If Aurora’s claim is ratified, its Orion twin turboprop unmanned aircraft will replace the Northrop Global Hawk as the UAV with the longest endurance: 80 hours compared to 30. (AFS photo)

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27/01/2015

Russia Prepares to Test Chirok Large UAV

The drone was introduced last year at the Innoprom Expo on a 1:5 scale in Yekaterinburg. Now the full-size model is ready, sporting a wingspan of 10 meters. The Chirok is getting ready for flight tests, according to reports TASS received from the United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, which developed the drone. The official presentation of the full-size Chirok model will be held at MAKS this year. United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation CEO Alexander Yakunin believes serial production of the drone will begin in 2016. The Chirok is a dual-purpose aircraft, developed by the Moscow Radio Engineering Research Institute. It is designed for monitoring the ground or water surface, and for cargo transport. As expected, the military will be able to use the UAV for reconnaissance and as an unmanned combat aircraft. The Chirok combines the latest achievements of engineering from different areas: electronics, aerospace, and the chemical industry. The technologies employed allow for building a truly modern aircraft. It is lightweight and durable, and has high performance marks, despite its impressive dimensions. The Chirok has a 10 m wingspan, with a maximum take-off mass not exceeding 700 kg. The device has an all-composite (carbon) body. The membrane of the air cushion is made of super-modern material, which was developed by Russian specialists. The technology behind the production of this material is based on Russian know-how. The maximum take-off weight of the Chirok is up to 700 kg, and the maximum weight of its payload is up to 300 kg. On board it will be able to use opto-electronic devices for various types of monitoring. The UAV is also capable of carrying precision-guided weapons. It can also ascend to a height of 6,000 meters, with a range of up to 2,500 km. Currently, UIMC experts are working on further improvements for the technical specifications of the Chirok UAV. Another feature of the design is that the arms can be positioned within the aircraft’s housing. For previous models, arms were mounted on the external suspension. Such a solution reduces the visibility of the UAV and improves its aerodynamic properties. “This type of machine is designed for use in harsh environments: in regions where there are no runways. The machine will help to solve this problem across a large swath of our great country,” said Yakunin. “Our project will be offered to customers on both civil and military markets. I think it will generate a lot of interest in the energy sector and with the Ministry of Defense,” said Yakunin. The United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation, a Russian state-backed corporation, was created in 2014, as part of the Rostec state-backed corporation, to develop the high-tech manufacturing of competitive products in the field of technology and communications systems, automated control systems, and electronic security and robotic systems for the Russian Armed Forces and other special groups, as well as competitive products for civil and dual-purpose. It brings together 55 enterprises and research institutions in the Russian electronic industry. -ends-
27/01/2015

Leidos Prototype In First Self-Guided Sea Voyage

RESTON, Va. --- Leidos, a national security, health, and engineering solutions company, announced today that its prototype maritime autonomy system for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)'s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program recently completed its first self-guided voyage between Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi. The prototype maritime autonomy system was installed on a 42-foot work boat that served as a surrogate vessel to test sensor, maneuvering, and mission functions of the prototype ACTUV vessel. ACTUV seeks to develop an independently deployed, unmanned naval vessel that would operate under sparse remote supervisory control and safely follow the collision avoidance "rules of the sea" known as COLREGS. Controlled only by the autonomy system, and with only a navigational chart of the area loaded into its memory and inputs from its commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) radars, the surrogate vessel successfully sailed the complicated inshore environment of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. During its voyage of 35 nautical miles, the maritime autonomy system functioned as designed. The boat avoided all obstacles, buoys, land, shoal water, and other vessels in the area – all without any preplanned waypoints or human intervention. While Leidos continues to use the surrogate vessel to test ACTUV software and sensors, the company is continuing construction of Sea Hunter, the first ACTUV prototype vessel, in Clackamas, Oregon. Sea Hunter is scheduled to launch in late fall 2015 and begin testing in the Columbia River shortly thereafter. Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, Leidos reported annual revenues of approximately $5.77 billion for its fiscal year ended January 31, 2014 after giving effect to the spin-off of the company's technical services and information technology business. -ends-
27/01/2015

Engine Failure Caused Predator Crash: USAF

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --- An engine failure led to an MQ-1B Predator crash near Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, July 14, 2014, according to an Air Combat Command abbreviated accident investigation board report released today. The aircraft was assigned to the 432nd Wing, Creech AFB, Nev., and was under the control of aircrew assigned to the 178th Reconnaissance Squadron, North Dakota Air National Guard, Fargo, N.D. At the time of the mishap, the aircraft was conducting an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. The aircraft was destroyed on impact at a loss valued at approximately $4.6 million. There were no injuries or damage to private property. The board president found by clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the mishap was an engine failure that rendered the aircraft incapable of producing sufficient thrust to remain airborne. The specific root cause of the engine failure could not be determined since the no portion of the wreckage was recovered. -ends-
23/01/2015

Aurora Says Orion UAV Flew 80-hour Mission

MANASSAS, VA --- Aurora Flight Sciences announced today that it has filed for an official world endurance record following an 80 hour flight by its Orion unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The previous official record of 30.5 hours was set in 2001 by the Global Hawk UAS. Observers from the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) were on hand to inspect the aircraft and witness the takeoff on Friday, December 5, 2014. They supervised the entire flight and witnessed the landing on Monday, December 8. Orion is managed by the U.S. Air Force. The program began in 2007 when Aurora was competitively selected for the "Ultra Long Endurance" program sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). In 2009 Orion was selected as a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD). Orion made its first flight on August 23, 2013. The record attempt was the 18th flight in the test effort. The Orion UAS was designed by Aurora in Manassas, Virginia and was built by Aurora in Columbus, Mississippi. Pilots of record (known as Air Vehicle Operators) for the flight were Peter Lehew, Cody Allee, Joel Walker and Dave Gerhardt. "The need for persistent surveillance in areas far from U.S. bases is a geo-political fact of life," said Aurora CEO John Langford. "Orion can do this at operational costs significantly below any competing system. There are also important applications for this airplane in areas such as communications relay and Internet service provision." The flight was conducted at altitudes between 4,500 and 10,000 feet above Mean Sea Level. Orion landed with approximately 1700 pounds of fuel remaining, with endurance being limited by range availability. Aurora Flight Sciences is a leader in the development and manufacturing of advanced aerospace vehicles. Aurora is headquartered in Manassas, VA and operates production plants in Bridgeport, WV and Columbus, MS; and a Research and Development Center in Cambridge, MA. -ends-
23/01/2015

Software May Allow UAVs to Work Together

CODE program is offering the opportunity to participate in discussions to help develop groundbreaking software enabling unmanned aircraft to work together with minimal supervision The U.S. military’s investments in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have proven invaluable for missions from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to tactical strike. Most of the current systems, however, require constant control by a dedicated pilot and sensor operator as well as a large number of analysts, all via telemetry. These requirements severely limit the scalability and cost-effectiveness of UAS operations and pose operational challenges in dynamic, long-distance engagements with highly mobile targets in contested electromagnetic environments. DARPA’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program aims to overcome these challenges by developing algorithms and software that would extend the mission capabilities of existing unmanned aircraft well beyond the current state-of-the-art, with the goal of improving U.S. forces’ ability to conduct operations in denied or contested airspace. CODE researchers seek to create a modular software architecture that is resilient to bandwidth limitations and communications disruptions, yet compatible with existing standards and capable of affordable retrofit into existing platforms. DARPA has released a Special Notice (http://go.usa.gov/JXFd) inviting interested parties to identify their interest in participation in select Phase 1 CODE meetings. DARPA is particularly interested in participants with capabilities, methodologies, and approaches that are related to CODE research and focused on revolutionary approaches to unmanned aircraft systems, autonomy and collaborative operations. Responses to the Special Notice will be used to select the participants and should not contain intellectual, confidential, proprietary or other privileged information. Two meetings are currently planned: an Open Architecture Meeting and a Technology Interchange Meeting. The Open Architecture Meeting will review the requirements and approaches for making the CODE open architecture compatible with communication-constrained, distributed, highly autonomous collaborative systems. During the Technology Interchange Meeting, invited participants will present technologies for potential incorporation into the demonstration planned for Phases 2 and 3 of the program and ensure that CODE leverages the best available technologies from all possible sources. The meetings are scheduled for the first week of March 2015 in the Arlington, Va., area. To be considered for attendance to the meetings, interested parties may submit a one-page response to DARPA by 4:00 PM Eastern Time on February 4, 2015. More information can be found at http://go.usa.gov/JXFd. All technical and administrative correspondence, including one-page responses and questions regarding this announcement, should be sent to DARPA-SN-15-20@darpa.mil. About CODE: CODE intends to focus in particular on developing and demonstrating improvements in collaborative autonomy: the capability for groups of UAS to work together under a single human commander’s supervision. The unmanned vehicles would continuously evaluate themselves and their environment and present recommendations for UAV team actions to the mission supervisor who would approve, disapprove or direct the team to collect more data. Using collaborative autonomy, CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would find targets and engage them as appropriate under established rules of engagement, leverage nearby CODE-equipped systems with minimal supervision, and adapt to dynamic situations such as attrition of friendly forces or the emergence of unanticipated threats. CODE’s envisioned improvements to collaborative autonomy would help transform UAS operations from requiring multiple people to operate each UAS to having one person who is able to command and control six or more unmanned vehicles simultaneously. Commanders could mix and match different systems with specific capabilities that suit individual missions instead of depending on a single UAS that integrates all needed capabilities but whose loss would be potentially catastrophic. This flexibility could significantly increase the mission- and cost-effectiveness of legacy assets as well as reduce the development times and costs of future systems. “Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager. “Further, CODE aims to decrease the reliance of these systems on high-bandwidth communication and deep crew bench while expanding the potential spectrum of missions through combinations of assets—all at lower overall costs of operation. These capabilities would greatly enhance survivability and effectiveness of existing air platforms in denied environments.” -ends-
22/01/2015

Exelis to Produce MQ-9 Reaper Weapon Racks

AMITYVILLE, N.Y. --- Exelis recently received a follow-on contract valued at more than $27 million from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. to continue producing and supplying the BRU-71/A ejector rack for the Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) system. Under the contract, Exelis will produce 619 BRU-71/A units for U.S. Government MQ-9s. The BRU-71/A is a pneumatic carriage and release system that uses compressed air rather than pyrotechnic cartridges to deploy payloads. The use of pneumatic technology reduces wear-and-tear and overall system maintenance and life-cycle costs. “Unmanned and remotely piloted platforms are important to an increasingly wide range of missions,” said Pete Martin, vice president and general manager of the Exelis electronic attack and release systems business. “It is essential that the technologies they rely on, like our carriage and release systems, are designed to enhance their performance and endurance to support mission success into the future.” Adaptable to a number of aircraft, the BRU-71/A delivers significant advanced benefits compared with previous-generation ejector racks. It is one-third the weight of existing racks in its class and offers ease of loading via independent, self-latching hooks. Additionally, it eliminates the use of pyrotechnic impulse cartridges and the resultant cleaning and maintenance actions and provides a high-reliability pneumatic in-flight lock. This award is the third BRU-71/A follow-on production contract for Exelis. The first, for 208 units, was received in February 2011 and the second, for 520 units, was received in 2013. Deliveries of the latest batch will begin in October 2015 and will be completed in August 2016. Contract work is performed at the Exelis facility in Amityville, New York. Exelis is a diversified, top-tier global aerospace, defense and information solutions company. Headquartered in McLean, Va., Exelis employs approximately 10,000 people and generated 2013 sales of $4.8 billion. -ends-
21/01/2015

GA Wins $36M to Support UK Reapers

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a not-to-exceed $34,628,216 cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price undefinitized contract action (0137) to previously awarded contract FA8620-10-G-3038. The contractor will support the United Kingdom Contractor Logistics Support program. Work will be performed at Poway, California, and various overseas locations and is expected to be complete by Oct. 31, 2015. This contract is 100 percent foreign military sales. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity. -ends-
21/01/2015

Darpa’s Upgraded Atlas Robot to Go Wireless

A total of $3.5 million in prizes will now be awarded to the top three finishers in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), the final event of which will be held June 5-6, 2015, at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. The new prize structure was created in recognition of both the significant progress already demonstrated by teams toward development of human-supervised robot technology for disaster response and the increased number of teams planning to compete in the Finals, including those funded by the European Union and the governments of Japan and South Korea. Aside from the previously announced $2 million grand prize, DARPA plans to award $1 million to the runner-up and $500,000 to the third-place team. DARPA expects at least twenty teams to compete in the DRC Finals. “During periodic reviews with the DRC teams we’re already seeing them perform at a much higher level than they were last year. We’re excited to see how much further they can push the technology,” said Gill Pratt, program manager for the DRC. “As any team will tell you, we’re not making it easy. DARPA has been consulting with our international partners to decide on what steps we need to take to speed the development of disaster-response robots, and the DRC Finals will reflect those realities.” The competing teams have been operating under extreme pressure since the 2013 DRC Trials, working to upgrade their robots and software for the more demanding DRC Finals. In June 2014, DARPA announced a series of additional hurdles that teams will face in the Finals: Robots will have to operate completely without wires—they may not be connected to power cords, fall arrestors, or wired communications tethers. Teams will have to communicate with their robots over a secure wireless network. Teams are not allowed any physical intervention with their robot after it begins a run. If a robot falls or gets stuck, it will have to recover and continue with the tasks without any hands-on assistance. If a robot cannot sustain and recover from a fall, its run will end. DARPA will intentionally degrade communications between the robots and human operators working at a distance. The idea is to replicate the conditions these robots would face going into a disaster zone. Spotty communication will force the robots to make some progress on their own during communications blackouts. The teams using the DARPA-developed Atlas robot got their first look at the newly upgraded system during a technical shakeout the week of January 12th in Waltham, Mass. The upgraded Atlas is 75 percent new—only the lower legs and feet were carried over from the original design. Lighter materials allowed for inclusion of a battery and a new pump system with only a modest increase in overall weight; the upgraded robot is 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and weighs 345 pounds (156.5 kilograms). (Darpa video) The most significant changes are to the robot’s power supply and pump. Atlas will now carry an onboard 3.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, with the potential for one hour of “mixed mission” operation that includes walking, standing, use of tools, and other movements. This will drive a new variable-pressure pump that allows for more efficient operation. “The introduction of a battery and variable-pressure pump into Atlas poses a strategic challenge for teams,” said Pratt. “The operator will be able to run the robot on a mid-pressure setting for most operations to save power, and then apply bursts of maximum pressure when additional force is needed. The teams are going to have to game out the right balance of force and battery life to complete the course.” Other major upgrades to Atlas focused on increasing efficiency, dexterity, and resilience, and include: -- Repositioned shoulders and arms allow for increased workspace in front of the robot and let the robot view its hands in motion, thus providing additional sensor feedback to the operator. -- New electrically actuated lower arms will increase strength and dexterity and improve force sensing. -- The addition of an extra degree of freedom in the wrist means the robot will be able to turn a door handle simply by rotating its wrist as opposed to moving its entire arm. -- Three onboard perception computers are used for perception and task planning, and a wireless router in the head enables untethered communication. -- Re-sized actuators in the hip, knee, and back give the robot greater strength. -- A wireless emergency stop allows for safe operation. -- As a result of the new pump, Atlas is much, much quieter than before! The seven DRC teams using Atlas are scheduled to receive their upgraded robots by the end of January. The robots will be delivered with a “battery emulator,” a training tool temporarily mounted in the robot that simulates how the real battery will perform. This will allow them to switch modes between constant voltage for routine practice and metered voltage to simulate actual battery life. Given their identical hardware, the Atlas teams will have to differentiate themselves through software, control interfaces, and competition strategy. Teams will have a few options on the selection of tasks they choose to attempt and the order they do them—and must manage time and battery life during their runs—but DARPA expects that the top-placing teams will complete all of the tasks. Teams are likely to keep their robots connected to fall arrestors during much of the remaining months of training as a safeguard against premature damage to the robot. DARPA demonstrated the new Atlas with a fall arrestor in place. “Risk mitigation is part of the game,” Pratt said. “It’s up to the teams to decide what chances they’re willing to take during training and risk falls and damage, but come the DRC Finals, the cords are cut.” New teams interested in competing in the DRC have until February 2, 2015, to register and submit qualification materials. DARPA will announce the roster of qualified teams in early March. -ends-
19/01/2015

Japan to Buy E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, Global Hawk UAVs

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. --- The Japan Ministry of Defense has selected two Northrop Grumman Corporation systems to enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Under a process known as type selection, the Japanese government chose the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system to help maintain the country's sovereignty. Type selection identifies the capabilities and systems to be purchased to meet specific defense requirements. Following selection, the U.S. government will be asked to enter into the foreign military sale (FMS) process for these items. "Northrop Grumman has a long history working with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force and we look forward to continuing that relationship for many years to come," said Mary Petryszyn, vice president for International, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "We are very pleased the Japan Ministry of Defense has expressed confidence in these systems and look forward to working with our U.S. military customers through the FMS process." Contract terms, timing and quantities of aircraft are yet to be determined and, as such, details are not available at this time. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide. -ends-
19/01/2015

UK Introduces New Regulations for UAVs

The Military Aviation Authority (MAA) has published a number of new regulations under a notice of authorised amendment (NAA) 15/03 for Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) which ‘go live’ on 19 January 2015. The publication of the regulations marks the end of a 15 month review by an MAA Multi-Disciplinary Team formed from staff across all areas of the MAA as well as members from the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) Airworthiness and Unmanned Air Systems Teams. The new RPAS regulations introduce a classification system where RPAS are categorized according to criteria which include their size, how they are operated and what risk to life they potentially pose to people on the ground. The category an RPAS receives will determine the level of regulation it will have to meet, ranging from full compliance for the largest RPAS presenting the greatest risk to life down to no regulation for the smallest. The classification system, along with more specific regulations for RPAS, has created a much improved regulatory regime which is proportional and effective because it recognises the broad range of RPAS types and the appropriate level of regulation for each of them. If you want to look at the regulations they can be found here -ends-

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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-
27/01/2014

US Navy’s Mabus on Unmanned Naval Ops

This past summer, Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert and I stood on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, at sea off the coast of Virginia. We watched as the X-47B unmanned aircraft, a sixty-two foot wingspan demonstrator, made its first arrested landing onboard an aircraft carrier. It was a historic moment for naval aviation. Every Naval Aviator knows landing on an aircraft carrier is about the most difficult thing you can do as a pilot. Recovering the X-47B safely aboard the ship, with the autonomous system landing independent of its human operators, was a vital step toward our future vision of a Carrier Air Wing. In less than a decade, this future air wing will be made up of today’s F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, and advanced future platforms like the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and our next generation unmanned carrier aircraft. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are America’s “Away Team.” We provide presence. We are where it counts when it counts, not just at the right time but all the time. We give the President and Combatant Commanders the flexibility they need to respond to any challenge. The platforms we buy to make up our fleet are an important part of our future. Unmanned systems are vital to our ability to be present; they lessen the risk to our Sailors and Marines and allow us to conduct missions that are longer, go farther, and take us beyond the physical limits of pilots and crews. Launching and recovering unmanned aircraft as large and capable as our manned fighters from the rolling decks of aircraft carriers is just one element of the future of maritime presence and naval warfare. Helos Leading the Way While we are designing and testing our fixed wing unmanned aircraft, some of our helicopter squadrons have been operating unmanned systems – both in combat and maritime security operations – for years. The MQ-8B Fire Scout is our current unmanned helicopter system. It has been conducting missions including patrolling against illicit trafficking in the Pacific, counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, and combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya. Since the Fire Scout’s first deployments in 2009 our ships, helicopter squadrons, and Marine Corps units have been working together to refine and expand how we use the platform. The next generation Fire Scout, the MQ-8C with its greater payload and longer range, made its first flight last year. It will deploy in support of our Littoral Combat Ships and Special Operations units. In the past year, we have stood up our first two Fire Scout squadrons in San Diego to train and organize the operators and maintainers who will work on these aircraft. Meanwhile the Marines continue to experiment and operate with the Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System (CRUAS) which carries cargo to patrol bases and forward operating bases in combat areas such as Afghanistan, eliminating the need for dangerous convoys and potentially saving lives. Under, On & Over the Sea The future of unmanned systems in the Navy and Marine Corps is focused on incorporating our people on manned platforms with unmanned systems to create an integrated force. A good example of this integration is the Mine Countermeasures Mission Module we are testing for the Littoral Combat Ship. This module includes a small remotely controlled submarine which tows a mine-hunting sonar to detect the mines, paired with a manned Seahawk helicopter which neutralizes the mines once they are found. The development team is also working with unmanned surface and air systems for autonomous mine sweeping, shallow water mine interdiction, and beach mine clearance. Nobody can argue with the idea that when clearing mines we should keep our Sailors out of the mine fields and let our unmanned systems take those risks. Last spring we had the first test flight of the MQ-4 Triton unmanned maritime patrol aircraft, and earlier this month it passed the half-way point in its flight testing. Its 131-foot wingspan – 30 feet wider than the manned P-3C Orion maritime patrol planes we have flown for decades – makes it today’s largest unmanned platform. Triton’s long, slender wings allow it to stay in the air with its sensors for a day at time, providing persistent maritime coverage to the warfighter. Combined with the aircrews and operators aboard our new P-8 Poseidon manned maritime patrol aircraft, Triton will identify and track targets as necessary, ensuring that the fleet has a complete picture of what is happening at sea. The Future Airwing The X-47B is the culmination of an experimental program to prove that unmanned systems can launch and recover from the aircraft carrier. The program that follows this demonstrator will radically change the way presence and combat power is delivered as an integral part of the future carrier air wing. Known by the acronym UCLASS, for Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system, it will conduct its missions over very long periods of time and at extreme distances while contributing to a wide variety of missions. It will make the carrier strike group more lethal, effective, and survivable. The end state is an autonomous aircraft capable of precision strike in a contested environment, and it is expected to grow and expand its missions so that it is capable of extended range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, tanking, and maritime domain awareness. It will be a warfighting machine that complements and enhances the capabilities already resident in our carrier strike groups. Operating these platforms independently of a pilot, and with growing autonomy, greatly increases the possibilities for what we can do with them in the future. Unmanned carrier aircraft don’t require flights to maintain pilot proficiency; the operators can maintain their skills in the simulator. The planes will be employed only for operational missions, saving fuel costs and extending the service life of the aircraft. They also create the opportunity to advance new ways to use our aircraft, like developing new concepts for swarm tactics. We are finalizing the requirements that will lead to a design for the UCLASS. We aren’t building them yet. We want to ensure we get the requirements and design set right before we start production in order to avoid the mistakes and cost overruns which have plagued some past programs. Meanwhile our other unmanned systems like the Fire Scout and Triton continue their success. The Future of Naval Operations Across the entire spectrum of military operations, an integrated force of manned and unmanned platforms is the future. The X-47B’s arrested landing aboard USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH showed that the Navy and Marine Corps are riding the bow wave of technological advances to create this 21st century force. But it is our Sailors and Marines that will provide the innovative thinking and develop the new ideas that are crucial to our success. The unmanned systems and platforms we are developing today, and our integrated manned and unmanned employment methods, will become a central part of the Navy and Marine Corps of tomorrow. They will help ensure we continue to be the most powerful expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known. About the author: Ray Mabus is the 75th Secretary of the Navy, leading the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. He has served as Governor of the State of Mississippi, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and as a surface warfare officer aboard USS Little Rock (CLG-4). -ends-
12/11/2013

A Short History of US Air Force Drone Operations

LAS VEGAS, Nev. --- The RPA actually got its start as early as 1896, when something called aerodromes at the time, were used to test the capabilities of new flying devices and to test if it was even possible for a heavier-than-air craft to achieve sustained flight. In May 1896, Dr. Samuel Langley proved that mechanical flight was possible with his Aerodrome No. 5. From that point on, the shape, design and technology structure of the unmanned aircraft evolved over the years, improving each time. In 1918, the U.S. Army became interested in unmanned flight and ordered 25 Liberty Eagle aircraft. The intent was for the aircraft to be used as an aerial torpedo. Just over two decades later in 1941, the OQ-2 Radioplane became the first mass-produced unmanned aerial vehicle. By 1945, only a few years later, radioplane factories had produced around 15,000 aircraft for use as target drones. Since achieving the first sustained controlled flight, the idea of unmanned flight has grown to be one of the most useful aircraft technology systems in modern history. Today, RPAs have transformed from a basic tool into high-tech machines, providing assistance during both humanitarian and war time situations. 1990s - 2000: In January 1994, more than half a century after the advent of the first mass-produced UAV, the Air Force's modern-day remotely piloted aircraft program was born. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. received an advanced concept technology demonstration contract to produce a medium altitude endurance "unmanned" aerial vehicle. This new system would be called the RQ-1 Predator and would be based off its precursor the GNAT 750, which initially debuted in 1989 and was used for long-endurance tactical surveillance. A mere six months after the contract was established, the new aircraft achieved its first flight in July 1994. While the flight was a success, the Air Force then had to bring in military pilots, navigator-trained rated officers and non-rated officers to learn to use the new technology. "I was the first person to receive a permanent change of station and the ninth person to actually enter into the program," said Lt. Col. Eric, 432nd Wing Director of Staff. "I came in short notice in November of 1995 from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. In May 1996 I went to ground school in San Diego at the General Atomics headquarters. Afterward, I went to flight training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where the Army had the only system in the states at the time." John Box, a retired Air Force pilot, trained to become an RPA pilot in June 1996. He said because the system wasn't produced by the Air Force, the new equipment did not come with technical orders, making the task of learning how to use the system rather challenging. "Much of what we learned was by word of mouth from our instructors and not delivered in a military format," he said. "That took an adjustment and I found it frustrating and challenging but very exciting. I often had to deal with emergency situations that no one had ever before encountered. Every time I flew the system, I learned something new. We were developing books and adding new information to them daily. I wasn't trained for this type of work. Others may have got us started off on a better foot, but I believed in the concept and was committed to making it happen as best I could. It was a 'cowboy' atmosphere and I really enjoyed it." By 1995 it was decided that the Predator's capabilities were needed to aid U.N. and NATO efforts in Europe. The Predator and Air Force personnel were deployed to Taszar, Hungary, to provide support from 1995 until August 1998. Eric deployed to Hungary in August 1996 after completing training. It was during this deployment that he felt the continued challenges of integrating a new form of air power into the Air Force's inventory. "There were two Air Force pilots and a General Atomics instructor pilot with us ... only the three of us to accomplish the mission," he said. "There were no publications, technical orders, regulations or guidance that we hadn't created ourselves. We had to rewrite the very first technical orders that we were given and put them into Air Force terminology." Eric said maintainers were also dealing with some of the same issues as the pilots - learning by observation. "The General Atomics technician was there saying 'here's how we do the 50-hour engine inspection,' and our guys were watching him do it," he said. "But there were no publications or technical orders to break down the process of actually doing it. It took almost three years before we actually started getting valid technical orders on the systems, and it was the same the guidance and everything else. Today we are used to having regulations outlining how people do their jobs and laying down boundaries--we didn't have those." In October 1996 Eric found himself testing new waters for the Predator while facing the challenges of learning new technology and not having Air Force publications or technical orders to break down the processes. "On Oct. 1, 1996, during my deployment, I got the dubious distinction of being the first person in the military to be investigated for a safety investigation board for crashing a remotely piloted airplane," he said "At the time I was doing everything I could to save the airplane. That was my first and foremost concern, but because we didn't have any resources to help us, we kind of made it up as we went. We actually had a General Atomics engineer in the ground control station with us. We said, 'what if we try this?' and he would reply, 'well I don't know we've never tested that before.' We just didn't have any other choices so we were doing it the best that we could." In the end it was determined the crash occurred because the engine had been incorrectly rebuilt. Although the incident resulted in the loss of an aircraft, Eric said it was a learning experience. "We didn't have any publications to follow and we lost an airplane because of it," he said. "But, we learned a lot from it ... we were pioneers on the leading edge of this system making Air Force leaders understand what kind of capabilities this thing had, what we could do with it, and how to move forward with it." It was during this time when Eric and John were learning to fly the Predator that James Clark, at the time an Air Force colonel assigned to the Pentagon, was chosen by Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, to examine Predator operations. Clark, who is known as "Snake" by many, was chosen because he had no experience with RPAs. Fogleman wanted someone with an outsider's perspective. "What I found [during my study] was remarkable," he said. "This little drone could fly hundreds of miles away and provide color television and infrared video surveillance of enemy activity, without risking the life of a pilot. In a control van, which was a converted NASCAR transporter trailer, I watched pilots and sensor operations sitting in front of computer screens actually flying this thing - simply remarkable." While Snake was studying Predator operations in D.C., and pilots, mechanics and other RPA community members were providing assistance in deployed locations, Creech Air Force Base, Nev., was continuing to be built up in order to become home to the Air Force's premier RPA wing. The 11th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first squadron to stand up at Creech AFB. This milestone also marked the point when the Air Force RPA program's dynamic objectives took on a new strategic focus. After the squadron stood up the 11th RS deployed members to support Detachment 3, which was under Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "While deployed we were Detachment 3 under DARPA," Eric said. "When the Air Force took over we became the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron deployed; then once the Air Force turned to the expeditionary concept, [the squadron] became the 11th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. I was actually the first formal commander of the 11th ERS when it stood up. While the 11th ERS was deployed and redefining itself as a combat asset, Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field was continuing to grow back home in preparation to become the home of additional RPA squadrons. "Indian Springs was a pretty bare base then," John said. "Most of the existing infrastructure was dilapidated, early Cold War era construction. They converted the small Base Exchange into our Intel vault and they renovated a small building across the street for our squadron operations facility. We ate at a small chow hall that originally supported up-range and transient aircraft operations. There was a recreation center/gym converted from several other old buildings 'kluged' together." Mardi Wilcox, who was the squadron maintenance officer in 1995, took her new task head on despite having few resources available at the time. "I was super excited to be selected as the first maintenance officer in the Air Force to be assigned to a UAV unit," she said. "It was cutting edge technology and the UAVs we had at the time were special in that way. No one else had them, and a lot of people had never heard of them. We were excited because there was no limit to what they could do ... we could only dream about what was to come. We had one double-wide trailer and one small hangar. Shelters for the UAVs were canvas structures across the ramp. It was 10 tons of stuff in a 1 ton bag." During the late 1990s the program was still in its beginning phases. For some this was exciting but to others it seemed less than promising. However, Wilcox said she had a much different outlook on the subject. "There were a lot of naysayers [at the time]," she said. "Many thought it was just another 'thing' that would just go away ... but our major command leadership made it work. I think for the most part my people loved it. It was new, it was on the leading edge and for the majority of my folks, we wanted it to work. We set the foundation for what the program is today." 2000 - Present: After Operation Allied Force wrapped up in mid-1999, the Air Force was left to figure out what to do with this still relatively new technology. By early 2000 the RQ-1 Predator, which had just proved its capabilities overseas, was armed and became known as the MQ-1 Predator. "As part of the 'lessons learned' from Operation Allied Force, it was determined that if the Predator had a weapon on it, we could cut the time between identifying a target and then destroying it," Snake said. "On Feb. 16, 2000, Predator 3034 took its first successful Hellfire shot from the air, and to all of our surprise, it worked." This new capability arrived just in time, as events on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed many lives and the helped define the future of the Predator. "We watched the attack on the World Trade Center, until we were shocked by flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon," Snake said. "Late on the evening of Sept. 12, a lone C-17 took off from an airfield on the west coast with its cargo of Predators and Hellfire missiles. Days later, one of America's first responses to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was in place and ready for combat." After 9/11 the MQ-1 Predator proved itself resilient and capable during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The success of RPAs during these operations resulted in an increased desire for RPA capabilities in future operations. Lt. Col. Russell, who was the RPA assignments officer at Air Force Personnel Center in 2005, remembers trained RPA pilots were a constant need for the Air Force. At the time, there were general officers everywhere who wanted every training spot filled in order to support U.S. and partner nation troops overseas. Pilots, maintainers and intelligence Airmen were pulled from several different platforms from across the Air Force to meet the demand RPA community's growing demands. In 2007, the 432nd Wing was activated at Creech AFB as the Air Force's first wing comprised entirely of RPAs, which was a sign of the program's rapid growth. A year later the demand for RPAs had grown so significantly that the wing expanded and became dual-hatted as the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, capable of offering full-spectrum support to overseas operations while still supporting the 432nd Wing's operate, train and equip efforts. "In 2011, I came out to Creech and was qualified as a MQ-9 pilot," Russell said. "Having been a part of the assignment process in the past, it's good to see how the tribe has grown. The Air Force is very tribal; I used to be an F-15 pilot, so I used to be part of that 'tribe'. Now it's neat to see the growth of an RPA tribe, made up of people from all different backgrounds." As Russell arrived at Creech in 2011, the MQ-1 and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper reached 1 million total flight hours - just 16 years after the program initially began. Just over two years later, on Oct. 22, 2013, the Air Force's MQ-1 and MQ-9 RPAs doubled that by achieving 2 million cumulative flight hours. Today, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 continue to be flown from 8,000 miles away in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, patrolling the skies and providing critical support and protection to U.S. and coalition forces on the ground. It is because of the dedication and diligence of the men and women past and present that the RPA community has gotten where it is today. As a testament to the vital role of the RPA community during the past 18 years, Predator 3034, the first RPA to test the Hellfire, and the first to shoot in combat on Oct. 7, 2001, is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. -ends-
27/09/2013

GAO Faults UCLASS Acquisition Plan

In fiscal year 2014, the Navy plans to commit to investing an estimated $3.7 billion to develop, build, and field from 6 to 24 aircraft as an initial increment of Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) capability. However, it is not planning to hold a Milestone B review--a key decision that formally initiates a system development program and triggers key oversight mechanisms--until after the initial UCLASS capability has been developed and fielded in fiscal year 2020. The Navy views UCLASS as a technology development program, although it encompasses activities commensurate with system development, including system integration and demonstration. Because the initial UCLASS system is to be developed, produced, and fielded before a Milestone B decision, Congress's ability to oversee the program and hold it accountable for meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals will likely be limited. Specifically, the program will operate outside the basic oversight framework provided by mechanisms like a formal cost and schedule baseline, statutory unit cost tracking, and regular reports to Congress on cost, schedule, and performance progress. The Navy believes its approach effectively utilizes the flexibility in the Department of Defense's (DOD) acquisition policy to gain knowledge needed to ensure a successful UCLASS system development program starting in fiscal year 2020. Yet the Navy expects to review preliminary designs, conduct a full and open competition, and award a contract for UCLASS development in fiscal year 2014, a point at which DOD policy and best practices indicate that a program would be expected to hold a Milestone B review to initiate a system development program. Apart from deferring Milestone B, the Navy's plan would be consistent with the knowledge-based acquisition process reflected in DOD policy. UCLASS faces several programmatic risks going forward. First, the UCLASS cost estimate of $3.7 billion exceeds the level of funding that the Navy expects to budget for the system through fiscal year 2020. Second, the Navy has scheduled 8 months between the time it issues its request for air vehicle design proposals and the time it awards the air vehicle contract, a process that DOD officials note typically takes 12 months to complete. Third, the UCLASS system is heavily reliant on the successful development and delivery of other systems and software, which creates additional schedule risk. Fourth, the Navy will be challenged to effectively manage and act as the lead integrator for three separate but interrelated segments--air vehicle, carrier, and control system--and 22 other government systems, such as the aircraft landing system, the timing and alignment of which are crucial to achieving the desired UCLASS capability. While the Navy recognizes many of these risks and has mitigation plans in place, they could lead to cost increases and schedule delays if not effectively addressed. The Navy's UCLASS acquisition strategy includes some good acquisition practices that reflect aspects of a knowledge-based approach. For example, the Navy is leveraging significant knowledge gained from prior technology development efforts, incorporating an open systems design approach, working to match the system's requirements with available resources, and reviewing preliminary designs for the air vehicle before conducting a competition to select a single contractor to develop and deliver the air vehicle segment. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy estimates that it will need $3.7 billion from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2020 to develop and field an initial UCLASS system. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 mandated that GAO evaluate the UCLASS system acquisition strategy. This report (1) assesses the UCLASS acquisition strategy, (2) identifies key areas of risk facing the system, and (3) notes areas where the Navy's strategy contains good practices. To do this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's acquisition strategy and compared it to DOD's acquisition policy, among other criteria; and reviewed Navy acquisition documents and spoke with Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials. What GAO Recommends Congress should consider directing the Navy to hold a Milestone B review for the UCLASS system after the system level preliminary design review is complete. If the Navy does not comply, Congress should consider limiting the amount of funding available for the UCLASS system until an acquisition program baseline is provided. GAO included these matters for consideration because the Navy does not plan to make changes as a result of GAO’s recommendation to hold a Milestone B review following the system level preliminary design review—which is currently scheduled in fiscal year 2015. The Navy did not concur with the recommendation, and believes that its approved strategy is compliant with acquisition regulations and laws. GAO continues to believe that its recommendation is valid as discussed in this report. Click here for the full report (26 PDF pages) on the GAO website. -ends-