadron will be stood-up on 1 April to develop this concept. (Crown Copyright)The RAF plans to field a 'swarming drones' capability to add mass to its capable but numerically limited aircraft. 216 Squadron will be stood-up on 1 April to develop this concept. (Crown Copyright)

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