A damp day across the Western Isles greeted the dozens of range staff, RN augmentees and Joint Warrior liaison teams who turned out before first light on the first official Unmanned Warrior flying day and headed for the brightly lit Range Control Building 12 miles south of Benbecula on the island of South Uist.
But the upbeat Met forecaster opening the flying brief – at flying speed – assured the assembled Unmanned Warriors that matters would soon be improving and flying could commence on time.
So it proved, with first launches being made within minutes by the Schiebel team’s Camcopter 100, with radar pod, and Boeing’s Scan Eagle (benefitting from a quick hair dryer blast over its wings before launch) hosting themselves into a slowly lifting gloom.
These were swiftly followed by others sent to differing parts of the reserved airspace as per the complex matrix of the flight plan, carefully crafted to avoid the very real risk of autonomous collision in the skies.
Out at sea the assembled Joint Warrior fleet awaited the benefits of this energetic flood of unmanned reconnaissance.
And with some interest. Because a significant part of this business is understanding and learning the best way of commanding and controlling many systems, each looking out in different ways (radar, multi-camera, infra-red) and for different things.
For these demonstrations the information the fleet commander receives is supported and filtered by a ‘booster’ team of technicians and planners, operations professionals and system experts.
These are not wanted (nor likely to be available) on operational voyages. This must be done by a trained few. So a considerable emphasis has been laid on MAPLE, a rather undistinguished white ISO container which houses the C2 (Command and Control) for different autonomous systems and should show the way ahead.
One is afloat on the support ship Northern River, one at the range on the Kyle of Lochalsh and the other in Benbecula.
They may look unimpressive, but they are the eye of the storm in Unmanned Warrior.
Operated jointly by BAe Systems and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory they have to keep data outputs from all 40 different demonstrating systems (and not just the flying ones) coming and going – and readable by all.
That’s a lot of square pins to file down to fit into round holes.