Exercise Wessex Seahawk: Army Flies Unmanned Aircraft In Cornwall

Members of the British Army have been trying out different ways of working with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on Exercise Wessex Seahawk.

32 Regiment Royal Artillery, the Wessex Gunners, usually train on Salisbury Plain but travelled to Cornwall's Predannack Airfield, a site usually used by the Royal Navy's 700X Naval Air Squadron.

The Army headed to Cornwall to test their skills in a different environment and push the remotely piloted aircraft systems to the limit.

As part of the exercise the regiment are practising controlling and commanding more unmanned aerial systems over a larger area, like the Puma UAV.

"So we’re normally capped at around 20km in its normal set-up, but with this with the long-range tracking antenna we can push to 70km plus, so we’re just utilising that now and getting the feel for can we get the aircraft out that far from this location," said Sergeant Jack Appleton.

"It just enables us to get out further earlier and then we can identify the enemy at a greater range and pick up what they’re doing sooner so we can assess it and react as necessary."

The Puma has a wingspan of around 2.5 metres and is able to stay in the air for more than two hours, potentially monitoring an area the size of Greater Manchester.

Puma Drone 32 Regiment Royal ArtilleryExercise Wessex Gunners 17102020 CREDIT BFBS
32 Regiment testing the Puma UAV on Exercise Wessex Seahawk.

Testing the capability of UAVs like the Puma means the regiment can practise for information-gathering missions involving the enemy.

"So tasking will come down, it might be that they need to get footage of a village or something and then I’ll task the detachments to fly there and get that information," Lieutenant Hattie Arkwright explains.

"We’re now working in a much bigger area of operations so we’ll have more detachments out on different taskings getting a greater understanding of the area that we’re operating in."

In addition to using the Puma, troops also put some of the newly qualified Desert Hawk III pilots through their paces.

The Desert Hawk III, a remotely piloted aircraft, is smaller than the Puma, and is unable to fly in the rain.

Exercises like Wessex Seahawk which simulate a scenario where the regiment is cut off from forward elements of the Army, allows them to focus on unorthodox and novel methods of achieving their objectives.

Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Harmer, the regiment's commanding officer praised his teams and stressed the importance of the technology in modern theatres of war.

"[As] the specialists who operate these capabilities today, to shape what the capability of the future looks like is absolutely critical, and that’s exactly what we're doing down here and it's really exciting for the youngsters coming through now," he said.

"We have had capabilities in this regiment, systems that pretty much equate to an old Nokia 3210 mobile phone, but we see our capabilities and the developments in this space moving at the speed of computer technology, so an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 10, and our systems move on at that rate as well."

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