The Royal Netherlands Navy has started using ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles for anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.
On August 8 a ScanEagle took off from the amphibious ship HNMS Rotterdam in the Gulf of Aden on its first operational flight in the region. The aircraft flew for more than nine hours and gathered information for NATO’s Ocean Shield counter-piracy mission.
The Insitu ScanEagle is operated by a team of 19 specialists from the Joint Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Command (JISTARC).
“Our job is to provide the commander with information and intelligence to support the preparation and execution of the mission,” said Major Chris Sievers, commander of the team. The UAV’s first task was to examine unknown vessels and determine if there was possible pirate activity. “Even in this heat, with about 45 degrees Celsius, the system held up well and we had no problems,” said one of the operators.
The amphibious transport ship HNMS Rotterdam is currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden. The 166 meters long Landing Platform Dock has been the flagship of operation Ocean Shield since August 4.
The vessel has more than 350 personnel on board, belonging to the navy, army, air force and gendarmerie. The aims of the mission are to address piracy activities, patrol the Gulf of Aden, secure ships and strengthen ties with international partners, the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
Insitu on March 19 this year announced that it had signed a contract to deliver the ScanEagle system to the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, which would use it both domestically and abroad as an interim replacement for the Sagem Sperwer short range UAV fleet. The system has been providing an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability since the second half of this year. It replaced the Sperwer, which was withdrawn on June 29, 2011, as part of Dutch austerity measures, as the Sperwer was more costly to operate.
The Netherlands acquired two ScanEagle systems, each made up of three air vehicles. One system is deployed overseas while the other is to be used for training, domestic operations and as a reserve. The Netherlands will acquire five Insitu RQ-21A systems as a permanent replacement for the Sperwer in 2014.
On August 7 Insitu announced that the Dutch MoD had received authorisation to fly the ScanEagle under a limited military aircraft type-classification certificate.
ScanEagle is a small, lightweight long-endurance UAV in service with the United States, Australia and Canada, amongst others. The aircraft carries a stabilised electro-optical/infrared camera and has an endurance of more than 20 hours – the longest flight has been 22 hours. It has a three metre wingspan and cruises at 110 km/h.
ScanEagle can be operated from ships and other platforms as it is launched from a pneumatic launcher and recovered by catching a hook (mounted on the end of the wingtip) onto a rope hanging on a pole. A GPS mounted on the pole guides the ScanEagle onto the rope.
ScanEagle has been used in combat since 2004 when it was deployed to Iraq, and in April 2009 a ScanEagle launched by the US Navy was used during the stand-off between the US Navy and a lifeboat controlled by pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips of the MV Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean after a failed hijack attempt. The UAV was also operated over Libya in 2011.
Insitu announced that the ScanEagle had recently surpassed 600 000 combat flight hours.