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07 May 21. USAF once again asks Congress to let it mothball oldest RQ-4 Global Hawk drones. The Air Force will continue pushing for the retirement of its oldest Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks, the service’s top officials said Friday, potentially setting up another fight with Congress about the future of the embattled surveillance drone.
“The Air Force will continue to pursue the [fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act] RQ-4 Block 30 divestment waiver in order to repurpose the RQ-4 Block 30 funds for penetrating [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability,” acting Air Force Secretary John Roth and Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown said in written testimony to Congress.
Roth and Brown testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee ahead of the service’s FY22 budget request, which has not been released.
In last year’s budget request, the Air Force sought to retire Global Hawk blocks 20 and 30 — a total of 24 aircraft — leaving RQ-4 Block 40s and the U-2 spy plane to conduct the high-altitude surveillance mission.
However, Congress blocked the retirement of the RQ-4 unless the defense secretary certifies that the divestment of those aircraft will not prevent combatant commands from being able to accomplish their missions and that the capabilities of a Global Hawk replacement will be worth any increased operation and sustainment costs.
“Until the Air Force provides a comprehensive ISR modernization plan, addressed elsewhere in this bill, [Congress] will continue to be concerned about the sequence of retiring operational aircraft without a suitable replacement capability in place and available,” per members of the House and Senate Armed Service committees.
The service has attempted to retire the RQ-4 multiple times since 2012 and has always been batted back by lawmakers. But if House appropriators plan to oppose new attempts to divest the Block 30 drones, they showed no signs of resistance during the hearing, asking no questions about the platform’s future.
The Air Force maintains an inventory of 21 RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 drones, as well as three Block 20 drones modified to the EQ-4B Battlefield Airborne Communications Node variant.
The platform was “crucial” for conducting high-altitude ISR over its life span and is relevant for missions today, but it cannot survive in a contested environment, Roth and Brown stated in testimony.
“Tomorrow’s conflicts will be contested. Moving beyond this platform allows us to bring the ISR enterprise into the digital-age by using sensing grids and fielding advanced technology that includes penetrating ISR platforms,” they said.
So far, the service has not disclosed how it plans to replace the RQ-4 — one prerequisite for getting a waiver required by Congress.
In a recent wargame carried out last fall, which was set in the mid-2030s, the Air Force fielded a notional Global Hawk replacement that was similar to an unmanned version of Australia’s E-7A Wedgetail aircraft and used primarily as a communications node instead of for ISR collection.
(Source: Defense News)
04 May 21. Advanced Navigation and Nextcore LiDAR Accurate at 100m. Nextcore is an Australian-based company who specialise in making UAV-mounted LiDAR systems. Established in 2012, Nextcore’s solutions have been used in the mining industry, by surveyors and environmental specialists all over the world.
If there’s one thing that defines the Nextcore team it’s their passion to continually improve the technology of UAV LiDAR in order to make cost-effective, reliable equipment that is easy to use. This led to the RN80 project, a UAV-mounted LiDAR payload that could be flown higher in the air and still deliver a survey-grade dataset.
The Challenge: Creating a UAV-mounted LiDAR that can fly at 80 meters above ground level.
Previously Nextcore’s UAV-mounted LiDAR could only fly at 50 metres above the ground, which ran the risk of colliding with vegetation. To avoid this, the team set the goal of increasing their altitude to 80 metres above the ground.
Operation at this altitude not only reduces the risk of collisions with trees, it also enables surveyors to cover larger areas, greatly improving the solution’s efficiency. However, this ambition came with increasing risk.
“The problem with flying a UAV LiDAR payload higher off the ground is the higher you fly the more inaccuracies you build into the LiDAR dataset” says Ashley Cox, COO and Co-Founder at Nextcore. “The challenge was finding hardware we could put into the system that would allow us to achieve a survey-grade outcome even though we were flying our drones higher”.
The Solution: Certus Evo
After reviewing the different inertial navigation systems available on the market, Ashley and the Nextcore team selected Advanced Navigation’s Certus Evo to be used in the RN80 payload.
The Certus Evo was chosen because:
- It was highly accurate, reducing any angular errors from flying higher
- It was easy to integrate into Nextcore’s existing systems
- It was cost effective, allowing Nextcore to pass their savings on to their customers
The Outcome: Soaring above expectations
“When we had done our calculations we expected we’d be able to fly 80 metres above ground level” says Ashley. Instead, the Certus Evo performed so well it enabled Nexctore to produce a UAV-mounted LiDAR that operates at 100 metres above the ground, exceeding their initial goal. This became the RN100 UAV LiDAR, which allows Nextcore’s customers to fly more safely, cover a larger area and still achieve a survey-grade outcome.
“We are excited to have partnered with Nextcore on this very strategic initiative to expand their capabilities and exceed their expectations for delivering on their business objectives,” says John Colvin, Chief Revenue Officer at Advanced Navigation. John continued, “Nextcore has always been on the forefront and cutting edge by pushing the boundaries with their UAV-mounted LiDAR systems. This has driven us to produce our next generation of navigation solutions, like the Certus Evo, which will provide the highest performance results in the industry. We are looking forward to our continued partnership with Nextcore and accelerating their success as they pursue their global expansion.” (Source: UAS VISION)
04 May 21. German defense ministry dismisses French offer of pre-loved submarine hunters. German defense officials have dismissed a French offer of four Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft, arguing the refurbished planes’ expected readiness state would make them unsuitable for service in the German navy.
Officials in Paris extended a proposal to their counterparts in Berlin after news broke earlier this spring that the U.S. government was prepared to sell the German sea service a handful of P-8 Poseidon aircraft as a replacement for the country’s clapped-out P-3 Orion fleet.
It is unclear if defense leaders in Berlin have formally notified their French colleagues that they found the Atlantic 2-based proposal to be lackluster. Information about the conclusion first appeared in a letter last month from Thomas Silberhorn, one of the defense ministry deputies, to lawmaker Christian Sauter, a member of the parliamentary defense committee.
German government-news service Behörden Spiegel first reported on the missive.
Silberhorn’s one-page response to Sauter, a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), suggests the idea of four Atlantique 2 planes wouldn’t even come close to plugging the Germany navy’s maritime-patrol and anti-submarine shortfall, either for training or actual missions.
“The aircraft were produced as of 1984 and fielded to the French navy beginning in 1989,” the letter states. “The condition of the proposed ATL2 cells was not specified by France,” it adds, using the acronym for the Dassault-made aircraft.
That language suggests a re-winging of the planes would be necessary, a tricky undertaking that officials here considered for a now-defunct Orion life-extension program before government auditors flagged runaway costs last summer, according to Sebastian Bruns, a naval analyst at the University of Kiel.
“If the French offer us a similar option, we haven’t gained anything,” he said. “I can’t help but think that they want to get rid of their aging airframes while driving a wedge into Germany’s prospective P-8 purchase.”
German navy officials have said they need new aircraft with anti-submarine and surveillance capabilities by 2025. That is ten years before an envisioned new Franco-German development, the Maritime Airborne Warfare System, is slated to yield new planes. The question for Berlin is what to do in the intervening years, as analysts warn about Russia’s increasing focus on high-tech submarine capabilities in the waters around the Arctic and the Baltic Sea.
The German defense ministry now wants to make a decision about new aircraft in the waning days of the Merkel government. If officials manage to get parliamentary approval before the summer recess, which begins in late June, the outcome will likely be a purchase of the P-8 Poseidon, Bruns predicts. If not, the entire project could fall by the wayside for a while, he said.
German defense blog Augen Geradeaus reported on Monday that the issue could wind up on the agenda of the Bundestag’s budget committee in the second week of June. (Source: News Now/Defense News)
03 May 21. US Army’s next-gen protection system for helos cleared for full-rate production. The U.S. Army’s Northrop Grumman-manufactured next-generation protection system for its fleet of helicopters has been cleared for full-rate production, according to an April 30 Pentagon announcement.
The Army awarded Northrop a nearly $1bn contract to produce the Common Infrared Countermeasures program, known as CIRCM, with an estimated completion date of April 29, 2026. The service will start equipping its aviation fleet with the system beginning with the UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopter.
Northrop has already delivered 100 units to the Army.
The company won the contract to build CIRCM in 2015 following a head-to-head competition with BAE Systems. BAE and Northrop were selected out of four competitors — which included Raytheon and ITT Exelis — to continue technology development efforts in 2013.
BAE Systems protested the award, but quietly withdrew its protest after reaching a settlement with the Army. The service did not disclose details of the settlement.
Once Northrop was able to resume work on the program, following the protest, the Army said it expected to reach a full-rate production decision in fiscal 2020 after an initial operational test and evaluation in fiscal 2019.
An Army spokesman told Defense News in January 2020 that it had completed the test and was scheduled for a full-rate production decision in the summer of 2020 that would enable the program to reach initial operational capability in 2021.
But by the end of summer, that schedule had been pushed back with a full-rate production decision expected in the second quarter of fiscal year ’21.
“This was pushed to the right so the FRP decision can align with the completion of our contract negotiations with NGC,” Brandon Pollachek, a spokesman within the program office where CIRCM resides, told Defense News. “The previous FRP decision timeline was scheduled to occur prior to the NGC FRP negotiation completion. This decision to align the completed contract negotiation with the Missile Defense Agency’s FRP decision was to ensure the maximum amount of cost data could be understood by all key stakeholders and is more customary with standard acquisition practice.”
He added there was “currently no operational risk with the decision moving due to procuring more [low-rate initial production] systems for the first operational unit.”
According to the Army, CIRCM flew 2,303 open-air flight test events on operational aircraft and also conducted a logistics demonstration.
At White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, CIRCM had 12 successful free flight tests against single threats, four successful flight tests against two threats at once and a first-ever defeat against four simultaneous threats, the service reported. The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade is the first unit equipped. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
04 May 21. USAF Reserve and Air National Guard field color video capability. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) LITENING advanced targeting pod has been fielded for the first time with full-color, digital video capability with the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, giving pilots of the service’s F-16s an unprecedented level of situational awareness and targeting certainty.
“LITENING’s color video capability gives pilots a clearer picture of the battlespace, making targeting faster and more accurate,” said James Conroy, vice president, navigation, targeting and survivability, Northrop Grumman. “The LITENING pod can display up to three different views simultaneously, allowing operators to see color and infrared video side by side, and in different fields of view. The result is a clearer view of an area of interest only available when flying with LITENING.”
LITENING has been continuously upgraded over four generations and has logged more than three million operational flight hours. Northrop Grumman’s Agile methodologies and digital design expertise are accelerating the pace of change to deliver new capabilities to the field rapidly in response to evolving requirements.
Built with a modular design, any LITENING pod can be upgraded to the color configuration. The upgrade also includes the ability to record simultaneous video feeds from all sensors for post-mission analysis, automatic laser code display and an eye-safe mode that allows for more realistic training while using the laser.
Northrop Grumman has delivered more than 900 LITENING pods to the United States and international partner nations. The pod has maintained an availability rate in excess of 95 percent.
03 May 21. US Air Force seeks suppliers for C-UAS contracting hub to link research, operational units. The US Air Force has extended its deadline for its request for proposals to industry for a counter small UAS contracting vehicle ( FA875021R1000) from 22 January 2021 to 14 May 2021. According to the tender document:
“The Air Force Research Laboratory, Information Directorate, Rome NY (AFRL/RI) has a requirement to provide a focused yet flexible, rapid, agile contracting vehicle between Air Force Research Laboratory, its Products Centers, and the Operational Community to support rapid research, development, prototyping, demonstration, evaluation, and transition of Counter small Unmanned Aircraft System (C-sUAS) capabilities. These capabilities are to be used in combating Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS)—and others leveraging COTS technology—presently being used by our adversaries in asymmetric warfare against U.S. military personnel and materiel. Emphasis will be placed on: a) development of technology capability solutions that address specific user requirements; b) delivery of prototype technologies for evaluation and feedback in the context of the user’s operational environment; and c) provision of a mechanism for user acquisition of limited product quantities required for operational introduction of technologies. Anticipated deliverables include software, hardware, technical documentation and technical reports.
“For the aforementioned requirements, the Government anticipates a single award Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (ID/IQ) research and development (R&D) contract with Cost-Plus-Fixed-Fee Completion (CPFF/C) Task Orders, an ordering period of seventy-two (72) months, and a maximum ordering amount of approximately $490,400,000.
Tender number: FA875021R1000
Responsible organisation: US Air Force
Deadline 14 May 2021 (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
26 Apr 21. Epirus demonstrates microwave counter drone technology to US government to combat drone swarms. US counter drone company Epirus says its Leonidas microwave technology succeeded in bringing down “66 out of 66” drone targets in a demonstration for a US government customer in February 2021. The company’s microwave-based solution is designed to disable military targets and defend critical infrastructure including airports and sports stadiums. The company says it can counter mass drone attacks such as the vehicles used to disable the Saudi Arabian Abqaiq oil processing facility in 2019.
Leonidas “fits into the back of a pick-up truck and can be controlled with great precision” according to Epirus CEO Leigh Madden. The company is also working on a smaller version of the weapon that could be carried by operators on foot.
Epirus entered into a supplier agreement with Northrop Grumman in July 2020 to provide Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) capability as a component of Northrop Grumman’s Counter-Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS) solution. The agreement specifically supplements the Northrop’s suite of non-kinetic C-UAS effects.
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30 Apr 21. Yearlong delay hits operational test of Alaska-based missile defense radar. The U.S. Air Force’s ballistic missile defense radar being installed at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, won’t have its only operational flight test for another year, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. The Long Range Discrimination Radar was supposed to have its flight test in the third quarter of fiscal 2021 after two ground tests, but the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected the program overall, has resulted in the need to move the test back to the final quarter of fiscal 2022.
The Missile Defense Agency said earlier this year that the LRDR was on track to reach initial operational capability in FY21, which the GAO indicated in its own report is the case.
But the Air Force will not take ownership of the operational radar until the third quarter of FY23 after the operational flight test. The original transfer was to take place in the fourth quarter of FY22, according to the report.
The MDA had to stop all construction and integration activities for LRDR at Clear Air Force Station when the novel coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. in March 2020. The program went into “caretaker status,” meaning just a small group stayed at the site to ensure the materials were protected from the elements.
The LRDR is an S-band radar that will not only be able to track incoming ballistic and hypersonic missiles but also discriminate the warhead-carrying vehicle from decoys and other nonlethal objects for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System. The GMD is designed to protect the continental U.S. from possible intercontinental ballistic missile threats from North Korea and Iran. Lockheed Martin is LRDR’s manufacturer.
“We did have some fallback in developing and delivery of systems because it requires people to be in close, confined spaces and sitting at computer terminals working through really tough problems like the development of an algorithm,” MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said at the virtually held Space and Missile Defense Symposium in the summer of 2020.
The GAO stated that LRDR did make progress in 2020, with the prime contractor completing the installation of 4 of 10 primary array panels and all 10 secondary array panels. Integration of radar electronics, cooling, communications and power equipment “also began, but was not finished as planned,” the report added.
Even prior to the pandemic, program officials were watching out for risks during FY19 that could affect the transfer of the radar to the Air Force. “These risks included manufacturing of the array panels, subarray assembly suite modules and auxiliary power group cabinets,” the GAO reported.
Lockheed completed the subarray assembly suites and auxiliary power group cabinets in FY20. However, the GAO noted, a contractor identified positive COVID-19 cases on its array panel production line and delayed the completion of those from August 2020 to October 2020 as the contractor resorted to quarantining workers by shift.
The GAO said the contractor finished installation of the remaining primary array panels in the first quarter of FY21.
The shutdown of the operation at Clear Air Force Station during the pandemic led to an increase in costs, and “negotiations with the contractor are ongoing to address additional costs,” according to the GAO report.
The reason for the cost increase includes maintaining critical staff on site to monitor the radar and equipment, production impacts, redeploying to the site, and “performance impacts to the overall contract,” the report stated. (Source: Defense News)
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