Recent Austrian sea trials for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) included an innovative platform, DCNS' Gowind-class offshore patrol vessel L'Adroit. The 1,400-ton, newly commissioned ship, which DCNS built as a private venture and loaned to the French Navy, is believed to be the first designed to operate small UAVs. The vessel took the Schiebel S-100 UAV to the Bay of Biscay in early November for sea trials, performing 11 sorties and 89 test landings in four days, using Schiebel's own harpoon system.
Routine maritime operations for small UAVs are a potential revolution now that many suppliers are producing miniature radars, electro-optical turrets, communications relays and other payloads that allow a vehicle in the Camcopter class to perform multiple tasks. The UAV vastly extends the ship commander's view, performing search, early warning of surface targets and close inspection. As a data relay, it expands the reach of unmanned surface vessels and small-boat teams.
The 440-pound Camcopter—which Boeing has supplied to U.S. special forces—has an endurance of more than 6 hours with a 75-pound payload. Flight control is fully autonomous.
Some naval architects believe the future of warships is in the role of mothership for small craft—unmanned aircraft, surface ships and submersibles and the universal rigid hull inflatable boat. Gowind is designed to launch and recover the latter from stern ramps, which also opens the way to autonomous recovery of UAVs.
Source: Aviation Week
Photo courtesy of Aviation Week—Christina Mackenzie