06 Aug 15. Spain to buy 4 US surveillance drones. Spain will buy four Reaper surveillance drones, the defence ministry said Thursday, making it the fifth European nation to equip itself with the US-made devices. The defence ministry budget for 2016, which was presented in parliament on Tuesday, sets aside €25m ($27m) to buy four reconnaissance drones and two ground stations. The entire five-year drone program has a budget of €171m. The defence ministry has selected the bid from privately owned US firm General Atomics, which has a teaming agreement with Spanish engineering firm Sener, to supply it with four Reaper drones, a ministry spokesman said. “This type of equipment is necessary in operations today,” he added. The Reaper, which had a wingspan of 20 meters (66 feet), is already used by Britain, France and Italy and has been ordered by the Netherlands. The United States fly armed Reapers in combat zones but Spain only wants an unarmed version of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The European defense industry does not produce reconnaissance drones like the Reaper, which is capable of flying 24 hours non-stop and can reach a maximum altitude of 13,700 meters (45,000 feet). Germany, France and Italy decided in May to spend 60m euros on a technical study for a European drone project proposed by Airbus, France’s Dassault and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi of the Finmeccanica group. “The Spanish defence ministry is interested in the development of a European project,” the spokesman added. (Source: Defense News)
05 Aug 15. US Marines take next step toward cargo UAS acquisition. In a key step toward developing a new mission for unmanned air systems (UAS), two optionally-piloted Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max helicopters will move to a US Marine Corps base in Arizona by the end of September.
Marine Corps test squadron VMX-22 will use the newly-designated CQ-24As to “develop concept of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures, and to help inform any programme of record”, Naval Air Systems Command tells Flightglobal.
The Marines are already very familiar with the K-Max platform, having logged more than 1,800 flight hours with two aircraft in an extended, three-year demonstration tour in Afghanistan.
But the service plans to soon launch an acquisition programme for a fleet of cargo UAS (CRUAS). If a schedule released late last year stays on track, the Marine Corps would finalise requirements within four years and launch production within seven years.
There are two advanced technology programmes also in development to support the future CRUAS. The Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding the aerial reconfigurable embedded system, with a Lockheed/Piasecki team developing a dual-ducted fan-based unmanned platform. And the Office of Naval Research is sponsoring the autonomous aerial cargo/utility system (AACUS), a technology being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences to allow an unmanned rotorcraft to self-select a landing zone.
Although these technologies are soon moving into flight demonstration phase, the Marines’ aggressive timeline to reach production in 2022 could favour existing systems.
Unless the Marines’ requirements change, Lockheed continues to support the K-Max as its preferred solution.
“Right now the Marine Corps has a very very reliable platform in K-Max and that’s something we’re going to continue to offer to them,” says Jon McMillen, Lockheed’s business development lead for unmanned systems.
Lockheed’s proposed acquisition of helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky likely would not change the company’s customer-oriented philosophy towards platform selection, he says.
“I don’t know it will affect it,” McMillen says. “We’re really not going to look at what platforms we have, but what platforms best meet the customer’s requirement as a solution.”
Meanwhile, Lockheed continues to offer the optionally-piloted K-Max for demonstration for a range of emerging military and civil roles, including wildfire fighting