Airbus Helicopters and Naval Group have trialed the operability of a helicopter drone aboard the French Navy’s “Provence” Aquitaine-class multi-mission frigate in the Mediterranean Sea.
The activity is part of France’s naval aerial drone system (SDAM) program to validate the performance of shipborne unmanned vehicles with warships for future maritime surveillance and intelligence missions.
VSR700 and I4Drone Mission System
During the demonstration, the firms deployed a VSR700 aerial drone developed by Airbus and the I4Drone mission system by Naval Group.
The VSR700 is based on Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2 two-seater piston engine light rotorcraft that was first introduced in 1992.
It has a maximum takeoff weight of 700 kilograms (1,500 pounds) and can integrate up to three different sensors for simultaneous identification and detection operations.
It is equipped with Airbus’ proprietary Deck Finder system to enable precision flights with minimal human control in rough sea conditions.
Meanwhile, Naval Group’s I4Drone mission system is designed to manage drones in complex warfare scenarios.
This software covers automated mission preparation, payload implementation and data exploitation, as well as task protection.
Alongside surface vessels and submarines, the I4Drone system can be installed in a land-based command center to oversee drone operations.
Progress in SDAM Program
The French government’s SDAM program was launched in 2017. In 2023, $109-million was invested to facilitate the risk reduction phase with the VSR700.
Once all corresponding trials are completed, the SDAM initiative is expected to achieve operational capability by 2026.
“We are proud to see that the SDAM and the VSR700 are maturing,” Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even stated. “The system that we will offer will be able to operate from a frigate and be adapted to the naval missions it was designed for.”
Naval Group CEO Pierre-Eric Pommellet added how the Mediterranean Sea demo served as a “major step” toward improving the French Navy’s sea dominance.
“We have passed a significant milestone in terms of the complexity of the integration of an unmanned aerial system on board a heavily armed vessel, both physically and operationally,” he said.
“These trials have also shown the relevance of the Naval Group I4Drones mission system, and the fact that the SDAM demonstrator can seamlessly be integrated on a vessel and will work harmoniously with other existing systems.”
“In synergy with the ship’s combat system and the embarked helicopter, the drone will be another means to access complementary airspaces and will truly be a remote sensor that will expand the crew’s perception and treatment of threats in real time.”