The French Navy has demonstrated its future SLAMF minehunting system, consisting of an unmanned boat (USV) capable of deploying AUVs (yellow drone visible here) to detect, classify and locate naval mines and another to destroy them. (DGA photo)

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31/07/2019

US Approves $950M Global Hawk Support Package for S. Korea

WASHINGTON --- The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Republic of Korea of Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for RQ-4 Block 30 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPS) for an estimated cost of $950 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on July 29, 2019. The Republic of Korea has requested to purchase Contractor Logistics Support (CLS); program management; training for pilots maintenance, logistics and communications personnel; depot and organizational level maintenance; minor modifications and upgrades; spares and repair/return parts; operational flight support; program analysis; publications and technical documentation; U.S. Government and contractor technical and logistics services; and other related elements of logistics and program support. The total estimated program cost is $950 million. This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by meeting the legitimate security and defense needs of one of the closest allies in the INDOPACOM Theater. The Republic of Korea is one of the major political and economic powers in East Asia and the Western Pacific and a key partner of the United States in ensuring peace and stability in that region. It is vital to U.S. national interests to assist the Republic of Korea in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale will enable the Republic of Korea to sustain and operate its fleet of RQ-4 Block 30 remotely piloted aircraft and will significantly advance U.S. interests in standardization with the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces. The potential sale will further strengthen the interoperability between the United States and the Republic of Korea and ensures the Alliance has a robust intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability on the Korean peninsula. The ROK will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region. The principal contractor will be Northrop Grumman Corporation located in Palmdale, CA. There are no known offset agreements proposed in conjunction with this potential sale. Any offset agreement will be defined in negotiations between the Purchaser and the prime contractor. Implementation of the proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the ROK. There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale. This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded. -ends-
31/07/2019

UK Details Reaper Transition Plan As Protector Advances

LONDON --- The UK is planning to achieve a seamless transition in its delivery of unmanned surveillance services from the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Predator to the company's more capable Protector RG1 by 2024, with flight testing of the new model now gathering pace. General Atomics says a first delivery from a 16-aircraft order of Protectors for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) will be made "in the early 2020s". Wing Commander Judith Graham, the service's programme manager for the Reaper and Protector, says its current assets are scheduled to leave operational use around 2024. "Reaper is an extraordinarily valuable capability for the UK government – we don't want a capability gap," she notes. A phased drawdown of the Reaper force will be managed as the replacement system comes online, with this process to include ending the UK's long-term use of ground-control station (GCS) infrastructure for the current type at the US Air Force's Creech AFB in Nevada. The UK has ordered seven GCS to support operations with the Protector fleet from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. Graham says the new model will provide a "step-change in capability", most notably resulting from the RAF's "ability to certify it for use in UK airspace". The service expects to secure approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority to perform training flights from Waddington in the first half of 2024. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the FlightGlobal website. -ends-
31/07/2019

USAF Tests New Software for Autonomous UAV Flights

EDWARDS AFB, Calif. --- The 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force conducted an autonomous test flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California, July 25. The flight’s mission was to test a software suite designed to make unmanned aerial vehicle flight safer. “What we have here today is a sub-scaled jet-powered aircraft; it’s about 12 feet long and can do about 250 knots,” said Jeff Jessen, Chief Engineer, Emerging Technology Combined Test Force. “Our goal is to verify an autonomy safety net that was developed by John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, called TACE, Testing Autonomy in a Complex Environment." The TACE test is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program. The Skyborg program is a developing software tool that allows engineers and researchers to develop autonomous capabilities. AFRL plans to have Skyborg as an Early Operational Capability as early as 2023. To help meet that requirement, engineers are testing autonomous elements like TACE to provide safety foundations for future tests. The TACE safety net programming sits between a vehicle’s safety critical control system and its mission system. Proven algorithms keep the plane within safe bounds defined before takeoff. Jessen said, the idea is to let the autonomous test aircraft fly itself out of the safety bounds; the TACE program would then take over control of the airplane and take it to a safe point. Skyborg’s TACE complements AFRL’s previous work with artificial intelligence used with programs such as the Automatic Ground and Air Collision Avoidance Systems, which have been proven to have saved lives. Earlier this year, ET-CTF conducted a TACE test on a smaller, lower-performance aircraft. That earlier test proved that the program works on a slower aircraft, one that flew at 30 knots. After today’s test, ET-CTF will eventually equip TACE on even larger, more powerful, full-size aircraft. “Ultimately this is going to be our safety net for future autonomous testing, we hope to be testing autonomy that does air combat-type maneuvers and TACE is fundamental to being able to allow us to do that safely and effectively,” Jessen said. -ends-
29/07/2019

Japanese Navy to Buy 20 Unmanned Helicopters

The government plans to introduce about 20 large, unmanned helicopters to Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and other ships, several government sources said. In response to China’s maritime expansion, the government wants to strengthen its early warning and surveillance activities around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The helicopter model is expected to be selected in fiscal 2022, with the procurement starting in fiscal 2023, the sources said. Early warning and surveillance activities in the East China Sea are currently conducted using MSDF vessels, surveillance helicopters, P-3C surveillance planes and other equipment. …/… The unmanned helicopters would likely be deployed to Izumo- and Hyuga-class destroyers, as well as to a new destroyer with minesweeping capabilities. The MQ-8C Fire Scout is considered the leading candidate. Made by Northrop Grumman Corp. of the United States, the 12.6-meter-long, 2.7-meter-wide unmanned helicopter can detect the movements of ships and other objects from an altitude of about 5,000 meters. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the Japan News website. -ends-
26/07/2019

Four Companies to Compete for $99M US Army UAV Orders

-- Textron, AAI Corp., Hunt Valley, Maryland (W911QY-19-D-0033); -- Arcturus UAV,* Rohnert Park, California (W911QY-19-D-0050); -- Martin UAV,* Plano, Texas (W911QY-19-D-0032); and -- L3 Technologies, Ashburn, Virginia (W911QY19D0051), will compete for each order of the $99,500,000 firm-fixed-price contract for Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems. Bids were solicited via the internet with 11 received. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of July 24, 2022. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -ends-
24/07/2019

UK’S Dstl to Develop Unmanned ‘Loyal Wingmen’ for RAF

A new project to develop a novel unmanned combat aircraft has been announced by the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept looks to offer additional capability, deployed alongside fighter jets like the F-35 and Typhoon – offering increased protection, survivability and information for the manned aircraft - and could even provide an unmanned combat air ‘fleet’ in the future. Specifically, in a break with traditional approaches for combat air systems in the UK, the innovative LANCA concept aims to deliver dramatic reductions in traditional cost and development timeline. Under LANCA, a technology demonstrator project known as ‘Mosquito’ has awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the work, which will produce a preliminary system design for an unmanned air vehicle and assessment of the key risk areas and cost-capability trade-offs for an operational concept. Initial flight test of the demonstrator air vehicle could take place as early as 2022. Phase 1 will include the exploration of novel design, development, prototyping, manufacture, and support, to enable low-cost rapid development and evolution of a potential future unmanned combat air system. Dstl, which provides science and technology for the defence and security of the UK, is delivering the technical oversight, project management, and partnering for Project Mosquito. For Phase 1, contracts were awarded to three teams led by Blue Bear Systems Research Ltd, Boeing Defence UK Ltd, and Callen-Lenz (Team BLACKDAWN partnered with Bombardier Belfast and Northrop Grumman UK Ltd). LANCA originated in 2015 studies by Dstl to understand innovative Combat Air technologies and concepts that might offer radical reductions in cost and development time. Subsequently LANCA was brought into the RAF RCO as part of the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). LANCA aims to explore the utility and feasibility of unmanned capability adjuncts to existing and future Fast Jet aircraft, specifically those that offer substantial reductions in traditional cost and development timelines. Project Mosquito has two planned phases. After the 12-month Phase 1, Phase 2 will select up to two of the Phase 1 solutions to further mature the designs, complete manufacturing of the technology demonstrator and conclude with a limited flight-test programme. The RAF RCO, in partnership with Dstl, is adopting creative approaches to deliver this challenging project. For example, by conducting a competition to access ‘best of breed’, it has enabled non-traditional suppliers to propose their approach to meet the MOD’s ambitious aims. Additionally, subject matter experts within the MOD are assigned as technical partners to each team, supporting industry with technical and operational advice and decisions. This will enhance the opportunity of this game-changing concept in a coherent approach for future combat air systems. -ends-
23/07/2019

Marine Vehicle on USS Boxer Shot Down Iranian Drone

Instead of a using an almost-million-dollar Navy missile, Marines splashed a hostile Iranian drone on Thursday for about the cost of a couple of gallons of gas. During a transit through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf on Thursday, Marines – operating a new electronic warfare system on the deck of USS Boxer (LHD-4) – downed a hostile unmanned aerial vehicle 1,000 yards from the amphibious warship. The new Marine Air Defense Integrated System (MADIS) used is a combination of components that includes electronic jammers, radars and gun systems to take out UAVs. The version of the system aboard Boxer was mounted on an MRZR that was perched on the bow of the ship and was powered by a gasoline electrical generator, according to photos released from the service. The Marine Corps did not immediately respond to a request for additional information on the system. The encounter is the first known kill by a new generation of electronic warfare and directed energy weapons the U.S. has developed over the last decade to handle the daunting problem of how to counter voluminous, low-end threats without resorting wasting high-dollar missiles, naval analyst and retired Navy officer Thomas Callender told USNI News on Friday. In particular, both the Navy and Marines have been concerned about swarms of cheap but lethal unmanned vehicles that could overwhelm a ship or ground unit’s defenses. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the USNI website. -ends-
23/07/2019

Northrop Wins $48M Contracts for MQ-4C Triton Work

-- Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, California, is awarded $33,755,229 for firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order N00019-19-F-0272 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-15-G-0026) in support of the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system. This order procures material kits and retrofit labor to incorporate the Integrated Functional Capability 4.0 configuration into retrofit aircraft and ground segments. Work will be performed in San Diego, California (41.2%); Palmdale, California (30.7%); Waco, Texas (9.9%); Salt Lake City, Utah (2.9%); Newtown, North Dakota (2.5%) Verona, Wisconsin (1.6%); Sterling, Virginia (1.5%); Irvine, California (1%); San Clemente, California (0.7%); and various locations inside and outside the continental U.S. (7.9% and 0.1%, respectively). Work is expected to be completed in January 2022. Fiscal 2019 aircraft procurement (Navy); and fiscal 2018 and 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $33,755,229 are being obligated at time of award, $1,719,061 of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -- Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, California, is awarded $14,187,994 for modification P00037 to a previously awarded fixed-price, incentive-fee contract (N00019-15-C-0002) in support of the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system. This modification incorporates integrated functional capability 4.0 into low-rate initial production Lot 2 Aircraft B12. Work will be performed in Palmdale, California (41.6%); San Diego, California (34.2%); Waco, Texas (5.3%); Verona, Wisconsin (2.4%); Salt Lake City, Utah (1.7%); Irvine, California (1.5%); San Clemente, California (1%); Saint Peters, Missouri (0.7%); Menlo Park, California (0.7%); Ronkonkoma, New York (0.5%); and Grove, Oklahoma (0.5%); and various locations inside and outside the continental U.S. (9.8% and 0.1%, respectively). Work is expected to be completed in November 2021. Fiscal 2017 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $14,187,994 are being obligated at time of award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -ends-
22/07/2019

GA-ASI Teams with Cobham for Protector UAV Support

SAN DIEGO --- General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has reaffirmed its collaboration withCobham Aviation Services UK for through-life support strategies for the Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). First delivery of the GA-ASI-developed RPA to the Royal Air Force (RAF) is expected in the early 2020s. Cobham has been providing technical and maintenance support for the RAF Reaper Ground Control Stations at RAF Waddington since 2015 and were involved in the historic trans-Atlantic flight of GA-ASI’s SkyGuardian, which landed at RAF Fairford in July 2018. Protector RG Mk1 is based on SkyGuardian. “Working with Cobham, we’ve established an excellent support network for the RAF and the Protector RPA,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “We’ve teamed with Cobham to support a number of customers over the years, and we’re excited to continue to work together to develop this long-term through-life sustainment solution for the Protector program. With the RAF Reapers on continued deployed operations we want to ensure a robust and seamless transition from Reaper to Protector.” The support services include developing maintenance strategies that provide lower cost sustainment over the life cycle of the product and providing distribution and other logistical support. GA-ASI and Cobham Aviation Services have had a long-lasting relationship and are well-suited to provide world-class sustainment to the UK Protector programme. Cobham Aviation Services Senior Vice President Paul Armstrong said, “Cobham is proud to be extending its commitment to both General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and to the RAF to provide long-term UK support to the Protector programme.” General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator RPA series and the Lynx Multi-mode Radar. With more than five million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. Cobham offers an innovative range of technologies and services to solve challenging problems in commercial, defence and security markets, from deep space to the depths of the ocean. Cobham Aviation Services UK combines state-of-the-art technology with complex air platforms to deliver customized Operational Readiness Training, Search and Rescue Services, Helicopter Training and Aircraft Engineering and Maintenance. -ends-
18/07/2019

GD, Lockheed Win Contracts for Knifefish Minehunting UUV

Lockheed Martin Corp., Rotary and Mission Systems, Riviera Beach, Florida, is awarded a $9,620,135 cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-17-C-6308) for engineering support services in support of Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) subsystem development. Engineering services will be used to develop and study UUV subsystems and concepts initially developed under the Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) program, including navigational capabilities, autonomy, and payload deployment. Work will be performed in Riviera Beach, Florida, and is expected to be completed by June 2020. Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $3,025,163 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity. -- General Dynamics Missions Systems Inc., McLeansville, North Carolina, is awarded a $9,207,817 cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to previously awarded contract N61331-11-C-0017 for engineering services in support of ongoing development, test, and production of the Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) program, also known as Knifefish. The Knifefish program is an ongoing effort to provide a UUV that will provide persistent mine hunting ability in a contested environment. Engineering services hours are used for a number of efforts, including test and evaluation, engineering change proposal development, and pre-planned product improvement initiatives. Work will be performed in Quincy, Massachusetts (52%); McLeansville, North Carolina (27%); Braintree, Massachusetts (10%); Hanover, Maryland (5%); Reston, Virginia (5%); and Ann Arbor, Michigan (1%), and is expected to be completed by July 2020. Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funding in the amount of $150,000 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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09/05/2018

Will New US Drone Export Policy Hurt the Countries that Buy Them?

There’s a theory that, behind all the curtains and cacophony, that President Trump is a genius. “When Donald Trump described himself as a `very stable genius’, even some of his supporters sniggered,” Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times shortly after the president made the claim in January. “But Mr. Trump has a legitimate claim to three other kinds of `genius’: political genius, instinctive genius and evil genius.” Let’s examine the evidence: The economy is humming, the Islamic State is on the run in Iraq and Syria, and North Korea is on the verge—again!—of pledging to end its nuclear-weapons program. You might want to add to that list his administration’s recent decision to loosen rules on the export of U.S. military drones. “Evil genius,” indeed. Narrow-minded “experts” (here’s looking at me!) have expressed concern that peddling such weapons around the globe isn’t such a good idea. But, tongue perhaps in cheek, the argument can be made that Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration around the planet. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. Spread enough of them around the globe and you’d help ensure U.S. military superiority into the wild blue yonder. Military drones crash much more frequently than military airplanes. Last month, Defense News reported that the U.S. Army, far better trained than most others around the world, has suffered hundreds of drone crashes in recent years. “Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons,” the Washington Post said in 2014. More than 400 of the Pentagon’s 10,000 drones have crashed, the paper added. “Several military drones,” it noted, “have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again.” Talk about the ultimate in stealth aircraft, requiring repeated purchases. Fiendish! Add to that the fact that drones, despite the public perception, are not a cheap way to field an air force. The Air Force, for example, is spending more than $13 billion on MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drones. Winslow Wheeler, a veteran of defense-budget wars on Capitol Hill and the Government Accountability Office (and the former head of our own Center for Defense Information), crunched budget data several years ago to try to compare the cost of Reapers with piloted warplanes. His takeaway: the drone costs at least twice as much to buy, and fly, as warplanes like the F-16 fighter or A-10 attack plane. “Much of those higher costs are driven by the infrastructure needed to operate Reaper, which has an extensive infrastructure on the ground: the Ground Control Stations, satellite link, and the local control unit for take offs and landings,” he concluded. “Most of this support is not analogous to manned aircraft.” Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration worldwide. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. For every “pilot” actually flying a drone, there’s a sensor operator eyeballing what it is seeing in real time, and firing its weapons. There are dozens of maintainers on the ground, keeping the drones flying at remote bases, and keeping their ground stations humming far below, and sometimes far away. Most critically, there are scores of intelligence analysts required to wring from the drones’ deluge of video the scraps of actionable intelligence that is the aircrafts’ reason for being. Drones’ tendency to crash also drives up their cost, both for a drone fleet and for the military supporting it. “The rapid rise in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) employment has been accompanied by increased attention to their high mishap rates which are several orders of magnitude greater than manned aviation,” an Air Force study notes. “Such high rates have negative implications for UAV affordability and mission availability.” Imagine that: foreign nations may have to cut their troops’ rations and bullets to keep their American-made drones airborne. Diabolical! Finally, there are the moral and legal issues associated with using drones against terrorists and the resulting civilian deaths that inevitably occur. The U.S. military is building drones bases around the world and harnessing artificial intelligence to improve the chances that its drones will kill the right people. But those strategies require huge investments that few nations can afford. That means that U.S. drones sold to foreign militaries are likely to kill even more civilians than U.S.-operated drones. An independent outside monitor, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, estimates that U.S. drones strikes have killed as many as 1,569 civilians, including 337 kids. That’s roughly 10 to 15 percent of the total deaths. But the emphasis needs to be on the “roughly”. No one, including the government pulling the trigger, can offer up anything but a crude guess of innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes…is much greater than the average American appreciates,” Stan McChrystal, who ran the war in Afghanistan, said in 2013 once he was out of his U.S. Army general’s uniform. “They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” And drones have other complications that have been on display recently: the White House simply ignored a May 1 deadline, set by President Obama in a 2016 executive order, that requires an annual accounting of U.S.-caused drone killings. The same day, a federal judge questioned the authority of the U.S. to kill Americans abroad, usually via drones. Such vexing issues could tie up at least some punctilious foreign forces eager to try out their new weapons. Nefarious! Drones have a place in warfare, especially when trying to hunt down and kill terrorists. Unlike piloted aircraft, they can loiter far longer than manned aircraft over a suspected lair, looking for “patterns of life” that pinpoint bad guys and lead to their demise with a missile trigger pulled from thousands of miles away. They represent perhaps the Pentagon’s key post-9/11 innovation. "It just clicked: that if we could put a small weapon on this thing, we could do the entire cycle—find a target, kill it and assess it—from the same vehicle," John Jumper, who as an Air Force general is regarded as the godfather of the armed drone, told me shortly after 9/11. But we also have to remember that breakthrough military technologies rarely perform as advertised and have unintended consequences. Some, like manned aircraft, missiles and submarines have been “good” for war-fighting (whatever that means). Others, like aircraft carriers, may be fading into history as their utility is threatened by increasingly sophisticated missiles and subs. Take the atom, for instance, which had been ignored as a weapon until World War II broke out. Splitting it was designed to assure U.S. military pre-eminence, but that lasted only until the Soviet Union came up with its own A-bomb four years later. Then there was the boneheaded U.S. Army Davy Crockett battlefield nuclear weapon and harebrained U.S. Air Force schemes to develop nuclear-powered warplanes. The most deadly threats to U.S. security today are atomic arms, whether owned by Russia or China, Iran or North Korea. Nuclear weapons, in some ways, have become more trouble than they’re worth. Trump is unlikely to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the threat of atomic war on the Korean peninsula, as South Korean president Moon Jae-in of South Korea suggested April 30. But just maybe he’ll pocket it for his devilishly-clever “drones for peace” campaign. -ends-
17/04/2018

The US Navy’s Combat Drone Becomes a Flying Gas Station

When it comes to technology, the Pentagon is always pushing for more—more reach, more destruction, more dollars. That’s what makes the Navy’s quest for its first-ever aircraft-carrier-based drone unusual: what started out as a push for an unmanned attack drone evolved into a more modest goal of a spy drone, before surrendering to simplicity and deciding the drone’s mission would be to supply fuel to thirsty, and manned, Navy fighters. In the vast reaches of the world’s oceans, boosting your attack planes’ range by about 50 percent, to 700 miles or so, may not seem like much (it’s 6,000 miles from San Francisco to Beijing, after all). But if this aerial robot refueler can keep the Navy’s crown jewels—its aircraft carriers—beyond the reach of China’s land-based DF-21 carrier-killing missiles, it’s worth its weight in gold. That, in a nutshell, is why the Navy wants to buy pilotless MQ-25 aerial tankers. The tale of the MQ-25 Stingray tells us a lot about risk, and how much the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon are willing to take these days. It illuminates the basic challenge of military technology: leapfrog everybody else, with all the risk that entails? Or take the easier path, and risk being left behind? To put it gently, not all naval experts agree with the Navy’s choice. “We don’t need a mission tanker,” says Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain who now directs the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “We need an aircraft that can launch from outside the enemy’s weapons range and hit enemy targets.” Perhaps. But for those in the Navy who like the status quo, emasculating the drone does three critical things: -- It gives the Navy’s notoriously short-range F-18s the ability to fly deeper into harm’s way, helping to preserve their utility. -- It allows the Navy’s carriers to stay beyond a foe’s anti-ship missiles, prolonging their life, too. -- Finally, declawing the drone removes a threat to continued Navy funding for its manned F-18 and F-35 fighters, as well as an F-18 successor dubbed the F/A-XX. The Navy’s carrier-based warplanes find themselves in a bit of a pickle. About one of every four carrier-based F-18s is now burning through flight hours serving as a Rube Goldberg tanker for the other three. It’s kind of like dedicating that Tesla roadster in your driveway to ferrying gasoline in those little red plastic tanks for your riding lawnmower. This “buddy tanking” is wearing out F-18s well ahead of schedule, and removing those F-18 tankers from the carrier’s offensive punch. The only aerial tankers the Navy has to extend the range of its F-18 fighters are other F-18 fighters. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James R. Evans) While the Navy says the non-stealthy MQ-25 will eventually have minor spy-and-strike capabilities, that’s more of a sop to those bean-counters who fetishize multi-mission weapons (which is what the “M” in MQ-25 stands for; the “Q” stands for unmanned). The Navy plans to train pilots from its F-18s, F-35s and other aircraft to control the drones from the carriers. Beyond extending the F-18s’ range, they’ll be used to refuel returning fighters as they await their turn to land on their sometimes-congested flattops (because when they run out of gas, the pilot bails out and Davy Jones’ hangar gains a fine example of American technology). Three companies are vying for the contract—Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed—and the Navy hopes to pick a winner later this year. It wants to spend $719 million developing the MQ-25 in 2019, but says it can’t predict the total cost of its goal of 72 MQ-25s until it selects a contractor (informal estimates are around $100 million each, or $7.2 billion for the entire buy). The drone is slated to begin operating in the fleet in 2026. The Navy’s drone history is long and convoluted. The service launched its pilotless program in 1999, with help from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This Navy-Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, which flew for the first time in 2003, was designed to designate targets for follow-on piloted aircraft to attack. But then the Pentagon ordered the Navy and DARPA to work with the Air Force to develop the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program, which called for drones to attack targets deep inside hostile territory. But the Defense Department scrapped that program in 2006. It told a happy Air Force to develop a new manned bomber instead. The Navy was ordered to “develop an unmanned longer-range carrier-based aircraft capable of being air-refueled to provide greater standoff capability, to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence.” That became the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System, which led to the nifty Northrop X-47B, which made a series of historic carrier takeoffs and landings in 2013. But the Pentagon killed that program in 2016 after spending $1.4 billion on it because of—get this—a lack of money. A pair of former Pentagon officials said the decision represented “strategic malpractice of the highest order.” So the Navy began developing the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system—UCLASS—which was intended to be a spy drone for friendly skies. But two years ago it trimmed its sails on even that scaled-back mission, switching its efforts to the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System. That has become the program now known as the MQ-25 Stingray. Northrop, with all of that X-47B drone cred under its belt, bailed out of the MQ-25 competition last fall, apparently after it concluded that its X-47B couldn’t be efficiently retooled into the more modest flying filling station. “Despite 15 years of research and development…and clear guidance from the Secretary of Defense and Congress, the Navy is reluctant to embrace the innovation that a fully-capable unmanned strike aircraft could bring to naval forces,” a pair of Air Force procurement officials has written. The sea service, they added, “needs a much stronger internal [drone] advocate to lead the program through development and initial operational capability if the aircraft carrier is to avoid obsolescence in the coming decades.” The Air Force, of course, is not a disinterested observer when it comes to the future of aircraft carriers. Its boosters tend to think land-based Air Force warplanes make more sense. But, not surprisingly, they’re not alone in their assessment of the future of aircraft carriers. The Chinese are keen to modify their carrier-killing DF-21 missile so that it can be launched from a land-based bomber. If they can do it, the Chinese could emasculate the U.S. Navy’s carrier fleet overnight, with or without MQ-25s aboard. -ends-
28/07/2017

Autonomous Military Drones: No Longer Science Fiction

The possibility of life-or-death decisions someday being taken by machines not under the direct control of humans needs to be taken seriously. Over the last few years we have seen a rapid development in the field of drone technology, with an ever-increasing degree of autonomy. While no approved autonomous drone systems are operational, as far as we know, the technology is being tested and developed. Some see the new opportunities and potential benefits of using autonomous drones, others consider the development and use of such technology as inherently immoral. Influential people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak have already urged a ban on warfare using autonomous weapons or artificial intelligence. So, where do we stand, and what are the main legal and ethical issues? Towards autonomous drones As yet, there is no agreed or legal definition of the term "autonomous drones". Industry uses the “autonomy” label extensively, as it gives an impression of very modern and advanced technology. However, several nations have a more stringent definition of what should be called autonomous drones, for example, the United Kingdom describes them as “…capable of understanding higher level intent and direction” (UK MoD, The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 2011). Generally, most military and aviation authorities call unmanned aerial vehicles "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" (RPAs) to stress that they fly under the direct control of human operators. Most people would probably understand the concept of “autonomous drones” as something sophisticated, for instance, drones that can act based on their own choice of options (what is commonly defined as "system initiative" and "full autonomy" in military terminology). Such drones are programmed with a large number of alternative responses to the different challenges they may meet in performing their mission. This is not science fiction – the technology is largely developed though, to our knowledge, no approved autonomous drone systems are yet operational. The limiting factor is not the technology but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology, which would allow lethal machines to operate without being under the direct control of humans. One of the greatest challenges for the development and approval of aircraft with such technology is that it is extremely difficult to develop satisfactory validation systems, which would ensure that the technology is safe and acts like humans would. In practice, such sophisticated drones would involve programming for an incredible number of combinations of alternative courses of action, making it impossible to verify and test them to the level we are used to for manned aircraft. There are also those who think of autonomy meaning ”artificial intelligence” – systems that learn and even self-develop possible courses of action to new challenges. We have no knowledge that we are close to a breakthrough on such technology, but many fear that we actually might be. Autonomous drones – meaning advanced drones programmed with algorithms for countless human-defined courses of action to meet emerging challenges – are already being tested by a number of civilian universities and military research institutions. We see testing of “swarms of drones” (drones which follow and take tasks from other drones) that, of course, are entirely dependent on autonomous processing. We also see testing of autonomous drones that operate with manned aircraft, all from what the US Air Force calls (unmanned) "Loyal Wingman" aircraft, to the already well tested Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system of Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned TRITON aircraft. We also see the further development of unmanned systems to be dispatched from manned aircraft, to work independently or in extension of the “mother aircraft”, for instance, the recently tested PERDIX nano drones, of which 100 drones were dropped from a F-18 “mother aircraft”. Such drones would necessarily operate with a high degree of autonomy. These many developments and aspirations are well described in, for example, the US planning document USAF RPA Vector - Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038 published in 2014, and other documentation and even videos of such research are widely available. The prospects of autonomous technology, be it flying drones, underwater vehicles or other lethal weapon systems, clearly bring new opportunities for military forces. In the case of flying aircraft, we have learned that there are long lead times in educating pilots and operators. One of the greatest changes that will come from the development of autonomous drones is that military forces in the (near) future could develop great fighting power in much shorter timeframes than previously. It is important to note – and many have – that creating the infrastructure and educating ground crew for operating drones is no cheaper or easier than it is to educate aircrew. However, once in place, the drone crew and operation centres would be able to operate large numbers of drones. Similarly, legacy manned aircraft would be at the centre of a local combat or intelligence system extended with drones serving, for example, in supportive roles for jamming, as weapons-delivery platforms or as a system of multi-sensor platforms. Moving beyond the past limitations of one pilot flying one aircraft or one crew flying one drone to a situation where one crew could control large amounts of drones would quite simply be groundbreaking. These perspectives for new types of high-tech weapon systems – and the fears they raise – are the background for the research we conducted on autonomous drones and weapon systems. It is almost impossible to assess when these technologies will become widespread – this will depend on the situation and the need of states. However, the technologies are becoming available and are maturing and we would argue that the difficult discussions on legal and ethical challenges should be dealt with sooner, rather than later. The legal perspectives General rules apply but it is not that simple Autonomous drones, if and when they are used during armed conflict, would be subject to the general principles and rules of the Law of Armed Conflict. In this respect, autonomous drones are not to be distinguished from any other weapons, weapon systems or weapon platforms. As with any “means of warfare”, autonomous drones must only be directed at lawful targets (military objectives and combatants) and attacks must not be expected to cause excessive collateral damage. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the NATO website. -ends-
04/05/2017

Russia Works to Restore Positions In Drone Development

Unmanned aviation is a dynamically developing industry of modern aircraft construction. Technical and technological achievements boosted the design of new systems. At present drones are engaged by many armies of the world and used in armed conflicts. Our country used to have considerable achievements in the sphere and now works to restore its positions, expert Denis Fedutinov writes in the official blog of the United Aircraft Corporation. MOSCOW --- The former Soviet Union enjoyed a major experience in drone development also in the tactical class. Until recently the Russian army had old Strizh and Reis systems developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau yet in the 1970s and the Stroi-P complex with remote controlled Pchela craft designed by Kulon Research Institute and the Yakovlev bureau in late 1980s. Unfortunately, the economic plight of the transition period in the 1990s stalled the work. The initial pace was lost as a result, the designs got obsolete, the existing technical and scientific experience in the sphere was lost and the country began to considerably lag behind leading foreign producers. The interest in drones revived in Russia in mid-2000s mostly due to the effort of private companies which initiated some steps to create mostly small-class craft. The Russian defense ministry kept displaying little interest in drones for some years. The guideline was however supported by law enforcement agencies - the interior ministry, the Federal Security Service (including the Border Service) and the emergencies ministry. In early and mid-2000s the orders of the defense ministry for the design of domestic drones were very modest. The latest system in the arsenal of the Russian military was tactical Stroi-P with remote controlled Pchela craft designed at the end of the Soviet epoch. In the 1990s the system became morally outdated. In early 2000s the Kulon Institute of the Vega Concern upgraded the complex to Stroi-PD version. The Rybinsk-based Luch Design Bureau of the Vega designed another tactical Tipchak craft. As in the case of Stroi-PD the funds were appropriated mostly for R&D. The Vega Concern and the defense ministry signed a contract for the delivery of one such complex a year which was an absolutely symbolic action. Problems caused by the absence of modern reconnaissance and surveillance drones were exposed by the 2008 situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The defense ministry tried to engage available drones but none of them was capable of fulfilling the mission. The Russian troops were actually blinded. In contrast the Georgian military efficiently engaged the drones bought from the Israeli Elbit Systems Company. As for Stroi-PD, it took off with the use of powder boosters which exposed the launch site. The flight itself could not be stealthy because of the noisy two-stroke engine. The Russian military also complained about the noisy Tipchak tactical drone designed by Vega. It was created in the Luch Design Bureau in Rybinsk. Former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said the drone was engaged in the operation in South Ossetia and performed poorly. Besides noise problems, the quality of reconnaissance data was low because of the line TV camera which failed to produce images corresponding to modern requirements. Besides, there were also problems with friend-or-foe system. The developments around the conflict with Georgia became the threshold which made the Russian defense ministry urgently take measures to rectify the stagnant situation with modern drones for the national armed forces. Initially foreign designs were purchased, as well as available systems of domestic companies. R&D to create perspective craft was launched. The first step was the purchase of drones from Israel which is the world leader in the sphere and then an additional batch of drones was assembled in Russia. Plans to buy Israeli drones were first voiced in November 2008 by General Chief-of-Staff Nikolai Makarov. As a result, the defense ministry acquired short-range Bird-Eye 400 and medium-range Searcher Mk II of the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). According to the contract signed in 2011, the drones were assembled in Russia by the UZGA Works in Yekaterinburg under Zastava and Forpost brands correspondingly. Major modernization and localization of tactical Forpost production is being considered. The drone is to get some domestically-produced systems, including a secured communications line and state system of identification, as well as GLONASS-based navigational system, radio-technical reconnaissance and data transmission devices, digital aerial survey system and lateral visibility radar. (ends)
12/06/2015

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

PARIS --- France’s defense procurement agency will begin the in-flight evaluation of competitors for the future SDT tactical UAV system later this month, allowing selection of the winner by year-end after a second-round review in the fall. The evaluations, each lasting one or two weeks, will take place at Istres air base in south-eastern France. The SDT evaluations will oppose two French companies offering foreign-designed airframes with subsystems and electronics tailored to French needs: Sagem, which is offering its Patroller, and Thales, which is offering the Watchkeeper developed by its British subsidiary, Thales UK, for the British Army. Watchkeeper will be evaluated in late June, and Patroller will follow in early July. Airbus Defence and Space, which had not been invited to bid for the Système de Drone Tactique (SDT) program, submitted an unsolicited offer earlier this year based on the Textron Systems Shadow M2 unmanned system, which it has dubbed Artemis. The company is waiting for feedback from DGA and the French army on its unsolicited offer before making a full-fledged bid. Uncertainties remain as to SDT funding The French army has not specified a number of aircraft or systems, but has defined an operational requirement, leaving industry to come up with proposals on how best to meet it. However, as it now operates 22 Sperwer tactical drones, it is likely that it will ultimately require about 30 Système de Drone Tactique (SDT) aircraft divided into four deployable systems. “The 2014-2019 Military Program Law calls for two complete and deployable SDT systems, comprising 14 operational and training aircraft, to be delivered by 2019,” a DGA spokesman told Defense-Aerospace.com June 10. He added that the competition was formally launched during the fall of 2014, and that it is proceeding as planned, but declined further comment because the competition is ongoing. There are some doubts, given the French air force’s large-scale procurement of Reaper MALE UAVs, the planned development of the Eurodrone 2020 MALE, and the availability of smaller tactical UAVs, whether the French army actually needs to spend so much money to buy large UAVs of its own. “The current worry is that the program might not be completed, as the requirements are very ambitious and demanding, and there is no officially-defined budget,” says a senior official of one of the competing companies. In fact, the SDT program was barely mentioned during May 26 parliamentary hearings on the update to the 2014-2019 defense program law. Gen. Jean-Pierre Bosser, the army chief of staff, simply said that “we expect our current interim SDTs to be replaced by an SDT system,” before moving on to other issues. All three competitors stress the high French content of their offers, the high proportion of production work that will take place in France, and the fact that their solution offers sovereign, autonomous capabilities entirely free of foreign interference, for both operation and support. Sagem, with its Sperwer, is the incumbent; its latest contract was awarded in December 2013, and funded five additional Sperwer systems for delivery in 2015. In addition to those already in service with the 61ème Régiment d’Artillerie, these UAVs will maintain French army capabilities until a replacement enters service by the end of the decade. The three competitors offer three totally different approaches to the French requirement. All three offer broadly similar sensors, but differ notably in their air vehicles, which range from Sagem’s optionally-piloted and self-deployable motor glider; Thales’ updated and “Frenchified” Hermes UAV to the much smaller, and optionally catapult-launched, Shadow M2 planned by Airbus DS. In fact, the difference in size is such that the 250 kg payload of Sagem’s Patroller is heavier than an entire Shadow air vehicle, while at 450 kg empty mass Watchkeeper is less than half as heavy as Patroller. In other words, Watchkeeper is twice as heavy as Artemis, and in turn Patroller is about twice as heavy as Watchkeeper, although they all carry similar types of payloads. Given France’s insistence on maintaining its independent deployment capability, the level of technical and operational sovereignty, and the control of the supply chain, is likely to weigh heavily during the final selection. Watchkeeper Goes French Sagem’s main competitor for the French SDT contract is Thales UK’s Watchkeeper , which was developed from the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 design and adapted to UK requirements. The British Army has ordered 13 Watchkeeper systems, for a total of 54 air vehicles, about 30 of which have been delivered to date. Watchkeeper was deployed by the British Army in Afghanistan. Several aircraft arrived at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, in August 2014, and flew its first combat mission on Sept. 16, Lt Col Craig Palmer, the point man for UAVs at British Army HQ, told reporters here June 2. However, it will not attain Full Operational Capability until 2017, he said. Watchkeeper has flown about 500 hours with the British Army, Palmer said, of which 140 hours in Afghanistan and 360 hours from its base in Boscombe Down, in England. British troops prepare a Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle for a mission at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. (UK MoD photo) “Watchkeeper was designed from the outset to generate information superiority [and] its world-class I-Master radar is what is actually adding value. It’s a game-changer” compared to the Hermes, which has no radar, Palmer said. The Watchkeeper variant Thales has offered to France is equipped with mostly French subsystems, including a secure datalink, the same Automatic Take-Off and Landing System (ATOLS) that Thales developed for Watchkeeper, and Thales’ own electro-optical sensors. For the time being, the French army has been offered a Selex ES surface search radar, but alternate radars can also be fitted. For the French proposal, the joint Elbit/Thales datalink fitted to UK Watchkeeper has been replaced by a Thales-developed TMA/TMG 6000 dual-mode (command and ISR data) datalink, and Thales Executive Vice-President for Telecommunications Marc Darmon says the company has all the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to this product, which is obviously significant for national sovereignty issues. “We bought the source codes and we largely re-wrote them, so we have total control of the system,” says another Thales executive, dismissing concerns that foreign companies are involved in the French Watchkeeper proposal. At present, 80% of Watchkeeper components are British-made, with another 15% coming from France and 5% from the rest of the world, according to Pierrick Lerey, strategy and marketing director for Thales’ UAV and ISR business. The company has formed a French suppliers club (equipefrancewatchkeeper.com) to update Watchkeeper’s main systems, including a new-generation electro-optical payload; a new Communications and ESM payload; a new imagery chain for full HD video; interconnection with the French military C4ISR network, a new ground station and a remote video terminal. The goal, Lerey says, is to bring French content up to at least 35% for the French program, since the Watchkeeper airframe and the (new) ground stations will continue to be built in the UK. Sagem’s Optionally-Piloted Motor Glider While its competitors opted for specific, UAV-sized airframes, Sagem preferred to use a civil-certified airframe for its Patroller, which is almost as large as a MALE drone but offers the advantage of being derived from a German motor glider, the Stemme S-15. Frederic Mazzanti, Sagem Vice-President and head of its Optronics and Defense Division, notes that this means it can self-deploy using civil airspace, that it can be used for training in unsegregated airspace with a pilot on board, and that it does not need tractors or other ground equipment because it was designed to be autonomous on the ground. Patroller’s size also means it offers lots of space for fuel and sensors, and the commercial origin of its airframe means it was designed for simple, straightforward repairs with little tooling, another plus for austere operations. A soldier shows the large sensor ball of Sagem’s Patroller UAV, a large, optionally-piloted aircraft that offers much greater range and payload than its competitors (Sagem photo) Sagem’s offer comprises triplex-redundant avionics, a new fourth-generation Euroflir 41 sensor ball with a 43-cm diameter and fitted with full HD color TV, visible and thermal imaging, and laser rangefinder and designator. Several synthetic aperture radars can be fitted, depending on the customer’s preferences, and several have already been tested. Most importantly, says Mazzanti, Patroller has the capability to operate radar and EO sensors at the same time, and also to transmit their imagery at the same time. This, he notes, is a unique capability in this category, and can multiply an ISR aircraft’s effectiveness by tracking several targets with different sensors at the same time. Most Patroller subsystems and sensors are produced by Sagem itself (EO sensor ball, navigation, datalink) while the others are French-made. Sagem also owns all property rights to the airframe, so the fact that no foreign company is involved guarantees manufacturing and operational sovereignty. With its Sperwer drones, which were operated in Afghanistan by several of the nine countries that have bought it, Sagem gained precious operational experience. The French army’s 22 Sperwers attained an availability rate of 80-85% with support from Sagem. “Our availability in terms of aircraft numbers never fell short of requirements,” Mazzanti said, adding that as operators of the S-15 have logged over 1,000 flight hours per year, there is no reason for Patroller not to attain similar levels. Sagem employs over 100 people at its French plants to build Sperwer drones and its components, and the company also has assembled a cluster of SMEs to which it subcontracts some of the work. All in all, Sagem says that French content of Patroller will attain 85% by value, as only the radar and airframe would be built overseas. With a payload of 250 kg, and a mission endurance of 30 hours, Patroller is a much larger aircraft than its competitors, but Mazzanti dismisses criticism that it may be too large for its intended mission. “It is air-transportable, it fits into a standard 20-foot container, it can land with a 20-knot crosswind and it can pull 5Gs, so its size and robustness are real operational advantages.” Outsider Airbus Teams with Textron Thales and Sagem both “offered large air vehicles that are closer to MALE size, but looking at the French army requirement we thought that a smaller drone, capable of being operated from close to the front line, would be a better match,” an Airbus official said June 9. Instead of offering one of its own UAVs, the company preferred to team with Textron Systems to prepare a bid based on a tried-and-tested UAV that more closely matches the French army requirement, and which is small enough for use at brigade or division, instead of corps, level. LEGENDE: Airbus DS has offered to “Frenchify” Textron’s Shadow to develop its Artemis UAV, which is much smaller than the two SDT competitors and doesn’t need a runway, as it can be launched from a catapult. (US Army photo) Airbus has not yet formally filed a bid, and will only announce its Artemis partnership with Textron next week at the Paris Air Show. The company has so far only submitted an unsolicited proposal to DGA, and is waiting for feedback before deciding whether to invest in a formal and comprehensive proposal. Nonetheless, company officials expect a positive response, and are encouraged by the fact that a team of DGA and French army observers will fly to Yuma, Arizona during the summer for a demonstration of the Shadow M2, which will not fly at Istres. Smaller also means cheaper, and Airbus says its offer – based on Textron Unmanned Systems’ upgraded Shadow M2 – would carry much lower acquisition and operating costs, and thus allow more intensive operations for a given budget, while its small size also facilitates transport and deployment. Shadow is operated by the US Army and Marine Corps and several foreign militaries, and over 300 air vehicles have logged over 1 million flight hours, including in combat. A competitive advantage that Airbus points out is that Shadow’s long service career, and different users, are such that the latest versions benefit from a wealth of technical and operational lessons learned. For Artemis, Airbus would modify the Shadow M2 air vehicle as little as possible to limit costs, but would replace its subsystems or adapt them to French requirements. These would include Airbus’ own Lygarion datalink, a modified ground station, and French sensor packages (radar and either electro-optical or signals intelligence) that are capable of simultaneous operation. Airbus plans to purchase full rights to the Shadow airframe and ground station, and so would control the entire system, ensuring “fully autonomous operations, as well as maximum growth potential, for the French customer,” according to a briefing document. It also says that a “significant” share of production and support – about 60% -- would take place in France, supporting French industry and jobs. In reality, a large share of production would remain in the United States, so French workshare would largely be made up by training and support, in addition to some key subsystems. -ends-
12/03/2015

UAVs: France, Germany and Italy to Launch European MALE Program

PARIS --- Three European nations will sign an agreement at the Paris air show in June to jointly fund initial studies for a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said here March 11. France, Germany and Italy will follow up by awarding a study contract in December to an industry group formed by Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi. The initial contract is valued at a few dozen millions of euros. Ultimately, if the program progresses as planned, the nations plan to obtain an operational reconnaissance UAV by 2025. “Our effort in the field of surveillance drones and ISR will increase with, already this year, the launch of studies of the future European drone, with Germany and Italy, that France envisions for about 2025, ,” Le Drian said here during a March 11 press conference. An Italian defense official confirmed the agreement, which has not yet been made public in Italy, however adding “we will see whether it ultimately leads to a development program.” The three companies have been calling for such a government initiative for over two years, and in May 2013 took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement calling on their governments to “launch a European MALE program.…to support the capability needs of European armed forces while optimizing the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding.” The companies have a double goal: to maintain the know-how and expertise of their military aircraft design offices, now that they have mostly completed work on current fighters, and to recover the UAV business that is now going to their US competitors – France and Italy operate General Atomics Predator or Reaper UAVs, like the UK, the Netherlands has just decided to buy some while Spain is also weighing buying some. “Originally, [our] idea was to prevent the procurement of Reaper drones by European governments,” but this didn’t work, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said here during a separate March 11 press conference. “We’ve been working on this project for a long time, and we think we can develop a drone to replace the Reaper, which is an interim solution. We have asked our governments to state that an operational requirement exists, and we will be able to reply to that requirement.” In parallel, France is however continuing to boost its Reaper force, which is seeing intensive use in Africa, where it is supporting French and allied troops operating in Mali. France is due to receive a third Reaper aircraft in April, and will order a follow-on batch of three additional aircraft in August, according to a planning document released by Le Drian. “We are asking for a contract from the three governments covering initial studies,” Trappier said. “Initially, it’s a question of a few dozen million euros, although it will cost more once development is launched.” The three companies set out the details of their proposal in a second joint statement issued in June 2014, in which they proposed “a Definition Phase which has been prepared by joint development teams of Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi and which is backed by an industrial agreement on workshare and a cooperative agreement to start the MALE2020 program.” The broad lines of the industry proposal have been retained, although the initial operational capability has slipped to 2025. One of the trickier problems to be solved is the integration of the future MALE UAV into general air traffic, Trappier said. The inability to fly in unrestricted airspace is one of the reasons for which Germany canceled the EuroHawk program – a variant of Global Hawk fitted with a German sensor package – after spending several hundred million euros on its development. -ends-
23/02/2015

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

Source: Center for New American Security Ref: no reference Issued Feb 13, 2015 23 PDF pages In this working paper, 20YY Warfare Initiative Director Paul Scharre and Adjunct Senior Fellow Michael Horowitz discuss future military systems incorporating greater autonomy. The intent of the paper is to help clarify, as a prerequisite to examining legal, moral, ethical and policy issues, what an autonomous weapon is, how autonomy is already used, and what might be different about increased autonomy in the future. (PDF format) Full text
13/11/2014

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

Source: University of Birmingham Ref: No reference Issued Oct 22, 2014) 96 PDF pages Drone technology, both civil and military, under proper legal regulation, can continue to deliver 'significant benefits' for the UK's national security policy and economy in the coming decades. That is the conclusion of a new University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report which launches today. But the Government, and especially the Ministry of Defence (MoD), should do more to reach out to the public over what the Commission sees as the globally inevitable use of drones in armed conflict and in domestic surveillance. The Report finds that over the next 20 years, drones – or what the Commission and the RAF prefer to call Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) – will become an integral part of Britain's aerospace capability, providing both advanced surveillance and precision weapons delivery. They can support UK forces deployed overseas, as in Afghanistan, or help prevent mass atrocities, as with the British Government's decision to deploy the RAF Reaper fleet against the Islamic State (ISIS). This decision was announced after the Report was completed but is entirely consistent with its conclusions. The Report examines the distinctive and unavoidable choices for the United Kingdom over a crucial emerging technology and sets out the under-appreciated distinction between legally constrained British practice and the US Government's cross-border counter-terrorism strikes which dominate and distort UK public debate. The Commission considers various moral arguments and concludes that the current and emerging generation of RPA pose no greater ethical challenges than those already involved in decisions to use any other type of UK military asset. The Report shows clearly that the UK has operated its armed Reapers in Afghanistan according to the same exceptionally strict Rules of Engagement (no weapon should be discharged unless there is 'zero expectation of civilian casualties') that it applies to manned aircraft. Key findings There are three main obstacles affecting the UK Government's use of drones that must be overcome: gaining public understanding and acceptance of the legal and ethical soundness of the practice; allaying fears over the potential development of LAWS; and safeguarding British airspace and the privacy of British citizens if drones are to be increasingly used for domestic surveillance and security. (PDF format) Report’s download page
11/07/2014

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

PARIS --- Four years after they first agreed to jointly develop an unmanned combat aircraft, France and Britain will finally launch the demonstration phase of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) on July 15 at the Farnborough air show, the French defense ministry announced July 10. The two countries’ defense ministers will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) authorizing a 24-month, €150 million definition phase of the FCAS program, known as FCAS-Demonstration Phase, the French defense ministry announced July 10. Contracts will be awarded to industry in the autumn, and the project will officially begin in January 2015. Participating companies are Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems for airframe and systems integration; Thales and Selex ES (UK) for sensors and electronics; and Snecma and Rolls-Royce for engine and power systems. “There is agreement on a two-year concept phase…[and]….a contract could be awarded shortly,” UK Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told reporters at the Eurosatory show here June 19, adding however that “data-sharing agreements have to be competed.” Physics and aerodynamics being what they are, it is not surprising that Dassault’s Neuron demonstrator (above) and BAE System’s Taranis demonstrator (below) should look the same at first glance. The FCAS will build on knowledge gained on both programs. (photos Dassault and BAE). BAE and Dassault have been working together for about 18 months to investigate the feasibility of joint development of FCAS, based on their separate but complementary experience in developing unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrators, either alone (BAE with its Taranis) or jointly – Dassault’s Neuron project also included Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, Sweden’s Saab as well as smaller Greek and Spanish firms. A major question mark concerns the work-sharing arrangements, as both companies are obviously keen to advance and maintain their technological know-how. This is complicated, again, by their previous work on Taranis and Neuron, which sometimes led them in different directions and which may be difficult to reconcile. “We have already shared some data, but we haven’t shown everything yet,” Benoît Dussaugey, Dassault Executive Vice-President, International, told Defense-Aerospace.com June 18, adding that full disclosure will not take place before contract award. However, having successfully managed Neuron on time and on schedule with an international team of partners, Dassault does not believe this aspect will be a show-stopper. "We are confident we will find an agreement with our partners on work-share, subject to sovereign decisions by governments," Dussaugey said. The program could be opened to additional foreign partners, he adds, on two conditions: "that everyone accepts and respects our common rules, and that the respective governments finance [their share] of the entire phase." Nonetheless, BAE’s surprise and high-profile unveiling of its Taranis UCAV demonstrator in January, which it had jealously kept under wraps until then, was clearly intended to show its credentials in the lead-up to the FCAS MoU. It is probable that, as in the previous phase, BAE will remain FCAS prime contractor, while France’s defense procurement agency, Direction Générale pour l’Armement (DGA), will act as program executive on behalf of both nations. Having successive definition and demonstration phases is considered essential for governments to define and harmonize their operational requirements, and for industry to weigh their technical feasibility and cost implications. For example, will in-flight refueling be required, and if yes using a receptacle or a boom? Where and how should radar antennas be integrated into the airframe? Will FCAS be designed to follow a pre-programmed flight path (which the French favor, as it is impervious to jamming, interception and loss of data-link), or on the contrary be remotely-piloted, as the Royal Air Force favors so as to keep a man permanently in the loop? Should the aircraft be totally silent in terms of radar, radio and IR emissions, or could it resort to jamming? Should it be single- or twin-engined? Once these basic questions are answered, processed and priced by industry, the logical follow-up would be a demonstration phase, during which the project would be further developed and prototypes or flight test aircraft built, but a decision would not be required before late 2017, which makes it very unlikely that a FCAS could fly before the end of the decade. -ends-
30/04/2014

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

Source: US Air Force Ref: no reference Issued April 04, 2014) 101 PDF pages Air Force leaders outlined what the next 25 years for remotely piloted aircraft will look like in the RPA Vector, published April 4. “The RPA Vector is the Air Force’s vision for the next 25 years for remotely-piloted aircraft,” said Col. Kenneth Callahan, the RPA capabilities division director. “It shows the current state of the program, the great advances of where we have been and the vision of where we are going.” The goal for the vector on the operational side is to continue the legacy Airmen created in the RPA field. The vector is also designed to expand upon leaps in technology and changes the Airmen have made through the early years of the program. “The Airmen have made it all about supporting the men and women on the ground,” Callahan said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for their own advances in technology to expand the program, making it a top platform.” The document gives private corporations an outlook on the capabilities the Air Force wants to have in the future, ranging from creation of new RPAs to possibilities of automated refueling systems. “There is so much more that can be done with RPAs,” said Col. Sean Harrington, an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance command and control requirements chief. “Their roles (RPAs) within the Air Force are evolving. We have been able to modify RPAs as a plug-and-play capability while looking to expand those opportunities.” In recent years, RPAs not only supported the warfighter on the ground, they also played a vital role in humanitarian missions around the world. They provided real time imagery and video after the earthquake that led to a tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, according to Callahan. Then, most recently, during the California Rim Fire in August 2013, more than 160,000 acres of land were destroyed. Though this loss was significant, it was substantially decreased by the support of the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, with support from an MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft. With this vector, technologies may be created to improve those capabilities while supporting different humanitarian efforts, allowing the Air Force to support natural disaster events more effectively and timely. The future of the Air Force’s RPA programs will be continuously evolving, to allow the Air Force to be the leader in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. “We already combine our air, space and cyber forces to maximize these enduring contributions, but the way we execute must continually evolve as we strive to increase our asymmetric advantage,” said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. “Our Airmen's ability to rethink the battle while incorporating new technologies will improve the varied ways our Air Force accomplishes its missions.” (PDF format) Full text