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

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24/04/2017

Turboprop Engine to be Demo’d on TigerShark UAV

MIAMI --- Navmar Applied Sciences Corporation (NASC) and UAV Turbines Inc. (UAVT) have announced plans for a joint flight demonstration of NASC's TigerShark aircraft with a UAVT micro-turboprop propulsion system. First flights are scheduled prior to year-end 2017. This will mark the first time that a Group 3 UAV is powered by a micro-turboprop engine with a new recuperator design that significantly increases engine efficiency. "Where many major companies have tried and failed, we were pleasantly surprised at the significant engineering milestones achieved by the UAVT team, Technical coordination between our teams and the ability to monitor UAVT's prototypes in operation during the past year, were instrumental in giving us confidence to participate in the flight demonstration program using the TigerShark aircraft," said NASC President, Tom Fenerty. "This first step is a big one, but as microturbine technology becomes the standard for UAVs, the missions will change and the support provided to our warfighters will be greatly enhanced." "The benefits of turbines were clear to the air transport industry when turbojets first came into service in 1958, and they quickly dominated the industry," said UAVT President Kirk Warshaw. "The same advantages of high reliability, long life, smooth quiet operation, and the use of safe heavy JP fuel have long made turbine propulsion desirable for UAVs, although no one until now has produced a viable system." Both Navmar Applied Sciences Corporation and UAV Turbines Inc. are privately held. This joint project is funded by NASC and UAVT outside of any government program or agency affiliation. -ends-
20/04/2017

China Touts Superiority of Its High-End UAVs

BEIJING --- Chinese high-end large and medium-sized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are gaining a reputation at home and abroad with products such as the Wing-Loong series. Even before its maiden flight on Feb 27, the China-developed Wing-Loong II was subject to the country's largest ever UAS order, due to its integrated reconnaissance and strike capabilities. Its capabilities were developed with the self-reliance and innovation of China's aviation industry, which is taking off after mastering core technologies, says chief designer Li Yidong. The Wing-Loong series grabbed global attention with a range of models at the 2016 China Airshow. The cross-generational Wing-Loong II had a successful maiden flight in the spring in 2017 with a model tailored to the requirements of a customer who lodged the order beforehand. Pioneer in wartime, engineer in peacetime Wing-Loong II's successful maiden flight marks China's new generation reconnaissance and strike UAS. Following the United States, China becomes another country capable of developing such new generation large reconnaissance and strike UAS. The Wing-Loong UAS series were developed by Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI) of the State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China. "The Wing-Loong series has a reputation as a 'pioneer in wartime, an engineer in peacetime and versatile everywhere'," says Li, who is also deputy chief designer of CADI. "Previous models had launched thousands of rounds of various weapons with an accuracy rate over 90 percent," says Li. The Wing-Loong UAS had endured harsh and adverse conditions, such as scorching deserts, highland gales, high altitude take-offs and landings, as well as mountainous terrain and maritime environments. They have been equipped by multiple users both domestically and abroad, and have operated in diverse missions, such as counter-terrorism, border patrol and intelligence gathering operations. One formation of three Wing-Loong I unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) conducted a containment and control mission in a war zone around the clock for seven consecutive days. "Practical combat experience like this is imperative for modifying and developing Chinese UAS equipment, including Wing-Loong and other types of UAS," says Li. It also builds a reputation in a competitive global market. Big order before maiden flight "Getting a big order before a maiden flight is rare in China's aviation industry and globally, which makes us more confident of the cross-generational type of UAS," says Li. The Wing-Loong II was based on previous Wing-Loong series. A pioneer of turboprop-powered drones, this smart model was capable of fully autonomous horizontal wheeled takeoff and landing as well as cruise flight. The "standard configuration" of the Wing-Loong II covers a wide range of advanced equipment such as synthetic aperture radar, laser-guided missiles and GPS-guided bombs. The new UAS comprised the Wing-Loong II unmanned aircraft, ground control station (GCS), mission payload and a ground support system. Its unmanned aircraft is 11 meters in length, 4.1 meters in height, and 20.5 meters in wingspan. The maximum flying altitude of the aircraft is 9km, with a flying speed reaching up to 340km per hour. Its maximum takeoff weight is 4.2 tons, with a maximum external carriage of 480 kg and a 20-hour flight time, which make it possible to perform reconnaissance, surveillance and ground strike missions with long-endurance capabilities. According to Li, it can rapidly identify then strike against time-critical and fleeting targets. The capability is not possessed by previous unmanned aircraft, even manned aircraft." "Taking a look at the UAS in same class around the world, the Wing-Loong II is equivalent to the US MQ-9 Reaper, and ranks in the first level on the UAS list," Li said. With a system extension, it can also perform intelligence collection, electronic warfare, search and rescue missions, and has several uses, including military, anti-terrorism, peace keeping, border patrol operations and civilian use. China to have its say in global sky "China's innovative core technologies and foreign operation experience make it possible for Chinese high-end UAS products to fly higher," says Li. Large and medium-sized UAVs must guarantee flight safety in the event of a data-link interruption. "We have gained the technical breakthrough based on China's accumulation in fly-by-wire flight control, advanced navigation, integrated avionics and automatic control." As high-end UAVs are integrated with emerging technologies, they will continuously enhance their capabilities in the future, says Li. "Small UAVs will become even smaller to conduct swarm-type operations. Large UAVs will fly much higher and faster, with greater maneuverability or longer endurance. Their adaptability will endow them with bigger roles," he says. UAVs are expected to carry out operations jointly with manned aircraft. "To achieve this goal, UAV payloads will surely increase. We expect to see more advanced system intelligence, information transmission, and artificial intelligence decision-making," says Li. Current technologies restrict most UAVs to pre-planned missions. They urgently need capabilities in emergency treatment, higher situation awareness, and cooperation among multiple vehicles. "With more outstanding capabilities and deeper technology integration, the smarter UAVs will become." According to Li, series of China's home-developed UASs, especially those high-end large or medium ones, are under development, production or planning. They will surely fly higher, longer and faster, with greater manoeuvrability or longer endurance. "Innovation is not a romantic field with roses. We will spare no efforts to put China to have its say in global UAS field with core-tech and innovations firmly in hands," said Li. -ends-
20/04/2017

UK MoD Invites Applications for Autonomous Supply Contracts

Businesses can apply for a share of up to a possible £3 million for supplying the military front line through autonomous systems The Ministry of Defence is to invest in projects that look at ways of using autonomous systems in the ‘last mile’ of the supply chain to front-line military operations. Up to £1.5 million is available in the first phase of the competition. There is up to an additional £1.5 million in phase 2 that includes proposed system designs. This will only be available to projects funded through phase 1. A third phase could include a longer period of trials and evaluation of promising proposals. Last mile supply Last-mile resupply involves delivery of combat materials from a physical base or logistics vehicle and is often challenging because of the hostile and contested environment. Although described as last-mile, real-life distances could be up to 30km in some instances. Current ways of supplying the front line involve transport aircraft, helicopters, large trucks, trailers with quad bikes and soldiers on foot. The challenge areas This funding competition is particularly looking for solutions in 3 challenge areas: -- unmanned air and ground load-carrying platforms -- technologies and systems that allow load-carrying platforms to operate autonomously -- technologies to autonomously predict, plan, track and optimise re-supply demands from military users. The competition is for fully funded contracts under SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative). -ends-
19/04/2017

Australia Tests Autonomous UAVs to Boost Communications

Defence researcher Robert Hunjet runs the Self-Organising Communications and Autonomous Delivery Service (SCADS) project. Through SCADS he is proposing an unmanned autonomous system that will allow critical information exchange to and from Australian warfighters in times of communication stress. To prove the SCADS concept, Hunjet and his team at DST are using octocopters that fly themselves. One criticism of current military drone usage is the existence of a control channel which can be jammed, causing the drone to return to base. “If the decision-making and autonomous flight is embedded in the octocopter, then it can manoeuvre itself in a way that best achieves the mission goal,” says Hunjet. “We are looking at having an onboard decision-making process that determines how it should move, given it has limited knowledge of surrounding components, so that the behaviour of the swarm is intelligent.” Hunjet is inspired by the flocks of hundreds of starlings that move around the sky without crashing into each other. “If we were to send information to each of a 500-piece octocopter swarm, telling them where they should be, we would flood the network,” he says. “We don’t want to use the network to coordinate the swarm of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.” From a SCADS perspective, local rules are needed to be specified on each octocopter to give the swarm the ability to pass critical information between warfighters in a highly contested environment. “The power of swarm robotics and emergent behaviour is that we are talking simple implementation and low power on cheap platforms to give intelligent results,” explains Hunjet. “Think high-tech courier pigeons.” Hunjet says a SCADS swarm needs to learn what should be done in different contexts. In order to be able to gather information from the environment and control the unmanned systems in a platform-agnostic manner, DST has created software called Hardware Abstraction and Integration Layer (HAIL). This software allows the system to perceive the environment, and modify the behavior of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Machine learning algorithms will be run with simulations offline so the units understand what they should do in certain situations, much like the pre-mission training that our troops undertake before deployment. That is combined with a real-time feedback loop that allows SCADS elements to tune responses on the fly. As an initial, readily implementable proof of concept, SCADS is exploring a stigmergy-based data ferrying approach. Stigmergy is the process of communicating through the marking of the environment. The DST developed algorithm enables autonomous control of drone speeds to facilitate information exchange between disconnected network nodes. “We are now planning a three year program with the US Navy Postgraduate School that will include progressively more complicated swarming trials in California and Woomera,” says Hunjet. SCADS also has research agreements with several Australian universities. “The support we’ve received from the ADF and academia indicates that we are on the right track.” -ends-
19/04/2017

Army Explores Counter-Drone Techniques

Having developed and utilized unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) for surveillance, targeting and attack, the US military now finds itself in the position of having to defend against the same technology. The US Army last week issued a new manual on Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques (ATP 3-01.81, April 13, 2017). “UASs have advanced technologically and proliferated exponentially over the past decade,” the manual notes. “As technology has progressed, both reconnaissance and attack capabilities have matured to the point where UASs represent a significant threat to Army, joint, and multinational partner operations from both state and non-state actors.” The unclassified Army document describes the nature of the threat and then considers the options that are available for dealing with it. These range from various forms of attack avoidance (“Operate at night or during limited visibility”) to active defense, such as surface-to-air weapons. “Defending against UAS is a difficult task and no single solution exists to defeat all categories of the… threat,” the manual says. Click here for the new manual (48 PDF pages) on the US Army website. -ends-
19/04/2017

Russian Engineers Using Recce Robots in Palmyra

The Russian engineers are using the Scarabey reconnaissance robotic complex. This is a remote-control wheel base with HD video cameras, microphone and thermal image device. Distance of strong connection between the operator and the complex reaches 250 meters even in complicated signal spread conditions. Height of the robotic complex is 15 centimeters and it is almost unobservable. Electronic engines of the Scarabey make its work silent. The Russian engineers are using the Sfera wireless examination device in order to detect explosives in hard-to-reach places, destroyed buildings and obstructions. The Sfera device is fitted with four video cameras, microphone and transmitter. The complex is capable to provide the image from all video cameras simultaneously providing 360? observation. The engineers are equipped with OVR-2-02 combined-arms protection suits. The equipment is fitted with telecommunication and cooling systems. -ends-
18/04/2017

Kratos Converts Russian T-72 Tank to Unmanned Operation

SAN DEIGO --- Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. has announced that its Micro Systems, Inc. business unit, part of the Kratos Unmanned Systems Division (USD), has successfully converted a Russian T-72 Tank to operate unmanned. In response to a need by the U.S. Army for a tank target, Kratos/Micro Systems converted the T-72 to be controlled by its Army Ground Aerial Target Control System (AGATCS). AGATCS is a vehicle and datalink agnostic control systems that has been interfaced to a wide variety of U.S. Army air, ground, and sea surface target vehicles. Converting the T-72 presented a unique set of challenges not normally encountered with conventional vehicles. The dual tiller steering system required high levels of force and displacement. The operating environment was harsh as well, with high levels of vibration, temperature, and dust. Working together as an integrated team, personnel from Kratos/Micro Systems and the Army's Targets Management Office addressed and resolved these issues. Remote control was facilitated by the ability of AGATCS to control a wide variety of vehicles with highly disparate control requirements. Kevin Ferguson, Sr. VP of Kratos Micro Systems, said, "Micro Systems is proud to support the U.S. Army's Targets Management Office with new capabilities to provide highly threat representative target vehicles to support their efforts to develop capabilities to keep our homeland and warriors safe." -ends-
14/04/2017

Three Win MQ-25 Navy Drone Risk Reduction Study Contracts

-- Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., El Segundo, California, is being awarded $24,797,517 for modification P00007 to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-17-C-0017) to conduct additional risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25 Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System, including refinement of concepts and development of trade space for requirements generation in advance of the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program. 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 September 2018. Fiscal 2016 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $24,797,517 are being obligated at time of award; all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -- Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Palmdale, California, is being awarded $18,893,482 for modification P00006 to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-16-C-0086) to conduct additional risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25 Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System, including refinement of concepts and development of trade space for requirements generation in advance of the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program. Work will be performed in Palmdale, California (98 percent); and Fort Worth, Texas (2 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2018. Fiscal 2016 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $18,893,482 are being obligated at time of award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -- General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, is being awarded $18,735,000 for modification P00005 to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-16-C-0085) to conduct additional risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25 Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System, including refinement of concepts and development of trade space for requirements generation in advance of the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program. Work will be performed in Poway, California (90 percent); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (5 percent); and Rancho Bernardo, California (5 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2018. Fiscal 2016 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $18,735,000 are being obligated at time of award; all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -ends-
14/04/2017

US Army Tests Hunter / Killer Unmanned Vehicle Pairings

FORT SILL, Okla. --- As technology advances, so too does the need for Soldiers to be able to multitask without forfeiting their primary duty. With new multi-domain platforms, the Army hopes to give Soldiers the equipment to handle the added responsibility. One such new platform, called "Hunter" and "Killer," is undergoing testing during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) from April 3 to 13, here at Fort Sill. The vehicles resemble a dune buggy -- a large-wheeled vehicle designed for various types of terrain. But the Hunter and Killer are also designed to track aircraft, perform three-dimensional fires targeting and provide other capabilities. The vehicles are modular by design, meaning developers can take pieces from other systems and combine them on a single platform. The intent is to make parts interchangeable, according to Scott Patton, science and technology strategist for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) battlefield operating systems suites team. However, this system, like many others experimented on at MFIX, is only in its infancy. The Hunter and Killer vehicles were just a concept on a PowerPoint slide back in August and September of 2016, according to Patton, who helped design the Hunter and Killer. "We came from the last MFIX and a lot of the feedback we got was, 'Hey we love [counter-UAV mobile integrated capabilities], and we like the dismounted kit, but how do you move it?'" Patton said. "'How do you airdrop it? Can we move it somewhere rapidly for the light fighters?' So, we took that challenge, went back to the lab and came up with a design, and we got the vehicles to them in October." Patton said the vehicles are designed with units like the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne in mind. He hopes the design will prove to be air mobile on helicopters with the ability to be airdropped. For forward observers, Soldiers who advance to the enemy's edge and sometimes beyond, technological advances mean new risks and new responsibilities. In addition to their primary duties of gathering intelligence and relaying it back, they may now be called upon to perform precision fires. With the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, they may be asked to intercept UAVs on the battlefield. With all these challenges in mind, the designers of the Hunter and Killer are experimenting during MFIX 2017 with the platform's ability to operate with minimal human instruction. "We want to see how we can automate the software to reduce the task-saturation of the Soldier," Patton said. "We want to reduce their workload. We want [Soldiers] just to be forward observers. If they have to get into these other domains, they can do it for a minute or two, let the software do the thinking for them, and then they go back to their domain." The platform is meant to fight in multiple domains. For land, the Hunter platform could call precision fires in an automated fashion, and for air Soldiers could use the platform to communicate with an aircraft for support. When performing for maritime, a forward observer could call for an attack from a ship to a target. The Killer platform adds the ability to fight in the cyber and space domains. A Soldier could request a cyber call to disrupt communications between a UAV and its operator. Soldiers would also be able to call on space-based capabilities. During MFIX 2017, Patton said, the users and testers of the platform are contractors, but there are plans to put a product in Soldiers' hands by 2018. "This is just the first stage of the experiment and it's also the first stage of the counter-UAV," Patton said. "We also want to give the Soldier options based on [rules of engagement]. "What happens in one theater will be different in another theater, and the rules of engagement may be different. We want to be able to plug those ROEs in -- what they can do, what they can automate -- and then put the human in the loop when necessary. That's the objective. We're not there yet." -ends-
13/04/2017

New Multi-Spectral Sensor for Global Hawk AUV

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- The U.S. military will soon be able to see airborne images at a greater distance and with greater clarity than ever before now that UTC Aerospace Systems has successfully completed the first flight test of its new MS-177 long-range, multi-spectral imaging (MSI) sensor on the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The test was held on February 8 at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, California, facility. With the Global Hawk flight complete, MS-177 will now commence a six-month integration, testing and qualification phase before official fielding in late 2017. The flight test was the first step forward in the MS-177 Family of Systems (FoS) roadmap that includes multi-spectral imaging, hyperspectral imaging and customer unique mission capable variants. "As the most advanced imaging sensor of its kind, the MS-177 is a game-changer in airborne surveillance," said Kevin Raftery, vice president of ISR and Space Systems at UTC Aerospace Systems. "During its first flight on Global Hawk, MS-177 demonstrated its ability to take the aircraft's imaging capabilities to a new level in terms of coverage area, quality and accuracy. The success of the first MS-177 flight test is a testament to the strong collaboration on this effort between UTC Aerospace Systems, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force. It embodies our commitment to helping our customers produce aircraft that are more intelligent, more electric and more integrated." In service, the MS-177 FoS sensor will provide better image resolution over a longer range and greater coverage area per hour than any other Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensor in the U.S. military inventory. It will also be able to operate from multiple ISR platforms, satisfying military requirements for both land and maritime missions. UTC Aerospace Systems was contracted by the U.S. Air Force in 2016 to support the integration, testing and fielding of the baseline MS-177 sensor variant on Global Hawk. MS-177 has already completed successful flight demonstrations on the E-8C JSTARS aircraft in 2010 and from a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAS in 2016. The next variant, the MS-177A sensor system, will be fielded on Global Hawk in late 2019. The MS-177 is the next evolution of UTC Aerospace Systems' Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS) sensor, currently flown on U-2S aircraft. The SYERS-2 sensor pivots from side to side, while the MS-177 also squints forward and backward, enabling new imaging capabilities. The MS-177 sensor will ultimately be converted into the MS-177A and will offer further expanded spectral performance, enhancing data identification capabilities and assisting in the collation of improved and actionable intelligence. UTC Aerospace Systems is one of the world's largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products. UTC Aerospace Systems designs, manufactures and services integrated systems and components for the aerospace and defense industries, supporting a global customer base with significant worldwide manufacturing and customer service facilities. United Technologies Corp., based in Farmington, Connecticut, provides high-technology systems and services to the building and aerospace industries. -ends-

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12/06/2015

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

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

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

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

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

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

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

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

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

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

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

Source: US Air Force Ref: no reference Issued April 04, 2014) 101 PDF pages Air Force leaders outlined what the next 25 years for remotely piloted aircraft will look like in the RPA Vector, published April 4. “The RPA Vector is the Air Force’s vision for the next 25 years for remotely-piloted aircraft,” said Col. Kenneth Callahan, the RPA capabilities division director. “It shows the current state of the program, the great advances of where we have been and the vision of where we are going.” The goal for the vector on the operational side is to continue the legacy Airmen created in the RPA field. The vector is also designed to expand upon leaps in technology and changes the Airmen have made through the early years of the program. “The Airmen have made it all about supporting the men and women on the ground,” Callahan said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for their own advances in technology to expand the program, making it a top platform.” The document gives private corporations an outlook on the capabilities the Air Force wants to have in the future, ranging from creation of new RPAs to possibilities of automated refueling systems. “There is so much more that can be done with RPAs,” said Col. Sean Harrington, an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance command and control requirements chief. “Their roles (RPAs) within the Air Force are evolving. We have been able to modify RPAs as a plug-and-play capability while looking to expand those opportunities.” In recent years, RPAs not only supported the warfighter on the ground, they also played a vital role in humanitarian missions around the world. They provided real time imagery and video after the earthquake that led to a tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, according to Callahan. Then, most recently, during the California Rim Fire in August 2013, more than 160,000 acres of land were destroyed. Though this loss was significant, it was substantially decreased by the support of the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, with support from an MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft. With this vector, technologies may be created to improve those capabilities while supporting different humanitarian efforts, allowing the Air Force to support natural disaster events more effectively and timely. The future of the Air Force’s RPA programs will be continuously evolving, to allow the Air Force to be the leader in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. “We already combine our air, space and cyber forces to maximize these enduring contributions, but the way we execute must continually evolve as we strive to increase our asymmetric advantage,” said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. “Our Airmen's ability to rethink the battle while incorporating new technologies will improve the varied ways our Air Force accomplishes its missions.” (PDF format) Full text
07/03/2014

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

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

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

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

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

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

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

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