Defence giant BAE Systems is involved in an 18-month study, ending in spring 2004, to design UAV-friendly frigates and destroyers.
The flight decks will be designed for rotorcraft and fixed-wing UAVs, although no particular models have yet been identified. Currently only manned helicopters fly from frigates and destroyers for reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols.
The investigation will help the navy ensure it has the right equipment for its future use of UAVs, said Nigel Osborne, technology and materials manager for BAE Systems’ customer solutions and support department. ‘There are capability gaps and we are looking at the technology to fill them. Deck lighting and landing aids are well developed, but communications and deck lashing are not so advanced.’
The study will involve an analysis of flight operations including the movement of aircraft around the deck. The use of UAVs will also require a change in aircraft management, with storage and the location of services such as refuelling stations major considerations. The positions of the UAV ground station and antenna are particularly important.
BAE Systems is also investigating changing the stabilisers on the Type 23 frigate from a hydraulic to an electrical system. These trapezium-shaped, wing-like devices help to stabilise a ship by providing lift, helping aircraft to land. The MoD hopes an electrical system will reduce maintenance costs over a ship’s lifetime.
In May 2004 a frigate will be fitted with an electrically-controlled stabiliser on one side which will be tested for 12 months. The MoD is also looking to change the hydraulic rudder control on the Type 23 frigate to an electrical system.