ScanEagle UAV (photo : AviationSpectator)
Australia has moved ahead on a number of fronts to bolster its forces in the field with unmanned aerial vehicles. At the squad level, Elbit Systems’ Skylark IV mini-UAVs provide immediate surveillance capabilities. For longer and wider-ranging surveillance, the JP129 competition resulted in additional orders for IAI’s I-View 250, via a partnership with Boeing Australia.
Recently, the ADF began contracting with Boeing for additional UAV services. The ScanEagle UAV has proven to be very popular with the US Marines and Navy, has been fitted with sniper spotter and WMD-detection packages, and can be deployed from ship or ashore. Boeing has received contracts to work alongside the ADF and operate the UAV in Iraq – and now, in Afghanistan as well…
Originally developed as a commercial venture by Insitu Inc. to help fishing boats track tuna schools and dolphins, the ScanEagle’s combination of range, long loiter time, and small logistical and operational footprints makes it somewhat unique. ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult, and flies pre-programmed or operator-initiated missions guided by GPS and its onboard flight control system. Like the parachute-landed I-View, ScanEagle has an all-terrain recovery system; it uses a “Skyhook,” in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot/ 15 meter high pole. The patented system allows ScanEagle to be runway-independent and operate from rough terrain or ships.
The ScanEagle requires fewer people and less support than other long-endurance UAVs like the MQ-1 Predator that require a runway, C-130s to transport the system, and a large logistical “tail” of technicians, operator, and maintenance. The aircraft, launch system, skyhook, personnel, et. al. can be carried in just 4 HMMWV jeeps.
Unlike mini-UAVs, this 4-foot aircraft with a 10 foot wingspan can keep its sensors on a pre-set target or flight path for 10-15 hours without requiring operator intervention. That’s over twice as long as Australia’s I-View 250 system, let alone the smaller Skylarks.
Boeing partnered with Insitu to bring their UAV to the military marketplace and provide support, and the firm already provides contractor support in-theater for the US Marines and Navy. Creating a similar arrangement with Australia was not a big stretch for them.
(Defense Industry Daily)