UAS proves worth in pirate-hostage case


A ScanEagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) proved to be a significant and valuable tool in the rescue of US freighter captain Richard Phillips after he had been taken hostage by Somali pirates, one of its manufacturers says.

Four raiders boarded the 17 000-ton Maersk Alabama freighter on April 8, making it the first US-flagged vessel to fall prey to a pirate attack off the African coast in nearly 200 years.

The crew hailed their captain a hero after he surrendered himself to the pirates in order to ensure their safety. “The subsequent fatal shooting of three pirates by US Navy SEALs during the rescue of Captain Phillips has been well reported,” Insitu says.

They add the “highly successful conclusion to the hostage situation was aided greatly by data provided by the ScanEagle drone throughout the unfolding drama.”

The 18kg ScanEagle is the product of a joint effort between Boeing and subsidiary Insitu. It boasts an inertial stabilised camera turret with the capability of tracking both fixed and moving targets for extended periods.

Its 16 000 ft ceiling and extremely lengthy endurance of more than 20 hours, day or night, enables a constant supply of real-time intelligence to its operators.

In the Maersk Alabama case, the UAS provided electro-optical and infrared feeds (both still and video) from its sensors, supplying the Navy with critical data and improving its situational awareness during the standoff.

ScanEagle is runway-independent, utilising a pneumatic catapult launcher and a mast-mounted recovery system, making it ideal for shipboard operations with minimal disruption. The success of this deployment comes not long after the USS Mahan captured nine pirates in the sea-lanes off Somalia with the assistance of ScanEagle-supplied video-feeds.

ScanEagle is currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as on Navy vessels in key locations around the globe.

Boeing’s recent successful demonstration of the simultaneous command and control of three ScanEagle UASs from a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Wedgetail 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft over Washington State further illustrates the versatility and usability of unmanned aircraft in modern tactical situations, Insitu says.