The uncertainties arise because of the novel nature of operating UAS from on board a ship. Regulations have not yet been drafted to address the specifics, but some ground rules must obviously be adhered to -- and these often challenge the parts of the COCO model that provide the most attractive returns.
“There are some easy questions to answer,” says Whitehead. “[We say to the contractor] ‘You just provide me with a picture: I don’t want you to tell me what it is.’ That is not in their remit. Lest anyone was worried that a contractor was making a tactical decision, it will not happen -- we just simply can’t do that. Whoever’s looking at the picture will be trained, and will be military.
“The other aspect that that then highlighted was, who are these operators, and where does security come into it?” he continues. “Unfortunately, most of the operators out there for this particular system are not British nationals. The ideal solution would be to have the guy who’s controlling the system sitting next to the Warfare Officer in the Ops Room -- but we can’t do that. That’s now going to bring into the game some issues with talking to each other, and how to ensure that we’ve got the best communications.”
Yet, even with the naval staffing requirement kept to a minimum, personnel availability remains an issue.
“The other problem is manpower,” Whitehead adds. “We simply can’t find the people at the moment. We’ve had to overcome some hurdles to get the three people per unit that we, as the Royal Navy, need to supply. If we’d added on another eight per trip for the operator-maintainters, and then the training overhead for those guys as well which would have been about 20 weeks, we would have really come up against the stops for a six-month timeframe.”