Boeing foresees customers using ScanEagle vehicles individually or in groups to loiter over trouble spots and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data or communications relay. As standard payload ScanEagle carries either an inertially stabilized electro-optical or an infrared camera. The gimbaled camera allows the operator to easily track both stationary and moving targets, providing real-time intelligence. Capable of flying above 16,000 feet, the UAV has also demonstrated the ability to provide persistent low-altitude reconnaissance.
In April 2005, Boeing received a $14.5 million contract from the Navy for unmanned aerial vehicle services in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terror. Boeing is providing ScanEagle UAVs, communication links and ground equipment for Naval Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and oil platform security in the Persian Gulf. The Navy awarded Boeing a $13 million contract modification in September 2005 to provide ScanEagle system support for Navy high-speed vessels and an afloat forward staging base as well.
The UAV's unique ISR and long-endurance capabilities provide the Navy with real-time intelligence and situational awareness. For ESG missions, ScanEagle is ship-launched and recovered. Since being deployed with the Navy in July, ScanEagle already has surpassed 900 flight hours.
Boeing's Navy contract followed on the heels of a U.S. Marine Corps contract signed in June 2004 to provide two ScanEagle mobile deployment units for use with the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq.
With more than 750,000 combat flight hours under its belt to date, ScanEagle has demonstrated that it is a valuable net-centric system that can provide real-time information to those who need it. ScanEagle's imagery allows tactical commanders to develop a clearer picture of the battlefield, which in the end has resulted in improved situational awareness and saved lives.
The ScanEagle system also has been used to support the UK Ministry of Defence's Joint UAV Experimentation Programme (JUEP), through an industry team that includes Thales, QinetiQ and Boeing. During trials conducted off the coast of Scotland, team JUEP successfully controlled ScanEagle flights from a Royal Navy warship, which was a UK-first. Proving its ability to support maritime operations and land reconnaissance, ScanEagle was launched from land and then handed over to the ship-based control station.
For a vehicle of its size, ScanEagle's endurance/payload combination is unmatched. The UAV -- four-feet long with a 10-foot wingspan -- can remain on station for more than 15 hours. Planned variants will have an endurance of more than 30 hours.
Another key design feature of ScanEagle is its internal avionics bay. The avionics bay allows seamless integration of new payloads and sensors to meet emerging customer requirements, and ensures the vehicle will be able to incorporate the latest technology as it becomes available.
In December 2004, ScanEagle demonstrated high-speed wireless communications relay during a flight at the Boeing Boardman test range. Enabled by Harris Corporation's National Security Agency-approved Type 1 classified Sec-Net-11 Plus technology in its avionics bay, streaming video and voice-over IP communication was sent from a ground control station over a secure high-bandwidth network to ScanEagle 18 miles away. The data was then instantaneously relayed to ground personnel six miles from the UAV. The flight demonstrated the capability for troops on the ground to receive critical information and situational awareness in a secure environment, key elements in creating a network centric battlefield.
ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher and flies pre-programmed or operator-initiated missions guided by GPS and its onboard flight-control system. It is retrieved using a "Skyhook" system in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot high pole. The patented system allows ScanEagle to be runway independent and operate from forward fields, mobile vehicles or small ships.
In August 2004 ScanEagle completed the longest flight ever recorded by a UAV launched and retrieved at sea -- 16 hours and 45 minutes. During ScanEagle's record-setting flight, it did aerial surveillance of sea conditions and ships in Puget Sound, Wash., waters, demonstrating the type of mission anticipated for shipboard operations. The milestone followed on the heels of another historic ship-based flight and retrieval in April 2004 aboard the same 58-foot fishing boat, Shackleton. The autonomous launch and recovery was a first for fixed-wing UAVs.
ScanEagle, which made its first flight in 2002, participated in the Joint Forces Command Forward Look exercises, which began in December 2003 and ended in June 2004. The goal was to improve interoperability and increase data fusion among multiple UAVs in operational scenarios. As part of Forward Look, ScanEagle was tasked with providing ISR coverage and time-sensitive targeting to a broad network that included UAVs, ground stations, ships at sea, command centers and other airborne assets. ScanEagle received rave reviews for its performance during the exercises.
In August 2003, ScanEagle "A" -- the first vehicle in the ScanEagle family -- demonstrated its long-endurance capability when it completed a 15.2-hour flight at the Boeing Boardman test range. The flight confirmed ScanEagle is capable of the long-endurance necessary to complete an array of missions including ISR and communication. The flight was also significant in that it was the first time the test team put two UAVs in the air simultaneously.
Boeing and The Insitu Group signed a 15-month agreement in February 2002 to develop and build the prototype ScanEagle UAV. In July 2003, the two companies signed a long-term contract that allows them to move into production, while at the same time continue research and development efforts.