A Royal Navy drone has been undergoing its first operational testing, during HMS Albion’s autumn deployment to the Mediterranean.
The Puma's operators from 700X Naval Air Squadron, the Navy's experimental drone development team, have been working on new tactics for its use in the field.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 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.
Members of 700X Naval Air Squadron usually test and operate the drones at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, with other training being carried out at nearby Predannack Airfield.
The squadron is made up of Phantom Flights, with each flight made up of a few sailors who operate the UAVs.
The squadron was earlier this year part of Exercise Merlin Storm, which featured Royal Marines preparing to deploy to the Caribbean during hurricane season, providing airborne surveillance for the Commandos' helicopters.
Due to its size and weight - four and-a-half feet long, a wingspan of nine feet and weighing about as much as half a dozen bags of sugar - the Puma is able to be launched from HMS Albion’s flight deck, or from the open decks of her much smaller landing craft, during the deployment.
"One of the reasons that I joined the Navy was to work with cutting-edge technology and straight after my specialist training I was lucky enough to get a draft with the RAF’s 617 Squadron working with the F-35 stealth fighters," said Able Seaman Tom Halton.
Watch: Personnel test the Puma at Predannack Airfield.
"I’d always wanted to work with unmanned air systems and when I heard there was a position at 700X I didn’t hesitate to show my interest and I’m now part of the Royal Navy’s first deployable unmanned squadron."
The UAV takes just three sailors to be manned - a vehicle operator, a mission operator to navigate and a Flight Commander to integrate the craft with other aircraft in the area.
The drone provides its operators with extra 'eyes in the sky', feeding back live images of the surrounding environment providing crucial information for tactical decision-making.
As well as the work being done by 700X NAS, the Puma drone is being tested by the Future Commando Force teams from 42 Commando assessing their ability to target enemy defences close to shore.
Personnel hope that the drone's potential will develop, as a result of the testing being carried out.
"It is a brilliant opportunity for Phantom Flight to develop its tactics on a multi-platform, international deployment," explained Flight Commander Lieutenant Ash Loftus.
"We aim to prove the utility of remotely-piloted aerial systems in the maritime battlespace and pave the way for their support to the future fleet."
After this deployment, 700X Naval Air Squadron will soon put the Puma and other drones to the test on the upcoming Exercise Autonomous Advanced Force 3.0.
Cover image: The Puma drone being launched off HMS Albion's flight deck (Picture: Royal Navy).