The Schiebel Camcompter unmanned light helicopter has been evaluated by the Canadian Coast Guard for operation in frozen waters the UAV was used to guide the ship through various kinds of ice. (Schiebel photo)

Breaking News

see all items

Press Releases

see all items

03/05/2016

Mexican Navy Deploys T-20 JUMP Small VTOL UAV

NEW ORLEANS --- XPONENTIAL -- Arcturus UAV reports the Mexican Navy has deployed their T-20 JUMP Fixed Wing VTOL UAV for unspecified operations in Mexico. The customer took delivery of the VTOL system in March. The T-20 JUMP is a VTOL variant of Arcturus UAV's catapult launched T-20 platform. The T-20 JUMP operates without any special launch or recovery equipment. Gross payload capacity is 60 lbs. The Mexican Navy configuration with EO/IR sensor has approximately 15 hours of endurance and 75-mile data link range. An EO/IR and EW capable version offers 11 hours of endurance. Mexico has operated a fleet of catapult launch T-20s since 2014. Arcturus has proposed the T-20 JUMP VTOL platform for MEUAS III, USSOCOM's worldwide UAS services contract. Arcturus has also proposed a heavy fuel version of the T-20 JUMP for the Royal Australian Navy's Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Program. -ends-
03/05/2016

RE2 Robotics Delivers Very Dexterous Manipulator to US Army

PITTSBURGH --- RE2 Robotics announced today that it has delivered a two-arm Highly Dexterous Manipulation System (HDMS) to the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) under an Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II extension contract. Robotic systems for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) typically include a single manipulator to perform critical tasks such as inspection, detection, and neutralization of explosive devices. These manipulators are often limited in their dexterity, reach and lifting capacity. The dual-arm HDMS technology provides the robot operator with capabilities that far exceed currently fielded single-manipulator robots. The new HDMS is more rugged, ergonomic, and intuitive to control. Two arms allow operators to perform complex tasks, such as securing an object with one arm and manipulating with the other. In addition to EOD, the HDMS may eventually be used for other missions, such as Combat Engineering and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) operations. "The direct benefit of the HDMS technology to Army personnel is significantly increased performance and capability over currently fielded manipulators for both tele-operated and semi-autonomous use on mobile robot platforms," stated Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2. "These manipulation improvements directly correlate to a reduction in time-on-target and overall mission time, resulting in increased safety for all mission personnel." RE2 Robotics is developing the next generation of robotic manipulator arms that enable robots to better interact with the world – whether on the ground, in the air, or underwater. -ends-
02/05/2016

UK Awarded Unannounced £415M Order for Predator-B UAVs

Britain will double its fleet of armed surveillance drones with a new upgraded generation of unmanned aircraft able to fly for nearly twice as long, laden with more bombs, missiles and sensors, the MoD has disclosed. The 79ft wingspan, remotely piloted planes will be able to circle over and spy on targets for nearly two days, while sophisticated new flight computers mean they will be able to fly in bad weather and survive ice, lightning and bird strikes. The new General Atomics Certifiable Predator B, which is expected to be named Protector when used by the RAF from the end of this decade, is likely to be at the forefront of spying and air strike campaigns against militant and terror groups such as Islamic State. First details of the new aircraft have been disclosed as defence officials signed a £415m contract with the Pentagon to buy 20 of the new drones to replace the RAF’s 10 existing MQ-9 Reapers. The 38ft long aircraft will also be certified to fly in European airspace, allowing them to be potentially used in Nato intelligence-gathering missions in eastern Europe, or even over the UK and its waters. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on The Telegraph website. (ends)
02/05/2016

Marine Corps Warfighting Lab Tests Autonomous Reconnaissance

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia --- The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory showcased and tested the capabilities of the Unmanned Tactical Autonomous Control and Collaboration, April 18–21, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The UTACC is a team of aerial and ground robots using the Distributed Real-time Autonomously Guided Operations Engine (DRAGON) to provide multi-dimensional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to squad-level units. “Imagine a squad formation where you’re walking in a column or a wedge with robots to the front, overhead and flanks,” said Capt. James Pineiro, the head of MCWL Ground Combat Element Branch. “What they’re providing you is advanced warning of threats, locating enemies and targeting enemies.” The robots are prototype models to test the capabilities of the DRAGON software in a practical situation. The software enables advanced data sharing and data-to-decision services employing Artificial Intelligence. With DRAGON's advanced capabilities, operators communicate to autonomous systems with tasks to perform and not how to perform them. “We are testing the software and the concept,” said Pineiro. “We’re finding out that the path planning and the mission planning is going great.” During the demonstration, the robots surveyed a simulated town for insurgents by roving with the ground robot and hovering over obstacles with the aerial robot. Upon retrieving efficient information on targets spotted, the operator of the robots relay the information to an M80 Stiletto, a Naval vessel used to operate and test technologies in a maritime environment to accelerate the delivery of capabilities into warfighters' hands, according to Lt. Col. Andrew R. Winthrop, the Deputy Director of the Rapid Reaction Technology Office and the project manager of the UTACC. “The Stiletto was one component of the larger UTACC demonstration,” said Winthrop. “Based upon capabilities resident in its Integrated Bridge System (IBS), Stiletto was the ideal platform to demonstrate Kongsburg Defense System's Sea Command Prototype IBS. “The UTACC demonstration closely aligns with Stiletto's focus on developing and demonstrating autonomous systems. Additionally, the Sea Command System was already installed onboard Stiletto and was quickly adapted for the UTACC demonstration.” The Stiletto would then launch simulated missiles onto the designated targets, demonstrating that a single operator could rapidly engage targets ashore using autonomous systems, according to Winthrop. “This was a successful demonstration,” said Winthrop. “The Stiletto was able to seamlessly integrate with a ground controller operating the DRAGON system. The ground operator took remote control of the Sea Command system and was able to launch a simulated missile at a target detected and classified by autonomous systems.” The Chief of Naval Operation's Rapid Innovation Cell and Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have expressed interest in follow-on demonstrations with Stiletto as UTACC progresses, according to Winthrop. “Our future plans are to take this scenario in an outdoor environment with Marines for operational experimentation,” said Pineiro. “The intent is to have every robot operating in the battlespace to be a sensor, shooter and sharer. We intend to go bigger.” -ends-
29/04/2016

Textron Demos Aerosonde UAV with Hybrid Quadrotor

HUNT VALLEY, MD --- Textron Systems Unmanned Systems announced today the successful demonstration of the Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) enabled with Hybrid Quadrotor technology -- allowing the system to take-off and land vertically to significantly increase mission flexibility. With assistance from Latitude Engineering and Cloud Cap Technology, the Textron Systems' proof-of-concept work combines the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities of a multi-rotor platform with the efficiency, speed and endurance of the Aerosonde SUAS fixed-wing aircraft. With the addition of VTOL capabilities, the system retains service proven capability within a smaller, more portable footprint. "With its size, endurance and power, as well as experience in harsh environments from desert heat to the Arctic air, the Aerosonde SUAS has already proven its multi-mission capabilities," said Vice President of Small/Medium Endurance Unmanned Aircraft Systems David Phillips. "Now, with the potential to add VTOL capabilities, the mission possibilities are almost endless. The system could be launched from the smallest operational areas -- adding an array of applications both on land and at sea." Textron Systems' highly reliable and multi-mission capable Aerosonde SUAS has amassed more than 130,000 flight hours in commercial and military operations around the world. The system incorporates the purpose-built Lycoming EL-005 Heavy Fuel Engine for benchmark-setting reliability and performance. The Aerosonde system is a multi-mission capable UAS that offers the ability to simultaneously support electro optical/infrared full motion video, communications relay, Automatic Identification Systems, and intelligence payloads within a single flight. Textron Systems' businesses develop and integrate products, services and support for aerospace and defense customers, as well as civil and commercial customers. Textron Inc. is a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services. -ends-
29/04/2016

Korean Manufacturers Deliver First Global Hawk Components

SEOUL, South Korea --- The partnership between Northrop Grumman Corporation and the Korean defense industry achieved another milestone in April with the completion of the first two component orders on the Republic of Korea Global Hawk Program. This spring, Korean Jig and Fixture (KJF) delivered build-to-print aerospace grade precision machine parts for the first Republic of Korea Global Hawk. This comes in addition to the wire harness, which delivers electrical signals throughout the aircraft, which Firstec Company, Ltd. delivered earlier in the year. "Both Firstec and KJF have been excellent partners in our mission to provide Korea with superior and valuable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology," said Mick Jaggers, vice president and program manager, Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "The contributions of these companies ensure a prominent role by Korea in the production of this aircraft. The Korean industry partners will be at the very heart of the delivered Korean Global Hawk." Northrop Grumman signed memoranda of understanding with Firstec and KJF in 2013 to support the Global Hawk. Manufacturing of the first Republic of Korea Global Hawk aircraft is currently underway at Northrop Grumman's Moss Point, Mississippi, facility. Final aircraft production will take place in Palmdale, California. "Northrop Grumman actively supports its customers by leveraging Korea's talent and resources to help build a more capable and competitive supply chain for Global Hawk," said Gregory Thomas, program manager, autonomous systems global supply chain international, Northrop Grumman. "We seek to strengthen and develop the future economy of Korea through strategic industry partnerships such as these." Korea is a key U.S. partner in ensuring peace and stability in the East Asia region. The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, which can fly for more than 30 hours at altitudes up to 60,000 feet, is ideally suited to monitor and deter regional threats in support of Korea's defense forces. The Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system has logged more than 180,000 flight hours, 75 percent of which were combat/operational missions. Korea purchased four Global Hawks under a foreign military sales procurement with the U.S. government awarded in December 2014. Global Hawk supports military missions, anti-terrorism, anti-piracy, scientific and environmental work, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts anywhere in the world. The system was used following natural disasters in Haiti, Japan and the Republic of the Philippines to make damage assessments and allow first responders to pinpoint where people needed help the most. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in autonomous systems, cyber, C4ISR, strike, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide. -ends-
28/04/2016

Call for USAF to Rethink UAV Concept of Operations

For some 20 years, the U.S. Air Force has set the standard with respect to creating and operating unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Overcoming its initial reluctance to employ this novel platform, the Air Force now operates the world’s largest fleet of UASs. It successfully evolved this new capability from the medium altitude, long-endurance RQ-1 Predator, a propeller-driven, ISR platform, to the jet-powered, armed MQ-9 Reaper. In addition, the Air Force invested in several variants of a high altitude, long-endurance capability, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, one of which is scheduled to replace the venerable and highly successful U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. The demands of multiple evolving conflicts required the Air Force to develop technical requirements, operating concepts, sustainment schemes and approaches to manning essentially on the fly. The nearly insatiable desire of the combatant commanders for Predator/Reaper support resulted in an explosion not only in the number of platforms, but also in operators, maintainers, other support personnel and intelligence analysts. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set a requirement on the Air Force for 65 Predator combat air patrols (CAPs) requiring more than 300 platforms and thousands of personnel. At the same time, sensor technologies were continually improving, creating a demand for better power and communications systems aboard Predators and Reapers and, in turn, more powerful engines and advanced avionics. As a consequence, it was extremely difficult to establish a standard platform configuration, adding to operational complexity and the costs of sustainment. Even as the Air Force strives to meet the capacity requirements created by increasing global demand for UAS support, it needs fresh thinking regarding desired future capabilities. It is apparent that the struggle against violent jihadists such as ISIS will ensure an ongoing need for the kind of ISR and strike capabilities resident in the Reaper. But both the Reaper and Global Hawk can operate only in so-called permissive air environments. The growing threat to current UASs due to the proliferation of air defenses and the creation by regional powers of integrated anti-access/area denial networks will necessitate development of new platforms and sensors that can survive in a high threat environment. The Air Force’s approach to manning and operating its Predator/Reaper fleet, driven by wartime exigencies, is extremely costly. Operators and support personnel have been taxed to the point that last year the Air Force was forced to reduce the number of CAPs it could maintain. It has had to add thousands of personnel and additional bases to its UAS operation, including expensive rated pilots. In addition, while highly capable, the Reaper is relatively expensive to deploy and operate, particularly for general ISR missions. In an era of tight defense budgets, the Air Force will be challenged to continue its high level of support for current conflicts, provide global ISR and address the problem posed by advanced air defenses. Several times over the past few years the Air Force has sought to cut the number of UAS CAPs it is required to maintain in order to save resources and personnel for other priority missions. Its current approach to operating the Reaper fleet has also created a serious shortage of rated pilots. It is time for the Air Force to rethink not only its acquisition strategy for acquiring new UASs but its concept of operations. For the past decade or more, the Air Force has invested in platform and sensor technologies to make its UASs more capable. It still needs to do so in order to develop the systems for high threat environments. But more importantly, the Air Force needs to invest in technologies that will reduce the costs of operating a large UAS force that must meet a wide range of missions. Great progress has been made in lightweight structures, small, high efficiency engines, autonomous guidance and navigation systems and maintenance-friendly avionics applicable to both manned and unmanned aviation. DARPA and similar research and development organizations have sponsored considerable work exploiting these emerging technologies. UASs designed around such capabilities have demonstrated much longer endurance compared to the Reaper with the potential for reduced manpower and maintenance costs. The Air Force needs to consider an operating concept centered around four capability “buckets.” Two would be centered on existing platforms/missions: the Reaper for medium altitude, long-endurance combat missions and the Global Hawk for high altitude, long-endurance area surveillance and strategic reconnaissance. A new bucket would be for UASs designed to penetrate high threat environments. The other would be a new medium altitude, long range/endurance UAS designed to take workload off of the Reaper fleet and its personnel while providing the necessary loiter time and payload capacity to cover the general ISR mission. The greatest ongoing demand will continue to be for medium altitude, long-endurance UASs. This is also where the Air Force is experiencing the greatest costs in both budgets and personnel. By creating a mixed fleet of combat capable Reapers and a new, lower cost UAS for general ISR, the Air Force could meet the consistently high demands for its capabilities at lower costs and, potentially, with improved responsiveness. -ends-
28/04/2016

USS Coronado Deploys with Next-Gen UAV Controls

SAN DIEGO --- Raytheon Company and the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Systems Command have deployed advanced mission control for the MQ-8 Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter, aboard the Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado, which is now underway. Navy control hardware and Raytheon control software were combined for robust, flexible command and control of Fire Scout missions in littoral waters. The USS Coronado is one of the Navy's newest Littoral Combat Ships, designed to operate close to shorelines. Coronado's deployment of Fire Scout extends the fleet's situational awareness. "Raytheon's UAV ground controls help support Navy missions without putting sailors' lives at risk," said Todd Probert, vice president of Mission Support and Modernization at Raytheon IIS. "Our innovative technology is helping the U.S. military evolve standards of performance and reliability as they accomplish their critical missions more efficiently and effectively." Navy hardware and Raytheon's software are built with an open architecture, maximizing flexibility to add new technology as needed. Under a related effort, the Navy's Common Control System, or NCCS, will be able to control any air, ground, surface and subsurface vehicles as they deploy with the fleet. Built on the flexible foundation of Fire Scout MCS, that capability will reduce Navy-wide implementation costs and training requirements for unmanned systems. "Our new Fire Scout MCS enables Fire Scout to bring more mission to more areas," said Captain Jeff Dodge, U.S. Navy, Fire Scout program manager. "Fire Scout is a proven capability in dynamic littoral environments, and now provides the potential for multiple platforms to be controlled from a single MCS aboard the ship." USS Coronado is the first Littoral Combat Ship to use this upgraded Fire Scout MCS operationally, after logging 600+ hours of testing. Raytheon Company, with 2015 sales of $23 billion and 61,000 employees, is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, civil government and cybersecurity solutions. Raytheon is headquartered in Waltham, Mass. -ends-
27/04/2016

HII’s Dual-Mode Undersea Vehicle Passes Reliability Tests

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. --- Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) announced today that Proteus, the dual-mode undersea vehicle developed by the company’s Undersea Solutions Group (USG) subsidiary and Battelle, successfully completed endurance testing earlier this month. The 30-day simulated unmanned mission was performed in a test tank at USG’s Panama City, Florida, facility to demonstrate the vehicle’s reliability and ability to perform long-duration missions contemplated for the U.S. Navy’s future unmanned undersea vehicles. Computers in a van beside the test tank fed navigational and depth data to Proteus’ autonomy and vehicle control systems to simulate the vehicle running a mission in open water. All systems necessary for an autonomous mission were operational and responded to commands. During the test, Proteus simulated traveling 2,412 nautical miles and ran submerged for 720 hours while executing a full range of simulated mission behaviors. “HII is committed to developing undersea technologies and systems that support the increased employment of UUVs in the future,” said Ross Lindman, USG’s vice president, operations. “This test helps provide reliability data and a technical foundation for development of a new generation of long-endurance UUVs to support the U.S. Navy.” USG develops and builds specialized manned and unmanned undersea vehicles for military customers around the world. USG has built or converted specialized craft for a variety of purposes, including support of submersibles and submarines, special warfare, testing of mine warfare systems, torpedo countermeasures and more. Originally established in 1972, USG operates in Panama City Beach, Florida, and reports to HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division. Battelle is an industry leader in innovative and reliable undersea technology providing rapid development, transition and deployment of technologies to sustain U.S. undersea dominance. -ends-
27/04/2016

Northrop Wins $83M to Support Hunter UAV

Northrop Grumman Technical Services, Sierra Vista, Arizona was awarded an $83,417,599 modification (P00047) to contract W58RGZ-13-C-0010 for logistics support for the Hunter Unmanned Aircraft System. Work will be performed in Sierra Vista, Arizona and in Afghanistan with an estimated completion date of Oct. 30, 2016. Fiscal 2016 operations and maintenance (Army) funds in the amount of $83,417,599 were obligated at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama is the contracting activity. -ends-

Analysis and Background

see all items

12/06/2015

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

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

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

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

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

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

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

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

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

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

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

Source: US Air Force Ref: no reference Issued April 04, 2014) 101 PDF pages Air Force leaders outlined what the next 25 years for remotely piloted aircraft will look like in the RPA Vector, published April 4. “The RPA Vector is the Air Force’s vision for the next 25 years for remotely-piloted aircraft,” said Col. Kenneth Callahan, the RPA capabilities division director. “It shows the current state of the program, the great advances of where we have been and the vision of where we are going.” The goal for the vector on the operational side is to continue the legacy Airmen created in the RPA field. The vector is also designed to expand upon leaps in technology and changes the Airmen have made through the early years of the program. “The Airmen have made it all about supporting the men and women on the ground,” Callahan said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for their own advances in technology to expand the program, making it a top platform.” The document gives private corporations an outlook on the capabilities the Air Force wants to have in the future, ranging from creation of new RPAs to possibilities of automated refueling systems. “There is so much more that can be done with RPAs,” said Col. Sean Harrington, an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance command and control requirements chief. “Their roles (RPAs) within the Air Force are evolving. We have been able to modify RPAs as a plug-and-play capability while looking to expand those opportunities.” In recent years, RPAs not only supported the warfighter on the ground, they also played a vital role in humanitarian missions around the world. They provided real time imagery and video after the earthquake that led to a tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, according to Callahan. Then, most recently, during the California Rim Fire in August 2013, more than 160,000 acres of land were destroyed. Though this loss was significant, it was substantially decreased by the support of the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, with support from an MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft. With this vector, technologies may be created to improve those capabilities while supporting different humanitarian efforts, allowing the Air Force to support natural disaster events more effectively and timely. The future of the Air Force’s RPA programs will be continuously evolving, to allow the Air Force to be the leader in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. “We already combine our air, space and cyber forces to maximize these enduring contributions, but the way we execute must continually evolve as we strive to increase our asymmetric advantage,” said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. “Our Airmen's ability to rethink the battle while incorporating new technologies will improve the varied ways our Air Force accomplishes its missions.” (PDF format) Full text
07/03/2014

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

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

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

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

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

PARIS --- The service introduction of Watchkeeper, the tactical UAV that has been in development for the British Army since 2005, may be further delayed due to unidentified technical issues that appear to have grounded the aircraft for three months in late 2013. The Watchkeeper program apparently logged no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January, according to data provided by Thales, the program’s main contractor, which showed that the number of total flight hours and total sorties barely changed between Sept. 16, 2013 and Jan 12, 2014. As of Sept. 16, Watchkeeper had flown “almost 600 sorties, for a total of about 1,000 flight hours,” a Thales spokesperson told Defense-Aerospace.com in an e-mail follow-up to an interview at the DSEi show in London. On Jan. 20, responding to a follow-up query, the Thales spokesperson said that “Tests are progressing nominally, as planned. We have now passed 600 sorties and are nearing 1,000 flight hours.” These figures show no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January. Asked to explain this apparent discrepancy, the Thales spokesperson had not responded by our deadline, three days later. “The delivery of Watchkeeper equipment is on track and trials are continuing with over 550 hours flying having been completed,” the UK Ministry of Defence in a Jan 31 e-mail statement. Note this is about half the flight hour figure provided by Thales. “…the Release to Service process is taking longer than expected,” the MoD statement continued, adding that “The last flight was last week, so it’s incorrect to say that the assets are still grounded.” This unannounced grounding may be one reason why the French Ministry of Defense is back-pedaling on earlier promises to consider buying the Watchkeeper, after an inconclusive evaluation between April and July 2013 by the French army. The evaluation included “several dozen flight hours” from Istres, the French air force’s flight test center in south-eastern France, a French MoD spokesman said Jan. 31. The evaluation report has not been completed, and no date has been set, he added. The final communiqué of today’s Anglo-French summit meeting, for the first time since November 2010, makes no mention of the Watchkeeper, although it was mentioned in passing by French President François Hollande during the summit press conference. Thales’ figures on Watchkeeper flight activities have also been provided to other news outlets. A Jan. 16 article by FlightGlobal quotes Nick Miller, Thales UK’s business director for ISTAR and UAV systems, as saying that “Watchkeeper aircraft have now completed more than 600 flights, exceeding a combined 950 flight hours.” Aviation Week had posted an article the previous day, Jan. 15, in which it reported that “Thales U.K….is continuing flight trials and supports army training(Emphasis added—Ed.). However, it is difficult to understand how training can take place without an increase in the number of sorties and flight hours. The above article says “Watchkeeper may début in spring,” echoing a similar story published Sept. 12, 2013 in which Aviation Week said Thales UK “is hopeful that …Watchkeeper…will be certified by the end of the year.” This did not happen. This same Aviation Week Sept. 12 story said that the Watchkeeper “fleet has flown more than 1,000 hr. over 600 flights” – a higher figure than FlightGlobal reported on Jan. 16, four months later. The discrepancies in the figures provided to at least three trade publications clearly contradict company statements that Watchkeeper flight operations are “nominal” and “are continuing,” as they show no flight activity has been logged since September. The obvious conclusion is that flight activities have been curtailed, either by a technical grounding or because of administrative blockages. In either case, Watchkeeper – which is already over three years late -- has clearly hit new obstacles that will further delay its operational clearance by the UK Ministry of Defence’s new Military Aviation Authority (MAA). Watchkeeper is being developed by UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit Systems (51% share) and Thales UK, the British unit of France’s Thales, under a contract awarded in 2005. UAV Engines Ltd, which builds Watchkeeper’s engine in the UK, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Originally valued at £700 million, the cost has escalated to over £850 million, and service introduction has been delayed by at least three years. The British Army is due to receive a total of 54 Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft and 15 ground stations. By late 2013, 26 aircraft and 14 ground stations had been delivered, according to published reports. -ends-
30/01/2014

France, UK to Launch Anti-ship Missile, UAV Projects

PARIS --- France and Britain are due to sign several defense-related agreements during their short Jan. 31 summit meeting at Brize Norton, England, including one to launch joint development of a next-generation anti-ship missile and another to fund a two-year feasibility study for a joint combat UAV. British and French officials have widely briefed the media in advance of the summit to obtain the editorial coverage that both countries’ leaders – British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande – need to bolster their domestic standing. The briefings also seek to highlight that, after several fruitless summits in the past three years, the two countries are finally making progress on the joint defense projects to which they subscribed in the 2010 Lancaster House treaty. The two countries are expected to launch the long-delayed development of a lightweight helicopter-launched anti-ship guided missile known as FASGW(H) in the UK and ANL (Anti-Navires Léger) in France. Originally due to be launched in 2011, this program is now expected to be funded under a €500 million (or £500 million – accounts differ) contract to be awarded to MBDA, a joint subsidiary of BAE Systems, Airbus Defense & Space and Italy’s Finmeccanica. The Financial Times reported Jan 29 that the cost would be shared evenly, but that Britain will provide initial funding because it needs the missile earlier. It is not expected that the summit will launch other missile projects also long in the pipeline, such as the joint upgrade of the Scalp/Storm Shadow cruise missile and a joint technology roadmap for short range air defence technologies. UCAV feasibility study The second major decision that could be announced Jan. 31, sources say, is the launch of a two-year feasibility study for a joint Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), with a contract to be awarded jointly to BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, which last year completed a 15-month risk reduction study. This project has barely inched forward since 2010, when it was first mooted, but Rolls-Royce and Safran have agreed to cooperate on the aircraft’s engines, and Thales and Selex ES on its electronics, Defense News reported Jan. 28, such is the eagerness to launch a funded program before design know-how evaporates. The two governments must also decide whether, and at what stage, to open this project to other European partners, such as Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, Sweden’s Saab and the Airbus Group (formerly EADS), which have developed or are studying their own aircraft but lack government funding. Little concrete progress is expected at the summit, however, on other unmanned aircraft projects under discussion. One is France’s possible buy of the Watchkeeper tactical drone, developed for the British Army by Thales UK, and which is running several years late. Although France has said several times that it was interested in buying it and allow “cooperation on technical, support, operational and development of doctrine and concepts,” it seems that its operational evaluation by the French Army’s 61st Artillery Regiment was not conclusively positive. Another project is the long-running saga of a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV intended to ultimately replace the US-supplied Predator UAVs currently operated by both countries, as well as Italy, and soon to be bought by Germany and the Netherlands. To date, this project has received little in the way of government funding, and it is this lack of serious money, combined with the lack of clear military requirements, that industry says is curtailing its ability to address Europe’s UAV needs. Minehunters and armored vehicles The two countries are also expected to launch the joint development of an autonomous underwater vehicle to replace the remote-controlled robots used by their navies’ minehunters. Finally, France may announce it will loan about 20 VBCI wheeled combat vehicles to the British Army, which currently lacks a vehicle of this kind, the Paris daily “Les Echos” reported Jan. 27. This is intended to allow the British, who are said to have been impressed by the VBCI’s performance in Afghanistan and Mali, to evaluate it before they begin procurement of similar heavy wheeled armored vehicles in 2017. -ends-