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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

13 Feb 12. Northrop Grumman is studying ‘more efficient ways’ of operating the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 UAS in order to reduce costs and force the US Department of Defense (DoD) into a dramatic U-turn, Shephard has been informed. According to senior executives within the company, Northrop Grumman is looking at the ramifications and impact of the DoD’s decision on 26 January to cap the programme in favour of Lockheed Martin’s U-2 aircraft- a platform which has been in operation since 1956. Speaking to Shephard, Northrop Grumman executives said meetings were ongoing with USAF and OSD officials. Further details of the cuts were expected to be unveiled in budget proposals submitted to Congress on 13 February. One company source said: ‘The air force has expressed concern at the loss of capability in theatres and we are having meetings with the air force and OSD and discussing what it would mean if [cuts were] implemented. This is a proposal and not a final decision.’ Claiming that the system was performing ‘very well’ overseas on operations, sources said the decision was budgetary and not value-driven. ‘[Global Hawk Block 30] programme of record was set up to replace the U-2 with all the same support mechanisms. For example, about a third of the U-2 fleet would be deployed while the remainder stay home for training and mission preparation. ‘Global Hawk doesn’t need to do that. These were assumptions made when we built the programme but it can be “skinnied” down considering what we’re learning,’ they added. ‘Most training for Global Hawk is conducted on the job during missions. There are huge savings for the training tail.’ (Source: Shephard)

13 Feb 12. 21st century airships may join Navy fleet. Modern-day Zeppelins will take to the sky for the first time since the First World War when the US Army begins using airships in Afghanistan. But Navy chiefs are now giving serious consideration to purchasing an airship from the Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles to provide surveillance and re-supply runs to aircraft carriers, The Daily Telegraph can discose. Scientists from the defence company Northrop Grumman have given briefings to the Navy on the latest airship that is about to enter military service. The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle is set to revolutionise air transport by being able to carry very heavy loads or intelligence kit long distances with the ability to land anywhere, including on the water. The Navy is looking to buy an LEMV to base above the fleet with sophisticated surveillance cameras to spot threats and spy on enemy movements. With a 50 ton payload it can also be used to carry urgent equipment parts such as engines for Joint Strike Fighters out to ships. Commanders are also considering using it as a counter piracy vessel as the LEMV can lower up to 150 commandos along with their fast inflatable boats. Travelling at over 80 knots the airship is almost three times faster than ships and the Navy’s version can travel for several days without refuelling its four gas turbine engines. With a mixture of 60 per cent helium and 40 per cent air it is far less vulnerable to enemy fire than the hydrogen filled Zeppelins that fell prey to the Fleet Air Arm’s incendiary bullets during the Great War. Tests by the Bedfordshire-based company Hybrid Air Vehicles have shown that bullets and even missiles can pass through the balloon without igniting the gas mixture which has a very low pressure. The airships will cost £60m each and can be flown remotely as an unmanned drone. They could prove a major boon for the struggling British aircraft industry if they attract commercial interest. Oil companies are looking at LEMVs to carry heavy equipment to remote drilling stations without having to use an airfield. They could also open up a more leisurely route across the Atlantic carrying 200 passengers in safety and comfort in a 36 hour journey consuming a fifth of the fuel used by a jet. (Source: Daily Telegraph)

16 Feb 12

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