The prototype of the Avenger-Extended Range unmanned air vehicle, a turbojet-powered outgrowth of the Predator / Reaper family, takes off on its first flight. (GA-ASI photo)

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07/12/2016

Turkey Says Iranian-Made Drone Attacked Its Soldiers In Syria

ANKARA --- An Iranian-made unmanned drone was used in an attack on a Turkish military camp in northern Syria on Nov. 24, killing four soldiers, a senior Turkish official has told the Hürriyet Daily News. Turkey identified the drone as Iranian-made, but it was still not identified whether Hezbollah, the Quds Force or another Shiite militia group in Syria had used it, said the official, who spoke on anonymity. FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, accompanied by National Intelligence Agency (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan, paid a surprise visit to Tehran early on Nov. 26, where the Turkish delegation discussed “issues regarding ISIL and counter-terrorism” with Iran and also raised the issue that their findings on the attack on Turkish soldiers in Syria indicated that an Iranian-made unmanned drone was used, the official also said. However, Çavuşoğlu denied that they discussed the aerial attack in the meeting in Tehran. “Our visit to Tehran had nothing to do with the plane. We went there for a fourth round of discussions that aimed to find ways to precede peace in Syria. We discussed how a cease-fire could be reached, to send humanitarian aid and the necessary steps needed to be taken if there is a cease-fire. But it was not about the drone,” daily Habertürk quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying on Dec. 6. Syrian Army does not possess drones: Russia In a phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 26, the second conversation between the two leaders in 26 hours, Russian sources told the Hürriyet Daily News that “both parties have reached a consensus that the attack was carried out by an unmanned drone.” Moscow informed Ankara that the drone did not belong to them, and the Syrian Army did not possess such an aircraft. The U.S.-led coalition forces also informed Moscow that the drone did not belong to them either, sources added. “It’s not clear whom the drone belongs to,” the source said, adding that both presidents agreed that their military officials would work to the reveal the origins of the aircraft. Çavuşoğlu told a Lebanese media outlet on Dec. 3 that Russia did not “directly reject” that the regime forces might be responsible for the attack, “but they said the Syrian regime’s aircraft do not have the firepower, and did not possess unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.” “There are various opinions on this issue and there is a kind of blame game going on. Russia is clearly affirming that they did not do it. But, there are many other elements in the region. After thorough investigations, we will be able to say who the perpetrator was, so now is not a good time to accuse any country,” he stated. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Dec. 1 that neither Syria nor Russia carried out the attack on the Turkish soldiers in northern Syria on Nov. 24. “In the air strike, assessed to have been carried out by the Syrian regime forces, three of our heroic soldiers were killed and 10 soldiers were wounded, one severely,” the Turkish Armed Forces said in a written statement on Nov. 24 on the attack that occurred near the northern Syrian city of al-Bab. In an interview with the state-run TRT on late Dec. 1, government spokesperson Numan Kurtulmuş addressed the possibility of an involvement of an unmanned drone in the attack. “There are records of aircraft flying there at that time… It seems that some groups uncomfortable with the operation [Euphrates Shield], are involved in this incident. It’s known that terrorist groups also have unmanned drones in the air. It will eventually be revealed,” Kurtulmuş said in a press conference on Nov. 28, adding that they had “recordings of aircraft, planes or unmanned drones” in the region. On Aug. 24, the Turkish Armed Forces launched the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria with Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters to clear the country’s southern border of both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces, which Ankara considers as a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ankara-backed FSA fighters have moved within two kilometers of al-Bab with the aim of taking the city from ISIL. The strategic city of al-Bab, meaning “the gate” in Arabic, in the northern Aleppo province, is one of ISIL’s few remaining strongholds and is a route to ISIL-held Raqqa and Syrian rebel-held Idlib. Regime forces, while continuing their offensive to capture the eastern part of Aleppo from the Syrian opposition groups, is currently advancing toward al-Bab as well. -ends-
07/12/2016

'Soar Dragon' Drone to Strengthen PLA Aerial Capabilities

The People's Liberation Army will soon have an unusually shaped drone, which is expected to strengthen the Chinese military's aerial reconnaissance capabilities. An unknown number of Xianglong, or Soar Dragon, high-altitude, long-endurance drones have been produced by Guizhou Aviation Industry Group, which is part of the State-owned aircraft maker Aviation Industry Corp of China, according to aviation sources. The aircraft is believed to be undergoing testing and is expected to be delivered to the PLA soon, sources said, adding that it is likely to become China's answer to the United States' Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, considered to be the most well-known unpiloted surveillance drone in the world. With an innovative "joined tandem wing" design, the drone's configuration is different from all other Chinese manned and unmanned planes — it has a conventional swept wing joined with a forward swept wing, which makes it look like a traditional Chinese kite. In accordance with Chinese regulations, Guizhou Aviation Industry Group has not, and will not, reveal characteristics of the drone. However, AirForces Monthly, a British military aviation magazine, said Xianglong will have a cruise speed of 750 kilometers per hour and a flight range of 7,000 km. It is capable of operating for 10 hours in the sky and can fly up to an altitude of 18,000 meters, the magazine said. Xianglong was first unveiled in 2006 at an air show in China, but later disappeared from public view until 2011 when a prototype was seen at an airport run by the Aviation Industry Corp of China. No other news on the drones development has been leaked since then, and whether it has conducted its first flight remains unknown. However, since July, speculation about the mass-production of Xianglong started to circulate on Chinese defense technology websites after Guizhou Aviation Industry Group published a photo of one of its manufacturing facilities on the internet. The photo mainly displayed the assembly process of the company's JL-9 Mountain Eagle fighter-trainer jet, but two yellow Xianglong models also appeared in the corner of a picture, leading observers to discuss whether the inclusion was intentional. In October, Chinese websites published a satellite-taken picture showing at least two Xianglong drones at an unidentified airport in Southwest China. "The Xianglong's unique design makes it suitable for long operations at high altitude. Once the drone is commissioned to the military, it will boost the PLA's long-range reconnaissance capabilities," said Wang Ya'nan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine. "Moreover, the jet is a good platform for electronic warfare operations such as signal intelligence collection and electronic jamming," he added. The PLA has become a big user of unmanned aircraft thanks to the rapid development of the drone industry in China. The military showed three types of unpiloted, fixed-wing planes at the most recent parade in September last year. It is also said to have deployed several other models. In addition to the PLA, advances in the nation's drone technology have also benefitted at least 10 foreign countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan, with foreign media reporting such countries have bought and deployed Chinese military drones. -ends-
07/12/2016

Drone Strikes Spread as Proliferation Surges

The last fifteen months has seen a surge in the use of armed drones by a second wave’of users. Most of the drones have been acquired from China but some countries have managed to develop the technology independently. It is highly likely that other countries will acquire the technology and begin launching drone strikes over the next 18 months, including European countries. The implications for global peace and security of multiple nations using drones to launch cross border strikes is very serious. While some continue to insist that armed drone proliferation is not a problem, arguing that the technical barriers to operating such systems are prohibitive, this short survey has identified that four of the new wave of users (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey) have launched cross border strikes on at least six occasions (UAE in Yemen and Libya; Saudi in Yemen; Iran in Syria and Iraq; and Turkey in Iraq) in the past 15 months alone. While there are embryonic moves by international community to develop controls over the proliferation and use of armed drones, analysts and campaigners alike agree that they need to be much stronger than presently proposed – and draw in China and other exporters – if there is to be any realistic chance of stemming the tide of drone strikes. Click here for the full story, with tables and more, on the Drone Wars website. -ends-
07/12/2016

RE2 Robotics to Design Manipulator Arm for US Army

PITTSBURGH --- RE2 Robotics announced today that the Company was selected by the U.S. Army to receive a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to design an assistive robotic arm for the Applied Robotics for Installation and Base Operations (ARIBO) automated transport system pilot project at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The goal of ARIBO is to provide automated, on-demand transportation to wounded warriors traveling between the Warrior Transition Battalion barracks and the Womack Army Medical Center. RE2 will design the ARIBO Assistive Arm, a low-risk, user-friendly manipulator system intended to quickly transfer patients from a wheelchair onto the ARIBO vehicle and back to a wheelchair at the destination. The goal of this SBIR program will be to provide patients with severely reduced mobility with a reliable transportation option to travel to doctor's appointments, offices, or anywhere else on base that is supported by the ARIBO transport system. "We are honored to apply our robotic manipulation expertise to help wounded warriors gain access to the ARIBO automated transportation system at Fort Bragg," stated Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2 Robotics. "This program is about more than developing cutting edge assistive manipulation technology. It is about empowering our service men and women who have suffered severe mobility limitations to regain a degree of transportation independence. This is one of the main reasons why RE2 Robotics is in business – to develop technologies that improve quality of life." This material is based upon work supported by the United States Army under Contract No. W56HZV-16-C-0164. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Army. RE2 Robotics develops mobile robotic technologies that enable robot users to remotely interact with their world from a safe distance -- whether on the ground, in the air, or underwater. RE2 creates interoperable robotic manipulator arms with human-like performance, intuitive human robot interfaces, and advanced autonomy software for mobile robotics. -ends-
07/12/2016

Boeing to Acquire Liquid Robotics

ST. LOUIS --- Boeing has entered into an agreement to acquire Liquid Robotics, a market leader in autonomous maritime systems and developer of the Wave Glider ocean surface robot, to grow its seabed-to-space autonomous capabilities. “With Liquid Robotics’ innovative technology and Boeing’s leading intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance solutions, we are helping our customers address maritime challenges in ways that make existing platforms smarter, missions safer and operations more efficient,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. In September 2014, Boeing and Liquid Robotics entered into a teaming agreement resulting in extensive integration on the Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft (SHARC®), a version of the Wave Glider. The SHARC, integrated with Boeing’s advanced sensors, connects intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities ranging from satellites to manned and unmanned aircraft to sub-surface crafts. Liquid Robotics has designed and manufactured the Wave Glider, the first wave and solar-powered autonomous ocean robot, since its founding in 2007. With more than 1 million nautical miles traveled, the Wave Glider’s capabilities address the challenges facing defense, commercial and science customers by making ocean data collection and communications easier, safer and immediate. “I am proud of our team, culture, and relentless commitment to designing the best ocean surface robot in the maritime industry,” said Gary Gysin, president and CEO of Liquid Robotics. “This acquisition allows us to leverage the strengths of one of the world’s leading global companies while continuing to push our innovation to new levels.” Liquid Robotics has approximately 100 employees in California and Hawaii. The company will become a subsidiary of Boeing operating under its current business model and reporting to Kory Mathews, vice president of Autonomous Systems for Defense, Space & Security. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Completion of the transaction is subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions. -ends-
06/12/2016

Russia Developing Robot Able to Imitate Any Submarine

MOSCOW --- Specialists of Russia’s Rubin Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering have developed a conceptual design of a seaborne robotized system called Surrogat for holding naval exercises, the design bureau’s press office told TASS on Tuesday. Currently negotiations are under way with the Navy on this project, the press office said. Surrogat is equipped with a lithium-ion battery. This submarine imitator provides for up to 15-16 hours of naval exercises, reproducing an enemy submarine’s maneuvering, including at high speed, over this time. The robot’s relatively large size (about 17 meters long) and the ability to carry towed sonar arrays for various applications will help realistically reproduce an enemy submarine’s physical fields - acoustic and electromagnetic, the Rubin design bureau said. The imitator’s modular design allows changing its functionality: Surrogat will be able to imitate both a conventional and a nuclear-powered submarine, and also to carry out terrain mapping and reconnaissance. "Today, combat submarines have to be involved for exercises or tests and this practice distracts them from carrying out their basic missions. The use of an unmanned imitator will help avoid this and cut the cost of drills. Besides, a submarine without a crew reduces risks while keeping simulated scenarios realistic," Rubin CEO Igor Vilnit told TASS. "This apparatus will be distinguished by its simplicity in operation and the low cost of its maintenance and upgrade. Now we’re holding consultations with Navy representatives to make the imitator fully meet the Navy’s requirements," he said. The Rubin design bureau also does not rule out that foreign customers may display interest in Surrogat. The autonomous unmanned submarine Surrogat will have a displacement of about 40 tons, a cruising range of about 600 miles at a speed of 5 knots, a maximum speed of over 24 knots and the maximum immersion depth of 600 meters. -ends-
06/12/2016

GA Responds to UK’s £100M Investment in Protector UAV

"We are delighted that our first foreign customer for Predator B also will be our initial customer for Certifiable Predator B," said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. "We have been honored to support the UK's ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance] needs over the past decade and look forward to satisfying its emerging requirements for a MQ-9 Reaper replacement than can be certified to operate in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace." Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon agrees £100M contract to develop cutting-edge Protector Remotely Piloted Air System especially for RAF. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. will develop their current drone technology into new cutting-edge unmanned aerial vehicles for use by the Royal Air Force. Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon said: "Britain faces ever-evolving threats and we must look at innovative solutions to stay ahead of our enemies. Doubling investment in our unmanned air fleet will substantially enhance both the intelligence gathering and firepower of the RAF. "The UK's security partnership with the US is the deepest and most advanced of any two nations on earth; this programme is part of a further strengthening which will help keep Britain safe and secure." Protector will be equipped with the very latest technology, including advanced imaging and enhanced datalink technology. There are also plans for Protector to be armed with UK-made Brimstone 2 missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. Sir Michael Fallon is in the US as a keynote speaker at the annual Reagan National Defence Forum, in California, where he will meet US Secretary for Defence Ash Carter and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford. Speaking at the Forum, the Defence Secretary underlined the enduring strength of Britain's relationship with the US in defence, security, and innovation. The close collaboration between the two countries on innovative future defence technologies was emphasised recently in a joint agreement to explore the impact that robotic and autonomous systems might have on resupplying the military, with the first demonstration due next October. Chief Executive Officer of the MOD's Defence Equipment & Support organisation, Tony Douglas, said: "Protector is a highly advanced system which will use world-beating technology to give us a decisive advantage on the battlefield. "This contract signature is not only great news for our armed forces, but demonstrates how the strong relationship between UK Defence and our allies helps to ensure best value for the taxpayer." Building on our current Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capability, the next-generation Protector will offer improved range and endurance, greater weapons capacity, automated take-off and landing and better resilience against the elements. -ends-
05/12/2016

UK Invests £100M for New Variant of Predator UAV

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon agrees £100M contract to develop cutting-edge Protector Remotely Piloted Air System especially for RAF. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. will develop their current drone technology into new cutting-edge unmanned aerial vehicles for use by the Royal Air Force. Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon said: “Britain faces ever-evolving threats and we must look at innovative solutions to stay ahead of our enemies. Doubling investment in our unmanned air fleet will substantially enhance both the intelligence gathering and firepower of the RAF. “The UK’s security partnership with the US is the deepest and most advanced of any two nations on earth; this programme is part of a further strengthening which will help keep Britain safe and secure.” Protector will be equipped with the very latest technology, including advanced imaging and enhanced datalink technology. There are also plans for Protector to be armed with UK-made Brimstone 2 missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. Sir Michael Fallon is in the US as a keynote speaker at the annual Reagan National Defence Forum, in California, where he will meet US Secretary for Defence Ash Carter and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford. Speaking at the Forum, the Defence Secretary underlined the enduring strength of Britain’s relationship with the US in defence, security, and innovation. The close collaboration between the two countries on innovative future defence technologies was emphasised recently in a joint agreement to explore the impact that robotic and autonomous systems might have on resupplying the military, with the first demonstration due next October. Chief Executive Officer of the MOD’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation, Tony Douglas, said: “Protector is a highly advanced system which will use world-beating technology to give us a decisive advantage on the battlefield. This contract signature is not only great news for our armed forces, but demonstrates how the strong relationship between UK Defence and our allies helps to ensure best value for the taxpayer.” Building on our current Unmanned Aerial Vehicle capability, the next-generation Protector will offer improved range and endurance, greater weapons capacity, automated take-off and landing and better resilience against the elements. -ends-
05/12/2016

Safran Develops High-Speed Video Compression for UAVs

French defense procurement agency DGA held its annual Innovation Forum on November 23 and 24 at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique near Paris. Safran Electronics & Defense participated in this event with its partner Vodea, a small French business specialized in very-high-speed data compression solutions for networked intelligence systems. Their partnership was formed in the wake of France's new tactical drone system contract, awarded to Safran's Patroller system. Equipped with very powerful sensors, this new drone naturally requires a communications system capable of transmitting several high-resolution video streams to the ground in real time, without degrading the intrinsic quality of these images. The key to meeting this heady challenge lies in a new video compression solution. Vodea teamed up with Safran Electronics & Defense to develop FOCUS, a device capable of simultaneously compressing several hi-res video channels at high speed. This solution was developed within the scope of the "Rapid" contract awarded by the DGA, part of France's Ministry of Defense. Based on very powerful algorithms, this device is capable of automatically reprogramming data transmissions, by adapting to different transmission conditions and the requirements of troops on the ground. The information from the drone's sensors can now be automatically synchronized onboard, then transmitted to the ground using NATO standards. By combining automation, standardization and high security, this solution saves time and simplifies intelligence operations. The innovative solution developed by Vodea, showcased on the Success Story stand at the DGA Innovation Forum, was shown in a complete image transmission demonstration from the Patroller drone to a touch tablet. This tablet also includes a 3D map and augmented reality display, an application developed by Safran Electronics & Defense. The scope of applications for this new solution is vast, including military and security missions, border surveillance and much more. The demonstration at the DGA forum reflects the dynamism of the tactical drone sector, as shown by the Patroller cluster formed by Safran and other companies involved in France's tactical drone program (SDT). At the same time, this program clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the DGA's Rapid contracts, a financing solution for innovative small defense businesses, with the support of a major multinational such as Safran. -ends-
01/12/2016

Milrem, ST Kinetics Test Weaponized Unmanned Ground Vehicle

TALLINN, Estonia --- Milrem, the Estonian defence solutions provider, and ST Kinetics, one of Asia’s leading land systems companies, came one step closer to helping support or replace soldiers on the battlefield with robots in November when they successfully tested the first weaponized fully modular unmanned ground vehicle, the THeMIS ADDER. With the aim to minimize human casualties and support existing ground troops, the two companies have been jointly developing a weaponized unmanned vehicle for some time now. During November, however, with the cooperation and supervision of the Estonian Defence Forces first live fire test of the vehicle were conducted. “The tests were intended to test the stability of our platform and see how the remote weapon station and vehicle communicate and work with each other,” explained Kuldar Väärsi, CEO of Milrem. “To our satisfaction everything worked perfectly, you can see as much from the video,” he added. The THeMIS ADDER was equipped with a CIS 50MG. However, the system can be outfitted with smaller and larger caliber weapons as well. "Estonians have proved many times before that we can successfully be on the forefront of innovation and the Milrem unmanned ground vehicle is a great example of that innovation when it comes to new technologies in the military field,” said Lieutenant General Riho Terras, Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces. “THeMIS ADDER has great potential to put Estonia on the map of countries that provide new technologies and solutions to the modern battlefield,” Terras added. The THeMIS ADDER features the first fully modular hybrid unmanned ground vehicle in the world the THeMIS and the remote weapon station ADDER from ST Kinetics. The TheMIS has a payload of 750-1000 kg, speed of 24km/h and up to 10h operation time. In addition to being a machine gun on tracks the vehicle can be used for a wide variety of applications, including remote reconnaissance platform, C-IED (Counter Improvised Explosive Device) platform, medevac vehicle and supply delivery device. Milrem is an Estonian technology solutions provider. The company’s two main lines of business include the research and development of unmanned vehicles and life cycle management for heavy-duty military vehicles. -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-