UAV manufacturers are off to a busy 2017, with branches of the US Armed forces commissioning new orders and sustainment works. Washington firm Insitu has been contracted $70 million for the provision of
six additional Lot I RQ-21A Blackjack
unmanned aircraft systems to the Navy, comprised of unmanned aircraft, ground control stations, multi-mission plug-and-play payloads, and additional supporting equipment. The Army, meanwhile, has contracted Textron to perform sustainment services
for the Army's RQ-7 Shadow
tactical unmanned aircraft system. Valued at $ 206 million, Textron will provide engineering, logistics, field service operations, depot materiel repair and post-production software support to the Army's fleet of 117 Shadow aircraft.
ScanEagle’s base Insight UAV platform was originally developed by Washington state’s Insitu, Inc. to track dolphins and tuna from fishing boats, in order to ensure that the fish you buy in supermarkets is “dolphin-safe”. It turns out that the same characteristics needed by fishing boats (able to handle salt water environments, low infrastructure launch and recovery, small size, 20-hour long endurance, automated flight patterns) are equally important for naval operations from larger vessels, and for battlefield surveillance. A partnership with Boeing took ScanEagle to market in those fields, and the USMC’s initial buy in 2004 was the beginning of a market-leading position in its niche.
This article covers recent developments with the ScanEagle UAV system, which is quickly evolving into a mainstay with the US Navy and its allies. Incumbency doesn’t last long in the fast-changing world of UAVs, though. Insitu’s own RQ-21 Integrator is looking to push the ScanEagle aside, and new multiple-award contracts in the USA are creating opportunities for other competitors. Can Insitu’s original stay strong?