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Aircraft For Little Ships
by James Dunnigan
November 18, 2012

The U.S. Navy has developed a more compact system for operating Scan Eagle UAVs from ships. The CLRE (Compact Launch and Recovery System) allows the fixed wing Scan Eagle to be launched via a blast of compressed air and landed via hooks on the wings that catch a wire on the ship.

Something like CLRE was needed because export customers want to use Scan Eagle on smaller and smaller ships. For example, earlier this year Singapore began operating Scan Eagle UAVs from their 600 ton Victory class corvettes. This was impressive because a Scan Eagle weighs 19 kg (40 pounds), has a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wingspan, and uses day and night video cameras and, before CLRE, required a sizable catapult for launch. Potential customers want a small UAV that can search for small speed boats or individual vehicles. CLRE is smaller and more versatile than the current separate launch and landing systems and can be operated on smaller ships than the current system.

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 Eagle cruising speed is 110 kilometers an hour. 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 ground controller. The Scan Eagle is currently launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a 16 meter (fifty foot) pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship. Each Scan Eagle costs about $100,000 and is still widely used by commercial fishing, ocean survey, and research ships as well as military organizations in several countries. Scan Eagle has been flying for about a decade now and has been in military service since 2005.

The six Victory class Singapore corvettes entered service in the late 1980s. The crew of 49 operates navigation and search radar, as well as sonar. The ships are armed with a 76mm cannon, eight anti-ship missiles, 16 short range anti-aircraft missiles, six anti-submarine torpedoes, and four 12.7mm machine-guns. Max speed is 69 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 33 kilometers an hour. Endurance is about nine days (at cruising speed). Singapore is an island nation consisting of the city of Singapore. So ships with long range are not necessary. The addition of the Scan Eagle makes these corvettes even more formidable for such small ships. Other nations want the same advantages but using smaller ships than the Victory class corvettes.

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