Soldiers test drones to prepare for complex future warfare

With drones taking centre stage on battlefields across the globe, cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) have been tested during a major demonstration of technology and military capability.

The Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) at HM Naval Base Portsmouth has, over the last few weeks, placed a range of innovative kit and equipment in the hands of soldiers, giving invaluable military feedback to industry suppliers.

AWE: The Urban Series 2022-24 focuses on warfighting in the urban environment, preparing the Army for future conflict, in line with its Future Soldier programme, in an increasingly urbanised world. 

At AWE this year industry partners were tasked with providing solutions to the challenges of urban warfare, harnessing tech to prepare for complex future warfare.

HMNB Portsmouth, with its congested and complex urban environment, was the perfect location for soldiers, including 2 YORKS, the new Experimentation Battalion, to experiment with a range of prototype systems.

What we have been witnessing recently in Kherson is just one example of where and how we will be fighting in the future: in a dirty, cluttered, complex battlefield. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Dawe,
Commanding Officer of the Infantry Trials & Development Unit

Colonel Toby Till, Commander of the Experimentation & Trials Group, said:

“In any urban environment, you’ve got to be able to move, hide and survive. AWE is all about optimising the British Army for the urban environment of the future.

“It’s about making sure we’re capturing the evidence and the data from everything we’ve done, learning from allies and partners, learning from our friends and colleagues across Defence. Only by working together, we make the Army better.”

Two themes were the focal point for AWE 22 at the Portsmouth Naval Base: ‘Sustain’ focused on intelligent logistics, medical extraction and vehicle extraction, while ‘Protect’ focused on physical and non-physical protection, including counter UAS.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Dawe, Commanding Officer of the Infantry Trials & Development Unit, said:

“Sustain and Protect is specifically looking at the logistics and complexities of operating in and from the urban environment. What we have been witnessing recently in Kherson is just one example of where and how we will be fighting in the future: in a dirty, cluttered, complex battlefield.”

While the world has been watching how drones have played a pivotal role on the battlefield in Ukraine, at the Portsmouth Naval Base a range of UAS systems that use different technologies to defeat drones were put through their paces.

One such system was the Wingman, a wearable RF sensor for drone detection, and the Pitbull, a wearable jammer that utilises smart jamming to defeat enemy drones. This effective portable counter-UAS system will protect dismounted soldiers and ensure they are less susceptible to detection and attack.

Some of the other unique drone capabilities tested included carrying blood plasma to injured soldiers on the battlefield while another drone demonstrated how it can evacuate casualties.

The Hydra XL 300 drone, for instance, showed how, when configured as a fully electric variant, it can lift a casualty of up to 120kg over a range of up to 25km, with spare capacity and zero emissions.

Warrant Officer Class Two Gareth Edwards, Royal Artillery Trials & Development Unit, said:

“UAS has become incredibly important because it’s an established technology that we’re now leveraging. The level of technological advancement has been so rapid there are always new use cases being identified.”

AWE is split into three levels. Level A included a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type scenario that saw industry pitching the kit they believe will respond to problems set by the AWE team, such as countering drones and providing medical evacuation in built-up areas.

Level B was a basic safety testing of the equipment the AWE team decided should go forward to Level C, the experimentation phase.

Level C, the integrated assessment, sees a year of interaction between Army and partners come to fruition with soldiers experimenting with the innovative kit at the naval base in Portsmouth.

The results of AWE will provide evidence to inform the Army and Defence which capabilities should be invested in and developed for the Army to remain competitive on the global stage.

This collaboration with industry is about using the solutions they already have, to counter the problems faced by the British Army, without spending time and money going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch.

British soldiers tested the technology at the Portsmouth Naval Base alongside soldiers from partner nations.

While the trials were underway, Colonel Toby Till, Experimentation & Trials Group, said,

“You’ve got American and Dutch soldiers fully integrated in everything we’re doing. We’re all learning from each other. They’ll take back some of the best practices they see and it’s just one of a whole series of multinational experimentation events the British Army is involved with.

“Anything you see which puts better capability into the hands of our soldiers can only be a good thing. I love it.”