Insitu Increasingly Capable UAS Providing Maritime ISR Capabilities
At Surface Navy Association (SNA) 2020 this week, MON has learned that Insitu (a Boeing company) is to provide its ScanEagle UAS to conduct ISR missions for the entire US Coast Guard (USCG) National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet.
An initial 2016 USCG contract called for the company to provide ISR services from a single UAS aboard a single NSC, the USCGC STRATTON. Under a new contract, Insitu is to expand this to the entire NSC fleet: the most recent presidential budget request for the service specifies a 12-vessel programme, with the ninth having been launched last October..
Ron Tremain, a Business Development Executive for Civil and Maritime Industries at Insitu, explained his team’s scope of work includes “conducting contractor-owned, contractor-operated operations with Insitu personnel deployed on the ships, flying missions as the Coast Guard specifies.” This is challenging, with the UAS and crew tasked with supporting diverse mission sets, from international ice patrols to life-saving missions to homeland security operations. This requirement has expanded the boundaries of the ScanEagle’s capabilities, according to Tremain, who added that, while ScanEagle has also been deployed in support of the US Navy for about 15 years, “never before have we pushed the technologies to the extremes we have [on these missions].” The diversity of weather encountered during USCG-supported missions, has led the Insitu team to “go back to the drawing board to better ‘weatherize’ the aircraft. We knew it was no longer going to be business as usual. We put out a much better weatherized product, with the advantage of ScanEagle now flying into weather cells far above what the contract calls for and the initial aircraft ratings, on diverse missions.”
ScanEagle is also bringing an increasingly capable payload to its USCG customer. The UAS’s ViDAR [visual detection and ranging] sensor, “has allowed us to surveil 800-1,000 square miles of open ocean and detect more than 90% of our targets.” Tremain added that “we’re also putting a laser pointer on the aircraft, and this is really significant. It may seem something very small, but when you’re at high speeds trying to find a semi-submersible or low-profile vessel that is going through waves in the middle of the night, it is very difficult for the boat crews and aircrews to see. When we put a ScanEagle laser right on the target, they go directly to it.” Further, Insitu is placing a communications relay package on the aircraft, allowing the NSC vessel to more effectively reach dispatched boat crews and provide other capabilities.
Sentient Vision Systems, headquartered in Melbourne Australia, delivers the ViDAR, while Oregon-based Hood Technology supplies the ScanEagle optics payload.
Insitu is working with a number of nations, most partnering with the USCG on missions in the Western Pacific, on how to conduct ScanEagle operations. Indeed, in 2019, Insitu was awarded a US DoD contract to deliver ScanEagle UAS to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Without giving away any ‘trade secrets,’ Tremain concluded ScanEagle’s near-term technology baseline improvements include “a reduced mechanical footprint and an improvement in some of the aircraft’s optic capabilities.”
Marty Kauchak in Virginia for MON