May 18, 2006 Last year we wrote about the ScanEagle UAV and its success in supplying U.S. Marines in Iraq with critical real-time tactical battlefield imagery. This time, we’re writing about the adaptation of the ScanEagle as a low-cost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform for amphibious operations. Currently being trialled for its maritime capabilities by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) in "Trial Vigilant Viper" off the coast of Scotland, the ScanEagle completed ten autonomous flights with full launch and recovery from a Type 23 Frigate in rough sea conditions. A small UAV such as the ScanEagle can significantly increase the capability of a boat, and the missions conducted during the trial illustrate this enormous potential for land and sea surveillance, beach reconnaissance, force protection, maritime interdiction and naval gunfire support.
As part of the trial, ScanEagle used its onboard electro-optical and infrared sensors to identify potential threats as small as jet skis. ScanEagle's ability to determine a target's position, direction of travel and velocity, coupled with its broadcast quality imagery, enabled amphibious force commanders to establish the nature of potential threats. The UAV's contribution to force protection included transmitting real-time high resolution video to ship, shore, a Sea King AEW MK7 helicopter and the MoD in London and Portsmouth, England.
Integration of a UAV into the maritime intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance environment was a key goal of the trials. The trials also helped the MoD investigate the utility of a small UAV supporting Royal Navy ships conducting gunfire support missions. ScanEagle observed fall of shot, successfully passing the data to a gunfire controller for corrections. In the future, it may be possible to control naval gunfire support with "verification of target" as the only human user input.
The U.S. Navy is currently using ScanEagle to provide critical ISR data in support of Expeditionary Strike Group missions and oil platform security.
The Insitu Group, located in Bingen, Washington, develops unmanned aerial systems for commercial and military applications. Insitu, which introduced the first unmanned aerial vehicle to cross the Atlantic Ocean, also developed the Fugro GeoRanger and worked with Boeing to develop ScanEagle.