The Royal Navy Stands Up Its First RPA Unit


2014-12-03 According to a BBC news story, the Royal Navy’s first squadron of unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, has been formed in Cornwall.

The 700X Naval Air Squadron has been established at RNAS Culdrose, Helston, to fly the pilotless aircraft.

The Royal Navy said the establishment of the new squadron would pave the way for increased use of similar aircraft in the future.

Scan Eagle on Operations. Credit: UK MOD
Scan Eagle on Operations. Credit: UK MOD

The pilotless ScanEagle aircraft can stay in the air for 18 hours and beam video into a ship’s operation room.

Lt Cdr Al Rogers, commanding officer of 700X Naval Air Squadron said: “This is a fantastic job. It’s the Fleet Air Arm’s first step into the world of remotely piloted air systems and we are looking to develop our tactics and embrace this new technology ensuring the Royal Navy remains a world leader in aviation at sea – whether manned or unmanned.”

The aircraft is launched by a catapult on a 14ft (4.27m) ramp.

Since being introduced to ships deployed east of Suez at the beginning of 2014, ScanEagle has clocked up nearly 1,500 hours on missions.

It was brought in to provide eyes for the Royal Navy’s minehunting force in the Gulf, but has been used in counter-piracy and counter-smuggling operations thanks to its ability to monitor boarding operation or suspicious vessels.

The new squadron will act as parent unit for the flights deployed on Royal Navy vessels and will try out any future unmanned aircraft which the Fleet Air Arm decides to invest in.

The 700X Naval Air Squadron will be one of the smallest units in the Royal Navy with 12 personnel but that number could double by the end of 2015.

The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle is currently being flown from HMS Kent, which has just arrived in the Arabian Sea to begin counter-piracy patrols.

Last year, the Royal Navy announced its acquisition of the Scan Eagle, a plane operated by both the USN and USMC at sea.

In a story published on June 20, 2013, the Royal Navy indicated that:

The Royal Navy is to get its first unmanned ‘eye in the sky’ in a £30m deal to buy the ScanEagle reconnaissance aircraft.

The pilotless plane has been used by the US Navy over the past decade and has been trialled by the Royal Navy.

 Royal Navy warships are to get their first ‘eye in the sky’ pilotless reconnaissance aircraft in a £30m deal.

Whitehall is investing in the small, unarmed ScanEagle robot planes which can be launched from the flight decks of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels day or night to gather intelligence and survey the wider area of operations.

The aircraft has been used extensively by the Americans for the past decade – and was trialled aboard frigate HMS Sutherland back in 2006.

Now the MOD is buying the small plane to complement the existing intelligence, surveillance and econnaissance assets used on Royal Navy operations such as helicopters and long-range radar.

The small drone – the official military terminology is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV – has a wingspan of just over three metres (10ft) and weighs 22kg (48lbs) and is launched from a pneumatic catapult.

Flying at about 60 knots, it is piloted by a specialist team on board the ship who will plan the ScanEagle’s missions, control its flights and monitor and analyse the information it gathers using its state of the art sensors, including a video or infra red camera, beaming back ‘real-time’ high resolution images via a satellite link.

For earlier pieces on Scan Eagle see the following:

The video above shows the Scan Eagle in flight over Afghanistan.