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An energy-autonomous UAV swarm concept to support sea-rescue and maritime patrol missions in the Mediterranean sea

Franz-Michael Sendner (Department of Research and Technology, FACC Operations GmbH, St. Martin im Innkreis, Austria)

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 18 October 2021

Issue publication date: 3 January 2022




For the crews and assets of the European Union’s (EU’s) Joint Operations available today, but a vast area in the Mediterranean Sea to monitor, detection of small boats and rafts in distress can take up to several days or even fail at all. This study aims to outline how an energy-autonomous swarm of Unmanned Aerial System can help to increase the monitored sea area while minimizing human resource demand.


A concept for an unattended swarm of solar powered, unmanned hydroplanes is proposed. A swarm operations concept, vehicle conceptual design and an initial vehicle sizing method is derived. A microscopic, multi-agent-based simulation model is developed. System characteristics and surveillance performance is investigated in this delimited environment number of vehicles scale. Parameter variations in insolation, overcast and system design are used to predict system characteristics. The results are finally used for a scale-up study on a macroscopic level.


Miniaturization of subsystems is found to be essential for energy balance, whereas power consumption of subsystems is identified to define minimum vehicle size. Seasonal variations of solar insolation are observed to dominate the available energy budget. Thus, swarm density and activity adaption to solar energy supply is found to be a key element to maintain continuous aerial surveillance.

Research limitations/implications

This research was conducted extra-occupationally. Resources were limited to the available range of literature, computational power number and time budget.

Practical implications

A proposal for a probable concept of operations, as well as vehicle preliminary design for an unmanned energy-autonomous, multi-vehicle system for maritime surveillance tasks, are presented and discussed. Indications on path planning, communication link and vehicle interaction scheme selection are given. Vehicle design drivers are identified and optimization of parameters with significant impact on the swarm system is shown.

Social implications

The proposed system can help to accelerate the detection of ships in distress, increasing the effectiveness of life-saving rescue missions.


For continuous surveillance of expanded mission theatres by small-sized vehicles of limited endurance, a novel, collaborative swarming approach applying in situ resource utilization is explored.



Sendner, F.-M. (2022), "An energy-autonomous UAV swarm concept to support sea-rescue and maritime patrol missions in the Mediterranean sea", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 94 No. 1, pp. 112-123.



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