Developed by Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI) of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the Wing Loong II is fitted with six underwing weapon pylons and a chin-mounted sensor ball. (Xinhua photo)

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29/03/2017

Robotic Technology Developed for F-22s Coatings

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio --- Robotic technology developed through the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research program will soon make the process of restoring specialized coatings on F-22 Raptor engine inlets more efficient for aircraft maintenance personnel during depot maintenance at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex, located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The initiative has been a team effort, led by engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s F-22 System Program Office both here at Wright-Patterson AFB and Hill AFB. Aerobotix, a small business located in Madison, Alabama, was selected as the SBIR Phase II winner for the project. The company specializes in providing turn-key robotic systems for aerospace, military, NASA, and general industrial applications, while providing a range of solutions for robotic and automated coating needs. The robotics project has three goals: reducing the number of hours aircraft maintainers are required to work in confined spaces while wearing full personal protective equipment, improve consistency and overall quality of the coatings applied, and to reduce the overall hours required to restore the inlets for the lifecycle of the aircraft, said Colin Allen, an AFLCMC F-22 structures and system safety engineer at Hill AFB. As part of the $1.5 million SBIR contract, Aerobotix developed the robotic system, a complex multi-axis system with a long carbon fiber arm to reach deep into the engine inlet ducts. The AFLCMC F-22 System Program Office at Hill AFB is in charge of managing the F-22 fleet from both an engineering and logistics perspective and is the lead agency for this effort. “We’re at a position within our F-22 fleet where we are restoring the intakes of the fleet here at the Hill AFB depot facility,” Allen said. Currently, this is a manual process where maintainers have to don a Tyvek suit and respirator as required PPE in order to crawl into the intakes and recoat manually. “It’s not an easy process. It’s kind of an awkward position to be in for a lengthy amount of time where the environment is actually considered a confined space here at Hill, so you need another person watching the person manually restoring the intakes,” Allen said. The ergonomics issues involved present a less than ideal situation for the depot maintainers to be in all day so one of the goals of the program is to reduce the amount of time that a maintainer is exposed to that environment, Allen added. “The depot F-22 maintainer’s workload is challenging and this project will help speed up that restoration process and ultimately the throughput of the depot. The number of F-22s to go through the restoration process on a yearly basis will be based on mission requirements and depot availability, but the objective remains to get the aircraft back into the warfighter’s hands as quickly as possible,” Allen said. “The actual removal of coatings from the F-22 inlets remains a manual process where maintainers go inside the intakes and strip the coatings using hand tools,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Daywalt, the low observable/structures integrated support manager for the F-22 System Program Office at Hill AFB. The coatings removal process is manual and an automated process has not yet been qualified. For Phase three of the SBIR process, AFLCMC has partnered with the Small Business Office at Hill AFB to procure Aerobotix robots for three of the bays at Hill AFB. “We’ve gone through a validation verification of several of these booths by using the robots to coat one of our trainer aircraft – a ground-based aircraft that the air battle damage repair group here loaned us for the purposes of our program. It’s actually a representative of a production intake so we can go through the full gamut of things that we need to do for production aircraft as far as bringing the aircraft in, jacking it up, locating it, positioning the robots and actually physically applying the coatings we need to restore the intakes,” said Allen. The next step is to receive and analyze test results of the robot sprays, followed by depot personnel being trained to use the robots by Aerobotix personnel, Allen said. Based off that, the engineering group will get together and decide when to push forward with a full-production aircraft in the depot for the intake coating restoration operation. “From the engineering perspective, we like what we see. There are some issues we’re working through, but any project has its issues that need to be smoothed out,” he said. “In addition to the ergonomics issues maintainers must face when restoring coatings inside an F-22 intake, another important factor that comes into play are the tolerance requirements of the application process,” Strunk said. “We will see consistency from jet to jet. With manual application involving different technicians applying the coatings through a spray gun, it’s very hard to (meet the application requirements) the first time. With a robot, we’re expecting to meet those requirements more consistently, reducing the additional time needed to manually work in the inlets. The second part of that are the hazards associated with the materials we’re applying. Once we remove an individual out of the intake, they’re not going to be exposed to those materials to the same degree that we are currently with manual application,” Strunk added. “If there’s any concern right now that we have on the production side of it, it’s just our schedule. We’ve gotten very good at what we do with this intake coating restoration process over the last three years or so. Now that we’re introducing the robots, we want to still be able to see the schedule maintain at the same rate and get better. However, there’s always that concern of being able to meet that tempo utilizing a new piece of equipment. Ultimately, I think we will see some hiccups, but in the end, it will be all for the better,” he said. The project has included the use of computing power using modeling and simulation to accomplish the objectives for the depot F-22 maintenance team, said Carl Lombard, a materials research engineer with the Electronics & Sensors Branch, Manufacturing & Industrial Technologies Division, Materials & Manufacturing Directorate at AFRL. “This enables the maintainers to avoid collision with the inlets and the plane while developing the fastest paths to correctly apply the coatings,” he said. “We’re producing fifth generation aircraft maintenance capabilities for fifth-generation fighters,” said Allen. According to the project team, Aerobotix personnel have utilized their experience with the process to make the transition to F-22 robotic intake coating restoration as smooth as possible for all involved. “One of the reasons Aerobotix was chosen is because they’re certainly an industry leader as far as aircraft robotics goes in their use of robotics for aircraft maintenance on the F-22 and F-35 (Lightning II) programs. They have certainly been more than accommodating, to not only the AFRL and the SPO’s needs, but also the depot’s needs, as far as maintaining their schedule and reevaluating when they need to be in the depot doing work and during the validation process,” said Allen. The exact amount of time saved by using the robots for F-22 intake coating restoration is not yet known. “There’s definitely going to be areas where we shorten the time span. However, we are going to have to change our processes quite drastically and that may cause some additional time that we are not normally used to. Once we get technicians in there working with it, they’re going to find those ways to make things faster,” Strunk said. -ends-
29/03/2017

Creech AFB Squadron Trains Reaper Pilots

CREECH AFB, Nev. --- As technology on the battlefield changes and evolves, remotely piloted aircraft such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper continue to provide combatant commanders with unblinking eyes and attack capabilities from the sky. Some of these capabilities, such as being able to stay airborne for nearly 24 hours, see with high fidelity both night and day and operate virtually unseen, makes RPAs a highly effective platform in the war on terrorism. To accomplish flight, two geographically separate aircrews work together: the mission control element and launch and recovery element. The MCE is responsible for executing the mission, while the LRE conducts takeoffs and landings. While being MCE certified is standard for all aircrews flying the MQ-1 and MQ-9, LR certification requires extra training. The 11th Attack Squadron is a formalized training unit at Creech, where pilots and sensor operators are trained to become skilled in takeoffs and landings. “To be launch and recovery qualified is an additional qualification on top of being qualified to fly the MQ-1 and MQ-9,” said Maj. Stephen, 11th ATKS director of operations. “Flying missions downrange is what all the other squadrons teach, while we teach the launch and recovery aspect of operations.” While the MCE conducts the mission from a stateside location, LRE aircrew fly the aircraft via satellite link. This link results in about a one second delay, which could affect their ability to safely land the aircraft. To combat this, the LRE deploys aircrews overseas to launch the RPA via a line-of-sight connection, eliminating the delay and providing real-time control over aircraft. “It’s safe to say that if someone deploys as an LRE crew member, whether they are Airmen or foreign allies, they will be trained through (the 11th FTU),” said Master Sgt. Ryan, 11th ATKS operations superintendent. “Launching and landing the aircraft is one of the most critical parts of flying, and it’s fairly robust training.” MQ-1 and MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators are selected to deploy in support of the LRE mission when they have gained 500 hours or more of experience in their airframe. Once an aircrew member is selected, their next stop is passing the Launch and Recovery Qualification course at Creech. “The 11th FTU teaches seven different syllabi encompassing MQ-1 and MQ-9 launch and recovery,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon, 11th ATKS assistant NCO in charge of scheduling. “Going through the launch and recovery course takes two and a half to three months, and it’s about 150 hours of academics, simulator and flight training.” “Some people go their whole careers without being launch and recovery qualified,” said Stephen. “For those who seek more opportunities, or who volunteer for deployment, the 11th ATKS is an excellent place to distinguish yourself.” Once qualified, LRE aircrews can further their knowledge by taking additional courses to keep current and proficient in their airframe. “Not only do we train people to be LRE qualified, but we also offer the Instructor Upgrade Training course to train instructors who can in turn train others,” Ryan said. In addition to setting the standard of LRE training for MQ-1s and MQ-9s in the Air Force, the 11th also supports exercises involving these aircraft at the Nevada Test and Training Range. Exercises such as Red Flag, Green Flag and other advanced aerial combat training scenarios are made possible by the combined efforts of aircrews trained by the 11th ATKS FTU. The unit also supports the 26th Weapons Squadron, 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 726th Operations Group and NATO partners by assisting with takeoffs and landings. From the ground to the sky, the 11th ATKS enables the mission of providing dominant, persistent attack to commanders downrange while keeping U.S. and coalition forces on the ground safe. “Going through the course teaches you the expertise needed to handle the aircraft and be confident while doing it,” said Ryan. “Without the 11th ATKS, there wouldn’t be a single RPA in the sky.” -ends-
28/03/2017

Norway Orders Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Kongsberg Maritime has signed a contract with the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency (NDMA) for delivery of four complete HUGIN AUV systems (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) for detection, classification and identification of mines. The HUGIN AUV’s will have a depth rating of 3,000 meters, and will be equipped with advanced sensors for modern mine hunting. The deliveries include systems for planning, execution and analysis of missions, and launch and recovery systems both for the Navy’s mine hunting vessels, as well as in mobile containers. “Our job is to continuously develop and modernise the Norwegian Armed Forces, and the acquisition of HUGIN is an important part of the Royal Norwegian Navy`s transition to autonomous systems for mine countermeasures, says Bård Øina, project manager at the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency “We are proud that the Norwegian Defence Material Agency has chosen Kongsberg Maritime as supplier of new AUV systems. The HUGIN systems that will be delivered to the Norwegian armed forces will contribute to more efficient and safe operations. The two mobile container systems being delivered are portable and flexible, and can therefore be used by several different vessel types. We are also to deliver training and maintenance,” says Egil Haugsdal, President at Kongsberg Maritime. “The Royal Norwegian Navy, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and KONGSBERG have worked on development and verification of AUV systems for mine hunting over many years. We look forward to continued collaboration,” says Haugsdal. KONGSBERG is the world leading supplier of marine robotics and autonomous underwater vehicles for amongst other hydrography, research, defence and the oil and gas industry. In addition to the HUGIN AUV, KONGSBERG also delivers the vehicles MUNIN, REMUS and Seaglider. -ends-
27/03/2017

China Confirms Saudi Order for UAVs and Production Line

The Beijing-based China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) recently signed a deal to sell unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as well as production lines to Saudi Arabia, according to IHS Janes Defence Industry news. The UAV model in question, the Rainbow-4, can accommodate a satellite communications antenna and has previously been displayed with AR-1 laser-guided missiles and FT-9 guided bombs, the military newspaper disclosed. It was developed to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence collection and ground strikes, according to the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics. During a state visit to China by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from March 15 to 18, the two countries signed 35 deals worth as much as $65 billion, including a partnership agreement to manufacture drones. According to an agreement signed by China Aerospace Long-March International (ALIT) and manufacturers in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-made UAVs will be marketed to other countries in the region. Chinese companies have signed deals with buyers in Pakistan and Myanmar for the Rainbow UAV production line, a developer was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post. In the past, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Pakistan have deployed Rainbow drones against terrorists. The excellent performance of Chinese UAVs in the Middle East may have caught Saudi Arabia's attention, one expert speculated. -ends-
27/03/2017

Aerojet to Mature Power Management Systems for UUVs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc., a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (AJRD), has received a $1.6 million contract from the U.S. Navy to mature the demonstration capabilities of a power and energy management system that will allow underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) to be charged wirelessly undersea. Under the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will also mature and demonstrate the system’s software capabilities, which will enable the Navy to prioritize and schedule fielded UUVs that require remote recharging. The concept is part of the Navy’s Forward-Deployed Energy and Communications Outpost (FDECO) program, which was born out of the Office of Naval Research (ONR). “Aerojet Rocketdyne has a long, successful history of designing and developing highly efficient, reliable and safe electrical power management systems that operate in extreme environments – on land, in space and at sea,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “We look forward to leveraging that expertise and working with the Navy to develop a system that will allow UUVs to travel further than ever before, without giving away their presence to potential threats.” The Navy uses UUVs for a number of purposes, including ocean-floor mapping, optimizing remote sensing platforms, as well as locating and identifying underwater threats such as mines. With Aerojet Rocketdyne’s power and energy management system, the UUVs will be able to recharge wirelessly, upload data and download orders – without having to travel to a port or surface ships. The Navy will also be able to coordinate multiple UUVs needing to be recharged wirelessly via FDECO. Once Aerojet Rocketdyne matures the engineering hardware and software technologies, the company will exercise those capabilities in a series of U.S. Navy demonstrations. This contract extends through 2018. Aerojet Rocketdyne is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. -ends-
24/03/2017

MQ-9 Reaper UAVs Again Participate in Red Flag

CREECH AFB, Nev. --- Remotely piloted MQ-9 Reaper aircrews from the 89th Attack Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, alongside the 432nd Operations Support Squadron and 42nd ATKS at Creech Air Force Base participated in Red Flag 17-2 from Feb. 27 through March 10, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The MQ-9s integrated with fourth-generation platforms, such as F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons, from various U.S. and allied forces in realistic combat training scenarios designed to test and challenge each and every aircrew and their platform. “Red Flag 17-2 is a coalition exercise including multiple NATO assets,” said Maj. Dan, 89th ATKS assistant director of operations. “For MQ-9s, our role in this exercise was focused primarily on air interdiction, strike coordination and reconnaissance and dynamic targeting.” The crews flew as enemy “red air” adversaries and coalition “blue air” during the exercise. When flying as red air, they provided air interdiction against blue air. When flying for blue air, the crews struck simulated weapons facilities and command and control nodes. The exercise design provides aircrew an opportunity to practice in a contested and degraded operating environment forcing platforms to coordinate and integrate each of their assets’ unique capabilities to ensure overall mission success. Because it is a relatively new platform, it’s important to understand and demonstrate the MQ-9’s unique capabilities. “When we started this Red Flag, we were somewhat overlooked,” said Capt. David, 432nd OSS assistant weapons and tactics officer and MQ-9 pilot participating in Red Flag 17-2. He went on to say during the mission planning stage the crews ensured other platforms understood MQ-9 capabilities to guarantee successful integration. Dan added one of the biggest challenges was contesting the notion that MQ-9s are solely intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, when in reality, precision attack capabilities are a primary mission of the MQ-9. Having the opportunity to mission plan with other assets, both national and multinational, allowed coordinated air supremacy by blue air. “We don’t usually get to mission plan with everyone on a daily basis and have that face-to-face interaction, which is critical,” David said. “We’re flying real-world combat operations every day and integrate with other services and platforms, but having the ability to train with them and really understand their capabilities fully to integrate in the joint fight efficiently is extremely valuable.” Since not every aviator will have the ability to train in such a dynamic environment, Dan explained the importance of playing with a common goal in mind. “When we go to exercises like this, our squadron doesn’t stand down any combat lines,” Dan said. “The aircrew who get the experience take what they learned and present that knowledge to the rest of the squadron.” Dan also said his leadership fully supports obtaining the skills that Red Flag can provide. “We’re busy taking the fight to our enemies overseas, but Red Flag prepares us for the next fight,” Dan said. -ends-
24/03/2017

GA-ASI Continues Gremlins Phase Two for DARPA

SAN DIEGO --- General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, today announced that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has continued to contract the company for Phase 2 of the Gremlins program. The Gremlins program seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air. Such systems, or "gremlins," would be deployed with a mixture of mission payloads capable of generating a variety of effects in a distributed and coordinated manner, providing U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at a lower cost than is possible with conventional platforms. "GA-ASI is committed to the development of an unmanned distributed sensing and targeting system to support tomorrow's warfighter," said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. "At the same time, we see the potential for using this technology on our own Predator® B/MQ-9 Reaper® RPA to offer our customers new mission capabilities." GA-ASI was awarded a contract for Phase 1 of the program in March 2016. While Phase 1 was conceptual in nature, Phase 2 aims to mature the design and perform in-flight risk reduction testing for the C-130-based recovery system. Activities will include Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for the aircraft and recovery system, ground testing to validate key technologies, and flight test to demonstrate safety and recovery system performance. The program is expected to culminate in an air launch and recovery demonstration in 2019. The Gremlin aircraft is one in a line of new Small UAS (SUAS) being developed by GA-ASI. The vehicle is capable of one-hour time-on-station at a range of 300 nmi while carrying a modular 60-pound payload. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., an affiliate of General Atomics, delivers situational awareness by providing remotely piloted aircraft systems, radar, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide. -ends-
24/03/2017

Northrop’s BACN Comms Relay Completes 10,000 Combat Missions

SAN DIEGO --- The Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), developed, operated, and maintained by Northrop Grumman Corporation for the U.S. Air Force, has completed 10,000 combat missions connecting warfighters in the air and on the ground. BACN is a high-altitude, airborne gateway that translates and distributes voice communications, video, imagery and other battlespace information from numerous sources. Using a suite of computers and radio systems, BACN bridges and extends communications among disparate users and different datalink networks to provide situational awareness and enable better command and control coordination between warfighters and commanders. The BACN fleet comprises four E-11A manned systems and three Northrop Grumman EQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems. BACN supports missions executed in Southwest Asia and reached the 10,000 combat mission milestone, March 6, 2017. “This is a significant milestone as the BACN system continues to demonstrate it is absolutely indispensable to our warfighters in the execution of their missions. Airborne Gateways greatly increase situational awareness and command and control, capabilities that are equally critical for joint and coalition operations,” said Jeannie Hilger, vice president, communications business, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems. The persistent connectivity BACN provides is used to successfully execute a number of missions, including airdrops and overall air operations. The system's beyond-line-of-sight capability has been particularly useful overcoming the communications limitations posed by Afghanistan's rugged terrain. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for developing, deploying, operating and sustaining BACN in support of U.S. Central Command. Northrop Grumman maintains the BACN E-11A aircraft platforms; the U.S. Air Force maintains the EQ-4B Global Hawk platforms. Northrop Grumman was awarded the first BACN contract in April 2005 by the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (previously the Air Force Electronics Systems Center), Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts. Since the system was deployed in 2008, it has delivered near 24/7 coverage in theater and maintained a payload availability rate of greater than 98 percent. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in autonomous systems, cyber, C4ISR, strike, and logistics and modernization to customers worldwide. -ends-
24/03/2017

SRC to Demo Counter-UAV Solution at Navy Sea Air Space Expo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. --- SRC is prepared to support the U.S. Navy with state-of-the-art technologies to combat the emerging UAS threat. The company's Silent Archer counter-UAS technology will be showcased April 3-5, 2017, at the Navy League's Sea Air Space Exposition in booth 2725. SRC's counter-UAS technology is currently in production and has been used to provide VIP protection and security at high profile events such as the G8 and G20 Summits as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics. In January 2017, the company was awarded a U.S. Army contract worth $65 million to deliver, integrate and sustain 15 counter-UAS systems (10 mobile, 5 fixed configurations). Since 2005, SRC has been demonstrating the effectiveness of their counter-UAS capabilities at U.S. government-sponsored events, such as JIAMDO's Black Dart, the Army Warfighting Assessment (AWA), Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), and Maneuvers and Fires Integrated Exercise (MFIX). SRC's counter-UAS technology includes its turnkey, system of systems solution called the Silent Archer system. As a whole, this product provides defense against low, slow and small UAS threats including groups 1 and 2 (small fixed wing drones and quadcopters). The Silent Archer system comprises an air surveillance radar, an EW system, a direction-finding unit and an EO/IR camera. A user display then ties all the data feeds together in one operational picture to facilitate the decision-making process for engaging the threat. The system's multiple sensors work together to detect, track, classify, identify and, if necessary, defeat hostile UAS. It uses a layered and scalable approach to detect and classify drones as friendly or hostile, using a combination of RF detection algorithms and radar tracking, coupled with an EO/IR camera that allows operators to maintain "eyes on" UAS in protected airspace. Together, the systems accurately identify and track threats using layered radar signature data and electronic surveillance information. The integrated EO/IR camera slews to track targets and provides additional identification information to operators. Once a friendly or hostile discrimination has been made against the UAS target, the system is capable of delivering an array of non-kinetic, zero-cost, precision EW and cyber effects against the UAS and its control system. It can also integrate seamlessly with supplemental weapons systems and sensors to offer a true layered defense solution that includes high energy laser systems, close in weapons systems, and surface-to-air missile systems. As a benefit of the Silent Archer system's modular design, sensors and weapons systems can be added and swapped to meet critical mission needs. The flexible system can be configured for expeditionary mobile operations, fixed-site installations, or fly-away kit deployments. Its versatility is ideal for protecting military forces, and critical infrastructure, like ports and harbors. SRC, Inc., a not-for-profit research and development company, combines information, science, technology and ingenuity to solve "impossible" problems in the areas of defense, environment and intelligence. Across our family of companies, we apply bright minds, fresh thinking and relentless determination to deliver innovative products and services that are redefining possible for the challenges faced by America and its allies. -ends-
22/03/2017

US Navy Touts Sea Hunter, Tern at Sea Air Space Meet

ARLINGTON, Va. --- Advanced software that can transform existing medium-sized vessels into unmanned ships able to autonomously complete naval missions. A four-legged, bio-inspired robot that can perform reconnaissance or dispose of explosives safely. A drone that merges the flying capabilities of a helicopter and airplane. These are just a few of the technologies the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) will showcase at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, to be held April 3-5 at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. "The Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition provides a great opportunity to share information between representatives of the services, industry and academia, while showcasing ONR's cutting-edge research and technology programs," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. David J. Hahn. "These partnerships will be crucial to maintaining our nation's lead in technology development, particularly in the areas of distributed lethality, unmanned systems and cyber defense." Program officers from ONR and NRL will be on hand in the booth to discuss their pioneering work and potential research opportunities. Some of the breakthrough technologies to be highlighted include: -- Medium-Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel (MDUSV): Attendees can view a detailed, four-foot model of Sea Hunter, the test platform for the MDUSV autonomy software, which was developed in partnership between ONR and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The MDUSV software will enable future unmanned, autonomous ships to better counter mines and track submarines, travel for longer periods of time without refueling, and use anti-collision technology which complies with maritime law and regulations for preventing collisions at sea. -- MeRLIn (Meso-scale Robotic Locomotion Initiative): MeRLIn is a bio-inspired, 10-pound robot designed to jump and climb. Hydraulic-powered, the robot may one day conduct scouting, reconnaissance or explosive ordnance missions for Marines. -- Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node): Attendees can see a model of Tern, a versatile flying scout drone developed by ONR and DARPA. Tern can perch on ships, even those without runways, and take off vertically like a helicopter before transitioning to plane-like horizontal flight in midair. Sea-Air-Space is hosted by the Navy League of the United States with the goal of bringing together leaders from defense organizations -- both government and private industry -- to learn about and view the most up-to-date information and technology related to maritime policy. In addition to Sea-Air-Space, the Gaylord will host the Naval Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Exposition, April 2, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Hahn will address the audience at 1:15 p.m. to discuss the importance of education and the need for a STEM-educated workforce. The Naval STEM Exposition, co-sponsored by ONR and the Navy League STEM Institute, is free and geared toward students in grades six through 12. It will provide middle and high school students with an introduction to naval STEM careers and applications through guest speakers and hands-on activities. Running concurrently with Sea-Air-Space is the Navy Forum for SBIR/STTR Transition (FST), which also is scheduled April 3-5 at the Gaylord. FST connects technologies funded by the Navy's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs with government acquisition and technical personnel, as well as other potential partners. -ends-

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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
07/03/2014

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

MADRID --- Airbus Defense and Space is preparing to return to the UAV market, three years after it was forced out by the reluctance of the French and German governments to financially support any of the unmanned aircraft projects which it had developed. “We are revisiting our strategy on unmanned aerial vehicles with a vision to leadership,” Antonio Rodríguez Barberán, Head of Military Aircraft sales at Airbus Defence and Space, told Defense-Aerospace.com. “We are planning to be there, even if it takes some years.” This is a major shift in company policy, as Airbus Group decided in 2011 to freeze its UAV activities after having invested over 500 million euros in several programs without having convinced its domestic customers that they were worth supporting. Corporate strategy, at the time, was to sit out until European governments decided which programs, and which companies, they would support. This approach was not very successful, however, as Airbus was frozen out of two major market segments: Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE), where France preferred buying Reaper unmanned aircraft from the United States, with Germany and the Netherlands to follow shortly, and the High Altitude Lone Endurance (HALE) segment, where its EuroHawk program was abruptly cancelled by the Germen government because of cost and regulatory failings. The company was left with only smaller UAVs, a segment where competition is rife and margins small. Airbus has now changed tack because “it’s time for a proper aircraft manufacturer to get involved, to certify UAVs to civilian standards – and I mean FAR 23 and FAR 25 – so they can be used in unsegregated airspace,” Rodriguez said. At present, UAVs can only be used in segregated airspace, under military air regulations, and so are severely limited in their operational usefulness. While it has no immediate plans to resume large-scale investments in the UAV sector, Airbus DS does not see financing as a major obstacle. “We know there is a market, and if there is a market there is money,” Rodriguez said. He adds that for Airbus this is a decade-long project, which will eventually bring it a leading role: “Airbus is not here to be a subcontractor,” he says, making clear that the company is not aiming for a subordinate role in ongoing European UAV programs. While waiting for the MALE market to mature, and for the dust to settle in the combat UAV (UCAV) segment, Airbus is finalizing development of its own tactical UAV, Atlante, which is significantly smaller than the MALE and HALE segments it previously pursued. Weighing about 550 kg, Atlante has been developed in Spain, and from the outset the goal has been to fly in segregated civilian airspace, i.e. over populated areas, and it is intended to be certified for that operational environment. “The key word here is ‘certification’,” Rodriguez says, adding that, of course, “it has to offer value for money.” Atlante first flew in February 2013, Light Transport Aircraft Sector Gliding Along While its UAV strategy matures, Airbus DS continues to improve its transport aircraft product line. It recently agreed with Indonesian partner IPT Nurtanio, also known as Indonesian Aerospace, to develop a modernized version of the C-212 light twin turboprop transport, and it also is refining the performance of the C-295, its very successful medium twin. Most of the effort is on refining the airframe design, for example by adding wingtip extensions, and on increasing engine power ratings, which together add 1,000 ft. to the aircraft’s ceiling in One Engine Inoperative (OEI) conditions. The C295’s Pratt & Whitney engines are already at their power limit, so they have no more growth potential, so these refinements, together with a major upgrade of the aircraft’s avionics, will suffice to keep them competitive for years to come, says Rodriguez. The avionics upgrade will make it easier for the aircraft to operate in a civil environment. A new design may well be necessary in 10 or 15 years, he adds, but for now it is still very premature. The current line-up is quite profitable for the company, and currently accounts for average sales of about 20 aircraft per year, worth about 700-800 million euros including 100-150 million euros for related services. Over the past 10 years, Airbus has sold 157 of the 306 light/medium turboprops sold world-wide, and so has a market share of over 50%, and this should increase as additional orders will be announced this year, one of them “by Easter.” Compared to the Alenia C-27J Spartan, its direct competitor, the C-295 is simple, offers substantially lower fuel costs and “can be maintained with a hammer and a screwdriver,” Rodriguez says. Specifically, he says that maintenance costs are 35% lower, fuel consumption is 50% lower and, in terms of life-cycle costs, “it can save one million euros per plane, per year.” -ends-
03/03/2014

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

Source: U.S Department of Defense Ref: 14-S-0553 Issued December 26, 2013 168 PDF pages Strategy and budget realities are two aspects of the Defense Department's new Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, released Dec. 23. The report to Congress is an attempt to chart how unmanned systems fit into the defense of the nation. "The 2013 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap articulates a vision and strategy for the continued development, production, test, training, operation and sustainment of unmanned systems technology across DOD," said Dyke Weatherington, the director of the unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance office at the Pentagon. "This road map establishes a technological vision for the next 25 years and outlines the actions and technologies for DOD and industry to pursue intelligently, and affordably align with this vision," he continued. Unmanned aerial vehicles have received the most press, but unmanned underwater vehicles and ground vehicles are also providing warfighters with incredible capabilities. Although unmanned vehicles have proved their worth in combat operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, current technologies must be expanded and integrated into the sinews of the defense establishment, the report says. It also calls for unmanned systems to be programs of record in order to achieve "the levels of effectiveness, efficiency, affordability, commonality, interoperability, integration and other key parameters needed to meet future operational requirements." (PDF format) Full text
31/01/2014

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

PARIS --- The service introduction of Watchkeeper, the tactical UAV that has been in development for the British Army since 2005, may be further delayed due to unidentified technical issues that appear to have grounded the aircraft for three months in late 2013. The Watchkeeper program apparently logged no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January, according to data provided by Thales, the program’s main contractor, which showed that the number of total flight hours and total sorties barely changed between Sept. 16, 2013 and Jan 12, 2014. As of Sept. 16, Watchkeeper had flown “almost 600 sorties, for a total of about 1,000 flight hours,” a Thales spokesperson told Defense-Aerospace.com in an e-mail follow-up to an interview at the DSEi show in London. On Jan. 20, responding to a follow-up query, the Thales spokesperson said that “Tests are progressing nominally, as planned. We have now passed 600 sorties and are nearing 1,000 flight hours.” These figures show no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January. Asked to explain this apparent discrepancy, the Thales spokesperson had not responded by our deadline, three days later. “The delivery of Watchkeeper equipment is on track and trials are continuing with over 550 hours flying having been completed,” the UK Ministry of Defence in a Jan 31 e-mail statement. Note this is about half the flight hour figure provided by Thales. “…the Release to Service process is taking longer than expected,” the MoD statement continued, adding that “The last flight was last week, so it’s incorrect to say that the assets are still grounded.” This unannounced grounding may be one reason why the French Ministry of Defense is back-pedaling on earlier promises to consider buying the Watchkeeper, after an inconclusive evaluation between April and July 2013 by the French army. The evaluation included “several dozen flight hours” from Istres, the French air force’s flight test center in south-eastern France, a French MoD spokesman said Jan. 31. The evaluation report has not been completed, and no date has been set, he added. The final communiqué of today’s Anglo-French summit meeting, for the first time since November 2010, makes no mention of the Watchkeeper, although it was mentioned in passing by French President François Hollande during the summit press conference. Thales’ figures on Watchkeeper flight activities have also been provided to other news outlets. A Jan. 16 article by FlightGlobal quotes Nick Miller, Thales UK’s business director for ISTAR and UAV systems, as saying that “Watchkeeper aircraft have now completed more than 600 flights, exceeding a combined 950 flight hours.” Aviation Week had posted an article the previous day, Jan. 15, in which it reported that “Thales U.K….is continuing flight trials and supports army training(Emphasis added—Ed.). However, it is difficult to understand how training can take place without an increase in the number of sorties and flight hours. The above article says “Watchkeeper may début in spring,” echoing a similar story published Sept. 12, 2013 in which Aviation Week said Thales UK “is hopeful that …Watchkeeper…will be certified by the end of the year.” This did not happen. This same Aviation Week Sept. 12 story said that the Watchkeeper “fleet has flown more than 1,000 hr. over 600 flights” – a higher figure than FlightGlobal reported on Jan. 16, four months later. The discrepancies in the figures provided to at least three trade publications clearly contradict company statements that Watchkeeper flight operations are “nominal” and “are continuing,” as they show no flight activity has been logged since September. The obvious conclusion is that flight activities have been curtailed, either by a technical grounding or because of administrative blockages. In either case, Watchkeeper – which is already over three years late -- has clearly hit new obstacles that will further delay its operational clearance by the UK Ministry of Defence’s new Military Aviation Authority (MAA). Watchkeeper is being developed by UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit Systems (51% share) and Thales UK, the British unit of France’s Thales, under a contract awarded in 2005. UAV Engines Ltd, which builds Watchkeeper’s engine in the UK, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Originally valued at £700 million, the cost has escalated to over £850 million, and service introduction has been delayed by at least three years. The British Army is due to receive a total of 54 Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft and 15 ground stations. By late 2013, 26 aircraft and 14 ground stations had been delivered, according to published reports. -ends-
30/01/2014

France, UK to Launch Anti-ship Missile, UAV Projects

PARIS --- France and Britain are due to sign several defense-related agreements during their short Jan. 31 summit meeting at Brize Norton, England, including one to launch joint development of a next-generation anti-ship missile and another to fund a two-year feasibility study for a joint combat UAV. British and French officials have widely briefed the media in advance of the summit to obtain the editorial coverage that both countries’ leaders – British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande – need to bolster their domestic standing. The briefings also seek to highlight that, after several fruitless summits in the past three years, the two countries are finally making progress on the joint defense projects to which they subscribed in the 2010 Lancaster House treaty. The two countries are expected to launch the long-delayed development of a lightweight helicopter-launched anti-ship guided missile known as FASGW(H) in the UK and ANL (Anti-Navires Léger) in France. Originally due to be launched in 2011, this program is now expected to be funded under a €500 million (or £500 million – accounts differ) contract to be awarded to MBDA, a joint subsidiary of BAE Systems, Airbus Defense & Space and Italy’s Finmeccanica. The Financial Times reported Jan 29 that the cost would be shared evenly, but that Britain will provide initial funding because it needs the missile earlier. It is not expected that the summit will launch other missile projects also long in the pipeline, such as the joint upgrade of the Scalp/Storm Shadow cruise missile and a joint technology roadmap for short range air defence technologies. UCAV feasibility study The second major decision that could be announced Jan. 31, sources say, is the launch of a two-year feasibility study for a joint Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), with a contract to be awarded jointly to BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, which last year completed a 15-month risk reduction study. This project has barely inched forward since 2010, when it was first mooted, but Rolls-Royce and Safran have agreed to cooperate on the aircraft’s engines, and Thales and Selex ES on its electronics, Defense News reported Jan. 28, such is the eagerness to launch a funded program before design know-how evaporates. The two governments must also decide whether, and at what stage, to open this project to other European partners, such as Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, Sweden’s Saab and the Airbus Group (formerly EADS), which have developed or are studying their own aircraft but lack government funding. Little concrete progress is expected at the summit, however, on other unmanned aircraft projects under discussion. One is France’s possible buy of the Watchkeeper tactical drone, developed for the British Army by Thales UK, and which is running several years late. Although France has said several times that it was interested in buying it and allow “cooperation on technical, support, operational and development of doctrine and concepts,” it seems that its operational evaluation by the French Army’s 61st Artillery Regiment was not conclusively positive. Another project is the long-running saga of a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV intended to ultimately replace the US-supplied Predator UAVs currently operated by both countries, as well as Italy, and soon to be bought by Germany and the Netherlands. To date, this project has received little in the way of government funding, and it is this lack of serious money, combined with the lack of clear military requirements, that industry says is curtailing its ability to address Europe’s UAV needs. Minehunters and armored vehicles The two countries are also expected to launch the joint development of an autonomous underwater vehicle to replace the remote-controlled robots used by their navies’ minehunters. Finally, France may announce it will loan about 20 VBCI wheeled combat vehicles to the British Army, which currently lacks a vehicle of this kind, the Paris daily “Les Echos” reported Jan. 27. This is intended to allow the British, who are said to have been impressed by the VBCI’s performance in Afghanistan and Mali, to evaluate it before they begin procurement of similar heavy wheeled armored vehicles in 2017. -ends-