19 Nov 14. Leidos’ maritime autonomy system successfully completes at-sea trials. Leidos has successfully completed at-sea trials of its prototype maritime autonomy system. The system aims to control the manoeuvring and mission operations of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) anti-submarine warfare continuous-trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV). A 32ft-long work boat was used as a surrogate vessel to deploy software and sensors, in a bid to replicate the configuration planned for an ultimate full-size ACTUV prototype. The prototype system completed 26,000 simulation runs during the 42-day testing phase and met with COLREGS requirements in unplanned scenarios. During the 101 individual scenarios, the autonomy system successfully engaged course and speed changes of the surrogate vessel, and maintained a safe 1km standoff distance from the interfering vessel. In addition, the surrogate boats successfully navigated autonomously through narrow channels, evading navigation aids and submerged hazards. Tests confirmed the potential of the system to manoeuvre and avoid collisions with another vessel. It will now have further tests, involving multiple interfering contacts and adversarial behaviours of interfering vessels. Under the COLREGS testing, the ACTUV surrogate and an interfering vessel will undergo a range of meeting, crossing, overtaking and transit situations, in both simulation and on-the-water test phases. Work on the first ACTUV vessel, Sea Hunter, is currently underway and is scheduled for launch next summer and sea trials in the Columbia River. (Source: naval-technology.com)
17 Nov 14. British Army praises performance of Watchkeeper during debut deployment. A leading figure in the British Army’s unmanned air vehicles operations has praised the first deployment of the force’s new Elbit Systems/Thales WK450 Watchkeeper system, during which it was involved in three-way UAV operations to offer cueing and intelligence to the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan. One system consisting of four aircraft was deployed to theatre in August and was used to provide wide-area surveillance to British troops that were in the process of withdrawing from Camp Bastion, Lt Col Craig Palmer, commanding officer, UAS branch leader, 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery, told the SMi Unmanned Aerial Systems conference in London. The first in-theatre flight took place on 2 September, followed by the first operational flight on 16 September. During the latter, Watchkeeper provided wide-area surveillance for the USMC using its Thales I-Master radar, which then cued the army’s leased Elbit Systems Hermes 450 – on which the Watchkeeper airframe is based – to continue maintaining the surveillance track.
This information was then passed on so that the Royal Air Force’s General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAV could carry out a strike on the particular target.
“The US Marine Corps were pretty delighted with that,” Palmer says.
Some 140 flight hours of a part-Watchkeeper capability were flown until operations ceased in mid-October, he adds.
“Previously, we had lots of classic ‘soda straw’ [capabilities], but these needed to be coordinated…better as we drew down,” Palmer says. “When you do a transition operation, you are vulnerable.”
Watchkeeper flew about eight hours a day, which Palmer says was enough to cover the transition period as the UK withdrew from Bastion.
“Watchkeeper – while still in its first version – is an excellent air system,” Palmer adds. “But we believe we’ve only just scratched the surface.” Palmer says the I-Master’s capabilities, including dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication, were the main reason for deploying the UAV so late in the conflict: “We believe this is an awful lot of bang for your buck on this size of aircraft.” Dust clouds are one of the main hindrances to Hermes 450 operations because it has only an electro-optical/infrared payload, although the vehicle “was an excellent foundation fo