As the UK awaits the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth at its new home in Portsmouth it was reported over the weekend that a hobbyist drone landed on the deck on the £3 billion vessel.
If it were not for the Royal Navy’s (RN) Merlin helicopters landing on its deck during sea trials this could have been an embarrassing first deck landing on the carrier.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it is investigating the incident which took place during sea trials.
But it raises the question about how secure the carrier is at present against small unmanned threats. Media reports contradicted themselves with some stating the system used was a DJI Phantom, while others said it was a Parrot Bebop.
The US military recently ordered personnel to cease using UAS from Chinese manufacturer DJI on account of possible security threats. In April the FAA restricted drone operations across 133 military facilities, addressing national security concerns regarding unauthorised used of UAVs.
Transferring this type of restriction to the maritime environment is likely to throw up issues but these examples highlight how the US is getting serious about commercial drones in the military environment and the threat they pose.
Also, as we recently discussed here on Quill, non-state actors are starting to seriously use unmanned vehicles with a range of payloads, predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions.
So is this a recipe for disaster for the RN’s newest and most expensive vessel?
Well of course the MoD will now be investigating the incident and is reviewing the security of the vessel.
Also it should be noted that the vessel is not fully operational yet and does not have its full crew on board. One would hope during operations the story would be somewhat different.
This is not the first incident of drones getting close to maritime assets. Earlier in August it was reported that an Iranian drone flew close to a USN F-18 as as it prepared to land on the nearby US carrier in the Persian Gulf.
Would it be out of the question for maritime adversaries to interfere with RN ships using small drones? All very hypothetical but not to be dismissed.