November’s three-day trial of Sentient Vision’s Kestrel Maritime ViDAR optical detection system aboard a Royal Australian Navy ScanEagle UAV has demonstrated ViDAR’s ability to turn a tactical UAV in to a broad area surveillance asset, capable of covering up to 80 times the previous maritime patrol area in a single sortie.
Flying from HMAS Albatross, near Nowra in New South Wales, the Kestrel ViDAR-equipped Insitu ScanEagle flew a total of 10.5 hours along the coast. The demonstration showed how the ScanEagle could cover an area greater than 13,000 square nautical miles of ocean over a 12- hour mission. On its first flight it successfully detected two Navy vessels positioned for the trial, before going on to also autonomously find smaller targets such as small boats and yachts, a submerged whale, and even an airborne helicopter.
The ViDAR system is a self-contained unit comprising high-resolution digital video cameras and software that analyses the resulting image feed to detect objects against an ocean background. The system autonomously detects, tracks and photographs each contact, transmitting the image in real time to a laptop ground station where operators can then cross-cue the aerial platform’s primary electro-optical sensor to the contact by simply clicking on the image.
ViDAR’s cameras pan through 180 degrees, dramatically increasing the detection area or “swathe” ahead and abeam of the UAV, allowing it to cover an area up to 80 times greater in a single sortie than an identical UAV without the ViDAR system. It can be incorporated in to the ScanEagle as two fuselage slices, ahead of and behind the wing, without affecting the aircraft’s structure, systems or performance.
ViDAR has been tested by the US Coast Guard and selected for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s new Challenger 604 search and rescue aircraft, due to enter service in 2016. Simon Olsen, Sentients’ Director of Business Development, Strategy and Partnerships, said this first operational test of the ViDAR system aboard a working tactical UAV proved the system can effectively turn an aerial platform previously used only for surveillance in to a search asset.
“Until now, through limitations with sensors and bandwidth, small tactical UAVs in the maritime surveillance space have generally only been used to keep an eye on surface contacts detected by other means,” he said. “The key objective with this trial was to demonstrate that ViDAR can provide a detection capability for the ScanEagle, that we could autonomously detect targets in the ocean in real time and provide a cue back to the operator. For the first time we’ve demonstrated that a tactical UAV with ViDAR can search vast expanses of ocean and autonomously detect very small targets at large ranges.”
Targets detected during the trial included a fast boat at a range of 9.1 nautical miles, a frigate at 12.6, an airborne helicopter at 3.5, and even a submerged whale at 1.5 nautical miles.