HMAS Newcastle conducts RAN’s first simultaneous manned, unmanned aircraft ops

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) guided missile frigate, HMAS Newcastle has conducted the service’s first simultaneous ship-borne operations of manned and unmanned aircraft, last month.

The flight operations were conducted during the ship’s current deployment to the Middle East region as part of Operation MANITOU.

The deployment of Newcastle’s MH-60R helicopter and ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) were employed on concurrent surface search tasking in the Gulf of Oman in support of Task Force 50, U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Commanding Officer, Newcastle, Commander Mark Sirois said the integration of manned and unmanned aerial operations offered significant flexibility to Commanders at sea.

“The cooperative employment of both aviation platforms allows Newcastle to effectively conduct wide-area search and persistent surveillance by employing the appropriate asset,” he said.

Newcastle has four ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles (UAV) embarked as part of an Operational Evaluation to support the introduction of Maritime Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems and their teamed employment with manned aircraft.

Newcastle’s Flight Commander, Lieutenant Commander Ian Holmes said the deployment of manned and unmanned systems had seen Newcastle operate at flying stations for extended periods, which was based on comprehensive planning and coordination.

During the manned-unmanned teaming tasking, ScanEagle was equipped with a ‘Video Detection and Ranging’ camera that automatically detects surface contacts, increasing operator situational awareness and search capacity.

Due to the longer endurance of ScanEagle, and a need to ensure safe recovery of the manned aircraft to the single flight deck, the MH-60R was operated after ScanEagle launch and prior to its recovery.

Prior to the simultaneous manned-unmanned operation, the ScanEagle had been used as a platform to conduct surface search and persistent, covert surveillance in support of CTF 150 Maritime Security Operations, including chokepoint transits in the Bab al Mandeb.

As of late September, ScanEagle had flown 140 hours over 29 operational evaluation taskings. The UAS is fully integrated into Newcastle’s combat system, enabling live streaming of ScanEagle imagery to the operations room for analysis and exploitation.

By LEUT Simon Jeffery/ RAN

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