Australian frigate completes Middle East deployment with embarked ScanEagle UAV

ScanEagle is launched from the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle in the Middle East region. Photo: Royal Australian Navy

Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Newcastle wrapped up a six-month deployment to the Middle East achieving some firsts and marking some lasts along the way.

She conducted a range of Combined Maritime Forces operations, including an attachment in support of the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, and trialled emerging naval capabilities.

Newcastle also conducted several boarding operations while assigned to Combined Maritime Forces operations searching for drug smugglers.

As part of these operations, Newcastle became the first Australian warship to use an unmanned aerial vehicle and wireless image transfer to support boarding operations.

“Newcastle became the first Australian ship to conduct a deployed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle trial using a catapult-launched ScanEagle,” Newcastle commanding officer Commander Mark Sirois said.

“The ScanEagle allowed us to watch what the crews of suspicious vessels were doing after having recovered our Seahawk helicopter, or to provide coverage while the helicopter was engaged in other tasking.”

The navy said the ScanEagle logged 235 hours of flying time during the deployment.

“A manned aircraft is great because you have people on the spot making decisions, but an unmanned system brings superior endurance,” Commander Sirois said.

Newcastle was also the first ship deployed with an imagery transfer system.

Sailors in the boarding party could take photos with mobile phone-size devices and quickly transfer images back to the ops room via a router on the ship’s boat.

This new solution was much faster than the old method of having camera cards ferried back to the ship.

“It was a deployment of ‘firsts’, but sadly there were a few ‘lasts,” Commander Sirois said.

“Newcastle’s deployment will be the last by an Adelaide class guided missile frigate to the Middle East.”

HMAS Newcastle is scheduled to return home to Sydney in December.

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