A non-biomimetic platform prepares to climb over obstacles during a mobility demonstration at China’s military Unmanned Ground System Challenge in Beijing. The contest was organized by the PLA’s General Armaments Department. (Chinamil photo)

Breaking News

see all items

Press Releases

see all items


Darpa’s Unmanned Surface Vessel Demos New Capabilities

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program has developed and built a technology demonstration vessel that is currently undergoing open-water testing off the coast of California and recently set sail with its first payload: a prototype of a low-cost, elevated sensor mast developed through the Agency’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) research effort. ACTUV seeks to lay the technical foundation for an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel—one able to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for month at a time, without a single crew member aboard. Potential missions include submarine tracking and countermine activities. Towed behind boats or ships, TALONS could persistently carry intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communications payloads of up to 150 pounds between 500 and 1,500 feet in altitude—many times higher than current ships’ masts—and greatly extend the equipment’s range and effectiveness. The demonstration took place over two days with 90 minutes of flight each day. The TALONS prototype started out from its “nest” installed on the back of the ACTUV vehicle. It then expanded its parachute and rose to an altitude of 1,000 feet, where it tested its onboard sensors and communications equipment. Once the test was complete, the prototype reeled itself in back to the nest. The entire process took place as the ACTUV vehicle maneuvered at operationally realistic speeds. While aloft, TALONS demonstrated significant improvements to the range of the sensors and radios it carried compared to mounting them directly on a surface vessel. For example, TALONS’ surface-track radar extended its range by 500 percent—six times—compared to its range at sea level. Its electro-optical/infrared scanner doubled its observed discrimination range. The TALONS team plugged in a commercial handheld omnidirectional radio; that radio’s range more than tripled. “I was delighted to explore the possibility of hosting TALONS on ACTUV and from my perspective, the testing could not have gone better,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager for ACTUV. “We just started at-sea testing of ACTUV in June, and until now we've been focused on getting the basic ship systems to work. TALONS was our first chance to demonstrate hosting a real payload and showing the versatility of ACTUV to do a wide variety of missions for which it wasn't originally designed.” “TALONS showed the advantages of using a low-cost add-on elevated sensor to extend the vision and connectivity of a surface asset and ACTUV demonstrated its ability as a flexible and robust payload truck,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager for TALONS. “This demonstration was an important milestone in showing how clever use of unmanned systems could cost-effectively provide improved capabilities.” Both Patt and Littlefield commended the teams collaborating on the demonstration for accomplishing the testing in a remarkably short period of time: less than 90 days from the go-ahead decision to the actual demonstration. The team members including Maritime Applied Physics Corporation and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division (NSWCC) for TALONS, and the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command-Pacific (SSC-PAC) and Leidos for ACTUV. “This ACTUV/TALONS demonstration is the latest in DARPA’s history of cross-program collaboration to develop breakthrough technologies for national security,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees both ACTUV and TALONS. “Where it’s a good fit, joint testing provides the opportunity to show the robustness and interoperability of each program’s research, as well to explore potential future uses that wouldn’t be evident by testing each program separately.” TALONS is part of DARPA’s Phase 1 research for Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). Now that at-sea demonstration is complete, DARPA is transitioning TALONS to the Navy. In September 2014, DARPA signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with ONR to jointly fund an extended test phase of an ACTUV prototype. In April 2016, a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon, marked the vessel’s formal transition from a DARPA-led design and construction project to open-water testing conducted jointly with ONR. DARPA will collaborate with ONR to fully test the capabilities of the vessel and several innovative payloads over the next two years. Pending the results of those tests, the program could transition to the Navy by 2018. -ends-

USAF Offers $35,000 Bonus to Drone Pilots Who Extend Contract

SAN ANTONIO, Texas --- The Air Force has authorized $35,000 critical skills retention bonus (CSRB) programs for qualified remotely piloted aircraft pilots. The bonuses are part of the Air Force’s RPA “Get Well” plan announced by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James Aug. 10 to increase RPA manning and incentivize RPA pilots within a community that has operated at surge capacity for more than 10 years. RPA pilots in the 18S, 11U, 11X, 12U and 13U career fields with expiring undergraduate RPA or flying training commitments in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 are eligible to receive this CSRB of $35,000 per year in exchange for a five-year active-duty service commitment or in exchange for an additional year of commitment if already on an aviation retention pay bonus or CSRB. The program manager will send communication directly to affected aviators and encourages all eligible officers to carefully consider the options and make a timely decision. The fiscal 2016 programs are retroactive and applications will be accepted by the Air Force Personnel Center through Jan. 31, 2017. Program eligibility and application details are posted to myPers, select “Active Duty Officer” from the dropdown menu and search “11U CSRB” or “18X CSRB.” -ends-

GA Wins $310M for Gray Eagle UAV Sustainment

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Poway, California was awarded a $310,000,000 cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for logistics support of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system sustainment operations. Bids were solicited on the Internet with one received. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of Oct. 23, 2017. Fiscal 2017 operations and maintenance Army; and other funds in the amount of $74,000,000 were obligated at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity (W58RG7-17-C-0018). -ends-

France, UK Jointly Launch Unmanned Naval Minehunting Program

Today in Paris, the Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin and her French counterpart, Laurent Collet-Billon, launched the next phase of a £117 million joint Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) programme. Working with our French allies, the MMCM programme will develop cutting edge maritime mine warfare capability; a capability which will keep the UK and France at the forefront of autonomous systems technology. The development and deployment of unmanned mine clearance vehicle will help keep our personnel safe in challenging maritime environments. The Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin said: “This innovative project further strengthens the UK-French defence relationship and supports cutting edge research on both sides of the Channel. The development of advanced autonomous mine counter measures capability will safeguard our strategic interests, secure aroun 150 jobs in the UK supply chain, and protect our brave and skilled personnel.” The MMCM programme builds on the commitment of the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty to strengthen bilateral cooperation between the UK and France in order to improve collective defence capability within Europe and NATO. Laurent Collet-Billon, Délégué Général pour l’Armement said: “Harriett Baldwin, Minister for Defence Procurement, and I launched today the construction phase of the MMCM project, cornerstone of France’s “Système de lutte anti-mines future” (SLAMF) programme. It is a step further in the accomplishment of the strategy initiated since the Lancaster House Summit in 2010 aimed at strengthening the effectiveness and operational interoperability of our mine warfare systems, and to support the excellence of the Franco-British industrial base.” Such cooperation allows the UK and France to share costs, build expertise, and increase the ability of our Armed Forces to work together effectively and flexibly. A prototype will be delivered to each navy in 2019. Led by Thales, this joint programme draws on the expertise of companies from both sides of the Channel to the benefit of both nations. Work will be shared between UK and French supply chains, as will the considerable export opportunities arising from such innovative technology. The programme will secure around 150 jobs across the country, including Somerset, Manchester and Fareham. The delivery of the programme will also open up opportunities for further collaboration on equipment and operations, supporting the security and prosperity of both nations. The Ministry of Defence’s Innovation Initiative will drive the development of advanced technology and create a culture that is innovative by instinct and international in scope. This commitment to innovation was on display recently at the Unmanned Warrior exercise in Scotland, during which 40 companies and organisations demonstrated the latest unmanned systems technology. This drive for international innovation will be further strengthened by UK-French collaboration on MMCM. The success of the programme’s design phase is testament to the benefits of such a cooperative approach. (ends)

Thales Working on Integrated Control of Unmanned Naval Platforms

The global market for military unmanned vehicles is increasing. Fixed and rotary wing aircraft, submarines, mine hunters, patrol boats – unmanned, autonomous versions of all these and more have become mainstream. The demand for these force multipliers is strong and growing. For the Royal Navy, which may be operating anywhere in the world, the ability to extend its surveillance capabilities safely and relatively inexpensively with mission-appropriate assets is an attractive proposition. But there’s a problem. At present, every unmanned vehicle requires its own dedicated control system, through which its missions are defined and its data - in a video feed for example - is reported. To surveil large areas it is necessary – or at least desirable – to have several vehicles in operation at the same time each with its own control system and operator. And that takes up space as well as adding complexity. With space in any Operations Room at a premium, it doesn’t take long before the ‘clutter’ of multiple individual control stations starts to limit how many unmanned assets can be used at any one time. And this is the challenge that some of the best minds from Thales, SeeByte BAE Systems and QinetiQ, have been wrestling with, in Project MAPLE (Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation). Multi-platform integration Project MAPLE created the Autonomous Control Exploitation and Realisation (ACER) system to demonstrate a capability to integrate the command and control of unmanned systems of different types and provide a single command system on a navy ship. The objective was to increase the amount of intelligence that can be integrated into the tactical picture, without suffering the inefficient clutter of multiple control systems and operators. The task of systems integration was assigned to Thales. “It’s about the exploitation of unmanned technology, most of which already exists,” said Matthew Hart, Thales’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Business Lead. “But this is the first time that command and control for unmanned vehicles of different manufacture - underwater, on the surface, and in the air – has been brought together in an open architecture. It really unlocks the possibilities of how autonomous unmanned vehicles can be used to improve operations.” ACER’s open architecture has some immediate and substantial advantages. All types of unmanned assets can be more easily integrated; there is no reliance on a single manufacturer; training becomes quicker and easier; operations data can be integrated with Command and Control (C2) much more efficiently, and the number of unmanned assets that can be used in any single mission is substantially increased. “Ultimately, the technology will let the Commander decide which area to surveil and the system will task the most appropriate assets to complete the mission. The information coming back will integrate with the C2 tactical picture without the need for multiple and separate control stations and operators,” explained Hart. ACER in action at Unmanned Warrior 2016 ACER was recently fitted to the research ship Northern River, in preparation for trials in the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ exercise off the coast of Scotland, in which it simulated a warship. En route from Portsmouth, the ship paused for two days at Wales to demonstrate the system working with Watchkeeper - Thales’s Unmanned Air Vehicle, currently in service with the British Army. Watchkeeper flew in a series of exercises ranging from persistent wide area surveillance, through to supporting landing forces and naval gunfire, demonstrating its value in enhancing the Royals Navy’s defensive capabilities. Once in Scotland, ACER was shown with Halcyon, Thales’s autonomous unmanned surface vehicle. Halcyon, equipped with a Thales Towed Synthetic Aperture Sonar, took part in a number of mine hunting challenges aimed to demonstrate the significant benefits of autonomous technology when operating in hostile environments. The open systems design of ACER has also attracted international interest, with manufacturers from the US, Australia and other countries taking the opportunity to test their own unmanned assets with the system. A glimpse of the future The idea behind MAPLE is to demonstrate how the specific challenges of unmanned vehicles - such as cluttered control rooms and the lack of interoperability between proprietary architectures - can be solved. “ACER demonstrates how to fully exploit the potential of unmanned autonomous vehicles. We proved that at Unmanned Warrior,” said Hart, adding “The challenge is now moving from how much space you have in the control room to your capacity to launch and retrieve unmanned assets.” How the future plays out is up to the Royal Navy and other military forces. But Hart sees some beguiling possibilities. “There’s no logical reason why you can’t have a number of Unmanned Air Vehicles all working together on the same mission, under single and centralised control,” explained Hart. “And although we are demonstrating the technology on a ship, it could just as easily be used on the quayside to enhance port security or, indeed, for other applications.” “Wherever it’s used, though, it means that the inherent value of autonomous unmanned systems can now be fully exploited.” -ends-

Triumph Supports US Navy’s Triton UAV Transition to Production

BERWYN, Pa. --- Triumph Group, Inc. joined Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy in celebrating the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) successfully completing Milestone C, paving the way for the aircraft to transition into the production and deployment phase. Over the past year, Triumph worked closely with Northrop Grumman and the Navy to implement improvements to the fabrication and assembly processes for the Triton wings, yielding enhancements in wing quality and overall build efficiency. Additional investments in tooling and capital equipment, as well as increased resources and training, were made to prepare for the ramp in manufacturing rates. Triumph Group has delivered 48 high altitude long endurance wings to Northrop Grumman since 1999. “We are proud of our partnership with Northrop Grumman and the Navy, and our efforts to advance the Triton UAS to Milestone C,” said Dan Crowley, Triumph Group president and CEO. “Completing this milestone allows for the launch of Triton into low rate initial production (LRIP) one and two, which extends through 2018, with projected production accelerations through 2027. Triumph is committed to the success of the Triton program for the long run.” In July, Triumph Group and Northrop Grumman signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreeing to collaborate and jointly take further actions to achieve the wing delivery plan and ramp-up production rates for the high altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft systems. Since then, the companies have teamed together to utilize the experience of mechanics, engineers and support personnel to facilitate learning and assist in the production ramp. Collaboration between Triumph Group and the Northrop Grumman teams generated improvements throughout the manufacturing value stream that mitigate processing risks and eliminate waste in the production flow. Triton Milestone C marks the first achievement of the two firms’ partnership since the signing of the MOU. The partnership demonstrates their commitment to the UAS programs and the mutual benefit of delivering high quality, affordable, compliant wings for high altitude long endurance systems. Triumph Group, Inc., headquartered in Berwyn, Pa., designs, engineers, manufactures, repairs and overhauls a broad portfolio of aerostructures, aircraft components, accessories, subassemblies and systems. The company serves a broad, worldwide spectrum of the aviation industry, including original equipment manufacturers of commercial, regional, business and military aircraft and aircraft components, as well as commercial and regional airlines and air cargo carriers. -ends-

Airbus, DCNS Team to Develop Unmanned Helicopter for French Navy

PARIS --- DCNS, a world leader in naval defence, and Airbus Helicopters, the world's leading helicopter manufacturer, are joining forces to design the future tactical component of France's Naval Aerial Drone (Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine - SDAM) programme. By pooling naval and aerospace skills and expertise, the teaming of DCNS and Airbus Helicopters will be equipped to address all technical challenges arising from the naval integration of the drones through the creation of a robust system architecture that can evolve and adapt to meet every need. Ten years of experience in the naval integration of aerial drones For DCNS, drones are the roving eyes of the battle system; their missions are overseen by each ship's combat management system, ensuring increased effectiveness in real time in support of naval operations. Offering a genuine tactical advantage, the VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) drone is an organic component of warships and augments the operational potential of naval forces. DCNS CEO Hervé Guillou said: "We will continue to innovate in these areas and give drones the capability to perform increasingly complex missions over greater distances and timeframes in an interoperable environment with increased digitalisation of resources. Such digitalisation hinges on the roll-out of cybersecurity solutions that offer better protection of data and communications between drones and ships." DCNS's role in the partnership will be to design and supply the entire warship-integrated VTOL drone system. DCNS will design and develop the solutions for the ship-based operation and integration of the drone, including the specification and validation of the payloads and mission data links. DCNS will also produce the drone's mission system, which will enable real-time management of its operations and allow its payloads to be controlled through the combat management system. Over the last ten years, DCNS has successfully overseen the French armaments procurement agency (DGA) and French Navy's main aerial drone study and trial programs, operating both on its own and in partnership. In the process, the Group has acquired know-how that is unique in Europe and possesses solutions for integrating aerial drone systems in warships or enabling them to operate on ships. These solutions have been tested at sea. The VSR 700: a multi-faceted and robust solution A versatile and affordable platform, the VSR700 has been developed by Airbus Helicopters with a view to providing military customers with a solution that leverages a tried and tested civil aircraft and strikes the best possible balance between performance, operational flexibility, reliability and operating costs. Harnessing autonomous flight technologies that have been tested by Airbus Helicopters through a range of demonstration programs, the VSR700 is derived from a light civil helicopter, the Cabri G2 (developed by the company Hélicoptères Guimbal), which has proven its reliability and low operating costs in service. Under the terms of the partnership, Airbus Helicopters will be responsible for designing and developing the VSR700 drone as well as the various technologies needed for drones to perform aerial missions, such as data liaison, payload and a "see and avoid" capability enabling the drone's integration into airspace. "Rotary-wing drones will play a crucial role in tomorrow's air/sea theatres of operation, performing the role of a roving eye and extending the coverage of surface vessels over the horizon," said Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury. "This partnership will see Airbus Helicopters pool its expertise in vertical flight and autonomous flight technologies with the skills DCNS possesses in naval combat systems, allowing us to respond to the emerging needs of our customers." Thanks to the VSR700's specifications, the system boasts superior endurance and payload performance to any comparable system used to date. The device offers big capability with a small size and logistics footprint, resulting in less maintenance and straight forward integration to a broad range of surface vessels. Airbus Helicopters, a division of Airbus Group, provides the most efficient civil and military helicopter solutions worldwide. Its in-service fleet includes nearly 12,000 helicopters operated by more than 3,000 customers in 154 countries. Airbus Helicopters employs more than 22,000 people worldwide and in 2015 generated revenues of 6.8 billion euros. DCNS designs, produces and supports submarines and surface ships. The Group also provides services for naval shipyards and bases. The Group reports revenues of €3.04 billion in 2015 and has a workforce of 12,953 employees. -ends-

Northrop Wins $35M for MQ-25 Risk Reduction Activities

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., El Segundo, California, is being awarded a $35,752,362 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to conduct risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25 Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System, including refining concepts and developing trade space for requirements generation in advance of the engineering and manufacturing development phase. Work will be performed in Rancho Bernardo, California (50 percent); Space Park, California (30 percent); and Palmdale, California (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in October 2017. Fiscal 2016 research, development, test and evaluation funds (Navy) in the amount of $35,752,362 are being obligated at time of award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland is the contracting activity (N00019-17-C-0017). -ends-

Unmanned, Autonomous Techs Tested During Unmanned Warrior

BENBECULA, United Kingdom --- Luckily, the skies above the island of Benbecula, a remote Scottish outpost in the Outer Hebrides, have been clear and calm so far this October. While the systems they are here to test may be unmanned or autonomous, the various projects have brought together in Scotland several dozens of the world's foremost experts in unmanned technology for the two-week exercise. They appeared to outnumber the local population when representatives from the U.S. Navy, led by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), joined colleagues from the Royal Navy and various industry and research organizations at Benbecula's West Camp and Range Head to test unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the first-ever Unmanned Warrior exercise beginning Oct. 8. Unmanned Warrior is part of Joint Warrior, a semiannual United Kingdom-led training exercise designed to provide NATO and allied forces with a unique multi-warfare environment in which to prepare for global operations. Capt. Beth Creighton, the U.S. team lead and command element for the exercise, said the various participants are examining unmanned capabilities in five mission areas: geospatial intelligence collection; mine countermeasures; intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance; anti-submarine warfare; and command and control. "The exercise accelerates learning by providing an opportunity for world-class innovators from U.S. and allied navies to collaborate with the private sector and academia in a challenging real-world environment," Creighton said. "Data products from the remote unmanned systems testing locations are fed into exercise Joint Warrior to enhance naval coalition training." The ONR team is partnering with an international contingent of more than 40 participating groups to conduct a broad range of tests and demonstrations on the latest in autonomous and unmanned naval technologies. In so doing, they are simultaneously strengthening international interoperability and partnerships that amplify the efforts to design advanced warfare systems that began decades ago. "Unmanned Warrior directly supports our Navy's Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority by leveraging this high-velocity learning environment to experiment and demonstrate autonomous capabilities side-by-side with the fleet," said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Research. "Scientific collaboration with allied navies has historically expanded and strengthened partnerships foundational to future coalition operations. This is especially important in the new frontier of naval autonomy, which improves war fighting effectiveness and accelerates the delivery of breakthrough capabilities to our Sailors and Marines in the battle space." Lt. Cmdr. Rollie Wicks, a member of the Secretary of the Navy's Naval Innovation Advisory Council (NIAC), is in Benbecula working closely with the Royal Navy and demonstrating the Airborne Computer Vision (ACV), an ONR-funded semi-autonomous targeting system aboard a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Wicks said the systems he's operating will "affect future naval operations significantly." In just a few days after arriving in Benbecula, the U.S. and U.K. navies successfully enabled interoperability between coalition systems to share blue force tracking data and intelligence. The ACV system accurately detected and reported more than twice the number of vessels at sea than the human-only operated missions. "This capability, with its rapid processing of imagery on board, should increase the speed of warfare significantly," Wicks said. "The image is processed in seconds, rather than minutes after collection, and we're generating all the information that is required to target a potential enemy combatant at sea. That's a real game changer for the U.S. Navy." For Bronson Ignasio, of Boeing's unmanned systems subsidiary, Insitu, the advances made during Unmanned Warrior are the result of years of learning the best practices for implementing unmanned and autonomous platforms on the battlefield, such as the Scan Eagle UAV. "It all started in 2003, after the invasion," Ignasio said. "Scan Eagle deployed with the Marines to Fallujah, Iraq where it played a critical role providing air support for troops on the ground and giving ground commanders real-time intelligence to make calls at the same time." "At first, Scan Eagle was a more tactical asset," he said. "We were providing cover for squad-based elements going down the road knocking on doors and providing expanded situational awareness for the guys on the ground. Now, we're looking for targets or conducting search and rescue operations, conducting simulated man overboard scenarios or looking for potential targets or threats to the battle group. For smaller companies, the exercise enables them to demonstrate technologies and capabilities in a larger setting alongside defense industry giants. AutoNaut Ltd. is a micro company with only 10 employees. Dan Aldis, currently demonstrating the AutoNaut unmanned surface vehicle (USV), said it is designed to deliver persistent offshore data capture in support of anti-submarine warfare using a unique wave propulsion system. "Participation in Unmanned Warrior gives us the opportunity to work alongside larger partners in industry such as Boeing and QinetiQ," Aldis said. Unmanned Warrior is providing opportunities for collaboration across the board, which the exercise leads agree will strengthen coalition capability for future operations. Cmdr. Peter Pipkin, the Royal Navy's fleet robotics officer and the UK's driving force for planning and coordination of Unmanned Warrior, said the unique gathering of international naval warfighters with unmanned system experts has been an environment conducive to considerable synergy. "Where else can you harvest the diversity of technology and problem-solving approaches that each team brings to the maritime autonomy challenge?" Pipkin asked. "I witnessed the rapid evolution of unmanned systems in real-time as needs flowed from the fleet to scientists, to software engineers and back again, in days instead of months or even years. Our partnership with the U.S. Navy and ONR remains a cornerstone for the path ahead of us." -ends-

From Euronaval, Elbit Controls Seagull USV Sailing off Haifa

PARIS, France --- Elbit Systems demonstrated during Euronaval Exhibition, live, real-time control of its Seagull multi-mission Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) system. During the demonstration, the Seagull platform, sailing in the Haifa Bay, Israel, was not only controlled via Satellite Communication (SATCOM) but also performed operational missions, by using control consoles situated in the Elbit booth. Displayed capabilities included commanding vessel sailing using semi-autonomous sailing modes, EO/IR system operation, live display of forward looking sonar imagery and aft deck monitoring camera video display. The live demonstration illustrates Seagull system’s capability for beyond line-of-sight control in addition to the line of sight mode. -ends-

Analysis and Background

see all items


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-

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-

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

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

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-

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

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-

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

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-

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-