Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueler, known as T1, is currently being tested at Boeing’s St. Louis site. It has completed engine runs and deck handling trials of its ability to move around within the tight confines of a carrier deck. (Boeing photo)

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19/09/2018

Unmanned Boats Are Real Threat to Warships

While unmanned aircraft like the RAF’s Reapers get plenty of media attention, seagoing drones have recovered far less coverage. Unmanned boats, known as Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), have been quietly entering service around the globe – and some of them have already been used in action. In May, the Royal Navy took delivery of its first autonomous minesweeper. Ever since navies started clearing mines, minesweeping has been a cat-and-mouse game, with new weapons specially designed to destroy the minesweepers attempting to clear them. Being able to get people out of the minesweeping boat is the maritime equivalent of using tracked robots for remote bomb disposal. The new minesweeper is 11 metres long and weighs six tons. The hull is made of glass-reinforced plastic; non-metallic hulls are preferred for this role as they do not set off magnetic mines. It can tow a variety of mine-clearing systems with acoustic, magnetic and electric sensors, as well as devices which emit signals to trick mines into exploding harmlessly. One thing the new vessel lacks is a catchy name like Predator or Reaper. It’s known as the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability Combined Influence Minesweeping System. The Israeli Seagull, unveiled in 2016, is similar to the British unmanned boat, but may take on a wider variety of roles, some of them offensive as well as defensive. It can operate effectively in Sea State 4 – ‘moderate’ seas with waves of up to 2.5 metres – and can survive Sea State 7 with waves of up to nine metres. Seagull is modular and can be fitted with a wide variety of gear depending on the mission. The mine-hunting version includes a tethered robot submarine for closer investigation of underwater objects, and expendable explosive "mine disposal vehicles” to destroy them. An alternative fit for anti-submarine warfare equips Seagull with an advanced sonar suite. Optional armaments include a remote-controlled 12.7mm machine gun for operations such as counter-piracy, and even torpedoes. A Mission Control System, which may be mounted on a ship, allows operators to control two Seagulls simultaneously from sixty miles away on missions lasting for four days. Even with no communication link to the operator, Seagull can avoid collisions and obey international navigation rules. The biggest and most ambitious military unmanned vessel is currently the American Sea Hunter, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This is a high-speed trimaran 40 metres long, with a slim hull and two outriggers for stability. Sea Hunter is intended to carry out the whole process of locating and trailing submarines without human assistance. It can operate autonomously on the high seas, mingling with other sea traffic on voyages of up to 70 days, without a human ever setting foot on deck. The idea is that, with its small size and lack of crew, Sea Hunter will be a fraction of the cost to acquire and operate off a manned anti-submarine frigate. Large numbers of such drone vessels could be acquired to assist more conventional forces. Sea Hunter possesses sophisticated artificial intelligence to help it outwit human submarine commanders. Some of the algorithms controlling it were ‘crowdsourced’ by DARPA – the agency set up an online submarine hunting game for players to develop innovative ideas. It is, however, unarmed. Sea Hunter is undergoing sea trials until the end of this year, and the developers are already considering additional roles for the robot boat. At the other end of the range of sophistication are the crude remote-control speedboats deployed by Houthi rebels in Yemen. One such boat was captured by the Yemeni Navy last week. These are based on the 10-metre Al Fattan patrol boat, with two 200 horsepower outboard motors and a maximum speed of 45 knots (52 mph). The remote-control system comprises automated GPS navigation to get the boat into the target area, and a video camera for lining up the attack run. Each robot boat carries a giant 500-kilo explosive warhead taken from a Soviet-built Styx anti-ship missile. This is an armour-piercing shaped charge capable of inflicting tremendous damage. In January 2017, one such boat hit the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah killing two sailors, and there have been several other attacks on warships. The unmanned boats have also attacked oil terminals. Unmanned vessels are not about to make sailors redundant, but they are becoming increasingly useful as auxiliaries. However, they may also become an increasingly dangerous threat. -ends-
18/09/2018

USAF Makes First Auto-Landing Using MQ-9 BLOCK 5

SAN DIEGO --– On August 7, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) completed the first-ever automated landing of an MQ-9 Block 5 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), followed by the first auto-takeoff on August 9. The new Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) was developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) to enhance mission capability. “This new, all-weather capability greatly increases the autonomy, flexibility, combat effectiveness and safety of the MQ-9 Reaper for the USAF,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Adding this level of automation will reduce the deployment burden of the warfighter and expand the scope of missions that can be flown by Air Force MQ-9s.” By automating the takeoff and landing of the RPA, ATLC helps to increase the safety and efficiency of the air crews. The auto launch and recovery during these critical phases of RPA flight also enlarges the operational envelope for cross wind operations as well as divert field landing. The ATLC development program remains on track for fielding in the fall of 2019. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is the 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. -ends-
18/09/2018

ECA Group Wins Cobra UGV Contract from Thai Armed Forces

PARIS --- ECA Group awarded a new contract with the Thai Armed Forces for the supply of several units of Cobra E. ECA Group is working with Apple Scientific Co., Ltd, its Thailand partner. The Thai Armed Forces was looking for a system able to help them protecting their bases as well as the surrounding areas. The ever-present threat of IED / EOD in sensitive areas such as Military bases and vital installations requires accurate robotic systems able to intervene quickly without exposing humans. The Lightweight unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) offer a suitable solution to deal with this threat, as they are capable of detecting and neutralizing IEDs at the shortest time possible. ECA Group was selected thanks to the performance of its COBRA MK2 E and its unique plug and play system enabling to plug instantaneously any required payload. Moreover the entire system is portable and quickly operable as it can be carried in a backpack and deploy within minutes. ECA Group delivered two units of COBRA MK2 E in the first half of 2018. COBRA MK2 E is a 5kg war proven UGV developed by ECA Group, especially designed for EOD/IEDD operations. Its modular architecture and its plug and play systems enables to equip different types of payload from detection to neutralization, various water disruptors or integrate specific payload upon customer request. ECA Group's Cobra comes with an ultralight and intuitive Operator Control Unit to facilitate dismounted operations. -ends-
18/09/2018

UK Tests Life-Saving Chemical Detection Robots and Drones

A new fleet of robots and drones designed to test for chemical agents, provide 3D mapping and identify casualties have been put through their paces by troops, police officers and scientists for the first time. Tests of the cutting-edge multi-million-pound project, co-funded by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office, included robots that can ‘read’ and climb stairs and miniature drones weighing less than a bar of soap which could soon come into service to rapidly assess hazardous scenes. The aim of the ground-breaking research, named Project Minerva, is to reduce the risk to emergency services and front-line troops attending incidents or operations involving hazardous chemical or biological materials. The recent trials, which took place at Gloucestershire Fire Service College, saw concept drones and robots thrown into simulated contaminated scenarios in both UK homeland and battlefield environments. The technology was tested against the speed and accuracy of human response teams supported by specialist DSTL scientists, the military, police and fire services. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Following the reckless nerve agent attack in Salisbury this year, we have seen the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces, emergency services and MOD scientists. They have worked tirelessly to investigate and clean up deadly contaminated areas. This project will ensure we stay at the forefront of dealing with such heinous attacks, whether on our streets or on foreign battlefields. We are investing millions in this pioneering technology to do more to protect those who so fearlessly protect us.” The Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, Ben Wallace, said: “I am excited to see the UK being on the front-foot and leading in the development of these autonomous technologies which are secure, reliable and useful for dangerous sites. The potential to protect our responders and protect the public from potentially hazardous scenes is considerable. The UK’s experience and pedigree in security means we are in a prime position to identify what is best placed to tackle the threats of the future.” Project Minerva was launched in September 2016 and has been supported by over £3 million in joint funding over 24 months. The project intends to bring the designs from concept to reality in an accelerated timeframe. The recent trials involved the winning concepts for phase 2 of the project. The project is led by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). It is funded jointly by the Ministry of Defence science and technology portfolio and the Home Office and contracted through the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) with funding from Defence Science and Technology (DST). Peter Stockel, DSTL’s autonomy lead, said: “These two weeks of trials see the culmination of over 18 months of work to realise an exciting vision, which could see robots and humans working together in demanding situations and potentially save lives when dealing with incidents involving hazardous substances. In this ‘technology exploration’, we’ve been working with industry and academia to rapidly advance robotic and autonomous solutions to enhance our response options and tools for the near future. “With continued involvement across Government, and demonstration with the user community, we aim to mature this emergent capability to test the ‘art of the possible’ and accelerate this into the hands of the prospective users for further operational evaluation, both for MOD and the Home Office.” Major John Green, Military Advisor CBR Division for DSTL, said: “The military is putting a lot of time and effort into CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] and Minerva could have a significant effect on our capability and potentially decrease the training burden. It is a project for everything else to build on.” The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson also announced measures to maintain the UK’s world-leading chemical analysis and capability in March, when he outlined £48 million-worth of investment in a new Chemical Weapons Defence Centre at DSTL. Phase 1 of Project Minerva, which ran for 6 months until July 2017, funded 18 development projects and was worth £1.37 million. Four teams were then selected to develop their concepts further in this second phase. Just over £1.6 million total funding was awarded to the following phase 2 winners, all of which are small-or-medium-sized enterprises and academic institutions: --BMT Defence Services (with Rescue Global, Herriot Watt and Edinburgh Universities), with Red Alert, unmanned aerial vehicles which have gas-sensing technology and 2D-and-3D mapping and modelling, all mounted on commercially-available drones to allow upgrades as drone technology evolves. --Horiba MIRA, with a small purpose-designed ground robot, which can deploy on decontamination missions, climb stairs and ‘read’ or recognise hazardous chemical signs and symbols, exploiting cutting-edge neural network technology. --Loughborough University (with Swarm Systems and Createc) with SceneSEARCH – a pocket-sized nano-drone – weighing in at less than 250g which has gas sensors and video and thermal imaging capability. --Snake Eyes, by Autonomous Devices Limited and Pendar, a unique hybrid air and ground vehicle optimised for confined spaces which can relay 3D images of a space and detect chemical agents using a compact laser system. -ends-
18/09/2018

Manned Unmanned Teaming Is Teamwork of the Future

Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) multiplies the capabilities of helicopters and unmanned aerial systems. By controlling drones from the air, military and parapublic crews can explore tough-to-access areas and significantly expand observational capacities. A sailor is missing at sea. Search and rescue has been scrambled, but details on the sailor’s location are thin. The clock is ticking and every second could count. Fortunately, the helicopter team has assistance: accompanying them is a fleet of five unmanned aerial systems (UAS), controlled from within the helicopter. As the crew observes the water below, they can enlarge the search area considerably, using the drones as extra eyes to locate the sailor. Once he’s found, the helicopter will know immediately where to be. This is just one of the potential uses for Manned Unmanned Teaming. “It multiplies the capabilities of both systems,” says Mark Henning, H145 Programme Manager at Airbus Helicopters. “UAS can not only enlarge search areas but also access areas a helicopter might find difficult. They are able to explore unknown territory and deliver information to the helicopter crew, which can then step in with the helicopter’s superior effects.” MUM T 2 Airbus Helicopters and Schiebel tested the new technology on an H145. The drone was controlled and piloted by an operator in the helicopter. Potential for a range of sectors In April 2018, Airbus Helicopters and Austrian UAS manufacturer Schiebel successfully tested this new technology onboard an H145. The drone was controlled and piloted by an operator in the helicopter, while control was also temporarily handed over to a ground station to simulate the return of the helicopter for refuelling. Airbus is the first European helicopter manufacturer to demonstrate this technology with the highest level of interoperability. Testing and certification is currently focused on military uses, but as Henning explains, MUM-T has the potential to benefit a wide range of sectors and enable faster and more cost-effective mission completion. “In addition to search and rescue over land and water, it could be used for firefighting. Helicopters are often used to observe wildfires across remote terrain. With MUM-T, it could cover a much wider area and transmit information to the firefighting team. You could even park the helicopter and fly the UAS further. Police forces could also use MUM-T for observing large crowds or for pursuit missions through built up areas.” The technology can be implemented in any kind of helicopter and interact with all types of unmanned systems – the potential is considerable,” said Mark Henning, H145 Programme Manager at Airbus Helicopters. Refinement and optimisation Operating a UAS from a helicopter presents several additional obstacles compared to operation from the ground. A robust data link in the helicopter is paramount. This aspect was successfully managed during the recent tests in Austria, as was the integration of a complete UAS mission planning and control system in the helicopter’s architecture. According to Henning, one of the biggest challenges lies in the human machine interface used to operate the UAS. “It has to be as straightforward as possible. The UAS can carry out certain tasks autonomously, but there is still a lot for the operator to handle – in addition to the other duties onboard they might have.” For parapublic missions, the drones would be operated by a third crew member, but for military missions there would still only be two crew onboard. “We are currently in the process of optimising this after analysing the results of the flight tests in April,” he says. In addition to these technical refinements, Airbus is also involved in wider efforts to help overcome the hurdles of approval and certification for parapublic use of UAS. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in this area,” says Henning. “But it would ultimately open up a range of applications for MUM-T. The technology can be implemented in any kind of helicopter and interact with all types of unmanned systems – the potential is considerable.” -ends-
17/09/2018

Northrop Begins Fire Scout Flight Tests in Moss Point, Miss.

MOSS POINT, Miss. --- Northrop Grumman Corporation recently began flight tests for MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft produced in Moss Point at the Trent Lott International Airport, a major milestone for the company and the region’s aerospace economy. Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point facility is key to producing and testing the MQ-8C Fire Scout, the U.S. Navy’s newest autonomous helicopter that is bringing increased speed, endurance and payload capacity to distributed maritime operations. The U.S. Navy recently completed initial operational test and evaluation aboard the USS Coronado (LCS 4) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout, which has over 1,500 program flight hours. The aircraft is a modified Bell 407 helicopter that is produced in Moss Point and supports quality manufacturing jobs in Mississippi. “Building on Northrop Grumman’s recent announcement of new production capabilities in Moss Point and a 40 percent increase in employment at the site, the ability to now conduct MQ-8C Fire Scout flight tests where the production occurs will bring new efficiencies and effectiveness to our local operations and improve our ability to serve the U.S. Navy,” said Melissa Packwood, program director, Fire Scout, Northrop Grumman. In June, elected officials joined local employees to cut the ribbon on the new machine shop section that delivers important capabilities at Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point manufacturing center. For more than a decade, Gulf Coast employees have manufactured rotary and fixed wing autonomous systems in Moss Point that support the U.S. and its global allies. Recent facility upgrades have allowed for new work on manned aircraft to come to the site, diversifying the portfolio of work and bringing new jobs to the region. In April 2004, Northrop Grumman broke ground in Moss Point with site construction beginning in 2005. In April 2006, Northrop Grumman contributed to aerospace industry growth in southern Mississippi when the ribbon was cut on the 101,000 square-foot facility. The company celebrated its 10 year anniversary at the site in 2016 and recently extended its lease adjacent to Trent Lott International Airport through 2026. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in autonomous systems, cyber, C4ISR, space, strike, and logistics and modernization to customers worldwide. -ends-
17/09/2018

NSPA Orders Raven UAV for Portugal

SIMI VALLEY --- AeroVironment, Inc. has received a fixed-price contract award valued at $5,962,494 from NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) on August 20, 2018. The contract award encompasses the procurement of Raven unmanned aircraft systems equipped with Mantis i23 sensors and pocket Remote Video Terminals (p/RVT) for the Portuguese Army, with delivery scheduled over a three-year period. "AeroVironment's Raven unmanned aircraft system, equipped with our Mantis i23 gimbaled sensor suite and pocket Remote Video Terminal, packs significant capabilities into a portable, man-packable platform for operations in austere environments around the globe," said Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment's Unmanned Aircraft Systems business. "Our small UAS deliver valuable situational awareness directly to frontline warfighters at a fraction of the procurement and lifecycle cost of larger UAS. The Raven system will provide the Portuguese Army with rapid and effective force protection as well as interoperability capabilities with NATO forces, supporting coalition mission integration." With the Family of Systems (FoS) concept, customers can add other AeroVironment small UAS to augment their capabilities while utilizing the same ground control station and software for added simplicity and efficiency, providing for interoperability across NATO forces. The Portuguese Army’s adoption of the Raven system represents the 18th of 29 NATO member nations to adopt AeroVironment's family of small UAS. -ends-
13/09/2018

Latest Anti-UAV System Premieres at Vostok 2018 Exercises

Russian newest anti-UAV systems - Silok-01 and Zhitel - will be used for the first time during the Vostok 2018 large-scale maneuvers. The Silok-01 and Zhintel anti-UAV defence systems will monitor the air space in deployment areas to defend critical facilities such as command posts from unmanned aerial vehicle. The anti_AUV defence systems can intercept and land low-flying aircraft of the mock enemy. These systems have entered the service with the Russian Electronic Warfare Troops of the Central Military District in 2018. iT is the first time they are used at large-scale drills. The two systems have already proved their efficiency in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Vostok 2018 maneuvers have kicked off in the territory of the Far East and Pacific Ocean water zones on September 11-17 in accordance with the Russian Armed Forces under the leadership of the General of the Army Sergei Shoigu. Military command and control units, troops of the Eastern and Central military districts, forces of the Northern Fleet, Airborne Troops, long-range and military transport aviation of Aerospace Forces will be involved in the maneuvers. In total, some 300,000 servicemen will take part in maneuvers, more than 1,000 aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, up to 36,000 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles, up to 80 ships and support vessels will be involved. -ends-
13/09/2018

Uzbekistan Receives RQ-11 Small Drone

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan's military has taken delivery of the RQ-11, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Last week, the Uzbek Ministry of Defense released a photo set of an event called 'Army and Youth' held in Farg'ona region. At the event, the Uzbek Armed Forces displayed a range of military equipment, including the RQ-11, marking the second time the UAV has been seen with the Uzbek military this year. Last month, video of joint exercises with Tajikistan revealed that the Uzbek military was making use of the RQ-11. The RQ-11 is a small, hand-launched UAV produced by AeroVironment. The UAV has a range of about 10 kilometers and can travel speeds of around 30 kilometers per hour. Each RQ-11 system is composed of three vehicles, two ground control stations, and other support equipment, according to the U.S. military. The systems cost about $260,000 each. It is not immediately clear when Uzbekistan ordered the RQ-11 or how many were received. In May 2018, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev traveled to the U.S. to meet his counterpart, U.S. President Donald Trump, and discuss a range of bilateral topics, among them potential defense cooperation between the two countries. President Mirziyoyev did not directly address the subject of arms sales, but he heralded a "new era for a strategic partnership between Uzbekistan and the United States of America" and pointed out that Uzbekistan has "been procuring from the U.S. a lot of technology as well as the equipment." -ends-
11/09/2018

Tempestuous Relations: Brexit and UK Future Drone Developments

In May 2017, Chair of BAE Systems, Sir Roger Carr, blithely insisted at the company’s AGM that Brexit would have no impact whatsoever on the on-going development of the new Anglo-French advanced combat drone. “We will still be working with the EU on defence, certainly in terms of fighting terrorism, and we can preserve our relationship with France in developing the next generation of unmanned aircraft,” he told shareholders. Just two months later, Carr had to eat his words as a major realignment of European aerospace programmes saw France sign a surprise agreement with Germany to develop a new future combat aircraft. While both BAE Systems and France’s Dassault tried to argue that research work on the Anglo-French combat drone could continue in parallel with the new German deal, silence about the programme at the Anglo-French Summit in January 2018 confirmed that the drone programme was in serious trouble due to uncertainties around Brexit. Seemingly in response Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled a full-scale model of a potential new British combat aircraft – Tempest – alongside publishing the UK’s Combat Air Strategy at the Farnborough Air Show in late July. The new initiative, as Defense News put it, “essentially replaces the Anglo-French FCAS program.” Like many projects at the pipe dream stage, we are being told that the proposed new aircraft would be utterly amazing and capable of doing almost anything: --“An operational platform could be manned or unmanned, and capable of deploying swarming munitions and carrying a laser directed-energy weapon,” reported Flight Global; --“An artificial-intelligence-driven autonomous flight system would allow the aircraft to fly without a pilot on board, coordinating instead with other fighter jets, said Wired; --“Tempest will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure its weapons hit their targets. It will also carry energy weapons that fire concentrated bursts of laser, microwave or particle beams to inflict damage.” according to The Sun. While Tempest received a great deal of media coverage, it is hard to see, at this stage much substance behind the PR. “None of it is real. It’s wishful thinking” Labour MP and member of the Defence Select Committee, Ruth Smeeth, told the Financial Times. Other analysts argued that it was perhaps “more significant politically” than technologically or aeronautically. The Franco-German Future Combat Air System and the new Tempest project are in addition to the European MALE project currently being developed by Airbus and Dassault and it is very hard to see how all of these programmes could be sustained financially. Its seems far more likely that this is all political posturing and positioning ahead of some future alignment post-Brexit. Importantly, despite talk of govenment and industry ‘pledges’ of £2bn, there will be no financial decision about government spending on Tempest until 2025. In the current climate that is light years away. As Louise Brooke-Holland notes in her House of Common briefing ‘From Typhoon to Tempest,’: “Whether the UK eventually partners France and Germany, or forges ahead on a separate programme with other partners, won’t become clear for some time. It is quite possible the three nations will eventually work together.” Besides the smoke and mirrors on whether the UK could actually afford economically or politically to proceed independently of its European allies on a new programme, Justin Bronk of RUSI nails the other inherent contradiction in the project on the head: “The Tempest will supposedly be flyable by a pilot in the cockpit or capable of operating as a drone – an arrangement known as ‘optionally manned’ in aviation circles. However, most of the design advantages gained by eliminating the need for an onboard crew are clearly lost in an optionally manned design. It still requires a cockpit, life support systems, physical controls and an instrumentation/information display system for the pilot, all of which add weight, complexity, reduce the space available for fuel, weapons and sensors, and the need for a canopy fairing limits how stealthy the airframe can be made. “Perhaps more importantly, if pilots are to be trained for the Tempest, this will require expensive peacetime flying to train and maintain pilot proficiency. The fact that a UCAV can, in theory, stay on the ground, with operators trained simply with simulated aircraft except during actual operational missions, is a key potential cost-saving feature of unmanned alternatives to fast jets, but this would be largely lost with an optionally manned type. “On the other hand, while the ability to fly high-risk missions unmanned, to reduce the risk to human pilots, is theoretically useful, the extra electronic complexity and programming risk needed to develop a combat aircraft capable of operating in complex and contested environments without a pilot on board is still required.” While Gavin Williamson will no doubt be very pleased with the press coverage that Tempest has received, and Brexiteers will be convinced that Britain can go it alone in developing Tempest, the reality is that like many other projects, the UK’s involvement in developing a future drone appears to be on hold pending negotiations around Brexit. -ends-

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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