New Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales will be experimental HQ for drone tests

EXPERIMENTAL drones will fly from Britain’s newest aircraft carrier next year, the head of the Royal Navy has revealed.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 12:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 4:30 pm

Admiral Tony Radakin plans to use HMS Prince of Wales, the second Queen Elizabeth-class supercarrier, as an HQ to test ‘large’ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in 2021.

The First Sea Lord announced his bold proposal at the Defence IQ Surface Warships conference in London.

Delivering a powerful speech to naval experts from across the globe, Adm Radakin insisted the Senior Service was going to ‘undergo substantial changes’ over the next five years.

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The team from 700X Naval Air Squadron pictured on Portsmouth-based patrol ship HMS Mersey after a week of trials testing new drone tech. Photo: Royal Navy

‘I see 2020 as a pivot point where we will move from, and if we’re honest, from a slightly uninspiring recent past, to a really incredibly exciting future.... And in 2020, we will be going further,’ he told the conference.

‘Five years ago we had no carriers. Today we have two of the most advanced carriers in the world. And in five years’ time, both will be operational and capable of deploying 36 jets.

‘And I want to go even further – the chief of air staff Mike Wigston and I are looking at using HMS Prince of Wales in 2021 as an experimental platform and with a view to challenging our services and industry as to whether or not we can get large drones flying from the aircraft carrier as a technology demonstrator inside the next five years.’

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HMS Prince of Wales arrives at Portsmouth Dockyard for the first time. She is pictured from the Round Tower, Old Portsmouth. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (161119-32)

At the heart of this will be the navy’s team from 700X Naval Air Squadron, which oversees the development of cutting-edge remote-piloted systems and drones for the Senior Service.

For months the experimental unit has been working hard to trial sophisticated unmanned tech from its base at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.

Today the navy announced the squad had spent a week with Portsmouth-based fishery protection ship HMS Mersey trialling some of the drones.

Lieutenant Commander Justin Matthews, 700X’s commanding officer, said it was a hugely exciting time to be developing future UAVs.

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin pictured giving a speech during the Defence IQ conference in London in front of global maritime experts.

‘These remotely-piloted systems can act as an extension to a ship’s suite of sensors and potentially as a weapon delivery platform,’ he said.

‘We’ve set up this new flight to test that concept as a capability. We want to be able to demonstrate how you could take any generic UAV, fly it from a ship, and get its information back in a meaningful way.

‘Although we continue to work with industry, this is about the Royal Navy flying a Royal Navy UAV from a Royal Navy ship. That is a fabulously exciting concept.’

HMS Prince of Wales is expected to leave Portsmouth later this month to begin her second phase of sea trials.

Pictured is: First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin pictured giving a speech during the Defence IQ conference in London.

The 65,000-tonne giant is also earmarked to make her maiden voyage to Liverpool, on Friday, February 28, for a week-long stay in the northern city, the navy said today.

Visitors will be able to step on board on Saturday, February 29 – the first time the new £3.1bn warship has officially been open to the public.