U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has contracted to lease over a hundred of ScanEagle UAVs from Boeing Corporation. The five year contract could be worth up to $250 million, if all options are exercised.
Over the last six years, these Scan Eagle UAVs have spent over 50,000 hours in the air, and flown nearly 5,000 sorties. About two thirds of this was for U.S. Marine Corps units. But the U.S. Navy has recently tested Scan Eagle successfully off the Somali coast on the destroyer USS Mahan, one of the ships serving with Task Force 151 (the anti-piracy patrol).
The ScanEagle UAV weighs 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 land or water, to spot the small speed boats, or individual vehicles.
The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight, and fly as high as 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 ground 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. SOCOM has been leasing ScanEagle systems for several years now, and was satisfied enough with them to rent a whole lot more. SOCOM has used ScanEagle worldwide, wherever they have operators in need of aerial reconnaissance, which you can get in a small (a few hundred pounds) with a ScanEagle system quietly flown in.