Being procured at pace to meet an Urgent Capability Requirement (UCR), the FTUAS solution is intended to provide enhanced situational awareness for ships operating in the Persian Gulf region. Its primarily role will be to detect, identify, track and assess fast inshore attack craft; it will have a secondary role in counter-narcotics/counter-trafficking.
The FTUAS UCR calls for a rotary-wing unmanned air vehicle fitted with a multi-sensor intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensor suite. Another stipulation is that the FTUAS solution has the ability to collect, disseminate and process information in a format compatible with an RN combat management system.
Royal Navy ships deployed in the Gulf have previously been equipped with the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle UAS under a contract-owned/contractor-operated arrangement. But while ScanEagle was limited to an electro-optical sensor payload, FTUAS is required to incorporate a maritime radar for wide area surveillance.
Industry was invited to pre-qualify for the FTUAS requirement in May this year. An Invitation To Negotiate is expected to be issued to up to four shortlisted bidders in the near future, with a contract award anticipated in the first half of 2022.
FTUAS is planned to achieve an initial operating capability in mid-2023. The system will embark on, and operate off, a forward-deployed Type 23 frigate to provide a persistent and integrated ISR capability.
The intention is that FTUAS will be a pilot for the introduction of maritime UAS systems into the Fleet Air Arm. Under the umbrella of the Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF), the Royal Navy is planning to transition a number of aviation roles to uncrewed and autonomous platforms over the next decade.
One strand of FMAF is a medium-size rotary-winged UAS known as Proteus which would be used for ISR and maritime intra-theatre lift. A complementary fixed-wing element, known as Vixen, has conceptualised both a carrier-capable platform for persistent wide area surveillance/airborne early warning missions, and a ‘Loyal Wingman’ as an ‘attritable’ strike adjunct.