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.