Last week ADM reported the RAN had completed its operational evaluation of the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during HMAS Newcastle’s deployment to the Middle East as part of Operation Manitou.
What wasn’t known at the time was that the level of integration achieved between the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle and the guided missile frigate’s Thales-developed Australian Distributed Architecture Combat System (ADACS) may have been a world first.
“To the best of our knowledge, no-one else has yet had a UAV integrated into a combat system effectively as a shipboard organic sensor,” Damien Elford, director Above Water Systems at Thales Australia commented.
“Previous trials enable operators to see the live video and that’s very exciting, but that’s the relatively easy bit.”
ScanEagle’s proprietary control station and microwave line-of-sight uplinks and downlinks were used during the evaluation for flight controls and streaming position and sensor data to the host ship.
“The original plan was to have ScanEagle as a standalone system, with streaming video viewed at the control station in the hangar and the operations room advised by voice of developments – that was the extent of it,” Elford said. “But we ran the video cable up into the ops room so the video could be displayed on all the consoles.”
“Importantly, we also achieved digital integration via ADACS, so the track information reported from ScanEagle’s sensors was taken into the C² systems. Additionally, the UAV was reporting its own position so we could report both out on the datalinks to the task group for greater situational awareness.”
Elford said the team was able to task ScanEagle dynamically; for instance by programming waypoints or loitering positions while the vehicle was in the air, either with or without a man-in-the-loop.
Integration development was undertaken at the Thales facility in Leederville near Perth, facilitated by cooperation with Insitu Pacific and with the Navy Unmanned Aircraft System Unit (NUASU).
“It was on a fortuitous visit by Navy and CASG to the Thales site that they realised we had undertaken significant R&D work that was able to be quickly leveraged to deliver the capability in a very short period of time,” Elford explained.
“We undertook the architecture of how we’re progressing UAV integration in a fairly generic fashion, we’ve been agnostic on the platform and concentrated on how to make the most of the onboard sensors.”
The one exception was the inclusion of the Thales Fulmar fixed wing mini-UAV in the Sea 129 Phase 5 Stage 1 Request for Information (RfI) for a maritime tactical unmanned air system to be operated by the RAN’s forthcoming offshore patrol vessels. The RfI closed in July.
Thales Australia had also undertaken integration work with the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter UAV, two systems of which have recently been acquired by the RAN as part of its continuing evaluation of rotary wing versus fixed wing UAVs.
“If somebody asked ‘can you plug a Schiebel into ADACS?’ Thales would respond that we’ve already got the code there, it just needs some final testing,” Elford commented.