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UK investigates autonomous maritime airborne heavy lift capability

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has begun work to investigate technologies and capabilities that could have the potential to deliver an autonomous maritime airborne heavy lift capability for the Royal Navy (RN).

In a request for information (RFI) that was released in December 2020, the MoD asked potential suppliers and interested parties to submit information so as to inform its understanding of the range of maritime airborne autonomous capabilities that currently exist or are in development, in order to support the development of the RN's autonomy network and the creation of the Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF).

The FMAF envisages the rapid transformation of crewed aviation roles – intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, lift and strike – to uncrewed.

According to the RFI, the MoD is seeking information on potential solutions that could deliver an airborne autonomous heavy lift capability aligned to the following indicative requirements: autonomous/crewless operation; accurate delivery of payloads exceeding 200 kg; the ability for over-the-horizon operation; suitability for maritime environments (sea states, salt ingress, deck mobility); suitability for use in a variety of environmental conditions ashore and at sea; open architecture; and multiple, rapidly interchangeable payload types.

In addition, the MoD has encouraged innovative submissions on emerging technology/ technologies at lower Technology Readiness Levels, solutions that may not meet the payload/radius requirement but may potentially be scalable in future, and technologies yet to be adapted for the maritime environment but with the potential for such.

Information received from respondents will be used to enable the MoD to understand current and near-future capabilities available in the market, helping to define parameters and scenarios for a planned UAS (unmanned aircraft system) Heavy Lift Challenge.

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