A Pakistani Army Burraq unmanned aerial vehicle fires a Barq laser-guided missile during a March 13 firing demonstration near Rawalpindi. This photo was probably circulated by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Public Relations. (Pakistan MoD photo)

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27/03/2015

Darpa Mulls Automated Lookouts for Unmanned Vessels

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program seeks to develop a new type of unmanned surface vessel that could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. One of the challenges that the ACTUV program is addressing is development of autonomous behaviors for complying with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, known as COLREGS. Substantial progress has been made in developing and implementing those behaviors. Currently, ACTUV’s system for sensing other vessels is based on radar, which provides a “90 percent solution” for detecting other ships. However, radar is less suitable for classification of the type of other vessels, for example determining whether the vessel is a powered vessel or a sailboat. Additionally, one of the requirements of COLREGS is to maintain “a proper lookout by sight and hearing.” To help augment ACTUV’s capability for sensing and classifying other vessels, and to reduce reliance on radar as ACTUV’s primary sensor, DARPA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) (http://go.usa.gov/3rMPk) about currently available technologies that could help ACTUV and future unmanned surface vessels perceive and classify nearby ships and other objects. DARPA is specifically interested in sensor systems and image-processing hardware and software that use passive (electro-optical/infrared, or EO/IR) or non-radar active (e.g., light detection and ranging, or LIDAR) approaches. The goal is to develop reliable, robust onboard systems that could detect and track nearby surface vessels and potential navigation hazards, classify those objects’ characteristics and provide input to ACTUV’s autonomy software to facilitate correct COLREGs behaviors. “We’re looking for test-ready, multi-sensor approaches that push the boundaries of today’s automated sensing systems for unmanned surface vessels,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager. “Enhancing the ability of these kinds of vessels to sense their environment in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night, would significantly advance our ability to conduct a range of military missions.” The RFI invites short responses (5 pages or fewer) that explore some or all of the following technical areas: -- Maritime Perception Sensors: Any combination of non-radar-based imaging and tracking methods, including, but not limited to, passive and active imagers in the visible and infrared wavelengths and Class 1 Laser Rangefinder (LRF) and Flash LIDAR to image ships during day or night in the widest variety of environmental conditions, including haze, fog and rain, over ranges from 4 km to 15 km; -- Maritime Perception Software: Algorithms and software for detection, tracking and classification of ships by passive optical or non-radar active imagers; -- Classification Software for Day Shapes/Navigation Lights: Algorithms and software to support detection, tracking and classification of day shapes and navigation lights—standard tools that vessels use to communicate a ship’s position and status—by using passive optical or non-radar active imagers. Responses are due to DARPA-SN-15-27@darpa.mil by 4:00 PM Eastern Time on April 28, 2015. All technical and administrative correspondence and questions regarding this announcement and how to respond should be sent to DARPA-SN-15-27@darpa.mil. ACTUV aims to persistently trail adversaries’ submarines, limiting their tactical capacity for surprise. As designed, it would operate under sparse remote supervisory control but could also serve as a remotely piloted vessel, should the mission or specific circumstances require it. With an envisioned price tag of $20 million per vessel, ACTUV aims to provide breakthrough capabilities at a price much lower than manned warships. Initial water-borne testing of an ACTUV prototype is scheduled for later this year. In September 2014, DARPA signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Office of Naval Research to jointly fund an extended test phase of an ACTUV prototype. Pending the results of those tests, the program could transition to the U.S. Navy in 2018 for use in anti-submarine warfare and possibly as a multipurpose unmanned “truck” for dirty, dull or dangerous missions, such as mine countermeasures. -ends-
26/03/2015

Canadian AUV Searches Uncharted Arctic Waters

When modern-day Canadian explorers made what has been described as the discovery of the century by finding one of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, defence scientists were honoured to be part of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition. “We were proud to be able to be a part of this historic event with Parks Canada and showcase our technology on behalf of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and the Department of National Defence (DND)”, said DRDC defence scientist Vincent Myers. Numerous expeditions to find the lost Franklin ships have led to the mapping part of Canada’s Arctic, but no ships were ever found. In the end, clues from Inuit oral history, expedition reports on the possible route and final resting places of the Franklin ships, a better understanding of annual pack ice movements, modern sonar technology, and a bit of luck led the Canadian team to successfully discover Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Erebus. Led by Parks Canada, the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition included several Government of Canada departments and private organizations including the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). In support of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), six DRDC scientists and two RCN personnel travelled to the Victoria Strait with the Arctic Explorer, a state-of-the-art autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), to survey the seabed in search of the lost Franklin expedition ships. The Explorer team contributed to reducing the search area for the remaining lost ship HMS Terror. During the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition, the DRDC research team seized the opportunity to test the unique capabilities of the Arctic Explorer AUV in a previously uncharted area of the Arctic Ocean seabed under harsh conditions of extreme cold, constantly moving ice floes, and rapidly changing weather patterns. “It was an amazing experience to watch the DRDC team at work in Arctic conditions and see the unique capabilities of the Arctic Explorer in action,” says John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). “This expedition not only showcased world-leading Canadian technology, and emphasized Canadian presence and capability in our Arctic, but it was an outstanding example of a successful collaboration between public, private and non-profit sector partners using advanced Canadian technology to make our mark in the history books.” The Arctic Explorer was equipped with a high frequency AquaPix® Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Sonar (INSAS), manufactured by Kraken Sonar Systems Inc. of St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador. At more than seven metres in length, the Arctic Explorer, manufactured by International Submarine Engineering Ltd of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, makes an incredibly stable platform for the operation of this high- resolution sonar. The combination of these capabilities created an AUV system which produced high-resolution images of the seafloor over a much greater range than previous sonar systems. “The 2014 deployment of the Arctic Explorer in uncharted Arctic territory has given us the clearest, most exciting data collected and imagery attained in this part of the world to date,” said Dale Reding, DRDC’s Director General Science and Technology Air Force and Navy. During the expedition, the DRDC team witnessed yet again that the Arctic remains a very challenging domain. Heavy pack-ice, shallow waters and frequent storm systems make the summer navigation season very short, easily interrupted and difficult to operate in for an Arctic research team. Personnel with Arctic operating experience can be as much an ingredient for mission success as new technology. In 2010 and 2011, Arctic Explorer AUVs successfully completed under-ice surveys in support of Canada’s United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea submission. Key to the success of these survey missions was the development and use of a unique underwater acoustic homing system, developed by Omnitech Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. This technology enabled the AUV to find its way home to a drifting ice-camp or ship from distances of over 50 km. “It set a new world record for under-ice operations in the Western Arctic, autonomously travelling 1,000 kilometres underwater over ten continuous days,” said Dale Reding. “The exploration work done on behalf of the expedition is an important step in advancing science and research in the Arctic environment and directly supports Government of Canada priorities. ” During the 2014 Expedition, DRDC undertook several experiments to assess and understand the impact that low water temperatures have on the performance of various types of imaging sonars. Data from the experiments will be used to validate existing sonar models and provide information to the RCN regarding decisions about future sonar acquisitions. “DRDC has a long history of exceptional partnership with the Royal Canadian Navy, and the deployment of Arctic Explorer and agency personnel with northern operating experience were important elements of the successful 2014 Victoria Strait search,” said Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic. “Pushing advanced technologies into northern waters was a clear demonstration of Canadian ambition and sovereignty, and a vital learning opportunity as the navy prepares to receive purpose built Arctic patrol ships.” If the Government of Canada or the RCN decide to undertake further exploration of the Arctic, the DRDC AUVs and research team offer a highly specialized and unique capability to support those efforts. The 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition was a public-private partnership led by Parks Canada and included the RCN, the Canadian Coast Guard, DRDC, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, One Ocean Expeditions, the Arctic Research Foundation, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Shell Canada, and the Government of Nunavut. DRDC will continue to support the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy and to refine AUV technology and capabilities. The Agency has operated in the Arctic since the early 1950s, when scientists established research camps and programs and made discoveries that underlie our current understanding of glaciers and ice movement, navigation and Arctic clothing. -ends-
25/03/2015

UAVs: Status of Test Sites and International Developments

Since becoming operational in 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test sites have conducted over 195 flights across five of the six test sites. These flights provide operations and safety data that FAA can use in support of integrating UAS into the national airspace. FAA has not provided funding to the test sites in support of research and development activities but has provided staff time through, for example bi-weekly meetings to discuss ongoing issues with test site officials. FAA staff said that the sites are a benefit to the integration process and worth this investment. GAO’s preliminary observations found that other countries have progressed toward UAS integration and allow commercial use. GAO studied the UAS regulations in Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom and found these countries have similar rules and restrictions on commercial UAS operations, such as allowing line of sight operations only. In November 2014, Canada issued new rules creating exemptions for UAS operations based on size and relative risk. In addition, as of December 2014, Australia had issued over 180 UAS operating certificates to businesses engaged in aerial surveying, photography, and other lines of business. Under the provisions of FAA’s proposed rules, operating restrictions would be similar to regulations in these other four countries. For example, all countries have UAS altitude restrictions of 500 feet or below. FAA faces some critical steps to keep the UAS integration process moving forward. First, issuing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in February 2015 for small UAS operations was an important step, but FAA expects to receive tens of thousands of comments on the proposed rule. FAA’s goal is to issue the final rule 16 months after the release of the NPRM. If this goal is met, the final rule would be issued in late 2016 or early 2017, about 2 years after the 2012 Act required. Second, the Comprehensive Plan and UAS Roadmap provide broad plans for integration; however, an implementation plan would help predict with more certainty when full integration will occur and the resources needed to achieve it safely. Finally, test site operators told GAO that incentives are needed to encourage more UAS operations at the test sites. FAA stated it is working with test sites to make access to the airspace easier. GAO will continue to monitor these issues and plans to report its final results later this year. Click here for the full report (23 PDF pages) on the GAO website. -ends-
25/03/2015

Spain to Focus On Procuring Existing UAVs/Sensors

MADRID - In Spain's latest Plan Director de RPAS (RPAS Master Plan), the Directorate General of Armaments and Material has outlined a new UAV procurement strategy. The Spanish Army and Navy, due to budgetary constraints and the urgency for new systems, will now focus on existing UAV models instead of investment in new systems. Forecast International believes this prioritization will also apply to the sensor suites those UAVs carry. The critical time horizon for procurement is 2020, with the forces' current RAVEN UAVs completing their lifecycle in 2019. The two UAV models identified by the DGAM include Airbus Defence and Space's Atlante and Spanish company Indra's Pelican. For Indra's Pelican, Cassidian will lead sensor development, including communication systems, EO sensors, IFF devices, and image exploitation software. Additionally, a collaboration between Cassidian and Thales is developing the AURA radar for strategic UAVs and the HORUS radar, both of which could be used on board the Pelican. Cassidian Spain is also leading development of the Atlante, and, correspondingly, the UAV's sensor suite. While the sensor systems have not been announced, they will include options for automation, EO, radar, protection systems, and more. -ends-
24/03/2015

AeroVironment, Northrop Wins Tern UAV Contracts

DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal of Tern is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS). These systems could provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets, including manned and unmanned helicopters. Further, a capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. The two prime contractors selected by DARPA are AeroVironment, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Corp. “To offer the equivalent of land-based UAS capabilities from small-deck ships, our Phase 2 performers are each designing a new unmanned air system intended to enable two previously unavailable capabilities: one, the ability for a UAS to take off and land from very confined spaces in elevated sea states and two, the ability for such a UAS to transition to efficient long-duration cruise missions,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. “Tern’s goal is to develop breakthrough technologies that the Navy could realistically integrate into the future fleet and make it much easier, quicker and less expensive for the Defense Department to deploy persistent ISR and strike capabilities almost anywhere in the world.” The first two phases of the Tern program focus on preliminary design and risk reduction. In Phase 3, one performer will be selected to build a full-scale demonstrator Tern system for initial ground-based testing. That testing would lead to a full-scale, at-sea demonstration of a prototype UAS on an at-sea platform with deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other surface combat vessel. -ends-
23/03/2015

More on US Army’s Apache-UAV Combination

WASHINGTON --- Manned-unmanned operations using helicopters linked with unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, have been used by the Army for a number of years. However, no single unit has ever actually been assigned both assets until now, said Lt. Col. Tory Burgess, product manager, Shadow Tactical UAS. Burgess and others spoke at a media roundtable from Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, March 19. The 1/501st Aviation Battalion with the 1st Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, became that first unit, Burgess said, noting that on March 16, the battalion had a reflagging ceremony, becoming the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. It wasn't just a name change, though. The new unit converted to a heavy attack reconnaissance squadron, equipped with AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopters and the new Tactical Common Data Link-equipped RQ-7Bv2 Shadows. IT'S A BIG DEAL The reflagging ceremony and the unit having the Shadow v2 "organically assigned" to it is the culmination "of years' worth of planning, development, testing and production," Burgess said. "What's the big deal about a unit owning both assets?" asked a reporter at the roundtable. Lt. Col. RJ Garcia, commander of 3-6, responded: "It's an improved capability that supports Soldiers on the ground as they execute the various missions that we assign them. Nothing is stove-piped now. We now have the ability to share across multiple levels." Until now, aviators, working with Soldiers on the ground, have been using manned-unmanned teaming, "but doing it with friction points because they were never in the same unit," Garcia said. For instance, a Shadow unit in a brigade combat team might be in the same forward operating base somewhere and they'd go over to the aviators and say "we'll connect you to our Shadows. Let's do this," and they'd make it so, he said. "They've been building this synergy themselves, but for different commanders," Garcia continued. However, "sometimes that tasking wouldn't support them working together" and operating through two chains of command. This formal arrangement removes these "friction points," he said. GREATER LETHALITY Lethality doesn't always mean capability to fire missiles. Shadow v2 extends situational awareness across the battlefield, not only for the Soldiers on the ground, but also for the Apache pilots, Garcia said. The situational awareness, he said, includes the ability of Shadow v2 to "transmit live, real-time, full-motion video to multiple people across the battlefield." That situational awareness, he added, extends from mission command at the highest levels all the way down to the tactical level, meaning Soldiers on the ground. Burgess added that the Apache pilot gains greater situational awareness through the eyes and sensors on the Shadow v2, which affords him or her greater standoff range. Security was a top priority when Shadow v2 was designed, he said. The Tactical Common Data Link provides Type I encryption so adversaries cannot see the data being streamed or take control of the UAS. GROUND CONTROL Both the Shadow v2 and the Gray Eagle UAS can fly off the Universal Ground Control Station, or UGCS, which Burgess called "the centerpiece of Army UAS." This enables the AH-64E pilot a considerable level of operability with the UAS system, up to level four. Lt. Col. Ed Vedder explained in an interview last year the various levels of control and how manned-unmanned teaming works. His 1st Infantry Division battalion was the first to demonstrate teaming between AH-64Es and Gray Eagles. While the Apaches have pilots in the cockpit, the UASs are piloted by Soldiers -- usually enlisted -- on the ground in universal ground control stations, he said. If a request is made by an Apache pilot to take temporary control of the UAV or UAVs, that can happen, Vedder continued, but if or when it's done, it's normally for just a brief period of time. Both UAS and Apache pilots train together and work together so the handoff and hand-back of control is seamless, he said. "It's very intuitive" for an Apache pilot to fly a UAS," Vedder said. The pilot just "draws up some wave points then asks for level four control. "Once he gives you that authority you can send that aircraft down a route, select intelligence, speed, orbit, and when it hits a checkpoint, you can say 'I'm going to look at this grid' and a sensor will do that, he explained." The rest of time, the pilot is operating his Apache," Vedder said. "It's not as complicated as it may seem. It's a powerful capability." Ground operators do so well flying the UAS that Apache pilots will usually just let them operate them, he said, adding that the relationship established between them is excellent. When Vedder spoke of level four, he was referring to the Apache pilot's level of interoperability, or LOI, over the UAV. While the ground operator always has all five levels of control, the Apache pilot can request a particular level. LOI one is indirect receipt of UAV payload data, meaning not much interaction; LOI two is when the pilot has direct receipt of UAV payload data and is in direct communication with the UAV; LOI three is where the Apache pilot can actually fire a UAV missile; LOI four turns flight control over to the Apache pilot; and LOI five covers the full spectrum of flight, including launch and recovery. LOOKING FORWARD & BACK Garcia said he takes great pride in his unit, commenting that "we're the first Apache battalion to convert to the heavy attack reconnaissance squadron. We were also the first unit to field Apaches in the 1980s." In May 2014, Garcia's Soldiers conducted "a successful operational test" with the Apache-Shadow v2, held as part of Network Integration Evaluation 14.2. That's significant, he said, because the same Soldiers doing the testing are now doing the manned-unmanned teaming. Operators, maintainers and leadership are currently undergoing final training on the new system. That training is projected to be completed by the end of May 2015, he said. Burgess noted that "we are finally getting to the point where we can field two to three [Shadow v2] systems a month to the entire U.S. Army, including the combat aviation brigades." The next units to be equipped with the Shadow v2 are the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade this summer and the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade by the end of fiscal year 2016, he said. Garcia said: "We continue to improve on [tactics, techniques and procedures]. As Soldiers go through Shadow v2 training they will apply lessons learned and share those lessons with other Soldiers who will be making the same transition in the future." He concluded: "Within the history of manned-unmanned teaming, the Shadow and the Apache have had an incredible combat record. This merging is really about the Soldier on the ground. We're much more efficient, lethal and effective. We're going to build on the great things that Soldiers across multiple organizations within the U.S. Army have done to be better." -ends-
23/03/2015

First Production QF-16 Aerial Target Delivered

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- The first Air Force Lot 1 production QF-16 touched down here March 11. The aircraft fulfills the first of 13 deliveries to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron. This is the first production QF-16 aircraft to be delivered off of the Drone Peculiar Equipment production line. "Today culminates five years of hard work and dedication beginning with a development program, completing a rigorous test and evaluation phase that has ultimately led to the first operational delivery of the QF-16," said Michele Hafers, director, test and training division at Eglin AFB. "We take great pride in this significant team achievement and are honored to provide the warfighter with this enhanced capability." The QF-16 will replace the legacy QF-4 aerial target as the next generation representative aerial target, with missions that encompass manned combat training profiles and unmanned live-fire threat scenarios here and Holloman AFB, N.M. The 82nd ATRS is a geographically separated unit of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin AFB. -ends-
20/03/2015

USAF Funds Research for Remotely Piloted Aircraft

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio --- Although the development of remotely piloted aircraft began in the 1950s, they are increasingly used by both military and commercial customers and provide a promising new chapter in the history of aviation. As the technology’s potential grows, so does the need for technologies that provide enhanced situational awareness for the aircraft operator and improved safety while operating during military operations. The Department of Defense is developing an airborne sense-and-avoid (SAA) capability to improve the agility of remotely piloted aircraft and allow them to make autonomous collision avoidance maneuvers. These aircraft support the Air Force’s global mission, and work in this technology area assists the Federal Aviation Administration in verifying and validating minimum operation standards for air traffic control of these systems so that they can be safely integrated into the National Airspace System. The Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program office is providing nearly $1.5 million to develop and mature technologies that support the SAA program, focusing on electro-optical sensors for detecting and tracking potential obstacles. Research conducted by Defense Research Associates, Inc., a veteran-owned small business located in Beavercreek, Ohio, is expected to uncover other technologies that will improve SAA systems and prepare them for transition to engineering and manufacturing development and initial low-rate production. In addition to the SBIR funding, this program leverages more than $2 million in additional funding from the Airborne Sense and Avoid program, managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. These funds will help ensure the Phase II effort graduates into a Phase III program that successfully transitions its technologies into military or private sectors. The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs are mission-oriented programs that integrate the needs and requirements of the Air Force through research and development topics that have military and commercial potential. The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development (R&D) through small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities. Since 2006, the Commercialization Readiness Program has directly linked Air Force centers to Air Force Research Laboratory technical points of contact to identify and evaluate Air Force needs and innovative solutions. Its primary objective is to accelerate the transition of SBIR/STTR-developed technologies into real-world military and commercial applications. The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs provide more than $300 million in funding for research and development activities by small businesses annually. With this budget, the Air Force funds research from the early stages of concept development until it transitions to military or commercial use. -ends-
17/03/2015

ACLU Files Suit Over Targeted Killings By Drone

Targeted killings have been a central part of U.S. national security strategy for more than a decade, but the American public still knows scandalously little about who the government kills, and why. Today we're filing a new lawsuit in our continuing fight to fix that. The CIA and the military use drones to target suspected "militants," "insurgents," and "terrorists" in at least half a dozen countries. American drone strikes have killed thousands of people abroad, many of them children. The program has engendered pervasive fear and anger against the United States in countries where the attacks frequently occur. Our government's deliberative and premeditated killings – and the many more civilian deaths from the strikes – raise profound legal and ethical questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. The Obama administration has made numerous promises of greater transparency and oversight on drones. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to make lethal targeting "more transparent to the American people and the world" because "in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we're doing things the right way." But the administration has failed to follow through on these commitments to openness, and it is continuing to withhold basic information­. When it has released anything – or been compelled to by lawsuits – discussion of crucial aspects of the program have been omitted or redacted. This lack of transparency makes the public reliant on the government's self-serving and sometimes false representations about the targeted-killing program. That's why today the ACLU filed a new lawsuit to enforce a Freedom of Information Act request asking for basic information on the program, including records on how the government picks targets, before-the-fact assessments of potential civilian casualties, and "after-action" investigations into who was actually killed. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full statement, with links, on the ACLU website. -ends-
17/03/2015

US Army Orders 19 Gray Eagle UAVs

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $132,660,931 modification (P00022) to contract W58RGZ-13-C-0109 to acquire 19 Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, 19 SATCOM Air Data Terminals, one lot of initial spares, and one lot of ground support equipment . Fiscal 2014 other procurement (Army) funds in the amount of $132,660,931 were obligated at the time of the award. Estimated completion date is May 31, 2017. Work will be performed in Poway, California. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity. -ends-

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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-
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-