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)

Breaking News

see all items

Press Releases

see all items


Team Flies UAV, Manned Aircraft Into Spanish Airport

-- This exercise is one of the first experiences of flying drones in a conventional airport carried out in Europe -- Instrument landing procedures by satellite navigation for drones were validated -- The ARIADNA project, led by Indra and integrated by FADA-CATEC, ENAIRE, and CRIDA, is part of the SESAR program, which is the future technological pillar of the Single European Sky MADRID --- The European ARIADNA consortium led by Indra and integrated by CRIDA, ENAIRE and Fada-Catec has completed the first simultaneous flight tests in a conventional airport of a drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS/UAS) in the presence of a manned aircraft. This is one of the first flying experiences undertaken in Europe for a drone to be able to operate in the area of the traffic of a conventional airdrome. The European ARIADNA project thus allows further progress in integrating these aircrafts in non-segregated airspace, i.e. in the same space used by manned aircrafts Additionally, success in tests is a very important step for the members of the ARIADNA project, which are positioned at the forefront in the area of research and development for integration these aircrafts in the air traffic control environment. The flight program was held at the ATLAS Experimental Flight Center, located in Villacarrillo (Jaen). This center has an associated airspace that can be segregated for such operations. The exercises were carried out in two distinct phases. In the first, a drone, called Viewer, flew executing various maneuvers on the airfield while the Indra MRI P2006T manned aircraft operated simultaneously. A controller supervised the operation, as you would do in a real situation, giving separation instructions to the aircrafts. The drone's remote pilot, which monitors the aircraft from the ground at all times, had the position data of both aircrafts provided by an ADS-B receptor, thus improving situational awareness of traffic in the area. Another drone was used in the second phase of flights — the unmanned helicopter Logo— with which the feasibility of instrumental approach and landing procedures with vertical guidance based on satellite navigation was validated. The ability of these aircrafts to operate at an airport under the same conditions as other aircrafts was thus demonstrated. Leading R&D in Europe The ARIADNA project has been developed by a consortium of companies and institutions in the Spanish aeronautical sector, composed of Indra as coordinator and industrial partner of RPAs; ENAIRE as manager of Air Navigation in Spain; CRIDA, as a research center in air traffic management; and FADA-CATEC, as a research center and RPAs operator. The project is one of several demonstrations co-funded by the SESAR Joint Undertaking aimed at safely integrating drones into the European ATM system. SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) was set up to modernise and harmonise ATM systems through the definition, development and deployment of innovative technological and operational solutions. Established in 2007, the SESAR Joint Undertaking (SJU) is a public-private partnership which pools the knowledge and resources of the entire ATM community in order to define, research, develop and validate SESAR Solutions. Founded by the European Union and Eurocontrol, the SJU currently has 15 members who together with their partners and affiliate associations represent over 80 companies working in Europe and beyond. The SESAR JU also works closely with staff associations, regulators, airport operators, and the scientific community. In 2014, the SESAR Deployment Manager (SDM), comprised of air navigation service providers, airlines and the SESAR-related Deployment Airport Operators Group (SDAG), coordinates the implementation of the EU’s Pilot Common Project, the first set of SESAR Solutions to be deployed in a synchronised and timely manner across Europe. -ends-

Royal Australian Navy Completes Scan Eagle Trial in HMAS Choules

Navy's Unmanned Aircraft System Unit achieved a significant milestone in late March, completing the first of class flight trial for the ScanEagle. The fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system which sends video and telemetry to its control station in near real time to fulfil its primary roles of surveillance and reconnaissance. It can be configured with various sensors and propulsion modules and has an operating range of up to 200km and endurance in excess of 12 hours. The Aviation Maintenance and Flight Trails Unit conducted the trial onboard HMAS Choules, assessing all facets of unmanned aircraft systems operation in an embarked setting. ScanEagle Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Commander Matt Hyam said the trial validated the systems operating limits and allowed personnel to gain their maritime qualifications. “Over the two weeks on Choules, ScanEagle conducted 26.1 hours of embarked flight operations during the trial, spread amongst eight sorties," he said. "This allowed us to validate operating limits for Choules and gather information to inform to future acquisition projects." The unmanned aircraft system consists of a mission control station, catapult launcher, recovery system and multiple unmanned aircraft. The standard Navy crew model is an air vehicle operator, mission commander and ground crew. In what marks a significant change in the Fleet Air Arm, the unmanned aircraft is ‘flown’ by non-commissioned crew, with airspace and mission control provided by aircrew officers. “Small tactical unmanned aircraft systems will have a key role in the future fleet and provide products to end users such as Principal Warfare Officers that will enhance the maritime operating picture without risking high value assets and personnel in manned aircraft,” Lieutenant Commander Hyam said. “The trial is the culmination of two years of experimentation and is a significant step forward for Navy.” -ends-

US Army Tests High Energy Laser In Exercise

WASHINGTON --- Last month, the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command proved again how effective the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck is at destroying unmanned aerial vehicles, quad-copters and even laptops with just a blast of concentrated light. "It completely destroyed the laptops," said Adam Aberle, the High Energy Laser technology development and demonstration lead for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, or USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center. "It melts all the plastic, fractures the screen, and basically renders the laptop unusable." The HELMTT includes a 10-kilowatt laser -- equivalent to about 10 million handheld laser pointers -- a beam control system, acquisition and tracking sensors, and other supporting equipment, mounted on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT. The system is designed to track incoming threats, such as rockets, artillery, cruise missiles, UAVs, and even threats on the ground, and then destroy them with a laser, rather than with kinetic munitions. For the first time, that system went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to participate in the April 11-19 "Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment" there. The MFIX was hosted by the Fort Sill Fires Center of Excellence Battle Lab. For the HELMTT and the USASMDC/ARSTRAT team responsible for its development, participation in the MFIX demonstrated its ability to integrate with other military equipment and be an effective weapon system during a combat situation, said Aberle. We were able "to simulate a kind of battlefield command and control network, and ... demonstrate the interconnectivity of all these emerging systems and capabilities with the goal of looking at what could be done for the Army of 2025. "It really was a beginning-to-end experiment, from the standpoint of detecting and identifying potential threat targets by a sensor, giving that information to an Army command center, making the assessment that there are threats in the air or threats on the ground, and handing that information over to a weapons system." At the MFIX, Aberle said, the HELMTT performed as expected and caught the attention of exercise participants as well, not just for its performance, but also because it was the first time that Fort Sill had seen or had a high energy laser system on one of its ranges. "HELMTT's performance out there against the targets presented was excellent," Aberle said. "We shot down a large number of UAVs and quad-copters. Soldiers were impressed. There were lots of comments like 'I didn't know you could do this with a laser.'" During the MFIX, the HELMTT also destroyed a laptop computer as a demonstration of how the system might be used to disable enemy command and control systems, Aberle said. TWO CUPS OF DIESEL Aberle said the HELMTT is meant to provide a weapons system to Soldiers that requires less logistics support than a kinetic weapons system, and is less costly to operate. With a laser, Aberle said, Soldiers have virtually unlimited rounds to fire at incoming targets -- rounds that don't need to be replaced by the next convoy that comes in. The laser just needs electrical power. And that power is provided by the HELMTT's onboard diesel generator. "The real benefit is that you a have a large number of engagements you can conduct," he said. "You can store the power, so you have a large number of those [engagements] that can happen. And the logistics to support the engagement is easy. It just requires diesel fuel to power a generator that is onboard on the platform. The real benefit when you look at it from the 'big Army' perspective is that those engagements are very cheap to do. To do an engagement of a target is really two cups of diesel fuel. That's all the cost associated to negate an unmanned air vehicle, a rocket, artillery, or mortar threat. It's a cheap engagement." BIGGER LASERS, CLOUDS Aberle said that one challenge for the HELMTT system is the weather, and mitigating the effects of differing atmospheric conditions on how the laser is able to disable a target. For that reason, and others, he said he doesn't see HELMTT as a replacement for kinetic systems. "We view a laser weapons system as something that is complementary to a kinetic energy or gun system," he said. Aberle said his team aims to put a more powerful laser on the system to make it more effective. But he also said that Soldiers want to see it mounted on a smaller platform -- something like a Stryker or on one of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles platforms. "We need more power," he said. "We have to integrate higher power lasers. But we also have to make them smaller and more efficient to make them fit on platforms that are maneuverable with the force of the future. We received feedback: can you put it on a smaller vehicle to move with a maneuver force? That's really the challenge for us." Next year, he said, they will replace the 10kW laser with a 60kW laser. USASMDC/ARSTRAT has also worked with two industry partners to mount a 2kW laser on a Stryker vehicle. That's called a Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser, or Stryker MEHEL. -ends-

France Kicks Off Production of Army’s Sagem Patroller UAV

On the occasion of his visit the Sagem (Safran group) facility in Montluçon, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attended the formalization of the production contract for the Système de Drones Tactiques (SDT) by the Deputy Director-General of the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) and the CEO of Safran. This contract calls for the delivery of two operational systems for the French Army, each composed of 5 Patroller optionally-piloted aircraft, 2 ground stations for monitoring and control of UAVs, and related communications equipment. It also includes the acquisition of four air vehicles and two ground stations for training, in France, and the acquisition of in-service support. Finally, it also includes operational maintenance for a period of 12 years. This equipment will replace the interim tactical UAV systems (Système de Drones Tactiques Interimaires, SDTI), in operation since 2004 with the 61st artillery regiment stationed in Chaumont. The SDT program meets the operational needs of the Army by providing enhanced performance in terms of endurance, quality of images produced and logistics footprint, as well as a more effective search capability obtained by a multi-sensor approach. The SDT will be able to simultaneously carrying two payloads (initially, optical / infrared / laser and radar, with an electronic warfare package replacing the radar at some future point). To implement the program, Safran will be supported by the "Cluster Patroller," a grouping of mainly French high technology SMEs, which will bring decisive technological building blocks for the airframe performance and the mission chain. The aircraft is a partnership with the German company Ecarys (Stemme), a renowned manufacturer in the field of motor-gliders and light aircraft. -ends-

Neuron UCAV Demonstrator Begins Naval Flight Test Campaign

PARIS --- The Directorate-General of Armaments (DGA) has launched a new national campaign of flight tests of the NEURON UCAV technology demonstrator. The first flight took place today at Istres. The DGA Flight Test Center will oversee this campaign, one of whose objectives is to study the use of a UCAV in a naval context. The campaign and include sea trials the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. It will be followed by an electromagnetic signature measurement campaign carried out until early 2017 by DGA ‘s IT Dominance unit located in Bruz, near Rennes in Brittany. NEURON foreshadows the next generation of combat aircraft. Launched in 2006, the project is a European cooperative effort that brings together, in addition to France with Dassault Aviation, five countries and their industrial partners: Italy (Alenia Aermacchi, now Leonardo-Finmeccanica), Sweden (Saab), Spain (Airbus Defence & Space), Greece (HAI) and Switzerland (RUAG). DGA provides project management of the project and Dassault Aviation is prime contractor. Neuron’s first test campaign, conducted on behalf of the six nations between December 2012 and September 2015, included 123 flights. They were first made in Istres for the opening of its flight envelope, the development of the system and the evaluation of its stealth by the DGA. Then in Italy, at Decimomannu, for a demonstration of the performance of its optronic sensor and its detection algorithms and automatic target recognition, and stealth tests in favor of the Italian Ministry of Defence. Finally, in Sweden at the Vidsel flight test range, with the dropping of weapons and the assessment of its stealth to the Swedish Ministry of Defence. The quality of the data collected during this first test campaign, and the reliability demonstrated by the drone, were remarkable. NEURON marks a major technology research and effort by the Ministry of Defence for the future of combat aviation in Europe, and to maintain core industrial skills. -ends-

Airbus Defence and Space and SurveyCopter Offer a New SMDR Solution

The use of mini tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has become an essential feature of land operations against adversaries that take advantage of their knowledge of the terrain. UAVs are now used systematically to protect forward bases, convoys and land operations. Airbus Defence and Space and its UAV subsidiary Survey Copter are proposing a true Extended Range new mini UAS, the SkyGhost ER, a Mini-Drones Reconnaissance System (SMDR), with unique optimized operational features. Skyghost ER is the next step of the successful family of MINI UAVs manufactured by Airbus DS and SurveyCopter for France and the export market. Thanks to its capacity to closely shadow military operations, along with its compact design ensuring projection and rapid deployment by a two-man crew, and its ease of operation and ruggedness, SkyGhost ER offers Armies an unrivalled contribution to air-land reconnaissance. Fully automatic with several back-up modes, the system can be deployed within 15 minutes over hot or cold climates, in flat terrain, mountainous areas or urban environments. Equipped with 360 degrees visible and infra-red high resolution cameras as well as a laser designator integrated in a high precision stabilized plug and play turret, SkyGhost ER is powered by a low noise electric engine and benefits from extremely robust carbon fiber structures and specific shock absorbers for harsh landings. Following a pre-programmed and reconfigurable plan in the course of the mission, it flies entirely automatically, enabling the operator to fully concentrate on the reconnaissance assignment. Its optimized technical features include a manoeuver range area of 30 kilometers with an endurance of more than 3 hours, day and night operational capability in severe weather conditions, a secure NATO data-link for real-time transmission, autonomous flight guidance and navigation as well as a fully digital multi format 3D-2D cartography. Mini UAS systems provider for the French Forces for a decade, the Airbus Defence & Space mini UAS branch "SurveyCopter", benefits from an unrivalled expertise, with the unique operational support of over 300 units in action over combat fields as diverse as Afghanistan, Africa or Middle East. -ends-

Saab Develops Underwater Anti-IED Robot

Defence and security company Saab presented its remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Sea Wasp, at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor, Maryland. Sea Wasp, which relocates, identifies and neutralizes underwater improvised explosive devices (IEDs), is designed to combat below-the-surface terrorism. To produce the Sea Wasp, Saab leveraged technology from its Saab Seaeye line of commercial ROVs, and added capabilities previously developed for its military systems portfolio. The company then worked with the U.S. Underwater Hazardous Device Response Community to adopt it for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) purposes and procedures. “Sea Wasp is a hybrid of pre-existing Saab technologies that can now be applied to an urgent worldwide need,” said Bert Johansson, Sales Director Underwater Systems within Saab business area Dynamics. “Underwater EOD is a rapidly growing niche around the world, and Sea Wasp’s capabilities correspond to that niche.” Today, most underwater IED threats are disposed of manually by trained EOD divers. Sea Wasp is operated remotely by two-person teams, allowing for a safe distance between operators and IEDs. To test Sea Wasp, Saab has partnered with the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) in providing Sea Wasp prototypes to three EOD agencies: the U.S. Navy EOD Group 2, the FBI Counter-IED Unit, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s Counter-Terrorist Operations Maritime Response Unit. All three agencies have received Sea Wasp training; testing and evaluation is being carried out over the next 10 to 12 months. “The U.S. unmanned underwater vehicle market is very important for Saab,” said Jon Kaufmann, Vice President of Naval Programmes with Saab North America. “Our goal with Sea Wasp is to meet U.S. national security needs with an underwater, anti-IED device that keeps EOD teams safe.” Saab serves the global market with world-leading products, services and solutions within military defence and civil security. Saab has operations and employees on all continents around the world. Through innovative, collaborative and pragmatic thinking, Saab develops, adopts and improves new technology to meet customers’ changing needs. -ends-

US Navy to Deploy Submarine-launched Blackwing Reccce UAV

•AeroVironment develops Blackwing unmanned aircraft system as part of a successful Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) •Blackwing launches from fully submerged undersea platforms, including submarines and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) •Full integration into the US Navy’s submarine fleet using existing, standard command-and-control systems and equipment WASHINGTON, --- AeroVironment, Inc. today announced the United States Navy plans to deploy its “Blackwing,” a small, tube-launched unmanned aircraft system that deploys from under the surface of the sea, on manned submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles. Blackwing builds on AeroVironment’s extensive operational experience with small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and its Switchblade™ Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS) to provide the Navy with a low cost, submarine launched unmanned aircraft system optimized for Anti-Access/Aerial Denial (A2/AD) environments. AeroVironment developed the Blackwing system as part of a 2013 Navy and United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) sponsored JCTD called Advanced Weapons Enhanced by Submarine UAS against Mobile targets (AWESUM). This JCTD was completed in September 2015 with a strong recommendation to transition the capability into the fleet. Blackwing employs an advanced, miniature electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) payload, Selective Availability Anti-spoofing Module (SASSM) GPS and AeroVironment’s secure Digital Data Link (DDL), all packaged into a vehicle that launches from manned and unmanned submarines. “AeroVironment’s new Blackwing unmanned aircraft system is a valuable new capability that resulted from our team’s close collaboration with, and responsiveness to, the U.S. Navy’s undersea warfare community and the Special Operations community,” said Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment vice president and general manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. “Delivering innovative solutions that enhance our customers’ capabilities benefits the US Navy and USSOCOM, and creates new business opportunities for us. In addition to operating from undersea vehicles, Blackwing can also be integrated with and deployed from a wide variety of surface vessels and mobile ground vehicles to provide rapid response reconnaissance capabilities that help our customers operate more safely and effectively.” AeroVironment is a technology solutions provider that designs, develops, produces, supports and operates an advanced portfolio of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and electric transportation solutions. The company’s electric-powered, hand-launched unmanned aircraft systems generate and process data to deliver powerful insight, on demand, to people and enterprises engaged in military, public safety and commercial activities around the world. -ends-

Military Drones Flood War Skies Over Syria, Iraq

WASHINGTON --- When an Iraqi soldier heard a buzzing sound overhead last month in Iraq’s Anbar province, he took aim and shot down what looked like a bird-sized model plane. After studying the device, Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said it was a surveillance drone available for purchase on the Internet for less than $1,000 that was being flown by the Islamic State (IS) group. “The brave warrior ... was able to hit a spying plane belonging to the gangs of IS,” the ministry said in a Facebook post. Such incidents are becoming increasingly common in both Iraq and Syria. Drones from at least seven nations – and several militias and military forces including IS – are crowding the skies above Iraq, Syria and Turkey, according to interviews with analysts and officials in the region. “Drones [have] opened new aspects to the wars and changed the shape of the battlefields, making the confrontations more complicated and more sophisticated,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Cassidy, who is studying their proliferation. The drones being used in Iraq and Syria range from state-of-the-art military hardware used by the U.S.-led coalition to rudimentary consumer products used by IS and various militias. Countries flying drones Turkey, Syria, Iran, Russia, the U.S., Britain and Iraq all have used drones in the region. Kurdish militias, Syrian rebel forces, and the Hezbollah and IS have also used some form of drones. Their missions range from simple surveillance to precisely targeted assassinations of key terrorists by the U.S.-led coalition. While the Pentagon tries to keep its drone program covert, it has admitted several times in recent months to striking specific IS targets with drones, according to news reports. Among the targets was Islamic State's Jihadi John, who was shown in gruesome videos beheading U.S. and Western hostages. The drone program, which is run by the CIA and the Joint Special Operation Command, largely operates out of a Turkish military base. Britain has joined in the drone operation, according to published reports, and Turkey announced that its forces used four U.S.-made drones in a May 1 attack against IS. The Pentagon refused a request from VOA to discuss specifics of its drone program, which has grown in scope since its initial mission targeting terror suspects in Pakistan and Yemen. The widening U.S. use of drones has drawn criticism from human rights groups, some in Congress and foreign powers. In Syria, IS has responded with countermeasures, including blanketing rooftops and alleys in its de facto capital, Raqqa, with cloth and burlap. The extremist group has also flooded the Internet with names and addresses of several U.S. military personnel who are involved in drone operations. Technology savvy Unlike other jihadi groups, IS has proven itself technology savvy. It uses makeshift drones to gather information about its enemies and to produce aerial footage for propaganda videos. During the battle of Kobani in 2014, IS released drone footage that purportedly showed its fighters engaged in suicide attacks. Military officials say IS has increasingly flown spy drones near the bases of Iraqi and Kurdish forces. “We can clearly see IS drones flying over our front lines to collect intelligence,” said Qadir Qadir, a Kurdish peshmerga commander. Qadir said drone traffic has become so heavy that military commanders report difficulty in distinguishing IS drones from Kurdish and coalition drones. “Sometimes they are too high for us to reach or we’re not sure if they belong to our friends or to enemies," he said. Experts say IS has developed its drone arsenal from kits and parts found on the Internet. There are several IS drone factories near the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to news reports. Iraqi forces, which have been fighting IS since mid-2014, say they too use drones. “They are particularly helpful to obtain information on (IS) bases,” Lt.-Gen. Anwar Hama Amin, the commander of Iraqi Air Force, told VOA. Several reports say Iraq has purchased some of its drones from Iran, which supports the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad. Amin denied using Iranian drones, said Iraq buys most of its devices from China and some from the United States. “The ones from the U.S. are only for surveillance purposes, but we use the Chinese drones to hit IS targets,” he said. Proliferate The commander said drones have proliferated because they are inexpensive and fairly easy to assemble. “You can buy the pieces in the market and find their designs on the Internet,” he said. Kurdish forces, who fight IS in northern Iraq, say they use drones to gather information on IS. “IS can be very unpredictable as their fighters move across vast territories and their numbers change constantly,” said Aras Haso Mirkhan, deputy commander of the peshmerga forces near Mosul. “Drones have made it possible for us to track them wherever they go.” Iraqi Kurds use their drones in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition, Mirkhan said. “We use them in every front line, but I can’t say their exact numbers,” he said. Syrian skies similarly are swarming with drones belonging to various factions in the 5-year-old civil war, military analysts say. Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in October that the Syrian campaign was the first test for Russia’s use of spy drones on a massive scale. He said the unmanned aircraft collect intelligence in Syria “around the clock.” Russia entered the war with military aircraft in September, providing the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with added firepower in their fight against anti-government rebels and IS. Iran also uses drones to help the Syrian regime. The powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced in February that a Shahed 129, an Iranian-developed unmanned aerial vehicle, was providing combat support to pro-government forces in Syria. “Iran has invested tremendously in drone technology in the past decade,” said Sajjad Jafari, an Iranian drone specialist who is based in Tehran, told VOA. "Iranian drones have helped Syrian government in its war against IS." Iranian drones have been spotted by satellite imagery in several Syrian military bases, including air bases in Damascus and Hama. The Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Iranians in support of the Assad government, has also used drones. Hezbollah’s al-Manar television’ has broadcast footage of what it said was a drone attack near the Syria-Lebanon border. IHS Janes, a military analysis company, said the group has been using an abandoned Lebanese airbase near the Syria borders as a launch pad for unmanned aircraft. “Such support certainly boosts the [Syrian] regime’s momentum in the battlefield,” said Washington-based analyst Ahed al-Hendi who closely observes the patterns of war in Syria. But anti-Assad rebel groups such as the Army of Islam are also using drones. “They set advanced cameras on drones to be used for surveillance on opposing parties,” al-Hendi said. Turkey, reeling from the spillover of regional wars, is pouring millions of dollars into developing its own drone program for use against IS fighters in Syria and Iraq and Kurdish insurgents inside and outside of Turkey. A Turkish drone in April spotted two missile launchers in northern Aleppo in Syria, according to Hurriyet newspaper, which cited Turkish security sources. The Turkish military struck the IS positions with its howitzers, killing 13 IS militants and wounding seven others. Analysts said the Turkish military also uses drones against Kurdish militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey, a move that is causing controversy among Turks as civilian casualties are mounting. “There are legal issues associated with [drone use], particularly over how decapitating strikes against citizens involved with the PKK are decided,” said Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. -ends-

US Navy Promises to Display “Terrific Tech” at Sea-Air-Space

ARLINGTON, Va. --- Robotic lifeguards, virtual and augmented realities, and autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles are just a few of the technologies the Navy will showcase at the 2016 Sea-Air-Space Exposition at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, May 16-18. Program officers from the Office of Naval Research, the Naval Research Laboratory and Navy's Small Business Innovation Research Program will be on hand in booth No. 1004 to discuss their pioneering work and potential research opportunities, including those for small businesses. "Sea-Air-Space presents a great opportunity for us to highlight ONR's contributions that are making a marked difference to our warfighters, to our Navy and Marine Corps, and the nation," said ONR Executive Director Walter Jones. "Scientific leadership in autonomy and unmanned systems, as well as augmented reality, will strongly advance our existing capabilities." On Monday, May 16, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mat Winter will moderate an international naval leadership panel discussion on "Naval Technology 2025 & Beyond." The panel will feature Winter's counterparts from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Some of the breakthrough technologies that will be on display at Sea-Air-Space include: * EMILY (Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard): EMILY is a remote-controlled lifesaving buoy recently used to rescue nearly 300 Syrian migrants from drowning in the waters off the Greek island of Lesbos. EMILY will be displayed in action for the public on May 16-18, 9:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.-3 p.m., at the South Dock of the Gaylord. * BEMR Lab: BEMR stands for Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality. This cutting-edge technology merges virtual reality (complete immersion in a simulated/virtual world) and augmented reality (where virtual objects are imposed onto real-world vision). Visitors will be able to try on Oculus Rift goggles to explore the virtual worlds. * LOCUST (Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology): On display is a prototype, tube-launched UAV. The LOCUST program will make possible the launch of multiple swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary. Sea-Air-Space is hosted by the Navy League of the United States with the goal of bringing together leaders from defense organizations -- both government and private industry -- to learn about and view the most up-to-date information and technology related to maritime policy. In addition to Sea-Air-Space, the Gaylord will host the Naval STEM EXPO on Sunday, May 15, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Winter will address the audience at 1:15 p.m. to discuss the importance of education and the need for a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-educated workforce. The STEM Expo, co-sponsored by ONR and the Navy League STEM Institute, is free and geared to students in grades six through 12. It will provide middle and high school students an introduction to naval STEM careers and applications through guest speakers and hands-on activities. Scheduled activities include demos of the EMILY robotic lifeguard, to be held from 1:30 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. at the South Dock of the Gaylord. -ends-

Analysis and Background

see all items


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 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 ( 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-

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-

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

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

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 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-

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

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 “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-

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

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 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-

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-