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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17/10/2018

Israeli Air Force Organizes Counter-UAV Defense

The IAF's primary mission is to defend Israel's skies 24/7/365. To assist the force's squadrons in their mission, a sky defense seminar was held by the IAF's aggressor squadron, the 115th ("Flying Dragon") Squadron which operates "Barak" (F-16C/D) aircraft. The seminar focused on the northern theatre, simulating hostile missile and aircraft incursions into Israel's territory, which the participants were then meant to intercept. "We began thinking up a general idea for an exercise two months ago. We kept several things in mind: the operational theatre, recent exercises and the entire air force – where we want the squadrons to be and what we want them to focus on", said Lt. N', an air traffic controller at the 115th Squadron and leader of the seminar. "Each seminar focuses on a different field. Last time, we focused on sky defense combined with attacks in enemy territory by our forces; this time, we focused on combat doctrines we want to implement. With each seminar we think about how we should improve the air force, and what we can do in order to become better and more prepared". A Live Theatre Even during the 1948 War of Independence, Israel operated in a large number of theatres against a wide range of threats. Israel continues to face copious threats on numerous fronts to this day, but the IAF of 1948 and the IAF of today are incomparable. As a result, the current sky defense seminar faced the IAF with complex theatres adjusted according to its current status. "The seminar focused on sky defense in two theatres at the same time", said Lt. N'. "We confronted the teams with threats including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), cruise missiles, fighter jets and advanced munitions. We planned an extensive exercise for the IAF's fighter squadrons, 'Yahalom' (Patriot) air defense battalions and the Air Traffic Control units". A training seminar was held, led by the 115th Squadron – the IAF's expert in emulating enemy forces. "We established a live theatre in order to connect between training and operationality. This is something that only the 115th Squadron can do, using fighter jets to simulate hostile aircraft, RPAVs (Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles) and deployed cells simulating hostile SAM (Surface-to-air missile) batteries. We do this by planning extensively, taking all expected scenarios into consideration", described Lt. N'. "There are pilots, WSOs (Weapon Systems Officers) and representatives from the Air Defense Division in the squadron, all of them carrying out high-quality seminars". Critical Importance The 115th Squadron's aircraft fly different than the usual in the air force. For example, the squadron's aircraft are more limited than those of the usual IAF aircraft systems in order to simulate enemy aircraft. "The 115th Squadron isn't just an aggressor squadron, it's also an advanced training center. It trains the fighter jet squadrons as well as the Air Traffic Control Division and the Air Defense Division", emphasized Lt. N'. "After every seminar, officers from the squadron think up ways to improve the training for each division in the force, both separately and as a whole". Why is an air traffic controller responsible for a fighter jet seminar? "Sky defense is a mission spread across the entirety of Israel", explained Lt. N'. "There is a variety of weapon systems capable of handling a threat of this sort, whether they be IAF squadrons or the Air Defense Division. These systems work together, watched over by the controllers at the ATC Units, who have information regarding the enemy, their location and their plans. They are responsible for coordinating the weapon systems. The importance of the air traffic controller in sky defense is critical, and will continue to grow". -ends-
17/10/2018

US Navy Installs Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center on Aircraft Carrier

PORTSMOUTH, Va. --- The commanding officer of USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) and the program manager of Unmanned Carrier Aviation officially recognized completion of the initial installation phase of the first aircraft carrier-based Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center (UAWC), Sept. 28, aboard Ike. During a brief ceremony attended by Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, and Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, Rear Adm. John Meier, representatives from the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program Office (PMA-268) presented the ship’s leadership with a wooden plaque commemorating the milestone. The plaque is expected to hang in the UAWC. Ike is the first carrier to complete this first phase and be outfitted with the foundational, physical UAWC space. The second phase of installation will equip the UAWC with the systems necessary to operate the MQ-25 Stingray – the first operational, carrier-based unmanned refueling aircraft. “I couldn’t be prouder of Ike for being the first to have the UAWC on board,” said Capt. Kyle Higgins, Ike’s commanding officer. “The future of carrier aviation is right around the corner and Ike is making history with this modification. When this technology hits the fleet, it will be because of the pioneering work and partnership between 'Mighty' Ike and the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program Office.” “We’ve learned valuable lessons aboard Ike during this alteration and installation process that will benefit the team for the remaining installation efforts,” said Capt. Chad Reed, PMA-268 program manager. “The work completed aboard Ike is a pivotal first step in delivering game-changing capability to the carrier, air wing, and carrier strike group.” Once fully equipped, the UAWC will be the operations center for the MQ-25A Stingray. Operators will control the MQ-25 system from within the UAWC using the MD-5 control station, consisting of display, processing, networking, and communications hardware. The UAWC’s video management system, consisting of large-format displays and support stations tied to multiple video and data feeds, will provide situational awareness of the flight deck and surrounding areas. The radio communication system exchanges ultra-high frequency command-and-control data between the MD-5 and the MQ-25A. While the MD-5 is not yet installed aboard Ike, the video management and radio communication systems provide resources to Ike’s crew for a host of other operational uses. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is currently undergoing routine maintenance at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, and is in the maintenance phase of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. The Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program Office is responsible for the MQ-25 lifecycle and manages two programs of record: the MQ-25A Stingray air vehicle, and the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS). -ends-
15/10/2018

Canadian Navy Tests Snyper Mini-Drone

The Royal Canadian Navy is operating in an increasingly complex environment, and is monitoring the potential of future innovations to keep its defense systems and strategies ahead of the curve so that potential threats do not become dangerous realities. One of the current innovations the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is testing are micro and mini drones. Drones are a threat that has evolved over time. As they get smaller and harder to detect, and as they gain new capabilities like the ability to connect multiple drones and form swarms, they have the potential to pose increasingly dangerous risks to ships at sea. The Royal Canadian Navy is keeping track of these new capabilities and testing the effectiveness of its systems against a number of drones of varying sizes and abilities. The Snyper micro Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is the first drone being tested to provide the Navy with insight into the effectiveness of its tracking systems against smaller threats by conducting tracking and live-fire exercises. Snyper is a compact, lightweight and cost-efficient drone that is designed to be expendable. “The Snyper is meant to be a target and it is something we would always want to use live fire with,” said Chief Petty Officer, 2nd Class Gordon Dolbec, who has been testing the drone. “It only makes sense to use live ammunition.” Snyper is also providing the RCN an opportunity to further explore the needs and requirements of UAS operations in maritime environments. It is among the first of several UAS acquisitions that the RCN is currently managing. Drones are categorized into different classifications, each with unique restrictions of operation. The Class 1 category is the least restrictive classification, and the category the Snyper belongs to. This provides the RCN with the flexibility to learn in a less restrictive environment, but does not mean its operation is without rules. “Snyper is going to allow the RCN to develop the foundations for moving forward with unmanned aerial systems, training operators, developing all of our Standard Operation Procedures so that we can eventually reach the Royal Canadian Navy ISTAR Unmanned Aerial System program,” said Lieutenant-Commander Greg Atkinson. Snyper has introduced the RCN to the complexities surrounding training in addition to airworthiness. It is currently helping Navy personnel answer questions such as, “how do we train our operators?”, “who is training our operators?”, and “what knowledge can be transferred to the larger systems?” The RCN will continue to develop its capability with Snyper and transfer lessons learned to fully support the Force Generation required for the Intelligence, Surveillance, Target and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) program. This is not where the capabilities of the Snyper end. Due to the simplicity of the airframe the RCN is able to request modifications to the platform to meet a variety of needs. An early modification to the airframe was to replace the stock camera with a high-resolution camera. This new payload provides video and imagery capability that was once only feasible through use of a helicopter, at a fraction of the cost. Recently HMCS Charlottetown used Snyper in support of MISSILEX as an imaging camera that was flown from the flight deck. Snyper was more recently deployed in the Arctic on Op NANOOK and took some stunning photos. -ends-
15/10/2018

Thales Opens UK Maritime Autonomy Centre

Changing the way maritime autonomy is developed over the next decade Digital transformation is one of the most important challenges facing forces today. Only through the experimentation of new and disruptive technologies will maritime forces be able to stay ahead and maintain operational advantage. Autonomy and its key enablers: big data, artificial intelligence, digital security and connectivity, will effectively enter operation for the first time in the mine warfare domain. Industry has a key role to play in the development of existing and future technological capabilities in this sector. Through its long-standing relationship with the Royal Navy and other maritime forces and the power of the Group, Thales is developing and offering the right skills, expertise and means to support this transformation. A new centre of excellence in maritime autonomy Committed to investing in digitally transformative maritime technologies, Thales in the UK has opened its Maritime Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel Wharf, Plymouth, in an official opening attended by Stewart Andrew MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, as well as local SMEs and academia. The centre will build on Thales’s leadership in autonomous systems and strengthen the position of UK industry in the market. Continuing the long history Turnchapel Wharf has with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and industry, the Maritime Autonomy Centre will change the way autonomous capability is developed over the next decade by enabling rapid exploration and exploitation of emergent and disruptive technologies. The waterfront facility will specifically provide access to trials areas for the development of cutting-edge maritime autonomous systems, and position Thales and the Royal Navy at the centre of future maritime autonomous capability. The centre is also an integral part of a joint programme between the UK and French governments to develop the next generation of autonomous mine hunting systems – the Maritime Mine Countermeasures programme (MMCM). Thales has invested £1 million in the facility, with a minimum five-year commitment to developing autonomous systems at the site in Plymouth, with 20 new high-skilled jobs created through its opening. Local SMEs, partners and suppliers will take part in initiatives at the facility, while local schools will run STEM activities onsite. The centre will also be available to academia, enabling institutions working in partnership with Thales UK – such as the University of Plymouth, University of Southampton and the National Oceanography Centre – to take advantage of Turnchapel Wharf’s world-class facilities. Further to this, in the frame of the Lancaster House Agreement and MMCM programme, Thales is developing for OCCAR, and both the Royal Navy and French Marine Nationale, the very first unmanned mine warfare system for which autonomy is becoming operational. The centre will act as a key enabler for this, with the MMCM programme having now entered its integration and validation stage. Unmanned surface vehicles, loaded with world-first single pass multi-views sonar are already operating at sea. Shaping the future of maritime autonomy Thales is working hard to unlock the potential of maritime autonomy. Key benefits of the centre include: -- This unique UK centre of excellence will enable highly trained personnel to be on hand to test and deliver autonomous trials. -- Rapid access to sea will increase trial time by decreasing transit, and enable progressive trials to be planned around differing sea conditions, from shallow waters to deep open sea. -- Working closely with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency will allow platforms and capabilities to be certified to best practice standards. -- Running a programme of de-risking trials and secure by design systems to ensure that cyber vulnerability testing and assurance is a key part of the digital offering. -- Paving the way for autonomy in other domains, including multi-drones and multi-domain. -- Setting standards for unmanned maritime regulations for above and under water. -- Developing further the other enablers to autonomy: big data, artificial intelligence, digital security and connectivity. Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales in the UK, says: “The unique waterfront location at Turnchapel Wharf will provide access to shallow and deep water trials areas for the development of cutting edge maritime solutions. Our ambition is to help anchor a vibrant ecosystem in Plymouth for the development of advanced autonomous systems and we are already working with a range of academic and industry partners to make this a reality.” Stuart Andrew, Minister for Defence Procurement, says: “Our Armed Forces must remain a step ahead of our adversaries, something we can only do by collaborating with our leading British defence industry. Thales’s new Maritime Autonomy Centre is another great example of the work being done by our suppliers to ensure our military remains equipped with state-of-the-art capabilities. This centre of excellence will enable industry and academia to experiment and innovate together to help counter emerging sea-based threats and ensure we remain one of the world’s leading militaries.” Councillor Tudor Evans, Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “This world-class facility is adding enormously to Plymouth’s fantastic marine community, and we are delighted that it brings with it high skilled jobs and investment. Plymouth is well on its way to becoming one of Europe’s most vibrant waterfront cities, and having facilities like this is essential to our growth and progress, putting the city at the forefront of maritime technology development.” -ends-
15/10/2018

DARPA Seeks Proposals for Third OFFSET Swarm Sprint

DARPA’s OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) envisions swarms of 250 collaborative autonomous systems providing critical insights to small ground military units in urban areas where vertical structures, tight spaces, and limited sight lines constrain communications and mobility. DARPA is soliciting proposals for its third swarm sprint, which will focus on the topics of human-swarm teaming and swarm tactics. Swarm sprints allow for incorporation of emerging technology and new performers throughout the life of the program. Each of five core sprints focuses on one or more of the key OFFSET thrust – or topic – areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment, and physical testbed. Each topic emphasizes slightly different perspectives, but ultimately aims to enable breakthroughs in swarm capabilities. “What makes autonomous swarm research challenging and compelling is the rapid pace at which swarm technologies and associated capabilities are advancing,” says Timothy Chung, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “OFFSET is designed around the idea of incorporating core swarm sprints at regular intervals.” The first of two topic areas covered in the third sprint is human-swarm teaming, which refers to the design, development, and demonstration of novel frameworks to enhance how humans interact with autonomous swarms. This topic area recognizes and seeks to address the complexity of the swarm systems themselves, as well as the cognitive, physical, and contextual needs of human teammates or tacticians when conducting urban operations. The third swarm sprint also seeks to increase the collection of swarm tactics found in the OFFSET swarm tactics exchange, a repository of tools and tactics – or approaches – sprinters can employ. Selected swarm sprinters will design and implement additional sophisticated swarm tactics employing a heterogeneous swarm of air and ground robots, and addressing the mission context of “conducting an urban raid” within four square city blocks over a mission duration of one-to-two hours. Swarm sprinters in either topic area, whether for human-swarm teaming or advanced swarm tactics, will integrate their technologies into one or both of the OFFSET swarm systems architectures, and will have the chance to further develop and demonstrate their innovative solutions in relevant field tests to showcase breakthrough swarm capabilities in urban settings. DARPA also has awarded contracts to the following organizations for the second Swarm Sprint: -- Carnegie Mellon University -- Corenova Technologies, Inc. -- Cornell University -- Heron Systems Inc. -- Michigan Technological University -- Siemens Corporation, Corporate Technology -- University of Colorado, Boulder -- University of North Carolina, Charlotte This cohort of sprinters for the second swarm will leverage existing technologies or develop new ones leading to enhancements in swarm autonomy, highlighting enriched foundations in swarm primitives and/or swarm algorithms. These contributions to the overarching OFFSET swarm systems architectures will offer additional building blocks for novel capabilities that spotlight the potentially disruptive advantages of autonomous swarms for complex urban operations. -ends-
12/10/2018

Frontex Testing Unmanned Aircraft for Border Surveillance

WARSAW, Poland --- Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has begun testing the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in Greece, Italy and Portugal to monitor the European Union’s external borders. Frontex is exploring the surveillance capability of the medium altitude long endurance RPAS and evaluating the related cost efficiency and endurance. The agency will test the unmanned aircraft in several operational situations. These include surveillance of the sea, support of Search and Rescue operations, detection of vessels suspected of criminal activities, such as drug and weapon smuggling and information sharing with multiple users in real time. In Greece, the trial that started is supported by the Hellenic Coast Guard, in cooperation with the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and Air Force. In Italy, the trial, which is in its last phase of preparations, will be supported by Polizia di Stato and Guardia di Finanza. The RPAS being tested by Frontex carry surveillance equipment, including thermal cameras and radars. The testing in Greece and Italy is scheduled to be completed this year. In Portugal, the agency is using a smaller unmanned aircraft to monitor the North Atlantic Ocean and share this information in real time. This capability allows Frontex and national authorities to react more quickly to cross-border crime, especially drug smuggling. In Portugal, Frontex is working together with the European Maritime Safety Authority (EMSA), which provides the RPAS to Frontex there. The agency is also cooperating with the Portuguese Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), Navy and Air Force. The operation will be remotely coordinated from the Frontex Situational Center in Poland by both Frontex experts and Portuguese authorities. -ends-
09/10/2018

China, Pakistan to Jointly Manufacture Chinese Drones

Pakistan will reportedly import 48 Chinese drones in what a Chinese military observer said must be the largest such arms deal of its kind. Announcing the deal on its official Facebook account on Sunday, the Pakistan Air Force's Sherdils Aerobatic Team did not reveal how much it was worth, when it was struck or when the Wing Loong IIs will be delivered. But the air force academy aerobatics team announced that in the future the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China's Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company will jointly manufacture the drones. Wing Loong II, made by Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company, is a high-end reconnaissance and strike multi-role endurance unmanned aircraft system. It made its maiden flight in February last year, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The largest overseas order for Wing Loong IIs was obtained even before the maiden flight, Xinhua reported. The report did not specify the buyer. A deal involving as many as 48 Wing Loong IIs, if confirmed, would be China's largest export deal for drones to date, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Monday. Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group did not confirm the deal when reached by the Global Times as of press time. It makes sense the aerobatic team was closely involved with the deal, Song said, noting that the team is expected to train the drone operators. The deal is trustworthy given the close military ties between the two countries and Pakistan's need for drones, Song said. US drones like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are technologically more advanced, but Washington limits their export, Song said. Chinese drones will enjoy more success in the international market in the future, he said, as they perform similarly at a lower cost. "Chinese UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) like Caihong series also has clients from countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia," Song said. -ends-
09/10/2018

Naval Group, ECA Offer Unmanned Minehunters to Belgian, Dutch Navies

Naval Group and ECA Group recently established a technological and commercial partnership in the field of unmanned mine warfare. The first practical application was completed as part of the response to the consultation launched by Belgium for a Belgian-Dutch cooperation for the supply of 12 mine hunters. Mine hunting practices are being revolutionized through the massive use of unmanned systems operating on the surface, in the air and in the sea. This paradigm shift will lead to transformations that will affect naval forces as a whole. The future mine warfare capability should be established, and then develop, based on threats and technological progress in the areas of staff, equipment, interoperability and organization, concepts and doctrine, infrastructures and logistics. In preparation for this near future, Naval Group and ECA Group recently established a technological and commercial partnership in unmanned mine warfare, aimed at developing and promoting an offer of military mine countermeasure vessels (MCM) integrating drones, sonars, dredgers and remotely operated systems. As partners in a consortium formed for this call for tender, Naval Group and ECA Group are offering an innovative solution for robotic mine warfare, which is fully integrated on board an MCM military vessel. The two partners have combined all their most effective and robust sea-proven solutions, already in mission with other clients, to provide the Belgian and Dutch naval forces with a comprehensive, integrated and cyber-secure solution at a cost-effective ownership cost. In addition to these solutions, the two partners have formed a project management team based in Belgium, which will rely on various local partners, with whom alliances have already been established. This partnership brings together the skills of Naval Group, European leader in naval defense, responsible for designing, supplying and maintaining military vessels carrying drones, with those of ECA Group, a robotics specialized Group with expertise in mine warfare developed over several decades, responsible for designing and providing resources that may be launched onto minefields (drones, sonars, etc.). This extension of a collaboration born 60 years ago aims to integrate UMIS unmanned systems on board Naval Group vessels to offer launching and recovery systems guaranteeing a high level of availability of these resources at sea, and to integrate them into the vessel's warfare system to manage their mission from end to end. Naval Group is the European leader in naval defense. A high-tech company, Naval Group uses its exceptional know-how, unique industrial resources and ability to establish innovative strategic partnerships to meet its clients’ requirements. The Group designs, produces and maintains submarines and surface vessels. It also provides services for naval shipyards and bases. In 2017, the Group generated revenue of €3.7 billion and had 13,429 employees. ECA Group is an expert in naval drones and unmanned systems and one of the global leaders in this sector for the last 50 years. Moreover, the beginnings of ECA Group in naval robotics took place alongside Naval Group: ECA Group had been tasked with creating a free submarine model at the end of the 60s, which was implemented by Naval Group in St-Tropez. Today, ECA Group masters underwater drones just as well as surface or air drones, enabling it to offer a very wide and complete range of UMIS drone systems suited to all types and sizes of military vessels. -ends-
09/10/2018

Gray Eagle UAV Completes Follow-On Operational Evaluation

SAN DIEGO --- Partnered with the U.S. Army, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) recently completed Follow-On Operational Test & Evaluation (FOT&E) for its MQ-1C ER Gray Eagle Extended Range. Testing of the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) began in early June and spanned 644 flight hours during the testing period. The successful test opens the door for MQ-1C ER initial fielding to the U.S. Army Intelligence & Security Command (INSCOM) and Special Operations Command (SOCOM), followed by units from Forces Command (FORSCOM). “We expected the Gray Eagle Extended Range to perform well and it performed as advertised,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “The FOT&E highlighted some of the key benefits that the MQ-1C ER will deliver to our U.S. Army customer, including significantly increased endurance, more payload capacity to support future mission tasking, and considerable improvements in system reliability and maintainability.” MQ-1C-ER flew close to 40 hours in support of critical testing which yielded results that significantly exceeded the goals for endurance. The soldiers tested the full range of MQ-1C-ER’s capability to support the Army’s vision for long range and persistent reconnaissance. “The Gray Eagle ER clearly demonstrated its ability to support the future force. We added multiple payloads that enable it to perform a wide range of missions to further support the warfighter in contested operations,” said Alexander. The FOT&E was conducted in Palmdale, California at Air Force Plant 42. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is the leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, including the Predator RPA series and the Lynx Multi-mode Radar. -ends-
09/10/2018

IAI Develops Autonomous Counter-IED Clearance System

Israel Aerospace Industries has completed the development of an autonomous improvised explosive device detection (IED's) system. The system, is a robotic engineering scout, installed on a robotic platform made by IAI, and integrates a combination of multiple sensors, for detecting improvised explosive devices. The system is detecting IEDs placed and hidden in complex areas, engage and remove them as necessary using the blade installed on the vehicle. The system operation, maneuver and detection are done autonomously without danger to human life. The system is scheduled to be transferred for trial and evaluation purposes. The system is part of the SAHAR family, which includes a number of platforms that have explosive detection device and route clearing capabilities. Each system is adapted to customer needs, and includes the robotic platform, the control system and the relevant detection payloads. The system is based on IAI's robotic kit, enabling faster, more efficient execution of missions and safe operation of the system without risk to human life. The system may operate in any terrain and has a precision operation system that generates a real image of the arena. The system combines a number of payloads of different types for detection of explosive devices on and under the surface and engineering capabilities for neutralizing them. Meir Shabtai, General Manager, Robotic Systems Division: "The completion of the development of the autonomous IED's detection system of the SAHAR family and its delivery to operational trails is another significant quantum leap in the field of unmanned vehicles. Israel Aerospace Industries is operating intensively and is adapting its products to the future battlefield needs. The SAHAR system integrates and uses the advanced technologies in the terms of detection sensors capabilities, and Autonomous Navigation. The system provides a full End to End effective threatened routes clearing solution, operations which have been done heretofore by troops, with significant danger to their lives". -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