Drones launched from HMS Prince of Wales

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The Royal Navy has launched drones from the flight deck of HMS Prince of Wales as it explores the use of crewless technology on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

Fixed-wing drones – the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ – flew from the carrier’s flight deck to assess how they might be used to train personnel in defending against fast jets and missiles.

The jet-powered Banshee, which resembles mini fighter aircraft, can soar to 25,000ft, skim above the waves, and flies at speeds up to 400 knots (around 460mph).

According to the Royal Navy, it is hard to detect on radar, giving it all the likeness of an incoming missile – making it a realistic adversary for sailors to train in countering aerial threats.

The Royal Navy looks to explore the use of crewless technology on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers

These drones could eventually be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task groups, allowing them to conduct air defence exercises on demand to test reactions and hone responses.

Additionally, the Banshee’s carrying capacity enables the Royal Navy to use it for testing future sensors, weaponry and radio equipment.

“There is a real need for a low-cost drone such as the Banshee that can replicate a range of the threats in the skies and provide a test bed for future payloads,” said Commander Rob Taylor, lead for Royal Navy air test and evaluation.

“The key to this is that a warship can carry this drone with it on operations, launch it and use it to keep personnel razor-sharp in countering threats from above.

“The ability to adapt the payload for differing tasks is also crucial to provide value for money and interoperability across the fleet.”

The Banshee, from QinetiQ, can reach heights of 25,000ft and speeds of 400 knots

HMS Prince of Wales is the first Royal Navy ship to carry these drones for demonstration purposes, as she moves towards being fully operational.

The demonstration with HMS Prince of Wales looked at how the drone and associated support equipment, including launcher, can be integrated within a busy ship and flight deck.

It also looked at installing sub-systems on board and procedures for moving and setting up the drone and kit on the flight deck, which has been a hive of activity as the ship trains with F-35B Lightning jets and participates in the largest military exercise in the UK, Joint Warrior, off the Scottish coast.

The demonstration aimed to showcase just one of the options as part of Royal Navy Develop Directorate’s Project Vampire, which is looking at lightweight, fixed-wing carrier-borne crewless autonomous systems.

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