UK Royal Navy’s support unit explores drone use to deliver supplies at sea

The UK Royal Navy’s support unit Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is exploring the use of drones to deliver light supplies to vessels at sea.

RFA has been supporting Royal Navy operations since 1905 with food, spare parts, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies.

Sailing in parallel with a warship, RFA tankers pump fuel through a hose or transfer supplies in boxes and pallets on a forestay line between the two ships.

Helicopters are also deployed to move cargo through the fleet.

Since seven out of ten resupply missions involve the transport of loads of up to 100 pounds, the FRG plans to explore the use of drones to save time, money, sailors, and free up helicopters for other jobs.

Currently, the U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command is testing an unmanned aircraft to move supplies of up to 25 pounds between vessels, but at distances of more than 200 miles.

Testing over the summer had indicated that this concept was successful in transporting a small cargo for repairs between a warship and an auxiliary from the US Navy Military Sealift Command.

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By deploying autonomous systems from Malloy Aeronautics, Royal Marines tested the refueling mission with a drone, both on the battlefield and at the beachhead.

Autonomous systems carried 150-pound supplies to troops in ships on the high seas or bases in the rear.

FRG Chief Commodore David Eagles said: “The FRG is closely watching the Military Sealift Command and opportunities around the use of drones to deliver at sea.”

The RFA and MSC are sharing some lessons from their trials and systems.

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