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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

04 Sep 12. The Australian Defence Force is quietly resurrecting plans to buy seven huge maritime surveillance spy drones at a cost of up to $3bn. The unmanned aerial vehicles will be used for maritime surveillance and intercepting asylum seeker boats. The decision comes despite claims that the Royal Australian Air Force’s top commanders have long opposed the acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles because they will put pilots out of a job and threaten RAAF culture. The $200m Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance drone is the largest, most expensive unmanned aerial vehicle in the world today. Its vast wingspan of 39.8 metres can lift the craft to 65,000 feet and stay airborne for 35 hours with a non-stop range of 16,000 kilometres – eclipsing the endurance of similar manned aircraft. In 2004, the Howard government was so impressed with Global Hawk that plans were announced to buy a fleet of 12 of the spy drones for $1bn. But in 2009 the acquisition was cancelled by Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon, who was defence minister at the time. In May 2010, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced a Coalition government would buy three Global Hawks. (Source: AUVSI)

05 Sep 12. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announced the successful first flight of the Block 1-plus Predator® B/MQ-9 Reaper, an upgrade to the original Block 1 Predator B that has been in production since 2003. The MQ-9 Block 1-plus test flight occurred on May 24 at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., with no discrepancies. The MQ-9 Block 1-plus is a capability enhancement over the Block 1 configuration, which has amassed more than 420,000 flight hours across all customers. Block 1-plus was designed for increased electrical power, secure communications, auto land, increased Gross Takeoff Weight (GTOW), weapons growth, and streamlined payload integration capabilities. With the completion of development, testing, and expected Milestone C decision this fall, follow-on aircraft to the MQ-9 Block 1-plus configuration will be designated “MQ-9 Block 5.” Featuring a new high-capacity starter generator, the aircraft offers an increase in electrical power capacity over the current Block 1 design. This increased power provides the aircraft with significant capacity for growth. In addition, the upgraded electrical system includes a backup generator which is sufficient to support all flight critical functions. This vastly improves the reliability of the electrical power system by providing three independent power sources. Numerous new communications capabilities also will be available in the Block 5, including dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas, allowing for simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties; secure data links; and an increased data transmission capacity. Additionally, the new trailing arm main landing gear will be included in Block 5, enabling the aircraft to carry heavier payloads or additional fuel.

03 Sep 12. Northrop Grumman is turning to some unique teaming arrangements to pursue niche, and possibly productive, markets adjacent to the company’s traditional defense work with the Pentagon on large platforms. In the global financial downturn, the Pentagon and large militaries abroad are unlikely to start major new programs at the pace to which the company has grown accustomed. Thus, two of Northrop’s recent business ventures are unusual for a company that is geared to chasing major campaigns. One is aimed specifically at training pilots to launch and recover unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—operations where many mishaps occur. Another endeavor is a manned aircraft project to address what company officials see as an unmet need by law-enforcement agencies and developing nations to purchase low-priced surveillance aircraft. (Source: Aviation Week)

04 Sep 12. The Swiss Air Force is set to conduct in-flight evaluations of two Israeli medium altitude long endurance (MALE)

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