Drones Take Flight: A Turning Point for Naval Warfare?

   Recently, a US-made “Mojave” short take-off and landing drone completed a take-off and landing test on the British aircraft carrier “Prince of Wales”. This UAV is 9.1 meters long, has a wingspan of 16.8 meters, a maximum take-off weight of 3.175 tons, and can carry 12 Hellfire missiles. Royal Navy Rear Admiral James Parkin, who is in charge of the project, said that the successful test heralds an important step in the evolution of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier battle group towards a hybrid unmanned combat force.
   The earliest trials and combat use of drones on ships occurred during the Vietnam War. At the end of 1969, the U.S. Navy repeatedly launched Type 147 reconnaissance drones from the “Raider” aircraft carrier to perform reconnaissance missions near the coast of North Vietnam. The test was eventually halted because the drone launcher installed on the aircraft carrier’s deck caused interference to the takeoff and landing of carrier-based aircraft. Around 2000, the US military launched the X-45 and X-47B projects successively to verify technologies related to ship-based drones. From 2013 to 2015, the U.S. Navy conducted intensive tests related to the take-off and landing of X-47B drones on aircraft carriers, aerial refueling, and carrier-based aircraft coordination, proving that high-performance drones have the ability to be deployed on aircraft carriers.
   The test of UAVs on board shows that although there are technical difficulties and limited combat effectiveness, with the development of technologies such as unmanned control, autonomous learning and swarm control, the relationship between ship-based UAVs, manned carrier-based aircraft and aircraft carriers has improved. Cooperation between the two countries has become smoother, with more and more grouping modes and combat application methods, and the advantages of ship-based drones have gradually become more prominent.
   The shipboard test of the MQ-25 unmanned tanker and the “Mohave” unmanned aerial vehicle verified the collaborative combat design of some carrier-based aircraft. In addition, before the “Mohave” UAV was tested on the ship, the aircraft had completed cross-domain flight and coordinated flight with F-35C and other carrier-based aircraft. In August this year, the UAV also completed a short-distance take-off and landing test on land, with a minimum take-off distance of 179 meters and a landing distance of 102 meters, demonstrating the UAV’s take-off and landing capabilities on aircraft carriers and other maritime platforms and field airports. Ensure that it can undertake corresponding tasks in the British and American naval expeditionary strike groups in the future.
   Analysts believe that the large-scale use of ship-based drones in the future will lead to changes in naval warfare concepts and combat styles, especially with the rapid development and large-scale use of platforms such as intelligent drone carriers. Currently, anti-ship The form of naval warfare, which focuses on missile offensive and defensive operations, will undergo major changes.

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