A Russian soldier prepares to launch an Orland-10 small unmanned aerial vehicles during its acceptance trials. Deliveries are to begin this month, the defense ministry said. (RUS MoD photo)

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19/06/2018

US Army Spurs Researchers to Develop Robots for Future Combat

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. --- As part of a strategy to develop and deliver new robotics capabilities to future Soldiers, Army researchers have partnered with world-renowned experts in industry and academia. The University of Pennsylvania hosted a series of meetings in Philadelphia, June 5-7, for principal investigators and researchers from the Army's Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance, or RCTA. "We are coming together to tell each other what we've done over the last year," said Dr. Stuart Young, a division chief in the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Adelphi, Maryland, and the RCTA's collaborative alliance manager. The group formed in 2009 to bring together government, industrial and academic institutions to address research and development required to enable the deployment of future military unmanned ground vehicle systems ranging in size from man-portables to ground combat vehicles. Partners include: -- General Dynamics Land Systems - Robotics -- Carnegie Mellon University - The Robotics Institute -- Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Florida State University -- University of Central Florida -- University of Pennsylvania -- QinetiQ North America -- Cal Tech/Jet Propulsion Lab Young said the laboratory is focused on transitioning new capabilities to industry partners so they can continue to mature them. "Since this is a basic and applied research program, we'll transition it to them so they can get it into an experimental prototype in development," he said. "Certainly the problem that we are working on is very hard. It is difficult to operate robots in the wild, anywhere in the world, but that's the kind of problem the Army has to solve." The Army's vision is to make unmanned systems an integral part of small unit teams. "We're trying to go from tools to teammates so you can work side-by-side with them," Young said, continuing with, "In order for robots to be teammates, they must operate in unstructured, complex environments. "And then in order for the robots to be a useful teammate, they have to communicate naturally like a human does," Young said. "We're doing a lot of work in human-robot relationships, understanding concepts in the same way that humans do, trying to get the robots to understand those concepts in the same way so that the teaming can occur more naturally." Over the eight years of the alliance, researchers have achieved many milestones in the robotics field. "New methods for robots to autonomously interact with and perceive the outside world have been developed to improve reasoning, situational awareness, trust and mobility in challenging battlefield environments," said Dr. Jaret Riddick, director of the lab's Vehicle Technology Directorate. "In the past eight years, researchers have teamed with academia and industry supported by the Robotics CTA to establish robotics technology critical to next generation Army objectives for multi-domain operation." The alliance conducts research in four technical domains: -- Perception: Perceive and understand dynamic and unknown environments, including creation of a comprehensive model of the surrounding world -- Intelligence: Autonomously plan and execute military missions; readily adapt to changing environments and scenarios; learn from prior experience; share common understanding with team members -- Human-Robot Interaction: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments -- Dexterous Manipulation and Unique Mobility: Manipulate objects with near-human dexterity and maneuver through 3-D environments "We've certainly come a long way, and yes, we have a long way to go," Young said. "We've made a lot of progress in understanding and developing new theory and techniques for communicating between the robots and the humans. We must generate more novel techniques to be able to address those types of problems." Researchers said the meetings in Philadelphia were a valuable experience as they continue to plan for a capstone event at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in 2019, where they will demonstrate the culmination of their research achievements to Army leaders. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. -ends-
19/06/2018

Assessing the Risks of Integrating UAVs into National Airspace

WASHINGTON – Introducing drone operations into the nation’s airspace can provide substantial benefits to society, such as preventing derailments, inspecting cell phone towers, delivering medical devices to patients in cardiac distress, and assisting firefighters, says a new congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. However, an overly conservative approach to safety risk assessments at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which the report says tends to overestimate the severity and likelihood of risks from many types of drone operations, can be a significant barrier to introduction and development of this emerging and rapidly changing technology. Many recent events have highlighted the potential value of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), to reduce risks and save lives. Earlier this year, a drone saved two swimmers in New South Wales, Australia, who were caught in rough ocean surf. A lifeguard supervisor spotted the swimmers in trouble and used a drone to drop an inflatable device. Yet, drone operations in the United States that have the potential of providing safety benefits have been prevented from entering the airspace because of FAA’s application of safety risk assessment techniques, developed over many years for manned aviation, which require evidence of a near-zero tolerance for risk. The “fear of making a mistake” drives a risk culture at FAA, particularly with regard to drone activities, which do not pose a direct threat to human life in the same way as technologies used in manned aircraft, the report says. The focus of the FAA is often solely on what might go wrong, and the dialogue now needs to shift toward balancing risks with potential advantages of drone operations, developing a holistic picture on overall risk and benefit, said the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “FAA needs to accelerate its move away from the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy for UAS operations,” said George Ligler, proprietor of GTL Associates and chair of the committee. “The FAA’s current methods for safety and risk management certainly ensure safety within the manned aircraft sector, but UASs present new and unique challenges and opportunities, which make it important for the agency to take a broader view on risk analysis.” The report urges FAA to understand the threshold of risk that the public is likely to accept for small drones, in the same context as other levels of publicly accepted risks for activities such as traveling by car, swimming in the ocean, or walking across the street. Such an approach can particularly help establish appropriate safety standards for many UASs beyond those currently defined in FAA’s regulation that governs relatively small-sized drones, the most common types flying today. “Overly stringent certification and operational approval requirements for drone operations that are relatively low risk have the potential for placing unnecessary burden on the business case and implementation timeline for those operations, stifling innovation,” Ligler added. To integrate drone activities into the nation’s airspace in a timely yet safe manner, FAA should evolve its current risk assessment methodologies, the report says. The need is particularly pressing because the lack of empirical data in this emerging industry means the current FAA approaches to UAS risk management are based fundamentally on qualitative and subjective risk analysis. The committee calls for FAA to establish and publish specific guidelines within the next 12 months for implementing a predictable, repeatable, quantitative risk-based process for certifying UAS systems and aircraft and granting operations approval. The administration should expand its perspective on quantitative risk assessment to look more holistically at the total safety risk. For example, FAA should consider the safety benefit that accrues when a drone allows for cell tower inspections without the need for a human to climb the tower. The report also recommends the FAA administrator publicly commit to reviewing risk assessments within six months so the proponents receive timely feedback. The administration should also undertake a top-to-bottom change in management processes with the aim of moving smartly to a risk-based decision-making organization with clearly defined lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability. The study was sponsored by FAA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. Click here for the full report (76 PDF pages) on the NAP website. -ends-
15/06/2018

The World May Soon Be Awash In Advanced, Lethal Drones

U.S. military forces face a growing threat from sophisticated and often deadly drones, due to the broad proliferation of related weapons and surveillance technologies that until recently have largely been in the hands of friendly countries, according to a new report prepared for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The global spread of these technologies was supposed to be controlled by a system of export controls created by the West to block the spread of advanced missiles, but that system has failed to obstruct the development of drones that have potent surveillance and destructive power by potential American adversaries, the report says. Countries like China, Russia, Iran, and even the United Arab Emirates are not only producing lethal drones, but in some cases exporting both the drones and their underlying technologies. While the most capable military drones have been used by only around ten countries until now, that number is about to expand, analysts at the RAND Corporation state in their 70-page report to Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., the Joint Chiefs chairman. China is building a factory in Saudi Arabia meant to produce CH-4 drones that can loiter for at least 14 hours while carrying antiarmor missiles and heat sensors, and is offering to erect drone factories elsewhere, such as Pakistan and Myanmar, the report notes. China may also use the factory to make better CH-5 drones capable of carrying precision-guided missiles for as long as 39 hours. In an illustration of how routine such deployments have become, Chinese CH-4s are already stationed at the Saudi’s Jirzan Regional airport, near U.S. Predator drones owned by UAE that are operating from the same airbase, according to satellite photos analyzed by experts at Bard College. The Emirates, meanwhile, are selling drones of their own to Russia while also offering coproduction opportunities to other countries. Germany and possibly Italy are moving towards the production and export of similar advanced drones. “The proliferation of large UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] is accelerating,” said the June 14 report, “Assessment of the Proliferation of Certain Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems,” which was ordered by Congress. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the Center for Public Integrity website. -ends-
15/06/2018

Large UAVs Seen Proliferating As Foreign Producers Bypass Controls

Section 1276 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 requires an independent assessment, directed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of the impact that certain remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) governed by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) have on U.S. national security interests. The NDAA requires that this evaluation, in the form of a report, be delivered to the congressional defense committees. The congressional language specifically requires that the assessment include evaluation in six areas: (1) a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the scope and scale of the proliferation of RPAs that are category I items (that is, those presumed not to be exportable) under the MTCR; (2) an assessment of the threat that the proliferation of such aircraft among adversaries poses to U.S. interests; (3) an assessment of the impact that the proliferation of such aircraft has on the combat capabilities of and interoperability with allies and partners of the United States; (4) an analysis of the degree to which the United States has limited the proliferation of such aircraft as a result of the application of a "strong presumption of denial" for exports of such aircraft; (5) an assessment of the benefits and risks of continuing to limit exports of such aircraft; and (6) such other matters as the chair considers appropriate. This report contains the results of the researchers' findings and assessment. Key Findings -- The MTCR is only one of many U.S. control mechanisms to which an export request is subjected: * Maintaining the MTCR controls has potential security, economic, and political consequences. * The MTCR's effects on security considerations are somewhat negative because U.S. allies and partners are being negatively affected while the threat to U.S. and allied troops from foreign-made UAVs, mostly from China, has increased. * The economic impact on the United States is negative because fewer sales are occurring. * Political impact would appear to be neutral but varies by measured factors. -- The MTCR's Impact and Effectiveness in Controlling Category I UAVs Has Eroded: * A subset of category II systems is widely proliferated. These systems have capabilities that are near those of category I systems but with smaller payloads, so the strict category I restrictions do not apply. * Several nations are now developing and openly marketing category I systems for sale to both MTCR and non-MTCR nations. * Non-MTCR nations with the capability to manufacture category I systems (e.g., China) have also marketed these systems and, in one case, are building coproduction facilities to produce them. Click here for the full report (91 PDF pages), on the Rand Corp. website. -ends-
15/06/2018

USAF to Upgrade SAR radars on Reaper UAVs

General Atomics - Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a $22,907,561 firm-fixed-price modification (000105) to a previously awarded contract (FA8620-15-G-4040) for MQ-9 Reaper radar productionization. This contract provides for the productionization of the Lynx Block 20A synthetic aperture radar (SAR) configuration, to be a form, fit and functional replacement for the current production configuration Lynx Block 20A SAR for installation in the MQ-9 Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by June 31, 2020. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2016 aircraft procurement funds in the amount of $22,907,561 are being obligated at the time of award. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity. -ends-
15/06/2018

NRL Increases UAV Endurance with Solar Technology

WASHINGTON --- Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are developing technology for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that has given them the ability to fly for more than 12 hours by harvesting energy from the atmosphere and the sun. Solar-Soaring is a pair of endurance-enhancing technologies. They aid the warfighter by enabling a UAV to fly longer without carrying extra weight in batteries. "One of the common complaints that we hear across industry and the warfighters is that they want aircraft to fly longer," said Dr. Dan Edwards, senior aerospace engineer in NRL's Tactical Electronic Warfare Division. "One great way to do this is to capture atmospheric wind energy or solar energy to extend the endurance." Since 2005, Edwards has been exploring how to teach an autopilot how to soar using thermals in the atmosphere, much like how a bird flies. Using special sensing and guidance algorithms, the UAV flies a waypoint route until it senses a thermal updraft, then commands the aircraft to circle in the rising air. "Sunlight heats up the surface of the Earth, which in turn heats the lowest layer of air," said Edwards. "That warm air eventually bubbles up as a rising air mass, called a thermal, which the airplane can use to gain altitude. It's indirectly solar-powered." Solar power is also used directly to power the UAV using solar cells, which are semiconductor devices that convert light into electricity. While these devices have been around for some time, it was only recently that photovoltaic technology advanced to the point where a UAV could be solar-powered. For an aircraft, every gram of weight has to be justified. Essentially, it has to pull its own weight. Until recently, solar cells were not worth the added weight. "For a long time, even though there has been solar aircraft since the 1990s, the efficiency of the solar cells wasn't high enough to pay the mass penalty, meaning you weren't getting enough energy to justify the additional mass," said Phil Jenkins, head of the Photovoltaics Section in NRL's Electronics Science and Technology Division. "But over the last 10 years, that has really changed. The cells have gotten more efficient and lighter." The aircraft still carries a battery. However, the battery can be smaller because of the solar and soaring capabilities on board. "With Solar-Soaring, the UAV doesn't need a huge battery because it is getting energy from the environment," said Edwards. "It just carries more intelligent software in the case of the autonomous soaring algorithms, or a lightweight, integrated solar array that captures much more energy from the sun compared to the amount of mass." Bringing these two technologies together, NRL found the combination works better than either individually. While soaring, the motor is turned off and the solar array can recharge the on-board battery faster. This increases the mission availability of a UAV for warfighters. "Between the two, you have the most robust energy-harvesting platform, because sometimes you'll be able to soar and sometimes you won't have the solar, and vice versa," said Jenkins. The NRL-developed technologies are applicable to platforms that are already in use by the military, such as the Raven, a small hand-launched remote-controlled UAV or the Predator, a larger UAV. "In the case of Solar-Soaring, we're demonstrating the techniques to fly aircraft with a higher endurance," said Edwards. "These techniques are portable to a lot of the programs of record, like the small-size Raven or potentially the larger Predator, so it's a pretty broad application space." Having a UAV with extended endurance capabilities is important for military information, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, or a communications relay. The technology also has important uses for civilian applications, including monitoring and inspection of railways and oil pipelines, surveying crops, and search and rescue. "The technology could be very useful for coastal monitoring or pollution monitoring, for example," said Jenkins. "In these cases, you just want eyes up there for hours and hours, and Solar-Soaring makes that possible." Both Edwards and Jenkins identified a hurdle they would eventually have to overcome with Solar Soaring - the ability to fly through the night. "We still can't fly through the night because the batteries are just too heavy, but we currently get dawn to dusk-enhanced endurance," said Jenkins. For Edwards, the next step in solving this problem is swapping out the battery for a hydrogen fuel cell. "Fuel cells have much more energy per unit mass than a battery," said Edwards. "So we're marrying the fuel cells, which are great for getting through the night, and the Solar-Soaring, which is great in the daytime for getting energy directly from the sun and wind." Although the Solar Soaring technology was a success, it did not come without its challenges. "There's always an interesting jump from pure math, pure theory, to the application space," said Edwards. "Some algorithms look great in simulation, but just doesn't give the desired results in the real world with noisy data. Real thermals are so much more complex than in simulations, so we have had to fly a lot to find out what is robust in the real world." Jenkins spends his time at the lab developing solar cells on a small scale, so having the opportunity to take the solar cell technology and apply it was both challenging and rewarding. "It is fun to see the application of advanced solar cells at work, as opposed to when you're developing new solar cell technology, where the end product is usually a published report," said Jenkins. "Here we have something that is very close to the end application." The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster the nation's position of global naval leadership. NRL is headquartered in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Mississippi, and Monterey, California. About 2,500 scientists, engineers, and support staff serve at NRL, which has nearly 100 years of contributing to the warfighter. -ends-
14/06/2018

Germany and Airbus Sign Lease for Heron TP After Bundestag Approves

BERLIN --- Airbus and the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) have signed an operator agreement for Heron TP unmanned aerial systems (UAS) after parliamentary approval was granted on 13 June 2018. The contract includes both the provision of Heron TP UAS as well as all operational services required for the system. In accordance with German budget law, the contract will become effective upon publication of the federal budget. Heron 1 drones, which are currently deployed by the German Armed Forces in Afghanistan and Mali, are to be replaced by the more powerful IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries)-made [Heron TP] which is already fully operational with the Israeli Air Force, although the contract between the Bundeswehr and Airbus is based on this previously successful model. Industry will ensure system performance, flight hours and availability and enable soldiers to focus fully on their respective missions. The project will have a two-year set-up phase, followed by an operational phase lasting a further seven years, thereby bridging the gap until a sovereign European drone will be developed. “This project will provide the Bundeswehr with an even more efficient system that will better protect soldiers in a wide range of threat situations as well as the at-risk civilian population,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus. “The modular concept will allow us to provide the Bundeswehr with the capabilities it needs on time for the years to come.” Shaul Shahar, IAI EVP and General Manager of the Military Aircraft Group, said, “We are thrilled and proud of this agreement with the Federal Ministry of Defence, a major strategic customer. The Heron TP is a first rate strategic RPAS. Its strong performance will provide Germany with unprecedented air superiority. We would like to thank the German government for this vote of confidence built over many years. We are committed to preserving the quality of our service and systems and look forward to continued collaboration.” Under the terms of the basic contract, the Bundeswehr will receive five aircraft equipped for reconnaissance missions and capable of carrying weapons, four sets of ground segments, training environments and all system operational services. The basic contract also includes preparing the drones for their use in future countries of operation. The systems are equipped with electro-optic and infrared sensors and imaging radar systems to perform far-reaching reconnaissance tasks. Satellite communication systems and German data and voice encryption systems are also part of the configuration. The UAVs are kitted out with a weather radar system so that they can operate in bad weather conditions. The MALE HERON TP system will get military certification from the German Armed Forces aviation authority in accordance with STANAG 4671 allowing the system to be used around the world. This is supplemented by the integration of collision avoidance capabilities. As was the case with the previous model, the Heron 1, Airbus as prime contractor will closely collaborate with Israeli company Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI). Complementing its role as prime contractor, Airbus is already a Heron TP design organisation approved by the German Armed Forces aviation authority and will also become the approved Heron TP manufacturing and maintenance organisation for the project. (ends)
14/06/2018

Thales: Why Armed Drones are Changing Combat Forever

Could it be that armed drones “are becoming as important to warfare as the tank or the airplane in the past”? That is precisely what France’s Army Minister Florence Parly explained in announcing recently that the country would begin using armed drones. “In the future”, she said, “armed drones will bring together continuous surveillance, endurance, discretion and strike capability---at just the right moment”. The growing added value of armed drones to support military superiority at the ‘decisive moment’ comes from its ‘triple threat’. “With an armed drone” explains Pierre Bénard of Thales, “you are assured of three key military requirements at once: Surveillance, Intelligence, and Neutralisation of targets”. This efficiency makes armed drones the perfect complement to support all the other elements of Connected Combat; their built-in, miniaturised smart technologies for precision combat extend military capabilities while reducing both risk to troops and collateral damage around targets. The drone can remain over an area for as long as required, and its modern sensors assure wide-ranging, continued reconnaissance and identification of hostile elements that can be neutralised through light-weight laser-guided projectiles. “Continuous connectivity multiplies many times over the military value of the reconnaissance by transmitting critical battlefield intelligence in real time to the operator”, Pierre Bénard explains, “It is the human operator who remains at the center as decision-maker”. Once the decision to engage is made, precision starts with the right choices of projectile and munition and laser guidance for their delivery. This creates the potential to reduce significantly the risks of collateral damage. So the quest for extended precision combat with greatly-reduced human risk is becoming a reality through armed drones. Pierre Bénard concludes, “Thanks to a close relationship with the military forces around the world, Thales is offering complete, end-to-end solutions for armed drones, including the miniaturised sensors and arms as well as the entire chain of secure communication with a guarantee of continual availability to the operator. In that way, we support the critical objectives of protection of soldiers, as well as precision and efficiency of operations, whatever the requirements”. And Thales’ long experience in tactical combat systems and military applications of Optronics, Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Connectivity and Cybersecurity makes it all possible. -ends-
14/06/2018

US Air Force Flies AgilePod on MQ-9 Reaper UAV

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio --- In March 2018, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Sensors Program Office, working jointly with the AFLCMC Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Office, sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod. The flights were a first for AgilePod on an Air Force major weapon system, and were the result of collaboration between AFLCMC and the Air Force Research Lab. “These flights mark the culmination of more than two years of cutting-edge technology development led by our colleagues within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate ManTech team, and Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team,” said Lt. Col. Elwood Waddell, the advanced technologies branch chief within the Sensors Program Office.” The AgilePod program will offer a family of non-proprietary, government-owned pods of several sizes that can accommodate various missions, quickly change payloads and fit on multiple platforms. The program uses open adaptable architecture and standards-based design to ensure maximum flexibility without proprietary constraints. “The AgilePod program began with a desire to bring agile manufacturing practices to the ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] enterprise, culminating in a wholly government-owned, open architecture ISR capability that was both payload and platform agnostic,” said Andrew Soine, a program manager with AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. “The program is really taking off, with proposed ISR and non-ISR applications that we couldn’t have foreseen only a few years ago. By owning the technical baseline, we’ve shown what can be done in relatively little time and cost when faced with emergent user needs.” “Blue Guardian’s mission is to rapidly demonstrate emerging sensor technology,” added Capt. Juliana Nine, a program manager with AFRL’s Sensors Directorate. “These MQ-9 flights did exactly that. The open adaptable architecture based on Open Mission Systems and common electrical/mechanical interfaces developed by the Blue Guardian team enabled the rapid re-configurability of the sensors inside the AgilePod. This capability will help the warfighter adapt their sensor payloads as the mission dictates.” U.S. Air Force ownership of the registered trademark for AgilePod is key to the program, giving the Air Force the authority to designate a given pod as an AgilePod. This cultivates a highly collaborative relationship with industry partners as the Air Force shares existing technical data under the protection of an Information Transfer Agreement. The agreement enables the sharing of all government technical data on AgilePod while protecting government ownership and enabling industry innovation. For the demonstration, the Air Force partnered with Leidos (facilitated the open architecture sensor integration), the University of Dayton Research Institute (implemented the open software for sensor command and control), AdamWorks (built the AgilePod) and General Atomics (integrated the podded system onto the MQ-9 aircraft). “We believe this program has the potential to both increase the velocity at which future sensor technology is made available to the warfighter, as well as to improve agility in employing various sensor modalities to fit any given scenario,” said Waddell. The Sensors Program Office continues to collaborate with AFRL and industry partners on the design and upgrade of several AgilePod variants, and has plans to test various sensor modalities within AgilePod on operational platforms in the near future. -ends-
14/06/2018

RAPIDFire: Keeping Troops Safe from Predators in the Sky

How do you protect soldiers on the move from the latest airborne threats, including armed drones, hovering helicopters and even cruise missiles that are ready to prey on targets below them? The answer is RAPIDFire, the latest generation in air defense systems, that will change everything you thought you knew about effective ‘anti-aircraft’ intervention. This highly-mobile multi-role-gun system can protect troops as well as fixed battleground assets by zapping enemy predators out of the sky. RAPIDFire’s precision tracking, targeting and destruction of the newest airborne threats is a field commander’s dream, explains Cyril Dupuytrent, of Thales whose 40 years of field-proven weapon systems’ experience are behind the system’s unique range of capabilities. “RAPIDFire creates a protective ‘bubble’ of four kilometers around it” explains Cyril Dupuytrent, “Its speed, versatility and built-in intelligence create a true ‘shield’ for armed forces on the move”. Speed and firepower come from its 40 mm CTA cannon that has the compactness of a 25 mm gun and from the ‘smartshells’ inside the cartridge for easier manipulation and logistics. The system is a result from a Thales partnership with Nexter. RAPIDFire itself could not be ‘smarter’. Its built-in Optronics and Artificial Intelligence provide for 3D precision for the operator who guides the projectiles to their targets tot release their pellets at precisely the moment of interception. And RAPIDFire lives up to its name, with a reaction time of target detection to ready-to-fire mode of 4.5 seconds and with a firing rate of up to 200 rounds per minute. Cyril Dupuytrent concludes, “RAPIDFire’s mobility, precision, and efficiency can provide day and night protection needed to assure the safety of all elements needed for success in today’s connected Collaborative Combat”. -ends-

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09/05/2018

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

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

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

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

Autonomous Military Drones: No Longer Science Fiction

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

Russia Works to Restore Positions In Drone Development

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

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

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

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

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

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

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

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

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

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

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

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

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