- Following sea trials conducted from 9-13 December 2013 as part of the Serval unmanned air systems (UAS) programme, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) and DCNS have validated the functional integration of an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) with the combat system of a warship.
Launching and recovering a UAV from a warship presents many complex challenges. The successful physical and functional integration of a tactical VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) UAV on board a surface combatant by DCNS, with no impact on flight safety, represents a major breakthrough for naval air forces. Following sea trials on board the L’Adroit Gowind-class Offshore Patrol Vessel, the DGA, the French Navy and DCNS validated all functional blocks between DCNS’s Polaris® combat system and the Camcopter® S100 VTOL UAV developed by Schiebel of Austria. Based on the results of the trials, the DGA has issued DCNS with a permit to fly for the Camcopter® S100.
The tests were designed to evaluate the performance of the DIOD-A module, developed by DCNS and integrated on this occasion with the Polaris® combat system, for managing UAV payload data (from electro-optical sensors in this case) in real time. A further aim was to demonstrate that the interface between the UAS and the ship’s combat system has no impact on flight safety. The DIOD-A module met all DGA requirements and now promises to deliver significant operational benefits to French Navy staff in charge of operating the combat management system and the VTOL UAV.
The tests were the first of their kind in Europe and the successful outcome is attributable in large part to effective collaboration between government technical services, DCNS and its Austrian partner Schiebel. Full integration of UAV data into the combat management system and the operational integration of the UAV operator into the CIC (Combat Information Centre) turn the UAV into a ‘telescopic arm’ of the ship, extending its operational capabilities by providing real-time data from the theatre of operations beyond the range of its onboard sensors. A UAV with an optronic payload constitutes an offboard sensor platform that can relay data back to the host ship to identify threats from pirates, for example, or to monitor fishing vessel inspection operations.
Navies in Europe and around the world are expressing strong interest in offboard sensor systems. The sea trials have successfully validated integration of a VTOL UAV with a surface combatant for the first time in Europe, earning the technology a ‘sea-proven’ label and enabling DCNS to propose a complete range of solutions for UAS integration on board surface combatants. The milestone is also a further illustration of DCNS’s role as a lead systems integrator for naval forces worldwide.