The Sea Hunter autonomous unmanned vessel will undergo a series of operational tests with a crew onboard to observe and monitor, and if these are successful it will undertake autonomous missions in the Pacific. (ONR photo)

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28/06/2016

Insitu Wins US Coast Guard UAB+V Services Contract

BINGEN, Wash. --- Insitu will provide unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) services via ScanEagle aboard one Coast Guard National Security Cutter (NSC) with three, one-year options following a contract award announcement this week. The Coast Guard procured the necessary services through a pre-existing multiple award contract executed by the Naval Air Systems Command and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. The initial $4.5-million task order includes operation, integration, maintenance and sparing of a contractor-owned sUAS on one NSC for one year. The task order has a total potential value of $12.3 million that includes options for deployment of and data from prototype sUAS capability for up to three additional years beyond the base year. The Coast Guard will have full ownership of the surveillance data obtained. The Coast Guard has conducted years of operational demonstrations involving UAS, including ScanEagle. The most recent demonstration utilizing ScanEagle was a multi-partner simulated search and rescue exercise conducted over the Northwest Passage in July 2015. In addition to demonstrating how ScanEagle can maximize the effectiveness of USCG vessels, the exercise also showcased the platform's ability to conduct seamless, concurrent aviation operations with manned aircraft. During a separate demonstration in partnership with the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BERTHOLF in May 2013, ScanEagle operations spanning nine days yielded two interdictions resulting in the seizure of more than 600 kilograms of cocaine and six detainees who were later prosecuted. Additional operational demonstrations for the Coast Guard over the last several years have proven ScanEagle as the go-to solution that maximizes the effectiveness of the National Security Cutter for an array of missions spanning from marine protection to drug interdictions and search and rescue operations. "Insitu is proud to be the first UAS ISR service provider in support of the Coast Guard," said Ryan M. Hartman, Insitu's president and CEO. "ScanEagle's unparalleled record of operations at sea and proven ability to give operators eyes over the horizon will go far in support of the Coast Guard's unique mission sets." Insitu is an industry-leading provider of information for superior decision making. With offices in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, the company creates and supports unmanned systems and software technology that deliver end-to-end solutions for collecting, processing and disseminating superior information. We proudly serve the diverse needs of our global customers in the military, commercial and civil industries. To date, our systems have accumulated more than 880,000 flight hours and 109,000 sorties. Insitu is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company. -ends-
23/06/2016

Triton UAV Demos New Capabilities In Latest Trials

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. --– The Navy recently demonstrated two key capabilities for the Triton Unmanned Air System (UAS) program that will enhance future fleet operations. During a flight test June 2, an MQ-4C Triton and P-8A Poseidon successfully exchanged full motion video for the first time inflight via a Common Data Link (CDL), marking another interoperability step for the program. The test demonstrated Triton’s ability to track a target with its electro-optical/infrared camera to build situational awareness for a distant P-8 aircrew. “In an operational environment, this would enable the P-8 aircrew to become familiar with a contact of interest and surrounding vessels well in advance of the aircraft’s arrival in station” said Cmdr. Daniel Papp, Triton integrated program team lead. The MQ-4C Triton's ability to perform persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance within a range of 2,000 nautical miles will allow the P-8A aircraft to focus on their core missions. Last week also marked the completion of Triton’s first heavyweight flight that will expand Triton’s estimated time on station significantly. Triton operated in the 20,000 foot altitude band in the heavy weight configuration for the first time and completed all test objectives. A second heavy weight flight on June 14 had Triton operating in the 30,000 foot altitude band. “The heavy weight envelope expansion work will enable Triton to realize its long dwell capability and become the unblinking eye for the fleet,” Papp added. Triton is designed to fly missions of up to 24 hours at altitudes over 10 miles high, allowing the system to monitor two million square miles of ocean and littoral areas at a time. Since its first flight in 2013, Triton has flown more than 455 flight hours. The Navy will continue testing Triton at Patuxent River to prepare for its first planned deployment in 2018. -ends-
23/06/2016

India Formally Requests Predator Guardian Drones

WASHINGTON --- India is seeking acquisition of American-sourced multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to perform maritime patrol and surveillance duties in its littoral and blue-water spheres. The drones are seen as a necessary complement to the P-8I Neptune maritime patrol aircraft coming online with the Indian Navy as an element that will help in conducting maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions from a high altitude and with a long endurance operational cycle. The model drone sought by India is the multi-mission Predator B (or Guardian) from U.S.-based General Atomics. It is capable of flying at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, loitering for over 24 hours and monitoring small object movements on a real time basis. India's letter of request (LOR) to the U.S. - which is a step precipitating a government-to-government foreign military sale (FMS) - comes shortly after the country was inducted into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary grouping committed to ensuring the non-proliferation of unmanned systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. This was a necessary step for India's Predator B acquisition request, which should be fast-tracked now that the country has been recognized under Major Defense Partner status by the Obama administration. -ends-
22/06/2016

Northrop Wins $203M for Global Hawk Support

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. - Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, San Diego, California, has been awarded a $203,559,743 modification (P00034) to exercise the option on previously awarded contract FA8528-15-C-0003 for Global Hawk contractor logistic services and sustainment. Contractor will provide additional material and services to include planning, operations support, and maintenance support. Work will be performed at San Diego, California, and is expected to be complete by June 30, 2017. Fiscal 2016 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $68,855,210 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, is the contracting activity. -ends-
21/06/2016

First-Ever MQ-9 Participation In USAF Virtual Exercise

ELLSWORTH AFB, S.D. --- The 432nd Attack Squadron achieved another remotely piloted aircraft first last month by using an MQ-9 Reaper flight simulator in Virtual Flag, the Air Force's largest virtual warfighting exercise. The 432nd ATKS -- an Air Combat Command tenant unit located at Ellsworth Air Force Base -- has been flying combat air patrols since the squadron was formed in 2012. In previous exercises, MQ-9 crews had to travel to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, where the exercise is hosted and used a generic computer to participate. But through a ground-up effort, the 432nd ATKS was able to build and test a new capability to join these exercises from home station using a realistic MQ-9 cockpit. "For 15 years, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 units in the Air Force have not been able to fully participate in one of the main training venues of the Air Force and the other services. Today we've solved that problem," said Lt. Col. Matt Martin, who initiated the project. "Every other weapons system in the Air Force has had this ability for years, and they use it to conduct complex, joint training at a fraction of the cost of live flights. But, because the MQ-1/9 enterprise has been flying nonstop combat missions since 9/11, we're only just now catching up." Called distributed mission operations, the new capability gives the 432nd ATKS the ability to connect its flight simulator to potentially hundreds of other simulators via a global network. The participants can then conduct combat training that simulates highly complex missions and prepare for future wars. According to Lt. Col. David Henshaw, the 432nd Operations Group deputy commander at Creech AFB, Nevada, the achievement is the product of hard work. "This is a great example of innovation at the unit level to solve urgent problems when we have limited budgets and constrained resources," Henshaw said. "With the help of the 28th Bomb Wing, and some groundbreaking work being done by an Army lab in Huntsville, Alabama, called the Joint Simulation Integration Laboratory, the 432nd was able to achieve this using existing resources. We hope to spread this capability to the rest of the MQ-1/9 fleet." The flight simulator provides the squadron with the ability to take part in complex, realistic exercises where they are able to work with live forward air controllers, aircrews from other aircraft, and different command centers, added Capt. Andrew, an MQ-9 pilot who participated in the exercise. "We can connect all our simulators and get great training," he continued. "It's a game changer for us." Stated on the Kirtland AFB website, the Virtual Flag exercises are currently the only exercise to train full-spectrum Theatre Air Control System warfighters from start to finish, and warfighter focused events. "One of our missions in the 28th Communications Squadron is to support the 432nd so they can conduct 24/7 combat operations," said Staff Sgt. Kelby Rossmiller, the 28th CS's lead communications technician on the project. "But they've always had a real challenge getting the training they needed. So when we found out we could help close that gap, we were eager to put in the extra hours and make it happen." Now, with innovative efforts from Airmen at multiple levels, 432nd ATKS aircrews are able to participate in this training. -ends-
20/06/2016

Northrop Wins New Contract for Darpa’s TERN Program

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Aerospace Systems, El Segundo, California, has been awarded a $17,773,859 modification (P00003) to previously awarded other transaction for prototype project agreement HR0011-16-9-0003 for additional tasks under Phase III of the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (Tern) program. The Tern program is to design, develop, and demonstrate enabling technologies and system attributes for a medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle and shipboard-capable launch and recovery system allowing operations from smaller ships. Phase III focuses on the design, fabrication, and testing of a prototype Tern Demonstration System (TDS). The additional tasks awarded under the modification include the fabrication, assembly, and checkout of a second Tern TDS Air Vehicle (AV-2). As a result of this modification, the total amount of the agreement is increased by $17,773,859, from $132,473,192 to $150,247,051. Correspondingly, the estimated government funding for the agreement is increased by $16,748,000, from $93,076,636 to $109,824,636; and the Northrop Grumman cost share is increased by $1,025,859, from $39,396,556 to $40,422,415. Work will be performed in El Segundo, California (35 percent); Mojave, California (50 percent); East Aurora, New York (9 percent); and Benbrook, Texas (6 percent), with an estimated completion date of December 2018. Fiscal 2015 and 2016 research and development funds in the amount of $11,784,812 are being obligated at time of award. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, located in Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity. -ends-
20/06/2016

Global Hawk UAV Gets Innovative ISR Payload Adapter

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio --- Using a cooperative research and development agreement, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, partnering with Northrop Grumman and Air Combat Command, has developed an innovative solution to the tricky problem of how to connect existing and future information gathering sensor capabilities, not currently designed for the Block 30 RQ-4 Global Hawk high altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft system, to link with the airframe system. Through the agreement, the ISR payload adapter was conceived and flown within seven months. "The IPA allows the RQ-4 to adapt and go beyond its current sensor capabilities. An example is the recent successful flight, for the first time ever, of an Air Force legacy system, the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System-2 (SYERS-2) intelligence gathering sensor, on the Global Hawk," said Col. Darien Hammett, the Global Hawk program director. "This flexibility permits us to communicate to potential future interested vendors how to physically and electronically connect sensor platforms to the Global Hawk -- allowing adaptability in payloads, increased range and the achievement of the highest National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale available. With the development of the IPA, our Block 30 airframes will gain further capability in supporting future and current information gathering sensor systems availability." The current Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft is capable of carrying systems such as the Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite, Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload. These electro-optical, infrared, radar, and signals intelligence sensors enable remotely piloted aircraft to detect movements, assist with humanitarian operations, and find the enemy. Increasingly, current and future military RPAs use multi-intelligence sensor payloads to perform those missions. As the demand for capability increases and component technology proliferates it is very important that sensor information payloads be adaptable and flexible in design to allow increased ability and option of choices. With the success of the SYERS-2 flight, there are now plans to demonstrate the optical bar camera sensor, and fully integrate the next generation UTC Aerospace Systems MS-177 on the Global Hawk. "The IPA allows vendors to use some or all of the 17 physical attachment points on the IPA, know how much power is available, and make crucial data exchanges with the aircraft. Basically everything needed to design, build and mount a sensor on a Global Hawk," Hammett said. "Opening up the architecture of the air system will provide added sensor technology opportunities through increased competition, which is our goal." -ends-
20/06/2016

Qatar to Step Up Military Security with Its Own Drone Technology

To help protect its coastal borders, Qatar is planning to further develop its own drone technology, a defense official has said. According to the Gulf Times, General Khalid bin Ahmad Al Kuwari, director of the Qatar Armed Forces’ Reconnaissance and Surveillance Center (RSC), said the remote-controlled aircraft would help boost the country’s security. “The use of drones is going to be very important, as it is in any country,” he said. The official spoke following the signing of a five-year research agreement between RSC and Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) in “drone technology in defense, industry and commerce,” interim dean Dr. Ann Kenimer said. Made in Qatar The deal follows remarks from Qatar’s defense minister earlier this year, who said that plans to build drones locally were at an “advanced stage” and that the devices could hit the market by next year. Speaking at the fifth Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition & Conference (DIMDEX) in March, Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah said the country has been working on a drone production project with Germany, as part of efforts to extend Qatar’s defenses. In recent years, Qatar has made several international deals for aerial vehicles, their parts and their technology. At DIMDEX, the government signed an MOU with Polish firm WKK to manufacture and produce drone parts for Qatar’s armed forces. The agreement included WKK providing “support in the field of aircraft manufacturing and technology transfer to Qatar,” QNA reported at the time, and followed Qatar’s purchase of a 51 percent stake in the company. The QR32.58 billion worth of deals signed at the biennial defense expo also included a QR460.5 million agreement with US-based Aurora for drone sensor integration and QR365 million worth of drones from German company Reiner Stemme Utility Air-Systems. Airspace protection During yesterday’s signing, Al Kuwari said plans were also underway to draft a “space management concept” for Qatar’s airspace. The aim is to avoid situations like the closure of Dubai International Airport for more than an hour last weekend due to unauthorized use of a drone. “It is not a big issue, but we have to take care of it. Drones can sometimes be disturbing,” Al Kuwari reportedly said. Drone owners who wish to fly their craft must first get government approval, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced last month. The CAA added that the use of drones has always been “prohibited” without the agency’s prior authorization. The reminder came more than a year after the aviation authority said it was drafting new rules to regulate the use of drones. -ends-
17/06/2016

Safran Unveils Innovative Robotic Vehicle Concept

Placed right in the middle of the Safran stand at Eurosatory (June 13-17, 2016), the eRider robotic vehicle fully reflects Safran's research and innovation strategy. The eRider project is being unveiled at this leading defense trade show, and calls on Safran Electronics & Defense's strong technology heritage, with expertise in the architecture of complex systems, onboard electronics, optronics, inertial systems, mission planning and secure communications/C2 systems. Following in the wake of drones, land robots are becoming an operational reality. Looking ahead, they will provide an even more decisive advantage in terms of intelligence, support and logistics. Safran, the European leader in tactical drones, has the core competencies needed to meet this new challenge. In 2013, it teamed up with the French auto parts giant Valeo to develop tomorrow's mobility solutions. The autonomous eRider robot is one of the results of this teamwork. eRider: an optionally driven robot, inspired by the Patroller drone eRider is in fact a four-wheel drive, hybrid vehicle in the light strike vehicle class, with multi-mission capability and reconfigurability (2 seat or 4 seat). Highly maneuverable and featuring low observability, the eRider can be conventionally driven, but it also has the intrinsic capabilities needed to carry out missions with partial or total autonomy. Safran's Research & Technology (R&T) teams called on their multiple skills, most represented at Eurosatory, to develop this new project. A comprehensive systems approach is used, encompassing equipment for autonomous operation and missions, leading to a rationalized, robust and cost-effective architecture that fits a wide range of platforms and also has major links with the auto market. Thierry Dupoux, head of R&T at Safran Electronics & Defense, explains: "The technologies offered by Safran Electronics & Defense are pivotal to autonomous mobility and our company's business sectors. Since we already understand and apply all critical functions, land robots give us a new market opportunity, and the partnerships we have already formed will allow us to capitalize on cross-sector synergies, while leveraging a number of dual technologies. "Safran Electronics & Defense wants to use the eRider concept to show the concrete advantages of autonomous platforms and functions deployed by armed forces, in particular by analyzing the improvement in operational efficiency and the benefits of not exposing soldiers to avoidable danger. This innovative approach, based on a driven vehicle, should considerably shrink the logistics footprint and the cognitive workload on the platform, making it possible to gradually introduce autonomy functions. The overall systems approach being proposed should significantly improve continuity between mounted and dismounted infantry (as heralded by the FELIN system and vehicles in the Scorpion program, while paving the way to real collaborative actions. "It's also worth noting that this project uses the same approach as the Patroller program, meaning the ‘dronization' of a piloted platform, which incorporates the critical mobility and mission functions offered by Safran Electronics & Defense. From the production standpoint, we could draw a parallel with the Patroller Cluster consortium. On the eRider, we have partnerships not only with major corporations like PSA and Valeo, but also with innovative small businesses, as well as academia, especially the Ecole de Mines engineering school. The dual technologies involved fall within the scope of the road map for the autonomous civil vehicle and military land robotics, which entail their own restrictions that impact the design." An in-depth analysis of operational requirements Of course, all that still leaves the central question of how to deploy a new-generation robot in a theater of operations. The link between technologies and troop expectations is therefore a key to the design approach used by Safran. "Any new system concept must be the result of an ongoing dialog with our partners – French defense procurement agency DGA and the armed forces – to offer mature, robust and competitive solutions that perfectly meet their operational requirements," says Thierry Dupoux. "Our eRider project must therefore provide concrete inputs, and above all build up the experience that is needed for tomorrow's programs. The current generation of robots is dedicated to specific missions, and most are still remotely controlled. “Safran is not seeking to replace these products; we are using a complementary approach, inspired by the auto industry, which entails the rational and gradual introduction of autonomy functions. This approach can be applied to any modern transport, intelligence or combat platform." -ends-
15/06/2016

Raytheon UK, MILREM Unveil Autonomous IED Detection System

EUROSATORY, PARIS --- Raytheon UK and Milrem are today unveiling a world-leading IED detection platform during Eurosatory, the defence industry exhibition. This platform features THeMIS, an unmanned vehicle developed by Milrem and the GroundEye sensor system developed by Raytheon UK. The joint product can be seen in the Estonian pavilion (Hall 5: Stand no. J521). The THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) is the first fully modular hybrid unmanned ground vehicle in the world and with a payload of 750kg, the vehicle can be used for a wide variety of applications, including as a C-IED (Counter Improvised Explosive Device) platform. GroundEye is a new development in IED detection bringing the ability to confirm and diagnose buried threats. It is unique in offering a real-time imaging technology that can show the size, shape and orientation of explosive ordnance threats, including emplaced IED’s, without disturbing the ground. It is independent of any physical attributes of the emplaced device and is equally effective against targets that contain high, low or zero metal content. An autonomous UGV such as THeMIS is an ideal vehicle for the deployment of GroundEye. “GroundEye offers a solution to the confirm and diagnose capability gap experienced on explosive ordnance and IED clearance operations”, said Andy Gibson, head of Land Systems, Defence, Raytheon UK: “It is a significant step forward in manoeuvre support capability allowing for the maintenance of momentum and reducing unnecessary dismounted exposure. The system can be used in several forms and is platform agnostic. We are delighted to be integrated onto Milrem’s flexible and multi-purpose unmanned ground vehicle as a demonstration of this capability. “Detecting and disarming IED’s is a natural role for unmanned vehicles. With its innovative modular and flexible approach, THeMis makes it possible to use the same UGV platform for multiple purposes,” explains Kuldar Väärsi, Milrem Chief Executive Officer. “We are thrilled to work with Raytheon to integrate THeMIS with highly accurate, real-time imaging technology from GroundEye, bringing IED detection capabilities to a whole new level.” Milrem unveiled the THeMIS platform in London during DSEI 2015. In February 2016 a new version of the THeMIS was introduced that featured the ADDER remote weapon station made by Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd. The joint product THeMIS ADDER was shown at the Singapore Airshow where it earned strong reviews for its modular concept. Other military uses include as an armed tactical defence weapon, remote reconnaissance platform, medevac vehicle and supply delivery device. Milrem has successfully conducted initial running tests for the THeMIS prototype, and THeMIS will be ready for production by the end of this year. Raytheon UK is a subsidiary of Raytheon Company. It is a prime contractor and major supplier to the UK Ministry of Defence and has developed strong capabilities in mission systems integration in defence, national security and commercial markets. Raytheon UK also designs, develops and manufactures a range of high-technology electronic systems and software at facilities in Harlow, Glenrothes, Gloucester, Waddington and Broughton. Milrem AS is an Estonian defence solutions provider specialising in military engineering, repairing and maintenance. Established in 2013, Milrem’s mission is to be a reliable partner in the defence and security sector to offer flexible product development solutions and integrated life cycle support for defence equipment. The two main lines of activities are the research and development of unmanned vehicles, and repair maintenance of heavy duty military vehicles. Milrem is a member of Estonian Defence Industry Association. -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-