British frigates will be left without maritime unmanned air system from late 2017, with no funding available to replace the drone.

ScanEagle is a small unmanned air vehicle developed by Insitu and Boeing. ScanEagle has a range of 1,500km and an endurance of more than 28 hours. The aircraft carries a stabilised electro-optical and/or IR camera on a lightweight inertial stabilised turret system, and an integrated communications system. Each ScanEagle system costs US$3.2 million.

HMS Richmond had recently used her ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle to locate and monitor smugglers and relay information to task force commanders. The frigate and her international counterparts in Combined Task Force 150, intercepted the six smuggler boats as the vessels headed for Tanzania.

The fleet seized nearly a tonne of heroin. Based on UK current wholesale value of heroin, the seizure has a potential price tag of £98m as an estimated street value.

“ScanEagle will go out of service as planned in late 2017.  No decisions on future systems have yet been taken.” a Navy spokesperson said.

In 2014, Philip Hammond, then Defence Secretary, said it would “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”.

According to IHS Janes:

“Since 2014, ScanEagle flights have operated from the Type 23 frigates HMS Somerset , HMS Northumberland , HMS Kent , HMS Richmond , and HMS St Albans , with HMS Portland now deploying.”

More news on any potential replacement, if the funding were to be made available, is likely to come during the upcoming Unmanned Warrior exercise in Scotland.


  1. It was only an “urgent operational requirement” I think, in which case it was unlikely to be in service for very long. Some vessels have been testing 3D-printed UAVs I think so they may become more viable in the future?

  2. Am I right in thinking that Scan Eagle has no radar. Severe limitation! From previous news reports we have home grown drones in development which may well have that capability.

  3. Outdated tome to get rid. There’s stuff in the Private sector which is pretty impressive. IIts upto the British pepople to invest and come up with somthing to make America Great Again lol

  4. $3.2 million EACH! I read somewhere that the total contract was for £30million.This seems to me to be extremely expensive, maybe Boeing will reduce the price rather than lose this lucrative deal. The other obvious solution is to just sell the heroin on the street.

  5. Government continually undermines the defence industry. Lack of funding has had a disastrous effect on drone and autonomous vehicle development. The notorious 2010 defence review even went as far as sharing UK development advantages with French industry. Far too many short sighted politicians that can’t see beyond their next vote.

  6. No other UAS is more capable off a small/medium size ship. ScanEagle has been the choice of the U.S. Navy and most modern Navies. Textron Systems is developing Aerosonde for Maritime duty, but it costs more than the Scan Eagle. Interesting decision for the UK.


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