First Sailor commissions to Remote Pilot Warfare Officer

Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), CPOIS Cameron Martin (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Albatross, NSW

Topic(s): Unmanned/Remote Systems, 822X Squadron

Newly promoted Royal Australian Navy Officer, Midshipman Brad Lewis, with his certificate of promotion at 822X Squadron, HMAS Albatross. (photo: CPOIS Cameron Martin)
Newly promoted Royal Australian Navy Officer, Midshipman Brad Lewis, with his certificate of promotion at 822X Squadron, HMAS Albatross.

The Royal Australian Navy’s newest aviation workgroup has commissioned its first Remote Pilot Warfare Officer. 

As a new and emerging capability for the Royal Australian Navy, Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems enhance situational awareness in the maritime environment by improving the ability to conduct naval Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting roles.

After a review of the workforce needed to deliver and sustain these requirements, Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan directed a new aviation workgroup be established, the Remote Pilot Warfare Officer (RPWO). 

Midshipman Brad Lewis from 822X Squadron is the first member to take on this challenge, after successfully passing the selection process he commissioned as an RPWO in a small ceremony at the Squadron’s headquarters within the Naval Air Station at HMAS Albatross.

Passionate about Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems operations, Midshipman Lewis previously served as an Able Seaman Aviation Technician Aircraft sailor for more than two years. 

He has now commenced the New Entry Officers’ Course at HMAS Creswell and will return to 822X Squadron in 2021 to commence his RPWO training.

Midshipman Lewis said he was excited about his future in naval unmanned aviation.

“As a Remote Pilot Warfare Officer, I will be responsible for the safe operation and tactical employment of the aircraft and hope to pave a pathway for other sailors with an interest in Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems operations to follow.”

Commanding Officer of 822X Squadron, Commander Philip Woodward, said the new Primary Qualification recognises the necessity for an RPWO to employ the remotely piloted aircraft to achieve tactical outcomes in support of over the horizon warfare and task group operations.

“RPWOs will be trained to tactically exploit the Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the aviation and maritime warfare domains,” Commander Woodward said. 

“The effective operation of unmanned aircraft requires war fighters with a deep specialisation in the application of remote and autonomous systems in maritime warfare and the aviation environment.

“The creation of the RPWO Primary Qualification provides a key human interface to complement these advanced remote sensors and technologies.”

The first RPWO course commenced in January this year on a trial basis. The creation of this new PQ has provided an opportunity for sailors with an interest in highly advanced unmanned aerial systems, colloquially known as drones, to seek a new pathway through commissioning into the officer ranks.

822X Squadron’s fixed-wing ScanEagle and rotary-wing S-100 Camcopter provide an interim capability for the Fleet and state-of-the-art platforms for operational evaluation that inform the future Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems capability through Project SEA 129 Phase 5.

The ability of the aircraft to collect imagery and other sensor data by day and night, at long ranges, in near real-time can significantly improve battlespace awareness.

The new Remote Pilot Warfare Officers, teamed with highly skilled aviation technicians will be key to realising this capability and effectively contributing to the delivery of a thinking and fighting Navy.