ScanEagles for the RN


Not too many major stories to have come out of the Paris Air Show this year, but one that has been far too long in coming: the MoD have finally signed the contract for an interim naval UAV.

The ScanEagle will be deployed on board ships in the Gulf region to keep an eye on those pesky Iranians. They will be Contractor Owned and Operated by Boeing Insitu.

No details on numbers, but not to difficult to imagine at least 2 or 3 detachments: one from the RFA MCV Support ship and one on board the Frigate or Destroyer in the region and possibly the supporting tanker as well.

Civilian contractors launch a ScanEagle UAV from the US Navy LSD

More details at

[browser-shot width=”600″ url=””] [browser-shot width=”600″ url=””] [browser-shot width=”600″ url=”″] [browser-shot width=”600″ url=””]



ScanEagle in flight
ScanEagle in flight
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
ScanEagle Launch and Recovery
  1. WiseApe says

    Seeing the guy holding the ScanEagle in his arms – and not straining to do so – rams home just how lightweight these things are. I say this before anyone comes on and ponders slinging a torpedo underneath :-)

  2. Peter Elliott says

    I can see the argument for us going turboprop for the next ASW MPA and continuing with the proven method of hunting at low speed and low level rather than jumping into the still rather experimental P8.

    But have to admit to being slightly surprised that we would be looking at Herc as the platform and not Atlas. After all EADS has a full suite of MPA systems developed already for C295 that could be rolled onto Atlas – and that’s where our future centre of gravity lies in terms of the turbprop fleet – not Herc.

    Am I missing something? Or maybe we are talking to EADS too and ist just nobody’s shouting about it.

  3. mike says

    Peter E

    Issue is, will the A400M have the time/capacity for such a role? Even before 2001, the herc force was rather busy. With the Herc we could retain SF use and MPA, whilst leaving the A400M to take on the tactical transport burden.
    But I do know we are talking to EADS, Northrop Grumman and also SAAB; indeed, SAAB’s MPA prototype was parked right outside the AWC at Waddington a few months back!

    Will be interesting to see and read how this develops (could just be aggressive marketing…), but with the mood coming from the discussion about the next SDSR, I would not hold my breath.

  4. Peter Elliott says


    Weird isn’t it how going for a niche fleet would actually secure a capability better becase you HAVE to buy a minimum number of airframes to get up and running.

    Whereas you could in theory buy the same number of the common airframe and reap the benefit of the common supply chain. But that doesn’t happen becasue the temptation is always to buy no extra airframes at all and just sweat the pool some more.

    So the wheel turns and we go back to niche fleets again…

  5. Overseas says

    Not at all surprised to see this deal go down, RN has been very impressed with the Scan Eagle’s endurance and the picture that comes back is really pretty good. A definite step in the right direction and perfect for the Gulf-based Bay class.

    Anyone think that £30mn is a bit steep for a couple of drones and catapults? It isn’t rocket science, drone recovered on a piece of wire in the sky and basically a crash landing more than actual landing. If it is for 2 ‘units’ why cant UK PLC make something similar for the same price?

  6. Observer says

    Overseas, think the bulk costs come in the new comms links needed to control the plane and receive data from it as well as all the encryption to make sure someone doesn’t hijack the UAV. The basic system is civilian which is cheap, it is the backline support that is expensive.

  7. party0929 says

    I can’t see us buying new sea Herc’s especially as the initial versions are coastguard only variants if were going MPA it has to be P-8 or P-1 turbo prop are a down grade on what we got rid of mind you we’ll go for the cheapest option not what’s best for the forces

  8. WiseApe says

    You’ve managed to turn a post about a 48lbs drone into an MPA discussion – now that’s impressive! You might find this of interest, written by an RAF WC last year:

    Fellow civvies might find page 11 especially helpful. WW2=World War Two. Thanks for that.

  9. HurstLlama says

    Going back to unmanned air systems for a moment, I have just seen an article from Defence News (via Twitter) that suggests Europe will go with the Predator for its MALE requirement

    I know we have bought a bunch of them and built a nice new centre to control them from, the question I have is what are we going to do with them after we pull out from Afghanistan. They can’t be flown in EU airspace, can they? (Though I note the Frogs are just buying a couple for use in Mali, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the EU certification problems get suddenly resolved.) However, pending permission from the Eurocrats to fly them, what are we going to do with the ones we already have? What actually is the medium term requirement/use for this type of aircraft? What are they for and should they be (have been?) taken into core budget?

    Any answers will be gratefully received.

    Confused from Hurstpierpoint.

    P.S. Mr Ape, jolly good find. I read an essay from another senior Crab on the same course a couple of years ago, in which he laid bare how the fixation of the RAF on dropping bombs on Germany, rather than responding to the current threat and beefing up Coastal Command, nearly cost us WW2. So there are sensible people in Crab Air, they just don’t seem to make it to the top echelon.

  10. Not a Boffin says

    It’ll be fun trying to stow that in a T23 – no Merlins on the Op KIPION ships I suspect.

    Still, for persistent ISTAR that’s a lot of airframe hours you’re saving.

  11. x says

    “It’ll be fun trying to stow that in a T23”

    On a certain UK defence blog site a frequent pro-maritime commenter has being going on for a while about the need for T26 to be built with twin hangars.

  12. Not a Boffin says

    In the event we actually get any T26, they should be fine (designated UAS hangar if it survives), as will T45 which has a hoofing great hangar.

    It’s the poor little T23 that’s going to struggle.

  13. Red Trousers says

    They’re little beauties, those Scan Eagles, and the business operating model of CoCo is just crying out for some venture capital money to offer them as a service to commercial shipping companies, oil companies with rigs in dodgy areas and to private military companies. They don’t need the ultimate hardened data links and can make do with OTS commercial encryption.

    I was speaking with the mother of a childhood friend at the weekend, who reported that her son (20 odd years a Royal Marine, now running the operations of a company providing civvy security to ships on the Somali pirate run), was looking to expand the company in the Nigerian area. Apparently the Somali pirate business is winding down, and the action is now in / off west Africa.

  14. x says

    @ NaB

    I have heard tell of T45’s hangar. When I have visited Dauntless and Daring I have set out to visit the hangar but halfway across the flight deck I give up. Just too far for my little legs to carry me…. ;)

    This is the configuration we need,

  15. Not a Boffin says

    I’ll hopefully be getting aboard Westminster at the weekend with my two lads and will see if they’ve somehow turned the hangar I remember building into a Tardis.

    RT – yep, that’s what I’d heard as well. Not sure whether it’s Boko Harem or some of those Nigerian princes with large phone bills who have seized a new opportunity!

  16. Observer says

    Scaneagle? Hanger?


    The launcher is right at the back, just next to where the 2 men are standing. When not in use, it is stowed in a pod that is clipped to the side of the ship, similar to a lifeboat pod.

  17. Rocket Banana says


    Talking of hangars. Can you confirm the “dumbell” shape of the Invincible class hangars as seen on this very dodgy looking pic?

    I’ve seen many photos to confim it pretty well (even to a rough scale) but have never managed to get to see it in the flesh.

    Also, just out of curiosity, are/were all ships the same?


  18. Not a Boffin says

    It’s not the air vehicle that’s the issue. It’s the mundungous that is required to launch and recover it, which from the photos in Tom’s post are some fairly weighty and voluminous chunks of kit. I’d put the launcher at about 1 x 1.5 x 4m and the recovery boom slightly bigger.

    Now it may be that someone has found an amount of spare deck area on a T23 that is :

    a) Not in a RADHAZ area
    b) Sufficiently strong structurally to accept the weight of launcher and recovery boom
    c) Clear of weapon / tracker danger areas
    d) Not going to suffer damage if the drone is not captured and hits something.

    but I’m not holding my breath…..

    Last I heard, the plan was to recover across the flightdeck, which sort of indicates that the mundungous will need to be stored in that vicinity. Leaving it on the FD (even folded) is a no-no from a clearance perspective and access forward either side of the hangar is a bit tortuous to say the least. Which leads me to believe the mundungous will be living in the hangar.

  19. Not a Boffin says

    Yeah that’s about right. Nothing fundamental about that layout could be changed, although ISTR various temporary vans and portacabins appearing and disappearing from time to time depending on aircraft type embarked and it’s level of maturity.

    “Also, just out of curiosity, are/were all ships the same?”

    I really, really hope you mean “are/were all ships of the class to the same hangar arrangement?”, to which the answer is yes!

  20. Rocket Banana says


    Thanks. Yes, “of the same class” ;-)

  21. All Politicians are the Same says


    How about the cross passage?

  22. Not a Boffin says

    I assume you mean fr 72-85, rather than forward of hangar block?

    Not sure how many air escapes and anti-flash bonnets, scuppers, ladders, stanchions and fairleads would survive having those two beasts manoeuvred past them on a daily basis! Or perhaps more accurately, the beasts themselves would get graunched on a very regular basis. If you think about just how cluttered the weatherdeck passage is in those areas, I’d be really careful about going there and that’s before we start on how many risk assessments and training courses and how much hi-viz Jack n’ Jen will have to deal with before they’re allowed to move it.

    You’re also going to end up blocking your RAS(S) dump and storing route, which I know we don’t use particularly often, but is a signiifcant decision to take.

  23. All Politicians are the Same says


    Yes smokers at flying stations hangout. The Canadians operated 2 from Charlottetown and the US from s Cyclone class. it is by no means an insurmountable problem.

  24. Observer says

    Agreed with APATs that finding a place to operate Scaneagle from is not insurmountable, if you are really desperate for the capability, somehow you will be able to squeeze it in.

    I’m more worried about where the new comms links for the thing is going to go. The plane is easy, the new comms system/console for the UAV, now that is going to be hard.

  25. Not a Boffin says

    No, clearly not insurmountable because someone has let a contract. It’s just going to be an emb8ggerance on the T23. As shown by Observer’s phots, it might actually be easier to operate SE from small ships like the Cyclone, where you don’t have the limts placed by keeping a flightdeck clear.

  26. Chris.B says

    Type 45’s hangar with two Lynx’s, for reference;

  27. Think Defence says

    Just a thought on space for operating the launch gear

    Given the endurance, maybe they only have to do it a couple of times per day

  28. Not a Boffin says

    Oh they’d be daft to do anything other than launch at the start of the day and recover at the end of the day (or the reverse if it’s night coverage required). Every time you recover the thing you increase the chance of losing it, never mind the period of foul deck.

  29. Red Trousers says

    I’m not very good at playing fantasy fleet, because I deliberately mis-confuse boats and ships as it winds up the jolly old Andrew so much (and you should hear them doing the equivalent with tanks and recce wagons – honestly, that’s a shocker as well… ;) ).

    So with bugger all nautical knowledge, can anyone suggest what a suitable Scan Eagle – dedicated “vessel” might be? I’m thinking something like an ocean-going tug, or possibly a big trawler. All it needs is a large enough flat space somewhere for L&R ops (front or back doesn’t matter), possibly even to double up as an emergency HLS for a Wildcat. Something originally civvy-designed, possibly a standard pattern, maybe available cheapish on the used market? Buy up 20 of them, and you’ve suddenly got a globally deployable surveillance capability for the Andrew, and lots of new commands for ambitious senior Lts / junior Lt Cdrs.

    Stick a Troop of Royal aboard with a couple of RHIBS, mount up some 20 mm Oerlikons, and you’ve got a whole replacement capability for the West Indies guard boat and anti-Somali pirate boat capabilities, allowing the frigates to get dealing with proper operations against the Queen’s actual enemies.

  30. El Sid says

    You’re starting to reinvent TD’s SIMSS concept, or the MoD’s Black Swan sloop concept. The oil industry is the usual place to go looking for a starting point, as they have similar requirements for seakeeping, cargo/ROV handling and helicopters.

    The obvious non-Powerpoint example is MV Polarbjorn, now reborn as HMS Protector. It’s a bad example in some ways, as it was only leased in response to the Endurance fire at the peak of the budget squeeze, so it’s mebbe not the best VFM it could have been – £26m for three years, plus £3.7m conversion costs (moving the helideck somewhere more sensible, adding a survey sonar, various other bits and bobs) – you could probably buy something similar new for not a lot more money. And it’s heavier than you need – icebreaking, 60t crane and so on – but it’s somewhere to start in the real world. I’d make the comment that for the kind of forward presence missions you’re talking about, you really need a proper helicopter hangar – you’re not going to have a source of Wildcats nearby, but you’ll need one for VBSS against high-speed boats (and it’s not like your ship can keep up with them).

    This paper from BMT about their Venator light combatant/auxiliary concept gives you an idea of some of the factors to consider, like DEFSTAN/STANAGs for seakeeping and the like – I’m sure they had another PDF on the web somewhere that went into more detail on the practical side. There’s also the thorny problem of survivability – putting some MGs and armour on a civvy ship doesn’t make it a warship any more than doing the same to a Land Rover makes it a tank. A Snatch was fine in Belfast, but they ended up getting sent to places where they were out of their depth, and we took casualties as a result.

    I see the battle over whether we should bother with light combatants is raging over on the “Not Enough Ships” thread – personally I sympathise with the idea but I think the harsh reality is that the RN’s full strength should be useful in a hot war. Not least because that allows us to concentrate on “big-country” stuff for coalitions – Portugal may have 1/10th of our GDP, but 1/10th of an aircraft carrier or 1/10th of an LPD isn’t much use. That doesn’t mean everything has to be a Death Star, but something like a Bay is much more use than a sloop for HA/DR (big part of the Caribbean mission), has much better endurance for anti-piracy etc (reducing external costs for logistics) as well as just more room for stuff/staff and is still 50-60% cheaper than a proper warship – but it is still useful in a hot war. At least until pongos learn to walk on water…

    Obviously UAVs have a place on conventional warships – and the likes of DARPA’s TERN project promise to make them seriously capable (600lb payload at 600-900nm operational radius from a trimaran LCS, we’ll see how much it costs….). OTOH, it’s not ideal to be mixing them up with a ship that’s likely to have intensive rotary activity and one has to wonder if there’s anything more original one can do with them. Think of displacing them away from the warships and one starts looking at the big flat spaces on tankers, which have to be around the fleet much of the time anyway. You could fit a small EM catapult and traps and start flying something rather bigger than a ScanEagle, maybe even up to Predator size. That starts getting interesting. Stick a couple of recycled 4.5″ guns on the front, and you’ve got an integrated system that can scout for targets and deliver something that goes bang. In an ideal world you might have a few Tomahawk/SCALP tubes as well. Think of it as an austerity version of the Zumwalt.

  31. El Sid says

    Oops, I meant to throw this in, it’s not particularly on-topic but people might be interested. It’s a RAND report for shiny-pointy-things-central (the USAF), which comes to the conclusion that shiny, pointy things remain the way ahead, particularly in operations less than war. Don’t expect to agree with much of it – even all of it – but it’s a reasonable summary of that point of view.

  32. El Sid says

    Nice piece on micro-UAS, including Black Hornet and flapping ones :

  33. El Sid says

    “Regulations Complicate U.K. Navy Scan Eagle Purchase”

  34. Not a Boffin says

    Laws of unintended consequences coming home to roost methinks. Dodge the training DLOD, run straight into safety issues. Ouch.

    Squeezing CONDOs onto a 23 for any length of time will get a bit interesting as well.

  35. Chris says

    Talking to the RN stand-manners at DSEi, they are under the impression that the Boeing operators are a short term issue, and that RN personnel will be trained by them to take over full control ASAP. Seems to make more sense – can you imagine a ship with contractor-operators permanently boarded for UAS, USVs, CIWS, weapon systems, sensors – you’d end up with just the ship’s Captain and the laundry being RN personnel…

Comments are closed.