Poland is buying the American ScanEagle UAV, the first export customer for this aircraft. For the past six years, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have been using and perfecting this lightweight UAV, equipped with high resolution day and night video cameras. Scan Eagle was originally designed to assist for fishing boats finding schools of tuna. Over the last seven years, Scan Eagle UAVs have spent over 20,000 hours in the air. About two thirds of this was for U.S. Marine Corps units. But the navy was also encouraged by its tests, enough so to equip ships operating off the Somali coast, to fight piracy.
The ScanEagle UAV weighs 18 kg (40 pounds), has a ten foot (three meter) wingspan and uses a new video technology (PixonVision), that provides greater resolution than other video cameras. This makes it easier for the UAV, flying over the ocean, to spot the small speed boats that the pirates use to stalk, attack and board merchant ships.
The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight, and fly as high as 5,200 meters (16,000 feet). The aircraft carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. The UAV can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the controller. The ScanEagle is launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a fifty foot pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship. Each ScanEagle costs about $100,000, and is still widely used by commercial fishing, ocean survey and research ships.
Four years ago, Poland bought over a hundred American RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAVs, enough to equip each army combat brigade with a few of them. Each Shadow weighs 159 kg (350 pound) and costs $500,000. It can stay in the air up to eight hours per sortie. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 4,900 meters (15,000 feet), the Shadow can thus go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 3,200 meters/10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire. The Shadow UAVs can carry 25.5 kg (56 pounds) of equipment, is 3.5 meters/11 feet long and has a wingspan of 4.1 meters/12.75 feet. The Shadow has a range of about 50 kilometers.