Shown here fitted to a Hermes 900 unmanned aircraft, the SkEye sensor is intended to provide overall situational awareness of “on-the-ground” intelligence data, and enables a large number of users to receive real-time, high-resolution imagery. (Elbit photo)

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26/06/2017

US Approves Sale of 22 Guardian Drones to India: Reports

WASHINGTON --- The United States has cleared the sale of 22 Predator Guardian drones to India, governmental sources said on Thursday, a deal being termed as a "game changer" ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit here for his maiden meeting with President Donald Trump. The deal, estimated to be worth USD two to three billion, has been approved by the State Department, sources said. The decision has been communicated to the Indian government and the manufacturer by the State Department on Wednesday, according to the informed governmental sources. "This is the first very significant sign of the Trump administration being more result oriented in its relationship with India compared to Obama administration," a source told PTI. The sources, who requested anonymity as the deal has not been formally announced, said the sale of 22 predator drones being manufactured by General Atomics is "a game changer" for US-India relations as it operationalises the status of "major defence partner". The designation of India being a "major defence partner" was decided by the previous Obama Administration, and formally approved by the Congress. The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to the questions in this regard. An official announcement is expected soon. Modi's first meeting with Trump has been scheduled to take place at the White House on June 26. According to General Atomics, the Predator Guardian UAV, a variant of the Predator B, can be used for wide-area, long- endurance maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. It can stay in the air for up to 27 hours and can fly at maximum altitude of 50,000 feet. The Indian Navy made the request for this intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform last year. US Aerospace expert Dr Vivek Lall of General Atomics who was pivotal in India acquiring Boeing P8 ISR technology, is believed to have played a key role in fast tracking the decision-making process of the Trump administration. (EDITOR’S NOTE: A U.S. Department of State official said June 24 that he could “not comment upon or confirm potential or pending defense sales before they are notified to Congress.” He added that “the U.S-India defense relationship has undergone rapid growth in recent years, particularly under Prime Minister Modi's leadership, based on converging security and strategic interests in Asia and India's need to modernize its defense forces.” “Defense trade serves as a conduit to strengthen our countries' security, reinforce our strategic partnership, achieve greater interaction between our armed forces, and build greater understanding between our defense establishments.” Congressional notification of the Predator Guardian sale to India is pending, and could happen anytime. “U.S.-India defense trade has supported thousands of American jobs across the United States,” the official added. “Since January 2008, India has signed over $15 billion in defense contracts, including C-130J and C-17 transport aircraft, P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, Harpoon missiles, Apache and Chinook helicopters, and M777 Light Weight Howitzers.” California drone-maker General Atomics confirmed to Voice of America news that a deal is imminent for the sale of 22 Guardian (MQ-9) unarmed drones to India’s navy for maritime patrolling. The deal, estimated to be worth up to $3 billion, originally raised concerns at the State Department about putting such sophisticated surveillance capabilities in the Indian Ocean, where tensions could arise between India and its rival Pakistan.) -ends-
23/06/2017

Rafael Unveils Laser-Based Drone Interception System

The Israeli defense company's Drone Dome uses radar and a laser beam in order to locate and destroy hostile drones. Israeli defense electronics company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. has unveiled a new laser weapon system, which targets drones. Rafael is one of 10 Israeli companies exhibiting its wares at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget this week. Drone Dome is an interception system that uses a laser beam in order to locate and destroy hostile drones. Rafael claims that the anti-dome weapon it has developed is the first such system on the market and is capable of intercepting drones at a range of several kilometers. Drone Dome is comprised of a radar-based system that identifies targets, and a laser system that neutralizes and destroys the drone. There is also a jamming system for disrupting communications between the drone and its operator. In recent years, drones have become a serious threat with the ability to penetrate airspace anywhere and anytime for either surveillance or with an explosive payload. Rafael recently successfully completed a series of trials prior to declaring the system operational. "The threat posed by drones and packs of drones is one of the most complex challenges confronting us. We have seen ISIS and other groups using them and the entire world is looking for a solution," explained business development manager air division Brig. Gen. (res.) Meir Ben Shaya. "We have taken the laser systems developed by Rafael and adapted them to cope with this threat, which is such a major challenge for defense systems worldwide." -ends-
22/06/2017

Court Again Blocks German Heron UAV Deal

When it comes to weaponized flying robots, the German army is determined not to be left behind - if only it weren't for those inconvenient German laws. On Tuesday, a state court in Düsseldorf stopped the Defense Ministry's plans to lease "Heron TP" Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), who had won the Bundeswehr's bid along with the European aerospace giant Airbus. The ministry had hoped to get the deal done before parliament goes into recess in July, but US drone-maker General Atomics sued on the grounds that it had not been fairly handled by the government, and that the "Predator" drones the US uses are cheaper and better. Even though the Defense Ministry had failed to produce the necessary cost-efficiency comparison, the court found in its favor. But an appeal from the US firm has now delayed the deal again - cutting things fine for Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. New capabilities The Israeli Heron TPs would add a new dimension to the Bundeswehr's drone program - because they are meant to be armed. Germany is one of the few countries that still harbors moral quibbles about armed drones, which is the main reason why the Bundeswehr's request for winged killing machines has been left unanswered for around five years. The Bundeswehr uses five different types of UAVs - the LUNA, the KZO, the ALADIN, the MIKADO (all German-made), and the Israeli-built Heron 1 - all of which can only be used for reconnaissance, target location, or area imaging. They have been introduced into combat areas since the beginning of the century - supporting US air strikes in Afghanistan and elsewhere - with the last of them, the Heron 1, first flown in 2010. But German public opinion is largely against military drones, mainly because of their use for extra-judicial targeted killings by the US government. It is still not known what exactly the German military wants to do with its Heron TPs if and when it gets them, since a variety of weapons could be attached to them, but Ulrike Esther Franke, research assistant and UAV specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), thinks its very unlikely they would be used for extra-judicial killings. "That's somewhat similar to saying they're going to buy tanks, so they're going to commit war crimes," she told DW. "There is no indication whatsoever that Germany is planning anything like this. There has been a lot of criticism of the US drone program among the German public and even in the political realm." Franke says the German drone debate has been "poisoned" by the US drone program and the attendant human rights concerns. While that discussion is important, she says, killing people outside official battle zones is "a tiny, tiny, tiny part of how drones can be used in military operations." According to her research for ECFR, around 90 countries have military drones, and 11 of these have armed drones (Germany would be the 12th). "And they don't all carry out targeted killings with them," said Franke. "One of the things the Bundeswehr is acquiring them for is what we call armed overwatch. So you have these drones flying over troops or a convoy, and if they are attacked, then the drone is armed and can react to that attack." Franke added that, because drones carry much smaller missiles, they can also be better in "close combat situations" than manned war planes. Sebastian Schulte, Germany correspondent for the military publication Jane's Defence Weekly, thinks the world's militaries have barely begun to explore all the possible uses for drones. "There are already vast possible applications for unmanned vehicles on land, air and sea vehicles in all sizes, from the personal companion bot to the unmanned missile cruiser or the strategic bomber, and further research and development into the matter will advance," he told DW. "Military planners worldwide are currently figuring out if and how drones could and should replace manned combat aircraft, for example. The era of the manned fighter aircraft could come to an end in the foreseeable time." But Schulte was also confident that machines wouldn't actually take over decision-making. "The future will likely see drones as a supplement and complement to existing military forces rather than truly autonomous machines that make life or death decisions on their own, as this would require a level of human-to-machine delegation that would equal a loss of control," he said. The Bundeswehr, like most militaries, prefers to buy weapons from home-grown arms makers, so Israel's involvement would be a departure in Germany's drone program. "German companies currently don't have the capability to produce American-type armed drones," said Franke. "Though if they wanted to they probably could. They are now investing more into future technologies - the next generation of drones." That's why - Franke believes - the Bundeswehr is looking to lease rather than buy the Israeli drones - since, when the Heron TP leases expire in 2025, "there should be a European armed drone system." If so, it would mark a new achievement for European aerospace technology. In 2013, then-German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere scrapped the Euro Hawk project because of spiraling costs and problems getting the huge UAV approved for German airspace. In the meantime, the armed drone market is dominated by the US, Israel - and increasingly, China. -ends-
22/06/2017

USAF F-15 Shoots Down Armed Drone Over Syria

The U.S. military says it has shot down an armed, Iranian-made drone that was bearing down on its forces near a garrison in Syria's southeast. The Pentagon said a U.S. F-15 aircraft flying over Syrian territory fired on the Shaheed 129 drone after it displayed hostile intent and advanced on coalition forces on June 20. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said it was Iranian-made and had "dirty wings," meaning it was armed. The incident came as Russia once again protested against repeated U.S. actions against forces allied with Syria and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the incidents could be "very dangerous" and cause an escalation of the war. The latest incident occurred in a part of Syria seen as strategically important for the Syrian government and Iran as Tehran seeks to secure a land corridor between forces it backs in Syria and Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition said the location was close to where another "pro-regime" drone, which intelligence sources had also identified as Iranian, was shot down on June 8 after dropping bombs near coalition forces. Syrian and Iranian-backed ground forces also have been gathering in the desert region. The incident follows the U.S. downing of a piloted Syrian Army jet near Raqqa after it dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces over the weekend, an incident that prompted a warning from Syria ally Russia. While Russia has demanded an accounting of the weekend incident, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov asserted on June 20 that the presence of U.S. forces in Syria was "absolutely illegal." "There has been neither a [UN] Security Council decision, nor a request from the official authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic as a sovereign state" for such forces, he told Russia's Interfax news agency. But the Pentagon appeared to view Russia's protests as mostly bluster. "Public statements aside, we have not seen the Russians do any actions that cause us concern. We continue to operate, making some adjustments for prudent measures," Davis said on June 20. The U.S. military has repeatedly warned forces fighting on Assad's side to stay away from a "deconfliction zone," agreed with Russia, near a garrison used by U.S. Special Forces and U.S.-backed militia around Al-Tanf, near the border with Jordan. The U.S.-allied forces are using the base to train for battle and stage attacks against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. On several occasions in recent weeks, warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition have also struck pro-government forces to prevent them from advancing in the region. The Pentagon also described those strikes as self-defense. The competition between the Syrian forces and U.S.-backed rebels has increased in the desert region since IS extremists abandoned large swathes of the territory as they moved to defend Raqqa and Deir Zor. -ends-
22/06/2017

Camcopter S-100 UAV Completes Qualification on French LHD Dixmude

MONTPELLIER, France / VIENNA --- Schiebel’s Camcopter S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS) once again convinced with its outstanding maritime capability when successfully completing qualification flights for the French Navy from 29 May to 3 June 2017. The flight trials were performed from the deck of the Bâtiment de Projection et de Commandement (BPC) Dixmude, the newest of the French Navy’s three Mistral class amphibious assault ships. The French fleet is currently undergoing a modernization process within which Schiebel participates in flight trials in order to confirm the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) and to qualify the CAMCOPTER S-100’s integration onto the BPC. During the flight demonstrations in the Western Mediterranean the Camcopter S-100 conducted around 30 takeoffs and landings within a total of 15 flight hours during day and night. A L3 Wescam’s MX-10 was used to transmit daylight and infrared data. Throughout the trials the system was operated independently by the French Navy CEPA/10s crew. As in previous deployments for the French customer, here again Schiebel’s Camcopter S-100 - with its small footprint and exceptional capability - successfully proved to be a highly valuable asset for demanding maritime operations. 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 in day and night, under adverse weather conditions, with a beyond line-of-sight capability out to 200 km, 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 18,000 ft. In a typical configuration, the Camcopter S-100 carries a 75 lbs/34 kg 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 customer support and training services. Founded in 1951, the Vienna-based Schiebel Group focuses on the development, testing and production of state-of-the-art mine detection equipment and the revolutionary Camcopter S-100 Unmanned Air System (UAS). With headquarters in Vienna (Austria), Schiebel now maintains production facilities in Wiener Neustadt (Austria) and Abu Dhabi (UAE), as well as offices in Washington DC (USA) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). -ends-
22/06/2017

US Air Force Details Role of Predator, Reaper Operators

CREECH AFB, Nev. --- Following the mission brief and pre-flight checks, an aircrew consisting of an officer pilot in command and a career enlisted aviator sensor operator observe a target in an area of responsibility overseas from a cockpit in the U.S. and waits for the green light from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. Anticipation heightens as the JTAC confirms the target and gives the aircrew the clearance to attack. The aircrew then reviews checklists before engaging, adrenaline begins to seep in and the whirring from electronic components in the cockpit recedes from awareness. Their concentration sharpens and as the pilot squeezes the trigger, a laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missile is released. The sensor operator hones in on the objective at hand by keeping the laser designator crosshairs precisely over the target and guiding the missile. Unbeknownst to most people, the multi-role MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper strikes are coordinated through specific routing chains well before weapons employment to ensure the fulfillment of combat directives, combatant commanders’ requirements and overall rules of engagement. These aircrews follow the same weapons employment process as those in other traditional fighter and bomber aircraft. “Anytime a munition is employed or dropped by any platform to include our MQ-1s and MQ-9s, those rules of engagement must be satisfied,” said Maj. Brian, the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Weapons and Tactics assistant director of operations. “They define the specific requirements as far as who, what and when something can be targeted for the employment of a weapon.” Brian explained that, like other aircraft, there are two different types of strikes that occur in theater. One is a deliberate strike and the other is a dynamic target situation. “The deliberate strikes are all targets that have been nominated, gone through a vetting process and ran through the Combined Air Operations Center for validity,” said Brian. “They go through target nominations and then it’s passed off to targeteers, as well as the individual units, that will execute those strikes to conduct the weaponeering and through the CAOC, they satisfy the legal requirements in terms of ROE, weapon alignment and specific collateral damage estimation for that target.” Upholding the laws governing the use of military force ensures that the enemy can be eliminated without harm to civilians and friendly forces while, also, strictly aligning with the Law of Armed Conflict to meet legal and moral requirements. Brian said most of the 432nd AEW strikes are conducted in a dynamic target situation. “Dynamic targeting is executed using close air support doctrinal procedures,” said Brian. “Within the CAS doctrinal procedures, once a target is identified on the ground, a JTAC contacts the aircrew and starts to generate a plan as far as how they’re going to conduct and execute that strike.” A dynamic target strike is a coordinated effort between the aircrew and a ground team within a joint operations center. “Once we’ve found valid targets, I’m going to notify the JTAC and from there he’s working on his side to get approval for the strike,” said Capt. Chris, a 42nd Attack Squadron MQ-9 pilot. Along with communicating with the aircrew, the JTAC coordinates with his ground force commander. “The ground force commander is working in sync with a targeteer for collateral damage estimation and a judge advocate to ensure that Law of Armed Conflict in terms of proportionality, use of force and all legal requirements are satisfied,” said Brian. “Once he confirms that we have a valid target and the proportionality and collateral damage estimation is acceptable based on the commander’s intent and guidance, he then seeks target engagement approval authority from the first one-star in his chain of command.” If the situation and circumstances are aligned the commander authorizes the strike and at that point the aircrew is given clearance to then engage the target using the designated weapon as decided by the aircrew, Brian said. “When the strike is approved, he will pass me a game plan 9-line. At that time, I will brief the sensor exactly how this weapons delivery will be carried out,” said Chris. The CAS doctrinal procedures apply to all aircrew performing close air support, regardless of the aircraft used. “It’s [CAS procedures] the same for all U.S. military,” said Brian. “It’s a joint publication that defines those procedures and how it works.” Certain factors determined by the CAS doctrine and the varying length of time in the confirmation of targets, emphasize the need for persistent and precise attack capabilities provided by the multi-role MQ-1s and MQ-9s. “Personally, I’ve eliminated enemy forces that were engaging friendlies 15 meters away, so it’s extremely important to employ quickly and effectively and the MQ-9 is one of the best assets in the Air Force to accomplish this,” said Chris. The routing chain from target identification to strike can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours depending on the significance and situation of the strike. Any strike done with a JTAC goes through the same process regardless of what platform is employing the weapon. “One advantage that the MQ-1 and MQ-9 has over some of our more traditional aircraft is its persistence,” said Brian. “Since our mission durations are so long, we’re able to maintain custody of that target for an extended period of time and provide an in-depth characterization of the target, ensuring the target is hostile.” Brian added, because of their sensor capabilities and persistence over a target, MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircrews are able to integrate the entire targeting process from identification to final destruction and strike evaluation into a single platform versus requiring different multiple assets to accomplish the mission. Brian went on to say that MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircrews receive special training to understand ROE as well as the commander’s guidance and intent for a particular strike; this complete understanding demonstrates a high level of proficiency in flying daily combat missions to support multiple theaters abroad. Taking the fight to the enemy requires all aircrews to follow strict guidance in order to eliminate the enemy and safeguard friendly and coalition forces. The aircrews flying the multi-role MQ-1s and MQ-9s follow the same doctrine in support of 24/7 combat operations daily while adding an extremely professional and precise persistent attack and reconnaissance force to the Joint and coalition team engaged on the battlefield. -ends-
21/06/2017

US Shoots Down Armed Drone Over Southern Syria

A United States fighter jet shot down an armed pro-Syrian regime drone just after midnight Tuesday morning, as the drone advanced on coalition forces in southern Syria, military officials said. The U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle shot down the Iranian-made drone as it approached an established coalition combat outpost near At Tanf, along the Syrian border with Iraq, where the U.S. is training local fighters to fight the Islamic State. Coalition forces shot down a similar pro-regime drone near the same location earlier this month, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “The Coalition has made it clear to all parties publicly and through the de-confliction line with Russian forces that the demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated,” the statement read. ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State terror group. The downing of the drone came on the same day Australia announced it would temporarily suspended airstrikes by its forces in Syria after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian jet, and Syrian ally Russia threatened to target planes from the U.S.-led coalition operating in the skies over Syria. A statement from Australia's Defense Ministry said it would monitor the "air situation in Syria" and make a decision on resuming airstrikes there "in due course." The ministry said strikes in neighboring Iraq, also part of the U.S.-led coalition campaign, will go on. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the shootdown an "act of aggression," but the U.S. balked at the Russian threats and said it would continue to protect its interests in Syria. "The Syrian regime … needs to understand that we will keep the right of self-defense of coalition forces aligned against ISIS," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. -ends-
21/06/2017

Atlas Elektronik Demos Fully Unmanned MCM Detect-to-Engage Mission

Atlas Elektronik Group has successfully demonstrated a complete unmanned MCM Detect to Engage mission at the Belgium Navy’s North Sea Unmanned MCM Trials (BE NSU). On Sunday 11th June the Atlas Elektronik UK (AEUK) ARCIMS Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) departed the Belgian Naval base fitted with a towed AQS-24B minehunting sonar from Northrop Grumman and the SeaFox mine disposal system from Atlas Elektronik. ARCIMS transit to the tactical training area was independent of any support from the CPV for the 36km passage. Once in the operational area a six hour “Detect to Engage” mission was carried out using both remote control and autonomous operations. This included 12 km2 of continuous mine hunting survey at 14 knots with two laser identification runs and a SeaFox engagement against a mine contact that had been detected and classified by the towed sonar. Atlas Elektronik’s new station keeping autonomy behaviour was utilised to position the ARCIMS for accurate and stable launch and delivery of SeaFox mine disposal mission. Mark Bezzant, AEUK Trials Manager stated “The BE NSU demonstration offered a fantastic opportunity to conduct a complete unmanned end to end mission using multiple MCM toolbox components from a single USV.” Throughout the realistic tactical scenario, the ARCIMS Detect to Engage mission package received C2 from the MCM Commander based on BNS Pollux, which maintained a mobile stand-off distance and utilised a radio communications system that was fitted to the CPV and tested in just 1 hour. John Sutcliffe, AEUK Director Business Development said “The combined system delivered and demonstrated to the Belgian Trials has presented Atlas Elektronik Group as a world leading provider of offboard and unmanned mission systems. Future deployment of our ARCIMS mission system and MCM toolbox will allow the manned C2 platform to remain outside of the minefield, increase the speed of mine detection and engage mine threats remotely thereby reducing the risk to military personnel.” The AEUK ARCIMS USV once again proved its versatility and adaptability matching the CPV speed in transit, towing a minehunting sonar at 14 knots and station holding in SS2/3 and 22 knots of wind. The Atlas Elektronik well-known SeaFox was used in a remote-controlled engagement whereby the launch from the ARCIMS platform and the successive guidance to the target was completely controlled from the Pollux via a RF connection. With these trials Atlas Elektronik Group showed to have the components in required to conduct a Detect to Engage mission without a man in the minefield. -ends-
21/06/2017

GA-ASI Completes Design Review for USAF Block 50 GCS

PARIS AIR SHOW --– General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA‑ASI) has successfully completed the Critical Design Review (CDR) for its next-generation Advanced Cockpit Block 50 Ground Control Station (GCS) at the company's Poway, Calif., facilities. Completing the CDR was a key milestone towards fielding advanced capabilities for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) that will enhance combat effectiveness of its entire Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) fleet. "Our Block 50 team is proud of the development effort that addressed more than 700 customer requirements covering all areas of GCS performance," said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. "The Block 50 GCS CDR marks the successful completion of requirements established by our Air Force customer." The Cockpit Evaluation Team, comprised of USAF pilots and sensor operators, designed the Block 50's Human Machine Interface (HMI) to reduce pilot and operator workload. The overall layout, along with the cockpit's HMI, was based on human-factors in collaboration with the National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, Kan. Block 50 is designed for single seat operations that can reduce manpower at the user's discretion. With complete 'Hands on Throttle and Stick'for flight, weapons, payload, and sensor system control, aircrew situational awareness is greatly enhanced with a Common Operational Picture on a single display. Additionally, synthetic video is displayed with 3D graphics and moving maps on a touch screen. The Block 50 architecture has full physical and functional payload separation from the safety critical Operational Flight Program, allowing for quicker integration, testing, and fielding of new payloads. The open architecture lends itself to replace different components without disturbing the overall design and will help the Air Force avoid costs of Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages. Through the support of the USAF Maintenance Evaluation Team, the requirements were developed to specifically improve the maintainability and reliability of the GCS design. Under GA-ASI's current development contract with the Air Force, three Block 50 GCS have been completed and are in initial developmental testing, with four additional ground stations in work to include mobile shelter and fixed facility configurations. MQ-9 Reaper ground and flight tests are scheduled for next year following successful conclusion of the systems integration and ground test phase. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, is a 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-
20/06/2017

Airbus Flies VSR700 Optionally-Piloted Helicopter

PARIS --- Airbus Helicopters recently started autonomous flight trials of a VSR700 Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) demonstrator, paving the way for a first flight of the actual VSR700 prototype in 2018. A light military rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, the VSR700 is being developed jointly by Airbus Helicopters and Helicopteres Guimbal, the original manufacturer of the civil-certified Cabri G2 helicopter from which the VSR700 is derived. “We are pleased to have achieved this milestone only eight months after starting work on the OPV” said Regis Antomarchi, head of the VSR700 programme at Airbus Helicopters. “The OPV is able to autonomously take-off, hover and perform stabilized flight and maneuvers. It will help us mature the technologies associated to autonomous flight and confirm the suitability of the Cabri G2 platform for the VSR700, ahead of the first flight of the prototype next year”, he added. “Passing this first step of autonomous flights with a safety pilot onboard allows us to validate the integration of Airbus Helicopters’ flight control system with the aerial vehicle and its specific engine installation” said Bruno Guimbal, President & CEO of Helicopteres Guimbal. This phase of flight trials with a safety pilot will focus on refining Airbus Helicopters’ automatic flight control system aboard the OPV, eventually leading to fully autonomous flights without a safety pilot. The VSR 700 flight control system is a fully-digital, multi-channel system with a very high level of redundancy. It takes advantage of Airbus Helicopters unique expertise in digital autopilots. Sea trials of a manned Cabri G2 have also recently taken place with the support of a French Navy air defence frigate in order to assess the flight envelope of the VSR700 platform for shipborne operations. The VSR700 will be capable of carrying a wide array of mission equipment with a maximum capacity of up to 250 kg. Depending on the mission, its endurance could exceed 10 hours. Developed to meet navies’ requirements for a shipborne rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle and complement to manned helicopters, it could also be used in land-based military operations to carry out ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions, thanks to the VSR700’s optical sensors and maritime/land radar. The VSR700 will have a much lower operating cost than a helicopter not only thanks to its well-proven civil base vehicle and low-consumption diesel engine, but also because it requires fewer resources and less manpower to operate and maintain it. Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2015, it generated revenues of €64.5 billion and employed a workforce of around 136,600. 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 Europe’s number one space enterprise and the world’s second largest space business. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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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
07/03/2014

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

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

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

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

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

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