GULF OF ADEN – The Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is flying high in support of 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45), and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG).
Scan Eagle is a runway independent, long-endurance, autonomous unmanned aerial system (UAS) designed to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data, battlefield damage assessment and communications relay.
“Scan Eagle is an incredibly diverse, multi-mission asset for the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU team," said Capt. J. Curtis Shaub, commander, Amphibious Squadron (CPR) 1. "Having a rapidly deployable system for over the horizon surveillance has already been invaluable to provide first-look intelligence for counter-piracy and rescue-at-sea missions while in the [U.S.] Central Command area of responsibility. It not only provides tactical ISR to users, it also provides near-real-time ISR to higher headquarters.”
This is Scan Eagle’s first deployment in support of a MEU.
“Having an organic UAS capability gives the MEU eyes out front for hours on end without having to ask somebody to provide it for us,” said Maj. Jeffrey “Murph” McCarthy, 13th MEU UAS detachment officer in charge. “The Marine Corps has been successfully utilizing UAS for years in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and it was just a matter of time before we brought the capability to the MEUs.”
The aircraft is launched from a pneumatic wedge catapult and recovered via a “Skyhook” system, which allows it to be runway independent and operate from forward fields, mobile vehicles or ships.
“It’s a simple system, the whole concept is that you can launch and recover from one point, we don’t need a runway,” said Matthew Nation, a Scan Eagle technician and pilot for Insitu Group aboard Comstock. “Parts are modular, so if something breaks you replace it, and it’s good to go again. It’s very simple, everything is low-maintenance, and it’s engineered very well.”
The guided positioning system-guided UAV can fly above a designated battle space for up to 20 hours and transmit real-time imagery directly to its home link. Its standard sensor is either an inertial stabilized electro-optical (EO) camera or an infrared (IR) camera which allows the operator to easily track both stationery and moving targets.
“A picture says a thousand words and video never shuts up,” said McCarthy. “UAS enhances the situational awareness of the commander, operators, and planners at the various stages of operations.”
The aircraft has a glider airframe that can operate at speeds up to 55 nautical miles per hour with a range of 65 nautical miles and a service ceiling of more than 20,000 feet.
“We’ve been all over the world with this thing,” said Nation. “We’ve quite literally operated in the tropics, the desert, mountainous regions, maritime situations as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. The aircraft’s extended limitations are especially important in places like Afghanistan where it might have to fly as high as 12,000 feet.”
Scan Eagle has flown on more than ten platforms, including amphibious assault ships, amphibious dock landing ships, amphibious transports dock ships, and mark V special operations craft, as well as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Scan Eagle team aboard Comstock is made up of five civilian operators and maintainers, two officers from 13th MEU and two enlisted intelligence specialist petty officers temporarily assigned to 13th MEU as image analysts from the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Comstock is underway supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
BOXARG consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) and Comstock. The ARG is comprised of more than 4,000 personnel with more than 1,800 Sailors and 2,200 embarked Marines from 13th MEU.
Other elements of BOXARG include Fleet Surgical Team 3, Tactical Air Control Squadron 11, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, Det. 5, Assault Craft Unit 1, Det. C, Assault Craft Unit 5, Det. C and Beach Master Unit 1, Det. E.