The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has stood-up an experimental unit dedicated to developing an operational ‘swarming drones’ capability, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane’s .

216 Squadron was reactivated at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on 1 April, the MoD said. Previously, the ministry explained that the unit will be tasked with bringing the RAF’s “ambitious” swarming drones capability into service and continue its development.

As previously reported by Jane’s , the then-Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson said in February 2019 that by the end of that year the RAF would operationally field “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air-defence systems”.

In July 2019 the then-Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier clarified the minister’s comments by saying that 216 Squadron would be stood-up by the end of the year to develop the concept, with the capability itself to be delivered by about July, with further development to follow.

This is still the MoD’s stated intention. However, Jane’s understands that 216 Squadron has been reformed with minimal manning for now, and that work is ongoing to assess the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic on future plans, manning, and timelines.

In terms of the potential solution to the ‘swarming drones’ requirement, the RAF has previously said that the timelines meant it would not be looking to develop a bespoke platform but would instead be using something that was already available. No further details have been provided for commercial confidentiality reasons.

While the near-term timelines and milestones for 216 Squadron and the wider swarming drone capability are currently subject to developments with the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the MoD noted earlier that progress during recent trials has exceeded expectations in several unspecified areas. A source familiar with the trials noted to Jane’s that the results so far were “looking promising”.

Photo: Crown Copyright

Source: Jane’s

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