HMS Prince of Wales has launched drones from its flight deck as the Royal Navy begins exploring the use of crewless technology on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
Fixed-wing drones – called the QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ – flew from the carrier’s vast flight deck to assess how they might be used to train personnel in defending against ever-more-capable fast jets and missiles.
It is hard to detect on radar, giving it all the likeness of an incoming missile – making it a realistic adversary for sailors to train in countering aerial threats.
The demonstration with HMS Prince of Wales looked at how the drone and associated support equipment, including launcher, can be integrated within a busy ship and flight deck.
It also looked at installing sub-systems on board and procedures for moving and setting up the drone and kit on the flight deck, which has been a hive of activity as the ship trains with F-35B Lightning jets and participates in the largest military exercise in the UK, Joint Warrior, off the Scottish coast.
These drones could eventually be carried by Royal Navy warships and provide operational training to task groups wherever they might be in the world, allowing them to conduct air defence exercises on demand to test reactions and hone responses.
HMS Prince of Wales is the first Royal Navy ship to carry these drones for demonstration purposes, as it moves towards being fully operational.
The Banshee flights represent the first step for the Royal Navy in exploring how crewless tech could be operated from the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in the future.
The Banshee launched from the ship and recovered to land via parachute.
“There is a real need for a low-cost drone such as the Banshee that can replicate a range of the threats in the skies and provide a test bed for future payloads,” said Commander Rob Taylor, lead for Royal Navy Air Test and Evaluation.
“The key to this is that a warship can carry this drone with it on operations, launch it and use it to keep personnel razor-sharp in countering threats from above.”
The program will look at rotary wing and fixed wing drones to fulfil a number of tasks to increase mass on the carriers and allow crewed aircraft to maximise their capacity.