Drones could play a 'key role' in tracking drug runners and smugglers after successful trials with the Navy's newest class of ships in the Channel, the Royal Navy has said.
HMS Tamar used small Puma aircraft during trials with the Royal Marines and the Met Police as the ship practised for 'constabulary duties' ahead of its first deployment this summer.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Hutchinson said the drone was of "great use for investigating nearby vessels of interest".
"We could easily see just how useful such a system could be for any future anti-piracy or counter-smuggling operations," Lt Cdr Hutchinson said.
"It's a significant enhancement of the ship's capabilities and bodes well for the future."
The Puma provided HMS Tamar, which despite having a flight deck, does not have a hangar or carry a helicopter regularly, with 'eyes in the sky'.
The drone is also cheaper than a helicopter, easier to launch and recover and difficult for enemies to spot.
It can also carry out sorties lasting up to two-and-a-half hours.
Lieutenant Ash Loftus, Puma flight commander, said there are many challenges when preparing and launching a drone safely from a ship.
"While it's a relatively small aircraft, it has a large wing and requires some skill from the operator launching it from the ship."
Tamar and her four sisters are being deployed around the world on long-term missions, operating from overseas ports and patrolling regions of interest to the UK.
The new River-class ships will focus on targeting piracy, terrorism and smuggling, and Tamar may be called on to work with local law enforcement agencies.
Cover image: A Puma drone flying low over the English Channel (Picture: Royal Navy).