The Unmanned Warrior exercise will be used to examine options for the replacement of the ScanEagle drone, which will go out of service in late 2017.
The Royal Navy claims their ScanEagle systems will not participate in the exercise due, partially, to operational commitments and also because it considers that the technology on their systems are “out of date”. However, a newer version of the drone will be demonstrated.
None of the ScanEagles currently in service with the Royal Navy will participate, although the manufacturer Insitu plans to showcase a newer and vastly more capable model.
British frigates will be left without maritime unmanned air system from late 2017.
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 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.
In 2014, Philip Hammond, Defence Secretary, said the drone 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 is likely to come during the upcoming Unmanned Warrior exercise in Scotland.