The French Navy has demonstrated its future SLAMF minehunting system, consisting of an unmanned boat (USV) capable of deploying AUVs (yellow drone visible here) to detect, classify and locate naval mines and another to destroy them. (DGA photo)

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17/07/2019

US Navy Releases RFP for Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle

WASHINGTON --- The Navy released a request for proposals (RFP) to industry for the development of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), July 16. The MUSV will be a pier-launched, self-deploying modular, open architecture surface vehicle capable of autonomous navigation and mission execution. The development RFP contains options for additional USVs. A full and open competitive procurement will take place in fiscal year (FY) 2019. Accelerating Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and payload development and warfighting integration will provide an inflection point in delivering a more distributed force in support of the National Defense Strategy. The Navy plans to award a contract for a single MUSV prototype in the first quarter of FY20. The Navy released a draft MUSV performance specification Feb. 5 and conducted an MUSV Industry Day Feb. 12-13. Through months of dialogue with industry, the Navy has incorporated feedback that informed the RFP released today. -ends-
17/07/2019

Northrop to Demonstrate Robotic Manufacturing in Space

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. --- Made In Space (MIS) has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a subcontract to support NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) demonstration of the autonomous robotic manufacturing and assembly platform, Archinaut, on a flight mission. The flight demonstration contract award marks the second phase of the NASA-funded Archinaut technology development program which was initially awarded in 2016. “Demonstrating additive manufacturing in space will open up new doors in the design and construction of space structures that to date have been limited by the volume of a launch vehicle,” said Richard Stapp, vice president, resiliency and rapid prototyping, Northrop Grumman. “Effectively building structures in space is one of the next big steps in our continuous journey of space exploration.” The objective of Archinaut’s flight demonstration mission is to construct two 10 meter solar arrays, on orbit, to power a small satellite. The Archinaut system will be integrated into an ESPA class satellite bus and launched into space. Once on orbit, Archinaut will employ its extended structure additive manufacturing capabilities and advanced robotics to manufacture and assemble the satellite’s power generation system. The Archinaut-created solar array will yield nearly five times the power currently available to ESPA-class satellites. Archinaut’s flight demo mission will demonstrate transformative, near-term benefits for the satellite industry. Robust small satellite power systems manufactured on-orbit, would reduce launch mass and cost by allowing small satellites to host power-intensive payloads previously reserved for larger platforms. These benefits could drastically lower the barrier of entry for new users and revolutionize satellite design. This flight demonstration contract award follows a successful ground-based testing campaign of Archinaut’s core additive manufacturing and robotic assembly technologies, qualifying the Archinaut platform for spaceflight. Northrop Grumman supported phase 1 of Archinaut development by hosting thermal vacuum testing at Space Park in California. This testing marked a critical milestone in the Archinaut program to validate the technology readiness of Archinaut’s system for the space environment. Northrop Grumman’s resiliency and rapid prototyping program leveraged its extensive engineering expertise in avionics and systems integration during the first phase of the program. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in autonomous systems, cyber, C4ISR, space, strike, and logistics and modernization to customers worldwide. -ends-
16/07/2019

General Atomics Wins $275M for UAV Comms Links

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $275,000,000 hybrid (cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price) contract for aircraft, satellite communications air data terminals, universal ground data terminals, program management, and equipment maintenance and repair. Bids were solicited via the internet with one received. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of July 30, 2021. Fiscal 2017, 2018 and 2019 aircraft procurement, Army funds in the amount of $275,000,000 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity (W58RGZ-19-C-0022). -ends-
16/07/2019

Indra Unveils New System to Counter Next-Gen Drones

MADRID --- Indra has revealed the strategy that will protect critical infrastructures, airports, official buildings and public events from the ever-increasing threat that the next generation of drones will bring. The popularity and, accessibility of these aircraft continues to grow. The systems will also have increasingly advanced range, navigation and loading capabilities. To counter them "the rapid and constant development of anti-drone systems is necessary, a pace that only few companies in the world like Indra will be able to match," the company explained last week in the specialized event Countering Drones in London, attended by leading European technology, regulatory bodies and end users. Indra leads this market with the ARMS system, a mature technology that it has already supplied for military use, making Indra one of the leading companies in this field. Incidents such as those experienced at the Gatwick and Heathrow airports have highlighted the losses in the millions that can be incurred by the mere presence of such aircraft, either by pilot error or with hostile or illicit intent. For Indra, the strategy to follow to defend any space must be based on three basic principles: adaptation to the specific needs of the environment being protected; integration and combined use of different sensors and countermeasures; and redundant use of sensors in terms of both number and location. This will be the way to deal with increasingly intelligent and autonomous drones, which can swarm and make coordinated attacks. To counteract them, there must be surveillance systems capable of detecting and identifying small drones. These systems must cope with different strategies of deception, concealment or even jamming that specialized attackers can develop. The anti-drone systems must identify their type fast, even the drone model, and classify it as a friendly or enemy model. They will incorporate highly targeted and effective soft countermeasures, something especially important for their use at airports to avoid interfering with radar and electronic systems, including their own aircraft. The collaboration of governments, security forces and operators, regulators, system manufacturers and researchers will be essential. The regulatory framework must clarify who can use an anti-drone system, under what conditions and to what extent. The procedures to be followed in each scenario must be agreed upon depending on the type of threat. The company paid special attention in its analysis to the case of airports, in which the anti-drone system will have to be integrated with air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned aircraft management (UTM) systems to discriminate the authorized ones from those which may constitute a real threat. The countermeasures that are used in this environment must be especially precise so as not to affect security or interrupt the service. In the military environment, the same applies to its integrated use with air defense systems. Indra is one of the few companies in the world that masters all the technologies involved in the development of anti-drone systems. It is one of the leading manufacturers of radar and air defense systems in the world, it also leads the development of electronic defense systems, sensors of all kinds, communications and it develops its own drones. It is also one of the main suppliers of ATM systems, with projects delivered in 160 countries and which has the Indra Air Drone solution for UTM management. Indra is one of the leading global technology and consulting companies, and the technology partner for key operations of its customers’ businesses around the world. In the 2018 financial year, Indra achieved revenue of €3,104 billion, with 43,000 employees, a local presence in 46 countries and business operations in over 140 countries. -ends-
15/07/2019

Leonardo’s Falco EVO Drone Used by Frontex to Monitor Irregular Migration

ROME --- On the 20th June, Leonardo’s Falco EVO tactical remotely-piloted aerial system played a key role in monitoring a case involving irregular migrants in the Mediterranean Sea as part of monitoring activities of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. In an operation launched from the Italian island of Lampedusa, the Falco EVO worked with other Frontex assets to identify a “mothership” trawler as 81 illegal migrants were transferred to smaller boats, a technique increasingly used by criminal organisations. Following the transfer, the Falco EVO’s surveillance payloads kept a close eye on the trawler until an enforcement operation was launched by Italian authorities to seize the boat. The Falco EVO system deployed at Lampedusa Airport has already flown for more than 280 hours on behalf of Frontex, with one mission on the 26th June clocking in at 17 hours and 21 minutes. This extra-long mission came about when Frontex received a request from the Italian Authorities to help monitor two boats in the Lampedusa area. Close collaboration between ENAV, ENAC, AST Lampedusa, the Italian Guardia di Finanza (customs police) and Leonardo allowed the mission finish time to be extended by two hours to 24:00 so that the Falco EVO could support the interception. The Falco EVO has been deployed at Lampedusa Airport since December 2018 as part of multipurpose aerial surveillance provided by Frontex. Flights are planned in coordination with the Guardia di Finanza and the Italian Ministry of the Interior and carried out by Leonardo, which owns and operates the Falco EVO under a service arrangement. ENAC, Italy’s national agency for civil aviation, ENAV, the company managing Italy’s civil air traffic, and Lampedusa Airport operator AST Aeroservizi also support the operations. In its configuration for the Frontex mission, the Falco EVO is equipped with an advanced suite of sensors including the Company’s Gabbiano TS Ultra-Light radar, which is suitable for long range missions during the day and at night. The Falco EVO is operated and maintained by Leonardo crews. -ends-
12/07/2019

Upgraded Bradleys to Operate with Armed Robotic Vehicles

AUSTIN, Texas --- Soldiers are slated to fire at targets next year using a platoon of robotic combat vehicles they will control from the back of modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The monthlong operational test is scheduled to begin in March at Fort Carson, Colorado, and will provide input to the Combat Capabilities Development Command's Ground Vehicle Systems Center on where to go next with autonomous vehicles. The upgraded Bradleys, called Mission Enabler Technologies-Demonstrators, or MET-Ds, have cutting-edge features such as a remote turret for the 25 mm main gun, 360-degree situational awareness cameras and enhanced crew stations with touchscreens. Initial testing will include two MET-Ds and four robotic combat vehicles on M113 surrogate platforms. Each MET-D will have a driver and gunner as well as four Soldiers in its rear, who will conduct platoon-level maneuvers with two surrogate vehicles that fire 7.62 mm machine guns. "We've never had Soldiers operate MET-Ds before," said David Centeno Jr., chief of the center's Emerging Capabilities Office. "We're asking them to utilize the vehicles in a way that's never been done before." After the tests, the center and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, both part of Army Futures Command, will then use Soldier feedback to improve the vehicles for future test phases. "You learn a lot," Centeno said at the International Armored Vehicles USA conference on June 26. "You learn how they use it. They may end up using it in ways we never even thought of." The vehicles are experimental prototypes and are not meant to be fielded, but could influence other programs of record by demonstrating technology derived from ongoing development efforts. "This technology is not only to remain in the RCV portfolio, but also legacy efforts as well," said Maj. Cory Wallace, robotic combat vehicle lead for the NGCV CFT. One goal for the autonomous vehicles is to discover how to penetrate an adversary's anti-access/aerial denial capabilities without putting Soldiers in danger. The vehicles, Centeno said, will eventually have third-generation forward-looking infrared kits with a target range of at least 14 kilometers. "You're exposing forces to enemy fire, whether that be artillery, direct fire," he said. "So, we have to find ways to penetrate that bubble, attrit their systems and allow for freedom of air and ground maneuver. These platforms buy us some of that, by giving us standoff." PHASE II, III In late fiscal year 2021, Soldiers will again play a role in Phase II testing as the vehicles conduct company-level maneuvers. This time, experiments are slated to incorporate six MET-Ds and the same four M113 surrogates, in addition to four light and four medium surrogate robotic combat vehicles, which industry will provide. Before these tests, a light infantry unit plans to experiment with the RCV light surrogate vehicles in Eastern Europe next May. "The intent of this is to see how an RCV light integrates into a light infantry formation and performs reconnaissance and security tasks as well as supports dismounted infantry operations," Wallace said at the conference. Soldier testing for Phase III is slated to take place mid-fiscal 2023 with the same number of MET-Ds and M113 surrogate vehicles, but will instead have four medium and four heavy purpose-built RCVs. "This is the first demonstration which we will be out of the surrogate realm and fielding purpose builts," Wallace said, adding the vehicles will conduct a combined arms breach. The major said he was impressed with how quickly Soldiers learned to control the RCVs during the Robotic Combined Arms Breach Demonstration in May at the Yakima Training Center in Washington. "Soldiers have demonstrated an intuitive ability to master controlling RCVs much faster than what we thought," he said. "The feedback from the Soldiers was that after two days they felt comfortable operating the system." There are still ongoing efforts to offload some tasks in operating RVCs to artificial intelligence in order to reduce the cognitive burden on Soldiers. "This is not how we're used to fighting," Centeno said. "We're asking a lot. We're putting a lot of sensors, putting a lot of data in the hands of Soldiers. We want to see how that impacts them. We want to see how it degrades or increases their performance." The family of RCVs include three variants. Army officials envision the light version to be transportable by rotary wing. The medium variant would be able to fit onto a C-130 aircraft, and the heavy variant would fit onto a C-17 aircraft. Both future and legacy armored platforms, such as the forthcoming Mobile Protected Firepower "light tank," could influence the development of the RCV heavy. With no human operators inside it, the heavy RCV can provide the lethality associated with armored combat vehicles in a much smaller form. Plainly speaking, without a crew, the RCV heavy requires less armor and can dedicate space and power to support modular mission payloads or hybrid electric drive batteries, Wallace said. Ultimately, the autonomous vehicles will aim to keep Soldiers safe. "An RCV reduces risk," Wallace said. "It does so by expanding the geometry of the battlefield so that before the threat makes contact with the first human element, it has to make contact with the robots. "That, in turn, gives commanders additional space and time to make decisions." -ends-
11/07/2019

France’s DGA Demos Minehunting Drone in Brest Harbor

The unmanned surface vehicle (USV) of the SLAMF program (Système de Lutte Anti-Mines Futur, or future mine counter-measures system) carried out a demonstration of its capabilities in Brest harbor on June 6, 2019. A demonstration carried out with the assistance of DGA Naval Techniques which set out work out the exercise mines. Developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom initiated in 2010 as part of the Lancaster House agreement, SLAMF will renew France’s mine warfare capabilities in the next decade. The launch of the prototype took place just over two years ago, to prepare for the implementation phase to begin in 2020. The SLAMF system includes a remote-controlled robot (ROV) to identify and neutralize mines, three underwater drones (AUV) and a surface drone (USV) equipped with a towed sonar to detect, classify and locate (DCL) the mines. It is the latter, the surface drone, which was demonstrated in the harbor of Brest. Under the watchful eyes of the French, British and Occar delegations, gathered at the command & control (C2) center, the AUV surface drone was tasked to demonstrate its ability to perform its DCL duties. Once in the operations area, the USV deployed its towed sonar which was able to transmit the sonar images in real time to the C2 operator. Challenge identified: the binomial operator-USV has detected, classified and located in record time all the different kinds of exercise mines deployed by DGA Naval Techniques. Note that a variant of the ROV, immersed in a pool with a mine placed at the bottom of the basin, was also performed during this day to demonstrate on the one hand the maneuverability of the vehicle, and on the other hand to unveil the imaging capabilities of its approach sonar and the video imaging of its onboard camera. At the end of this sequence, the delegations went to the naval base to observe the USV at pierside. They were able to board and observe the compactness of this sophisticated equipment. The qualification review of SLAMF is scheduled for December 2019. By then, the components of the system must have been individually validated. This supposes a heavy schedule: in particular, the qualification of the DCL functions with the AUV must take place in August, that of the ROV neutralization subsystem in October and those of the DCL functions of the USV in November. From 2020, tests will be conducted on operational scenarios in the Brest area and in Great Britain to complete this qualification. -ends-
09/07/2019

MQ-8C Fire Scout Achieves Initial Operational Capability

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. --- The Navy declared initial operational capability of the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter June 28 clearing the way for fleet operations and training. The MQ-8 Fire Scout is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that is designed to provide reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces. “This milestone is a culmination of several years of hard work and dedication from our joint government and industry team,” said Capt. Eric Soderberg, Fire Scout program manager. “We are excited to get this enhanced capability out to the fleet.” The MQ-8C variant is an endurance and payload upgrade to its predecessor, the MQ-8B, offering up to twelve hours on station depending on payload, and incorporates the commercial Bell 407 airframe. The Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout complements the manned MH-60 helicopter by extending the range and endurance of ship-based operations. It provides unique situational awareness and precision target support for the Navy. The MQ-8C has flown over 1,500 hours with more than 700 sorties to date. Over the next few years, Northrop Grumman will continue MQ-8C production deliveries to the Navy to complete a total of 38 aircraft. The MQ-8C will be equipped with an upgraded radar that allows for a larger field of view and a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator (GMTI). It will deploy with LCS in fiscal year 2021 while the MQ-8B conducts operations aboard LCS in 5th and 7th Fleets. -ends-
09/07/2019

Shenyang Previews Flying Wing Stealth Drone

Chinese aircraft carrier-based fighter jet manufacturer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation can fly flying-wing stealth drones for future aircraft carriers, military experts said, after the company provided a glimpse of the aircraft. To mark the 50th anniversary of Shenyang J-8's maiden flight, which was on Friday, the company, under the state-owned Aviation Industry of China (AVIC), released a promotional video highlighting past achievements and providing a look into the future. In the latter part of the video, which turned from real life documentary to computer generated images, a stealth drone featuring a flying wing design was shown operating on an aircraft carrier. The drone seems large, as its landing gear is as tall as a person, the video showed. This was also part of an AVIC promotional video first shown at Airshow China in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province in November 2018. But military observers at that time said that video was considered highly conceptual so they did not relate it to an actual aircraft by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The company has rich experience in designing ship-based aircraft and is also capable of developing flying wing aircraft, so people are looking forward to seeing the drone turn into reality, a Chinese military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times. The company developed China's first aircraft carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15. The company also reportedly designed the Sharp Sword flying wing stealth drone. The anonymous expert said that aircraft carrier-based drones can be used in land attacks, aerial refueling and intelligence gathering missions. A flying wing design provides advantages like high stealth capabilities and high lift-drag ratio under subsonic cruising, the expert said, noting that other countries are also developing flying wing drones, including the US' X-47B and MQ-25. Chinese military enthusiasts are also interested in China's next-generation manned aircraft on carriers, with reports saying the company's made-for-export FC-31 stealth fighter jet might be modified and become an option. When asked about the latest development of the FC-31 at an anniversary event on Thursday, Sun Cong, the fighter jet's chief designer, said jokingly, "No news is good news," according to an article published in AVIC's WeChat account on Saturday. -ends-
03/07/2019

Russian UAVs Among Top 20 Foreign Buyers’ Preferences

Over 300 presentations and live demonstrations of Russian military hardware were organized by the delegation of Rosoboronexport (part of the Rostec State Corporation) for foreign partners from over 40 countries at the Army 2019 International Military and Technical Forum in Kubinka near Moscow. “In a situation when the organizers of a number of foreign defense exhibitions are trying to restrict the ability to promote Russian military hardware, we invite foreign guests and open up new opportunities for cooperation. Today, the Army 2019 Forum is one of the largest venues in the country, where modern Russian weapons, military and special equipment are exhibited and the issues of strengthening international military and military-technical cooperation are discussed. “At this year’s forum, we showcased a record 1000+ items of military hardware and invited delegations from more than 100 countries, more than 30 of which were headed by defense ministers, their deputies and chiefs of general staffs. Interest in the forum from representatives of foreign countries is growing from year to year. We continue to expand the geography of our deliveries, sign new contracts," said Sergey Chemezov, CEO of the Rostec State Corporation. In 2019, the list of the top 20 items in demand among foreign experts who visited the Rosoboronexport stand at the Army Forum includes: -- equipment and armament of the land forces –T-90 series MBT, Tigr and Typhoon-K wheeled armored vehicles, Kornet-EM anti-tank missile system, Kalashnikov assault rifles; -- equipment and armament of the air defense forces – Viking and Tor-E2 SAM systems, Pantsir-S1air defense missile/gun system; -- unmanned aircraft systems – Orlan-10E and Tachyon multi-purpose UAV systems, Repellent UAV jamming system. "The Army 2019 Forum demonstrates that Russia’s arms exporters are able to sustain the sanctions blow launched by Western competitors, without losing the momentum gained and successfully adapting to a changing world order, including through a transition to settlements in national currencies for arms delivered. We annually supply around $13 billion worth of equipment and weapons to other countries through Rosoboronexport alone, and the company's current order book stands at $52 billion. In addition, by the end of 2019, we will not only complete the implementation of a number of existing contracts, but will also sign new ones for the export of aircraft, air defense assets and other hardware," said Alexander Mikheev, Director General of Rosoboronexport. In addition, foreign partners have shown an earnest interest in the entire range of Russian aircraft and helicopters, as well as aircraft weapons. Demonstration flights of Russian stunt pilots on MiG-29, Su-30SM, Su-35 and Yak-130 aircraft, as well as flights of Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters were organized for foreign delegations at Kubinka Airfield. The largest number of presentations and demonstrations were carried out by Rosoboronexport experts for delegations from the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States. On the basis of field firing results, Rosoboronexport signed a series of contracts with foreign customers for the supply of Russian small arms and close combat weapons. Two events organized jointly by Rosoboronexport and the Institute of State and Law of the Russian Academy of Sciences were held at the Army 2019 Forum within its scientific and business program: the conference titled "Military-Technical Cooperation – New Approaches to Legal Regulation in a Changing World Order" and the round table "Technology Transfer in the Field of Military-Technical Cooperation". "Without a regular exchange of experience and a comprehensive analysis of current trends in the legal regulation of such a sensitive area as military-technical cooperation, it is impossible to effectively meet new challenges and threats that are continuously emerging on the initiative of competitors. Only systemic and proactive protection of the interests of Russian actors engaged in military-technical cooperation is the key to future victories in the international arms market. “Russia will continue to fight against unfair competition, including counterfeit and clone Russian military products that are uncontrollably sold on the world market by a number of Eastern European countries," said Alexander Mikheev, Director General of Rosoboronexport. An agreement on the legal protection and commercial exploitation of the results of intellectual activity in the process of military-technical cooperation was signed with the Kalashnikov Concern on the sidelines of the forum. Earlier, similar agreements were signed with the United Aircraft Corporation, Russian Helicopters and Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation. In 2019, Rosoboronexport was the General Sponsor of the Army Forum. The foreign guests invited by Rosoboronexport noted the excellent organization of the forum, primarily a rich program of business events and outdoor live demonstrations of the capabilities of Russian military equipment and weapons at the Alabino Proving Ground. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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09/05/2018

Will New US Drone Export Policy Hurt the Countries that Buy Them?

There’s a theory that, behind all the curtains and cacophony, that President Trump is a genius. “When Donald Trump described himself as a `very stable genius’, even some of his supporters sniggered,” Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times shortly after the president made the claim in January. “But Mr. Trump has a legitimate claim to three other kinds of `genius’: political genius, instinctive genius and evil genius.” Let’s examine the evidence: The economy is humming, the Islamic State is on the run in Iraq and Syria, and North Korea is on the verge—again!—of pledging to end its nuclear-weapons program. You might want to add to that list his administration’s recent decision to loosen rules on the export of U.S. military drones. “Evil genius,” indeed. Narrow-minded “experts” (here’s looking at me!) have expressed concern that peddling such weapons around the globe isn’t such a good idea. But, tongue perhaps in cheek, the argument can be made that Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration around the planet. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. Spread enough of them around the globe and you’d help ensure U.S. military superiority into the wild blue yonder. Military drones crash much more frequently than military airplanes. Last month, Defense News reported that the U.S. Army, far better trained than most others around the world, has suffered hundreds of drone crashes in recent years. “Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons,” the Washington Post said in 2014. More than 400 of the Pentagon’s 10,000 drones have crashed, the paper added. “Several military drones,” it noted, “have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again.” Talk about the ultimate in stealth aircraft, requiring repeated purchases. Fiendish! Add to that the fact that drones, despite the public perception, are not a cheap way to field an air force. The Air Force, for example, is spending more than $13 billion on MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drones. Winslow Wheeler, a veteran of defense-budget wars on Capitol Hill and the Government Accountability Office (and the former head of our own Center for Defense Information), crunched budget data several years ago to try to compare the cost of Reapers with piloted warplanes. His takeaway: the drone costs at least twice as much to buy, and fly, as warplanes like the F-16 fighter or A-10 attack plane. “Much of those higher costs are driven by the infrastructure needed to operate Reaper, which has an extensive infrastructure on the ground: the Ground Control Stations, satellite link, and the local control unit for take offs and landings,” he concluded. “Most of this support is not analogous to manned aircraft.” Trump, in pushing to seed the world with war-fighting drones, may be sowing fields of military frustration worldwide. That’s because, despite of all their gee-whizzedness, drones actually cost a lot, crash a lot, and kill innocent civilians a lot. For every “pilot” actually flying a drone, there’s a sensor operator eyeballing what it is seeing in real time, and firing its weapons. There are dozens of maintainers on the ground, keeping the drones flying at remote bases, and keeping their ground stations humming far below, and sometimes far away. Most critically, there are scores of intelligence analysts required to wring from the drones’ deluge of video the scraps of actionable intelligence that is the aircrafts’ reason for being. Drones’ tendency to crash also drives up their cost, both for a drone fleet and for the military supporting it. “The rapid rise in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) employment has been accompanied by increased attention to their high mishap rates which are several orders of magnitude greater than manned aviation,” an Air Force study notes. “Such high rates have negative implications for UAV affordability and mission availability.” Imagine that: foreign nations may have to cut their troops’ rations and bullets to keep their American-made drones airborne. Diabolical! Finally, there are the moral and legal issues associated with using drones against terrorists and the resulting civilian deaths that inevitably occur. The U.S. military is building drones bases around the world and harnessing artificial intelligence to improve the chances that its drones will kill the right people. But those strategies require huge investments that few nations can afford. That means that U.S. drones sold to foreign militaries are likely to kill even more civilians than U.S.-operated drones. An independent outside monitor, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, estimates that U.S. drones strikes have killed as many as 1,569 civilians, including 337 kids. That’s roughly 10 to 15 percent of the total deaths. But the emphasis needs to be on the “roughly”. No one, including the government pulling the trigger, can offer up anything but a crude guess of innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes…is much greater than the average American appreciates,” Stan McChrystal, who ran the war in Afghanistan, said in 2013 once he was out of his U.S. Army general’s uniform. “They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” And drones have other complications that have been on display recently: the White House simply ignored a May 1 deadline, set by President Obama in a 2016 executive order, that requires an annual accounting of U.S.-caused drone killings. The same day, a federal judge questioned the authority of the U.S. to kill Americans abroad, usually via drones. Such vexing issues could tie up at least some punctilious foreign forces eager to try out their new weapons. Nefarious! Drones have a place in warfare, especially when trying to hunt down and kill terrorists. Unlike piloted aircraft, they can loiter far longer than manned aircraft over a suspected lair, looking for “patterns of life” that pinpoint bad guys and lead to their demise with a missile trigger pulled from thousands of miles away. They represent perhaps the Pentagon’s key post-9/11 innovation. "It just clicked: that if we could put a small weapon on this thing, we could do the entire cycle—find a target, kill it and assess it—from the same vehicle," John Jumper, who as an Air Force general is regarded as the godfather of the armed drone, told me shortly after 9/11. But we also have to remember that breakthrough military technologies rarely perform as advertised and have unintended consequences. Some, like manned aircraft, missiles and submarines have been “good” for war-fighting (whatever that means). Others, like aircraft carriers, may be fading into history as their utility is threatened by increasingly sophisticated missiles and subs. Take the atom, for instance, which had been ignored as a weapon until World War II broke out. Splitting it was designed to assure U.S. military pre-eminence, but that lasted only until the Soviet Union came up with its own A-bomb four years later. Then there was the boneheaded U.S. Army Davy Crockett battlefield nuclear weapon and harebrained U.S. Air Force schemes to develop nuclear-powered warplanes. The most deadly threats to U.S. security today are atomic arms, whether owned by Russia or China, Iran or North Korea. Nuclear weapons, in some ways, have become more trouble than they’re worth. Trump is unlikely to get the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the threat of atomic war on the Korean peninsula, as South Korean president Moon Jae-in of South Korea suggested April 30. But just maybe he’ll pocket it for his devilishly-clever “drones for peace” campaign. -ends-
17/04/2018

The US Navy’s Combat Drone Becomes a Flying Gas Station

When it comes to technology, the Pentagon is always pushing for more—more reach, more destruction, more dollars. That’s what makes the Navy’s quest for its first-ever aircraft-carrier-based drone unusual: what started out as a push for an unmanned attack drone evolved into a more modest goal of a spy drone, before surrendering to simplicity and deciding the drone’s mission would be to supply fuel to thirsty, and manned, Navy fighters. In the vast reaches of the world’s oceans, boosting your attack planes’ range by about 50 percent, to 700 miles or so, may not seem like much (it’s 6,000 miles from San Francisco to Beijing, after all). But if this aerial robot refueler can keep the Navy’s crown jewels—its aircraft carriers—beyond the reach of China’s land-based DF-21 carrier-killing missiles, it’s worth its weight in gold. That, in a nutshell, is why the Navy wants to buy pilotless MQ-25 aerial tankers. The tale of the MQ-25 Stingray tells us a lot about risk, and how much the U.S. Navy and the Pentagon are willing to take these days. It illuminates the basic challenge of military technology: leapfrog everybody else, with all the risk that entails? Or take the easier path, and risk being left behind? To put it gently, not all naval experts agree with the Navy’s choice. “We don’t need a mission tanker,” says Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain who now directs the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “We need an aircraft that can launch from outside the enemy’s weapons range and hit enemy targets.” Perhaps. But for those in the Navy who like the status quo, emasculating the drone does three critical things: -- It gives the Navy’s notoriously short-range F-18s the ability to fly deeper into harm’s way, helping to preserve their utility. -- It allows the Navy’s carriers to stay beyond a foe’s anti-ship missiles, prolonging their life, too. -- Finally, declawing the drone removes a threat to continued Navy funding for its manned F-18 and F-35 fighters, as well as an F-18 successor dubbed the F/A-XX. The Navy’s carrier-based warplanes find themselves in a bit of a pickle. About one of every four carrier-based F-18s is now burning through flight hours serving as a Rube Goldberg tanker for the other three. It’s kind of like dedicating that Tesla roadster in your driveway to ferrying gasoline in those little red plastic tanks for your riding lawnmower. This “buddy tanking” is wearing out F-18s well ahead of schedule, and removing those F-18 tankers from the carrier’s offensive punch. The only aerial tankers the Navy has to extend the range of its F-18 fighters are other F-18 fighters. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James R. Evans) While the Navy says the non-stealthy MQ-25 will eventually have minor spy-and-strike capabilities, that’s more of a sop to those bean-counters who fetishize multi-mission weapons (which is what the “M” in MQ-25 stands for; the “Q” stands for unmanned). The Navy plans to train pilots from its F-18s, F-35s and other aircraft to control the drones from the carriers. Beyond extending the F-18s’ range, they’ll be used to refuel returning fighters as they await their turn to land on their sometimes-congested flattops (because when they run out of gas, the pilot bails out and Davy Jones’ hangar gains a fine example of American technology). Three companies are vying for the contract—Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed—and the Navy hopes to pick a winner later this year. It wants to spend $719 million developing the MQ-25 in 2019, but says it can’t predict the total cost of its goal of 72 MQ-25s until it selects a contractor (informal estimates are around $100 million each, or $7.2 billion for the entire buy). The drone is slated to begin operating in the fleet in 2026. The Navy’s drone history is long and convoluted. The service launched its pilotless program in 1999, with help from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This Navy-Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, which flew for the first time in 2003, was designed to designate targets for follow-on piloted aircraft to attack. But then the Pentagon ordered the Navy and DARPA to work with the Air Force to develop the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program, which called for drones to attack targets deep inside hostile territory. But the Defense Department scrapped that program in 2006. It told a happy Air Force to develop a new manned bomber instead. The Navy was ordered to “develop an unmanned longer-range carrier-based aircraft capable of being air-refueled to provide greater standoff capability, to expand payload and launch options, and to increase naval reach and persistence.” That became the Navy Unmanned Combat Air System, which led to the nifty Northrop X-47B, which made a series of historic carrier takeoffs and landings in 2013. But the Pentagon killed that program in 2016 after spending $1.4 billion on it because of—get this—a lack of money. A pair of former Pentagon officials said the decision represented “strategic malpractice of the highest order.” So the Navy began developing the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system—UCLASS—which was intended to be a spy drone for friendly skies. But two years ago it trimmed its sails on even that scaled-back mission, switching its efforts to the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System. That has become the program now known as the MQ-25 Stingray. Northrop, with all of that X-47B drone cred under its belt, bailed out of the MQ-25 competition last fall, apparently after it concluded that its X-47B couldn’t be efficiently retooled into the more modest flying filling station. “Despite 15 years of research and development…and clear guidance from the Secretary of Defense and Congress, the Navy is reluctant to embrace the innovation that a fully-capable unmanned strike aircraft could bring to naval forces,” a pair of Air Force procurement officials has written. The sea service, they added, “needs a much stronger internal [drone] advocate to lead the program through development and initial operational capability if the aircraft carrier is to avoid obsolescence in the coming decades.” The Air Force, of course, is not a disinterested observer when it comes to the future of aircraft carriers. Its boosters tend to think land-based Air Force warplanes make more sense. But, not surprisingly, they’re not alone in their assessment of the future of aircraft carriers. The Chinese are keen to modify their carrier-killing DF-21 missile so that it can be launched from a land-based bomber. If they can do it, the Chinese could emasculate the U.S. Navy’s carrier fleet overnight, with or without MQ-25s aboard. -ends-
28/07/2017

Autonomous Military Drones: No Longer Science Fiction

The possibility of life-or-death decisions someday being taken by machines not under the direct control of humans needs to be taken seriously. Over the last few years we have seen a rapid development in the field of drone technology, with an ever-increasing degree of autonomy. While no approved autonomous drone systems are operational, as far as we know, the technology is being tested and developed. Some see the new opportunities and potential benefits of using autonomous drones, others consider the development and use of such technology as inherently immoral. Influential people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak have already urged a ban on warfare using autonomous weapons or artificial intelligence. So, where do we stand, and what are the main legal and ethical issues? Towards autonomous drones As yet, there is no agreed or legal definition of the term "autonomous drones". Industry uses the “autonomy” label extensively, as it gives an impression of very modern and advanced technology. However, several nations have a more stringent definition of what should be called autonomous drones, for example, the United Kingdom describes them as “…capable of understanding higher level intent and direction” (UK MoD, The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 2011). Generally, most military and aviation authorities call unmanned aerial vehicles "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" (RPAs) to stress that they fly under the direct control of human operators. Most people would probably understand the concept of “autonomous drones” as something sophisticated, for instance, drones that can act based on their own choice of options (what is commonly defined as "system initiative" and "full autonomy" in military terminology). Such drones are programmed with a large number of alternative responses to the different challenges they may meet in performing their mission. This is not science fiction – the technology is largely developed though, to our knowledge, no approved autonomous drone systems are yet operational. The limiting factor is not the technology but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology, which would allow lethal machines to operate without being under the direct control of humans. One of the greatest challenges for the development and approval of aircraft with such technology is that it is extremely difficult to develop satisfactory validation systems, which would ensure that the technology is safe and acts like humans would. In practice, such sophisticated drones would involve programming for an incredible number of combinations of alternative courses of action, making it impossible to verify and test them to the level we are used to for manned aircraft. There are also those who think of autonomy meaning ”artificial intelligence” – systems that learn and even self-develop possible courses of action to new challenges. We have no knowledge that we are close to a breakthrough on such technology, but many fear that we actually might be. Autonomous drones – meaning advanced drones programmed with algorithms for countless human-defined courses of action to meet emerging challenges – are already being tested by a number of civilian universities and military research institutions. We see testing of “swarms of drones” (drones which follow and take tasks from other drones) that, of course, are entirely dependent on autonomous processing. We also see testing of autonomous drones that operate with manned aircraft, all from what the US Air Force calls (unmanned) "Loyal Wingman" aircraft, to the already well tested Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system of Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned TRITON aircraft. We also see the further development of unmanned systems to be dispatched from manned aircraft, to work independently or in extension of the “mother aircraft”, for instance, the recently tested PERDIX nano drones, of which 100 drones were dropped from a F-18 “mother aircraft”. Such drones would necessarily operate with a high degree of autonomy. These many developments and aspirations are well described in, for example, the US planning document USAF RPA Vector - Vision and Enabling Concepts 2013-2038 published in 2014, and other documentation and even videos of such research are widely available. The prospects of autonomous technology, be it flying drones, underwater vehicles or other lethal weapon systems, clearly bring new opportunities for military forces. In the case of flying aircraft, we have learned that there are long lead times in educating pilots and operators. One of the greatest changes that will come from the development of autonomous drones is that military forces in the (near) future could develop great fighting power in much shorter timeframes than previously. It is important to note – and many have – that creating the infrastructure and educating ground crew for operating drones is no cheaper or easier than it is to educate aircrew. However, once in place, the drone crew and operation centres would be able to operate large numbers of drones. Similarly, legacy manned aircraft would be at the centre of a local combat or intelligence system extended with drones serving, for example, in supportive roles for jamming, as weapons-delivery platforms or as a system of multi-sensor platforms. Moving beyond the past limitations of one pilot flying one aircraft or one crew flying one drone to a situation where one crew could control large amounts of drones would quite simply be groundbreaking. These perspectives for new types of high-tech weapon systems – and the fears they raise – are the background for the research we conducted on autonomous drones and weapon systems. It is almost impossible to assess when these technologies will become widespread – this will depend on the situation and the need of states. However, the technologies are becoming available and are maturing and we would argue that the difficult discussions on legal and ethical challenges should be dealt with sooner, rather than later. The legal perspectives General rules apply but it is not that simple Autonomous drones, if and when they are used during armed conflict, would be subject to the general principles and rules of the Law of Armed Conflict. In this respect, autonomous drones are not to be distinguished from any other weapons, weapon systems or weapon platforms. As with any “means of warfare”, autonomous drones must only be directed at lawful targets (military objectives and combatants) and attacks must not be expected to cause excessive collateral damage. (end of excerpt) Click here for the full story, on the NATO website. -ends-
04/05/2017

Russia Works to Restore Positions In Drone Development

Unmanned aviation is a dynamically developing industry of modern aircraft construction. Technical and technological achievements boosted the design of new systems. At present drones are engaged by many armies of the world and used in armed conflicts. Our country used to have considerable achievements in the sphere and now works to restore its positions, expert Denis Fedutinov writes in the official blog of the United Aircraft Corporation. MOSCOW --- The former Soviet Union enjoyed a major experience in drone development also in the tactical class. Until recently the Russian army had old Strizh and Reis systems developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau yet in the 1970s and the Stroi-P complex with remote controlled Pchela craft designed by Kulon Research Institute and the Yakovlev bureau in late 1980s. Unfortunately, the economic plight of the transition period in the 1990s stalled the work. The initial pace was lost as a result, the designs got obsolete, the existing technical and scientific experience in the sphere was lost and the country began to considerably lag behind leading foreign producers. The interest in drones revived in Russia in mid-2000s mostly due to the effort of private companies which initiated some steps to create mostly small-class craft. The Russian defense ministry kept displaying little interest in drones for some years. The guideline was however supported by law enforcement agencies - the interior ministry, the Federal Security Service (including the Border Service) and the emergencies ministry. In early and mid-2000s the orders of the defense ministry for the design of domestic drones were very modest. The latest system in the arsenal of the Russian military was tactical Stroi-P with remote controlled Pchela craft designed at the end of the Soviet epoch. In the 1990s the system became morally outdated. In early 2000s the Kulon Institute of the Vega Concern upgraded the complex to Stroi-PD version. The Rybinsk-based Luch Design Bureau of the Vega designed another tactical Tipchak craft. As in the case of Stroi-PD the funds were appropriated mostly for R&D. The Vega Concern and the defense ministry signed a contract for the delivery of one such complex a year which was an absolutely symbolic action. Problems caused by the absence of modern reconnaissance and surveillance drones were exposed by the 2008 situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The defense ministry tried to engage available drones but none of them was capable of fulfilling the mission. The Russian troops were actually blinded. In contrast the Georgian military efficiently engaged the drones bought from the Israeli Elbit Systems Company. As for Stroi-PD, it took off with the use of powder boosters which exposed the launch site. The flight itself could not be stealthy because of the noisy two-stroke engine. The Russian military also complained about the noisy Tipchak tactical drone designed by Vega. It was created in the Luch Design Bureau in Rybinsk. Former Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said the drone was engaged in the operation in South Ossetia and performed poorly. Besides noise problems, the quality of reconnaissance data was low because of the line TV camera which failed to produce images corresponding to modern requirements. Besides, there were also problems with friend-or-foe system. The developments around the conflict with Georgia became the threshold which made the Russian defense ministry urgently take measures to rectify the stagnant situation with modern drones for the national armed forces. Initially foreign designs were purchased, as well as available systems of domestic companies. R&D to create perspective craft was launched. The first step was the purchase of drones from Israel which is the world leader in the sphere and then an additional batch of drones was assembled in Russia. Plans to buy Israeli drones were first voiced in November 2008 by General Chief-of-Staff Nikolai Makarov. As a result, the defense ministry acquired short-range Bird-Eye 400 and medium-range Searcher Mk II of the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI). According to the contract signed in 2011, the drones were assembled in Russia by the UZGA Works in Yekaterinburg under Zastava and Forpost brands correspondingly. Major modernization and localization of tactical Forpost production is being considered. The drone is to get some domestically-produced systems, including a secured communications line and state system of identification, as well as GLONASS-based navigational system, radio-technical reconnaissance and data transmission devices, digital aerial survey system and lateral visibility radar. (ends)
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