Australian Navy prepares for ScanEagle UAS operations

ScanEagle UAS, with ViDAR set up to launch at Christmas Island Airport. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

A team from the Australian Navy’s unmanned aircraft systems unit have deployed to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, to test their ability to conduct long term UAS operations without support.

The six member detachment is operating from the island’s aerodrome, testing the limits of the ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system, with visual detection and ranging (or ViDAR).

The ScanEagle’s ViDAR performs maritime search tasks to determine the presence of and locate an object. ViDAR is similar to radar, but uses vision rather than radio waves.

Developed by a Melbourne-based company, Sentient Vision Systems, ViDAR uses a camera to scan and record a 180-degree view and identify anomalies through a complex software program.

Anything unusual is sent to the ground control station in real time, for the operators to investigate using the ScanEagle’s more powerful electro-optical system.

Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Ben Hanson-Murphy, described ViDAR as a game changer.

“Employing the ScanEagle in a surface search role is enabling a far greater area of coverage than we could previously achieve,” Lieutenant Hanson-Murphy said.

According to the Australian Navy, this trial represents the first time an all Navy unmanned aircraft systems crew has conducted all aspects of the setup, testing and validation flights without support of the manufacturer, Insitu Pacific, a significant milestone.

The deployment and location have allowed for flights offshore for up to ten hours at a time.

By the fourth week of the three month deployment, the team had achieved approximately 82 flight hours, with over 12 hours of specific ViDAR operation.

The trial is scheduled until early November and will lay the foundations for use of ViDAR at sea early in 2017.

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