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Puma drone comes on ‘leaps and bounds’ during North Sea and Baltic deployment

24 June 2021
The Royal Navy’s lightweight Puma drone has come on ‘leaps and bounds’ during sorties supporting Royal Marines on amphibious assaults in the North Sea and Baltic.

The Puma is just over 4½ft 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. 

The drone can monitor an area 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.

The fixed-wing Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) is flown by 700X Naval Air Squadron – normally based at Culdrose in Cornwall – and can be launched from Albion’s sprawling flight deck or from the open decks of landing craft. 

The Puma has been supporting 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 Puma carried out recces of potential landing areas, feeding vital information to Royal Marines as they landed on coastlines at night on training missions. 

The drone 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.

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.”

The Puma is flown by two junior sailors, an Air Engineering Technician (AET) and Naval Airman Aircraft Handler (NAAH) with a Flight Commander/Air Traffic Controller providing overall mission command.

The 700X team also turned their attentions to missions over the water too, carrying out reconnaissance flights to build a picture of the sea around the Littoral Response Group’s lead ship HMS Albion. 

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 better understanding of what is around them.

On return to the UK, the 700X team will continue training and developing the tactics learnt on the deployment, before assuming short-notice readiness to deploy worldwide.


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