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.

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Colin Peplow

Dont really need them anyway

Ben Gray


Colin Peplow

Civvis operate them for a start


Not completely correct we also have uniformed personnel operating them.

James Redbeard Hardy

So transfer them to RN or Marine personnel? But what else is your reasoning for not needing them?

Colin Peplow

We got the Wildcats and Merlin’s now fully operational sdo them can do the same job

Chris Power

Not with that loiter time they can’t!

Colin Peplow

The P8 is also on the way


A P8 won’t always be where an RN vessel is deployed and might need wider surveillance coverage. Also, per flight hour a P8 is one heck of a lot more expensive to deploy especially if it did have to fly a thousand miles or so to get on station. This is such a silly decision. In military terms these things are dirt cheap (2006 price $3.2m for 4 drones plus ground station). Also, an Australian company has done some great stuff with a payload for wide area maritime surveillance ( Hopefully this isn’t the end of it and funding will… Read more »

Ollie Alan Wiggins

This capability is still very useful. It’s a shame that, once again, the MoD gets bent over.

Mike Reeve

Amazing how close Scan Eagle’s OSD is to Protector’s ISD, both around November 2017. Interesting, isn’t it?

Harry Eaton

A long range small drone is ideal for tracking pirate skiffs, long loiter times and efficient use of fuel and manpower.


Agreed. Also check out the ViDar package that an Aussie company did. It looks perfect for that application…


ViDAR is perfect for ScanEagle and turns it into a broad area maritime search platform. Without ViDAR ScanEagle is best used for persistent surveillance once something is found. With ViDAR it can find these targets as well as monitor them. A simple upgrade to this platform makes it a whole different beast.

Daniel Stokes

If I read that correctly, in service for just three years?? Wtf

Jack William Millen

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?

Jason Holmes

Huge tactical gain for limited cost, absolute stupidity to drop this capability


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.

Allan Palmer

Have you witnessed one of these up close George?

George Ridley

It’s a bit cheaper at the weekends when the airfield is closed, but with my discount there’s not much difference in it anyway. Bodmin is cheaper.


$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.


$3.2 million is for a setup of 4 drones plus the ground control station, catapult, etc.


Quite clearly says each above. Difficult to get accurate figures. I think that the £30milion figure comes from Janes. The Telegraph has the total cost at £60 million.


Yes, it does quite clearly say “each SYSTEM” ….

“The Scan Eagle UAS is a portable system, which features four air vehicles or AVs, a ground control station, remote video terminal, and a launch and recovery system known as the Skyhook system. … System Cost: approximately $3.2 million (2006 dollars)”


Total costs presumably include more than one system and also total program cost to include personnel, training, maintenance etc.

Joe Riley

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

Steven K

Shocking decision when this tech has a certain discretness about them that choppers will never have..

Anthony Cross

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.

Jack Davis

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.