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KEYPORT, Wash. --- Commander, Submarine Development Squadron 5 (CSDS 5), Detachment UUV, took delivery of Large Training Vehicle 38 (LTV 38), an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) Aug. 22.
The delivery makes LTV 38 the first UUV to join the vehicle inventory used by detachment UUV at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport.
Once a few final operational preparations are completed over the next few weeks, it will be ready to hit the water for both capabilities tests and proficiency training.
"This is certainly a key milestone for Detachment UUV in that we will have a baseline training vehicle for the future of Large Displacement UUVs," said Lt. Brian Nuss, officer in charge at Detachment UUV.
LTV 38 was originally developed for the Sea Stalker program. The vehicle is 27 feet in length and 38 inches in diameter, and was originally assembled in 2008 by Penn State University's UUV land-based test facility at State College, Pennsylvania. It underwent its first series of operational tests shortly after its assembly and made its first operational deployment on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96).
"This process was a long time coming," said Sonar Technician (Submarines) 1st Class (SS/DSV) Travis Townsend, leading petty officer at detachment UUV. "Puget Sound has a great undersea and naval presence. It truly makes sense for the detachment to receive this vehicle and start preparing for what the future of the Navy holds."
As a UUV, LTV 38 is able to perform at a maximum depth of 1,000 meters for up to 72 hours. It is designed as a full-pressure hull vehicle, capable of both line of sight and over the horizon communications, and can also conduct limited autonomous contact avoidance maneuvers via acoustic sensors while anchored and such missions are conducted and controlled remotely.
UUVs allow naval submarines to safely gain access to denied areas with revolutionary sensors and weapons. These areas may be denied based on unacceptable risks to a submarine such as extremely shallow water, very poor acoustic conditions, or mined waters. UUVs provide unique capabilities and extend the "reach" of naval platforms while reducing the risk to the submarine and its crew.
The use of unmanned vehicles in the undersea environment is projected to grow for the Navy. During a recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, told Sailors he envisions having autonomous underwater vehicles on patrol by the end of the decade.
"The future large-diameter vehicles will come in 2020 and in order for the detachment to fully prepare for the delivery of those vehicles we have to start with the tactics, training and procedures now to make it a successful program in the future," Nuss said.
According to the Penn State University Applied Research Lab, the Pacific Northwest provides key components for efficient transition of UUV technology to the fleet that includes technology development, testing and evaluation, and fleet presence.
"We couldn't have done this without the partnership from Keyport, Penn State and Commander, Submarine Force Pacific, supporting us both financially and realizing that there's a gap in training that needs to be filled for Det. UUV to succeed in the future," said Nuss.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. --- Energid Technologies Corporation has been funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to develop a digital simulation for safety testing of autonomous military convoys. The Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) manages the project.
Autonomous vehicles excite the imagination with their potential for increased efficiency in material transportation and human transit. By freeing human drivers for other activities, they will revolutionize transportation.
Driverless road vehicles are guided by control software that converts sensed data into steering and power commands. Because a moving vehicle poses potential danger to people and property, safety must be ensured before the control software can be used in most real-world environments.
Proving safety is hard, as rare events can trigger failures. This makes testing to the level required for fielding both expensive and time consuming—a cost that can be so high it prevents the use of autonomous vehicles.
"It is the cost and difficulty of guaranteeing safety that has prevented autonomous vehicles from being used as much as we would hope and expect," said James English, CTO at Energid.
To address this problem, Energid's method is to apply autonomy algorithms to simulated vehicles in a way that actively seeks out problems. The approach combines randomized dynamic simulation with optimization for finding algorithmic failures. By finding safety problems early at reduced cost, autonomous convoys will be fielded sooner.
"Energid's software will find those one-in-a-million events that rarely happen but have serious consequences when they do," said Ryan Penning, Senior Engineer at Energid. "Understanding and removing these hazards is critical."
The vehicle simulation must accurately model sensors as well as the interaction between vehicles and the environment. Energid's software uses a novel architecture with powerful algorithms for simulating both sensor data and the dynamics of articulated bodies.
Energid is applying computational methods it developed previously for NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. National Science Foundation. The development work will leverage Energid's Actin and Selectin commercial robotics software toolkits, which have been used to design, control, and simulate advanced robotic systems.
"We have powerful software technologies to simulate vehicle movement and wheel-road interaction," said Dr. Penning. "Through this project, we will apply them with the goal of large-scale acceptance and use of autonomous vehicles."
Energid Technologies develops robotic systems and products for the aerospace, agriculture, transportation, defense, and medical industries. Energid's Actin and Selectin products provide advanced technology in the form of extensible software toolkits. Energid specializes in the sensing, control, and simulation of complex systems.
PATUXENT RIVER, Md. --- The Navy's X-47B completed its final test aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Aug. 24 and returned to its home base at Naval Air Station Patuxent River after eight days at sea.
While underway, the X-47B flew in the carrier pattern with manned aircraft for the first time and conducted a total of five catapult launches, four arrestments and nine touch-and-go landings, including a night time shipboard flight deck handling evaluation.
“This is another detachment for the record books; all tests were safely and effectively executed,” said Capt. Beau Duarte, Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. “We have set the bar for the future of unmanned carrier aviation.”
Testing began Aug. 17 when the X-47B performed its initial cooperative launch and recovery cycle with an F/A-18. With its automatic wing-fold capability and new tailhook retract system, the X-47B met the program’s objective to demonstrate that carrier-based manned and unmanned aircraft could maintain a 90 second aircraft launch and recovery interval.
Throughout the week, the Navy/Northrop Grumman test team captured X-47B flying quality and recovery wind condition data to evaluate how the aircraft responds to wake turbulence during approach and landing. This data will be used to improve a simulation model for use with carrier-based aircraft.
The team also evaluated how the unmanned aircraft performed during the first night time taxi and deck handling operations aboard a carrier. Since the shipboard environment presents different challenges at night, this test was an incremental step in developing the operational concept for more routine unmanned air system flight activity.
“We conducted X-47B night flight deck operations to understand the human interface and suitability of the unmanned air vehicle and deck operator’s hand-held control unit in the night environment,” said Barbara Weathers, X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System lead. “These lessons learned will help with the development of future unmanned platforms.”
The Navy will continue to execute shore-based testing at Patuxent River to further the goal of seamless integration with manned aircraft and to refine best practices for the evaluation of future unmanned air systems.
Airbus Defence and Space has announced that the Zephyr 7 High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) has just completed its most demanding mission to date and thus set a new benchmark in persistent, year-round operations for this class of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).
The test consisted of over 11 days of non-stop flight, in winter weather conditions with a new primary payload, including flight controlled through satellite communications – three more benchmarks reached by Zephyr 7. HAPS run exclusively on solar power, which is used during the day to charge a battery that is used to power the flight through the night, so this flight in shorter days and longer nights was significantly more demanding than any previous one.
“During this most recent flight of the Airbus Zephyr, we successfully demonstrated a number of advancements that are critical to achieving the operational readiness of the technology and that increase its operational value for our customers,” said Jens Federhen, Head of the Airbus HAPS programme. “We have furthermore reached an important milestone in our regulatory roadmap.”
The flight, which was executed for the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MOD), was approved in controlled airspace, which required the close cooperation of the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), the Type Airworthiness Authority (TAA) and the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) team of the MOD Defence Equipment and Support Group, leading to the Zephyr 7 being assigned its military registration, PS001 – the first Pseudo-Satellite registered.
“This is the first time that the UK’s military aviation authorities have expanded our well-proven procedures and regulations into the domain of these novel, long-duration pseudo-satellites,” said Group Captain Paul Lloyd of the TAA, “and it has been both instructive and encouraging to see how effectively the regulations and the Airbus approach to Zephyr were brought together to enable such an operation.”
Apart from flying a new primary payload, Jens Federhen highlighted the fact that for the first time, satellite communications had been used to control and monitor the aircraft. “The use of the SatCom link to control the aircraft beyond line of sight of the ground station is another critical aspect that we needed to test to move towards a pseudo-satellite form of operation where the Zephyrs can be controlled across the world from a central control station,” he said, also pointing out the fact that this helps to further reduce the cost of service which is already low compared to other means.
The flight was a breakthrough in terms of proving the year-round capability of the Airbus Zephyr, as Chris Kelleher, the Technical Director of the Airbus HAPS programme, said. “While Zephyr 7 holds the world record for flight endurance and has flown continuously ten times longer than any other UAV, all previous long duration flights have been carried out in the summer months when the longer days, shorter nights and better weather make flights significantly easier. This latest flight was undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere winter so the aircraft had to show it could remain operational through the longer nights, re-charge sufficiently in the shorter periods of daylight and cope with the harsher weather conditions. ”
This most recent flight allowed over 250 hours of flight testing of the Zephyr 7 prototype, which will now be used to refine the final design of Zephyr 8, the next-generation HAPS vehicle currently being developed by Airbus.
The Airbus Zephyr HAPS’ Longest and Highest Flight Ever
Since 2008, the Airbus Group has been working on High Altitude Pseudo-Satellites (HAPS). Running exclusively on solar power and flying above both the weather and conventional air traffic, these systems fill a capability gap between satellites and UAVs.
They are ideally suited for what we call “local persistence”. This means that HAPS have the ability to stay focused on a specific area of interest (which can be hundreds of miles wide) while providing it with satellite-like communications and Earth observation services over long periods of time without interruption.
Recognising the excellent fit with Airbus’ existing portfolio of space-based, airborne and terrestrial systems and services, we have created a “Nursery” project in which an integrated team of space and aviation experts has “incubated” a HAPS business addressing all of its technical, commercial and regulatory aspects.
This “incubator” builds on the assets and resources of the “Zephyr” programme that was initiated in the UK. The Airbus Zephyr holds several world records, including the longest flight duration without refuelling (14 days, i.e. 10 times longer than any other aircraft in the world) and the highest altitude (70,740 ft.).
In total, the Airbus Zephyr system has already clocked up over 850 hours of flight time at high altitude.
Airbus Defence and Space is a division of Airbus Group formed by combining the business activities of Cassidian, Astrium and Airbus Military. The new division is Europe’s number one defence and space enterprise, the second largest space business worldwide and among the top ten global defence enterprises. It employs some 40,000 employees generating revenues of approximately €14 billion per year.
SAN DIEGO --- Two U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in Northrop Grumman Corporation's High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) series safely surpassed 100,000 combat/operational support hours.
The Air Force Global Hawk fleet logged more than 88 percent of the global intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information-gathering and airborne communications missions. The Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator flew the remaining hours.
Combat/operational support hours are tallied separate from noncombat support hours – the UAS surpassed 100,000 total hours in September 2013.
"Global Hawk has continuously and successfully supported overseas contingency operations since its first deployment to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," said Jim Culmo, vice president, HALE Enterprise, Northrop Grumman. "Operating 11 miles above danger zones, Global Hawk is a strategic airborne asset with unprecedented endurance, range and persistence providing decision makers near real-time information from around the world."
The aircrafts' ISR missions support six combatant commands and have included contingency missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria. Global Hawk variants carry a variety of ISR sensor payloads that allow military commanders to gather near real-time imagery and use radar to detect moving or stationary targets on the ground. The system also provides airborne communications capabilities to military units in harsh environments.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
ZHURIHE, Inner Mongolia --- China's military drones participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) anti-terror drills in Inner Mongolia for the first time on Tuesday.
Participating in the live fire drills, the drone, who's model was unidentified, shot off several missiles during the rehearsal, said Shen Jinke, spokesman of China Air force.
"The drone, tasked with surveillance, reconnaissance and ground attacks, will play a vital role in fighting against terrorism," he said.
The aerial vehicle has yet to miss a shot since joining the "Peace Mission 2014" multinational drill which began on Aug. 24, said Feng Aiwang, commander of the air force battle group.
More than 19 different models made up a group of 70 aircraft dispatched for the drill. These included fighter planes, early warning aircraft and armed helicopters, Feng added.
China's homemade WZ-10 and WZ-19 armed helicopters were deployed to practice reconnaissance and rocket barrage tests in the exercise, which concludes Friday.
A total of 7,000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have participated in the drill, including ground and air forces, special operations and airborne troops as well as several supporting roles.
Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the SCO includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan are observers. Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.
SAN DIEGO --- With several test flights this summer, the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk Wide Area Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) proved its ability to operate with an expanded variety of intelligence exploitation ground stations and collect mission data in more places.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) and is equipped with a Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) sensor capable of detecting fixed and moving targets. Test flights out of Edwards Air Force Base provided the first demonstration of interoperability with the latest Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) upgrades. Another test saw positive results from new MP-RTIP maritime modes, demonstrating the collection capabilities that make the Global Hawk relevant to the Arctic and Mediterranean missions of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (NATO AGS) system.
"These successful test flights illustrate Global Hawk's adaptability in an ever-changing defense landscape," said Mick Jaggers, Global Hawk program manager, Northrop Grumman. "The flights demonstrated Northrop Grumman's latest software development in anticipation of Initial Operational Test & Evaluation [IOT&E] in 2015."
The aircraft interoperability flights of more than 30 hours endurance were some of the longest aircraft missions flown during development tests from Edwards Air Force Base. One mission stretched across three calendar days and collected mission data from the North Pacific coast to the Eastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico via various intelligence centers. Other MP-RTIP test flights in July were used to test new software to enable maritime modes for the MP-RTIP radar for the NATO AGS system.
Global Hawk has flown more than 120,000 flight hours supporting diverse global missions. Carrying a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor and communications gateway payloads, Global Hawk supports antiterrorism, antipiracy, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, airborne communications relay, information-sharing and the full range of operational combat missions.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
JACKSONVILLE, FL --- Drone Aviation Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Drone Aviation Holding Corp., today announced the delivery of specialized surveillance equipment to support the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF). The advanced optics systems will be utilized for official Government use.
"Drone Aviation is honored to have been selected again to provide our government customers with specialized equipment to support their surveillance objectives," stated Felicia Hess, CEO of Drone Holding Aviation Corp. "Our systems leverage aerostat technology to elevate military payloads and provide network communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Going forward, we remain focused on expanding our client relationships with both our military and civilian customers as we continue to build confidence in our capabilities through additional deliveries of both specialized components and our complete systems."
Drone Aviation Corp. has previously supplied the REF with aerial based systems including lighter than air based systems as well as components to support various objectives of the REF. DAC systems are controlled via a mobile, self-contained launcher operated by Soldiers possessing common soldier skills.
Drone Aviation Holding Corp. (DRNE) provides critical aerial and land based surveillance and communications solutions to government and commercial customers. Utilizing a unique tethering capability, Drone systems operate in the National Airspace within FAA guidelines for safe operations. Drone systems are designed and developed in-house utilizing proprietary
SAN DIEGO --- The first completed Global Hawk has made history again with its 100th flight in support of NASA environmental research. The milestone occurred on a flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California more than 16 years after its first flight in 1998. The aircraft is now at Wallops Island for a two month deployment to conduct hurricane research missions.
The aircraft, called AV1, was the first RQ-4 Global Hawk built under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program. Ryan Aeronautical Company built and tested the UAS, later acquired by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NOC).
After completing production in February 1997, the aircraft underwent rigorous testing culminating in a successful first flight on Feb. 28, 1998. Due to restrictions preventing the aircraft from taking off in San Diego, the first flight required the Global Hawk to be disassembled and shipped in pieces to Edwards Air Force Base for reassembly and first flight.
While still a developmental system, Global Hawk began supporting overseas contingency operations only two months after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Global Hawks continue to support combat and other important operations all over the world.
After acquiring two pre-production Global Hawks from the Air Force, NASA and Northrop Grumman entered in to the Space Act Agreement. The partnership, signed in 2008, allows sharing of NASA Global Hawks for science missions and flight demonstrations. Under the agreement, Northrop Grumman provides technical, engineering, maintenance and operations support.
With the ability to fly as high as 65,000 feet for periods of 30 hours, Global Hawks provide a combination of high altitude and long endurance performance capabilities that allow the science community to study scientific and environmental phenomena in depth.
In April 2010, NASA sent AV1 on its first scientific mission to study the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. Fitted with 11 science instruments, the Global Hawk acquired and transmitted data that had never been seen before. Over the course of four flights and 82.5 cumulative flight hours, the aircraft traveled from Hawaii to Alaska collecting air, water and polar ice data.
Since AV1's first mission, NASA Global Hawks have flown missions all over the globe in support of environmental and scientific studies.
In the fall of 2012, AV1 supported environmental scientists during Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) missions. The HS3 missions studied the processes of hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean. Prior to HS3, AV1 flew winter storm missions over the Pacific and Arctic, observing an "atmospheric river," which sometimes causes flooding on the West Coast. NASA Global Hawks have also studied climate change and the effect of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In addition to scientific and environmental research, AV1 participated in cutting edge technology demonstrations. Both NASA Global Hawks were used in a series of DARPA demonstrations used to advance UAS-to-UAS aerial refueling control system technology in 2012.
In 2013, the Space Act Agreement was renewed for an additional five years, allowing NASA Global Hawks to continue to explore remote parts of the planet and investigate environmental and scientific events.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.
AT SEA --- Being a multi-mission agency with a diverse range of responsibilities, the Coast Guard relies on a wide variety of technologies to do its job. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center evaluated the capabilities of many new technologies for Coast Guard use during its trip to the Arctic aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy this summer, but there was at least one device with which the Coast Guard was intimately familiar.
Remotely Operated Vehicles have been used by the Coast Guard for years as diver-replacement tools. The submersible devices are often used for hull inspections, pollution monitoring and the retrieval of objects on the ocean floor, but the Coast Guard has rarely deployed ROVs to the freezing waters north of Alaska. In their ongoing quest to identify technologies for Coast Guard use in the increasingly busy Arctic, the RDC brought not one, but three readily available models for comparative analysis to determine which characteristics are most desirable for an ROV in such an extreme environment.
“Last year, we brought one ROV to test in the ice edge and we had some mixed success with its ability to handle the conditions,” said Jay Carey, ROV project lead for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “We wound up with more questions than answers so this year, we brought a model the Coast Guard regularly uses and two larger models to compare their different capabilities against one another in response to a simulated oil spill in the ice.”
Each of the ROV models tested during this year’s exercise featured a few common elements including tethered control and state-of-the-art camera and lighting equipment, but they ranged in size from 10-40 pounds and each used a slightly different means of propulsion through the water. Researchers hoped these differences would help them distinguish the best design characteristics for circumventing challenges they encountered in 2013 with high-humidity conditions in the ROV’s pressure hull, tether pull caused by ice floes and power loss.
“The biggest obstacle we encountered this year was water current,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Adonis Kazouris, an ROV operator from Coast Guard Regional Dive Locker San Diego traveling aboard the Healy. “The ROVs do a great job when the current conditions are within their limitations, but even the largest model ROV had difficulty with the strong currents we encountered.”
The three ROVs operated during the exercise were used in conjunction with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, a similar technology that uses a self-guided submersible device to map the ocean using sonar. While the two vehicles may seem capable of the same job, the ROVs possess some distinct qualities that set the two apart while not invalidating the use of the AUV.
“The strength of the ROV lies in its utility, ease of operation and ability to provide live imagery of an area within its immediate surroundings,” said Carey. “ROVs have already proven to be effective in other Coast Guard operations, but every technology we tested has a role to play in contributing to the mission of protecting America’s Arctic waters.” (ends)
Analysis and Background
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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.
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.”
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.”
Source: U.S Department of Defense
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Source: US Government Accountability Office
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.