• UMS’ Skeldar V200 is the first UAV to autonomously take-off and land from a moving ship on operations.
    UMS’ Skeldar V200 is the first UAV to autonomously take-off and land from a moving ship on operations. UMS

UMS Skeldar’s flagship V200 uncrewed aerial vehicle has conducted the first autonomous take-off and landing (ATOL) from a ship whilst on operations.

The V200 was deployed with an unnamed European navy, which ADM understands to be either the German, Dutch or Belgian fleets.

“It’s all about removing the person in the loop on the deck,” David Willems said. “The ATOL capability is also much faster than a piloted landing, freeing the deck for crewed aviation operations.”

The ATOL capability allows the UAV to land at the press of a single button, with the platform utilising its radio altimeter and advanced ATOL system to track its location and judge the altitude reduction.

“The systems give you a real-time picture of how the ship is moving; the roll, the pitch and the wave,” Willems said. “The upward movement of waves is the real problem – a 2000-ton ship moving upwards will destroy a 200 kilogram UAV. So the system predicts the optimum moment for a landing.”

According to Willems, the ATOL capability allows operators to push the flight envelope into worse conditions than manual flight. UMS operates the V200 up to sea state three.

The V200 is competing for Sea 129 Phase 5 along with numerous other bidders. A shortlist decision was delayed from December 2020 due to the number of responses received and a ministerial announcement is now expected before the end of March.

Sea 129 Phase 5 is the largest maritime UAV program of its kind on the global market and includes three blocks: Block 1 includes seven ‘bricks’ to be operated from the Arafura class OPVs and ANZAC class frigates; Block 2 will expand the capability to other ship classes from 2029; and Block 3 will update all systems from 2034.

“Navies want to extend their line of sight,” Willems said. “This is the general use for a rotary wing platform. Today most navy customers have that level of understanding; now each one is asking us to add additional sensors.

“In some cases we act as a radio relay. In other cases we search for objects of interest in the water. But the main concern remains to see beyond current radar ranges.”

Other applications include relaying information from autonomous underwater vehicles, which are hampered by the slow rate of data transmission underwater, to surface ships; a role that’s alternatively filled by floating buoys. Anti-submarine warfare is also a major focus of militaries worldwide.

“You can imagine a UAV of the V200 class starts supporting modern ASW operations,” Willems said. “And in the case of the mine countermeasures, we use bathymetric lidar to see metres below the surface.”

UMS is acting as a systems integrator for the V200 in partnership with Saab, which part-owns the company. If successful in the upcoming shortlist decision, the company says it will begin preparing a local supply chain to assemble the V200 in Australia should it ultimately secure the Block 1 contract.

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