Expected by the French Navy to increase its aerial surveillance, detection and identification capabilities, the first tactical drones capable of taking off and landing on a ship will soon be admitted to operational service.
To this end, the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) has qualified the integration of the Camcopter S-100, a vertical take-off drone weighing about 200 kg aboard the amphibious helicopter carrier (PHA) Dixmude. This is the first time in Europe that a rotary wing UAV will be fully operational and connected to the combat system of a warship.
Landing S-100 on Spot 2 of PHA Dixmude
The integration of a drone on a naval ship already in service is a very complex operation that requires a very precise knowledge of the two systems and their interaction. It is above all essential to ensure the electromagnetic compatibility between the drone and the various sensors, radars and communication systems of the ship.
The take-off and landing area of the drone on the ship must also be precisely established. Next, it is important that the drone be connected to the ship's combat system so as to exploit its full potential in real time. Finally, the integration of the drone aboard the ship must be provided for through specific procedures and installations.
As the owner of the hardware integration of the on-board system, the DGA piloted all the technical stages, in close collaboration with the French Navy and the Naval Group and Schiebel, from the collection of the operational requirements to the validation tests, carried out under real conditions.
To this end, the DGA relied on its technical experts (architects of the ship and the PHA combat system, specialists in shipborne aviation and electromagnetic compatibility) and its testing capabilities, that allowed many different analysis and detailed control operations to validate the technical options.
After a phase of more than two years of operational experimentation in situ, the modification of the ship was carried out by Naval Group under the control of the DGA on the occasion of its technical stop of the spring of 2019.
In addition to the essential cables and antennas, a workspace for drone operators was installed at the command post, with a mission management console specifically designed to exploit live information gathered by the drone and use it to enrich the tactical situation of the ship. A connection was also made with the on-board video network, to broadcast the images of the drone in the command zone of the embarked staff. This device facilitates, for example, the monitoring of an amphibious operation.
The integration of the drone has also been designed to facilitate its daily operation. Some examples: the PHA is now equipped with a box to house the maintenance and store the drone’s spare parts; a dedicated area on the flight deck allows it to be refueled quickly and safely without disrupting other ongoing aviation activities; a specific communication system was developed to fit into the onboard radio communications, in compliance with aeronautical constraints.
Beyond project management, the DGA also acts as technical authority for state military aircraft as well as for Navy ships. It is this transversal vision that enabled the DGA to take up the challenge of integrating this drone aboard the PHA Dixmude, by guaranteeing the absence of any impact of the drone's operation on the ship's performance and on-board safety.
Thanks to this unique know-how in Europe, the Navy now has a first tactical UAV capability: the Camcopter S-100 can be deployed day or night, within a range of several dozen kilometers.
DGA’s role as Technical Authority is to ensure that the integration and implementation of such a system on a vessel does not compromise the safety of property and persons.