The Royal Navy's lightweight Puma drone has come on 'leaps and bounds' during sorties supporting Royal Marines on amphibious operations in the North Sea and Baltic, according to personnel in the Senior Service.
The Puma has been supporting HMS Albion and Royal Marines of 45 Commando as part of the Littoral Response Group (North) deployment to the North and Baltic Seas, including during their participation in the large-scale Baltops exercises alongside militaries from 17 other nations.
The fixed-wing Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) is flown by personnel from 700X Naval Air Squadron (NAS), the Navy's experimental drone development team, based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.
The 700X team also carried out reconnaissance flights to build a picture of the sea around the Littoral Response Group's lead ship HMS Albion.
The drone carried out recces of potential landing areas, feeding vital information to Royal Marines as they landed on coastlines at night on training missions.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) remained close to the commandos as they moved inland, tracking enemy movements, and sending information back to help battlefield decisions using the on-board infrared camera.
It was also on hand to respond to reports of enemy positions and moved in to search the area, giving commandos an extra edge as they moved in.
The Puma drone is just over four-and-a-half feet long, with a wingspan of 9ft, and is designed to fly for up to two hours carrying out reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering missions over sea or land.
It is made up of a lightweight airframe with cameras and a flight system and can be launched directly to and from a ship.
The drone can monitor an area of up to 270 square miles – larger than the size of Greater Manchester – during its flights, feeding back real-time footage to help sailors and Royal Marines make accurate tactical decisions.
Lieutenant Ash Loftus, the Puma flight commander, said: "During our time supporting the Littoral Response Group, the operational capability of Puma has come on in leaps and bounds.
"Our ability to support Royal Navy units afloat, as well as Royal Marine troops ashore, has really begun to be developed into a battle-winning capability.
"Our ability to integrate with manned aviation, whilst operating alongside Royal Marine Commandos, flying from their own landing craft, gives the ground commander the edge they need to win the fight," he added.
WATCH: Personnel test the Puma drone.
Two junior sailors fly the Puma, an Air Engineering Technician (AET) and Naval Airman Aircraft Handler (NAAH), with a Flight Commander/Air Traffic Controller providing overall mission command.
AET Thomas Halton, a Puma operator and maintainer, said: "Our day-to-day routine on 700X NAS consists of planning missions, preparing briefs to gain authorisation to fly, and flying the Puma RPAS in a safe, yet challenging manner that tests our abilities as drone operators."
The Puma's ability to support warships at sea is being developed quickly, with the drones also being utilised to conduct Maritime Patrols, giving ships a better understanding of what is around them.
On return to the UK, the 700X team will continue training and developing the tactics learned on the deployment, before assuming short-notice readiness to deploy worldwide.
Cover image: Royal Marines of 45 Commando using the Puma drone on HMS Albion as part of the Littoral Response Group North deployment to the North and Baltic Seas (Picture: Royal Navy).