The Royal Navy has established its first squadron to oversee the deployment of the Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The 700 Xperimental (700X) naval air squadron based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, UK, will be used for ScanEagle operations, as well as testing and evaluation of future UAVs that the service operates.

ScanEagle has been operating from the HMS Somerset and HMS Northumberland frigates, as well as the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay, for some 12 months and is now flying from the HMS Kent frigate, which has just been deployed to the Arabian Sea to conduct counter-piracy missions, the navy says.

The UAV is provided to the navy on a services basis akin to Insitu’s arrangement with the US Navy. It was contracted for £30 million ($47 million) in June 2013 under a two-year urgent operational requirement, under which two task lines were provided.

This contract is due to come to an end in 2015, and it is believed that an extension is under discussion.

ScanEagle launch - Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

The “700” naval air squadron has appeared in many iterations, most recently as 700M and 700W to test and evaluate the navy’s AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin and AW159 Lynx Wildcat helicopters, respectively.

“It’s clear that ScanEagle is a tremendous asset ­– the quality of the imagery is superb, even at night-time,” Lt Cdr Al Rogers, commanding officer of 700X, says.

“Commanding officers have nothing but praise for it, but it’s not a replacement for a Merlin or Lynx, rather an addition to the warship’s suite of sensors.”

In parallel to contracting the fixed-wing type for operations east of Suez, the RN is also conducting a demonstration programme for an unmanned rotary-wing vehicle, which it contracted to AgustaWestland in August 2013.

The £2.3 million unmanned rotary-wing capability concept demonstrator (CCD) programme will see it present an optionally piloted vehicle for a demonstration that could take place by the end of 2014.