Schiebel Q&A

Sponsored content: Q&A at DSEI London 2023 with Neil Hunter, Global Head of Business Development, Schiebel

Jack Richardson
19 September 2023

Schiebel has carved out a valuable niche in the global defence market supplying its CAMCOPTER® S-100 rotary-wing UAS. This has taken on a multitude of military roles with more in the pipeline and an increasing number of applications in the civilian sector. We spoke with Neil Hunter, Global Head of Business Development at the company to find out more.

Schiebel CAMCOPTER® S-300 vs S-100


DPI: Neil, could you tell me a bit about your background and your role with Schiebel please? 

NH: my name is Neil Hunter, I’m the Global Head of Business Development for the Schiebel Group. British Royal Navy helicopter pilot, ship driver, been doing UAVs for 15 years now. Last job in uniform was in the procurement agency at Abbey Wood doing Watchkeeper in service, and been working with Schiebel on and off for about 10 years.

DPI: what’s the current state of play for the company?

"our biggest win recently

has been with the British Royal Navy"

NH: we’re in a good place, probably our biggest win recently has been with the British Royal Navy, we teamed up with Thales. Thales is the prime because they’re a British company and we were awarded a contract with the Royal Navy (RN) in December last year to deliver one system, which is two aircraft with a Thales iMaster radar and an EO/IR centre, on the Type 23 in the Persian Gulf.

DPI: what are the other applications you can see for the aircraft?

NH: I think today we’re probably predominantly 80% military, 20% commercial, but you’re starting to see a bit of a shift of the commercial civil area coming on, one of them, which is with the European Maritime Safety Agency, which is going up behind ships and sniffing their sulphur emissions. If they’re above the limits, then they can be prosecuted from the information we gather. That’s a really good example of using something that’s uncrewed and a cost efficient way to achieve a goal.

You’re probably also aware that Bristow, who runs the UK Search and Rescue, they have two of our systems and currently they’re operating them out of Llyd airport, supporting the Home Office and the Maritime Coastguard Agency.

DPI: has [the acquisition of the S-100 for the Royal Navy as Peregrine] required the installation of specific infrastructure onboard the Type 23? 

NH: yes and no, as you’d expect, they want to have the output of the system close to the operational centre of the ship, so there’s obviously some work in what they call Alterations and Additions, so the Navy had to do a few A&A to get the cable runs and put the Ground Control System into the right place in the ship. We obviously have to put our antennas on the upper deck to give us the 360 degrees. So, there was some, should we call it physical mechanical work, that was required, but it was quite minimal, and then the other part of it is on the software side. Thales have worked with the RN on their Combat Management System (CMS), to have the S-100 integrated into the CMS so that the RN see the output on the screens they use. The important point is the information they need will be available in the ops room.

DPI: beyond Peregrine, what type of markets are you targeting?

"I was talking to a Colonel from Brunei

today trying to encourage him to adapt his requirements to more sort of VTOL"

"we have contracts down as far away as Australia with the Royal Australian Navy, we work with the Royal Thai Navy"

NH: we spend a lot of time identifying countries, their requirements and as you would expect trying to influence them. As you know, we have contracts down as far away as Australia with the Royal Australian Navy, we work with the Royal Thai Navy. I was talking to a Colonel from Brunei today trying to encourage him to adapt his requirements to more sort of VTOL. Literally wherever we see requirements, we try and get in there, sometimes we go on our own and sometimes we look for partnerships with first degree primes.

DPI: going back to applications, you talk about pollution control from ships, but what about other sorts of civilian applications? 

NH: SAR is an obvious area, certainly on the search side of things, and rescue, to a degree. Rather than having an external fuel tank [on the side of the aircraft] you can actually have a large box and you can drop life rafts or life belts so you can get involved in the rescue side of SAR but I accept it’s limited, can’t actually rescue people yet but you can certainly aid their rescue. I think over time you’ll start to see the police here more and more, you know, the manned police helicopters of today traditionally have an endurance of about two hours whereas we can stay up all night so to speak. I think you’ll start to see them being used more and more in law enforcement.

DPI: so on the military side, what you’ve got mainly is a situational awareness platform, but what other sort of military applications would you envisage?

"the dull, the dirty,

the dangerous"

NH: as I said earlier, we very much see ourselves as an ISR capability and again, if you compare manned to unmanned Aviation it [the Wildcat Helicopter on HMS Iron Duke displayed at DSEI] can only fly for around two hours, has a larger suite of sensors, but actually you need to provide persistence. So, if you put an unmanned asset in the sky for six hours, doing all, that lovely phrase, the dull, the dirty, the dangerous, and then you bring your manned asset in when you actually need it rather than waste money and flying hours.

S-100 and Merlin in Fight_RS

"we’ve done some work in the past where

we’ve actually controlled an S-100

inside a manned helicopter"

In regards to manned\unmanned teaming, we’ve done some work in the past where we’ve actually controlled an S-100 inside a manned helicopter. You can use the unmanned, controlled from the manned, to do the ISR, for it to keep the manned asset, shall we say, safe in the background. 

"it could be blood,

it can be food, it can be spares"

There’s some obvious applications I think, talking about secondary roles. Again, the beauty of a helicopter is you can do cargo carrying, so in the defence sector in the maritime or even the land domain, you’ll spend a lot of money lifting a box of ammunition from A to B using a manned helicopter. Why not do that with an unmanned helicopter? Then you can expand that sort of secondary cargo carrying capability, it could be blood, it can be food, it can be spares. 

DPI: you say that with the Royal Navy, Thales is the Prime Contractor, how did that work?

NH: first of all, we knew that to win a contract here in the UK, we needed a big prime who would put all its weight behind us because we’re in competition with Leonardo, who have a very big footprint in the UK. We knew that as small company, we wouldn’t win on our own here in the UK.  We found each other, so to speak, Thales, a British company, very established in the British defence market and already does Watchkeeper so very much understands UAVs, airworthiness and support; so they were a natural fit to us, of course their work-share was the iMaster radar but most of the integration was done in Austria, we took the iMaster out there and we’d already integrated the iMaster for the South Korean Navy, so it wasn’t a new piece of work.

DPI: the CAMCOPTER S-300 caught my eye, could you tell me a bit about that?

"we’ve seen the need in the market

for something about three times bigger"

NH: the S-100 has been in production for about 15 years now so we’re doing what we call a capability upgrade programme to sort of keep the S-100 in today’s market. But then in the background, we’ve seen over time that the S-100 is a certain size. Of course, it has its limitations and actually, we’ve seen the need in the market for something about three times bigger. Why? Payload capability and persistence. If you do payload capability first, the radars we carry today are Synthetic Aperture Radar, but if you want to go into the maritime domain, have proper search radars and then you a bigger beast.

One of the reasons to create this was to be able to carry a proper search radar, something like the Leonardo Osprey or Thales’ Air Master that’s coming in. It’s not for us to decide which sensors, but we saw the need for a maritime radar in particular. Then, obviously, when it came to payload capacity, the S-100 can only carry 50 kg but this aircraft can carry up to about 250kg, if it’s carrying its full payload of 250kg, then we’ve probably got an endurance of about five, six or seven hours. But of course, you could still put 50 to 70kg on and probably get in excess of 20 hours endurance. Very quickly you have a much more flexible capability depending on the customer’s needs. One area where the S-100 is very limited is anti-submarine warfare e.g. carry sonobuoys, so if you have a capability that can carry say eight sonar buoys, then why not?

It’s very much about enhanced capability and enhanced persistence, we’re on a journey with it, in simple terms, it’s a blown up version of the S-100. We’re not starting from zero, we’re starting from a very informed position, all the ground infrastructure, all the software, the command and control, all the heritage and the pedigree we’ve built up, we can utilise in the S-300.