RAN conducts first operational manned-unmanned teaming

ScanEagle is launched from the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle in the Middle East region.
ScanEagle being launched from the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle. (Defence)

Adelaide class frigate HMAS Newcastle has conducted the Royal Australian Navy’s first simultaneous operations of manned and unmanned aircraft during the ship’s current deployment to the Middle East on Operation MANITOU.

The frigate’s MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopter and the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle were employed on concurrent surface search sorties in the Gulf of Oman in September in support of the US 5th Fleet, Defence stated on October 12.

HMAS Newcastle has four Insitu 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 the SEA 129 project.

“The cooperative employment of both aviation platforms allows Newcastle to effectively conduct wide-area search and persistent surveillance by employing the appropriate asset,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Mark Sirois.

As of late September, the ScanEagle had flown 140 hours over 29 OPEVAL sorties.

ScanEagle is fully integrated into the ship’s combat system, enabling live streaming of imagery to the operations room for analysis and exploitation.

During the manned-unmanned teaming sortie, the ScanEagle was equipped with a ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging) airborne persistent wide-area maritime search system to automatically detect surface contacts, increasing operator situational awareness and search capacity.

Due to the longer endurance of the ScanEagle, and a need to ensure safe recovery of the manned aircraft to the single flight deck, the Romeo helicopter was operated after the unmanned aircraft’s launch and prior to its recovery.

Petty Officer Aircrew Andrew Watson operates ScanEagle on the flight deck of HMAS Newcastle in the Middle East region.