Future focus earns Navy pilot Australia Day award

Published on LEUT Sarah West (author), LSIS Jayson Tufrey (photographer)

Topic(s): Australia Day Honours, Conspicuous Service Medal

Lieutenant Commander Ben Crowther at the Jervis Bay Air Field in 2015, during a demonstration of the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 unmanned aerial system. (photo: LSIS Jayson Tufrey)
Lieutenant Commander Ben Crowther at the Jervis Bay Air Field in 2015, during a demonstration of the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 unmanned aerial system.

It’s hard to imagine Navy’s future capability without unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and the aviator who led the introduction of this technology into the Royal Australian Navy has been recognised with a Conspicuous Service Medal (CSM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours and Awards list.

Following a deployment to Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 in the Middle East Region, where he was exposed to coalition unmanned aircraft operations, Lieutenant Commander Ben Crowther returned to Australia and joined the Royal Australian Navy’s UAS program in 2012.

In 2013, Lieutenant Commander Crowther became the officer in charge of the Navy Unmanned Aerial Service Development Unit, overseeing capability growth which ultimately led to the commissioning of 822X Squadron.

While he admits there’s still a lot of work to do to fully introduce the UAS capability into the Fleet (with the SEA 129 Phase 5 project ongoing), Lieutenant Commander Crowther believes UAS will enhance overall Navy capability in the future.

“Having witnessed the capability that UAS have contributed to operations in the Middle East Area of Operations, I am a firm believer that unmanned systems have the ability to significantly enhance the capability of existing assets, such as the MH-60R Seahawk, while also reducing the exposure of Australian Defence Force personnel to risk,” Lieutenant Commander Crowther said. 

“With the current rate of technological progression and growth in this field, I expect UAS will transform the aviation capability provided by the Fleet Air Arm to the Fleet.”

For his leadership in driving the introduction of UAS capability into the Royal Australian Navy, Lieutenant Commander Crowther was announced as a recipient of the Conspicuous Service Medal (CSM) on Saturday. 

His citation reads:

For meritorious achievement in the in the field of Naval unmanned aircraft.

Lieutenant Commander Crowther led the introduction and development of a Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems capability into the Navy under complex circumstances through outstanding leadership and personal commitment. His professional knowledge and dedication have been instrumental in contributing to a contemporary technological advance in the Fleet Aviation Arm which will enhance future Fleet operational capabilities.

The award is a career milestone for Lieutenant Commander Crowther, who started working towards a career as a Navy pilot when he was 13. He said he felt humbled to receive the award.

“I’ve been well supported throughout this UAS journey by very skilled and motivated staff, who consistently went above and beyond to ensure this program achieved the desired outcomes,” Lieutenant Commander Crowther said.

“Although I will wear the medal, the UAS program personnel who have supported me over the years should all feel they are a part of this award.”