2018 Surface Navy Association Day 1 (January 9) Conference Report
Mönch US correspondent Marty Kauchak is attending the 2018 Surface Navy Association 30th Annual National Symposium in Arlington, Virginia, USA. He files this report with highlights from the exhibition floor and conference rooms.
Don Williamson, Vice President at Insitu Defense (booth #1112), told MONS: “We are extremely proud of our unrivaled experience in maritime environments, and appreciate the fantastic opportunity this show presents to engage with our customers who do such important work in that domain. Some of the key technologies we’ll be discussing at SNA include our ViDAR [Visual Detection and Ranging] payload, which is on its second patrol with the US Coast Guard [USCG]. In September of 2017, the USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752) completed its first full patrol with a ViDAR-equipped ScanEagle. That deployment saw record ‘drug busts’, with both the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft, in attendance when the ship returned to port.”
RQ-21A BLACKJACK, Insitu’s Program of Record with the US Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC), is supporting its third MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) deployment with two additional MEUs currently in workups. “This programme has now surpassed 6,000 flight hours, and tech advances to the platform in 2018 will include a laser designator that is currently in development,” Mr. Williamson added.
Elsewhere in the programme, two more USMC squadrons are expected to transition to RQ-21 in 2018; VMU4 in second quarter, and VMU3 in fourth quarter.
RQ-21 is expected to achieve initial operational capability for the Navy in second quarter of 2018 and full operational capability for both the Navy and USMC in fourth quarter of 2018.
On the technology side of the Insitu ledger, last September, Insitu conducted its first MUMT (manned/unmanned teaming) flight demo with a Boeing AH-64 APACHE helicopter and ScanEagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The event was the culmination of more than 18 months of Boeing/Insitu collaborative MUMT development efforts. The industry expert explained: “This capability lets APACHE pilots receive real-time ScanEagle video and metadata, enabling them to rapidly cue their sensors to where ScanEagle is looking, engage targets or report intelligence while reducing risk to the APACHE aircrew.”
Insitu is also collaborating with Hood Tech Vision Inc. to allow the latter company’s new ALTICAM14 to finish the NIIRS 9 (National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale: level 9) regimen. The Insitu executive remarked: “We completed the first successful flights of this new turret, and we will be continuing development on that in 2018.”
Finally, Insitu is continuing to advance its propulsion technology. In December of 2017, the company flew the new N20 engine in an operational environment. “We also issued a development contract to Protonex to add further enhancements to the BALLARD fuel cell propulsion system for ScanEagle,” Mr. Williamson recalled.
He also updated MONS on Insitu’s expanding maritime customer list. Insitu’s first USN deployment happened in 2005, and the company has been on a ship in that service every single day since that first day thirteen years ago. “ScanEagle is currently deployed aboard three USN ships as well as the USCG vessel STRATTON, with two additional USN ships in pre-deployment. By the middle of 2018, we will be deployed on one ship in the Navy’s Fourth (South America, Central America and the Caribbean), Fifth (Middle East), Sixth (Mediterranean) and Seventh (Western Pacific) Fleets.”
Indeed, last September, Insitu was on ten ships in support of the USN and international navies around the world, with the only fixed wing SUAS (small UAS) in support of an international navy. Mr: Williamson continued: “Last year we also completed our MARUAS program with the Royal Navy; ScanEagle deployed to Fifth and Sixth Fleets and supported eight maritime deployments with great success. Also in 2017 ScanEagle deployed with the Royal Australian Navy aboard the guided-missile frigate HMAS Newcastle, making the ship the first of its class [ADELAIDE-class guided-missile frigate] to deploy on operations, with a Sikorsky MH-60R SEAHAWK helicopter and a ScanEagle UAS. We also supported several successful deployments with the Spanish Navy and the Colombian Navy.”
Further downstream, the USCG has exercised the first option year of its current USCG National Security Cutter (NSC) SUAS ISR Services contract with Insitu. This will enable USCGC STRATTON to continue to operate as a fully functional NSC through 2018. In addition, Insitu is expecting the USCG to issue the request for proposal in the coming weeks to provide MR [medium range]-UAS services aboard the USCG National Security Cutter Fleet. “Insitu has had the privilege of supporting the US Coast Guard’s missions and recent maritime narcotics interdictions, and we look forward to competing for the opportunity to provide MR-UAS ISR services aboard the USCG National Security Cutter Fleet,” Mr. Williamson concluded.