The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston’s confirmed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) is working with BAE Systems to develop swarms of 3D printed unmanned combat aircraft to explore “new models of capability delivery and accelerated production” including the twin jet 3D printed Pizookie drones (or unmanned combat aircraft).
The RAF review focused on how technology can and will help to overcome challenges on the battlefield, especially in light of the fact that the world we operate in today is increasingly fraught with danger and uncertainty, highlighted by the dramatic events unfolding in Ukraine.
“All of that will depend on a new approach to Air and Space Command and Control, which in turn depends on battlespace connectivity, and that functioning, interoperable, digital C2 network which I would suggest is one of the most important technological challenges we all face,” he said.
At the heart of the Royal Air Force’s Future Air Command and Control system is NEXUS – the RAF’s Combat Cloud – and RAVEN, the virtual communications node, both of which got namechecked a couple of times yesterday. Between them they create a Common Operational Picture by fusing data from multiple sources to provide actionable intelligence of the battlespace in real-time.
NEXUS and RAVEN have been developed in-house by the RAF at a fraction of the cost of comparators, and because they were developed and created in-house, they are open and available to allies and partners.
Sir Mike Wigston also pointed out that the Future Combat Air System is such a critical development program for the United Kingdom because “we [the UK] need to start work now on what will replace Typhoon from the late 2030s, defending our skies, and it’s why we are investing £2Bn or $2.4Bn US over the 4 years to 2025 alongside our international partners.
“We are exploring partnering opportunities and sharing our technological expertise with a range of international partners, including Japan and Italy, and we are sharing an open FCAS dialogue with Sweden.
“Our FCAS Programme – he went on – will deliver an advanced combat air system capable of fighting and winning in the most hostile air environments. As with other future combat air programs, we are looking at a mix of swarming drones, uncrewed combat aircraft, and next-generation piloted aircraft like Tempest.”
This brings us to the swarming drone trials and the enormous operational potential for these systems to confuse and overwhelm an adversary’s air defenses. In the last 3 years, 216 Test and Evaluation Sqn alongside the Rapid Capabilities Office, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and industry will have trialed 5 drone types in 13 different trials of new payloads, new platforms and new control systems.
“We are exploring new models of capability delivery and accelerated production ‘when we need them’ rather than ‘in case we need them’ from the twin jet 3D printed Pizookie developed by BAE Systems, to commercially-available large drones fitted with novel payloads, to large quadcopters,” Sir Wigston concluded.