Meet the British Army's new jet-propelled Hydra 400 drone

The British Army has just showcased its next-generation, jet-propelled, heavy-lift Hydra 400 drone at this year's DSEI conference in London.
Christopher McFadden
british-army-hydra-400.jpg
Image of the Hydra 400 drone.

MoD 

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) officially displayed its latest jet-propelled, heavy-lift drone at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) conference at the ExCeL center in London this September (2023). Called the Hydra 400, the British Army stand also featured the drone's Aether mothership. A pioneering new generation of heavy-lift drones using hybrid propulsion technology (rotors and jet engines), the Hydra 400 is compact and portable, can be transported on a regular pickup truck, and can be prepared for flight in six minutes. It is also, to put it bluntly, pretty badass.

Death from above

This drone is equipped with single-spool jet turbines that generate 90 lbf (500 Newtons) of thrust, allowing it to lift 882 pounds (400kg). "A single spool core means that all rotating components in the compressor and the gas generator are on one shaft and rotate at the same speed. In contrast, a dual spool core splits the compressor into two independently spinning rotors that are each powered by a separate gas generator turbine on concentric shafts," explains GE Aerospace.

“We are responding to the operating environment that we see in Ukraine. For example, I am struck by the fact that in the evolving Ukraine drone campaign, 40% of losses are attributed to pilot error," said General Sir Patrick Sanders, Army Chief of the General Staff. "When the electromagnetic spectrum is so heavily contested, automation fails, and the [pilot's skill] predominates. We need ‘war fighters’ – whether they are cyber specialists, drone pilots, or infantry soldiers – to be stronger, faster, more intelligent, and more resilient," he added.

Developed by Hydra Drones Limited and funded by the MoD, the plan is for the Hydra 400 to carry the "Brimstone" missile, developed by MBDA, a strategic partner to the MoD for complex weapons. This missile, the MoD explains, is a versatile weapon that can be used across multiple platforms. It weighs 110 pounds (50 kg), measures just under 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length, and has a diameter of 7 ³/₃₂ inches (180 mm). The missile is guided by millimetric wave radar and semi-active laser technology.

It is compatible with helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, fast jets, land vehicles, naval platforms, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With a success rate of over 98%, the "Brimstone" missile has proven effective in defeating static, moving, and maneuvering targets, including main battle tanks and armored vehicles. “By the end of this year, we will form a new UAS Group within a reorientated Joint Aviation Command, providing a focal point for [the] industry, around which we intend to develop the next generation of UAS platforms in ever closer partnership," General Sanders said.

Field testing imminent

Hydra and a dummy "Brimstone" payload will be tested during the next stage of the Army's Warfighting Experiment (AWE). This ongoing series of trials and experiments takes place across the UK and overseas, with industry partners working to solve the complex challenges of urban warfare by utilizing advanced technology. The next AWE phase, "Exercise Blunting Strike," will occur at Copehill Down in November of this year (2023).

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