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New UK Defence Drone Strategy Launched

A soldier from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland flies a Parrot Anafi drone to identify targets during the live firing tactical training phase of Exercise VIGILANT ISLES, Japan, November 2023 [Crown Copyright: Cpl Aaron J Stone]

New UK Defence Drone Strategy launched to deliver unified approach to uncrewed systems across all three military services.

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Press Release, Whitehall, 22 January 2024: A new strategy backed by at least £4.5 billion of investment over the next decade will accelerate access to uncrewed systems for the UK Armed Forces, rapidly equipping them with innovative technology across air, sea, and land.

The UK Defence Drone Strategy, born from lessons learned in Ukraine, will harness innovative capabilities across UK defence. It will enable the rapid experimentation, testing and evaluation of uncrewed platforms, unifying the approach of the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, integrated by UK Strategic Command, while crucially working in lockstep with industry.

Drones are a game-changing technology that are constantly evolving, and it is crucial that the UK continues to invest in and maintain our position on the cutting edge of drone development to stay one step ahead of our adversaries. The new approach will see uncrewed systems delivered at pace into the hands of the British Armed Forces, equipping personnel with critical intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, strike and logistical capabilities. This will leave behind long development timelines and lengthy requirement discussions. Once operational, the systems will be able to be developed and upgraded – or ‘spiralled’ – to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology and changing threat picture.

Our initial priority remains the successful delivery of the Ukraine-UK uncrewed systems initiative, building on the UK’s donation of over 4,000 drones for Ukraine. The UK Defence Drone Strategy will help Armed Forces personnel meet the relentless cycle of battlefield adaptation, as has been repeatedly underpinned as Ukraine continues to successfully resist the Russian invasion.

Minister for Defence Procurement, James Cartlidge said: “The conflict in Ukraine has been an incubator for new ways of war and we need to learn and implement those hard-fought lessons.

“Rapidly being able to develop and upgrade uncrewed systems will be key to gaining battlefield advantage and we must seize this opportunity to grow and sustain such skills and capabilities in the UK.

“The strategy brings together a clear, unified focus – backed by billions in funding – while providing the flexibility to meet different requirements in the air, over land and at sea.

“Ultimately, this is about learning the lessons from the Ukrainian frontline to procure drones at scale for the UK’s Armed Forces.”

Of the £2.5 billion to be spent on supporting Ukraine this coming financial year, more than £200 million will go towards supplying Ukraine with uncrewed systems. As the Defence Secretary announced last week, the UK will include work to scale up the Drone Capability Coalition’s provision of ‘first-person view’ (FPV) drones to Ukraine. This will help to scale the UK’s domestic drone industry across manufacturing and software development whilst giving Ukraine cutting-edge, battle-tested capabilities to defend their citizens and target the invading Russian forces.

Working with international partners and leading uncrewed systems designers, the UK’s ambition to be a world-leader in uncrewed systems will enable exports in a rapidly growing global market and create onshore investment opportunities, supporting UK jobs and backing the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy.

Commander of UK Strategic Command, General Jim Hockenhull said: “This strategy, backed by significant investment, offers the opportunity to transform our approach to the acquisition, integration, and exploitation of uncrewed systems.

“The partnership with industry will be vital to ensure we harness innovation and generate world-leading capability.

“Integrating advanced uncrewed systems into our suite of capabilities will protect the force, deter our adversaries and, when necessary, help us to fight and win.”

Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), the procurement arm of the UK MOD, has played a key role in helping develop the new UK Defence Drone Strategy and will be pivotal in ensuring its successful ongoing delivery.

Chief Executive, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), Andy Start said: “DE&S has supported the rapid procurement of large numbers of uncrewed aerial systems for Ukraine, and it is clearer than ever that unhindered access to battle-winning uncrewed systems is absolutely crucial in modern day combat.

“We are delighted to be working with frontline commands and industry partners to identify, test and deliver platforms that will give the UK Armed Forces the competitive edge they require to protect the nation and support our allies.”

A comprehensive partnership with industry is at the core of the Drone Strategy, and building on the UK’s extensive industrial, robotics and digital heritage. Through regular, clear industry engagements, we will incentivise industry to support the rapid manufacture and adaptation at a scale and capability able to deliver operational advantage for our Armed Forces. As part of the Strategy, we will work across government to make the UK more competitive in the global export market for uncrewed systems and their development.

Today’s Strategy builds on the UK’s rich history of developing and operating uncrewed systems, including the use of Reaper MQ-9s by the Royal Air Force, and small to medium uncrewed aerial systems by the Army and particularly the Royal Navy who have developed a growing array of surface and sub-surface capabilities, including autonomous minehunters.

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