Australian Navy Perseveres With S-100 Camcopter Despite Crashes

 - October 19, 2017, 10:51 AM
One of two Schiebel S-100 Camcopters that crashed while on trial with the Royal Australian Navy. (Photo: Australian Ministry of Defence)

Two S-100 Camcopter VTOL UAVs being provided by their Austrian maker Schiebel to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for trials have crashed. But the service still plans to buy two S-100s plus two ground stations. Separately, the RAN is upgrading its fleet of 24 manned Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters, the last of which was delivered just over a year ago.

Speaking at a Naval Aviation Symposium on the sidelines of the Pacific 2017 Maritime Exhibition in Sydney, Commodore Chris Smallhorn, the commander of the RAN’s Fleet Air Arm, said both unmanned helicopters crashed for similar reasons and that investigations are ongoing. However trials with the S-100 are set to continue, with delivery of two more powered by a new heavy-fuel engine. According to documentation from Schiebel, the new engine will be able to use JP-5 fuel with its higher flash point for shipboard operations.

Australia selected the S-100 Camcopter for its Navy Minor Project (NMP) 1942 in December last year to meet the RAN’s interim requirement for a VTOL UAV, signing a three-year contract. This project will lead to Project SEA 129 Phase 5 Stage 1, which will select a UAV to go aboard the RAN’s 12 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) whose construction is due to start in 2018. Phase 2 of this project will select another UAV type to equip nine frigates the RAN is planning to build for service from the early 2030s.

At the symposium Commodore Scott Lockey, ‎director general of Navy Aviation Systems at the ‎Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), said that the timeline for the start of SEA 129 Phase 5 Stage 1 has slipped by two years although he expects that with a compressed timeline the program will still be able to deliver UAVs to operate on board the OPVs when they are commissioned in the early 2020s.

The program will likely see Schiebel competing with UMS Skeldar again in a repeat of the NMP 1942 competition that saw the S-100 up against Skeldar’s V-200. However, other ship-capable UAVs such as the Insitu Scan Eagle or the Northrop-Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout may also be in contention.

CASG had released a request for information in May from potential suppliers for the SEA 129 Phase 5 Stage 1, which it said drew 27 responses, seeking to provide the OPVs “with an embedded, off-board intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform that will enhance its ability to perform its primary and secondary missions.”

Commodore Lockey also revealed that the RAN’s MH-60R Seahawks will undergo a $500 million (Australian dollars, U.S.$394 million) Capability Assurance Program following its approval by the Australian government in June. There will be upgrades and replacement of systems, sensors and weapons to ensure commonality with the U.S. Navy’s MH-60Rs.

The first deliverable of the program will see the integration of the BAE Systems Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) guided rocket, which Lockey said fills an anti-surface warfare gap between door-mounted machine guns and the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire missile.