DSEI 2023: UK MoD highlights Royal Navy crewed and uncrewed capability developments in delivering faster operational output

A Puma uncrewed air system
A Puma uncrewed air system sits on the flight deck of the RN Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster. The UK is seeking to accelerate delivery of uncrewed systems to frontline operators.

Crewed and uncrewed system programmes will both play crucial roles in delivering new operational capability for the UK Royal Navy (RN) increasingly quickly, Minister for Defence Procurement (MinDP) James Cartlidge told the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2023 exhibition at ExCel London on 12 September.

Opening the event and giving the keynote address, MinDP highlighted key capability and programme developments that will bring new and improved operational outputs for the RN in both crewed and uncrewed contexts. He also discussed how the UK is adapting its acquisition approaches within such programmes to enable more rapid delivery of capability to the operator.

A primary RN crewed platform going forward will be the five Type 31 Inspiration-class general-purpose frigates. The first two are in build at the Babcock shipyard in Rosyth, Scotland, with construction work across the class due for completion by 2028 and all five due in service by 2030.

As regards developing future capability, said Cartlidge, “We’ve … realised that we don’t have time to hold out for the 100 percent solution. Eighty percent is often ‘good enough’ – especially when you can ‘spirally’ develop that capability to meet changing circumstances.” Here, he added, Type 31 is a positive experience of demonstrating the acquisition of modular platforms that can be rapidly upgraded.

As regards uncrewed capability, Cartlidge also underlined the benefits of seeking an 80 percent solution that can deliver operational impact more quickly. “That’s why I am happy to announce at DSEI today that we will be bringing forward an Uncrewed Systems Strategy in the coming months,” he revealed. “It’s hugely important. It will help accelerate UK armed forces’ access to uncrewed systems and rapidly equipping them with innovative technology across air, sea, and land.”

The operational requirement to accelerate development of new capabilities like uncrewed systems is being demonstrated in contemporary security crises, like the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Such examples underline the need to deliver new capability at pace, Cartlidge explained. “If you doubted the rapid transformation we’re seeing on the battlefield, you only need to look at the way the Ukrainians are deploying drones and uncrewed systems to target and destroy the enemy,” he added. “By contrast, our acquisition programmes were simply not keeping pace with the changes on the ground.”

by Dr. Lee Willett