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The UK Royal Navy is exploring the use of drones to deliver lightweight supplies to vessels at sea. Given that seven out of ten resupply missions involve the carrying of loads of up to 100lbs, the Navy plans to explore the use of drones to save time, money, sailors and free up helicopters for other missions.

The Navy’s support unit Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) has been supporting operations of the Navy with food, spare parts, fuel, ammunition and other supplies. Sailing in parallel with a warship, RFA’s tanker vessels either pump fuel through a hose, or transfer supplies in crates and on pallets on a jackstay line between the two vessels. Helicopters are also deployed.

Maritime supply solutions are also tested by the US Navy. The Naval Air Systems Command of the US Navy is trialling an uncrewed aircraft to move supplies of up to 25lbs between vessels but over distances of more than 200 miles.

Trials conducted over the summer had indicated that this concept was successful in transporting a small cargo for repairs between a warship and an auxiliary of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) of the US Navy.

Deploying autonomous systems from Malloy Aeronautics, Royal Marines tested the resupply mission by drone – on the battlefield as well as the beachhead. The autonomous systems carried supplies to troops on either ships offshore or bases to the rear.

The RFA and the MSC are sharing some lessons of their trials and systems.