The US Navy has been working on ways to provision ships at sea with less costly alternatives to traditional marine vessels, planes, or helicopters – now it says it has successfully completed a trial using drones to fulfill those delivery requirements.
The most recent series of tests in that continuing process to use drones as cheaper and more adapted means of delivering payloads to Navy ships were conducted by the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Though previous experiments had been made using UAVs to vessels stationed at moderate distances offshore, the NAWCAD trial flew the craft over 200 nautical miles between Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Inigoes, Maryland, and ships designated as destinations.
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According to a US Navy press release, the drones involved successfully carried out their delivery missions in ship-to-ship missions as well as shore-to-ship and shore-to-ship operation. Among those latter cases were tests in which UAVs flew to and landed on marine vessels as they were advanced at cruising speeds.
In addition to being inspired by the multiplying use of drones for myriad purposes in business, public service, and government service, the Navy says its interest in deploying UAVs for deliveries of cargo is their fulfillment of the service’s typical transport requirements at far lower costs than provisioning ships, planes, or helicopters do.
The recent drone trials flew freight weighing less than 50 pounds – a payload volume that makes up 90% of all the Navy’s logistics deliveries. They were conducted with industry partners Skyways Air Transportation and Martin UAV, which integrated their work into the Navy’s existing Blue Water Maritime Logistics transport program.
“The Navy is currently identifying areas where unmanned logistics would be a critical enabler to operations at sea, and the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS is a great demonstration of this emerging requirement,” said program manager Colonel Victor Argobright. “For the Marine Corps, the Commandant is enthusiastic about where we are going with [uncrewed] logistics, and is beginning conversations about operations and contested environments.”
Both Skyways Air Transportation and Martin UAV used vertical take-off-and-landing drones, which can operate to or from most Navy ships and onshore stations to make deliveries.
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Since acquiring the original Blue Water UAS prototype in 2019 to research the viability of drones in delivery provisions between ships at sea and onshore stations to Navy vessels, engineers have continued testing different systems in cooperation with companies from the private sector, seeking to develop new and cheaper transport methods adapted to the service’s spot transport needs.