US delivers Philippine navy’s first ‘eye-in-the-sky’ surveillance system

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US Embassy acting deputy chief of mission, Kimberly Kelly, and the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) representatives at the turnover of the ScanEagle UAS. (Photo courtesy: Philippine Navy)

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MANILA: The Philippine Navy on Wednesday received its first advanced fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) from the US to beef up its surveillance capabilities, officials said.

The US Embassy in Manila’s acting deputy chief of mission, Kimberly Kelly, and representatives from the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) handed over the $14.79 million ScanEagle UAS to Filipino navy commander Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, during a ceremony at the Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point in Cavite.

The ScanEagle system comprises eight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), two launchers, a skyhook, and ground control station.

It will provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to the Philippine fleet’s 71st Maritime Unmanned Aerial Reconnaissance Squadron (71 MUARS), increasing the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ “maritime domain awareness and border security capabilities.”

Kelly said: “Transferring the ScanEagle system for operation ... represents the steadfast commitment by the US to our partners in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

AFP deputy chief of staff, Vice Admiral Erick Kagaoan, who represented Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the handover ceremony, said: “This new asset will complement the same kind being operated by the (Philippine Air Force) 300th Air Intelligence and Security Wing at the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, which is very close to the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (Philippine government-designated eastern parts of the South China Sea) that need our consistent attention.”

The ScanEagle UAS is a product of Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of the Boeing company. It is a small, long-endurance UAV that can provide the navy with real-time coverage and can be launched from both land and sea.

Officials said that with its longer range and prolonged flight time, the system will improve the Philippine Navy ships’ coverage in protecting the country’s maritime waters, acting as the “eye in the sky.” It would also be useful during humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations, and search and rescue missions, they added.

“The ScanEagle UAS will greatly aid our organization in the effective assessment of the subject areas, timely decision-making, and prompt action in the conduct of territorial defense, internal security operations, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response,” said Philippine Fleet Commander Loumer Bernabe.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the ceremony, Bacordo said that the ScanEagle UAS would “greatly enhance” the navy’s capabilities in conducting missions at sea. “Whatever missions we were capable of before, with this system it will expand the coverage of all these missions ... by more than five times.”

He added that in times of calamities or disasters, the ScanEagle could be used for rapid damage assessment.

“With this system, we can have it airborne and gather rapid damage and ready analysis so that our HADR responders can quickly proceed to the areas where they are most needed,” Bacordo said.

With the ScanEagle in their inventory, Bacordo added that the navy would now have another option – on top of its helicopters and radar systems – to expand its patrol coverage.

“In the area of territorial defense, it will expand our horizon. Let’s say if one ship can patrol a certain area in 24 hours, with this system we can cover that same area may be in just about four hours instead of the usual 24-hour patrols,” he said.

Bacordo pointed out that data from the ScanEagle was as reliable as that taken from the navy’s existing electro-optical systems, radars, and surveillance conducted by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.

The ScanEagle UAV and its associated equipment were acquired through the Maritime Security Initiative Program of the US based on a request lodged by the navy in 2017 and formalized in February 2019, after a series of dialogues with the JUSMAG-Philippines.

America has always provided the AFP with grant assistance and expedited sales of arms and munitions to support its modernization goals and urgent maritime security, counterterrorism, and humanitarian aid and disaster relief requirements.

“The Philippines is by far the largest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2015, the US has delivered more than $650 million worth of planes, ships, armored vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment to the Philippines, while training side-by-side with our Filipino allies,” the US embassy said in a statement.

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