Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2018-02-01

Insitu UAS: Modular, Runway Independent, Versatile

Insitu’s family of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operate successfully in some of the most extreme environments in the world, on land or at sea, delivering the highest quality information possible. From the tropics to the desert, from the ocean to the mountains, Insitu UAS are in place and customizable to meet your needs, no matter the location or conditions. Nation Shield spoke to Insitu Vice President and General Manager, Insitu Defense, Donald Williamson to find out why Insitu is the preferred choice for many countries from America to Asia including the Middle East. Excerpts:
 
 
By Sakha Pramod
 
What is the Insitu business vision?
Our company’s vision is to enable decision-making superiority. With that objective, we pioneer and innovate all that we do so that we positively impact people’s lives and change the course of history. When we achieve decision-making superiority, we’re saving lives, we’re saving resources and we’re providing the value that unmanned systems are intended to deliver.
 
You have been directly involved in ScanEagle and Integrator/Blackjack programs. What is the update on both?
Last year we celebrated a major milestone when our platforms collectively reached more than one million operational hours in service to our global customers, and we began this year with another significant event by achieving 50,000 flight hours operating in a maritime environment. We continuously build upon this collective experience and leverage it as we innovate new and better ways to deliver the critical information our customers need to make better decisions.

Recently we introduced a new heavy fuel engine for ScanEagle that was purposely designed for small UAVs that began flying operationally in December. We’re also continuing to pursue fuel cell propulsion technology, and in December of 2017 issued a development contract to our supplier, Protonex, to further the enhancement of the fuel cell propulsion system for ScanEagle. Our latest ScanEagle also features upgraded avionics and increased payload capability.
 
RQ-21A Blackjack, our program with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, just completed its third Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployment with three additional MEUs planned for 2018. This program has surpassed 6,000 flight hours and technology advances to the platform this year will include propulsion enhancements and a laser designator that is currently in development. Integrator, the commercial variant of Blackjack, will see these same advancements, as well as additional turret improvements and payload options that we are developing with our network of payload partners

 
Your family of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operates successfully in some of the most extreme environments in the world. How are they superior to their peers?
Our platforms are modular, runway independent and capable of carrying a variety of ISR payloads. Runway independence is important because our systems serve defense and commercial customers in both land and maritime environments, and many of these areas of operation lack airstrips. And most importantly, our runway independence allows for operations in austere and challenging environments, including environments with high density altitudes. Additionally, Integrator and Blackjack have significantly larger payload capacity and power than other small UAS currently being used in theatres of operation.

The baseline configuration for these systems includes electro-optic and mid-wave infrared sensors with a laser rangefinder and infrared marker, and their modular design helps our customers optimize their operations in any environment with a number of payload options. Lastly, we operate as a service, which means our people maintain and operate our UAS in support of our customers. This enables us to introduce new technologies on a recurring basis to the benefit of our end users.
 
Insitu UAS have been operating in the Middle East. Can you specify the countries of operation and the tasks they perform?
Insitu is very active in the Middle East supporting multiple customers in the defense sector. In addition, we are pursuing opportunities in the civil and commercial sectors with a focus on the oil and gas industries. At the request of our customers, we are unable to discuss specifics related to each country we serve. 
 
Can Insitu UAS be customized to suit the requirements of the clients?
Yes. ScanEagle and Integrator/Blackjack were both designed to be a modular, flexible and versatile solution for delivering information and we’re finding this is increasingly important as we move into commercial spaces that require new types of payloads that are very different from those in service with our military customers. We’re able to customize our aircraft with a variety of multi-INT payloads to meet our customers’ operational needs, and continue to grow our capabilities in passive intelligence collection such as ELINT or SIGINT.
 
Can you elaborate on your strength in agile small tactical unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance category?
Our focus on the international market has fueled much of our growth as a company and we currently support more than 25 countries around the world. That said, we will continue to grow where we excel, which is ISR through full-motion video collection and dissemination. We’ve found that the, commercially owned-and-operated ISR model works well for unmanned systems because many customers see it as an advantage to let industry set the pace of technology maturation without investing in platforms. At this time we also have more than 300 UAS operators deployed with our customers in both defense and commercial environments. In doing so, our people are working side-by-side with the men and women on the front lines, creating what I feel is our biggest strength. 
 
After you took over what were Insitu’s important foreign military sales?
Insitu has multiple contracts with the US government supporting 18 international ScanEagle partners. Several of these partner nations are located within the GCC. Other countries, some from NATO and some from the GCC, have submitted letters of request (LOR) or are otherwise engaged with the US government about the possibility of procuring RQ-21A Blackjack via FMS. Overall we’re on a very positive trajectory for FMS business and I would encourage anyone who would like to learn more about it to come to our stand at UMEX (03-A04) where we will provide details on a RQ-21A FMS Workshop we’re hosting with Naval Air Systems Command.
 
What about your operations in oil and gas?
In November, Insitu received a multi-year contract with Shell’s Queensland Gas Company (QGC) to fly over 700,000 hectares. BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) to conduct wellhead and critical infrastructure inspections. Introducing technology such as ScanEagle, as part of our INEXA Solutions offerings, into the inspection of wells and other infrastructure hardware components (tanks, valves, floats, vents, pipes, etc.) is the next phase in what is increasingly becoming a largely automated process, saving hundreds of thousands of kilometers of driving for QGC inspection crews.

ScanEagle is also able to facilitate the assessment of the environmental surroundings of the infrastructure (fencing structure integrity, road subsidence/flooding/access, erosion, livestock and vegetation encroachment), even after significant weather events, and enables crews to respond immediately to operational contingencies, enabling faster, safer assessment and resolution. Again, anyone who would like to learn more about our commercial capabilities should come to our stand at UMEX (03-A04) where we will provide details on an Oil and Gas Workshop we’re hosting during the show.
 
In what way can Insitu technology capabilities help in railroad and utilities?
By flying up to 24 hours at speeds up to 80 knots, Insitu’s unmanned aircraft can conduct real-time track inspections in isolated areas, feeding the information to inspectors on the ground. This enhances the railroad’s infrastructure safety by enabling crews to quickly respond to necessary repairs or vegetation encroachment, and helps to keep employees safe in harsh, extreme or dangerous areas. The same is true for utilities and critical infrastructure. 
 

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