The US Naval Air Systems Command has released this photograph of an X-47B making a dry connect with the drogue of K-707 tanker belonging to a civilian contractor, Omega Aerial Refueling Services. (Navair photo)

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02/07/2015

China Prepares New Base for UAV Operations

To carry out regular patrols over disputed islands under Japanese administration in the East China Sea, China's People's Liberation Army has recently completed the reconditioning of a front-line airfield, according to the Communist Party publication Global Times on July 1. Satellite images from April this year indicate three BZK-005 unmanned aerial vehicles have been deployed to a small airfield on Daishan island of Zhoushan in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang. The drones will be able from there to carry out routine patrols over the East China Sea covering the disputed Diaoyutai islands (known as Diaoyu to China and Senkaku to Japan). China began to carry out construction of 11 airfields to cover its 14,500 kilometers of coastline back in 2012 after Japan announced its plan to nationalize the islands, whicb subsequently took place in September of that year. Admiral Li Jie of the PLA Navy had said earlier that drones will be used to monitor foreign aircraft entering China's air defense identification zone. In September 2013, a Chinese BZK-005 was encountered by F-15J fighters of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force over the Diaoyutai, the first time China had sent a drone to the area from Daishan. To allow unmanned aerial vehicles to operate in the region on a routine basis, it was decided to recondition the airfield at Daishan. Developed by Harbin Aircraft Industry, the BZK-005 has a operational range of 2,400 kilometers. The aircraft can stay in the air for up to 40 hours at an altitude of 2,600 feet. Though the drone is not weaponized, it can still be used to monitor naval activities of neighbors in the East China Sea or perhaps even the South China Sea, Global Times said. -ends-
30/06/2015

Turkey's Anka UAV Program Faces Additional Delays

ANKARA --- The Turkish government is delaying its Anka (Phoenix) medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned air vehicle (UAV) program. The Anka is designed to gather intelligence and Turkey wants to use the UAV in the fight against terrorism in the country's south-eastern region. Deliveries planned for 2012 were delayed due to accidents and other problems. Two Anka UAVs are currently stationed in Sivrihisar Air Force Base, but neither system is used for operations. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is developing the Anka. In addition, TAI signed a deal in 2013 with the Turkish Air Force for the production of a next generation UAV called Anka-S. Originally, TAI planned to deliver the first batch in 2016. Now, recent technical problems are pushing back delivery to 2017. -ends-
29/06/2015

USAF Uses Web-Based Remotely Piloted Aircraft Application

WASHINGTON --- Using existing technology, a team of Air Force intelligence experts have developed a new Web-based program that saves lives and money, while enhancing the “eyes in the sky,” the centerpiece of the $80 billion remotely piloted aircraft industry. On June 24, the innovators received the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Achievement Award for developing the Surveillance Intelligence Reconnaissance Information System (SIRIS), a scalable, revolutionary approach to reshaping RPA collaboration among ground, air and intelligence users in friendly and enemy battlespace. Affordable web-based solution and leveraging existing technology “We chose a Web-based solution that does not require a costly retrofit of the platform, and we created rapid innovation that was non-compartmentalized,” said Stephen Coffey, the Web innovations deputy director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovations Directorate, Headquarters Air Force, Pentagon. The same technology behind remotely piloted aircraft deployed high above Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain would have been critically valuable to first responders at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and in other large-scale events or incidents, Coffey and his colleagues said. But the expansion and interoperability of RPA deployment has ascended to the forefront of industry, first responder and military discussions -- with good reason, Coffey and his team assert. “I was trying to find a way to leverage industry, government-owned solutions and do it for no cost,” the former squadron-level intelligence professional said. Requiring only a Web browser and Google Earth access, (SIRIS) data encompasses imagery, full-motion video, mission planning files, aircraft locations, sensor points, signals intelligence and even weather, which can make the system of import to everyone from farmers to firefighters to law enforcement. But the “eyes” began to get legs in March 2015, following an incident downrange, which heightened the urgency to refine and swiftly field the technology, said Chris McDonald, assigned to the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovations Directorate, Headquarters Air Force, Pentagon. Originally designed to surveil in a permissive environment, a deployed MQ-1 was shot down over Syria, prompting intelligence officials to collaborate online and in Nevada with subject matter experts to develop a decisive threat warning that could integrate existing technology. “We modified our technologies within the squadron operations center, which is part of the weapons system,” McDonald said. “But if you’ve got an airplane flying overseas and an (operations) center stateside, there’s a disconnect.” Soon, analysts realized SIRIS’s provision of essential data, such as when or where a shooter might attack an aircraft, gives the remote pilot a greater opportunity to navigate the RPA away from troublesome airspace. To set the groundwork for SIRIS, the intel team had the Air Force Research Lab’s Human Factors Development team create the Internet Coordinate Extractor, which monitors RPA chats and plots them in Google Earth. But constantly monitoring 30-35 different chat rooms and trying to swiftly filter only pertinent information proved to be daunting. “It’s really hard to focus on multiple screens at one time; you lose things and that could cost lives and money,” Coffey said. “So (ICE) allowed us to focus on Google Earth in the moment, so instead of looking at two windows, I’d look at one.” With government-owned code and specifically-designed human factors, the intelligence team, in just four days, built on the ICE concept to display data succinctly in a format familiar to pilots. But understanding how to apply and how to train people to apply the technology is what Coffey and his team call “disruptive,” particularly under the lens of manpower. “Each of us bring a different perspective to an innovative thought,” Coffey said. “Applying technology without the skill craft … had atrophied for us, since RPAs had not been shot at for 20 years. Time was not our friend in this particular case, so it’s important that we had early adoption of the technology.” Whether in facilitating communication among Airmen or even among other countries, such as NATO allies, some of whom have recently acquired Global Hawk Block 40, the intel team sustains efforts to make data transferable and accessible. “We found out young Airmen and even the pilots didn’t know how to talk to each other or what to expect from each other,” said Col. Frances Deutch, Ph.D., Intelligence Innovation Programs director. “So if SIRIS and similar programs are how we’re already doing business, why don’t we make these applications better interact as a suite? Data should be agnostic.” SIRIS beyond the battlespace In August 2013, a GPS-guided MQ-1 Predator relayed infrared images to California National Guard firefighters, who battled a raging Rim Fire that blazed across more than 160,000 acres -- leaving much of Yosemite National Park and its surroundings silted in ash and dense with smoke. “Because of the SIRIS tool, I literally was in my apartment drawing, circling and dropping points for the California wildfire chief in the middle of his firefighting,” Coffey said. The plane significantly improved responders’ abilities to predict the fire’s direction and determine the sources of greatest intensity. Once the fire ended, Coffey and his team arrived to California for a debriefing with the fire chief. “The chief literally started crying and told me, ‘you have no idea the lives you saved because of that,’” he said. Evolution of a technology revolution In 2012, AFRL scientists and engineers partnered not only with in-service labs, but actually linked with joint service labs including Washington-based U.S. Naval Research Lab, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, Huntsville, Alabama; Air Force Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson, Ohio; and Rome, New York; and U.S. Naval Air Weapons Stations at Patuxent River, Maryland; and China Lake, California. Linking the labs, Coffey said, enabled him to employ niche skill sets of each facility. “We found that collage of people to actually vet the technologies we defined through (joint urgent operational needs) and common sense,” he said. “We would try to find the best of breed, but we let the doctors in the labs analyze that for us and then pick the best of breed -- and they did that on their own dime.” The team then worked with industry to ensure they released the projects as government-owned without the need for proprietary rights or licensing. “Because we’ve partnered with these industries, they often come to bear and allow us to use technology that we had not considered in one realm (but proves effective) in another,” Coffey said. Writing unclassified code was another cornerstone of the project, Coffey said, since it ensured the technology was transferable across multiple interfaces. Way ahead for RPAs, SIRIS Ultimately, RPAs will do a lot more than provide ISR and close air support as threat awareness and threat detection emerge on a more sustainable platform, according to McDonald. “We’re trying to get the user in front of the technology, then they can tell us in a more succinct and specific manner what information they need,” he said. The familiar social media formatting for this data will only expedite early adoption of the technology by millennials, the team contends. “By creating a sandbox, we were trying to create a place where Airmen can develop the code and park it there then our developers can pick through it and help them write it,” Coffey said. “So now they feel enabled and it’s empowered them to be innovative.” -ends-
26/06/2015

MQ-4C Triton UAV Will Use Radar to Autonomously Avoid Crashing

Under the terms of a $39.1 million modification to a pre-existing contract, Northrop Grumman will continue the process of remedying the MQ-4C Triton’s troubled sense-and-avoid, air-to-air radar subsystem. The radar, once operable, will allow the unmanned aerial vehicle to autonomously sense and avoid other aerial objects, giving the platform true “drone” capabilities. Over the course of the last two years, the sense-and-avoid system, known as the Radar Autonomous Collisions Avoidance System (RACAS), was “paused” as the U.S. Navy re-evaluated its options and then restarted. In August 2013, details emerged that the Navy would cease further development of the existing system, with Captain Jim Hoke saying, “It remains a requirement to the Navy and to our program, but we need to take a hard look at the path going forward based on where we are on the technology perspective.” A new Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) solicitation for the radar was released in November 2014, effectively taking the system’s development away from the previous primary contractor, Exelis. In June 2014, the Navy awarded RDRTec of Dallas, Texas, $3 million as part of an effort to transition and evolve the RACAS technology into the Common RACAS (C-RACAS) that would fulfill both Fire Scout and Triton platform needs. The Northrop Grumman contract indicates that the process of developing the MQ-4C’s sense-and-avoid radar is moving along, but a clear answer as to whether the ultimate solution will fit into the C-RACAS concept remains to be seen. For now, integration of the new sense-and-avoid radar is not expected until 2020, which is three years after the expected 2017 introduction to service of the first two MQ-4Cs. So, it is going to be a while before the U.S. Navy gets its true autonomous “drone” platform. -ends-
24/06/2015

GA Wins $121M for 19 Gray Eagle UAVs

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $121,350,000 modification (P00028) to contract W58RGZ-13-C-0109 for 19 Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles and 19 satellite communications air data terminals. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2018. Fiscal 2015 other procurement (Army) funds in the amount of $121,350,000 were obligated at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity. -ends-
24/06/2015

USAF Releases Vision for Development of Autonomous Systems

WASHINGTON --- The Air Force released a vision document June 22 written by its former chief scientist which helps define a path to increased and effective autonomy. Autonomous Horizons, authored by Dr. Mica Endsley, provides direction and guidance on the opportunities and challenges in the development of autonomous systems for Air Force operations, and encourages those building autonomous systems to carefully consider and focus on the need for effective human-autonomy teaming as they develop new systems. "The world has seen unprecedented leaps in technology in the 21st century. If we are not leading those advances, we will be left behind," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. "We must continue to leverage and develop new technologies and systems that provide our nation and joint force a competitive advantage and explore areas where the application of automation and autonomy makes sense and offers enhanced agility." In the document, Endsley emphasized that increased autonomy will not replace Airmen but will enable the creation of more effective teams by leveraging the rapid advances being made in many of the technologies supporting autonomous behaviors. "This vision is both obtainable and sustainable -- it leaves the authority and responsibility for warfare in the hands of Airmen while creating tools that enhance their situation awareness and decision making, speed effective actions and bring needed extensions to their capabilities," Endsley said. "Rather than attempting to design the Airman out of the equation, the Air Force embraces the agility, intelligence and innovation that Airmen provide, along with the advanced capabilities of autonomy, to create effective teams in which activities can be accomplished smoothly, simply, and seamlessly." The document explains that Airmen should be able to make informed choices about where and when to invoke autonomy based on a variety of considerations to include trust, the ability to verify an autonomous system's operations, the level of risk and risk mitigation available for a particular operation, the operational need for the autonomy, and the degree to which the system supports the needed partnership with the Airman. According to Endsley, autonomy has distinct advantages that when harnessed can increase the effectiveness of the Airman, but ultimately, it's the operators that are in control of the system and should be both responsible for decisions and properly supported by the system to make those decisions. "In certain limited cases, the system may allow the autonomy to take over automatically from the Airman, when timelines are very short for example, or when loss of lives is imminent," Endsley explained. "However, human decision making for the exercise of force with weapon systems is a fundamental requirement, in keeping with Department of Defense directives." Looking ahead, the new chief scientist, Dr. Greg Zacharias, in collaboration with other stakeholders in the development, testing and operational use of autonomous systems, will continue to examine the many technical issues involved in creating autonomous systems that can deal effectively with the challenges of uncertainty and variability in operational environments. "We must be innovative and seek ways to fully leverage technology," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "Increased levels of system autonomy will ensure enhanced capability in responding to a range of operations and global challenges." Click here for the full report (33 PDF pages) on the US Air Force website. -ends-
22/06/2015

Safran, French Agency Team to Integrate Drones In Civil Airspace

PARIS AIR SHOW --- The French air navigation service provider, DSNA (direction des services de la navigation aérienne), the leading provider of air navigation services in Europe, and Safran, a world leader in optronics, avionics, electronics and critical software for both civil and defense markets, today signed an agreement to work together on the integration of drones in civil airspace. The aim of this agreement is to pool the two partners' resources and expertise to jointly bid on contracts offered within the scope of the European research program SESAR 2020. SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) is a European program designed to modernize air traffic management systems, financed by the European Commission and the Trans-European Transport Network, TEN-T. The agreement mainly covers research & development projects concerning anti-collision technologies ("Detect & Avoid") and associated procedures. The ability to automatically detect and avoid possible collisions, identical to the "see & avoid" function on aircraft, is in effect the technological and regulatory key to the future integration of drones in air traffic. The DSNA and Safran, building on their collaboration through ODREA, a European project financed by the SESAR JU (Joint Undertaking), plan to develop an initial "Detect & Avoid" operational capability. Safran is a leading international high-technology group with three core businesses: Aerospace (propulsion and equipment), Defence and Security. Operating worldwide, the Group has 69,000 employees and generated sales of 15.4 billion euros in 2014. Working alone or in partnership, Safran holds world or European leadership positions in its core markets. The Group invests heavily in Research & Development to meet the requirements of changing markets, including expenditures of 2 billion euros in 2014. DSNA (direction des services de la navigation aérienne), the French air navigation service provider (ANSP), provides air traffic services for flights leaving and arriving at French airports and in French airspace. -ends-
22/06/2015

Northrop Wins $60M to Support BAMS-D Trials

Northrop Grumman System Corp., San Diego, California, is being awarded a $60,943,220 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for operations and maintenance services in support of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance – Demonstrator (BAMS-D) unmanned aircraft system. This contract also provides for logistics support; organization, intermediate, and depot level maintenance; and field service representatives, to ensure that the BAMS-D aircraft are mission-capable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Work will be performed in Patuxent River, Maryland (70 percent); at forward operating locations (25 percent); and Rancho Bernardo, California (5 percent), and is expected to be completed in June 2016. Fiscal 2015 operations and maintenance, (Navy) funds in the amount of $60,943,220 are being obligated on this award, all of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304 (c) (1). The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-15-C-0007). -ends-
18/06/2015

Northrop Flies Open Mission Systems Architecture on UAV

EDWARDS AFB, Calif. --- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NOC) successfully flew a new Open Mission Systems (OMS) architecture on a NASA Global Hawk, demonstrating the ability to rapidly and affordably adapt new capabilities onto unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The new architecture implementation flight took place at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. This flight confirmed the ability for ground operators to send OMS payload commands and receive OMS subsystem status responses over a Ku SATCOM Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) communications link between the unmanned aircraft and an operations center. A previously developed OMS Critical Abstraction Layer (CAL) was adapted to an OMS Open Computing Environment (OCE) onboard the NASA Global Hawk using a production RQ-4 Global Hawk airborne database computer. The demonstration illustrates Northrop Grumman's ability to rapidly deploy OMS on production Global Hawk platforms. The architecture paves the way for integration of new payload options for Global Hawk to support mission flexibility and customer needs. In addition to flying on the NASA Global Hawk UAS, the OMS architecture will be adapted and demonstrated in-flight on a manned airborne weapons system later this month. NASA Global Hawks are preproduction variants of RQ-4 Global Hawks currently in service around the world. With the ability to fly as high as 60,000 feet for over 30 hours, Global Hawks provide a combination of high altitude and long endurance performance capabilities that allow the science community to study scientific and environmental phenomena in-depth. Global Hawk variants have flown more than 150,000 flight hours in support of antiterrorism, antipiracy, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, airborne communications relay and information-sharing missions. NASA and Northrop Grumman recently renewed a five-year Space Act Agreement that includes operation of the NASA Global Hawk system to conduct scientific experiments as well as technology implementations such as this OMS demonstration. Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide. -ends-
18/06/2015

Australian Defence Force Trains with RQ-12 Small UAV

PARIS --- AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) today announced that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) this month received and began training exercises with the company’s RQ-12 Wasp AE small unmanned aircraft system. ADF placed an AUD $7.7 million order on Dec. 22, 2014 as part of an Army Soldier Modernization Trial procurement. AeroVironment received the order from XTEK Limited on behalf of the ADF. “The man packable Wasp AE unmanned aircraft system delivers powerful intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance on demand and directly to small tactical units or an individual warfighter,” said Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment vice president and general manager of the company’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. Flittie added, “Increasingly, allied forces around the world are deploying our small unmanned aircraft systems for valuable, real-time situational awareness to help them operate more safely and effectively.” AeroVironment has delivered more than 25,000 new and replacement small unmanned aerial vehicles to customers within the United States and to more than 30 international governments. The Wasp AE weighs 2.8 pounds, operates for up to 50 minutes at a range of up to five kilometers and delivers live, streaming color and infrared video from its pan-tilt-zoom Mantis i22 AE gimbaled payload. Launched by hand and capable of landing on the ground or in fresh or salt water, the Wasp AE provides portability and flexibility for infantry, littoral or maritime reconnaissance operations. -ends-

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12/06/2015

Fly-offs for French Tactical UAV Competition Begin This Month

PARIS --- France’s defense procurement agency will begin the in-flight evaluation of competitors for the future SDT tactical UAV system later this month, allowing selection of the winner by year-end after a second-round review in the fall. The evaluations, each lasting one or two weeks, will take place at Istres air base in south-eastern France. The SDT evaluations will oppose two French companies offering foreign-designed airframes with subsystems and electronics tailored to French needs: Sagem, which is offering its Patroller, and Thales, which is offering the Watchkeeper developed by its British subsidiary, Thales UK, for the British Army. Watchkeeper will be evaluated in late June, and Patroller will follow in early July. Airbus Defence and Space, which had not been invited to bid for the Système de Drone Tactique (SDT) program, submitted an unsolicited offer earlier this year based on the Textron Systems Shadow M2 unmanned system, which it has dubbed Artemis. The company is waiting for feedback from DGA and the French army on its unsolicited offer before making a full-fledged bid. Uncertainties remain as to SDT funding The French army has not specified a number of aircraft or systems, but has defined an operational requirement, leaving industry to come up with proposals on how best to meet it. However, as it now operates 22 Sperwer tactical drones, it is likely that it will ultimately require about 30 Système de Drone Tactique (SDT) aircraft divided into four deployable systems. “The 2014-2019 Military Program Law calls for two complete and deployable SDT systems, comprising 14 operational and training aircraft, to be delivered by 2019,” a DGA spokesman told Defense-Aerospace.com June 10. He added that the competition was formally launched during the fall of 2014, and that it is proceeding as planned, but declined further comment because the competition is ongoing. There are some doubts, given the French air force’s large-scale procurement of Reaper MALE UAVs, the planned development of the Eurodrone 2020 MALE, and the availability of smaller tactical UAVs, whether the French army actually needs to spend so much money to buy large UAVs of its own. “The current worry is that the program might not be completed, as the requirements are very ambitious and demanding, and there is no officially-defined budget,” says a senior official of one of the competing companies. In fact, the SDT program was barely mentioned during May 26 parliamentary hearings on the update to the 2014-2019 defense program law. Gen. Jean-Pierre Bosser, the army chief of staff, simply said that “we expect our current interim SDTs to be replaced by an SDT system,” before moving on to other issues. All three competitors stress the high French content of their offers, the high proportion of production work that will take place in France, and the fact that their solution offers sovereign, autonomous capabilities entirely free of foreign interference, for both operation and support. Sagem, with its Sperwer, is the incumbent; its latest contract was awarded in December 2013, and funded five additional Sperwer systems for delivery in 2015. In addition to those already in service with the 61ème Régiment d’Artillerie, these UAVs will maintain French army capabilities until a replacement enters service by the end of the decade. The three competitors offer three totally different approaches to the French requirement. All three offer broadly similar sensors, but differ notably in their air vehicles, which range from Sagem’s optionally-piloted and self-deployable motor glider; Thales’ updated and “Frenchified” Hermes UAV to the much smaller, and optionally catapult-launched, Shadow M2 planned by Airbus DS. In fact, the difference in size is such that the 250 kg payload of Sagem’s Patroller is heavier than an entire Shadow air vehicle, while at 450 kg empty mass Watchkeeper is less than half as heavy as Patroller. In other words, Watchkeeper is twice as heavy as Artemis, and in turn Patroller is about twice as heavy as Watchkeeper, although they all carry similar types of payloads. Given France’s insistence on maintaining its independent deployment capability, the level of technical and operational sovereignty, and the control of the supply chain, is likely to weigh heavily during the final selection. Watchkeeper Goes French Sagem’s main competitor for the French SDT contract is Thales UK’s Watchkeeper , which was developed from the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 design and adapted to UK requirements. The British Army has ordered 13 Watchkeeper systems, for a total of 54 air vehicles, about 30 of which have been delivered to date. Watchkeeper was deployed by the British Army in Afghanistan. Several aircraft arrived at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, in August 2014, and flew its first combat mission on Sept. 16, Lt Col Craig Palmer, the point man for UAVs at British Army HQ, told reporters here June 2. However, it will not attain Full Operational Capability until 2017, he said. Watchkeeper has flown about 500 hours with the British Army, Palmer said, of which 140 hours in Afghanistan and 360 hours from its base in Boscombe Down, in England. British troops prepare a Watchkeeper unmanned aerial vehicle for a mission at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. (UK MoD photo) “Watchkeeper was designed from the outset to generate information superiority [and] its world-class I-Master radar is what is actually adding value. It’s a game-changer” compared to the Hermes, which has no radar, Palmer said. The Watchkeeper variant Thales has offered to France is equipped with mostly French subsystems, including a secure datalink, the same Automatic Take-Off and Landing System (ATOLS) that Thales developed for Watchkeeper, and Thales’ own electro-optical sensors. For the time being, the French army has been offered a Selex ES surface search radar, but alternate radars can also be fitted. For the French proposal, the joint Elbit/Thales datalink fitted to UK Watchkeeper has been replaced by a Thales-developed TMA/TMG 6000 dual-mode (command and ISR data) datalink, and Thales Executive Vice-President for Telecommunications Marc Darmon says the company has all the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to this product, which is obviously significant for national sovereignty issues. “We bought the source codes and we largely re-wrote them, so we have total control of the system,” says another Thales executive, dismissing concerns that foreign companies are involved in the French Watchkeeper proposal. At present, 80% of Watchkeeper components are British-made, with another 15% coming from France and 5% from the rest of the world, according to Pierrick Lerey, strategy and marketing director for Thales’ UAV and ISR business. The company has formed a French suppliers club (equipefrancewatchkeeper.com) to update Watchkeeper’s main systems, including a new-generation electro-optical payload; a new Communications and ESM payload; a new imagery chain for full HD video; interconnection with the French military C4ISR network, a new ground station and a remote video terminal. The goal, Lerey says, is to bring French content up to at least 35% for the French program, since the Watchkeeper airframe and the (new) ground stations will continue to be built in the UK. Sagem’s Optionally-Piloted Motor Glider While its competitors opted for specific, UAV-sized airframes, Sagem preferred to use a civil-certified airframe for its Patroller, which is almost as large as a MALE drone but offers the advantage of being derived from a German motor glider, the Stemme S-15. Frederic Mazzanti, Sagem Vice-President and head of its Optronics and Defense Division, notes that this means it can self-deploy using civil airspace, that it can be used for training in unsegregated airspace with a pilot on board, and that it does not need tractors or other ground equipment because it was designed to be autonomous on the ground. Patroller’s size also means it offers lots of space for fuel and sensors, and the commercial origin of its airframe means it was designed for simple, straightforward repairs with little tooling, another plus for austere operations. A soldier shows the large sensor ball of Sagem’s Patroller UAV, a large, optionally-piloted aircraft that offers much greater range and payload than its competitors (Sagem photo) Sagem’s offer comprises triplex-redundant avionics, a new fourth-generation Euroflir 41 sensor ball with a 43-cm diameter and fitted with full HD color TV, visible and thermal imaging, and laser rangefinder and designator. Several synthetic aperture radars can be fitted, depending on the customer’s preferences, and several have already been tested. Most importantly, says Mazzanti, Patroller has the capability to operate radar and EO sensors at the same time, and also to transmit their imagery at the same time. This, he notes, is a unique capability in this category, and can multiply an ISR aircraft’s effectiveness by tracking several targets with different sensors at the same time. Most Patroller subsystems and sensors are produced by Sagem itself (EO sensor ball, navigation, datalink) while the others are French-made. Sagem also owns all property rights to the airframe, so the fact that no foreign company is involved guarantees manufacturing and operational sovereignty. With its Sperwer drones, which were operated in Afghanistan by several of the nine countries that have bought it, Sagem gained precious operational experience. The French army’s 22 Sperwers attained an availability rate of 80-85% with support from Sagem. “Our availability in terms of aircraft numbers never fell short of requirements,” Mazzanti said, adding that as operators of the S-15 have logged over 1,000 flight hours per year, there is no reason for Patroller not to attain similar levels. Sagem employs over 100 people at its French plants to build Sperwer drones and its components, and the company also has assembled a cluster of SMEs to which it subcontracts some of the work. All in all, Sagem says that French content of Patroller will attain 85% by value, as only the radar and airframe would be built overseas. With a payload of 250 kg, and a mission endurance of 30 hours, Patroller is a much larger aircraft than its competitors, but Mazzanti dismisses criticism that it may be too large for its intended mission. “It is air-transportable, it fits into a standard 20-foot container, it can land with a 20-knot crosswind and it can pull 5Gs, so its size and robustness are real operational advantages.” Outsider Airbus Teams with Textron Thales and Sagem both “offered large air vehicles that are closer to MALE size, but looking at the French army requirement we thought that a smaller drone, capable of being operated from close to the front line, would be a better match,” an Airbus official said June 9. Instead of offering one of its own UAVs, the company preferred to team with Textron Systems to prepare a bid based on a tried-and-tested UAV that more closely matches the French army requirement, and which is small enough for use at brigade or division, instead of corps, level. LEGENDE: Airbus DS has offered to “Frenchify” Textron’s Shadow to develop its Artemis UAV, which is much smaller than the two SDT competitors and doesn’t need a runway, as it can be launched from a catapult. (US Army photo) Airbus has not yet formally filed a bid, and will only announce its Artemis partnership with Textron next week at the Paris Air Show. The company has so far only submitted an unsolicited proposal to DGA, and is waiting for feedback before deciding whether to invest in a formal and comprehensive proposal. Nonetheless, company officials expect a positive response, and are encouraged by the fact that a team of DGA and French army observers will fly to Yuma, Arizona during the summer for a demonstration of the Shadow M2, which will not fly at Istres. Smaller also means cheaper, and Airbus says its offer – based on Textron Unmanned Systems’ upgraded Shadow M2 – would carry much lower acquisition and operating costs, and thus allow more intensive operations for a given budget, while its small size also facilitates transport and deployment. Shadow is operated by the US Army and Marine Corps and several foreign militaries, and over 300 air vehicles have logged over 1 million flight hours, including in combat. A competitive advantage that Airbus points out is that Shadow’s long service career, and different users, are such that the latest versions benefit from a wealth of technical and operational lessons learned. For Artemis, Airbus would modify the Shadow M2 air vehicle as little as possible to limit costs, but would replace its subsystems or adapt them to French requirements. These would include Airbus’ own Lygarion datalink, a modified ground station, and French sensor packages (radar and either electro-optical or signals intelligence) that are capable of simultaneous operation. Airbus plans to purchase full rights to the Shadow airframe and ground station, and so would control the entire system, ensuring “fully autonomous operations, as well as maximum growth potential, for the French customer,” according to a briefing document. It also says that a “significant” share of production and support – about 60% -- would take place in France, supporting French industry and jobs. In reality, a large share of production would remain in the United States, so French workshare would largely be made up by training and support, in addition to some key subsystems. -ends-
12/03/2015

UAVs: France, Germany and Italy to Launch European MALE Program

PARIS --- Three European nations will sign an agreement at the Paris air show in June to jointly fund initial studies for a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said here March 11. France, Germany and Italy will follow up by awarding a study contract in December to an industry group formed by Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi. The initial contract is valued at a few dozen millions of euros. Ultimately, if the program progresses as planned, the nations plan to obtain an operational reconnaissance UAV by 2025. “Our effort in the field of surveillance drones and ISR will increase with, already this year, the launch of studies of the future European drone, with Germany and Italy, that France envisions for about 2025, ,” Le Drian said here during a March 11 press conference. An Italian defense official confirmed the agreement, which has not yet been made public in Italy, however adding “we will see whether it ultimately leads to a development program.” The three companies have been calling for such a government initiative for over two years, and in May 2013 took the unusual step of issuing a joint statement calling on their governments to “launch a European MALE program.…to support the capability needs of European armed forces while optimizing the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding.” The companies have a double goal: to maintain the know-how and expertise of their military aircraft design offices, now that they have mostly completed work on current fighters, and to recover the UAV business that is now going to their US competitors – France and Italy operate General Atomics Predator or Reaper UAVs, like the UK, the Netherlands has just decided to buy some while Spain is also weighing buying some. “Originally, [our] idea was to prevent the procurement of Reaper drones by European governments,” but this didn’t work, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said here during a separate March 11 press conference. “We’ve been working on this project for a long time, and we think we can develop a drone to replace the Reaper, which is an interim solution. We have asked our governments to state that an operational requirement exists, and we will be able to reply to that requirement.” In parallel, France is however continuing to boost its Reaper force, which is seeing intensive use in Africa, where it is supporting French and allied troops operating in Mali. France is due to receive a third Reaper aircraft in April, and will order a follow-on batch of three additional aircraft in August, according to a planning document released by Le Drian. “We are asking for a contract from the three governments covering initial studies,” Trappier said. “Initially, it’s a question of a few dozen million euros, although it will cost more once development is launched.” The three companies set out the details of their proposal in a second joint statement issued in June 2014, in which they proposed “a Definition Phase which has been prepared by joint development teams of Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi and which is backed by an industrial agreement on workshare and a cooperative agreement to start the MALE2020 program.” The broad lines of the industry proposal have been retained, although the initial operational capability has slipped to 2025. One of the trickier problems to be solved is the integration of the future MALE UAV into general air traffic, Trappier said. The inability to fly in unrestricted airspace is one of the reasons for which Germany canceled the EuroHawk program – a variant of Global Hawk fitted with a German sensor package – after spending several hundred million euros on its development. -ends-
23/02/2015

An Introduction to Autonomy in Weapon Systems

Source: Center for New American Security Ref: no reference Issued Feb 13, 2015 23 PDF pages In this working paper, 20YY Warfare Initiative Director Paul Scharre and Adjunct Senior Fellow Michael Horowitz discuss future military systems incorporating greater autonomy. The intent of the paper is to help clarify, as a prerequisite to examining legal, moral, ethical and policy issues, what an autonomous weapon is, how autonomy is already used, and what might be different about increased autonomy in the future. (PDF format) Full text
13/11/2014

UK: Challenges & Opportunities of Drone Security

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

UK, France to Launch FCAS Demo Phase

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

USAF Vision & Plans for UAVs 2013-2038

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

Airbus Plots Return to UAV Market

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

US Unmanned Vehicle Roadmap, FY2013-38

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

Was Watchkeeper Grounded for 3 Months?

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

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

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