Royal Navy expands its fleet of sophisticated aerial spy drones to protect warships at sea

THE Royal Navy has expanded its fleet of drone aircraft as it seeks to enhance how it protects warships from enemies at sea.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 8:56 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 10:14 pm

The Senior Service’s 700X Naval Air Squadron has acquired 12 Puma aircraft, which can be deployed from any ship in the fleet.

At the same time, the squadron has enhanced its training and taken on more personnel.

And the team has been putting its new kit and training to use during a series of drills on the Portsmouth-based patrol ship, HMS Mersey.

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The Royal Navy has expanded its fleet of remotely-piloted drones – the far-seeing eyes of navy warships – with new training, personnel and 12 aircraft.

Puma flight commander Lieutenant Ashley Loftus said: ‘We’ve made a significant move forward in our capabilities in the last 12 months. We are now at the stage where we can be deployed at short notice.

‘This is a totally organic and flexible Royal Navy enterprise, using our systems being flown by Royal Navy personnel.’

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The Puma drones are capable of remaining in the skies for two hours at a time and have a range of more than 10 miles.

One of the Puma drones launched from HMS Mersey.

The addition of the aircraft to the navy’s arsenal means ships and sailors have more options to increase their ability to gather intelligence while at sea.

Flying up to 45 miles per hour, the drones combine a high-tech control system with their array of sensors, including a times-fifty optical zoom, to live-stream video back to the ship.

Lieutenant Loftus added: ‘They may look simple, but the Puma is a rugged and sophisticated piece of kit. Yes, it’s fairly small, but that means we can deploy it from the stern of any ship with the minimum of effort.

‘Last year we took part in exercises in the Mediterranean on HMS Albion while this year we’ve deployed with HMS Tamar and then in the Baltic back onboard Albion again.

Some of the navy's 700X pictured along with their new Puma drones.

‘We’ve also taken part in exercises with the Royal Marines. We’ve operated the Puma from landing craft while working with the marines in Scotland.

‘We’d fly ahead of the craft, during the middle of the night, using one of the system’s thermal cameras to provide real-time intelligence.

‘We’ve just now undertaken a training embarkation in UK waters with HMS Mersey, to train our new flight commanders.’

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HMS Mersey pictured at sea. The patrol ship was the testing and training ground for the new Puma aircraft and their controllers.

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Sailors pictured on HMS Mersey preparing the Puma aircraft
One of the sailors pictured monitoring the Puma aircraft while it is flown from HMS Mersey.