Thirty Million Well Spent ? – As previously reported the Royal Navy is to get its first unmanned ‘eye in the sky’ in a £30m deal to buy the ScanEagle reconnaissance drone which has been used by the US Navy for more than a decade. But how many will we get and where will they operate ? The MoD has yet to let any such information slip, so let us try some mindless speculation.
When the Scaneagle drone was trialled by the MoD in 2006 on the Type 23 Frigate SUTHERLAND each system was quoted as costing US$3.2 million at no doubt 2006 prices. At the current exchange rate our £ 30 million is equal to say US$ 46 million! Let is make a sweeping assumption that half of the will be accounts for by inflation and establishing a core cadre of personnel and maintenance facilities at Culdrose the existing Fleet Air Arm Base for 792 Squadron with their Target Drones. On that basis we will be getting say seven (7) systems, and let us be generous let us assume efficiencies mean that we secure ten (10) systems
Thus we can expect one new Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm will be formed with a Headquarters and Training Flight of two (2) Systems, and assume a further System (1) will be used for trials and later maintenance. That leaves say a maximum seven (7) Systems to be deployed operationally. Let us again assume present tasking where would they be ?
Fleet Ready Escort
Atlantic Patrol (South)
Station Tanker (RFA)
Atlantic Patrol (North)
East of Suez
Station Tanker (RFA)
There is of course the logistical challenge of equipment changeover as ships rotate tasking and thus the Fleet Ready Escort may be so equipped on high days and holidays.
So there we are – for our £ 30 million we can expect six or seven small, unarmed robot planes which can be launched from the flight decks of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels day or night to gather intelligence and survey the wider area of operations to complement the existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as helicopters and long range radar. The small drone has a wingspan of just over three metres (10ft) and weighs 22kg (48lbs) and is launched from a pneumatic catapult, and will fly at about 60 knots, it is piloted by a specialist team on board the ship who will plan the 15 to 18 hour missions, control its flights and monitor and analyse the information it gathers using sensors onboard, including a video or infra red camera which will be beaming back ‘real time’ high resolution images via a satellite link. Once its flight is over it returns to the “mother ship” where it is “caught” by dangling a rope vertically, which catches in a hook at either end of each wing. The aircraft is grappled by a recovery device and lifted back on board. Thirty Million Well Spent ? Yes surely – pity is was not Sixty Million !!