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French Navy tests VSR700 naval UAS demonstrator on multi-mission frigate

2nd November 2023 - 11:53 GMT | by The Shephard News Team in London


Trials of the Naval Aerial Drone System (SDAM) demonstrator took place in the Mediterranean Sea on board the French frigate Provence. (Photo: Airbus)

The latest Naval Aerial Drone System trials aimed to showcase the UAS performance capabilities in surveillance and intelligence missions.

Airbus Helicopter, Naval Group, the French Armament General Directorate (DGA) and the French Navy have tested the Naval Aerial Drone System (SDAM) demonstrator from a multi-mission frigate.

The test came after France showcased the technical capabilities of the Airbus VSR700 rotary-wing UAS in January 2023 as part of the risk-reduction efforts for the SDAM programme.

The latest trials took place in the Mediterranean Sea on board the French frigate Provence in early October. Naval Group had previously adapted the ship to operate the SDAM.

France’s VSR700 maritime drone flies in operational configuration at sea

French Navy tests VSR700 naval UAS demonstrator on multi-mission frigate

Airbus said the sea tests had been arranged to demonstrate the system’s high performance from an operational warship and the SDAM’s capabilities for surveillance and intelligence missions.

‘We are very happy with the success of these trials, which mark a major step in the reinforcement of the French Navy's future capabilities,’ said Pierre-Eric Pommellet, CEO of Naval Group. ‘We have passed a significant milestone in terms of the complexity of the integration of [a] UAS on board a heavily armed vessel, both physically and operationally.’

The requirement for the SDAM programme is a rotary-wing VTOL-capable UAV with a modular configuration capable of hosting a range of payloads. It should have a payload capacity of 100kg, a maximum take-off weight of 700kg, an endurance of 10 hours, a range of up to 185km and a ceiling height of 15,000 feet.

Airbus and Naval Group were chosen by the DGA for the de-risking study for the SDAM programme in 2017. The objective was to create and test a UAS helicopter for the French Navy. 

The VSR700 drone, jointly developed by Airbus and Naval Group, has been selected to be used in the programme. Naval Group had also been tasked with the development of the mission system for the UAS and its integration on military vessels.

According to the military programming law being discussed in France's Congress for the 2024–30 period, the French MoD will aim to receive three SDAM aircraft by the close of 2023, followed by eight more by the end of 2030, with a target of at least 15 deliveries around 2035.

In a naval context, embarking a UAS means helicopters can be reserved and prioritised for more critical missions.

Similar programmes exist across the globe, with the UK aiming for a similar UAS to operate from frigates under its Flexible Tactical UAS (FTUAS) programme.

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