Royal Navy gets Eagle eyes in £30m deal for unmanned planes

The Royal Navy is to get its first unmanned ‘eye in the sky’ in a £30m deal to buy the ScanEagle reconnaissance aircraft. The pilotless plane has been used by the US Navy over the past decade and has been trialled by the Royal Navy.

Royal Navy warships are to get their first ‘eye in the sky’ pilotless reconnaissance aircraft in a £30m deal.

Whitehall is investing in the small, unarmed ScanEagle robot planes which can be launched from the flight decks of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels day or night to gather intelligence and survey the wider area of operations.

The aircraft has been used extensively by the Americans for the past decade – and was trialled aboard frigate HMS Sutherland back in 2006.

Now the MOD is buying the small plane to complement the existing intelligence, surveillance and econnaissance assets used on Royal Navy operations such as helicopters and long-range radar.

The small drone – the official military terminology is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV – has a wingspan of just over three metres (10ft) and weighs 22kg (48lbs) and is launched from a pneumatic catapult.

Flying at about 60 knots, it is piloted by a specialist team on board the ship who will plan the ScanEagle’s missions, control its flights and monitor and analyse the information it gathers using its state of the art sensors, including a video or infra red camera, beaming back ‘real-time’ high resolution images via a satellite link.

Its ability to deploy during the day and night coupled with the technology it uses, will give commanders a clearer picture of the operational situation whenever it’s required.

Mr Philip Dunne

It stays airborne around for 15 to 18 hours at distances upwards of 70 miles from the ship.

Once its flight is over it returns to the mother ship where it’s caught by dangling a rope vertically, which catches in a hook at either end of each wing. The aircraft is grappled by a recovery device and lifted back on board.

“ScanEagle represents an important addition to the Royal Navy’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability,”

said Capt Ian Annett, who’s been involved with the project.

“Its ability to deploy during the day and night coupled with the technology it uses, will give commanders a clearer picture of the operational situation whenever it’s required."

Minister for Defence, Equipment, Support and Technology, Philip Dunne, added:

“ScanEagle provides the Royal Navy with proven surveillance capability that has already been used on operations by other nations, so we know we are getting top quality equipment. The technology is off-the-shelf and will be available to the Royal Navy as soon as possible.

“Our continued investment in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance systems is essential to keeping our Armed Forces up to date with the latest capabilities and this will be a central part of the MoD's investment in new equipment over the next 10 years.”