Thai Navy gets UAV boost

Hermes 900 MALE UAV. (Elbit Systems)
Hermes 900 MALE UAV. (Elbit Systems)

The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) has quietly emerged as one of the leading unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators in the Asia Pacific region, having ordered and taken delivery of several types of high-end systems in recent years.

Its latest acquisition includes Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900, which was the winning contender in a competitive tender that was aimed at meeting the RTN’s medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV requirements. It is understood that the $120 million deal includes seven UAVs along with one fixed and two mobile ground control stations (GCSs).

On 24 May, the US Navy (USN) handed over a Boeing Insitu RQ-21A UAV to the RTN. The RQ-21A ‘Blackjack’ is a tactical-class UAV designed for maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations with a range of 50 nautical miles (92 kilometres) and an endurance of 16 hours. According to the USN, the RQ-21A Blackjack will enhance Thailand’s maritime security capabilities for search and rescue operations, drug and human trafficking interdiction, as well as improve interoperability between the two navies.

The transfer is funded by the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), with the RTN receiving a total of five air vehicles, two GCSs, launch and recovery equipment, and in-residence training in the United States. The programme also includes technical advisors to assist the RTN with operations and maintenance of the systems.

In April, the RTN awarded Austrian company Schiebel with a follow-on contract for an undisclosed number of Camcopter S-100 rotary-wing UAVs. The UAVs are expected to be delivered by the end of 2022 and will be used by the service for land- and sea-based ISR operations.

Schiebel earlier won an initial contract to supply the RTN with its S-100 UAVs in 2019. According to the company, the S-100 has a maximum take-off weight of 440lb (200kg) and typically carries a 110lb (50kg) payload. It can operate for up to six hours, with a maximum range of around 108nm (200km).

Images released on social media by the Royal Thai Naval Air Division (RTNAD) in June 2021 suggest that the S-100s are operated by the 104 Squadron, a specialised UAV squadron under the RTNAD’s Wing 1, at Pak Phanang near southern Thailand.

by Jr Ng