Reporter’s Notebook: Versatility of drones underscored at AUVSI conference
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
Demand for the ScanEagle unmanned air sys- tem (UAS) continues to grow even as succes- sor systems are prepared for service.
Steve Morrow, president and chief executive officer of
ScanEagle maker Insitu, a Bingen, Wash.-based subsidiary
of Boeing Co., said the UAS had exceeded 500,000 flight
hours and 55,000 combat flight hours in seven years of
service to the U.S. military and other customers. Speaking
to reporters Aug. 16 at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems
2011 North America exposition in Washington, he said
that at any time 22 ScanEagles are airborne somewhere in
the world, sustained with a 99 percent readiness rate.
ScanEagles have flown in operational intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles in Iraq,
Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Pacific and Libya.
A ScanEagle detachment deployed this year aboard the
Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Mahan flew 167 sorties for 1,154 hours, providing ISR in support of the
missions to protect Libyan civilians during the unrest
that toppled the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, as well
as battle damage assessment and pattern recognition
that looked for changes in the situation.
Ryan Hartman, vice president of sales and marketing at Insitu, said more than 1,500 ScanEagles have
been built, and continue to be at a rate of 20 to 30 per
month. While some have been purchased by customers, including U.S. Special Operations Command,
most ScanEagles are Insitu-owned systems that are
operated for users under service contracts.
Insitu has made more than 80 improvements to the
ScanEagle since 2004, Hartman said, including a third-generation infrared sensor, improved tracking algorithms and improved sensor stabilization.
Morrow sees no decline in demand for ScanEagle
services as U.S. forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
“We expect an uptick,” he said. “The need for ISR will
go up as the [number of] boots on the ground goes down.”
In September, the Marine Corps was to take delivery
of the first Insitu-built RQ-21A Integrator, the system
selected by the Navy for its Small Tactical UAS (STUAS)/
Tier III UAS requirement as an organic, service-owned
and -operated UAS.
According to Col. Jim Rector, STUAS program manager for the Department of the Navy, the department
has exercised an option for early operational capability
for the system. The Marine Corps and Navy are taking
delivery of two systems of four RQ-21As each.
Weapons a Go for Shadow
The Marine Corps has obtained approval of the Navy
Requirements Oversight Council to deploy weapons
on its RQ- 7 Shadow 200 unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs) and is moving ahead with a rapid deployment
plan to field a precision weapon on the UAV to meet an
urgent needs requirement.
Maj. Bill Hendricks, UAS coordinator for Headquarters,
U.S. Marine Corps, speaking on an AUVSI exposition
panel Aug. 17, said the service is looking for a weapon that
can be carried by the Shadow, is compatible with laser targeting and carries low risk of inflicting collateral damage.
A weaponized UAV can lighten the load of Marines in
combat by substituting for heavy mortars that have to be
carried into the battle space, according to Bill Powers, a
research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in
Hendricks said enemy insurgents in Afghanistan
study how long it takes Marines to respond to an
assault, and typically have a four-minute window to
inflict casualties before a response can be mounted.
The RQ-7As of one Marine UAV squadron witnessed
100 occasions of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
being planted and insurgents scattering before fire
could be brought to bear on them.
“If we were able to arm the Shadow, we could
reduce IEDs and casualties,” Hendricks said.
BAMS To Deploy to CENTCOM First
When it reaches initial operational capability in 2015,
the Navy’s MQ-4C Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance