Computer-generated image of the Autonomous Naval Vessel concept unveiled by Rolls-Royce it is seen here deploying small unmanned aircraft. (RR image)

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22/09/2017

Power of Integration Tested at 2017 Dahlgren Technology Exercise

DAHLGREN, Va. --- The power of a Navy strike group's interoperability with unmanned vehicles, surface and air assets, guns, missiles, and combat systems was proven at the 2017 USS Dahlgren demonstration, Sept. 13-14. Hundreds of visitors - including 40 distinguished visitors from military, government, and academia - observed this power at the Annual Navy Technology Exercise (ANTX) as the USS Dahlgren's capabilities were demonstrated. The cybernetic ship simulated the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) strike group, hitting targets virtually and with live fire via Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) 30-millimeter guns and Aegis MK 46 gun system 5-inch guns on the Potomac River Test Range. ANTX featured virtual and hardware representations of combat systems on the Eisenhower strike group that comprised USS Gridley (DDG 101), USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), USS Milwaukee (LCS 5), USS Freedom (LCS 1), and USS Mason (DDG 87) during live fire destruction of surface threats. Throughout the event, an MH60R helicopter, an MQ-8B MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter, a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and a USV identified and tracked threats over-the-horizon. At one point, an autonomous unmanned surface vessel (USV) - equipped with an inert front-end portion of a Longbow Hellfire missile - staged simulated Longbow Hellfire salvos. The air assets - upgraded with enhanced radar technologies - and the USV provided real-time targeting throughout the exercise. Track and engagement information was shared across the strike group proving an ability to conduct experimentation in a high-fidelity, distributed architecture. "We are showcasing all of the good work that we and the NR&DE (Naval Research and Development Establishment) have done, and the seriousness of our role to close the gap for the warfighter," Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Technical Director John Fiore told the visitors before the exercise commenced. "Our partnership with industry, academia, and our brothers and sisters in the NR&DE is critical because the only thing we're here to do is to take care of the Sailors and Marines who are out there and have to be effective and want to come home to their families safe." To keep warfighters safer, the U.S. Navy plans to integrate remote sensors that feed target location data to ship combat systems. This will enable Sailors to immediately engage fast attack craft and fast inshore attack craft as well as other threats with existing gun and missile systems and emerging electric weapon systems. Currently, the integration of unmanned systems into the Fleet has been limited by a lack of direct communications with shipboard combat systems. "Our sole purpose here is to identify where the warfighter gaps are and understand how we close those gaps," Fiore emphasized to all regarding the event, hosted by NSWCDD in collaboration with Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and NSWC Panama City Division. The visitors, including NSWCDD employees, saw Dahlgren's ANTX address these integration challenges via a layered defense demonstration focused on distributed lethality in the littorals and rapid prototyping of new Fleet capabilities. What's more, they witnessed emerging and innovative technologies align with future naval capabilities and had the chance to share new technologies, exchange ideas, and collaborate with the surface naval technology community. "The ANTX demonstrations have been a valuable way for Marines to see targeted capabilities the Naval Warfare Centers are working on, opening the door to further discussions of future capabilities and the art-of-the-possible," said Meggan Schoenberg, Combat Direction Systems Activity Dam Neck's science advisor to the Marine Corps Forces Command. In effect, the USS Dahlgren exercise gave Schoenberg and many others an opportunity to evaluate the art-of-the-possible at the research and development level in a low-risk environment before these technological innovations become militarized and integrated at the operational level. ANTX partnered with NR&DE, universities, and industry to demonstrate emerging capabilities and innovations in surface warfare. More than 60 emerging and innovative technologies were highlighted that provide an advantage to distributed forces, including naval surface combatants, to exercise sea control across a wide area extending into the littorals. Some of these relevant technologies include integration and control of unmanned vehicles, advanced sensors and sensor integration, track management, data fusion, and tactical displays. Technologies aligning to future naval capabilities were demonstrated, allowing the surface naval technology community to see new technologies, exchange ideas, and foster collaboration. "The ANTX events provide the Fleet a first-hand opportunity to see what the warfare centers are working on in an efficient and relevant way," said Dr. Marcus Tepaske, U.S. Fleet Forces Command science advisor. "I was impressed with many of the 219 NISE (Navy Innovative Science and Engineering) projects and their alignment to naval systems and naval needs. It's great to see what can be accomplished by leveraging the Warfare Centers' internal development funding and engineering creativity. On the other end of the spectrum, the live fire scenarios showed how Dahlgren is pulling all of the pieces together to conduct end-to-end surface engagements jointly with Pax River (Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division). I'm looking forward to future ANTX events across the Navy as they continue to mature and evolve in order to demonstrate even more capability for the warfighter." The USS Dahlgren ANTX accomplished several firsts, including: -- First demonstration of the newly integrated MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter radar with LCS Combat System and Link 16. -- First prototype demonstration of a USV with the Battle Management System and Longbow Hellfire missile-launcher. -- First USV receipt of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) cursor on-target data. -- First LCS Surface-to-Surface Missile Module simulated engagement from UAS targeting data. -- First employment of the NSWCDD-produced LCS Combat Management System (CMS) Portable Virtual Test Environment. -- First demonstration of the NSWCDD-CMS Integration Laboratory (first Navy-owned LCS CMS laboratory). -- First demonstration of the LCS CMS Integration Lab connectivity to remote Mine Countermeasures Mission Package laboratories. -- First demonstration of a MH-60R Seahawk helicopter with a newly upgraded system configuration in the USS Dahlgren Link 16 environment. -ends-
21/09/2017

Lockheed Demos Drone Shootdown by Laser

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. --- A Lockheed Martin prototype laser weapon system proved that an advanced system of sensors, software and specialized optics can deliver decisive lethality against unmanned aerial vehicle threats. In a live-fire demonstration at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a 30-kilowatt class laser weapon system developed by Lockheed Martin brought down five unmanned aerial vehicles with a 100 percent success rate. (Image: Lockheed Martin.) In tests conducted with the U.S. Army's Space and Missile Defense Command in August, the 30-kilowatt class ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset) system brought down five 10.8' wingspan Outlaw unmanned aerial systems at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. ATHENA employed advanced beam control technology and an efficient fiber laser in this latest series of tests of the prototype system. Click here to see a video of the testing. "The tests at White Sands against aerial targets validated our lethality models and replicated the results we've seen against static targets at our own test range," said Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin's Chief Technology Officer. "As we mature the technology behind laser weapon systems, we're making the entire system more effective and moving closer to a laser weapon that will provide greater protection to our warfighters by taking on more sophisticated threats from a longer range." Lockheed Martin partnered with Army Space and Missile Defense Command on a cooperative research and development agreement to test ATHENA. The system defeated airborne targets in flight by causing loss of control and structural failure. Lockheed Martin and the Army will conduct post mission reviews, and data collected will be used to further refine the system, improve model predictions and inform development of future laser systems. ATHENA is a transportable, ground-based system that serves as a low-cost test bed for demonstrating technologies required for military use of laser weapon systems. Lockheed Martin funded ATHENA's development with research and development investments. It uses the company's 30-kilowatt Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative (ALADIN) that provides great efficiency and lethality in a design that scales to higher power levels. ATHENA is powered by a compact Rolls-Royce turbo generator. Lockheed Martin is positioning laser weapon systems for success on the battlefield because of their speed, flexibility, precision and low cost per engagement. Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 97,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. -ends-
21/09/2017

Was “Unmanned Warrior” A Useful Exercise?

“Extremely successful event” … “world firsts” … “unprecedented” … “ground-breaking”. It’s safe to say that, judging from the string of superlatives, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was pleased with Unmanned Warrior 16, last year’s demonstration of the potential for maritime autonomous systems to undertake military tasks. Unmanned Warrior took place off the west coast of Scotland as part of the Joint Warrior NATO naval training exercise which is hosted by the Royal Navy every autumn, and the post-event report for the activity has recently been published in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. But was the Unmanned Warrior demonstration really as innovative as the MoD would like to think it was? Publicised as the biggest ever military exercise involving unmanned systems, Unmanned Warrior 16 brought together over 40 participants from industry, government, and academic organisations to demonstrate unmanned systems operating in the air, on the surface, and underwater in realistic military scenarios. The event took place over two weeks in October 2016, with activities centred on the QinetiQ-operated MoD test and evaluation ranges in the Hebrides and the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC) at Kyle of Lochalsh. Industry’s involvement in Unmanned Warrior was a central feature of the exercise, with Qinetiq organising logistics and communications infrastructure for the event and with the programme of demonstration activities designed jointly between MoD and industrial partners. The event attracted big defence industry players keen to demonstrate their equipment – including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Thales – as well as a larger number of smaller and medium enterprises. MoD’s post-exercise report described Unmanned Warrior as a “highly successful event for all themes”. Highlights listed in the report include delivery of the largest co-ordinated unmanned anti-submarine warfare event held in UK, “the first direct comparative mine hunting trials between manned and unmanned platforms”, and the survey of over 5,000 square kilometres of ocean using unmanned systems. The report argued that unmanned technology “is more robust than generally perceived and is capable of delivering credible military capability today”, although a number of incidents were recorded, including two small aerial drones ditching into the sea, an aerial drone not performing the correct ‘lost link’ procedure, and “minor lithium battery fires”. Tellingly, MoD also considers the event to have been a public relations success. Unmanned Warrior had a “significant media presence”, starting with a high-profile test run of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s ‘Mast’ (Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed) speedboat along the River Thames. An “effective media campaign” saw features about the exercise on BBC TV’s prime time ‘The One Show’, articles in national and local media and the defence sector trade press, and a heavy social media presence. A dedicated team was set up to deal with engagement and the media, which hosted over 150 VIPs from the navies and industry of over 18 different countries and the Minister for Defence Procurement, Harriet Baldwin. The campaign “successfully raised the profile” of Unmanned Warrior, maritime autonomous systems, and the Royal Navy, and doubtless also contributed towards MoD’s wider goal of portraying military drones as a normal, accepted, and benign part of the everyday world. The post event report lists only a limited number of general findings, although an Exploitation Paper and a Lessons Identified report (both unreleased) apparently give more detail on what was learnt as a result of the exercise and how the knowledge will be applied. Significantly, Unmanned Warrior highlighted that the use of unmanned vehicles in the short term “is unlikely to facilitate a reduction in manpower”, but will instead require “redistribution and retraining of existing manpower”. The role of human operators is likely to change “from one physically conducting operations to one of monitoring operations and processing the data collected”. “Significant effort” will be required by the Royal Navy to develop the necessary doctrine and train suitably qualified and experienced personnel to operate unmanned vehicles to their full potential. Given that the Navy, like all the armed forces, is facing considerable financial and staffing pressures this is likely to be disappointing news to senior officers, as it will increase the challenges in using autonomous systems to undertake routine activities while allowing fewer numbers of humans to focus on core tasks. Others have been more exacting in their evaluation of Unmanned Warrior. Peter Roberts, Director of Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, told the Guardian newspaper that the exercise lagged years behind similar US initiatives where manufacturers of unmanned technology “had to prove their equipment worked outside of clean conditions” in real-world operations against drug smugglers in the Caribbean. In contrast, Unmanned Warrior was “late to the game and not very ambitious” and was functioning as a “sales pitch from the UK for business”. Tim Robinson, editor of ‘Aerospace’ magazine, asked why there were “some notable platforms missing” from Unmanned Warrior, including the RAF’s Reaper drone and pointed out the challenge that defence funding poses for unmanned systems, where “the real cost is likely to be in the IT, communications and ISTAR networks to allow imagery, data and intelligence to be shared between ships, aircraft, UAVs, and ground stations” and in integrating these systems. There is also a risk of “drawing the wrong lessons or not being innovative enough in adopting this new technology”. “Cultural obstacles and ‘we have always done it this way’ may be bigger barriers than technical challenges”, he said. In the final evaluation, Unmanned Warrior’s significance is perhaps that the UK’s armed forces have, for the first time, incorporated drones and unmanned systems as a central element in a major international military exercise. From now on unmanned systems can be expected to be a regular feature in such exercises. Although effective at generating publicity about maritime drones, Unmanned Warrior still left a lot to be desired in terms of transparency about their military uses and potential modes of operation. -ends-
20/09/2017

Israel Shoots Down Drone with Patriot Missile

Today (Tuesday), IAF Aerial Defense combatants intercepted a UAV that apparently belongs to the Hezbollah Terror Organization via Patriot missile. IAF aerial defense combatants are prepared to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year Today (Tuesday), at approximately 1:30 PM, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) infiltrated Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights. According to IDF intelligence, the Iranian-made UAV was operated by Hezbollah, and took off from Damascus Military Airport. The UAV was being used for a reconnaissance mission along the border and in the Golan Heights. When it was observed crossing the Bravo Line into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, the IDF decided to intercept it. The UAV was shot down by a single Patriot missile, which was fired by the IAF’s Aerial Defense forces. “Our message is that the IDF will not allow any violation of Israeli sovereignty,” says IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, “and we will not allow Iranian forces, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, or Shiite militias of any kind to approach Israel’s borders. “We will defend our borders, and if any such attempts to violate our sovereignty will be made, we will respond swiftly.” -ends-
20/09/2017

Bulgaria May Reboot Fighter Jet Acquisition

A day after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov voiced doubt that Gripen was the best choice for a new fighter jet for the country’s Air Force, a parliamentary ad hoc committee was poised to call for a rewrite of requirements and a request to bidders to submit new offers. The committee was set up earlier in 2017 to investigate the bid process, which saw an interdepartmental committee of experts rank Gripen as the top offer, for technical and financial reasons. The report by the expert committee was scrutinised by the Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet. After coming to power as Bulgaria’s head of government for the third time, Borissov initially told his Swedish counterpart that negotiations on a Gripen acquisition would proceed within weeks. But that was followed by complicated flip-flopping on the issue by Borissov and his GERB party, which returned the process to the prolonged delays and uncertainties that have plagued it for years. In recent days, Borissov and Bulgarian President Roumen Radev – who commanded the Air Force before resigning to stand for election as head of state – were at cross-purposes again, in spite of a supposed show of unity some months ago on the process of modernisation of Bulgaria’s military. Radev earlier characterised the appointment of the parliamentary ad hoc committee as a tribunal directed against him. Radev, who won election in 2016 on a ticket backed by the socialist opposition, had input earlier in the acquisition by virtue of being the Air Force chief. Reports on September 19 said that the ad hoc parliamentary multi-party committee would call on the Defence Ministry to make changes to the programme for investing in new jet fighters for the Bulgarian Air Force. A rewritten project should eliminate ambiguities and doubts about restrictive requirements regarding the implementation of the payment options, according to the draft recommendations. The report recommends that Bulgaria should submit a new call for proposals to the countries that put in bids, once Parliament had approved the changes. The draft report said that the committee “highly appreciated” the work done so far on the project, but adds that there was a “lack of political leadership” and control of the process, as well as a regulatory vacuum. According to the report, the involvement of external Air Force experts was “limited” and their expertise had not been used. It said that the final result had been distorted and serious doubts had arisen regarding the effectiveness of the spending of public funds. There were three bids in response to the 2016 request for proposals – Sweden with an offer to build newly-made Gripens to order, deliver within an 18-month deadline after the contract signing and provide for a flexible payment plan. Portugal offered second-hand US-made F-16s and Italy, second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons. Borissov’s September 18 comments were the most discouraging yet from him regarding the Swedish bid, saying that he doubted that Gripen was the best option and asking, “are these fighters what we need now?” Borissov said that all the military modernisation needs, counting naval patrol vessels, armoured vehicles and the jet fighters, added up to 10 billion leva (about five million euro). He said that Bulgarian defensive doctrine called for land vehicles first. It remains to be seen whether, in the face of this governmental chopping and changing, Gripen would be willing to proceed with a process that in all these years has had unpredictability as its sole predictable element. Some within government circles would prefer to see Bulgaria accept second-hand F-16s – which would have a shorter life-span by definition – in the belief that this would be received positively by its United States ally. Portugal is understood to want to raise cash towards buying F-35s partly by unloading its old F-16s. Speaking to reporters in New York, where he is due to address the UN, Radev said that he believed that Borissov was being misled by his advisers regarding the choice of a jet fighter. Radev said that the Gripen choice had been made after a fully transparent procedure. He denied giving an opinion on this type of aircraft. Radev urged Borissov not to divide the country and its crucial sectors into portions and urged him not to change his decisions every day. “National security is not built on changing your position every day,” he said. -ends-
20/09/2017

China Sees Fighters Controlling Combat Drones Within 5 Years

China's fighter jets will be capable of remotely controlling drones by satellite within five years, experts said Tuesday. China's fifth-generation stealth fighters J-20 and J-31 will be capable of mobilizing the drones for battle by serving as their control platforms, Xu Yongling, a retired PLA chief test pilot and an expert at the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said at a recent defense seminar, Cankaoxiaoxi newspaper reported. Xu explained to the Global Times Tuesday that "China could achieve the technology within five years. Chinese fighter jets will have the ability to control drones in real time in battles in the Indian Ocean, the west Pacific Ocean and South China Sea." Manned fighter jets can easily remotely control a small drone fleet with artificial intelligence (AI). But satellites are needed for fighter jets to have the flexibility of controlling drones and alter their mission in changing situations, according to Xu. The J-20 and J-31 could remotely control up to six large drones armed with missiles or a fleet made up of smaller drones if they are equipped with AI, Fu Qianshao, another air defense expert, said. It would be better for single-pilot jets to be equipped with a computerized co-pilot to process information from artificial sensors, Fu told the Global Times. The AI technology is much more likely to be first used in twin-pilot aircraft, like third-generation fighter jets such as the J-10 and J-16. One pilot would process the data transmitted from drones, while the other pilot focuses on the manned mission, Fu said. However, Xu admitted that the technology poses a problem. "It's unknown if the fighter jets can reconfigure the missions of the drones in time with keyboard commands. Current drones are all programmed, which means their missions cannot be altered in the air." US Air Force Chief Scientist Gregory Zacharias was quoted by US magazine the National Interest in July as saying that F-35s, F-22s and other fighter jets will use AI to control nearby drone wingmen in high risk areas as well. -ends-
19/09/2017

Insitu Wins Philippines Order for Six Scan Eagle UAV Systems

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Washington, is being awarded $9,975,624 for firm-fixed-price order N0001917F1568 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-17-G-0001) for the procurement of six ScanEagle unmanned aircraft systems, related support equipment and spares, training, site activation, technical services, and data for the government of the Philippines. Work will be performed in Bingen, Washington (75 percent); Hood River, Oregon (10 percent); and the Nueva Ecija, Philippines (15 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2019. Foreign military sales funds in the amount of $9,975,624 are being obligated at the time of the award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity. -ends-
19/09/2017

GA-ASI Begins Flight Tests from Upgraded FTTC in North Dakota

GRAND FORKS, N.D. --- On August 30th, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew its first test flight out of its new Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The GA-ASI Block 5 Predator B/MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) flew a round-trip of approximately 1,075 nautical miles. This was the longest transit flown by a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in Class A civilian airspace under a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) granted by the FAA. The COA authorized the Block 5 MQ-9 to fly in airspace managed by air traffic controllers without the requirement of utilizing a “chase” airplane. “This flight signified several ‘firsts’ for us and for the industry,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “As we continue to demonstrate our ability to fly RPA safely alongside passenger planes, we further our efforts towards certifying the aircraft and increasing their mission possibilities in Class A civilian airspace.” Additionally, this was the first time an unmanned aircraft operated through multiple spot beams of a High-throughput Satellite (HTS). HTS is a new generation of satellites providing higher data throughput and interference mitigation. As an RPA’s mission distance increases, it needs to be able to transition seamlessly from one satellite beam to another. For this flight, the Block 5 MQ-9 communicated with two HTS beams. GA-ASI announced the completion of a new permanent hangar for its FTTC in Grand Forks on August 21st. The new hangar replaces the temporary facility that had been in operation since June 2016. It houses GA-ASI operational hardware, including RPA and ground control stations, as well as offices and conference rooms. In addition to conducting flight tests, the FTTC operation operates an office building near the University of North Dakota campus that features classrooms and a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System for accomplishing the academic and simulator segments of training. 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-
18/09/2017

Lockheed Buys into Ocean Aero, Makes of Submaran UMV

BETHESDA, Md. --- Lockheed Martin Ventures is making a strategic investment in Ocean Aero, the developer of the Submaran unmanned maritime vehicle. This is Lockheed Martin Ventures' third investment this year, and it will create opportunities for both companies to grow their maritime capabilities, with a focus on multi-domain Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Lockheed Martin Ventures is Ocean Aero's second significant investor, joining marine instrumentation leader Teledyne Technologies, which has invested in Ocean Aero since 2014. "Ocean Aero represents the next generation of environmentally powered, autonomous ocean systems," said Chris Moran, executive director and general manager of Lockheed Martin Ventures. "Our investment will allow us to better respond to customers' maritime needs with technology solutions for a diverse set of missions." The Submaran is a new class of unmanned underwater and surface vessel for ocean observation and data collection. Powered by wind and solar energy, the Submaran is capable of traveling for months, even in extreme conditions. In addition, it's easy to deploy and recover, and can dive to depths of 660 feet to avoid surface traffic or to conduct C4ISR operations. Lockheed Martin partnered with Ocean Aero on a successful, multi-domain unmanned systems technology demonstration during the 2016 Annual Naval Technology Exercise at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. This investment will allow the companies to continue to demonstrate their expertise in configuring teams of autonomous systems for complex missions. "We're excited about the opportunity to grow our business and leverage the strengths of Lockheed Martin to accelerate innovation in the autonomous domain," said Eric Patten, CEO and president of Ocean Aero. While Lockheed Martin has provided funding to venture stage companies since 2007, it refocused in 2016 to long-term, strategic investments in technology innovations that could drive growth in existing and new markets for the company. The fund invests primarily in early-stage companies, and its technology priorities include autonomous systems and robotics, cyber security, artificial intelligence, advanced electronics and sensor technologies. Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 97,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. Ocean Aero is a San Diego based business focused on developing autonomous, highly persistent, energy scavenging, solar/wind powered vessels. The Submaran, a new class of unmanned underwater, surface vessel, combines surface and subsurface performance in a unique transformable, self-propelling body, capable of long missions in extreme conditions. -ends-
15/09/2017

China Unveils Small Unmanned Combat Helicopter

China is promoting an unmanned reconnaissance / combat helicopter in the international market, further expanding the scope of its military drones offered to foreign buyers. Aviation Industry Corp of China, the State-owned aircraft giant, has put its AV500W unmanned autonomous helicopter on display at the fourth China Helicopter Expo that opened on Thursday in Tianjin. The 7.2-meter-long aircraft, developed and produced at the AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, has a maximum takeoff weight of 450 kilograms, a maximum speed of 170 kilometers per hour and a flight ceiling of 4,000 meters, according to the institute. The helicopter is capable of carrying 120 kg of weapons and equipment. Its reconnaissance version can remain aloft for eight hours while the reconnaissance/combat model is able to fly four hours. All of the military drones China has offered to the international market have been fixed-wing models, making the AV500W the first Chinese unmanned military helicopter available in that market, observers said. An armed AV500W typically carries four air-to-ground missiles, which use radar homing technology for guidance. Each missile weighs 8 kg and can hit a target 5 km away, the institute said. It also can carry bombs or a machine-gun pod. The helicopter features good mobility, penetration capability and a high level of automation and has a stealth design. A typical mission would be a precision attack on light-duty armored vehicles and personnel, the institute said. Jiang Taiyu, one of the chief designers of AV500W, said the aircraft fired weapons during its maiden flight test in August. "The helicopter is able to take off and land on almost any landform including plateaus and canyons. It can operate in cold and tropical environments. It will be useful in border patrols, counterterrorism operations and low-intensity conflicts because it can carry out very-low-altitude penetration and keep hovering for a while," he said. The designer added that all of the helicopter's tests will be finished before the end of this year and it will be ready for mass-production in 2018. "Several nations have told us that they are interested in this aircraft. This is because there are a very small number of unmanned helicopters in the world that can perform strikes, while demand for such types is not small," Jiang said. He said only the United States and Israel have developed unmanned armed helicopters, such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout in the US. The AV500W's target market will be countries dealing with terrorism such as in the Middle East, he said. Fang Yonghong, director of unmanned aircraft technology at AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute, said many nations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East face huge pressure to ramp up their counterterrorism efforts, so they need good, affordable equipment such as the AV500W. More than 400 helicopter producers and parts suppliers from 22 nations and regions — such as the US, Russia and France — are taking part in the helicopter expo, the largest of its kind in China. They brought 98 aircraft to the event. Helicopters from the People's Liberation Army Ground Force and AVIC conducted flight demonstrations at the opening ceremony on Thursday morning. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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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
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