The US Navy's Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) successfully conducted groundbreaking drone delivery trials to transport supplies between ships and shore.
The Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems program (PMA-263) worked with the US Navy to show how cargo that weighs less than 50 pounds can be transported by delivery drones. This accounts for 90% of the US Navy's logistics deliveries.
Drone delivery trials including ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship
Industry partners, Skyways Air Transportation, Inc., and Martin UAV, operating the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), demonstrated the ability to transport cargo weighing less than 50 lbs. through long-range flights in various scenarios, including ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship.
Both systems demonstrated the capability to deliver cargo over 200 nautical miles to a moving ship underway during the demonstration at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Inigoes, Maryland.
“We are seeing an increase in manned and unmanned logistics,” said Col. Victor Argobright, PMA-263 program manager. “For the Marine Corps, the Commandant is enthusiastic about where we are going with unmanned logistics, and is beginning conversations about operations and contested environments. The Navy is currently identifying areas where unmanned logistics would be a critical enabler to operations at sea, and the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS is a great demonstration of this emerging requirement.”
Skyways Air Transportation and Martin UAV successfully delivered various cargo items, simulating critical supplies, over a distance of 200 nautical miles to a moving ship.
“[For the future], we are looking at continued long-term experimentation, how the fleet operates, and how we get the technology out to our sailors,” said Tony Schmidt, NAWCAD's Experimentation Office director.
The delivery drones under consideration are capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) to operate from most naval ships at sea and stations ashore, as well as systems that do not require dedicated launch and recovery equipment.
NAWCAD acquired the original Bluewater UAS prototype in 2019 to demonstrate long-range unmanned naval ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore cargo transport.
Navy test pilots and engineers have since worked with industry partners to develop a system that best meets maritime requirements.
The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) is a part of the Navy that is focused on aviation and employs more than 17,000 people, including military personnel, civilians, and contractors.
It operates test ranges, laboratories, and aircraft to support the testing, evaluation, research, development, and maintenance of all aircraft used by the Navy and Marine Corps.
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Navy and Erik Hildebrandt
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