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A number of upgrades to UK-operated unmanned aerial systems were demonstrated at the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior exercise this month. Boeing and Thales have pitched upgrades to the ScanEagle and Watchkeeper UAVs respectively, which they hope will result in some interest.

Boeing’s Insitu subsidiary has presented a dual sensor configuration of the ScanEagle for the exercise. This takes the RN’s baseline UAV with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor and adds a visual detection and ranging (ViDAR) search capability to the payload.

Acknowledging that the RN’s feedback on the operation of ScanEagle from its ships claimed there was a lack of search function in the system, Insitu has presented the ViDAR payload in response, Faris Bashoo, maritime unmanned systems project manager at Boeing, tells FlightGlobal.

“What we are bringing is a solution to requirements that the navy issued about a year after it started operating [ScanEagle],” Bashoo says, noting that the search capability was a key missing requirement.

The ViDAR function carries out a wide area search of a body of water, identifies possible targets, and cues the EO/IR sensor to carry out further search of the area while it returns to wide area surveillance.

ScanEagle is operated by the navy on a contractor-owned, contractor-operated (COCO) basis, with the current contract expected to end in 2017.

According to FlightGlobal, the US Navy has also been demonstrating the RQ-21A Blackjack UAV, which is a derivative of ScanEagle, during the exercise.

Regarding Camcopter, which Boeing is involved in alongside manufacturer Schiebel, Bashoo says that in 2015 the navy explored the rotary-wing UAV, and is considering running a six-month capability concept demonstration with the system.

“There are lots of expressions of interest, but finding funding is more difficult,” Bashoo notes. “We are hoping that after Unmanned Warrior there will be funding found.”

The British Army’s WK450 Watchkeeper UAV has been demonstrated to the RN for the first time, including the inaugural use of a maritime radar capability. It carried Thales’s I-Master radar, and the company is using the exercise to demonstrate its ability to operate over both land and sea.

The launch of Watchkeeper was controlled from a land-based ground control station, with its sensors controlled from the SD Northern River, where the exercise’s Acer combat management system had been installed.

The ability of the UAV to hand over control from land to sea was a key aim, Nick Miller, Thales’s business director for unmanned systems, tells Flight Global, and demonstrates to the Ministry of Defence what it could potentially do with its future 54-strong fleet of Watchkeepers.

Defenseworld.net reported that the Uk navy transported a REMUS 600 unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) to take part in the exercise. The REMUS 600 AUV / marine robot was designed to support the navy’s increasing need for operations that require extended endurance, increased payload capacity, and greater operating depth. It boasts the same software and electronic subsystems found in REMUS 100 AUV, with a depth rating and increased capabilities.