Russia plans to deploy several Taifun-M unmanned ground vehicles to guard five ICBM launch sites each is equipped with a laser rangefinder-designator and an automatic cannon. (RIA Novosti photo)

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23/04/2014

Russia Shows Taifun-M Robot Guard Vehicle

MOSCOW --- The new Russian mobile security robot Taifun-M, designed to provide security at strategic missile facilities, has been shown on the Russian Vesti news program. The combat robots, which have no foreign analogue, will be used to secure Yars and Topol-M missile sites and can be operated remotely by a secure wireless connection and in the future with an autonomous artificial intelligence system, the program reported Monday. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said last month several of the robots, which feature laser-targeting and a cannon, will be deployed at five sites by the end of the year, part of an upgrade of existing automated security systems. The official said the robots will carry out reconnaissance and patrol missions, detect and destroy stationary or moving targets and provide fire support for security personnel at the guarded facilities. Mobile robotic platforms play an increasingly important role in military and security applications, helping personnel to meet challenges posed by the growing threat of terrorist attacks or armed militants engaging in guerrilla warfare, while minimizing the risk of casualties. -ends-
23/04/2014

NATO Tests Underwater Robot Network

CMRE acoustic communications technologies play crucial role in allowing wireless navigation in formation flying at 2014 first test phase. From 7 to 11 April 2014, CMRE participated in the first 2014 sea trials of the MORPH (Marine Robotic System of Self-Organising, logically Linked Physical Nodes) European Commission project, which aims to test the latest developments in multiple-vehicle coordination and formation flying based on echo-location. The trials occurred off the coast of Girona (Spain) and were led by the ViCOROB - Computer vision and robotics research Institute of the University of Girona. More than 20 scientists from Germany, Portugal, Italy, France and Spain successfully tested cooperation among autonomous underwater and surface vehicles in executing survey trajectories avoiding existing obstacles. This was a new step forward towards future skills for fleets of marine vehicles: more complex tasks will be experimented in future phases of the Project. This tested capability is relevant to permit safe actions in areas where visibility is low and obstacles are frequent. Vehicles proved to be able to deal better with these challenges in teams, particularly in difficult environments such as, near cliff areas. Indeed, the MORPH project drives at demonstrating a system which can perform complex missions using a heterogeneous team of vehicles with complementary capacities. In this way using easier, cheaper, safer, single vehicles in teams, the mission would then be carried out more efficiently than by using more complex units. The feasible launch on the market for this kind of technology is estimated in a 10-year time scale and possible applications include harbour protection, monitoring industrial infrastructures (offshore wind power installations, pipelines), sea mine detection, environmental monitoring, exploration of marine resources or archaeology, to name a few. The MORPH project is a 4-year-long effort, launched in February 2012, and funded by the European Commission with an overall budget of 8,5 million euro within the EU 7th Framework Programme. The role of CMRE within MORPH is to provide the communication infrastructure between the individual modules (vehicles). The ability to share data between submerged vehicles is crucial for the implementation of cooperative control schemes. CMRE is exploring novel techniques that will allow embedding location awareness into the underwater communications network, solving both the problems of inter-vehicle data exchange and relative positioning. In addition to CMRE, the institutions taking part in the Girona trials were: Atlas Elektronik (Germany), Ifremer (France), Jacobs University Bremen (Germany), Ilmenau University of Technology (Germany), Computer Vision and Robotics research Institute at University of Girona (Spain), IMAR - Institute of Marine Research (Portugal), Instituto Superior Tecnico (IST Portugal), CNR - Istituto di Studio sui Sistemi Intelligenti per l'Automazione (Italy). The video of the Girona trials is on YouTube. -ends-
22/04/2014

French Predators Log 500 Hours in Mali

On March 31, 2014 -- two and a half months after it stood up -- the Reaper detachment has passed the 500 flight hour milestone in support of Operation Serval. A few days after its arrival on African soil on January 16, a French air force Reaper drone carried out its first operational missions over Mali. Since then, missions have followed at a steady pace, and Predator crews, consisting of operators as well as intelligence officers and image analysts, have been widely utilized. During these few weeks, the Reaper has demonstrated its capabilities and will be seen as a key ISR (identification, surveillance, reconnaissance) asset at the disposal of French forces. About 1,600 French soldiers are currently on Malian soil, and are pursuing a mission against armed terrorist groups, while supporting the standing up of MINUSMA and FAMA forces. -ends-
22/04/2014

IAF Prepares to Intercept Hostile UAVs?

Protecting the skies above the State of Israel is the main mission of the IAF. Part of this mission requires that the IAF adjust itself to the challenges of the day. In recent years, the threat of hostile unmanned aerial vehicles has only increased. This week, the IAF trained for this ever-developing threat In light of the infiltration of Israeli airspace by a UAV during the Second Lebanon War and in light of the threats of the UAVs that have followed since, the IAF began thought processes about how to cope with the increasing threat. In recent years, the force has initiated a series of training exercises that were designed to train aircrew members for the moment of truth and last week, fighter jet and fighter helicopter squadrons in the force practiced UAV interceptions on Israel's borders. The IAF strives to match the simulated threats in the training exercise to a battlefield that only grows more intense and as a result, the aircrews trained for a variety of the most advanced types of UAVs, including a UAV the aircrews had never seen before. "This year, we trained for a different type of UAV: it's more advanced, faster and spends more time in the air than ordinary UAVs and so it poses a new challenge for the aircrews", says Captain Avi, ground security officer at the Ramon airbase. The UAV interceptions were joined by their partners in the mission: the air traffic controllers, who were equipped with detection and alarm systems. During the mission, they are responsible for detecting the small aircrafts in the skies above Israel and continuously tracking them, while directing the aircrews to intercept them. "The training exercise for this specific topic is designed as a preventative measure", explains Captain Avi. "This is a threat that is steadily getting worse, and so the IAF is not closing its eyes and ignoring it but is preparing for emergencies". -ends-
22/04/2014

First Flight for Optionally Piloted Black Hawk

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida --- In cooperation with the U.S. Army, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. has successfully demonstrated optionally piloted flight of a Black Hawk helicopter, a significant step toward providing autonomous cargo delivery functionality to the U.S. Army. Sikorsky Aircraft is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. The Optionally Piloted Black Hawk (OPBH) Demonstrator, known as Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) Program, conducted the successful first flight demonstration on March 11 at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center. The demonstration was conducted through the use of Sikorsky’s Matrix™ Technologies and advanced Ground Control Station (GCS) Technologies. The OPBH demonstrated autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable GCS, demonstrating the capability for expeditionary operations and critical cargo resupply. “The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter provides the commander with the flexibility to determine crewed or un-crewed operations, increasing sorties while maintaining crew rest requirements. This allows the crew to focus on the more ‘sensitive’ operations, and leaves the critical resupply missions for autonomous operations without increasing fleet size or mix,” said Mark Miller, Sikorsky Vice President of Research & Engineering. The MURAL Program is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Aviation Development Directorate (ADD), the U.S. Army Utility Helicopters Project Office (UH PO) and Sikorsky. The UH PO is providing access to two UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopters and Sikorsky is applying the technology it has developed with Internal Research and Development funding. Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007, and signed a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Army in 2013 to advance the program to a formal effort to demonstrate the full flexibility and value of a full authority flight control system. The effort includes demonstration of expeditionary ground control systems and precision control. “The ADD’s mission is to focus on developing, demonstrating and applying critical technologies that enhance the capability, affordability, readiness and safety of Department of Defense aviation systems,” said Dr. William Lewis, Director, ADD. “The optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter functionality stands to bring added value to DoD aviation systems, through the innovations being tested on the Black Hawk helicopter in the MURAL program.” According to COL Thomas Todd, the Utility Helicopters Project Manager, “MURAL technology will advance material solutions related to Degraded Visual Environment operations. These solutions will provide critical flight control and flight handling quality improvements.” Sikorsky introduced its Matrix Technology, a major research program, in July 2013 to develop, test and field systems and software that will improve significantly the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) flew its first flight on July 26, 2013 and continues to explore new functionality in that portion of the program. The application of Matrix Technology to the OPBH is an initial step toward demonstrating the flexibility, adaptability and capability to a range of aircraft systems. “Applying Matrix Technology to an already robust, reliable, and safe platform leverages these capabilities while expanding the system’s effectiveness,” Miller added. Matrix aims to give rotary and fixed wing VTOL aircraft a high level of system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight and at low altitudes where obstacles abound. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., based in Stratford, Conn., is a world leader in aircraft design, manufacture and service. United Technologies Corp., based in Hartford, Conn., provides a broad range of high-technology products and support services to the aerospace and building systems industries. -ends-
16/04/2014

UAV Market Seen Rising Strongly for Next Decade

NEWTOWN, Conn. --- The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent unmanned aerial vehicle production to record heights, but with the last U.S. military troops in Afghanistan slated to depart the country this year, the Pentagon's demand for unmanned air vehicles is slackening. However, while fewer UAVs are expected to roll off the production lines from 2014 to 2023, market intelligence provider Forecast International believes that manufacturers can still expect their coffers to grow, based on the new systems' relatively higher price tags. Forecast International expects production of about 1,000 UAVs of all types in 2014, with output rising to nearly 1,100 units in each of the following two years. Thereafter, production is forecast to average about 960 UAVs annually for the remaining seven years of the 2014-2023 forecast period. While UAV production is expected to remain relatively stable over the next 10 years, the value of production will steadily climb, from about $942 million in 2014 to $2.3 billion in 2023. China manufacturer AVIC is expected to account for the lion's share ($5.76 billion) of the 10-year market value, based on production of hundreds of pricey UAVs, nearly all earmarked for Chinese consumption. Northrop Grumman, builder of the U.S. Air Force's expensive RQ-4B Global Hawk and the U.S. Navy's MQ-4C Triton, is next in line with forecast production worth $2.58 billion. The U.S. Department of Defense is expected to maintain its reliance on UAVs of all types. In an apparent about-face, the Air Force recently decided not to retire the Global Hawk, but will instead put the venerable U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane out to pasture. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said sustainment costs for the Global Hawk have dropped in recent years, prompting the decision to retire the U-2s. Pentagon plans also call for gradually phasing out the General Atomics MQ-1 Predators and shifting to an all-MQ-9 Reaper fleet. The Reaper is also built by General Atomics. Interest in UAVs is also growing overseas. The U.K. Ministry of Defence Select Committee recently concluded that UAVs "contributed greatly to the effectiveness of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." Current events are also accelerating interest in UAVs in other countries. In the shadow of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Poland's Air Force plans to expand its fleet of UAVs. "Poland wants UAVs capable of carrying out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, as well as strikes on ground targets," said Larry Dickerson, Forecast International's senior unmanned vehicles analyst. "Warsaw will make a decision on purchasing new unmanned aircraft before the end of 2014, but an announcement could come much sooner." Meanwhile, South Korea is moving ahead with plans to acquire Global Hawk Block 30 UAVs, which will greatly improve the country's military surveillance capabilities. The value of land- and sea-based unmanned systems will rise toward the latter part of the 10-year period. Land-based systems include bomb disposal robots and remotely operated ground vehicles conducting reconnaissance in hazardous areas. Sea-based vehicle applications range from mine detection and disposal to use as torpedo decoys. All told, some 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems worth about $10.5 billion are forecast for production during the 2014-2023 forecast period. Of this amount, the value of future production for those systems for which a manufacturer has not yet been assigned -- "Future Opportunity" -- is nearly $1.3 billion. -ends-
16/04/2014

US Navy Orders $59M of IED Robots

iRobot Corp., Bedford, Mass., is being awarded a $59,220,496 modification to previously awarded contract (N00174-11-D-0013) for the procurement of Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) production systems, depot level repair parts, spare kits, depot repair services, parts supply, training, engineering enhancements, configuration management, and approved accessories. The MTRS is a small robotic vehicle used by explosive ordnance disposal technicians to conduct remote reconnaissance, render safe, and/or dispose of explosive devices. Work will be performed in Bedford, Mass., and is expected to be completed by April 2015. Fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Army and fiscal 2014 operations and maintenance, Navy contract funds in the amount of $720,500 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, Indian Head, Md., is the contracting activity. -ends-
16/04/2014

Insitu Wins $10M for RQ-21A Unmanned Aircraft

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Wash., is being awarded $10,222,289 for firm-fixed-price delivery order 0015 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-12-G-0008) for interim contractor services in support of the RQ-21A Unmanned Aircraft System, including all requirements necessary to support the system at the organizational level during planned and surge flight operations. Services include integrated logistics support, program planning and management support, field service technical support, data reporting, and hardware to maintain the RQ-21 production configuration during initial fielding. Work will be performed at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, N.C. (80 percent) and Bingen, Wash. (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in April 2015. Fiscal 2014 procurement, Marine Corps funds in the amount of $10,222,289 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. -ends-
16/04/2014

Canada Extends MDA Support Contract for UAV

RICHMOND, BC --- MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., a global communications and information company, announced today that it has been awarded a five year contract valued at CA$5 million with Canada's Department of National Defence (DND). MDA will provide support for the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance solution announced on October 29, 2013. The contract also includes options for incremental activities up to an additional CA$11 million. MDA is a global communications and information company providing operational solutions to commercial and government organizations worldwide. MDA's well-established global customer base is served by more than 4,800 employees operating from 11 offices located in the United States, Canada, and internationally. -ends-
16/04/2014

Royal Navy Tests Remote-Controlled Minehunter

A remote-controlled boat that can search, hunt and destroy mines will be tested by the Royal Navy before the end of the year. The motorboat called Hazard – currently being put through its paces by a specialist team of sailors in Portsmouth Naval Base – can act as the ‘mother ship’ to an assortment of hi-tech remote-controlled and robot submersibles. Collectively, they can search, hunt and finally destroy mines faster than the Royal Navy’s Sandown and Hunt-class ships – and have the added benefit of keeping the handful of sailors required to operate them out of harm’s way. Modified versions of the same systems are also being looked at to carry out survey operations such as those performed by HMS Echo, currently looking for the missing Malaysian airliner, as part of the future Mine Counter Measures and Hydrographic Capability programme. The Maritime Autonomous System Trials Team (MASTT) is the small Portsmouth-based Royal Navy unit testing the new unmanned systems.

 Chief Petty Officer Colin Dumbleton, who has spent more than 20 years in the mine warfare branch, said: “It’s great that the Navy is taking a step in the right direction, looking at the technology out there, and seeing where we can use it in the future.” The family of equipment MASTT is putting through its paces is headed by Hazard, a small, fast motor launch, capable of speeds up to 30kts and able to be transported by an RAF Hercules. The boat carries either the bright yellow torpedo-sized Remus 600 or the much smaller Remus 100, which are sent off to scan the seabed at depths of up to 600 or 100 metres respectively. After several hours in the water scanning the ocean floor, the submersibles return to their mother ships and the data is then collected downloaded and analysed by the Royal Navy’s mine warfare experts. They can then send in another small submersible, steered on to a contact and identified by a mine specialist using its onboard camera. On the front line it would carry an explosive charge to destroy any mines, like the Seafox system used by Royal Navy minehunters off Libya and in the Gulf. The immediate goal for the team is to fit this technology and unmanned sweep systems to a Hunt-class ship, but in the future the system could easily be run from any reasonable-sized warship, and sent anywhere in the world in just 48 hours. They will sit safely on the ship, or in a base ashore, and send unmanned surface vessels and their remote systems off hunting mines or gathering hydrographic data. “The technology is proven. We’re taking it into the military realm. This will be the seafaring equivalent of the unmanned aircraft which have revolutionised aerial warfare,” said Lieutenant Commander Jack McWilliams, Officer in Command of MASTT. “It takes the sailor out of the minefield, but we are not taking them out of the equation. You will still need individuals with specialist mine warfare and hydrographic skills, a human being to identify a contact, but they will be much safer, and this is a much more effective way of doing our job. This technology is fantastic – and we are right at the forefront of it. It is the future.” -ends-

Analysis and Background

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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-
09/09/2013

US Lagging in Open Systems for UAVs

Source: US Government Accountability Office Ref: GAO-13-651 Issued July 31, 2013 37 PDF pages This report addresses (1) the characteristics and benefits of an open systems approach, (2) DOD’s efforts in implementing an open systems approach for its UAS portfolio, and (3) challenges, if any, DOD is encountering in implementing this approach. GAO analyzed relevant literature and DOD policies on open systems and interviewed agency and private industry officials to understand how open systems have been implemented and their benefits. In addition, GAO assessed acquisition documents and questionnaire responses from 10 current and planned UAS programs to determine their open system strategies. What GAO Found An open systems approach, which includes a modular design and standard interfaces, allows components of a product (like a computer) to be replaced easily. This allows the product to be refreshed with new, improved components made by a variety of suppliers. Designing weapons as open systems offers significant repair, upgrade, and competition benefits that could translate to millions of dollars in savings as the weapons age. Other benefits are shown in the figure below. The services vary in their use of open systems on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) 10 largest unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The Navy used an open systems approach at the start of development for the air vehicle, ground control station, and payloads (i.e., cameras and radar sensors) for three of its four current and planned UAS and anticipates significant efficiencies. For example, Navy and contractor officials expect the Small Tactical UAS to be able to integrate at least 32 payloads developed by 24 manufacturers, some in a matter of days or months rather than years as previous programs experienced. Conversely, none of the Army or Air Force UAS programs initially implemented an open systems approach, relying instead on prime contractors to upgrade and modernize the UAS. The Army is now developing an open ground control station for each of its three legacy UAS programs. Only one of the Air Force’s three UAS programs plans to implement an open systems approach on fielded aircraft. Policies and leadership can help drive DOD’s acquisition community to use an open systems approach, but challenges exist. Although DOD and the services have policies that direct programs to use an open systems approach, the Navy is the only service that largely followed the policy when developing its UAS. In addition, while new open systems guidance, tools, and training are being developed, DOD is not tracking the extent to which programs are implementing this approach or if programs have the requisite expertise to implement the approach. Navy UAS program officials told us they relied on technical experts within Naval Air Systems Command to help develop an open systems approach for their programs. Until DOD ensures that the services are incorporating an open systems approach from the start of development and programs have the requisite open systems expertise, it will continue to miss opportunities to increase the affordability of its acquisition programs. (PDF format) Full text
20/03/2013

UAVs: An Introduction

UK House of Commons Library Ref: Standard Note SN06493 Issued February 15, 2013 21 pages in PDF format This note provides an introduction to the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by the UK Armed Forces, more commonly known as drones. These are remotely piloted aircraft that range from simple, hand-operated systems to high altitude, long endurance systems similar in operation to small aircraft. UAVs are primarily used to gather intelligence and provide a surveillance and reconnaissance function for the armed forces. Only a handful of systems are capable of carrying weapons. The only armed UAV used by the UK Armed Forces is the Reaper and it is only used in Afghanistan. Remotely piloted aircraft operate on the same rules of engagement as manned aircraft. However the growth in the use of armed UAVs, particularly by the United States, raises a number of moral, ethical and legal issues. This note explores the strengths and weaknesses of UAVs, the different types of UAVs in use by the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, rules of engagement and highlights some of the points raised by those concerned about their development and use. (PDF format) Full text
20/03/2013

Standards Needed to Guide UAV R&D

US Government Accountability Office Ref: GAO-13-346T Issued Feb. 18, 2013 23 pages in PDF format While Congress has tasked FAA to lead the effort of safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the national airspace, several federal and other entities also have a role. FAA has established various mechanisms to facilitate collaboration with these entities. For example, FAA has entered into formal agreements with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on obtaining appropriate safety data and coordinating research and development, respectively. FAA has also involved industry stakeholders and academia in the development of standards and research for UAS operations. FAA recently created the UAS Integration Office, within FAA, to coordinate all intra-agency UAS efforts and provide organizational leadership. Continued collaboration among UAS stakeholders will be critical to minimizing duplication of research and addressing implementation obstacles. While FAA has made progress toward meeting the 2012 Act’s requirements, as of January 2013, it has missed several of its deadlines. FAA continues to face challenges, with many of its efforts still in process. For example, the establishment of six test ranges for UAS operations, as required by the 2012 Act, is being delayed due to privacy concerns. Meeting the 2012 Act’s requirements moving forward will require continued collaboration and significant work for FAA. In September 2012, GAO recommended that FAA incorporate mechanisms in its planning that allow for regular monitoring to assess its progress. Such mechanisms can help FAA identify what has been achieved and what remains to be done. Research and development efforts are under way to mitigate obstacles to safe and routine integration of UAS into the national airspace. However, these research and development efforts cannot be completed and validated without safety, reliability, and performance standards, which have not yet been developed because of data limitations. GAO previously reported that FAA has not utilized the operational data it already possesses, such as data provided by the DOD. (PDF format) Full text