The¬†UK¬†Royal Navy (RN) deployed its first maritime unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) this week, when an Insitu Scan Eagle system was added to¬†RFA¬†Cardigan Bay, which is supporting the¬†EU¬†anti-piracy patrols off Somalia. The service is also planning a rotary-wing¬†UAS¬†trial on a ship later this year, having contracted with AgustaWestland for a concept capability demonstration (CCD).
Boeing‚Äôs Insitu subsidiary is providing two Scan Eagle systems equipped with¬†EO/IRvideo sensors to the Royal Navy under a contractor-owned, contractor-operated contract¬†signed last June, and lasting through March 2015. The Navy is providing the tasking and sortie generation, said Cdr. Bow Wheaton, the maritime aviation capability officer at¬†RN¬†headquarters. He told¬†AIN¬†during a media briefing that the Scan Eagle would be launched and recovered on the ship‚Äôs helicopter platform. The Navy hopes to exploit the endurance of the¬†UAV¬†to extend the ship‚Äôs surveillance coverage, he added. Insitu will provide 600 hours of flight per month under the contract. The second system will be deployed on¬†HMS¬†Somerset, a¬†frigate.
The rotary-wing¬†UAS¬†CCD¬†contract was issued to AgustaWestland by the¬†UK¬†Minstry of Defence six months ago and is worth just over $3 million. The company is modifying aPZL¬†SW-4 light helicopter for the trial. It has already flown at¬†PZL‚Äôs Swidnik base, but with a safety pilot. AgustaWestland bought the Polish company in 2010, having previously held a minority share and tasked it to provide fuselage structures for theAW139. Before securing the MoD contract, AgustaWestland had already embarked on its own technology demonstration of optionally manned helicopters, named ProjectSOLO¬†and using the¬†SW-4.
Cdr. Wheaton said that land-based trials of the unmanned helicopter in the¬†UK¬†would start this summer, followed by deployment to sea on a Type 23 frigate. ‚ÄúWe want to investigate the control software that is key to safe operation, and explore the trade-offs between lighter and heavier payloads, and the helicopter‚Äôs endurance,‚Äù he told¬†AIN.
An AgustaWestland spokesman told¬†AIN¬†that in addition to surveillance, other potential applications include maritime surveillance and hydrography. The¬†CCD¬†would provide a technology roadmap and a whole-life cost model, to assist with a potential future acquisition¬†program.