Naval Group, Airbus to develop rotary wing UAV demonstrator for French Navy

The French defense procurement agency DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) has awarded the Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters consortium a contract to develop a rotary wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) demonstrator for the French Navy.

According to a Naval Group announcement, the contract covers de-risking studies ahead of constructing a future tactical helicopter drone demonstrator.

The demonstration project will lead to trials of the drone launch system, mission system and the airborne vehicle, conducted from a French Navy vessel.

The purpose of the contract awarded by the DGA is to identify, deploy and test the technologies necessary for the integration of a tactical drone-system capacity within a heavily armed vessel. It forms 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 realising the programme. The level of technological maturity sought is that of a demonstrator of the complete system in a representative environment.

Naval Group and Airbus Helicopters will be jointly responsible for the industrial project management and will coordinate wider input from French industry/sector. Other French defense technology companies including Hélicoptères Guimbal, Safran, Thales and ONERA will be principal subcontractors on the project.

“We are proud to have been selected by the DGA together with our long-standing partner Airbus Helicopters to allow the French Navy to integrate aerial drone systems into its units and strengthen its operational capabilities,” Hervé Guillou, president and CEO of Naval Group, commented.

Naval Group further said it had already started working on naval integration of an aerial drone in 2005. Between this date and today, the DGA has given the group several studies contracts that led to develop this technology (R&D contract IND, R&D contract D2AD, Serval).

The UAV platform that will serve as the basis for the project is Airbus Helicopters-developed VSR700 rotary wing, optionally manned helicopter.

This 700-kg drone, derived from a light civilian helicopter, the Cabri G2, started a campaign of autonomous flights 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.

“I would like to thank the DGA and the French Navy for the trust they have placed in the VSR700 drone which, thanks to the combined experience of Airbus Helicopters and Naval Group, is expected to play a crucial role in the aero-maritime operation theatres of tomorrow,” declared Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus Helicopters.

The VSR700 can exceed 10 flight hours of operational autonomy and has a payload capacity of up to 150 kg.