HMAS Newcastle has conducted the RAN’s first simultaneous operations of manned and unmanned aircraft during its current deployment to the Middle East on Operation Manitou.
CAPTION: ScanEagle is launched from the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle, on patrol in the Middle East. Photo by Able Seaman Nicolas Gonzalez.
In September, Newcastle’s MH-60R helicopter and ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) were employed on concurrent surface-search sorties in the Gulf of Oman in support of Task Force 50, US Navy 5th Fleet.
Commanding Officer HMAS Newcastle Commander Mark Sirois said the integration of manned and unmanned aerial operations offered significant flexibility to commanders at sea.
“The cooperative employment of both aviation platforms allows Newcastle to effectively conduct wide-area search and persistent surveillance by employing the appropriate asset,” he said.
“The advent of unmanned aerial systems within the RAN, specifically in Newcastle for Op Manitou, has provided an excellent asset for both the CMF mission and for future use within the RAN.”
Newcastle has four ScanEagle air vehicles embarked as part of an operational evaluation (OPEVAL) to support the introduction of maritime tactical unmanned aerial systems and their teamed employment with manned aircraft, under Project SEA 129.
Flight commander HMAS Newcastle Lieutenant Commander Ian Holmes said the deployment of manned and unmanned systems had seen Newcastle operate at flying stations for extended periods, which was based on comprehensive planning and coordination.
“The successful, concurrent MH-60R – ScanEagle mission was a result of detailed planning and preparation to ensure that the conduct of the flying operations could be supported effectively by Newcastle,” Lieutenant Commander Holmes said.
“This required a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities of both aviation platforms.”
During the manned-unmanned teaming sortie, ScanEagle was equipped with a ‘video detection and ranging’ (ViDAR) camera that automatically detects surface contacts, increasing operator situational awareness and search capacity.
Due to the longer endurance of ScanEagle, and a need to ensure safe recovery of the manned aircraft to the single flight deck, the MH-60R was operated after ScanEagle launch and before its recovery.
Before the simultaneous manned-unmanned operation, the ScanEagle had been used as a platform to conduct surface search and persistent, covert surveillance in support of CTF 150 Maritime Security Operations, including chokepoint transits in the Bab al Mandeb.
The UAS is fully integrated into Newcastle’s combat system, enabling live streaming of ScanEagle imagery to the operations room for analysis and exploitation.
As of late September, ScanEagle had flown 140 hours over 29 OPEVAL sorties, with more missions in October.
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