Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR March 2017 Contents speed typically set to 60 knots (111 km/h). It has an
endurance of 24+ hours and a service ceiling of over
In 2014, Boeing Insitu began development of the
Flying Launch and Recovery System (FLARES). This
is a system which consists of a quadrotor UAV that
carries the ScanEagle vertically and releases it into
forward flight. For recovery high-quality differential
GPS units are mounted in a second quadrotor and the
UAV. This quadrotor hovers trailing a rope including
shock-cord, which catches the ScanEagle’s wingtip
clasp. FLARES incorporates the VTOL advantages of
launch and recovery in confined areas on board naval
vessels with the flying efficiency of a fixed-wing body.
Demonstrations overseas of the system took place
from late 2014 to mid-2015, and low-rate production
was scheduled for late 2016.
In November 2015, a Royal Australian Navy
ScanEagle tested Sentient Vision Systems’s Visual
Detection and Ranging (ViDAR) optical detection
system, turning the UAV into a broad area maritime
surveillance asset capable of covering up to 80 times
more area in a single sortie than is possible with
standard cameras. The self-contained ViDAR system
consists of high-resolution digital video cameras and
software that analyses image feed and autonomously
detects, tracks, and photographs each contact
with a 180-degree pan. It was incorporated into the
ScanEagle as two fuselage slices, ahead of and behind
the wing, without affecting performance.
The ViDAR can cover an area greater than 13,000
square nautical miles (45,000 km2) over a 12-hour
mission, and detected small and large surface, air, and
even submerged targets during the demonstration.
In the fourth quarter 2016 a team from Navy’s UAS
Unit deployed to Christmas Island to test their ability
to conduct long-term UAS operations without support.
They operated from the island’s aerodrome with a
ViDAR equipped ScanEagle.
The deployment and location has allowed for flights
offshore for up to ten hours at a time. By the fourth
week of the three month deployment, the team had
achieved approximately 82 flight hours, with over 12
hours of specific ViDAR operation.
Sentient Vision Systems, developers of ViDAR,
explained to APDR that it is similar to RADAR, but uses
vision rather than radio waves. In a maritime application,
a camera scans the sea surface with a 180 degree
view and sends live video for analysis by complex
software at the UAV’s base aboard ship. Anything
unusual picked up is then checked by ScanEagle’s
more powerful electro-optical system.
During the RAN’s trials so far it successfully detected
two Navy vessels positioned for the trial, before going
on to also autonomously find smaller targets such as
small boats and yachts, a submerged whale, and even
an airborne helicopter.
Sentient Vision Systems claim that ViDAR is ideal
for real-time small object detection such as people in
the water, periscopes beyond 4 nautical miles, and fast
boats beyond 8 nautical miles. It can be used to detect
objects that are too small for existing radars.
The RAN trials with ViDAR are continuing at sea
ARE THE DAYS OF MANNED NAVAL
Not in this author’s opinion. Although unmanned full-
size helicopters like the Fire Scout are available,
especially for surveillance and reconnaissance, many
of the tasks assigned to naval helicopters require crew
Consider surface and underwater warfare
operations; search and rescue by day and night;
vertical and cross-deck replenishment and movement
of personnel; casualty evacuation; interception and
boarding; counter-terrorism operations; humanitarian
aid and disaster relief; support for other government
agencies, including Police and Border Force; and many
other missions where interaction between aircrew and
other people is necessary for successful completion.
It would seem much more sensible for a warship
to carry one manned helicopter and one or more
UAS which could become the eyes of the ship at
distances and in conditions beyond the capabilities
of human lookouts.
This view is supported by Defence’s 2016
Integrated Investment Plan (Section 4.32) which
includes this statement ‘To improve the situational
awareness of ships on operations, we will acquire a
new tactical unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance aircraft system that will complement
other sensors and systems by extending the area
able to be held under surveillance. These systems
will be progressively introduced over the decade
to FY 2025 26. They will be able to operate from a
range of vessels of varying size, including the future
frigates and patrol vessels.’
With a budgetary cost range of $ 500m- $750m this
suggests that Navy are planning to acquire quite a large
number of small UAS, which is the point of the current
S-100 contract and the ScanEagle/ViDAR trials. The
acquisition program could start as early as 2018 and
take until 2030 to be complete.
The current RAN trials program with UAS is yielding
valuable information to ensure that when the bulk
acquisition program ramps up, there will be a sound
basis of operational experience on which to base
selections of the most appropriate UAS.
However, given the ever-rapid progress with
technology developments, it may be that the actual
UAS acquired within a few short years could still
currently be in the developmental stage.
A Schiebel S-100 Camcopter Unmanned Air System takes to
the air at Jervis Bay Airfield, NSW. Credit: CoA / Jayson Tufrey
Warships, including patrol boats, are often equipped with
electro-optical and infra-red devices at their mastheads to
extend detectable range, particularly during night and at times
of poor visibility.
36 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter MAR 2017
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