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SMi MRAS 2022: Updates on UK Heavy Lift Challenge

The T400 VTOL UAS (left) and Windracers ULTRA fixed-wing UAS were trialled at Predannack Airfield as part of the UK DE&S FCG Heavy Lift Challenge. (MoD/Crown Copyright)

Speaking to Janes at the SMi Military Robotics and Autonomous Systems 2022 (SMi MRAS 2022) conference, London, James Gavin, head of the Future Capability Group (FCG) at Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), gave updates on the Heavy Lift Challenge.

The Heavy Lift Challenge is a collaboration between DE&S FCG, the Royal Navy (RN) Office of the Chief Technology Officer, and 700X Naval Air Squadron.

The RN envisages unmanned aerial systems (UAS), potentially providing autonomous light cargo transport between ships at sea and forces ashore.

The challenge started when Brigadier Dan Cheeseman, chief technology officer for the RN, proposed a concept to replace helicopters for certain missions, Gavin said.

The objective during the three-year period is to have a UAS that is capable of lifting a total of 300 kg, thereby performing most small maritime logistical tasks, Gavin added.

As part of the first challenge, in November 2021, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) selected both Malloy Aeronautics T400 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAS and W Autonomous Systems Windracers ULTRA fixed-wing UAS. Both systems could lift and deliver payloads of more than 100 kg.

Gavin noted that the Malloy Aeronautics system was capable of lifting and carrying a 150 kg payload for approximately 40 minutes.

Initially, a total of 40 companies had contributed to the competition, with 12 companies downselected for the challenge, Gavin said.

The second stage of the trial was launched in April 2022, in addition to possibly bringing two more companies into the fold, and it will further progress both Malloy Aeronautics and W Autonomous Systems platforms.

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