Defense technology company Naval Group and helicopter manufacturer Airbus Helicopters will together lead an effort to develop warship based aerial drones for the French Navy.
The French companies were recently contracted by the French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) to perform a “de-risking” study ahead of future construction of tactical helicopter drones. The demonstration project will eventually lead to trials of the drone launch system, mission system and airborne rotary-wing vehicle, conducted from a French Navy vessel.
The partners will set out to identify, deploy and test the technologies necessary for the integration of a tactical drone-system capacity within a heavily armed vessel, as part of the preparation of the SDAM (Navy Airborne Drone System), whose entry into service is foreseen for the middle of the next decade on new Intermediate-Size Frigates (FTIs) and other French Navy ships
The study will help select the principal technologies for the SDAM and the identification of the technical risks necessary for initiating and realizing the program. The level of technological maturity sought is that of a demonstrator of the complete system in a representative environment.
Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters shall be jointly responsible for the industrial project management and shall coordinate wider input from French industry/sector. To this end, Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters shall act as the program design authority and shall have Hélicoptères GUIMBAL, Thales Systèmes Aéroportés, Safran E&S and ONERA as their principal subcontractors.
For Naval Group, drones exchange with the vessel’s combat system and their missions operated keeping in mind information from sensors and the tactical situation of reference from the combat management system. Representing a veritable tactical advantage, the drone forms an integral part of the warship, allowing increased operational potential for naval forces.
Naval Group has been working on the naval integration of aerial drones since 2005, having since been awarded several DGA study contracts that led to further development of this technology (R&D contract IND, R&D contract D2AD, Serval).
The VSR700 drone system is being developed by Airbus Helicopters to offer a combination of multi-role performance, reliability and operating costs. This 700-kg drone, derived from a light civilian helicopter, the Cabri G2, benefits from the technical know-how of Airbus Helicopters in certified autonomous flight systems and naval helicopters. A campaign of autonomous flights was started in June 2017 using an unmanned Cabri G2 prototype to validate the integration of the flight control systems and the vehicle’s new engine system, opening the way for the first flight of the VSR700 in 2018.
The VSR700 can exceed 10 flight hours of operational autonomy with a payload capacity of up to 150 kg. The system will feature Airbus Helicopters knowhow in terms of automated flight control (the guarantee of a unique automatic deck-landing capacity in rough seas), autonomous navigation system, secure data link, the integration of sensors such as radar and optronic systems, the management of complex mission systems
and the certification of military aircraft.