The US government is procuring 8 ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in support of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Insitu Inc. has been awarded
a contract valued at over $47 million. ScanEagle’s
base Insight UAV platform was originally developed by Washington state’s Insitu, Inc. to track dolphins and tuna from fishing boats. Its characteristics make it equally suitable for naval operations and for battlefield surveillance. A partnership with Boeing took ScanEagle to the defense market. The ScanEagle is launched by catapult, and autonomously recovered using a folding “skyhook” and catch-line. These UAVs fill a niche between hand-launched mini-UAVs like Aerovironment’s RQ-11 Raven
and runway-capable tactical UAVs like Textron’s RQ-7 Shadow
. The drone can be modified to speciality variants, from sniper locator, to bio-warfare agent detection. The ScanEagle is currently in service in Canada, Malaysia, Colombia, Iraq, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Singapore. The deal also includes spares, other support equipment, 17 field services representatives plus site surveys and activation teams. The majority of work (95%) will be performed in Afghanistan with the remaining 5% being completed in Bingen, Washington. Work is scheduled for completion in March 2019.
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?