On 29 November, UMS SKELDAR announced that its rotary unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the SKELDAR V-200, had been selected to fulfil a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) framework contract valued at €14million ($15.9million). Under the contract, scheduled to be two to four years long, the V-200 will undertake Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) services for emissions monitoring and maritime surveillance on an emergency basis.
MONCh spoke to Knut Roar Wiig, CEO of Nordic Unmanned (NU), prime contractor and consortium lead, about the details of the framework contract.
Two V-200 systems will be provided to NU, which will then provide UAV-based services together with UMS SKELDAR and Norut via EMSA to Member States (MS). It is up to the MS to request the services to EMSA, which then assesses the demands and gives a specific contract to NU to mobilise in a specific country. “We will mobilise with our crew, the ground station and with the V-200 for a minimum of two months, although it is more likely to be three months, at a time. By the time we have mobilised in the country, EMSA will then provide our service to the local MS representative, which then will do the weekly tasking and coordinating of the operation with NU,” Mr Knut told MONCh. The V-200 will be flying five days a week for a maximum of six hours per day; the flying will be done by NU under NU operational licence. As for the speed of dispatching, NU is legally bound to a 30 days delay, although Mr Knut admits that his team would be able to dispatch much faster than that.
The fixed payload mounted on the V-200 includes a dual sniffer for the emission monitoring, an AIS, and EO/IR sensors complete with laser range finder. Whether other sensors might be mounted onto the platform is likely to depend on individual mission contracts with the MS. “The data gathered from the platform will be directly streamed into the data centre that EMSA has built-up, thus fusing with data from satellites, AIS, and other sources,” indicated Mr Knut. “The V-200 will be one of several sensor opportunities for the MS to gather comprehensive maritime situational awareness.”
As this framework contract will function as a ‘company owned/company operated’ (co/co) contract, Mr Knut believes this is an opportunity for MS to experience a different way to acquire assets and/or gather data. Currently, maritime awareness is dependent upon MS’ data gathering assets. But procurement of these assets is often long, expensive, and characterised by a number of uncertainties that need to be resolved in the process (e.g. how to integrate, how it works, training of crew, etc). “UAVs developments are fast paced, so service contracts such as this one guarantee a very mature technology and a service provider that accepts the responsibility for the whole logistics (pilots, functionality for getting data),” according to Mr Knut. As such, in addition to giving the opportunity to experience first hand the technology, it also allows smaller navies to access assets on a more ad hoc basis rather than having to invest into the procurement of a new asset. “This type of contract brings a different flexibility to the market,” said Mr Knut.
This contract is also likely to become a pathfinder in terms of civil aviation regulations for UAVs. Initial approval had been granted by the Norwegian civil aviation authority for the V-200 to fly into civilian air space, and Mr Knut sees this as a strong argument for seeking similar approvals for beyond line-of-sight flying in other MS. “Currently there are no EU standard regulations in place on this, so while it will be challenging to get all the permissions needed for the missions, we see this as a positive challenge to clear the path for these EU-wide regulations in the future,” noted Mr Knut.
Finally, it is worth noting that in amongst a consortium that brings together industry and academia, the academic partner, Norut, is a research establishment in the north of Norway focused on Arctic research and adapting UAVs to the Arctic harsh environment. This includes having overcome issues of communication and broadband in a region infamous for its lack of connectivity (even SATCOM is patchy). As international attention progressively turns to the Arctic as a potential future hotspot, it would be particularly interesting for navies to be able to have access to a V-200 capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions in the region.