Unmanned aircraft could soon be controlled by Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) jets operated on counter-piracy missions by NATO.
Boeing is also holding internal discussions on integrating a control station for the low-altitude Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system on the Bell Boeing V-22.
Both details emerged at a Boeing briefing on 10 August about the ScanEagle's involvement in an ongoing coalition exercise called Empire Challenge.
The Fort Huachucha, Arizona-based event drew a NATO E-3A AWACS crew to demonstrate how the battle management aircraft could use a ScanEagle to intercept suspected pirate vessels, says John Hearing, senior manager for next generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft at Boeing PhantomWorks.
Boeing installed a control station for the ScanEagle aboard the E-3A, allowing a company employee on board the AWACS jet to control the UAS in flight.
A pick-up truck was used during the event to simulate a pirate vessel. The pirate surrogate identified itself as a fishing boat on its automatic identification system transponder, which was picked up by the E-3A's receivers.
The E-3A radar's, however, noted the "vessel" was travelling at a speed of 21.5kt (40km/h) - too fast for a normal fishing boat. At that point, the AWACS crew assigned the ScanEagle to investigate. The small UAS beamed video of the vessel back to the E-3A, confirming the vessel was not a fishing boat.
As a result, Hearing said, the E-3A dispatched a Lockheed Martin F-16 to the area to confirm the target and launch an attack.
After completing four of six demonstration flights up to 10 August, Boeing and the NATO AWACS crew had already gathered the information they needed. Now, says Hearing, NATO must decide whether it should make the investment.
"We do know they are evaluating," says Kevin Jones, a Boeing manager for AWACS and network battle management. "They are very aware of the various UAV product lines not only that we have but others have. We're waiting for them to come back to us. We know there's interest. We expect we'll participate in some of that discussion."
The company also believes the ScanEagle or the ScanEagle Compressed Carriage will "fit very nicely in the V-22", Jones says, adding there are "some discussions with customers" about the concept.