Known as the Marine Lizard, China’s new amphibious drone is the first armed combat vehicle of its kind it can reportedly reach a speed on 50 kts on water and 20 km/h on land, and can be armed with vertical launch missiles. (Twitter photo)

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23/05/2019

AiRXOS Supports NIAS and NASA UTM Program TCL4 with Air Mobility Platform

AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation, will today perform Technical Capability Level (TCL) 4 program demonstrations in Reno, NV as part of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) TCL 4 program - the final phase of its four-year series of increasingly complicated technical demonstrations involving small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The State of Nevada UAS Test Site, under the leadership of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), is conducting this NASA demonstration in downtown Reno, Nevada, marking the first time in U.S. aviation history Unmanned Aircraft (UA) flight operations are performed in an urban area under beyond visual line of sight conditions (BVLOS). The operations being performed in the TCL4 program are the most complex demonstrations of UAS airspace management to date, including urban settings, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and multiple flying organizations subscribing to federated and inter-connected USS providers. AiRXOS will be providing its Air Mobility Platform, a rich, cutting-edge inter-connected framework that manages the volume, density, and variety of unmanned traffic data, while coordinating and integrating that data within a secure, FAA compliant, gated cloud environment for safe unmanned operations. AiRXOS is proud to have been selected as program partners for both NASA’s TCL4 trials in Texas and Nevada as well as all three of the FAA’s UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP) Virginia, Nevada, and North Dakota. In both programs, AiRXOS is providing its Air Mobility Platform. The work being demonstrated in these programs is helping pave new channels of advanced operations like the recent drone flight delivering a human organ for the first-ever transplant, in which AIRXOS supported the University of Maryland. Additional NIAS and NASA testing is scheduled for June 17-28 and June 29-July 3, 2019. “How we transport goods and people will change with the new air mobility economy. To scale this growth, an Urban Air Mobility framework needs to sustain highly technical operations like organ delivery, people and package delivery, critical infrastructure inspection, drone detection, first responder support and interconnectivity,” said Ken Stewart, CEO, AiRXOS. “AiRXOS is proud to be a pillar in the work NIAS and NASA are performing with our Air Mobility Platform. The TCL4 initiative is integral to establishing the standards and operations that will provide safer and more secure airspace.” The Air Mobility Platform provides a unique, agnostic, single point of responsibility to manage and connect heterogeneous sets of operations, applications, and devices - giving enterprises the freedom to manage operations & communications, deploy applications and expand operations as air and ground mobility needs evolve. AiRXOS, part of GE Aviation, is digitizing today’s airspace, infusing next generation air traffic management technology and services with world-class aviation expertise and execution, AiRXOS is shaping a new era of transportation through global, commercial Unmanned Vehicle (UV) solutions. -ends-
22/05/2019

Elbit Unit Unveils Autonomous Sub-Surface Training Target

NOVA SCOTIA, Canada --- GeoSpectrum Technologies (GTI) launches a Multipurpose Autonomous Sub-Surface Training Target (MASTT) system that enables true to life and cost-effective training experience of detecting and tracking submarines. MASTT will be showcased at the CANSEC exhibition held in Ottawa May 29-30, 2019 (Elbit Systems booth #1421). Cost and technical capacity impede modern Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training as it often times involves operating of either real submarines or training targets which are of a limited transmitting capacity. MASTT imitates submarines from conventional to nuclear with a variety of running modes of operation. The system can replicate a submarines’ acoustic signature. In this mode MASTT will transmit fixed frequencies, either independently, or when triggered by a received acoustic signal. Moreover, it can retransmit a synthetic echo of received acoustic signals while a Doppler shift can be also incorporated into the retransmitted echo, increasing or decreasing the intensity of the sound in line with the distance. Unlike most existing systems in the market these capabilities are available in both medium and low frequency bands. Answering the need for true to life training MASTT can operate in different running modes depicting standard submarine movement: Moving in a straight line in a fixed course, speed or depth, moving in a zig zag pattern with course alterations, a near stationary mode and a multiple course, speed and depth alterations. Less than 3 meters in length and a little over 32 centimeters in diameter MASTT is suited for storage on an Mk 46 Mod 5 torpedo rack for quick launch and recovery as well as user friendly deployment for surface ship crew. MASTT is equipped with rechargeable batteries providing a minimum of 8-hour operation endurance at 4 kts cruising speed and only 3-4 hour charging time. A significantly cost-effective system in both size and maintenance cost, MASTT provides the operators with a true to life flexible training experience detecting and tracking submarines. Paul Yeatman, President of GTI, commented: “The MASTT training system provides operators the opportunity to cope with real-life scenarios at a fraction of the cost while contributing to the development of new ASW tactics. MASTT joins the GTI portfolio of advanced sub surface acoustic systems serving the defense, homeland security, Oil & Gas and environmental sectors.” GeoSpectrum is a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada based supplier of marine acoustic hardware and systems. Its’ range of offerings include sonars and sonar upgrades (towed and hull mounted), acoustic communication, submarine targets, diver deterrent systems, moored surveillance solutions, Very Low Frequency (VLF) systems and more. The company supplies its products to the defence, oil and gas, surveillance, and environmental sectors. -ends-
20/05/2019

US Army Trains with First Personal UAV

FORT BELVOIR, Va. --- Imagine a battlefield where Soldiers have access to near-real time video transmitted back to them on a handheld device. Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier) fielded the first personal Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) in the U.S. Army to Soldiers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, April 29 -May 3, 2019 at Fort Bragg, NC. Soldiers did more than just inventory and take possession of the system during the week-long fielding. The Soldiers were also trained via classroom instruction about the system's capabilities, its controls, and how to operate it. Soldiers received hands on training of the system and flew the drone through various scenarios which culminated in an exercise that tested everything they learned throughout the week. It was all done in preparation for the BCT to take the system with them on their upcoming deployment, making this the first personal UAS to deploy at the squad level within a unit in the Army. New Army technology like the Soldier Borne Sensors (SBS) mitigates future losses of life and injuries by having a drone complete dangerous work that combat Soldiers would usually perform on their own such as sending a fire team to gain reconnaissance information, or sending out dismounted Soldiers for route clearance operations. PEO Soldier delivers systems and equipment like this to our Soldiers to ensure they remain decisive and dominant throughout the full spectrum of military operations. The UAS is part of PEO Soldier's SBS program and it consists of multiple components; the ground control system, which is composed of a base station with hand controller and display unit, and two air Vehicles (one day and one night). The display acts as the main hub for Soldiers to interact with the system, while the air vehicles are small, highly maneuverable airborne sensors with low visual and audio signatures that support pre-planned and on-the-fly reconnaissance missions. "This system is something new that not a lot of Soldiers have touched or even seen before, so it's cool to test it out and push it to its limits before we take it with us on our deployment" said Sgt. Dalton Kruse, one of the operators being trained on the system. "Most of us have never flown a drone before, but this training gave us the confidence and knowledge to use the system, making us more comfortable to use it while deployed. It was easy to pick up and fly, very user-friendly, and I can already tell that this system will benefit my unit downrange." The potential of having a personal UAS equipped to every squad gives them the ability to asses a situation from a cover and concealed position, mitigating the risk to the Soldier. John Paul Kruszewski, Lead Engineer for the unmanned systems at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC), likens the system to a flying pair of binoculars. "Using this system, Soldiers can understand their operational environment better so they can make better decisions and make these decisions quicker than ever. It makes Soldiers more effective while reducing their tactical risk." The CCDC SC is dedicated to using science and technology to ensure America's warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. This means that the SBS provides a type of protection to Soldiers that they've never experienced before, and this protection is what Soldiers like Sgt. Ryan Subers, another operator of the system, values the most. "I was really impressed with the system, its capabilities, and what it offers Soldiers in terms of risk reduction. This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm's way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we're on. I'm very grateful for technology like this and to be a part of the first unit to use it." The initial fielding of the SBS paves the way for a system that will eventually equip every squad with an organic UAS in the future. "It is the start of an era where every squad will have vision beyond their line of sight," said Nathan Heslink, Assistant Program Manager, SBS, PEO Soldier. "The squad will not have any dead space within its area of operations and this allows Soldiers to detect threats earlier than ever, meaning it is more likely Soldiers won't be harmed during their missions." -ends-
16/05/2019

Occar Completes Preliminary Safety Assessments of European MALE UAV

The European MALE RPAS Programme Division (MRPD) completed a contract with the German Air Navigation Service Provider – DFS Aviation Services (DAS) – on a Preliminary Safety Assessment. The objective of the Safety Assessment was focused on the integration of the European MALE RPAS in segregated and non-segregated airspace. In total, five workshops took place with participation of MRPD and Nations’ experts, complemented by experts from EDA as well as Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Leonardo. The final documentation delivered end of April 2019 provided an important step for the integration of the European MALE RPAS in European Airspace. The results will be included in the preparation of the upcoming European MALE RPAS Stage 2 contract. -ends-
14/05/2019

Israel Tests Dipping Sonar on Unmanned Boat

HAIFA, Israel --- In an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) exercise conducted recently together with the Hellenic Navy, the Israeli Navy deployed its Seagull™ Multi-Mission Surface Vessel in an ASW configuration that included an onboard Helicopter Long-Range Active Sonar (HELRAS) dipping sonar. A deployment in this configuration took place approximately three months after the Israeli Navy completed a Sea Acceptance Test (SAT) for a HELRAS dipping sonar that was successfully converted for operation onboard its Seagull. The Seagulls' performance in the exercise demonstrated that operating a dipping sonar onboard such a vessel significantly increases the operational working time while substantially enhancing detection capabilities and the effectiveness of Anti-Submarine Warfare. The Seagull autonomous multi-mission surface vessel features switchable, modular mission payload suites and can perform, in addition to ASW, Mine Countermeasure missions (MCM), Electronic Warfare (EW), Maritime Security (MS), Hydrography and other missions using the same vessel, mission control system and data links. Seagull offers navies a true force multiplier delivering enhanced performance to naval operations, reducing risk to human life and dramatically cutting procurement and operating costs. Elbit Systems Ltd. is an international high technology company engaged in a wide range of defense, homeland security and commercial programs throughout the world. The Company, which includes Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries, operates in the areas of aerospace, land and naval systems. The Company also focuses on the upgrading of existing platforms, developing new technologies for defense, homeland security and commercial applications and providing a range of support services, including training and simulation systems. -ends-
14/05/2019

19 Belgian Companies Bid for MQ-9B Support Work

SAN DIEGO --- Nineteen Belgium-based companies will present their ideas and cutting-edge capabilities to a panel of technical experts from GA-ASI with the goal of selection to support the development of MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) for Belgium. This outreach event, called “Blue Magic Belgium,” follows the Government of Belgium’s approval for Belgian Defense to negotiate acquisition of GA-ASI’s SkyGuardian to meet the nation’s RPA requirements. The 19 companies will be broken into two groups with one group presenting on May 15th in Liège and the second group on May 16th in Sint-Truiden. The goal of the events is to increase the number of Belgian technology companies that can provide research and development (R&D) and innovation to support GA-ASI. “We look forward to the opportunity to meet face-to-face with some of Belgium’s most innovative companies,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “We’re committed to providing the best RPA to Belgian Defense and all NATO countries. To support that effort, we’re identifying and establishing relationships with companies across Belgium that can assist us.” The companies participating in Blue Magic Belgium on May 15thand 16thwill be Aerosimulators, Airobot, Altran, ALX Systems, Any Shape, Arcadia Industries, Capual, Coexpair, Feronyl, Hexagon, KuLeuven, Mockel, MSC Software, Simtech, Sirris, Spacebel, Unifly, (UN)MANNED and VeroTech. 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. With more than five million flight hours, GA-ASI provides long-endurance, mission-capable aircraft with integrated sensor and data link systems required to deliver persistent flight that enables situational awareness and rapid strike. -ends-
13/05/2019

Northrop Wins $163M to Support Hunter UAV Fleet

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Sierra Vista, Arizona, was awarded a $163,588,331 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Hunter unmanned aircraft system fleet support for operations, maintenance, engineering, re-engineering and remanufacturing. One bid was solicited with one bid received. Work will be performed in Sierra Vista, Arizona, with an estimated completion date of May 9, 2020. Fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance, Army funds in the amount of $41,883,787 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity (W58RGZ-19-C-0033). -ends-
10/05/2019

China Claims Helicopter Drones Capable of Intelligent Swarm Attacks

China's domestically developed helicopter drones carrying proximity explosive mortar shells, grenade launchers and machine guns can now form swarms and engage in coordinated strikes. The intelligent swarming attack technology enables as many as 10 unmanned helicopter drones to autonomously form up into a swarm, reads a statement Guangdong-based Zhuhai Ziyan UAV company, the developer of the technology, sent to the Global Times on Thursday. With a single push of a button, the drones can autonomously take off, avoiding colliding in the air and finding their way to their designated target. Once they receive an order to attack, they will engage the target autonomously in a coordinated manner. Upon finishing a mission, the system will lead the drones back to base and land automatically. The operator does not need to expose himself or herself in a dangerous frontline as the drones can easily be controlled remotely, the company said. The 10 drones can be a combination of different types, including those that can drop proximity explosive mortar shells, while others can carry grenade launchers, or make suicide attacks, Liu Liyuan, a spokesperson of the company, told the Global Times. Ziyan is also developing a new helicopter drone, the 2-meter-long, 0.5-meter-wide Blowfish A3. It can carry multiple types of machine guns and features a different aerodynamic design allowing the gun to shoot at more angles mid-flight, according to the statement. The company had previously showcased the Blowfish A2 in multiple arms exhibitions since 2018. It can carry multiple 60-millimeter mortar shells or a 35-40 millimeter grenade launcher. Other helicopter drones include the Infiltrator, which can launch rockets and missiles, and the Parus S1, which sacrifices itself to blow up the target, the company said. The swarming attack technology was first displayed at the IDEF'19 arms exhibition held in Turkey from April 30 to May 3, the company said. The company has had numerous inquiries from multiple foreign companies, Liu said. -ends-
10/05/2019

RAF Reaper Drones to Play an Increasing Role on Iraq, Syria

The latest response to our Freedom of Information requests on British air and drone operations in Iraq and Syria show a marked decline in UK air and drone strikes in Syria since December 2018. (See our stats page for full update) Altogether, British drones and manned aircraft fired 189 missiles and bombs in the final three months of 2018 compared with 69 in the first three months – a drop of 63%. The RAF’s eight Tornado aircraft that were based in Cyprus and being used for operations in Iraq and Syria were withdrawn at the end of January and have now been retired along with the rest of the UK’s Tornado fleet. That leave six BritishTyphoons operating from Cyprus and up to nine British Reaper drones operating from Kuwait. Jane’s magazine gave a helpful update: “RAF Deputy Commander Operations, Air Marshall Stu Atha, told Jane’s that there were no current plans to expand the six-aircraft Typhoon element on Operation ‘Shader’. He said that although No 903 Expeditionary Air Wing will no longer sustain the same tempo of operations as it did with 14 fast jets, the campaign against the so-called Islamic State (IS) is moving into a different phase. “The physical caliphate has been rolled back and the final vestiges are very small,” he said, predicting that the campaign would become more of a close air support operation, in which the Reaper remotely piloted aircraft system is likely to play an increasing part. We are perhaps seeing the beginnings of this ‘increasing part’ with the tripling of Reaper missions in Iraq in the first three months of 2019 over the previous quarter. Although the numbers aren’t huge (up from 11 missions to 36) it is worth noting. Meanwhile, before Gavin Williamson was sacked as Defence Secretary, he announced changes to the way the UK would report on its air attacks. In a written Statement on 8 April 2019 the Secretary of State said: “In 2015, the then-Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, committed to providing Parliament with UK airstrike numbers from the Coalition’s datasets to allow us to compare our contribution with other Coalition partners. This was a move away from using a UK dataset and methodology to calculate our airstrike contribution to the Counter-Daesh fight. Following the House of Commons Defence Committee’s request to provide a biannual breakdown of our air contribution to the Counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq and Syria, I have reviewed the method with which our contribution to the Coalition’s air campaign are calculated and from this decided to discontinue reporting on airstrikes, which can be interpreted differently each time they are viewed, to focus on reporting the number of actual weapon release events. “Under doctrine, an airstrike is one or more weapon releases against the same target by one or more aircraft. With this definition, two aircraft dropping weapons on the same target could be seen by one person as one airstrike, whilst being two airstrikes to another; we do not consider this a reliable method to report our contribution. Whereas, a weapon release event is the employment of a single weapon system, by a single airframe, at one time, against a single target. As such, a weapon release event will always be calculated and reported in the same way and cannot be misinterpreted. Drone Wars, Airwars and others have regularly argued that the term ‘air strike’ is misleading and that the number of weapons fired is a better metric to understand what is happening on the ground and to aid analysis and investigation of military operations. While the change to ‘Weapon Release Event’ (WRE) is a step forward, this may not provide absolute clarity. As MoD minister Mark Lancaster made clear to Annelise Dodds MP in response to her written question, a ‘weapons release event’ may be the firing by one aircraft of one or multiple weapons at a target. -ends-
09/05/2019

Darpa Sees AI-Guided Loyal Wingmen Escorting Future Fighters

Artificial intelligence has defeated chess grandmasters, Go champions, professional poker players, and, now, world-class human experts in the online strategy games Dota 2 and StarCraft II. No AI currently exists, however, that can outduel a human strapped into a fighter jet in a high-speed, high-G dogfight. As modern warfare evolves to incorporate more human-machine teaming, DARPA seeks to automate air-to-air combat, enabling reaction times at machine speeds and freeing pilots to concentrate on the larger air battle. Turning aerial dogfighting over to AI is less about dogfighting, which should be rare in the future, and more about giving pilots the confidence that AI and automation can handle a high-end fight. As soon as new human fighter pilots learn to take-off, navigate, and land, they are taught aerial combat maneuvers. Contrary to popular belief, new fighter pilots learn to dogfight because it represents a crucible where pilot performance and trust can be refined. To accelerate the transformation of pilots from aircraft operators to mission battle commanders — who can entrust dynamic air combat tasks to unmanned, semi-autonomous airborne assets from the cockpit — the AI must first prove it can handle the basics. To pursue this vision, DARPA created the Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program. ACE aims to increase warfighter trust in autonomous combat technology by using human-machine collaborative dogfighting as its initial challenge scenario. DARPA will hold a Proposers Day for interested researchers on May 17, 2019, in Arlington, Virginia. “Being able to trust autonomy is critical as we move toward a future of warfare involving manned platforms fighting alongside unmanned systems,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Javorsek (Ph.D.), ACE program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). “We envision a future in which AI handles the split-second maneuvering during within-visual-range dogfights, keeping pilots safer and more effective as they orchestrate large numbers of unmanned systems into a web of overwhelming combat effects.” ACE is one of several STO programs designed to enable DARPA’s “mosaic warfare” vision. Mosaic warfare shifts warfighting concepts away from a primary emphasis on highly capable manned systems — with their high costs and lengthy development timelines — to a mix of manned and less-expensive unmanned systems that can be rapidly developed, fielded, and upgraded with the latest technology to address changing threats. Linking together manned aircraft with significantly cheaper unmanned systems creates a “mosaic” where the individual “pieces” can easily be recomposed to create different effects or quickly replaced if destroyed, resulting in a more resilient warfighting capability. The ACE program will train AI in the rules of aerial dogfighting similar to how new fighter pilots are taught, starting with basic fighter maneuvers in simple, one-on-one scenarios. While highly nonlinear in behavior, dogfights have a clearly defined objective, measureable outcome, and the inherent physical limitations of aircraft dynamics, making them a good test case for advanced tactical automation. Like human pilot combat training, the AI performance expansion will be closely monitored by fighter instructor pilots in the autonomous aircraft, which will help co-evolve tactics with the technology. These subject matter experts will play a key role throughout the program. “Only after human pilots are confident that the AI algorithms are trustworthy in handling bounded, transparent and predictable behaviors will the aerial engagement scenarios increase in difficulty and realism,” Javorsek said. “Following virtual testing, we plan to demonstrate the dogfighting algorithms on sub-scale aircraft leading ultimately to live, full-scale manned-unmanned team dogfighting with operationally representative aircraft.” DARPA seeks a broad spectrum of potential proposers for each area of study, including small companies and academics with little previous experience with the Defense Department. To that end, before Phase 1 of the program begins, DARPA will sponsor a stand-alone, limited-scope effort focused on the first technical area: automating individual tactical behavior for one-on-one dogfights. Called the “AlphaDogfight Trials,” this initial solicitation will be issued by AFWERX, an Air Force innovation catalyst with the mission of finding novel solutions to Air Force challenges at startup speed. The AFWERX trials will pit AI dogfighting algorithms against each other in a tournament-style competition. “Through the AFWERX trials, we intend to tap the top algorithm developers in the air combat simulation and gaming communities,” Javorsek said. “We want them to help lay the foundational AI elements for dogfights, on which we can build as the program progresses.” AFWERX will announce the trials in the near future on its website: https://www.afwerx.af.mil/. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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09/05/2018

Will New US Drone Export Policy Hurt the Countries that Buy Them?

There’s a theory that, behind all the curtains and cacophony, that President Trump is a genius. “When Donald Trump described himself as a `very stable genius’, even some of his supporters sniggered,” Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times shortly after the president made the claim in January. “But Mr. Trump has a legitimate claim to three other kinds of `genius’: political genius, instinctive genius and evil genius.” Let’s examine the evidence: The economy is humming, the Islamic State is on the run in Iraq and Syria, and North Korea is on the verge—again!—of pledging to end its nuclear-weapons program. You might want to add to that list his administration’s recent decision to loosen rules on the export of U.S. military drones. “Evil genius,” indeed. Narrow-minded “experts” (here’s looking at me!) have expressed concern that peddling such weapons around the globe isn’t such a good idea. But, tongue perhaps in cheek, the argument can be made that Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration around the planet. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. Spread enough of them around the globe and you’d help ensure U.S. military superiority into the wild blue yonder. Military drones crash much more frequently than military airplanes. Last month, Defense News reported that the U.S. Army, far better trained than most others around the world, has suffered hundreds of drone crashes in recent years. “Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons,” the Washington Post said in 2014. More than 400 of the Pentagon’s 10,000 drones have crashed, the paper added. “Several military drones,” it noted, “have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again.” Talk about the ultimate in stealth aircraft, requiring repeated purchases. Fiendish! Add to that the fact that drones, despite the public perception, are not a cheap way to field an air force. The Air Force, for example, is spending more than $13 billion on MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drones. Winslow Wheeler, a veteran of defense-budget wars on Capitol Hill and the Government Accountability Office (and the former head of our own Center for Defense Information), crunched budget data several years ago to try to compare the cost of Reapers with piloted warplanes. His takeaway: the drone costs at least twice as much to buy, and fly, as warplanes like the F-16 fighter or A-10 attack plane. “Much of those higher costs are driven by the infrastructure needed to operate Reaper, which has an extensive infrastructure on the ground: the Ground Control Stations, satellite link, and the local control unit for take offs and landings,” he concluded. “Most of this support is not analogous to manned aircraft.” Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration worldwide. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. For every “pilot” actually flying a drone, there’s a sensor operator eyeballing what it is seeing in real time, and firing its weapons. There are dozens of maintainers on the ground, keeping the drones flying at remote bases, and keeping their ground stations humming far below, and sometimes far away. Most critically, there are scores of intelligence analysts required to wring from the drones’ deluge of video the scraps of actionable intelligence that is the aircrafts’ reason for being. Drones’ tendency to crash also drives up their cost, both for a drone fleet and for the military supporting it. “The rapid rise in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) employment has been accompanied by increased attention to their high mishap rates which are several orders of magnitude greater than manned aviation,” an Air Force study notes. “Such high rates have negative implications for UAV affordability and mission availability.” Imagine that: foreign nations may have to cut their troops’ rations and bullets to keep their American-made drones airborne. Diabolical! Finally, there are the moral and legal issues associated with using drones against terrorists and the resulting civilian deaths that inevitably occur. The U.S. military is building drones bases around the world and harnessing artificial intelligence to improve the chances that its drones will kill the right people. But those strategies require huge investments that few nations can afford. That means that U.S. drones sold to foreign militaries are likely to kill even more civilians than U.S.-operated drones. An independent outside monitor, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, estimates that U.S. drones strikes have killed as many as 1,569 civilians, including 337 kids. That’s roughly 10 to 15 percent of the total deaths. But the emphasis needs to be on the “roughly”. No one, including the government pulling the trigger, can offer up anything but a crude guess of innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes…is much greater than the average American appreciates,” Stan McChrystal, who ran the war in Afghanistan, said in 2013 once he was out of his U.S. Army general’s uniform. “They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” And drones have other complications that have been on display recently: the White House simply ignored a May 1 deadline, set by President Obama in a 2016 executive order, that requires an annual accounting of U.S.-caused drone killings. The same day, a federal judge questioned the authority of the U.S. to kill Americans abroad, usually via drones. Such vexing issues could tie up at least some punctilious foreign forces eager to try out their new weapons. Nefarious! Drones have a place in warfare, especially when trying to hunt down and kill terrorists. Unlike piloted aircraft, they can loiter far longer than manned aircraft over a suspected lair, looking for “patterns of life” that pinpoint bad guys and lead to their demise with a missile trigger pulled from thousands of miles away. They represent perhaps the Pentagon’s key post-9/11 innovation. "It just clicked: that if we could put a small weapon on this thing, we could do the entire cycle—find a target, kill it and assess it—from the same vehicle," John Jumper, who as an Air Force general is regarded as the godfather of the armed drone, told me shortly after 9/11. But we also have to remember that breakthrough military technologies rarely perform as advertised and have unintended consequences. Some, like manned aircraft, missiles and submarines have been “good” for war-fighting (whatever that means). Others, like aircraft carriers, may be fading into history as their utility is threatened by increasingly sophisticated missiles and subs. Take the atom, for instance, which had been ignored as a weapon until World War II broke out. Splitting it was designed to assure U.S. military pre-eminence, but that lasted only until the Soviet Union came up with its own A-bomb four years later. Then there was the boneheaded U.S. Army Davy Crockett battlefield nuclear weapon and harebrained U.S. Air Force schemes to develop nuclear-powered warplanes. The most deadly threats to U.S. security today are atomic arms, whether owned by Russia or China, Iran or North Korea. Nuclear weapons, in some ways, have become more trouble than they’re worth. Trump is unlikely to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the threat of atomic war on the Korean peninsula, as South Korean president Moon Jae-in of South Korea suggested April 30. But just maybe he’ll pocket it for his devilishly-clever “drones for peace” campaign. -ends-
17/04/2018

The US Navy’s Combat Drone Becomes a Flying Gas Station

When it comes to technology, the Pentagon is always pushing for more—more reach, more destruction, more dollars. That’s what makes the Navy’s quest for its first-ever aircraft-carrier-based drone unusual: what started out as a push for an unmanned attack drone evolved into a more modest goal of a spy drone, before surrendering to simplicity and deciding the drone’s mission would be to supply fuel to thirsty, and manned, Navy fighters. In the vast reaches of the world’s oceans, boosting your attack planes’ range by about 50 percent, to 700 miles or so, may not seem like much (it’s 6,000 miles from San Francisco to Beijing, after all). But if this aerial robot refueler can keep the Navy’s crown jewels—its aircraft carriers—beyond the reach of China’s land-based DF-21 carrier-killing missiles, it’s worth its weight in gold. That, in a nutshell, is why the Navy wants to buy pilotless MQ-25 aerial tankers. The tale of the MQ-25 Stingray tells us a lot about risk, and how much the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon are willing to take these days. It illuminates the basic challenge of military technology: leapfrog everybody else, with all the risk that entails? Or take the easier path, and risk being left behind? To put it gently, not all naval experts agree with the Navy’s choice. “We don’t need a mission tanker,” says Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain who now directs the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “We need an aircraft that can launch from outside the enemy’s weapons range and hit enemy targets.” Perhaps. But for those in the Navy who like the status quo, emasculating the drone does three critical things: -- It gives the Navy’s notoriously short-range F-18s the ability to fly deeper into harm’s way, helping to preserve their utility. -- It allows the Navy’s carriers to stay beyond a foe’s anti-ship missiles, prolonging their life, too. -- Finally, declawing the drone removes a threat to continued Navy funding for its manned F-18 and F-35 fighters, as well as an F-18 successor dubbed the F/A-XX. The Navy’s carrier-based warplanes find themselves in a bit of a pickle. About one of every four carrier-based F-18s is now burning through flight hours serving as a Rube Goldberg tanker for the other three. It’s kind of like dedicating that Tesla roadster in your driveway to ferrying gasoline in those little red plastic tanks for your riding lawnmower. This “buddy tanking” is wearing out F-18s well ahead of schedule, and removing those F-18 tankers from the carrier’s offensive punch. The only aerial tankers the Navy has to extend the range of its F-18 fighters are other F-18 fighters. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James R. Evans) While the Navy says the non-stealthy MQ-25 will eventually have minor spy-and-strike capabilities, that’s more of a sop to those bean-counters who fetishize multi-mission weapons (which is what the “M” in MQ-25 stands for; the “Q” stands for unmanned). The Navy plans to train pilots from its F-18s, F-35s and other aircraft to control the drones from the carriers. Beyond extending the F-18s’ range, they’ll be used to refuel returning fighters as they await their turn to land on their sometimes-congested flattops (because when they run out of gas, the pilot bails out and Davy Jones’ hangar gains a fine example of American technology). Three companies are vying for the contract—Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed—and the Navy hopes to pick a winner later this year. It wants to spend $719 million developing the MQ-25 in 2019, but says it can’t predict the total cost of its goal of 72 MQ-25s until it selects a contractor (informal estimates are around $100 million each, or $7.2 billion for the entire buy). The drone is slated to begin operating in the fleet in 2026. The Navy’s drone history is long and convoluted. The service launched its pilotless program in 1999, with help from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This Navy-Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, which flew for the first time in 2003, was designed to designate targets for follow-on piloted aircraft to attack. But then the Pentagon ordered the Navy and DARPA to work with the Air Force to develop the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program, which called for drones to attack targets deep inside hostile territory. But the Defense Department scrapped that program in 2006. It told a happy Air Force to develop a new manned bomber instead. The Navy was ordered to “develop an unmanned longer-range carrier-based aircraft capable of being air-refueled to provide greater standoff capability, to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence.” That became the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System, which led to the nifty Northrop X-47B, which made a series of historic carrier takeoffs and landings in 2013. But the Pentagon killed that program in 2016 after spending $1.4 billion on it because of—get this—a lack of money. A pair of former Pentagon officials said the decision represented “strategic malpractice of the highest order.” So the Navy began developing the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system—UCLASS—which was intended to be a spy drone for friendly skies. But two years ago it trimmed its sails on even that scaled-back mission, switching its efforts to the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System. That has become the program now known as the MQ-25 Stingray. Northrop, with all of that X-47B drone cred under its belt, bailed out of the MQ-25 competition last fall, apparently after it concluded that its X-47B couldn’t be efficiently retooled into the more modest flying filling station. “Despite 15 years of research and development…and clear guidance from the Secretary of Defense and Congress, the Navy is reluctant to embrace the innovation that a fully-capable unmanned strike aircraft could bring to naval forces,” a pair of Air Force procurement officials has written. The sea service, they added, “needs a much stronger internal [drone] advocate to lead the program through development and initial operational capability if the aircraft carrier is to avoid obsolescence in the coming decades.” The Air Force, of course, is not a disinterested observer when it comes to the future of aircraft carriers. Its boosters tend to think land-based Air Force warplanes make more sense. But, not surprisingly, they’re not alone in their assessment of the future of aircraft carriers. The Chinese are keen to modify their carrier-killing DF-21 missile so that it can be launched from a land-based bomber. If they can do it, the Chinese could emasculate the U.S. Navy’s carrier fleet overnight, with or without MQ-25s aboard. -ends-
28/07/2017

Autonomous Military Drones: No Longer Science Fiction

The possibility of life-or-death decisions someday being taken by machines not under the direct control of humans needs to be taken seriously. Over the last few years we have seen a rapid development in the field of drone technology, with an ever-increasing degree of autonomy. While no approved autonomous drone systems are operational, as far as we know, the technology is being tested and developed. Some see the new opportunities and potential benefits of using autonomous drones, others consider the development and use of such technology as inherently immoral. Influential people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak have already urged a ban on warfare using autonomous weapons or artificial intelligence. So, where do we stand, and what are the main legal and ethical issues? Towards autonomous drones As yet, there is no agreed or legal definition of the term "autonomous drones". Industry uses the “autonomy” label extensively, as it gives an impression of very modern and advanced technology. However, several nations have a more stringent definition of what should be called autonomous drones, for example, the United Kingdom describes them as “…capable of understanding higher level intent and direction” (UK MoD, The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 2011). Generally, most military and aviation authorities call unmanned aerial vehicles "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" (RPAs) to stress that they fly under the direct control of human operators. Most people would probably understand the concept of “autonomous drones” as something sophisticated, for instance, drones that can act based on their own choice of options (what is commonly defined as "system initiative" and "full autonomy" in military terminology). Such drones are programmed with a large number of alternative responses to the different challenges they may meet in performing their mission. This is not science fiction – the technology is largely developed though, to our knowledge, no approved autonomous drone systems are yet operational. The limiting factor is not the technology but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology, which would allow lethal machines to operate without being under the direct control of humans. One of the greatest challenges for the development and approval of aircraft with such technology is that it is extremely difficult to develop satisfactory validation systems, which would ensure that the technology is safe and acts like humans would. In practice, such sophisticated drones would involve programming for an incredible number of combinations of alternative courses of action, making it impossible to verify and test them to the level we are used to for manned aircraft. There are also those who think of autonomy meaning ”artificial intelligence” – systems that learn and even self-develop possible courses of action to new challenges. We have no knowledge that we are close to a breakthrough on such technology, but many fear that we actually might be. Autonomous drones – meaning advanced drones programmed with algorithms for countless human-defined courses of action to meet emerging challenges – are already being tested by a number of civilian universities and military research institutions. We see testing of “swarms of drones” (drones which follow and take tasks from other drones) that, of course, are entirely dependent on autonomous processing. We also see testing of autonomous drones that operate with manned aircraft, all from what the US Air Force calls (unmanned) "Loyal Wingman" aircraft, to the already well tested Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system of Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned TRITON aircraft. We also see the further development of unmanned systems to be dispatched from manned aircraft, to work independently or in extension of the “mother aircraft”, for instance, the recently tested PERDIX nano drones, of which 100 drones were dropped from a F-18 “mother aircraft”. Such drones would necessarily operate with a high degree of autonomy. These many developments and aspirations are well described in, for example, the US planning document USAF RPA Vector - Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038 published in 2014, and other documentation and even videos of such research are widely available. The prospects of autonomous technology, be it flying drones, underwater vehicles or other lethal weapon systems, clearly bring new opportunities for military forces. In the case of flying aircraft, we have learned that there are long lead times in educating pilots and operators. One of the greatest changes that will come from the development of autonomous drones is that military forces in the (near) future could develop great fighting power in much shorter timeframes than previously. It is important to note – and many have – that creating the infrastructure and educating ground crew for operating drones is no cheaper or easier than it is to educate aircrew. However, once in place, the drone crew and operation centres would be able to operate large numbers of drones. Similarly, legacy manned aircraft would be at the centre of a local combat or intelligence system extended with drones serving, for example, in supportive roles for jamming, as weapons-delivery platforms or as a system of multi-sensor platforms. Moving beyond the past limitations of one pilot flying one aircraft or one crew flying one drone to a situation where one crew could control large amounts of drones would quite simply be groundbreaking. These perspectives for new types of high-tech weapon systems – and the fears they raise – are the background for the research we conducted on autonomous drones and weapon systems. It is almost impossible to assess when these technologies will become widespread – this will depend on the situation and the need of states. However, the technologies are becoming available and are maturing and we would argue that the difficult discussions on legal and ethical challenges should be dealt with sooner, rather than later. The legal perspectives General rules apply but it is not that simple Autonomous drones, if and when they are used during armed conflict, would be subject to the general principles and rules of the Law of Armed Conflict. In this respect, autonomous drones are not to be distinguished from any other weapons, weapon systems or weapon platforms. As with any “means of warfare”, autonomous drones must only be directed at lawful targets (military objectives and combatants) and attacks must not be expected to cause excessive collateral damage. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the NATO website. -ends-
04/05/2017

Russia Works to Restore Positions In Drone Development

Unmanned aviation is a dynamically developing industry of modern aircraft construction. Technical and technological achievements boosted the design of new systems. At present drones are engaged by many armies of the world and used in armed conflicts. Our country used to have considerable achievements in the sphere and now works to restore its positions, expert Denis Fedutinov writes in the official blog of the United Aircraft Corporation. MOSCOW --- The former Soviet Union enjoyed a major experience in drone development also in the tactical class. Until recently the Russian army had old Strizh and Reis systems developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau yet in the 1970s and the Stroi-P complex with remote controlled Pchela craft designed by Kulon Research Institute and the Yakovlev bureau in late 1980s. Unfortunately, the economic plight of the transition period in the 1990s stalled the work. The initial pace was lost as a result, the designs got obsolete, the existing technical and scientific experience in the sphere was lost and the country began to considerably lag behind leading foreign producers. The interest in drones revived in Russia in mid-2000s mostly due to the effort of private companies which initiated some steps to create mostly small-class craft. The Russian defense ministry kept displaying little interest in drones for some years. The guideline was however supported by law enforcement agencies - the interior ministry, the Federal Security Service (including the Border Service) and the emergencies ministry. In early and mid-2000s the orders of the defense ministry for the design of domestic drones were very modest. The latest system in the arsenal of the Russian military was tactical Stroi-P with remote controlled Pchela craft designed at the end of the Soviet epoch. In the 1990s the system became morally outdated. In early 2000s the Kulon Institute of the Vega Concern upgraded the complex to Stroi-PD version. The Rybinsk-based Luch Design Bureau of the Vega designed another tactical Tipchak craft. As in the case of Stroi-PD the funds were appropriated mostly for R&D. The Vega Concern and the defense ministry signed a contract for the delivery of one such complex a year which was an absolutely symbolic action. Problems caused by the absence of modern reconnaissance and surveillance drones were exposed by the 2008 situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The defense ministry tried to engage available drones but none of them was capable of fulfilling the mission. The Russian troops were actually blinded. In contrast the Georgian military efficiently engaged the drones bought from the Israeli Elbit Systems Company. As for Stroi-PD, it took off with the use of powder boosters which exposed the launch site. The flight itself could not be stealthy because of the noisy two-stroke engine. The Russian military also complained about the noisy Tipchak tactical drone designed by Vega. It was created in the Luch Design Bureau in Rybinsk. Former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said the drone was engaged in the operation in South Ossetia and performed poorly. Besides noise problems, the quality of reconnaissance data was low because of the line TV camera which failed to produce images corresponding to modern requirements. Besides, there were also problems with friend-or-foe system. The developments around the conflict with Georgia became the threshold which made the Russian defense ministry urgently take measures to rectify the stagnant situation with modern drones for the national armed forces. Initially foreign designs were purchased, as well as available systems of domestic companies. R&D to create perspective craft was launched. The first step was the purchase of drones from Israel which is the world leader in the sphere and then an additional batch of drones was assembled in Russia. Plans to buy Israeli drones were first voiced in November 2008 by General Chief-of-Staff Nikolai Makarov. As a result, the defense ministry acquired short-range Bird-Eye 400 and medium-range Searcher Mk II of the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). According to the contract signed in 2011, the drones were assembled in Russia by the UZGA Works in Yekaterinburg under Zastava and Forpost brands correspondingly. Major modernization and localization of tactical Forpost production is being considered. The drone is to get some domestically-produced systems, including a secured communications line and state system of identification, as well as GLONASS-based navigational system, radio-technical reconnaissance and data transmission devices, digital aerial survey system and lateral visibility radar. (ends)
12/06/2015

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

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

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

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

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

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

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

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

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

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

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

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