A cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft demonstrator will be designed and developed in a £60m contract awarded to Leonardo.
Driving innovation in future naval capability, the project will support up to 100 highly skilled engineering jobs at Leonardo’s Yeovil site.
Testing the viability of larger uncrewed aircraft for the Royal Navy, the three-tonne demonstrator, less than a fifth of the weight of a Merlin helicopter, could provide an innovative alternative to existing aircraft for tracking adversary submarines.
Trials will test the capability of the aircraft to drop sonobuoys, small tube-shaped buoys that track and communicate submarine activity enabling the aircraft to alert a crewed helicopter and call for support if a submarine is located.
Designed to operate at lower cost than crewed aircraft, capabilities derived from the demonstrator could also reduce the exposure of Royal Navy personnel to hostile threats.
Adam Clarke, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, said: Uncrewed VTOL aircraft will transform military capability whilst also having application in other market sectors, both in the UK and around the world.
“This contract represents a major step towards our future in next generation uncrewed military technology and the sustainment of unique engineering skills onshore.
The uncrewed helicopter is due to undertake its first flight in 2025.