Airbus and Naval Group awarded VTUAS development contract

Airbus-VSR700
The VSR700 is based on the manned Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter. (Airbus)

The French Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) has awarded a contract to Airbus and the Naval Group to develop a new maritime tactical unmanned helicopter demonstrator.

The contract will initially cover de-risking studies, and will lead to the development of a demonstrator for trials of the air vehicle, mission systems and launch/recovery systems aboard ship.

The system will inform the French Navy Airborne Drone System (SDAM) project which aims to field a VTUAS capability aboard the French navy’s new Intermediate-Size Frigates (FTIs) and other vessels from the mid to late 2020s.

The demonstrator will be based on Airbus’s VSR700 concept, an unmanned adaptation of the Guimbal Cabri G2, a 700kg 2-seat manned helicopter. Airbus and Naval has engaged Hélicoptères Guimbal, Thales Systèmes Aéroportés, Safran E&S and ONERA as their principal subcontractors

“We are proud to have been selected by the DGA together with our long-standing partner Airbus Helicopters to allow the French Navy to integrate aerial drone systems into its units and strengthen its operational capabilities,” Hervé Guillou, President and CEO of Naval Group said in a statement. “This study also allows us to structure a world-leading industrial sector in this field. Naval Group thus confirms its capacity for innovation and technical mastery of naval systems and its role of whole warship architecture in the aero-naval domain.”

The VSR700 has more than 10 hours endurance with a payload of up to 150kg. Airbus plans to integrate the flight control and navigation systems, a secure data link, sensor, and to manage the certification of the system.

Interestingly, the VSR700 appears to neatly bridge the gap between the small Schiebel S200 Camcopter, and the full-sized Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout in terms of weight and deck footprint. A possible outside contender for the Royal Australian Navy’s SEA 129 Phase 5/2 requirement perhaps?