MQ-8C Fire Scout demonstrates a long range, long endurance flight part of a capability based test at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. (Photo by Northrop Grumman)

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28/08/2015

EOD Robot Program Advances to EMD Phase

WASHINGTON --- Naval Sea Systems Command approved Milestone B for the Advance Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System (AEODRS) Tactical Operations variant (Increment 2) Aug. 18. The AEODRS program is developing a new family of interoperable EOD robotic systems. Rear Adm. Thomas Kearney, director for Acquisition and Commonality at NAVSEA approved the Increment 2 for Milestone B which allows the Tactical Operations variant to proceed to the engineering and manufacturing development phase. The AEODRS' interoperable approach is based on a Government-owned common architecture that utilizes common physical, electrical, and logical interfaces. This enables the creation of a family of unmanned ground vehicle systems with a high degree interoperability and interchangeability to enable rapid integration of new technologies across the three AEODRS EOD robots. The Dismounted Operations system (Increment 1) is the smallest variant and must be light enough to be transported via a backpack. The primary mission focus of this system is on reconnaissance. The Tactical Operations variant (Increment 2), which received Milestone B approval, is a medium-sized system that must be transportable via an EOD response vehicle and capable of being carried by two technicians over a moderate distance. The primary mission focus of this variant is on in-depth reconnaissance and wide-range item prosecution. The Increment 2 robot will replace the EOD Man Transportable Robotic System that first went into full rate production in 2005. The Base/Infrastructure Operations system (Increment 3) is the largest variant and requires transportation via a large response vehicle/trailer. Increment 3's primary mission includes maximum load/lift capabilities and the widest-range of EOD neutralization, render-safe, and other special capabilities. "Through the adoption of this modular, open architecture approach across all three Increments we will be better able to integrate emergent technologies and improve overall capability of EOD warfighters," said Capt. Aaron Peters, program manager, NAVSEA Expeditionary Missions Program Office. The Milestone B Approval comes one month after the program conducted a successful Prime System Integrator Industry Awareness day to exchange AEODRS Increment 2 technical specifications, industry access to system test bed, the draft solicitation and program schedule. The AEODRS program is managed by PMS408 Expeditionary Missions Program Office as part of the Naval Sea Systems Command's Directorate for Acquisition and Commonality. The directorate brings together personnel dedicated to bridging communication gaps between government and industry, in order to enable cost and variance reductions throughout the acquisition lifecycle. The directorate also provides leadership support to expeditionary missions, and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal and special warfare communities. -ends-
27/08/2015

Second Australian Subcontractor for Triton UAV

CANBERRA, Australia --- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NOC) has awarded a second Australian supplier contract to Mincham Aviation for the U.S. Navy's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) initial production lot. South Australia-based Mincham Aviation will manufacture aircraft structure components for the first low-rate production lot of four Triton air vehicles. This second supplier contract follows one awarded in July to Ferra Engineering for mechanical sub-assemblies. "We are pleased to be able to further demonstrate our ongoing commitment to developing and fostering capabilities in local supply chains," said Ian Irving, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Australia. "We will continue to look to offer opportunities to quality-focused Australian companies to be involved in the production and sustainment of Triton, which will be one of the U.S. Navy's and Royal Australian Air Force's key capabilities for many years to come." Northrop Grumman's engagement with Mincham Aviation and Ferra Engineering were facilitated through the Australian Department of Defence's Global Supply Chain program. Under the Global Supply Chain initiative, international companies such as Northrop Grumman can assess Australian industry and provide them the opportunity to compete for business around the world on a value-for-money basis. Australian companies have also received requests from Northrop Grumman for quotations to provide components for follow-on low rate production lots. These industry opportunities include cables, complex machined and composite assemblies, as well as special tooling and test equipment. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced his government's intent to purchase the Triton UAS for high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance missions in March 2014. Triton can fly missions up to 24 hours and at altitudes of over 55,000 feet, covering vast areas of ocean and coastal regions. Its unique sensor suite provides a continuous on-station presence in a 360-degree field of view for some of the most demanding surveillance missions. South Australia-based Mincham Aviation is a product design authority/AS9100C and Civil Aviation Safety Authority certified company that services the aircraft and defence engineering industries and specialises in the manufacture and repair of advanced composite and sheet metal components. 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-
26/08/2015

Alenia Aermacchi Completes Neuron UCAV Flight-tests In Italy

• Neuron flight test campaign in Italy successfully completed • 12 highly sensitive sorties to verify the characteristics of radar-cross section and infrared signature for the European experimental drone • The Neuron is dedicated to the demonstration of key technologies for combat aircraft for future piloted and non-piloted systems ROME --- The flight test campaign in Italy of the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Neuron has been successfully concluded with the achievement of all established goals, thus allowing an important step forward for the program. The Neuron is the European full-scale technological demonstrator for an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) developed by an industrial team led by Dassault Aviation with the collaboration of Alenia Aermacchi, Saab, Airbus Defence and Space, RUAG and HAI. The aircraft has been deployed at the Italian Air Force's Decimomannu Air Base, in Sardinia, Italy, where it has fulfilled a series of important operational tests. In particular, the 12 highly sensitive sorties have allowed to verify the characteristics of Neuron’s combat capability, its low radar-cross section and low infrared signature, during missions flown at different altitudes and flight profiles and against both ground-based and air radar “threats”, using in this latter case, an Eurofighter Typhoon. During the deployment in Italy the Neuron has confirmed its already ascertained excellent performance and high operational reliability. Starting this summer, the next testing phase will be run in Sweden, at the Vidsel Air Base, where tests of low observability and use of weapon delivery from the aircraft’s Weapon Bay will be carried out. The demonstrator’s development activity is an important step in the technology maturation process of the acquired technology, mitigating the level of risk of future investments for UAS in Europe and moving towards systems’ development for operational uses. BACKGROUND INFO: The Neuron is dedicated to the demonstration of key technologies for combat aircraft for future manned and unmanned systems. It includes the design, development, manufacturing and flight testing of a non-piloted aircraft featuring a low radar-cross section and low infrared signature, capable of autonomous flight and weapon delivery. The Neuron Demonstrator may well be considered representative of future combat UAS configurations. From the industrial point of view, the Neuron is a program led by the French Dassault Aviation with Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi as a first level industrial partner, holding 22% of the programme. Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi is also the leader in an Italian high-tech group of companies, including Finmeccanica-Selex ES. Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi’s contribution to the programme includes design and production of the generation and electrical distribution system; the innovative air data system (with stealth characteristics); low-observability components and, most importantly, the system of the so-called Smart Integrated Weapon Bay, SIWB. This system allows for the automatic detection and recognition of the target in stealth mode and enables the sending of an attack’s approval request to the ground station commander before the launching of weapons. -ends-
26/08/2015

Fire Scout UAV Flies 11-Hour Test Mission

POINT MUGU, Calif. --- Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated endurance capabilities with the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. On a planned 10+ hour flight and range out to 150 nautical miles flight from Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, the MQ-8C Fire Scout achieved 11 hours with over an hour of fuel in reserve. The long range, long endurance flight was part of a series of capability based tests used by the Navy to validate their concept of operations and previously tested performance parameters. The Navy conducted the demonstration with support of Northrop Grumman engineers. "Endurance flights provide a full evaluation of the MQ-8C Fire Scout systems," said Capt. Jeff Dodge, program manager, Fire Scout, Naval Air Systems Command. "We can better understand the capability of the system and look at crew tasks and interactions in a controlled environment. This will allow us to adjust operational procedures to maximize the system's effectiveness." This is a new flight record set for the MQ-8 Fire Scout; a system designed to provide persistent reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces. "Today's MQ-8C Fire Scout performance matches our model exactly. With adjustments, our production aircraft will have 12 hours of total endurance on a standard day. This prolonged endurance gives the Navy's commanders a tremendous operational advantage," said George Vardoulakis, vice president, medium range tactical systems, Northrop Grumman. "Increased time-on-station and fewer launch and recovery cycles better enables the Navy's diverse missions." The MQ-8C Fire Scout completed its developmental flight test program earlier this year and has operational assessment planned for later this year. The MQ-8C Fire Scout has accumulated over 513 flight hours and flown 353 sorties. 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-
25/08/2015

USAF Recounts UAV Operations In Afghanistan

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --- Airmen assigned to the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron provide world-class close air support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the Afghanistan area of operations. They complete this mission by maintaining, launching and recovering all MQ-1B Predators and MQ-9 Reapers in the country from Kandahar and Jalalabad Airfields. “MQ-1s and MQ-9s account for over 90% of all ISR collected in Afghanistan,” said Capt. Chris, a 62nd ERS MQ-1B Predator launch and recovery pilot. “The presence of this squadron is absolutely critical to RPA operations within this (area of responsibility). Without this squadron being here our capability to collect ISR in Afghanistan would be significantly reduced.” The 62nd not only provides most of the ISR in Afghanistan, they are also important for the service members outside the wire since they contribute to the close air support mission here. “We’re not only responsible for a large percentage of ISR, but also the (close air support) hours flown in Afghanistan,” Chris said. “To know you’re a part of that and you’re enabling the ground units from aerial platforms is hugely rewarding.” “MQ-1s and MQ-9s are essential to locating high value targets, facilitators of IEDs and those bringing weapons into the country … we’re absolutely on the hunt,” said Lt. Col. Michael E. Navicky, the 62nd ERS commander. “We also help with troops in contact by performing (close air) support to individuals that may be in direct contact with the enemy. We can deploy weapons to support them or direct other assets in the area to support them.” Operations and maintenance fall under the 62nd ERS and not as separate squadrons, which is common throughout the Air Force. “We’re different, usually the maintenance and operations are in different squadrons,” Navicky said. “We’re very fortunate here to have both the operators and the maintainers within the 62nd. We provide the full spectrum of RPA support; flying, launching and landing them and working directly with the maintainers.” The unique way the squadron is organized allows for quicker response times when it comes to launching and recovering the RPAs. “We have about 15 different (Air Force Specialty Codes) within the squadron, and it has shown to have some real benefits to have direct coordination between the ops and maintainers,” Navicky said. “Some benefits are quicker trouble shooting, quicker reaction to launches and landings and quicker reaction to inflight emergencies.” One of these different AFSCs is the sensor operator who works with the pilots to successfully launch and land RPAs. “As a sensor operator I control the pod and also help the pilots aviate the plane when we are launching and recovering aircraft from Kandahar,” said SSgt Jarrett, a 62nd ERS MQ-9 Predator sensor operator. “The pilots cannot work without us and we cannot work without them. Our mission here is very important. We continue to provide base defense and ISR in this country and we support the guys on the ground with sound ISR and (close air support).” Even though there is a good mix of career fields within the 62nd ERS, they come together every day to complete the missions in Afghanistan. “The reason that we have come together so well is that no one is worried about their AFSC or think that their job is more important than others,” Navicky said. “Everyone knows that they are a cog in the machine and they need to do their duties in order to complete the overall mission of getting the RPAs off the ground and into the air in support of the warfighter. The mission is the absolute most important thing and that no one’s individual effort is more important than another’s.” (Author’s Note: The last name of certain airmen are withheld in accordance with operational security requirements) -ends-
25/08/2015

US Army Upgrades Raven UAV Sensors

FORT HOOD, Texas --- Selected units received an upgrade to their Raven unmanned aerial systems during an initiative here last week. The upgrade, dubbed the Raven Gimbal, is a new payload for the Raven R-11B Small Unmanned Aircraft System - a small, hand-launched reconnaissance and surveillance tool. "The Gimbal system replaces the old, fixed camera, where the operator had to move the bird around to see different directions," said Spc. Gilbert Reyna, a San Antonio-native and cavalry scout with Comanche Troop, 6th Squadron "Saber," 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "With the new payload, you can now simply rotate the camera 360 degrees in a matter of seconds." The Raven transmits live, airborne video images, compass headings, and location information to a ground control station, laptop, and remote video terminal, enabling operators to navigate, search for targets, recognize terrain, and record information for analysis. Throughout the week, Soldiers swapped out their former systems for the new Gimbal payload, and received familiarization training to quickly learn how to successfully operate the equipment, said Sgt. Shane Burroughs, a unit supply specialist with Troop C, 6-9 Cavalry. "This upgrade will make the whole reconnaissance world more effective," said Burroughs, a Fort Bragg, North Carolina-native. "It will provide better capabilities to units as a whole." In addition to the 360-degree view the Gimbal offers, its infrared capabilities are now more efficient as well, said Staff Sgt. Brent Mann, an infantryman and master small unmanned aircraft systems trainer with 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. "We are getting better surveillance now when we launch the Raven," the Wichita Falls, Texas-native said. "We no longer have to bring the Raven down to switch from daytime to nighttime infrared cameras, as it has both capabilities. We can run twilight missions all at one time, and switch between white hot, black hot, and colored cameras all in one setting." The new payload also replaces the previous camera system with a single, front mounted lens, Mann said. "The last system had stationary front and side cameras," he said. "This replaces both front and side mounts. It makes it easier for Soldiers to stay on target." -ends-
25/08/2015

Aerovironment Wins $47M for Small UAV Sustainment

MONROVIA, Calif. --- AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) today announced receipt since May 1, 2015 of ten orders from the United States Army totaling $47.1 million for RQ-11B Raven and RQ-20A Puma AE unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) sustainment. This total value includes seven orders awarded on July 23 totaling $35,196,388. The AeroVironment Raven, the most widely used UAS in the world today, is a lightweight solution designed for rapid deployment and high mobility for military applications requiring low-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence. The AeroVironment Puma AE is a small UAS designed for land-based and maritime operations. Capable of landing in salt water or on the ground, the Puma AE empowers the operator with a level of operational flexibility never before available in the small UAS class. “Sustaining the Army’s large fleet of Raven and Puma AE systems ensures that soldiers continue to have the most effective, reliable and adaptable small UAS available to support them wherever and whenever required,” said Kirk Flittie, vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s UAS business segment. “These contracts assure that American soldiers can continue to rely on our combat-proven solutions to deliver powerful insight, on-demand, that helps them operate more safely and effectively.” RQ-11B Raven, RQ-12 Wasp AE, RQ-20A Puma AE and Shrike VTOL comprise AeroVironment’s Family of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Operating with a common ground control system (GCS), this Family of Systems provides increased capability to the warfighter that can give ground commanders the option of selecting the appropriate aircraft based on the type of mission to be performed. This increased capability has the potential to provide significant force protection and force multiplication benefits to small tactical units and security personnel. AeroVironment provides logistics services worldwide to ensure a consistently high level of operational readiness and provides mission services for customers requiring only the information its small UAS produce. AeroVironment has delivered thousands of new and replacement small unmanned air vehicles to customers within the United States and to more than 30 allied governments. The Puma AE small UAS comprises one component of AeroVironment’s advanced, turnkey data collection, processing and delivery solution employed to provide commercial customers with engineering-quality information, on-demand, across multiple industries such as oil & gas, agriculture, mining and others. The Qube small UAS is tailored to law enforcement, first response and other public safety missions. Small enough to fit easily in the trunk of a car, the Qube system can be unpacked, assembled and ready for flight in less than five minutes, giving the operator a rapidly deployable eye in the sky at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft and large unmanned aircraft. AeroVironment is a technology solutions provider that designs, develops, produces, supports and operates an advanced portfolio of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and electric transportation solutions. The company’s electric-powered, hand-launched unmanned aircraft systems generate and process data to deliver powerful insight, on-demand, to people engaged in military, public safety and commercial activities around the world. -ends-
25/08/2015

US Marines, Coast Guard Demo Small UAS Capabilities

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina --- A member of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) launches an RQ-20A Puma unmanned aircraft Aug. 12 during an exercise near Camp Lejeune. The U.S. Coast Guard and MARSOC joined forces to demonstrate the ability to launch and recover the Puma, RQ-12A Wasp IV, and InstantEye vertical takeoff and landing UAS from the Coast Guard’s smallest boats. These battery-powered, hand-launched systems provide real-time, day and night reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. The Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263), located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., manages the procurement of small UAS for the Navy and Marine Corps. -ends-
24/08/2015

Turkish Police Ramping Up Drone Purchases

ANKARA --- The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Turkey’s defense procurement agency, said in a statement on Aug. 21 that it had launched a process to buy 15 drones from the state Turkish Aerospace Industry (TAI) and 15 from Istanbul-based developer Baykar Makine, for use by police forces. Twelve of the newly purchased drones are considered “urgent.” The police had declared that it needs operative and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to be used against rising terror attacks, the SSM stated on Aug. 21. Efforts, in cooperation with the police, has begun to purchase 15 operative ANKA UAVs, a domestic vehicle developed by the TAI, and 15 tactical Bayraktar UAVs, developed by Baykar. The acquisition plans also cover buying five task systems from each firm, the statement read. Two sets of ANKAs, totaling six drones, and two sets of Bayraktars, will be purchased urgently, while the remainder will be bought over years, it added. The required technical details will be given to the producers soon, the SSM said. -ends-
24/08/2015

US Navy Testing Underwater Energy Transfer for UUVs

BETHESDA, Md. (NNS) -- The Navy is developing ways to recharge underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) using undersea wireless technology. The Navy uses UUVs for many types of missions, including the location and identification of underwater threats such as mines, ocean floor mapping, and optimizing remote sensing platforms. The ability to use wireless technology to charge UUV batteries while underwater may significantly decrease time between missions, improving overall utility. "Underwater data and energy transfer are expected to multiply the effectiveness of Navy-operated UUVs and other unmanned platforms by providing a vehicle-agnostic method for autonomous underwater energy charging," said Alex Askari, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) technical lead. This technology can be used on many different types of vehicles. NSWCCD supported Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport (NUWC DIVNPT) in demonstrating this capability during the first-ever Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX), Aug. 10-14 at the Stillwater Basin Test facility in Newport, Rhode Island. ANTX is a weeklong showcase of Undersea Constellation technology from NUWC DIVNPT, and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC PAC). NSWCCD previously executed a successful underwater wireless energy transfer demonstration in a 6,000 gallon tank at its West Bethesda, Maryland facility, June 29-July 3. These concepts of wireless underwater energy transfer, such as Forward Deployed Energy and Forward Deployed Energy and Communications Outpost (FDECO), were born in NSWCCD's Disruptive Technologies Lab. "We want to recharge a battery underwater through wireless technology, and we want to know the batteries charge to the highest fidelity," Mayer Nelson, NSWCCD technical project manager said. The NSWCCD demonstration was a collaborative effort as Carderock hosted teams from NUWC DIVNPT and SSC PAC. "The NUWC team was on-hand to simulate the full capabilities of the NUWC-developed Mid-sized Autonomous Research Vehicle (MARV) UUV, as well as to provide assistance with testing," Joseph Curran, NSWCCD integration lead said. The MARV is 16.5 feet long and just slightly more than one foot in diameter for testing different UUV programs and technologies. Carderock Division's developed technology enables power transmission between underwater systems, such as UUVs. During the main demonstration on July 3, the team was successful in transferring power wirelessly from an underwater docking station to a MARV UUV section, and ultimately to the UUV's battery, which was charged at 2 kilowatts while submerged, according to Nelson. A battery State of Charge (SOC) program developed by Dr. Michael Knauff, a Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station (NAVSSES) in Philadelphia electrical engineer was integrated by Crystal Lutkenhouse, a NSWCCD mechanical engineer. "We tested a Carderock-developed algorithm and pulled in data from the actual battery; then ran voltage, current and temperature data through the data acquisition system," Knauff said. During underwater energy transfer, this program was run using data that had been transferred wirelessly underwater using SSC PAC's underwater optical communications system and allowed an enhanced estimation of the charge on the battery through the SOC program. -ends-

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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-