The US Navy is testing GhostSwimmer, an underwater robotic fish developed for low-visibility intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions which is quieter than propeller driven craft of the same size.

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19/12/2014

Royal Navy Challenges Robot Industry

The Royal Navy is holding its first ‘robot wars’, inviting firms at the cutting-edge of science to demonstrate unmanned aircraft, boats and submarines. The head of the Navy – First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas – has challenged academics, scientists, technology firms, plus British and Allied military forces to show off hi-tech systems which could revolutionise naval warfare. In October 2016 the most promising of those systems will be put to the test during a fortnight-long war game around Scotland, alongside regular Navy, Army and Air Forces. The Navy has recently formed its first squadron for pilotless aircraft - 700X at Culdrose in Cornwall which operates ‘eye in the sky’ ScanEagle reconnaissance planes. It is also experimenting with remote-controlled minehunters, and is buying four ‘wave gliders’ – underwater gliders which run for up to four months gathering data about the ocean. The Fleet’s robotics officer Commander Steve Prest believes these are just the first steps into the world of maritime autonomous systems – to give naval ‘robots’ their correct title. “This could fundamentally change the way the Royal Navy does its business – I compare it with the change from the battleship era to the age of the aircraft carrier,” he said. “People get excited about the future – they ask how real this is. "Technologically, we’re pretty close. "But autonomous systems are not going to replace warships – a warship can hunt submarines, tackle piracy, catch drug smugglers, provide disaster relief and act as an ambassador for the UK. A robot can’t do all that.” The First Sea Lord, who is eager to tap the white heat of robotic technology for use on what he calls ‘3D’ missions – dull, dirty and dangerous – wants his Navy to set the pace, hence his challenge to industry. “The Royal Navy will lead – and win – through the innovative and robust exploitation of maritime autonomous systems. They open up a new world of possibilities,” he said. “We have an enormous well of potential, sitting there, waiting to be tapped.” The systems of companies and organisations which rise to the challenge will be tested in the USA next year, then on a Royal Navy warship in 2016. Those will be followed by a series of demonstrations, trials and experiments will be carried out at the Joint Warrior exercise in the autumn of the same year, for which Commander Prest has high hopes. “I’d love to see an unmanned aircraft spotting something and sending another unmanned vehicle – a boat or a submersible – to investigate and provide quality information for a commander to enable an attack being ordered if necessary,” he added. “We are providing the opportunity. The challenge is for industry to show us what they can do. They’re the ones with the good ideas. “That’s why we’re seeking innovation from our allies, academia, industry and especially, the small and medium-sized enterprises who are active in this area of technology. “Before the iPad, no-one thought they needed something like it. Now everyone has one. Someone out there will have the iPad for autonomous naval systems.” -ends-
19/12/2014

Marines Order RQ-21A Blackjack UAVs

Insitu, Inc., Bingen, Washington, is being awarded a $41,076,746 firm-fixed-price contract for the procurement of three low rate initial production RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft systems. This award provides for the procurement of the air vehicles, ground control stations, launch and recovery equipment, initial spares, and system engineering and program management. Work will be performed in Bingen, Washington, and is expected to be completed in January 2016. Fiscal 2014 procurement funds (Marine Corps) in the amount of $38,309,942 and fiscal 2015 research and development funds (Marine Corps) in the amount of $2,766,804 will be obligated at the time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR.6.302-1. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-15-C-0033). -ends-
19/12/2014

Northrop, Raytheon Wins UAV Support Contracts

-- Northrop Grumman Technical Services, Inc., Sierra Vista, Arizona, was awarded a $24,345,692 modification (P00028) to cost-plus-fixed-fee contract W58RGZ-13-C-0010 for Hunter unmanned aircraft system contractor logistics support. Fiscal 2015 operations and maintenance (Army) funds in the amount of $10,000,000 were obligated at the time of the award. Estimated completion date is Dec. 17, 2015. Work will be performed in Sierra Vista, Arizona (25 percent), and in Afghanistan (75 percent). Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal (Aviation), Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity. -- Raytheon Co., McKinney, Texas, has been awarded a $46,646,592 firm-fixed-price modification (P0006) to previously awarded contract FA8620-11-G-4050 for MQ-1 and MQ-9 support. Contractor will provide 32 multi-spectral targeting system-B turrets (TU), 32 MTS-B high definition electronic units (HDEUs), one lot of MTS-B shop replaceable units spares, 32 MTS-B TU containers, 32 MTS-B HDEU containers, and one lot of MTS support equipment. Work will be performed at McKinney, Texas, and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2016. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2013 and 2014 procurement funds in the amount of $46,646,592 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity. -ends-
19/12/2014

Qinetiq NA Wins Two TALON Contracts

WALTHAM, Mass. --- QinetiQ North America (QNA) today announced that it has been awarded a United States Army contract to build, refurbish and modernize QNA's TALON IV military robots used extensively in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through the U.S. Army's Contracting Command in Warren, Michigan, QNA was awarded in September the contract worth over $17.5 million for spare parts and upgrades to its fleet of TALON robots. The spares will sustain fielded systems in operation today while the upgrade and modernization of the battle tested TALON robot will continue to provide life-saving support to U.S. warfighters in both current operations and future deployments. QNA has also been awarded an IDIQ (Indefinite Duration, Indefinite Quantity) contract through the Naval Surface Warfare Center under the Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) program. This 3-year IDIQ contract, which could be worth up to $30 million, from Naval EOD Technology Division for TALON MTRS Mk2, provides for purchase of new systems, reconditioning, upgrades and spare parts for the MTRS Mk2 fleet of TALON robots. "QinetiQ North America is very proud of the role our robots play in providing lifesaving standoff for our warfighters when in harm's way. We are also grateful for the confidence shown by the U.S. Military in the robust and reliable capabilities provided through our family of robots," said Derek Daly, Vice President of Land Systems at QNA. Both contracts were signed in September 2014. -ends-
18/12/2014

US Army Developing Robotic Insects

WASHINGTON --- A mechanical fly buzzing into an enemy operations center for surveillance may still be the stuff of science fiction, but perhaps not for long. Dr. Ron Polcawich and his team at the Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, in Adelphi, Maryland, have been pushing innovation in the area of tiny actuators and developed a pair of tiny robotic wings measuring only 3 to 5 centimeters in length. The wings are made of lead zirconium titanate, referred to as PZT, a material that creates electric charge under an applied pressure or can create strain (i.e. motion) under an applied voltage or electric field. The wings bend and flap when voltage is applied to the PZT material. "We demonstrated that we can actually create lift," Polcawich said. "So we know this structure has the potential to fly." Polcawich heads up the piezoelectric microelectromechanical systems, or PiezoMEMS team, at ARL. They have designed ultrasonic motors that measure only 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter. They have also designed sets of tiny robotic legs for a millipede-like robot that simulate crawling when voltage is applied to the PZT material. While the legs and wings are currently functional, Polcawich says it may take another 10 to 15 years of research and development to actually produce fully-functional robotic insects. For instance, algorithms are needed to simulate how a flying insect stabilizes itself, he said. In a gust of wind a fly "doesn't instantaneously stabilize itself," Polcawich said. "It will tumble, tumble, and then stabilize itself." Creating this type of artificial intelligence or "cognitive ability" will take time, he explained. A number of different systems must be integrated in order to develop a realistic tiny robot that functions like an insect. Harvard University's Ron Wood is actually further along in developing a robotic fly, Polcawich said. But Harvard's "RoboFly" is almost three times larger than the one ARL is working to develop. And the smaller a mechanical device, the more intricate are the aerodynamic problems. Nevertheless, Polcawich says more collaboration with Wood and other academic and industrial researchers might speed up the research. Such collaboration is the goal of a pilot program launched this year by ARL called "Open Campus." The program aims to cut red tape and open unclassified areas of ARL to more academic and industry partners. "The Open Campus effort will hopefully streamline the creative process," Polcawich said. He hopes it brings additional cooperative agreements with universities and private companies. While micro robotics research is interesting, Polcawich said it does not enjoy the highest level of funding. In fact, he said it has the lowest level of funding among projects currently being researched by his team. Many of the team's other projects rank higher in priority. One of those projects involves precision microelectromechanical systems gyroscopes that are currently undergoing test and evaluation. The gyroscopes might eventually be used to aid in the navigation of missiles, munitions, or even dismounted Soldiers if GPS goes down for any reason, Polcawich said. His team has undertaken a number of research projects dealing with position, navigation and timing, known as PNT. In some of the projects, inertial measurement units, or IMUs, report a device's velocity and orientation using a combination of gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers. "We're looking at possibly putting IMUs on boots,"Polcawich said, for individual Soldier navigation. "Our focus in the IMU world is really kind of figuring out how to make things small, lightweight, low-power-consuming; ultimately for Soldier navigation and small-scale robotics." His PiezoMEMS team of 10 researchers are also currently focusing on developing components for: -- tactical radios -- radars -- IED-defeat systems -- PNT Earlier this year, President Obama recognized Polcawich for his last five years of research and development. The Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering was awarded to him. Polcawich said he just enjoys being able to "push the state of the art" in micro fabrication. -ends-
17/12/2014

Northrop Wins $657M Order for Four Korean Global Hawk UAVs

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, California, has been awarded a $657,400,000 hybrid contract including firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-incentive-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee undefinitized contract action for aircraft for the Republic of Korea. Contractor will provide four RQ-4B Block 30 Global Hawk air vehicles, two spare engines, and the applicable Ground Control Environment elements. Each will contain an Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite. Work will be performed at San Diego, California, and is expected to be complete by June 28, 2019. This contract involves foreign military sales. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-15-C-3001). -ends-
17/12/2014

Korea to Buy Israel's Heron Drone

Seoul has chosen Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron-1 as the medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle to fly over the northwestern-most islands and the de-facto maritime border to monitor North Korea. In a meeting on Monday afternoon, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration decided to buy four IAI Heron-1s for about W30 billion (US$1=W1,096). A DAPA official said the IAI Heron-1 was chosen "because it is much cheaper than other drone models," though it has less capacity. Unlike the current arsenal of UAVs that can fly for only a few hours and have a limited surveillance range, the Israeli drone can stay airborne for more than two days. Equipped with an electro optical camera and synthetic aperture radar, the Heron-1 is capable of conducting precision surveillance over targets on the ground. Measuring 8.5 m by 16.6 m, it can fly at a speed of 207 km/h and stay airborne for up to 52 hours with a payload of 250 kg. Some experts complain that the Heron-1, which was developed in 1996, is less advanced than the Elbit Hermes 900, another Israeli UAV that was developed in 2009. -ends-
17/12/2014

Navair Flies Fire Scout UAV from Coast Guard Cutter

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. --- The U.S. Navy completed an MQ-8B Fire Scout demonstration aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Bertholf (WMSL 750) on Dec. 12 as part of the Coast Guard’s ongoing efforts to assess the potential for future unmanned air system (UAS) operations from the 418-foot National Security Cutter class. The 10-day demonstration off the coast of Southern California met all the Coast Guard’s objectives, performing launch and recovery operations, conducting various simulated search patterns and transmitting data and imagery. UAS have the potential to significantly increase the surveillance range and capabilities of our Coast Guard cutters and this demonstration will help to inform the service on the best way to proceed forward with the acquisition of the right unmanned capability in the future, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Broadhurst, UAS platform manager. “This Navy team has extensive and exclusive unmanned helo expertise and we’re happy to provide those lessons learned to the Coast Guard,” said Bob Ernst, Multi-Mission Tactical UAS program (PMA-266) chief engineer at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. “Our team worked rapidly over the last 11 months to ensure we were ready to support their efforts as well as test new system capabilities for the Navy.” While the MQ-8 system has successfully operated off frigates, guided missile destroyers and littoral combat ships (LCS), this event marked the first at-sea radar test and first integration of the mobile ground control station (GCS) configuration. Earlier this year, the Navy teamed up with the U. S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center to coordinate the procurement and installation of MQ-8 equipment in support of the technical demonstration. The Navy team consisted of members from PMA-266’s Ship Integration group, NAVAIR’s Rapid Capability Engineering and Integration Department (AIR 4.11), the Integrated Systems Evaluation, Experimentation, and Test Department (AIR 5.1), Support Equipment and Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Department (AIR 4.8) and members of Naval Sea Systems Command’s Unmanned and Robotics Systems Branch (G82). “The existing MQ-8 system was already 90 percent compatible with the cutter-class,” said Harsha Desai, lead engineer for the Coast Guard integration effort. “To minimize the impact to the ship, we developed a mobile ground control station configuration for our Mission Control System.” The Navy will also benefit from this new configuration. The mobile GCS provides flexibility to rapidly respond to tasking and has the potential to drive down future integration costs, Ernst said. The team also used the event as an opportunity to test an MQ-8B equipped with radar, which will increase the situational awareness and threat warning in a high-traffic littoral, or close to shore, environment. Deployment with this new capability is planned for next year. Since 2009, the MQ-8 Fire Scout has flown more than 14,000 operational hours, primarily in the Mediterranean, Afghanistan and Horn of Africa regions, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to operational forces. It recently made its first deployment with USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in November. (ends)
17/12/2014

US Army Installs First Sense-And-Avoid Radar

FORT HOOD, Texas --- The U.S. Army installed its first Ground-Based Sense-and-Avoid radar system today, here, which is home to two MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system companies. Fort Hood is one of five installations that have been identified to acquire the system. "We are very excited to finally see this come to fruition," said Viva Kelley, product director for U.S. Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Concepts. "The whole team has been working very hard on this program since its inception. In the end, it will provide the Army with a safer and more effective way with which to conduct UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) training and testing." Currently, the Army uses visual observers, on the ground or in a chase plane, to provide the necessary "see-and-avoid" function required by federal regulation (14 CFR 91.113). The Army-developed Ground-Based Sense-and-Avoid, or GBSAA, will initially support UAS transiting from airfields to restricted areas where training and testing can occur. The radar system consists of numerous complex subsystems, including multiple 3-D radar, known as LSTAR, data fusion, tracker, classifier, separation algorithms, displays and much more, that have been designed and developed for the sole function of sense and avoid. Without a pilot on board, UAS do not have the ability to safely navigate in airspace with other traffic, officials said, adding especially with aircraft that are not transponding or otherwise cooperating in the airspace system. The GBSAA system was designed to be compatible with any UAS, in any airspace and under any operational need. The goal is to open up necessary airspace to UAS and allow them to fly as safely as manned aircraft can. While the first steps will be transits from airfields to restricted areas, operations in military operating areas are in the very near future. "The GBSAA system has exceeded all of its performance requirements, from the test bed to the full system concept demonstrations and follow-on testing," said Col. Courtney Cote, project manager for UAS. "This system provides the alternate means of compliance with FAA regulatory requirements that will enable our Army to perform the critical mission training they need." Fort Hood is the first site to receive the system and will have hardware installed in mid-December. The hardware will continue to collect data for a safety analysis and report before becoming fully operational, in 2015. Collecting and analyzing the data will allow operators to see and verify if the radar is seeing everything and give the safety team a good understanding of the airspace traffic. -ends-
17/12/2014

USAF Says Reaper UAV Crashed in Nevada

CREECH AFB, Nevada --- At approximately 8:45 a.m. PST on Dec. 11, 2014, an MQ-9 Reaper crashed during a routine training mission in an unpopulated area approximately 1 mi. east of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. No one was injured. Base first responders have secured the crash site and all appropriate safety measures have been employed. More information will follow as it becomes available. The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily as an intelligence-collection asset and secondarily against dynamic execution targets. -ends-

Analysis and Background

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13/11/2014

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

Source: University of Birmingham Ref: No reference Issued Oct 22, 2014) 96 PDF pages Drone technology, both civil and military, under proper legal regulation, can continue to deliver 'significant benefits' for the UK's national security policy and economy in the coming decades. That is the conclusion of a new University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report which launches today. But the Government, and especially the Ministry of Defence (MoD), should do more to reach out to the public over what the Commission sees as the globally inevitable use of drones in armed conflict and in domestic surveillance. The Report finds that over the next 20 years, drones – or what the Commission and the RAF prefer to call Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) – will become an integral part of Britain's aerospace capability, providing both advanced surveillance and precision weapons delivery. They can support UK forces deployed overseas, as in Afghanistan, or help prevent mass atrocities, as with the British Government's decision to deploy the RAF Reaper fleet against the Islamic State (ISIS). This decision was announced after the Report was completed but is entirely consistent with its conclusions. The Report examines the distinctive and unavoidable choices for the United Kingdom over a crucial emerging technology and sets out the under-appreciated distinction between legally constrained British practice and the US Government's cross-border counter-terrorism strikes which dominate and distort UK public debate. The Commission considers various moral arguments and concludes that the current and emerging generation of RPA pose no greater ethical challenges than those already involved in decisions to use any other type of UK military asset. The Report shows clearly that the UK has operated its armed Reapers in Afghanistan according to the same exceptionally strict Rules of Engagement (no weapon should be discharged unless there is 'zero expectation of civilian casualties') that it applies to manned aircraft. Key findings There are three main obstacles affecting the UK Government's use of drones that must be overcome: gaining public understanding and acceptance of the legal and ethical soundness of the practice; allaying fears over the potential development of LAWS; and safeguarding British airspace and the privacy of British citizens if drones are to be increasingly used for domestic surveillance and security. (PDF format) Report’s download page
11/07/2014

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

PARIS --- Four years after they first agreed to jointly develop an unmanned combat aircraft, France and Britain will finally launch the demonstration phase of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) on July 15 at the Farnborough air show, the French defense ministry announced July 10. The two countries’ defense ministers will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) authorizing a 24-month, €150 million definition phase of the FCAS program, known as FCAS-Demonstration Phase, the French defense ministry announced July 10. Contracts will be awarded to industry in the autumn, and the project will officially begin in January 2015. Participating companies are Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems for airframe and systems integration; Thales and Selex ES (UK) for sensors and electronics; and Snecma and Rolls-Royce for engine and power systems. “There is agreement on a two-year concept phase…[and]….a contract could be awarded shortly,” UK Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told reporters at the Eurosatory show here June 19, adding however that “data-sharing agreements have to be competed.” Physics and aerodynamics being what they are, it is not surprising that Dassault’s Neuron demonstrator (above) and BAE System’s Taranis demonstrator (below) should look the same at first glance. The FCAS will build on knowledge gained on both programs. (photos Dassault and BAE). BAE and Dassault have been working together for about 18 months to investigate the feasibility of joint development of FCAS, based on their separate but complementary experience in developing unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) demonstrators, either alone (BAE with its Taranis) or jointly – Dassault’s Neuron project also included Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, Sweden’s Saab as well as smaller Greek and Spanish firms. A major question mark concerns the work-sharing arrangements, as both companies are obviously keen to advance and maintain their technological know-how. This is complicated, again, by their previous work on Taranis and Neuron, which sometimes led them in different directions and which may be difficult to reconcile. “We have already shared some data, but we haven’t shown everything yet,” Benoît Dussaugey, Dassault Executive Vice-President, International, told Defense-Aerospace.com June 18, adding that full disclosure will not take place before contract award. However, having successfully managed Neuron on time and on schedule with an international team of partners, Dassault does not believe this aspect will be a show-stopper. "We are confident we will find an agreement with our partners on work-share, subject to sovereign decisions by governments," Dussaugey said. The program could be opened to additional foreign partners, he adds, on two conditions: "that everyone accepts and respects our common rules, and that the respective governments finance [their share] of the entire phase." Nonetheless, BAE’s surprise and high-profile unveiling of its Taranis UCAV demonstrator in January, which it had jealously kept under wraps until then, was clearly intended to show its credentials in the lead-up to the FCAS MoU. It is probable that, as in the previous phase, BAE will remain FCAS prime contractor, while France’s defense procurement agency, Direction Générale pour l’Armement (DGA), will act as program executive on behalf of both nations. Having successive definition and demonstration phases is considered essential for governments to define and harmonize their operational requirements, and for industry to weigh their technical feasibility and cost implications. For example, will in-flight refueling be required, and if yes using a receptacle or a boom? Where and how should radar antennas be integrated into the airframe? Will FCAS be designed to follow a pre-programmed flight path (which the French favor, as it is impervious to jamming, interception and loss of data-link), or on the contrary be remotely-piloted, as the Royal Air Force favors so as to keep a man permanently in the loop? Should the aircraft be totally silent in terms of radar, radio and IR emissions, or could it resort to jamming? Should it be single- or twin-engined? Once these basic questions are answered, processed and priced by industry, the logical follow-up would be a demonstration phase, during which the project would be further developed and prototypes or flight test aircraft built, but a decision would not be required before late 2017, which makes it very unlikely that a FCAS could fly before the end of the decade. -ends-
30/04/2014

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

Source: US Air Force Ref: no reference Issued April 04, 2014) 101 PDF pages Air Force leaders outlined what the next 25 years for remotely piloted aircraft will look like in the RPA Vector, published April 4. “The RPA Vector is the Air Force’s vision for the next 25 years for remotely-piloted aircraft,” said Col. Kenneth Callahan, the RPA capabilities division director. “It shows the current state of the program, the great advances of where we have been and the vision of where we are going.” The goal for the vector on the operational side is to continue the legacy Airmen created in the RPA field. The vector is also designed to expand upon leaps in technology and changes the Airmen have made through the early years of the program. “The Airmen have made it all about supporting the men and women on the ground,” Callahan said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them for their own advances in technology to expand the program, making it a top platform.” The document gives private corporations an outlook on the capabilities the Air Force wants to have in the future, ranging from creation of new RPAs to possibilities of automated refueling systems. “There is so much more that can be done with RPAs,” said Col. Sean Harrington, an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance command and control requirements chief. “Their roles (RPAs) within the Air Force are evolving. We have been able to modify RPAs as a plug-and-play capability while looking to expand those opportunities.” In recent years, RPAs not only supported the warfighter on the ground, they also played a vital role in humanitarian missions around the world. They provided real time imagery and video after the earthquake that led to a tsunami in Japan in 2011 and the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, according to Callahan. Then, most recently, during the California Rim Fire in August 2013, more than 160,000 acres of land were destroyed. Though this loss was significant, it was substantially decreased by the support of the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, with support from an MQ-1 Predator, a remotely piloted aircraft. With this vector, technologies may be created to improve those capabilities while supporting different humanitarian efforts, allowing the Air Force to support natural disaster events more effectively and timely. The future of the Air Force’s RPA programs will be continuously evolving, to allow the Air Force to be the leader in Air, Space, and Cyberspace. “We already combine our air, space and cyber forces to maximize these enduring contributions, but the way we execute must continually evolve as we strive to increase our asymmetric advantage,” said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. “Our Airmen's ability to rethink the battle while incorporating new technologies will improve the varied ways our Air Force accomplishes its missions.” (PDF format) Full text
07/03/2014

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

MADRID --- Airbus Defense and Space is preparing to return to the UAV market, three years after it was forced out by the reluctance of the French and German governments to financially support any of the unmanned aircraft projects which it had developed. “We are revisiting our strategy on unmanned aerial vehicles with a vision to leadership,” Antonio Rodríguez Barberán, Head of Military Aircraft sales at Airbus Defence and Space, told Defense-Aerospace.com. “We are planning to be there, even if it takes some years.” This is a major shift in company policy, as Airbus Group decided in 2011 to freeze its UAV activities after having invested over 500 million euros in several programs without having convinced its domestic customers that they were worth supporting. Corporate strategy, at the time, was to sit out until European governments decided which programs, and which companies, they would support. This approach was not very successful, however, as Airbus was frozen out of two major market segments: Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE), where France preferred buying Reaper unmanned aircraft from the United States, with Germany and the Netherlands to follow shortly, and the High Altitude Lone Endurance (HALE) segment, where its EuroHawk program was abruptly cancelled by the Germen government because of cost and regulatory failings. The company was left with only smaller UAVs, a segment where competition is rife and margins small. Airbus has now changed tack because “it’s time for a proper aircraft manufacturer to get involved, to certify UAVs to civilian standards – and I mean FAR 23 and FAR 25 – so they can be used in unsegregated airspace,” Rodriguez said. At present, UAVs can only be used in segregated airspace, under military air regulations, and so are severely limited in their operational usefulness. While it has no immediate plans to resume large-scale investments in the UAV sector, Airbus DS does not see financing as a major obstacle. “We know there is a market, and if there is a market there is money,” Rodriguez said. He adds that for Airbus this is a decade-long project, which will eventually bring it a leading role: “Airbus is not here to be a subcontractor,” he says, making clear that the company is not aiming for a subordinate role in ongoing European UAV programs. While waiting for the MALE market to mature, and for the dust to settle in the combat UAV (UCAV) segment, Airbus is finalizing development of its own tactical UAV, Atlante, which is significantly smaller than the MALE and HALE segments it previously pursued. Weighing about 550 kg, Atlante has been developed in Spain, and from the outset the goal has been to fly in segregated civilian airspace, i.e. over populated areas, and it is intended to be certified for that operational environment. “The key word here is ‘certification’,” Rodriguez says, adding that, of course, “it has to offer value for money.” Atlante first flew in February 2013, Light Transport Aircraft Sector Gliding Along While its UAV strategy matures, Airbus DS continues to improve its transport aircraft product line. It recently agreed with Indonesian partner IPT Nurtanio, also known as Indonesian Aerospace, to develop a modernized version of the C-212 light twin turboprop transport, and it also is refining the performance of the C-295, its very successful medium twin. Most of the effort is on refining the airframe design, for example by adding wingtip extensions, and on increasing engine power ratings, which together add 1,000 ft. to the aircraft’s ceiling in One Engine Inoperative (OEI) conditions. The C295’s Pratt & Whitney engines are already at their power limit, so they have no more growth potential, so these refinements, together with a major upgrade of the aircraft’s avionics, will suffice to keep them competitive for years to come, says Rodriguez. The avionics upgrade will make it easier for the aircraft to operate in a civil environment. A new design may well be necessary in 10 or 15 years, he adds, but for now it is still very premature. The current line-up is quite profitable for the company, and currently accounts for average sales of about 20 aircraft per year, worth about 700-800 million euros including 100-150 million euros for related services. Over the past 10 years, Airbus has sold 157 of the 306 light/medium turboprops sold world-wide, and so has a market share of over 50%, and this should increase as additional orders will be announced this year, one of them “by Easter.” Compared to the Alenia C-27J Spartan, its direct competitor, the C-295 is simple, offers substantially lower fuel costs and “can be maintained with a hammer and a screwdriver,” Rodriguez says. Specifically, he says that maintenance costs are 35% lower, fuel consumption is 50% lower and, in terms of life-cycle costs, “it can save one million euros per plane, per year.” -ends-
03/03/2014

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

Source: U.S Department of Defense Ref: 14-S-0553 Issued December 26, 2013 168 PDF pages Strategy and budget realities are two aspects of the Defense Department's new Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, released Dec. 23. The report to Congress is an attempt to chart how unmanned systems fit into the defense of the nation. "The 2013 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap articulates a vision and strategy for the continued development, production, test, training, operation and sustainment of unmanned systems technology across DOD," said Dyke Weatherington, the director of the unmanned warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance office at the Pentagon. "This road map establishes a technological vision for the next 25 years and outlines the actions and technologies for DOD and industry to pursue intelligently, and affordably align with this vision," he continued. Unmanned aerial vehicles have received the most press, but unmanned underwater vehicles and ground vehicles are also providing warfighters with incredible capabilities. Although unmanned vehicles have proved their worth in combat operations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, current technologies must be expanded and integrated into the sinews of the defense establishment, the report says. It also calls for unmanned systems to be programs of record in order to achieve "the levels of effectiveness, efficiency, affordability, commonality, interoperability, integration and other key parameters needed to meet future operational requirements." (PDF format) Full text
31/01/2014

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

PARIS --- The service introduction of Watchkeeper, the tactical UAV that has been in development for the British Army since 2005, may be further delayed due to unidentified technical issues that appear to have grounded the aircraft for three months in late 2013. The Watchkeeper program apparently logged no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January, according to data provided by Thales, the program’s main contractor, which showed that the number of total flight hours and total sorties barely changed between Sept. 16, 2013 and Jan 12, 2014. As of Sept. 16, Watchkeeper had flown “almost 600 sorties, for a total of about 1,000 flight hours,” a Thales spokesperson told Defense-Aerospace.com in an e-mail follow-up to an interview at the DSEi show in London. On Jan. 20, responding to a follow-up query, the Thales spokesperson said that “Tests are progressing nominally, as planned. We have now passed 600 sorties and are nearing 1,000 flight hours.” These figures show no flight activity between mid-September and mid-January. Asked to explain this apparent discrepancy, the Thales spokesperson had not responded by our deadline, three days later. “The delivery of Watchkeeper equipment is on track and trials are continuing with over 550 hours flying having been completed,” the UK Ministry of Defence in a Jan 31 e-mail statement. Note this is about half the flight hour figure provided by Thales. “…the Release to Service process is taking longer than expected,” the MoD statement continued, adding that “The last flight was last week, so it’s incorrect to say that the assets are still grounded.” This unannounced grounding may be one reason why the French Ministry of Defense is back-pedaling on earlier promises to consider buying the Watchkeeper, after an inconclusive evaluation between April and July 2013 by the French army. The evaluation included “several dozen flight hours” from Istres, the French air force’s flight test center in south-eastern France, a French MoD spokesman said Jan. 31. The evaluation report has not been completed, and no date has been set, he added. The final communiqué of today’s Anglo-French summit meeting, for the first time since November 2010, makes no mention of the Watchkeeper, although it was mentioned in passing by French President François Hollande during the summit press conference. Thales’ figures on Watchkeeper flight activities have also been provided to other news outlets. A Jan. 16 article by FlightGlobal quotes Nick Miller, Thales UK’s business director for ISTAR and UAV systems, as saying that “Watchkeeper aircraft have now completed more than 600 flights, exceeding a combined 950 flight hours.” Aviation Week had posted an article the previous day, Jan. 15, in which it reported that “Thales U.K….is continuing flight trials and supports army training(Emphasis added—Ed.). However, it is difficult to understand how training can take place without an increase in the number of sorties and flight hours. The above article says “Watchkeeper may début in spring,” echoing a similar story published Sept. 12, 2013 in which Aviation Week said Thales UK “is hopeful that …Watchkeeper…will be certified by the end of the year.” This did not happen. This same Aviation Week Sept. 12 story said that the Watchkeeper “fleet has flown more than 1,000 hr. over 600 flights” – a higher figure than FlightGlobal reported on Jan. 16, four months later. The discrepancies in the figures provided to at least three trade publications clearly contradict company statements that Watchkeeper flight operations are “nominal” and “are continuing,” as they show no flight activity has been logged since September. The obvious conclusion is that flight activities have been curtailed, either by a technical grounding or because of administrative blockages. In either case, Watchkeeper – which is already over three years late -- has clearly hit new obstacles that will further delay its operational clearance by the UK Ministry of Defence’s new Military Aviation Authority (MAA). Watchkeeper is being developed by UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS), a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit Systems (51% share) and Thales UK, the British unit of France’s Thales, under a contract awarded in 2005. UAV Engines Ltd, which builds Watchkeeper’s engine in the UK, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Originally valued at £700 million, the cost has escalated to over £850 million, and service introduction has been delayed by at least three years. The British Army is due to receive a total of 54 Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft and 15 ground stations. By late 2013, 26 aircraft and 14 ground stations had been delivered, according to published reports. -ends-
30/01/2014

France, UK to Launch Anti-ship Missile, UAV Projects

PARIS --- France and Britain are due to sign several defense-related agreements during their short Jan. 31 summit meeting at Brize Norton, England, including one to launch joint development of a next-generation anti-ship missile and another to fund a two-year feasibility study for a joint combat UAV. British and French officials have widely briefed the media in advance of the summit to obtain the editorial coverage that both countries’ leaders – British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande – need to bolster their domestic standing. The briefings also seek to highlight that, after several fruitless summits in the past three years, the two countries are finally making progress on the joint defense projects to which they subscribed in the 2010 Lancaster House treaty. The two countries are expected to launch the long-delayed development of a lightweight helicopter-launched anti-ship guided missile known as FASGW(H) in the UK and ANL (Anti-Navires Léger) in France. Originally due to be launched in 2011, this program is now expected to be funded under a €500 million (or £500 million – accounts differ) contract to be awarded to MBDA, a joint subsidiary of BAE Systems, Airbus Defense & Space and Italy’s Finmeccanica. The Financial Times reported Jan 29 that the cost would be shared evenly, but that Britain will provide initial funding because it needs the missile earlier. It is not expected that the summit will launch other missile projects also long in the pipeline, such as the joint upgrade of the Scalp/Storm Shadow cruise missile and a joint technology roadmap for short range air defence technologies. UCAV feasibility study The second major decision that could be announced Jan. 31, sources say, is the launch of a two-year feasibility study for a joint Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), with a contract to be awarded jointly to BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation, which last year completed a 15-month risk reduction study. This project has barely inched forward since 2010, when it was first mooted, but Rolls-Royce and Safran have agreed to cooperate on the aircraft’s engines, and Thales and Selex ES on its electronics, Defense News reported Jan. 28, such is the eagerness to launch a funded program before design know-how evaporates. The two governments must also decide whether, and at what stage, to open this project to other European partners, such as Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi, Sweden’s Saab and the Airbus Group (formerly EADS), which have developed or are studying their own aircraft but lack government funding. Little concrete progress is expected at the summit, however, on other unmanned aircraft projects under discussion. One is France’s possible buy of the Watchkeeper tactical drone, developed for the British Army by Thales UK, and which is running several years late. Although France has said several times that it was interested in buying it and allow “cooperation on technical, support, operational and development of doctrine and concepts,” it seems that its operational evaluation by the French Army’s 61st Artillery Regiment was not conclusively positive. Another project is the long-running saga of a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV intended to ultimately replace the US-supplied Predator UAVs currently operated by both countries, as well as Italy, and soon to be bought by Germany and the Netherlands. To date, this project has received little in the way of government funding, and it is this lack of serious money, combined with the lack of clear military requirements, that industry says is curtailing its ability to address Europe’s UAV needs. Minehunters and armored vehicles The two countries are also expected to launch the joint development of an autonomous underwater vehicle to replace the remote-controlled robots used by their navies’ minehunters. Finally, France may announce it will loan about 20 VBCI wheeled combat vehicles to the British Army, which currently lacks a vehicle of this kind, the Paris daily “Les Echos” reported Jan. 27. This is intended to allow the British, who are said to have been impressed by the VBCI’s performance in Afghanistan and Mali, to evaluate it before they begin procurement of similar heavy wheeled armored vehicles in 2017. -ends-
27/01/2014

US Navy’s Mabus on Unmanned Naval Ops

This past summer, Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert and I stood on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush, at sea off the coast of Virginia. We watched as the X-47B unmanned aircraft, a sixty-two foot wingspan demonstrator, made its first arrested landing onboard an aircraft carrier. It was a historic moment for naval aviation. Every Naval Aviator knows landing on an aircraft carrier is about the most difficult thing you can do as a pilot. Recovering the X-47B safely aboard the ship, with the autonomous system landing independent of its human operators, was a vital step toward our future vision of a Carrier Air Wing. In less than a decade, this future air wing will be made up of today’s F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, and advanced future platforms like the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and our next generation unmanned carrier aircraft. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are America’s “Away Team.” We provide presence. We are where it counts when it counts, not just at the right time but all the time. We give the President and Combatant Commanders the flexibility they need to respond to any challenge. The platforms we buy to make up our fleet are an important part of our future. Unmanned systems are vital to our ability to be present; they lessen the risk to our Sailors and Marines and allow us to conduct missions that are longer, go farther, and take us beyond the physical limits of pilots and crews. Launching and recovering unmanned aircraft as large and capable as our manned fighters from the rolling decks of aircraft carriers is just one element of the future of maritime presence and naval warfare. Helos Leading the Way While we are designing and testing our fixed wing unmanned aircraft, some of our helicopter squadrons have been operating unmanned systems – both in combat and maritime security operations – for years. The MQ-8B Fire Scout is our current unmanned helicopter system. It has been conducting missions including patrolling against illicit trafficking in the Pacific, counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, and combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya. Since the Fire Scout’s first deployments in 2009 our ships, helicopter squadrons, and Marine Corps units have been working together to refine and expand how we use the platform. The next generation Fire Scout, the MQ-8C with its greater payload and longer range, made its first flight last year. It will deploy in support of our Littoral Combat Ships and Special Operations units. In the past year, we have stood up our first two Fire Scout squadrons in San Diego to train and organize the operators and maintainers who will work on these aircraft. Meanwhile the Marines continue to experiment and operate with the Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System (CRUAS) which carries cargo to patrol bases and forward operating bases in combat areas such as Afghanistan, eliminating the need for dangerous convoys and potentially saving lives. Under, On & Over the Sea The future of unmanned systems in the Navy and Marine Corps is focused on incorporating our people on manned platforms with unmanned systems to create an integrated force. A good example of this integration is the Mine Countermeasures Mission Module we are testing for the Littoral Combat Ship. This module includes a small remotely controlled submarine which tows a mine-hunting sonar to detect the mines, paired with a manned Seahawk helicopter which neutralizes the mines once they are found. The development team is also working with unmanned surface and air systems for autonomous mine sweeping, shallow water mine interdiction, and beach mine clearance. Nobody can argue with the idea that when clearing mines we should keep our Sailors out of the mine fields and let our unmanned systems take those risks. Last spring we had the first test flight of the MQ-4 Triton unmanned maritime patrol aircraft, and earlier this month it passed the half-way point in its flight testing. Its 131-foot wingspan – 30 feet wider than the manned P-3C Orion maritime patrol planes we have flown for decades – makes it today’s largest unmanned platform. Triton’s long, slender wings allow it to stay in the air with its sensors for a day at time, providing persistent maritime coverage to the warfighter. Combined with the aircrews and operators aboard our new P-8 Poseidon manned maritime patrol aircraft, Triton will identify and track targets as necessary, ensuring that the fleet has a complete picture of what is happening at sea. The Future Airwing The X-47B is the culmination of an experimental program to prove that unmanned systems can launch and recover from the aircraft carrier. The program that follows this demonstrator will radically change the way presence and combat power is delivered as an integral part of the future carrier air wing. Known by the acronym UCLASS, for Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system, it will conduct its missions over very long periods of time and at extreme distances while contributing to a wide variety of missions. It will make the carrier strike group more lethal, effective, and survivable. The end state is an autonomous aircraft capable of precision strike in a contested environment, and it is expected to grow and expand its missions so that it is capable of extended range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, tanking, and maritime domain awareness. It will be a warfighting machine that complements and enhances the capabilities already resident in our carrier strike groups. Operating these platforms independently of a pilot, and with growing autonomy, greatly increases the possibilities for what we can do with them in the future. Unmanned carrier aircraft don’t require flights to maintain pilot proficiency; the operators can maintain their skills in the simulator. The planes will be employed only for operational missions, saving fuel costs and extending the service life of the aircraft. They also create the opportunity to advance new ways to use our aircraft, like developing new concepts for swarm tactics. We are finalizing the requirements that will lead to a design for the UCLASS. We aren’t building them yet. We want to ensure we get the requirements and design set right before we start production in order to avoid the mistakes and cost overruns which have plagued some past programs. Meanwhile our other unmanned systems like the Fire Scout and Triton continue their success. The Future of Naval Operations Across the entire spectrum of military operations, an integrated force of manned and unmanned platforms is the future. The X-47B’s arrested landing aboard USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH showed that the Navy and Marine Corps are riding the bow wave of technological advances to create this 21st century force. But it is our Sailors and Marines that will provide the innovative thinking and develop the new ideas that are crucial to our success. The unmanned systems and platforms we are developing today, and our integrated manned and unmanned employment methods, will become a central part of the Navy and Marine Corps of tomorrow. They will help ensure we continue to be the most powerful expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known. About the author: Ray Mabus is the 75th Secretary of the Navy, leading the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. He has served as Governor of the State of Mississippi, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and as a surface warfare officer aboard USS Little Rock (CLG-4). -ends-
12/11/2013

A Short History of US Air Force Drone Operations

LAS VEGAS, Nev. --- The RPA actually got its start as early as 1896, when something called aerodromes at the time, were used to test the capabilities of new flying devices and to test if it was even possible for a heavier-than-air craft to achieve sustained flight. In May 1896, Dr. Samuel Langley proved that mechanical flight was possible with his Aerodrome No. 5. From that point on, the shape, design and technology structure of the unmanned aircraft evolved over the years, improving each time. In 1918, the U.S. Army became interested in unmanned flight and ordered 25 Liberty Eagle aircraft. The intent was for the aircraft to be used as an aerial torpedo. Just over two decades later in 1941, the OQ-2 Radioplane became the first mass-produced unmanned aerial vehicle. By 1945, only a few years later, radioplane factories had produced around 15,000 aircraft for use as target drones. Since achieving the first sustained controlled flight, the idea of unmanned flight has grown to be one of the most useful aircraft technology systems in modern history. Today, RPAs have transformed from a basic tool into high-tech machines, providing assistance during both humanitarian and war time situations. 1990s - 2000: In January 1994, more than half a century after the advent of the first mass-produced UAV, the Air Force's modern-day remotely piloted aircraft program was born. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. received an advanced concept technology demonstration contract to produce a medium altitude endurance "unmanned" aerial vehicle. This new system would be called the RQ-1 Predator and would be based off its precursor the GNAT 750, which initially debuted in 1989 and was used for long-endurance tactical surveillance. A mere six months after the contract was established, the new aircraft achieved its first flight in July 1994. While the flight was a success, the Air Force then had to bring in military pilots, navigator-trained rated officers and non-rated officers to learn to use the new technology. "I was the first person to receive a permanent change of station and the ninth person to actually enter into the program," said Lt. Col. Eric, 432nd Wing Director of Staff. "I came in short notice in November of 1995 from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. In May 1996 I went to ground school in San Diego at the General Atomics headquarters. Afterward, I went to flight training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where the Army had the only system in the states at the time." John Box, a retired Air Force pilot, trained to become an RPA pilot in June 1996. He said because the system wasn't produced by the Air Force, the new equipment did not come with technical orders, making the task of learning how to use the system rather challenging. "Much of what we learned was by word of mouth from our instructors and not delivered in a military format," he said. "That took an adjustment and I found it frustrating and challenging but very exciting. I often had to deal with emergency situations that no one had ever before encountered. Every time I flew the system, I learned something new. We were developing books and adding new information to them daily. I wasn't trained for this type of work. Others may have got us started off on a better foot, but I believed in the concept and was committed to making it happen as best I could. It was a 'cowboy' atmosphere and I really enjoyed it." By 1995 it was decided that the Predator's capabilities were needed to aid U.N. and NATO efforts in Europe. The Predator and Air Force personnel were deployed to Taszar, Hungary, to provide support from 1995 until August 1998. Eric deployed to Hungary in August 1996 after completing training. It was during this deployment that he felt the continued challenges of integrating a new form of air power into the Air Force's inventory. "There were two Air Force pilots and a General Atomics instructor pilot with us ... only the three of us to accomplish the mission," he said. "There were no publications, technical orders, regulations or guidance that we hadn't created ourselves. We had to rewrite the very first technical orders that we were given and put them into Air Force terminology." Eric said maintainers were also dealing with some of the same issues as the pilots - learning by observation. "The General Atomics technician was there saying 'here's how we do the 50-hour engine inspection,' and our guys were watching him do it," he said. "But there were no publications or technical orders to break down the process of actually doing it. It took almost three years before we actually started getting valid technical orders on the systems, and it was the same the guidance and everything else. Today we are used to having regulations outlining how people do their jobs and laying down boundaries--we didn't have those." In October 1996 Eric found himself testing new waters for the Predator while facing the challenges of learning new technology and not having Air Force publications or technical orders to break down the processes. "On Oct. 1, 1996, during my deployment, I got the dubious distinction of being the first person in the military to be investigated for a safety investigation board for crashing a remotely piloted airplane," he said "At the time I was doing everything I could to save the airplane. That was my first and foremost concern, but because we didn't have any resources to help us, we kind of made it up as we went. We actually had a General Atomics engineer in the ground control station with us. We said, 'what if we try this?' and he would reply, 'well I don't know we've never tested that before.' We just didn't have any other choices so we were doing it the best that we could." In the end it was determined the crash occurred because the engine had been incorrectly rebuilt. Although the incident resulted in the loss of an aircraft, Eric said it was a learning experience. "We didn't have any publications to follow and we lost an airplane because of it," he said. "But, we learned a lot from it ... we were pioneers on the leading edge of this system making Air Force leaders understand what kind of capabilities this thing had, what we could do with it, and how to move forward with it." It was during this time when Eric and John were learning to fly the Predator that James Clark, at the time an Air Force colonel assigned to the Pentagon, was chosen by Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, to examine Predator operations. Clark, who is known as "Snake" by many, was chosen because he had no experience with RPAs. Fogleman wanted someone with an outsider's perspective. "What I found [during my study] was remarkable," he said. "This little drone could fly hundreds of miles away and provide color television and infrared video surveillance of enemy activity, without risking the life of a pilot. In a control van, which was a converted NASCAR transporter trailer, I watched pilots and sensor operations sitting in front of computer screens actually flying this thing - simply remarkable." While Snake was studying Predator operations in D.C., and pilots, mechanics and other RPA community members were providing assistance in deployed locations, Creech Air Force Base, Nev., was continuing to be built up in order to become home to the Air Force's premier RPA wing. The 11th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first squadron to stand up at Creech AFB. This milestone also marked the point when the Air Force RPA program's dynamic objectives took on a new strategic focus. After the squadron stood up the 11th RS deployed members to support Detachment 3, which was under Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "While deployed we were Detachment 3 under DARPA," Eric said. "When the Air Force took over we became the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron deployed; then once the Air Force turned to the expeditionary concept, [the squadron] became the 11th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. I was actually the first formal commander of the 11th ERS when it stood up. While the 11th ERS was deployed and redefining itself as a combat asset, Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field was continuing to grow back home in preparation to become the home of additional RPA squadrons. "Indian Springs was a pretty bare base then," John said. "Most of the existing infrastructure was dilapidated, early Cold War era construction. They converted the small Base Exchange into our Intel vault and they renovated a small building across the street for our squadron operations facility. We ate at a small chow hall that originally supported up-range and transient aircraft operations. There was a recreation center/gym converted from several other old buildings 'kluged' together." Mardi Wilcox, who was the squadron maintenance officer in 1995, took her new task head on despite having few resources available at the time. "I was super excited to be selected as the first maintenance officer in the Air Force to be assigned to a UAV unit," she said. "It was cutting edge technology and the UAVs we had at the time were special in that way. No one else had them, and a lot of people had never heard of them. We were excited because there was no limit to what they could do ... we could only dream about what was to come. We had one double-wide trailer and one small hangar. Shelters for the UAVs were canvas structures across the ramp. It was 10 tons of stuff in a 1 ton bag." During the late 1990s the program was still in its beginning phases. For some this was exciting but to others it seemed less than promising. However, Wilcox said she had a much different outlook on the subject. "There were a lot of naysayers [at the time]," she said. "Many thought it was just another 'thing' that would just go away ... but our major command leadership made it work. I think for the most part my people loved it. It was new, it was on the leading edge and for the majority of my folks, we wanted it to work. We set the foundation for what the program is today." 2000 - Present: After Operation Allied Force wrapped up in mid-1999, the Air Force was left to figure out what to do with this still relatively new technology. By early 2000 the RQ-1 Predator, which had just proved its capabilities overseas, was armed and became known as the MQ-1 Predator. "As part of the 'lessons learned' from Operation Allied Force, it was determined that if the Predator had a weapon on it, we could cut the time between identifying a target and then destroying it," Snake said. "On Feb. 16, 2000, Predator 3034 took its first successful Hellfire shot from the air, and to all of our surprise, it worked." This new capability arrived just in time, as events on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed many lives and the helped define the future of the Predator. "We watched the attack on the World Trade Center, until we were shocked by flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon," Snake said. "Late on the evening of Sept. 12, a lone C-17 took off from an airfield on the west coast with its cargo of Predators and Hellfire missiles. Days later, one of America's first responses to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was in place and ready for combat." After 9/11 the MQ-1 Predator proved itself resilient and capable during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The success of RPAs during these operations resulted in an increased desire for RPA capabilities in future operations. Lt. Col. Russell, who was the RPA assignments officer at Air Force Personnel Center in 2005, remembers trained RPA pilots were a constant need for the Air Force. At the time, there were general officers everywhere who wanted every training spot filled in order to support U.S. and partner nation troops overseas. Pilots, maintainers and intelligence Airmen were pulled from several different platforms from across the Air Force to meet the demand RPA community's growing demands. In 2007, the 432nd Wing was activated at Creech AFB as the Air Force's first wing comprised entirely of RPAs, which was a sign of the program's rapid growth. A year later the demand for RPAs had grown so significantly that the wing expanded and became dual-hatted as the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, capable of offering full-spectrum support to overseas operations while still supporting the 432nd Wing's operate, train and equip efforts. "In 2011, I came out to Creech and was qualified as a MQ-9 pilot," Russell said. "Having been a part of the assignment process in the past, it's good to see how the tribe has grown. The Air Force is very tribal; I used to be an F-15 pilot, so I used to be part of that 'tribe'. Now it's neat to see the growth of an RPA tribe, made up of people from all different backgrounds." As Russell arrived at Creech in 2011, the MQ-1 and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper reached 1 million total flight hours - just 16 years after the program initially began. Just over two years later, on Oct. 22, 2013, the Air Force's MQ-1 and MQ-9 RPAs doubled that by achieving 2 million cumulative flight hours. Today, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 continue to be flown from 8,000 miles away in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, patrolling the skies and providing critical support and protection to U.S. and coalition forces on the ground. It is because of the dedication and diligence of the men and women past and present that the RPA community has gotten where it is today. As a testament to the vital role of the RPA community during the past 18 years, Predator 3034, the first RPA to test the Hellfire, and the first to shoot in combat on Oct. 7, 2001, is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. -ends-
27/09/2013

GAO Faults UCLASS Acquisition Plan

In fiscal year 2014, the Navy plans to commit to investing an estimated $3.7 billion to develop, build, and field from 6 to 24 aircraft as an initial increment of Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) capability. However, it is not planning to hold a Milestone B review--a key decision that formally initiates a system development program and triggers key oversight mechanisms--until after the initial UCLASS capability has been developed and fielded in fiscal year 2020. The Navy views UCLASS as a technology development program, although it encompasses activities commensurate with system development, including system integration and demonstration. Because the initial UCLASS system is to be developed, produced, and fielded before a Milestone B decision, Congress's ability to oversee the program and hold it accountable for meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals will likely be limited. Specifically, the program will operate outside the basic oversight framework provided by mechanisms like a formal cost and schedule baseline, statutory unit cost tracking, and regular reports to Congress on cost, schedule, and performance progress. The Navy believes its approach effectively utilizes the flexibility in the Department of Defense's (DOD) acquisition policy to gain knowledge needed to ensure a successful UCLASS system development program starting in fiscal year 2020. Yet the Navy expects to review preliminary designs, conduct a full and open competition, and award a contract for UCLASS development in fiscal year 2014, a point at which DOD policy and best practices indicate that a program would be expected to hold a Milestone B review to initiate a system development program. Apart from deferring Milestone B, the Navy's plan would be consistent with the knowledge-based acquisition process reflected in DOD policy. UCLASS faces several programmatic risks going forward. First, the UCLASS cost estimate of $3.7 billion exceeds the level of funding that the Navy expects to budget for the system through fiscal year 2020. Second, the Navy has scheduled 8 months between the time it issues its request for air vehicle design proposals and the time it awards the air vehicle contract, a process that DOD officials note typically takes 12 months to complete. Third, the UCLASS system is heavily reliant on the successful development and delivery of other systems and software, which creates additional schedule risk. Fourth, the Navy will be challenged to effectively manage and act as the lead integrator for three separate but interrelated segments--air vehicle, carrier, and control system--and 22 other government systems, such as the aircraft landing system, the timing and alignment of which are crucial to achieving the desired UCLASS capability. While the Navy recognizes many of these risks and has mitigation plans in place, they could lead to cost increases and schedule delays if not effectively addressed. The Navy's UCLASS acquisition strategy includes some good acquisition practices that reflect aspects of a knowledge-based approach. For example, the Navy is leveraging significant knowledge gained from prior technology development efforts, incorporating an open systems design approach, working to match the system's requirements with available resources, and reviewing preliminary designs for the air vehicle before conducting a competition to select a single contractor to develop and deliver the air vehicle segment. Why GAO Did This Study The Navy estimates that it will need $3.7 billion from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2020 to develop and field an initial UCLASS system. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 mandated that GAO evaluate the UCLASS system acquisition strategy. This report (1) assesses the UCLASS acquisition strategy, (2) identifies key areas of risk facing the system, and (3) notes areas where the Navy's strategy contains good practices. To do this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's acquisition strategy and compared it to DOD's acquisition policy, among other criteria; and reviewed Navy acquisition documents and spoke with Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials. What GAO Recommends Congress should consider directing the Navy to hold a Milestone B review for the UCLASS system after the system level preliminary design review is complete. If the Navy does not comply, Congress should consider limiting the amount of funding available for the UCLASS system until an acquisition program baseline is provided. GAO included these matters for consideration because the Navy does not plan to make changes as a result of GAO’s recommendation to hold a Milestone B review following the system level preliminary design review—which is currently scheduled in fiscal year 2015. The Navy did not concur with the recommendation, and believes that its approved strategy is compliant with acquisition regulations and laws. GAO continues to believe that its recommendation is valid as discussed in this report. Click here for the full report (26 PDF pages) on the GAO website. -ends-