France’s ECA Group has announced it has sold its AUV A18 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to a third foreign customer which it did not identify. (ECA photo)

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14/12/2018

Camcopter S-100 Demos New Comint and Imaging Payloads to Australian Army

VIENNA --- Schiebel, in cooperation with ELTA Systems and Overwatch Imaging, integrated two new payloads for an active army exercise. The Australian Army conducted a two-week activity with the CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) to gain further insights into future capabilities and payloads in support of Project Land 129-3. Specifically, they tested ELTA Systems’ state-of-the-art ELK-7065 Compact Airborne HF COMINT/DF 3D System during the first week, followed by Overwatch Imaging’s game-changing TK-5 Firewatch during the second week of the exercise. As the market leader in Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS, the multi-payload capable S-100 offers a proven platform for military and civilian applications on land and at sea. It operates day and night, under adverse weather conditions and with a beyond line-of-sight capability of up to 200 km. The combination of the CAMCOPTER S-100 and the ELK-7065 offers a remarkably flexible high-frequency (HF) communications intelligence (COMINT) capability that provides rapid spectrum exploration, analysis and detection of advanced HF communication signals in real time and with off-line analysis tools. Furthermore, it is suitable to operate in harsh electromagnetic environments. “The ELK-7065, integrated on the CAMCOPTER S-100 UAS, offers the essential capability of delivering time-critical intelligence in the most complex operational environments,” noted Chris Day, Chief Technical Officer for Schiebel. “This is increasingly important for military, para-military and civilian applications.” Overwatch Imaging’s TK-5 Firewatch payload, which was tested during the second week of the exercise, bridges the gap between small drone mapping cameras and satellite mapping systems. The wide-area multi-band land mapping with automatic small object detection enables regional-scale applications in real time with optimal resolution. It includes color, near infrared (NIR) and temperature-calibrated thermal longwave infrared (LWIR) sensors that operate at the same time, including simultaneous on-board image processing. Integrated on the CAMCOPTER S-100, it becomes an extremely powerful asset for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Director General of Aviation for the Australian Army, Brigadier John Fenwick, commented that, “The lease of the CAMCOPTER S-100 and its advanced payloads is an important activity supporting Army’s understanding of UAS capabilities. We will continue to explore all options to keep the Australian Army at the forefront of new technologies.” Schiebel’s CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) is an operationally proven capability for military and civilian applications. The Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS requires no prepared area or supporting equipment to enable launch and recovery. It operates by day and by night, under adverse weather conditions, with a beyond line-of-sight capability out to 200 km / 108 nm, over land and sea. Its carbon fiber and titanium fuselage provides capacity for a wide range of payload/endurance combinations up to a service ceiling of 5,500 m / 18,000 ft. In a typical configuration, the CAMCOPTER S-100 carries a 34-kg / 75-lbs payload up to 10 hours and is powered with AVGas or JP-5 heavy fuel. High-definition payload imagery is transmitted to the control station in real time. In addition to its standard GPS waypoint or manual navigation, the S-100 can successfully operate in environments where GPS is not available, with missions planned and controlled via a simple point-and-click graphical user interface. The high-tech unmanned helicopter is backed by Schiebel’s excellent customer support and training services. Founded in 2018, Schiebel Pacific Pty Ltd (SPL) is the Australian subsidiary of the Schiebel Group, which focuses on the development, testing and production of the revolutionary CAMCOPTER S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS). The Australian base provides the Pacific region with a permanent and comprehensive program, logistics and sales hub and shows a commitment to supporting and contributing to the local industry. -ends-
13/12/2018

European MALE Drone Passes Preliminary Design Review, Contract to Follow in 2019

MUNICH --- Another major milestone in the European Medium Altitude Long Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS) programme was attained with the achievement of the System Preliminary Design Review on November 22nd. This highly significant accomplishment follows the European Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation (OCCAR) inviting Airbus Defence and Space on October 31st to submit a Tender for the Development, Production and initial in-Service Support phase of the European MALE RPAS Programme. This milestone will allow the Participating States and Industry to start developing the System with aligned requirements and a clear picture of the overall system design. As designated future prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space will coordinate the industrial response to the Invitation to Tender (ITT) with the involvement of major Sub-Contractors: Airbus Defence & Space, Dassault Aviation SA and Leonardo. The ITT gives testimony to the willingness of the Participating States (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) to continue with the programme after a highly successful requirement alignment phase and a convincing demonstration of the quality and fitness for purpose of the proposed design. This successful achievement of the System Preliminary Design Review comes after a two-year definition study launched in September 2016 by the aforementioned Participating States. Three of these States had already signed a Declaration of Intent (DoI) to work together on a European MALE unmanned aerial system in May 2015, while Spain joined the programme in 2016. Designed for flight in non-segregated airspace, its characteristics will include mission modularity for operational superiority in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, both wide area and in-theatre. The Participating States’ agreed on the air vehicle configuration in mid-2017, selecting a twin-turboprop propulsion system. By the middle of the next decade the MALE RPAS will be operated worldwide to perform Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. -ends-
13/12/2018

Germany Extends Airbus Heron 1 Lease for 18 Months

BREMEN, Germany --- Germany has extended the successful operation of the Heron 1 drones by Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH, a company of Airbus, until mid of 2020. These contracts have been signed with the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support on December 12th, 2018. This renewed contract marks the continuation of one of the most successful cooperation’s between the Bundeswehr and Airbus Defence and Space. The contract comprises the provision of all assets and manpower to support the Israeli Heron 1 systems operations in the two countries of deployment. Heron 1, manufactured by the Israeli manufacturer IAI (Israeli Aerospace Industries), is a medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial system (UAS) which can stay airborne above the respective operational area for very long periods and can be operated from unpaved runways under harsh environmental conditions. The Heron 1 has a wingspan of about seventeen meters and a maximum mission duration of more than twenty-four hours. The detection of IEDs from the air, convoy and patrol unit escort, route exploration and supervision, creation of movement profiles and long-term supervision, support for status reports as well as object and camp protection rank among the military tasks. In addition, the system is also used for security and humanitarian support operations. The Air Force has been using the Heron 1 system in Afghanistan since 2010 and in Mali since 2016. The Heron 1 system makes an indispensable contribution to the protection of soldiers and civilians in the operational areas. With its operational range of up to 800 kilometers it significantly expands the possibilities of airborne reconnaissance of the German contingent. Until today, in total and over both countries, more than 46,000 operational flying hours have been successfully flown. Airbus is responsible for provision, maintenance and repair of the systems and guarantees the agreed operational availability of Heron 1 in both Afghanistan and Mali on basis of a services model. For this purpose, Airbus has technicians and UAS specialists, on-site in Mazar-I-Sharif (Afghanistan) and Gao (Mali) who maintain the drone system and carry out test flights thus ensuring that the drones are available to the Bundeswehr at any time, as contractually agreed. This services model permits the Bundeswehr to concentrate completely on the fulfillment of its mission during operation, without being additionally burdened by the maintenance of the system. “In Afghanistan and Mali, the services model has proven its performance capability by reaching a system availability of more than 98%. The proven capability of the Heron system to support worldwide deployment missions is reflected in these contract extensions as well as in the signed contract on the next generation RPAS MALE HERON TP.” said Ralf Hastedt, Head of Sales and Business Development of Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH. “We are very pleased to see the satisfaction of the German Air Force with the Heron UAS activities and the excellent cooperation with Airbus DS Airborne Solutions, forming the basis for such a renewed contract extending the capabilities for long-range airborne reconnaissance of the German Air Force in Afghanistan and Mali by at least another year,” said Moshe Levy, IAI Executive Vice President and General Manager of IAI Military Aircraft Group. Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2017 it generated revenues of € 59 billion restated for IFRS 15 and employed a workforce of around 129,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners from 100 to more than 600 seats. Airbus is also a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, as well as one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide. Israel Aerospace Industries: IAI Ltd. is Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company and a globally recognized technology and innovation leader, specializing in developing and manufacturing advanced, state-of-the-art systems for air, space, sea, land, cyber and homeland security. Since 1953, the company has provided advanced technology solutions to government and commercial customers worldwide including: satellites, missiles, weapon systems and munitions, unmanned and robotic systems, radars, C4ISR and more. -ends-
13/12/2018

Exercise Autonomous Warrior Brings Robots to Frontline

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has described it as 'the biggest military robot exercise in British history'. Remote-controlled armoured vehicles that are completely unmanned could save lives on the frontline. That’s the Army's message as it reveals the futuristic tech being used in a special experiment to find equipment that can be used to wage war in the future. It insists that soldiers will not be replaced but there are a number of scenarios where sending in "robots first" could make a huge difference. For the last month, the Army has been working with industry experts as part of Exercise Autonomous Warrior. The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has described it as 'the biggest military robot exercise in British history'. Autonomous Warrior opened its doors on Salisbury Plain Training Area to a range of companies who competed to have their products tested by troops. 200 cross-service personnel have been experimenting with and testing out the technology and equipment offered by the companies who were selected. One of the systems to be used enabled remote-control technology to be installed to an Army Warrior vehicle. The idea is that the vehicle could enter hostile environments completely unmanned, drawing out enemy fire and exposing their positions. The Army has worked with a range of companies who could be chosen to eventually bring the technology to the frontline, but the timescale on what might be chosen and when is unclear. Lionel Nierop, from Digital Concepts Engineering, fitted their Marionette remote control system to the Warrior armoured vehicle. He told Forces News: “It’s a toolkit. The driver can see what the cameras are seeing. "He has a joystick and can drive it as he would normally. He just happens to be 10 kilometres away.” Sergeant Robert Warenycia of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers is one of the soldiers who tested out the remote-controlled Warrior. He said: “I’m very keen to see it out there, especially for keeping personnel out of harms reach in dangerous situations.” Over 75 industry partners have offered their concepts to the forces in recent months, only a select number made it to the demonstrations in Wiltshire. Lieutenant Colonel Nick Serle, Exercise Director of Autonomous Warrior, says that robots have been used by the Army for many years, but "not on this scale for infantry tactics": “We can reduce risk to our soldiers consistently on a battlefield in a warfighting operation and also a counter-insurgency operation.” He also detailed the potentially life-saving benefits of new technology in rescue scenarios: “Robot First would avoid us putting soldiers forward when we don’t need to. "We could have trackers on an individual that measures their heart-rate, if they have stopped breathing or are under high-duress then we can send a platform forward in order to rescue them. "If they can crawl on to it, we can get them back. "That would save four people going into the fight to try to drag that casualty out.” The designs on show have all been tested for use in surveillance, targeting, re-supply and situational awareness and engagement. Lieutenant Colonel Serle said that this experiment is not the beginning of the end for human soldiers on the frontline: “Soldiers will always be used on the frontline because it’s our interaction with human beings that is part of warfare and conflict resolution. "It’s a case of putting humans into the environment when it’s safe to do so. "We want to create an unfair battle, where we can succeed without putting undue risk to our soldiers.” -ends-
11/12/2018

UAV with Ground-Penetrating Radar Tested in Exercise

During November and December, Cobham have been taking part in the Army Warfighting Experiment. During the exercise, codenamed Exercise Autonomous Warrior, Cobham have been invited to put our equipment in the hands of soldiers and engineers to test our products in the toughest of simulated combat environments. As part of this exercise, Cobham have been trialing our Amulet Unmanned Air Systems. The Amulet UAS is equipped with a Ground Penetrating Radar or the detection of buried Land Mines and Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs]. A graphical Information System provides the operator with a map of the threats as they are located. The system significantly increases the tempo of a mine field breath operation, being an order of magnitude faster than hand held search. The system itself is covert and remote, reducing the risk of harm to the soldier whilst offering standoff detection of mines, IEDs and Emplaced Explosive ordinance As the exercise now concludes, we’re proud to continue supporting the U.K. Armed Forces in innovating the next generation of equipment to keep our soldiers from harm. -ends-
07/12/2018

Elbit, Leonardo to Develop Torpedo Capability for Seagull USV

VALPARAISO, Chile --- Adding to the Seagull Unmanned Surface Vessels’ (USV) capability to mount and launch lightweight torpedoes, Elbit Systems ISTAR division has teamed with Leonardo to develop and demonstrate Leonardo’s lightweight and mini torpedoes launching capabilities from the USV. The two companies announced the agreement at Exponaval (Valparaiso, Chile, 4-7 December). The solution will be based on the same architecture used for airborne torpedo launching systems. Operational with the Israeli Navy, Elbit Systems’ Seagull USV performed superbly in the Belgian Defence Ministry 2017 North Sea trials and has been participating regularly in international naval exercises conducting Mine Counter Measures and Anti-Submarine Warfare missions. Leonardo holds a strategic market position in the design, production and integration of torpedoes with over 30 Countries having selected its systems. Elbit Systems Ltd. is an international high technology company engaged in a wide range of defense, homeland security and commercial programs throughout the world. The Company, which includes Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries, operates in the areas of aerospace, land and naval systems, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance ("C4ISR"), unmanned aircraft systems, advanced electro-optics, electro-optic space systems, EW suites, signal intelligence systems, data links and communications systems, radios and cyber-based systems. Leonardo is among the top ten global players in Aerospace, Defence and Security and Italy’s main industrial company. Organised into seven business divisions (Helicopters; Aircraft; Aero-structures; Airborne & Space Systems; Land & Naval Defence Electronics; Defence Systems; Security & Information Systems), Leonardo operates in the most competitive international markets by leveraging its areas of technology and product leadership. Listed on the Milan Stock Exchange (LDO), in 2017 Leonardo recorded consolidated restated revenues of 11.7 billion Euros and has a significant industrial presence in Italy, the UK, the U.S. and Poland. -ends-
07/12/2018

Brazilian AF Performs First RPA Flight with Satellite Link

The Brazilian Air Force on Dec. 5 carried out the first flight of a remotely-piloted aircraft guided by satellite. Five crewmembers and three support personnel from the Horus Squadron (1st / 12th GAV), based in Santa Maria (RS), performed flight with the RQ-900 Remotely Controlled Aircraft (RPA) flight at the Afonsos Air Base in Rio de Janeiro (RJ). The objective was to validate the satellite control system of that aircraft. The new system allows the operator to pilot the aircraft and receive the images from its sensors through a satellite connection. Thus, the antenna now points to the satellite, and no longer directly at the aircraft, which links to the RPA, as Squadron Communication Officer Captain Aviator Lucas Gazzi Diaz pointed out. "Until today this was done only by means of an antenna that stays in the ground, an operation that requires maintaining direct, line-of-sight contact with the aircraft. That creates some distance limitations for aircraft operation, because as the distance between aircraft and ground station increases, the aircraft begins to fall below the horizon, interrupting the line of sight," he says. The infrastructure for piloting of the Remotely Pilot Aircraft remains the same, through shelters where the operators stay. "The changes are the installation of a new antenna in the aircraft and another one connected to the shelters, besides some computer equipment of computer, like new modems. Moreover, depending on the mission, we can still operate in the previous way," says the Captain. "The new system greatly increases the FAB’s operational aviation capabilities," the official adds. -ends-
06/12/2018

Europe’s Frontex Leases Leonardo’s Falco EVO Unmanned Aircraft

Leonardo’s Falco EVO Remotely-Piloted Air System (RPAS), in a maritime patrol configuration, has been deployed from Lampedusa airport (Lampedusa Island) as part of the Frontex surveillance research programme to test its ability to monitor the European Union’s external borders. Frontex is exploring the surveillance capability of medium-altitude, long-endurance RPAS as well as evaluating cost efficiency and endurance. Leonardo was selected by the European agency under a service contract tender for drone operations for maritime surveillance across the Italian and Maltese civil airspace. The current agreement provides for 300 flight hours and may be extended into a longer-term agreement. Under the deployment, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) activities are organised by Guardia di Finanza under coordination of the Ministry of Interior and are undertaken by Leonardo from Lampedusa also thanks to the decisive support and collaboration of ENAC and ENAV. Leonardo’s flight crews and maintenance teams are present to support the operations with the Falco EVO, which is equipped with a complete on-board sensor suite including the Company’s Gabbiano TS Ultra Light radar. This configuration allows it to carry out extended-range day and night-time missions. “We are proud to be able to demonstrate the capabilities of our Falco EVO to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which is facing the on-going and evolving surveillance challenges posed by maritime borders. We are ready to leverage our years of experience in drone-based surveillance operations, working with the United Nations and many other international customers,” said Alessandro Profumo, CEO of Leonardo. “I wish to thank all the Italian stakeholders who contributed to this important achievement and I am convinced that this fruitful partnering approach will allow Frontex to define the best possible use for drone-based technologies.” The Falco EVO will operate under a “Permit to Fly” issued by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC), which authorizes flights in the Italian and Maltese Flight Information Region (FIR)’s civil airspace. The innovative agreement reached with ENAC guarantees compliance with national and international regulations and coordination with relevant authorities. The agreement also provides for close involvement from the Guardia di Finanza as subject matter experts with operational experience in defining mission profiles and ensuring the best operational conditions in which to undertake the 300-hours test programme. The Falco EVO configuration being deployed includes a high-definition InfraRed (IR) electro-optical system, a Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) satellite data-link system, a new propulsion system based on a heavy-fuel engine, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) and a complete communications relay suite. Leonardo is the only European company providing a comprehensive RPAS ISR capability, from the design of each system element all the way through to operations. Today the Company is an international pioneer in the operation of unmanned flights on behalf of civil organizations in “non-segregated”, transnational airspace. Under an innovative business model, Leonardo owns and operates its Falco family of RPAS and provides surveillance information and data directly to its customers. This ‘managed service’ model is expected to be an area of growth for Leonardo which is expanding its ‘drones as a service’ offering to customers such as the police and emergency responders in line with the growth path outlined in the Company’s industrial plan. -ends-
06/12/2018

Poland’s PGZ Details Latest Polish Army UAV Contract

On 30 November 2018 a contract was signed between the PGZ Consortium and the Armament Inspectorate of the Polish MoD to deliver 12 Tactical Short-Range Orlik Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems. Members of the consortium include PGZ S.A., WZL nr 2 and PIT-RADWAR and the system they offered to the Polish Armed Forces, PGZ-19R, has been entirely designed and manufactured in Poland. “Unmanned aerial vehicles commonly referred to as drones play an increasingly important role in today's battlefield. The world's leading armament companies have developed their competences in this field. Today we can proudly announce that PGZ joins this group, offering fully modern solutions to be used by the Polish Armed Forces,” said Sebastian Chwałek, Deputy President of PGZ S.A. said after signing the contract. The signing of the agreement is the result of PGZ's decision in 2016 to build competence in the field of design and production of UAVs. It was then that the Competence Centre for UAV systems was established in WZL nr 2 S.A. in Bydgoszcz. The Centre carries out work on innovative UAV systems at the PGZ Capital Group level. The result is the first fully Polish tactical short-range UAV. Under the "Orlik" programme, the PGZ consortium offered to the Polish Armed Forces the PGZ-19R system, designed from scratch and manufactured in Poland. It is a system for long-term imaging over a wide area, in various field, climatic, day and night conditions. The UAV system, according to the Customer's requirements, consists of 11 elements constituting the set: -- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – 5 pieces -- Mobile Launcher, -- Logistics Vehicle, -- Ground Control Station, -- Ground Data Terminal, -- Detachable Video Terminal, -- Mobile Video Terminal. As a part of the order, apart from UAV sets, the following supporting elements will be supplied as a one-off batch: -- Integrated Training System, -- Integrated Logistics System, -- Initial logistics and training packages. The order consists of 12 UAV sets: -- basic (8 sets), to be executed in 2021-2023, -- optional (4 sets), to be executed in 2023-2026. The main elements of the system offered by PGZ are: diesel or hybrid unmanned aircrafts and a ground control station. The element integrating these two components is a communication and data transmission system based on a ground data terminal. The ground control station allows the operator to control the UAVs remotely and to manage the payload (e.g. camera and sensor control). The PGZ-19R system has been designed to be completely independent from ground infrastructure (airports). The system is highly mobile. The ground control station and logistics vehicle were constructed basing on 15-foot containers placed on high mobility vehicles. The ground data terminal and the pneumatic launcher are built on trailers pulled by these cars. The mobile configuration of the set enables its transport by land, sea or air. The BSP has a maximum take-off weight of 90 kg and a load capacity of 20 kg. The payload is an optoelectronic head consisting of a day camera, an infrared camera, a laser rangefinder and a laser target pointer. In addition, the PGZ-19R is equipped with a very high-resolution slot SAR radar. An unmanned aerial vehicle can stay in the air for up to 12 hours at an altitude of up to 5000 metres. Landing takes place in a classic way or with the help of a parachute. In addition to PGZ 19-R, Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa has solutions for miniature unmanned aerial vehicles, for example: NeoX with a take-off weight of up to 11 kg and communication range of up to 30 km, as well as an even smaller AtraX family of autogyros, which in addition to military applications can also be useful for civilian users. Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa is considering submitting to the Ministry of National Defence a concept for the development and production of a system of mid-range unmanned aerial vehicles under the "Gryf" programme. At the same time, research and development works in the field of light UAV for uniformed services and the civil market are being continued. -ends-
05/12/2018

GAASI Wins $26M for Further Support of French Reapers

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a $26,718,824 option (002620) to a previously awarded contract (FA8620-15-G-4040) for MQ-9 contractor logistics support phase three. The contractor will provide an additional period of contractor logistics support for the French Air Force. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be completed Dec. 31, 2019. This contract involves 100 percent foreign military sales to France. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contract activity. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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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