The UK Royal Navy has successfully launched the new Boeing-built, remotely piloted ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from the Type 23 Duke-class guided-missile frigate HMS Somerset, which is deployed in the Gulf.
Capable of being launched by a pneumatic catapult from Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, the new UAV is unarmed and can be deployed only for real-time intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the move marks the country's first operation of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) on maritime tasks, heralding a new era of aviation and intelligence gathering.
"ScanEagle will play a crucial role in operations and humanitarian missions, not only in the Gulf but also on Royal Navy vessels right across the globe, further underlining our commitment to invest in innovative capabilities," Hammond said.
The UAV's missions and flights will be planned and controlled by pilots in a dedicated team aboard the vessel. Upon the completion of its mission, the UAV will be transported to the ship, where the data, collected by its sensors, will be supervised and evaluated.
Powered by either heavy fuel or gasoline engines, the ScanEagle offers a maximum cruise speed of up to 80k and can stay airborne for approximately 10 hours, covering areas of 60m.
The high resolution camera, integrated in the UAV, enables viewing in dark and poor visibility conditions, and works both day and night.
HMS Somerset commanding officer Commander Mike Smith said: "ScanEagle provides us with a game-changing, persistent surveillance and reconnaissance capability, supplementing our Lynx aircraft so that it can be held for higher priority missions.
"The ability to fly ScanEagle for extremely long periods of time extends the eyes and ears of the ship way beyond that we can currently achieve.
"It's been an exciting project to be involved in and the system's arrival will fundamentally change the way we operate, making HMS Somerset more effective right across the diverse range of operational roles we can perform, be that counter-piracy, counter-narcotics, disaster relief or war-fighting."
Image: ScanEagle during its flight. Photo: courtesy of Boeing Defence UK.