U.S. Navy studies resupplying long-range ship cargo with small UAS

The U.S. Navy has launched a research program, as a result of which the military intends to assess how useful drones can be for delivering various cargoes to surface ships and submarines.

For the research program, the U.S. Navy purchased a Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS from the American company Skyways. The logistics Unmanned Air System (UAS) prototype is acquired to demonstrate long-range naval ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore cargo transport at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. It is noted that the test flights of the drone will be conducted in 2021.

Today, cargo delivery on a ship is carried out by boats or helicopters, in the case of heavy objects. Such delivery takes time and increases costs. Quite often, ships at sea stop completing assignments due to various kinds of faults with electronics. MH-60R Seahawk helicopters are used to deliver new electronic components required for repairs. In 90% of cases, the mass of the delivered goods is less than 22.7 kilograms. Because of this, the cost of delivery of goods increases.

Blue Water logistics UAS is equipped with propellers for vertical takeoff and landing. The drone is capable of autonomously carrying cargo weighing up to 9.1 kilograms to a moving ship 21.7nm away without refueling. In 2019, Skyways conducted a demonstration test of Blue Water drone by delivering cargo to a moving vessel, and its exact coordinates were not known in advance. The aircraft flew 64.8 kilometers.

This requirement is unlike other cargo requirements that online retailers like Amazon are exploring,” said Blue Water’s project lead, Bill Macchione. “Naval cargo transport requires vehicles that can successfully operate through difficult environments that include heavy winds, open water, and pitching vessels at sea.”

Before testing, scheduled for 2021, the U.S. Navy intends to modify the purchased drone. It is planned to be equipped with a folding wing, a hybrid propulsion system (now the device is equipped with an internal combustion engine), and an internal cargo compartment. In addition, the device will receive an automatic dependent surveillance-broadcasting system.

In October 2020, the U.S. Navy conducted tests during which a quadrocopter delivered cargo aboard the Ohio-class Henry Jackson strategic nuclear submarine.

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