July 11, 2013:
The British Royal Navy is equipping its warships (and some support vessels) with American Scan Eagle UAVs. Apparently noting the growing use of Scan Eagle by the American fleet (and more expensive helicopter type UAVs by the Chinese), the British selected the inexpensive and proven Scan Eagle. The procurement deal is worth $46 million.
Scan Eagle weighs 19 kg (40 pounds), has a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wingspan, and uses day and night video cameras. On ships it uses a catapult for launch and is landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a 16 meter (fifty foot) pole. This was recently replaced with the more compact CLRE (Compact Launch and Recovery System). On land Scan Eagle can land on any flat, solid surface.
The Scan Eagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight and fly as high as 5 kilometers (16,000 feet). Scan Eagles cruising speed is 110 kilometers an hour and can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the ground controller. Scan Eagle carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. Scan Eagle has been flying for over a decade now and has been in military service since 2005.
The U.S. Navy has, in the meantime, developed a successor to the Scan Eagle. Production has begun for the RQ-21A Integrator UAV. The U.S. Navy and Marines, as well as the Dutch Navy, have ordered the 55 kg (121 pound) UAV, which has a 4.9 meter (16 foot) wingspan and can fly as high as 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) at a cruise speed of 100 kilometers an hour. RQ-21A can stay in the air up to 24 hours and can carry a payload of 23 kg (50 pounds). It uses the same takeoff and landing equipment as the Scan Eagle. RQ-21A also uses many of the Scan Eagle sensors, in addition to new ones that were too heavy for Scan Eagle. The additional weight of the RQ-21A makes it more stable in bad weather or windy conditions.
The marines have ordered 32 systems (with five UAVs each), while the navy is getting four, and the Dutch are getting five systems (which include ground controllers and maintenance gear). The first RQ-21As are expected to enter service next year.