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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

01 June 12. The US is planning to arm Italy’s fleet of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with missiles and bombs, in a bid to protect Italian armed forces from enemy threats in Afghanistan. The Obama administration is likely to announce the deal within two weeks, following which the US-built drones, operated by Italian air forces, will be equipped with weapons such as laser-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles. Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said: “Italy is one of our strongest partners and Nato allies, and it’s important for us, for a variety of reasons, to share technologies and capabilities with them for purposes of burden sharing and to enable them to better protect themselves and, by extension, to protect the United States and our other allies.” The move comes amidst concerns over an incident, revealed by a senior Congressional aide, which killed an Italian soldier in a firefight while an unarmed aircraft hovered above, unable to help the troops. Italy currently operates surveillance drones to protect its troops deployed to Afghanistan and it is likely that around six of them will be armed. The deal, if finalised, will make Italy the second foreign country next to Britain to fly armed UAVs in Afghanistan. The proposed sale may also assist the US in reallocating the global military operations burden, especially at a time when the Pentagon’s budget is facing deficit-reduction by requirements. The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude UAV primarily designed for reconnaissance and surveillance and uses several kinds of sensors, including a thermal camera, and has six stores pylons that can carry a maximum of 4,600lb of weapons and external fuel tanks. (Source: airforcetechnology.com)

30 May 12. Northrop Grumman Corporation and L-3 MAS announced plans to join forces on a variant of the Northrop Grumman-produced Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for Canada to maintain continuous surveillance of its Arctic territories. Dubbed “Polar Hawk™,” the system will be designed to stay aloft for long periods of time in harsh weather conditions over vast expanses of the Earth’s surface monitoring land, ice, littoral and open water environments throughout the Arctic. Flying at 60,000 feet, well above challenging weather and all commercial air traffic, Polar Hawk™ can range over 22,000 kilometres and stay airborne for more than 33 hours, day or night in all weather conditions. In addition to its surveillance payloads, Polar Hawk™ has the power to support and can be equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for conducting science and environmental missions, as demonstrated by NASA using earlier versions of the Global Hawk UAS as far as 85 degrees north latitude. It can also be deployed to support humanitarian missions and provide surveillance over Canada’s vast territory stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific territorial waters and coasts.

18 May 12. ScanEagle poised to fly from USCG cutter. The US Coast Guard (USCG) is preparing to fly an unmanned aircraft from one of its ships for the first time in July, the service has told IHS Jane’s. Insitu’s lightweight ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will be demonstrated from the flight deck of the Legend-class National Security Cutter (NSC) USCGC Stratton. (Source: Jane’s, JDW)

18 May 12. China spotted flying rotary-wing UAV off back of frigate. Rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that appear to be Schiebel Camcopter S-100s have been photographed operating off a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigate in international waters. Japan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 16 May provided photographs to IHS Jane’s showing three UAVs on the helicopter deck of the Jiangkai II-class (Type 054A) frigate Zhoushan. (Source: Jane’s, JDW)

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