Small UAV Takes on Big Sea Missions: Resupply Warships and Submarines

Skyways Blue Water UAV

The US Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division acquired a Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAV prototype from Skyways to develop resupply efforts submarines and other ships over long distances using small UAVs.

Demonstrations of long-range ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore cargo transport will soon get underway at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, after customization of the UAV for the requirements of military sealift operations.

“The Blue Water logistics UAS will be further developed and tested by the Navy, for the Navy,” said NAWCAD Commander Rear Adm. John Lemmon. “NAWCAD has organic talent and facilities you can’t find anywhere else. Combined with increased acquisition freedom granted by Congress, this effort shows how we’re doing business differently.”

“Naval cargo transport requires vehicles that can successfully operate through difficult environments that include heavy winds, open water and pitching vessels at sea,” according to Blue Water project lead Bill Macchione.

Data from Navy casualty reports show that warships that move to non-mission capable or partially mission-capable status often do so due to logistics-related issues like electronics parts or assemblies — 90% of which are logistical deliveries weighing less than 50 pounds.

The platform’s arrival to NAWCAD’s unmanned Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (UX) 24 is the start of civilian and military training, and subsequent system development will better meet MSC’s requirement.

“NAWCAD intends to work with the contractor to create a better fit with the environment where it could potentially operate,” said Macchione. “We’re excited to get to work on such innovations as folding wings for better handling and ship storage, a dual propulsion system that runs on both electricity and JP-5 [fuel], an internal versus external cargo capacity, and an automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) identification system.”

Skyways’ UAV has a fixed wing, an internal combustion engine that powers a pusher propeller and four electric rotors for vertical flight. In 2019, the Skyways UAV demonstrated an autonomous resupply of a moving ship without knowing its position ahead of time. The aircraft’s round trip was nearly 80nm and it carried a 9.1kg payload. According to a company spokesperson, the aircraft has a range of 500 miles, and it can transport up to 25 lbs.

Image courtesy Skyways

All images courtesy Skyways

After modifications, the Blue Water UAV will take part in additional experiments in the Atlantic Ocean with the USN’s fleet in 2021. The service will then study and discuss the possibility of using the UAV to support naval operations.

Skyways is based in Austin, Texas.