Trials of the largest uncrewed aircraft ever launched from a UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier could pave the way for the next generation of UK naval air power.
The specially modified aircraft – operated remotely by a ‘pilot’ at a computer terminal, codenamed ‘Mojave’ – took off and landed safely on HMS Prince of Wales in a unique trial off the east coast of the US in late 2023.
No crewless machine its size – 9m long, with a wingspan of 17m, that is, 6m wider than an F-35B Lightning stealth fighter – and weighing more than 1.5tonnes fully loaded – has ever flown from an aircraft carrier other than the US Navy before.
The UK Ministry of Defence said the trial off the coast of Virginia “further unlocks the potential of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, demonstrating how modern uncrewed air systems can operate alongside fifth-generation crewed aircraft like the Lightnings.”
Rear Admiral James Parkin, Royal Navy Director Develop, whose team planned and led the trial said: “The Mojave trial is a European first – the first time that a remotely piloted air system of this size has operated to and from an aircraft carrier outside the US.
“The success of this trial heralds a new dawn in how we conduct maritime aviation and is another exciting step in the evolution of the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group into a mixed crewed and uncrewed fighting force.”
Royal Navy Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Martin Connell said embracing autonomy “is the next logical step to ensuring that the Royal Navy can continue to fight and win in an increasingly complex operating environment.”
He continued: “With so many international partners interested in the results of these Mojave trials on board HMS Prince of Wales, I am delighted that we are taking the lead in such exciting and important work to unlock the longer-term potential of the aircraft carrier and push it deep into the 21st Century as a highly potent striking capability.”
Produced by US company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Mojave is capable of performing numerous long endurance missions from medium altitude. It is from the same family of aircraft as the Royal Air Force’s new Protector RG Mk1 – such ‘medium altitude long endurance’ remotely piloted aircraft are capable of conducting long-range surveillance and strike missions.