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21 Feb 18. US Navy interested in air force’s retired MQ-1 Predator UAVs. US Navy (USN) officials are discussing acquiring General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) the US Air Force (USAF) plans to retire, according to a USAF spokesperson. USAF spokesperson First Lieutenant Annabel Monroe said on 20 February that the USAF will cease MQ-1 flying operations on 9 March. However, she said, government contractors will continue flying the aircraft through the end of 2018. The USAF announced last week it is transitioning to an all MQ-9 Reaper force. The service has 93 Reapers, also developed by GA-ASI. First Lt Monroe said the USAF is performing a screening process outlined in the Defense Material Disposition Manual (DMDM) in preparation of Predator retirement. She said there are many possibilities as to where the service could distribute the retired aircraft, including sending some to the bone yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and to museums. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
21 Feb 18. DARPA awards first contracts in drone swarms project. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded $7.2m worth of contracts to Raytheon BBN, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, and Lockheed Martin Corporation during the first phase of the agency’s Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) program.
The goal of the program is to develop small unmanned air and ground robots with the capability to operate in swarms of 250 or more. According to DARPA, these swarming systems would be teamed with small-unit infantry forces to help accomplish a diverse range of missions in complex urban environments.
Unlike the extremely expensive drones currently found in most U.S. military ground units, like the AeroVironment Raven, swarms can consist entirely of inexpensive systems. A swarm can also lose many individual drones with little impact on its ability to accomplish its broader mission.
The recent contracts are part of phase one of the OFFSET program’s “swarm sprints.” The sprints are an effort to enable rapid development by leveraging and combining emerging swarm technologies. Every six months, DARPA expects to solicit proposals from potential “sprinters” ranging from academics to large corporations, which then will work with the system integration teams to create and test unique swarm technology.
Lockheed Martin is the first winner of a swarm sprinter award, worth $363,505 with options.
Raytheon and Northrop Grumman won systems integrator awards, priced at $3,223,443 with options and $3,709,108 with options respectively.
The system integrators are tasked with “designing, developing and deploying a swarm-system, open-based architecture for swarm technologies in both a game-based environment and physical test bed,” according to a release from Northrop Grumman.
Each swarm sprint will focus on one of five areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment, and physical-bed. The first sprint focused on tactics that would allow a commander to use swarms to prepare an urban area of operations for further operations by small-unit forces.
“We imagine seeing swarm tactics where you’ll be conducting reconnaissance with a swarm of air and ground robots. Or identifying ingress and egress points, or perhaps identifying novel ways to construct a perimeter of an area of operations,” Timothy Chung, DARPA’s OFFSET program manager, said in a video about the first sprint.
While Lockheed Martin is the only swarm sprinter to receive an award thus far, DARPA expects to issue additional awards related to the first sprint after negotiations are completed, Chung told C4ISRNET in a statement.
Drone swarm technology is not entirely unprecedented. South Korea showed off its group drone capabilities earlier this year during the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Russia’s Ministry of Defense claims its ground forces in Syria were attacked by a drone swarm in Jan. 2018. No one ever claimed the attack, but Russia maintains the attack required a higher level of technological expertise than any Syrian rebel groups posses.
(Source: Defense News Early Bird/C4ISR & Networks)
16 Feb 18. Small Unmanned Aircraft Prove Worth in Battlefield Reconnaissance Role. Small drone aircraft the Army is using are proving their worth as a useful tool for battlefield reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Infantry units are seeing the advantage of small unmanned aircraft systems, which are an integral part of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, assigned to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at 7th Army Training Command’s Hohenfels Training Area here. Army Sgt. Christopher Curley, the small unmanned aircraft systems master trainer assigned to Company B with the regiment’s 1st Battalion, said drone aircraft can account for up to 60 percent of intelligence gathering during exercises.
“We typically can cover large areas of the “box” in rapid succession with our [small unmanned aircraft systems] teams,” Curley said. “We paint a large portion of the intelligence picture with minimal risk to men and equipment. What may take a scout team a day to do may only take three hours for us.”
The battalion is using three types of small drone aircraft: a commercial-off-the shelf quadcopter, an RQ-20 Puma unmanned aerial vehicle, and an RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle.
The quadcopter can be used in a variety of roles to replicate current and potential threats for the purposes of the rotational units training here. Under perfect conditions, it offers short-range collection capabilities up to 4.3 miles, with a high-resolution camera sensor and can carry a small payload of up to 3 pounds about six-tenths of miles in distance, Army officials said.
The Raven, currently used by the U.S. military and several NATO and partner nations, has a much longer battery life of up to 60 minutes, and a cruising distance of about 6.2 miles, but it is not as versatile as the quadcopter with its hovering ability.
The Puma has arguably the longest battery life — about two hours — and a 12.4-mile range.
Quadcopter: ‘A Great Tool for Quick Recon’
“The quadcopter is a great tool for quick recon,” Curley said. “I relate it to fishing: you cast your reel, check that area and then move on. With the quadcopter you are more agile, but you lack the range of the Raven and some of the great tools it has. With the Raven, you get a lot of those tools, but you lack the agility, and it takes more time to master it and train soldiers to use it.”
The Puma, on the other hand, “has the real ability to get out there and touch someone, with its extended battery life,” he said.
According to instructors from Fort Benning, Georgia, who recently conducted a small unmanned aircraft systems master trainer’s course here, Army Pfc. Lucas Bria, with Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment here, is now the Army’s youngest SUAS master trainer after receiving a wavier for his rank to enroll in the course.
Eye in the Sky
“SUAS gives us a unique view in the sky,” Bria said, “where we can view objectives and targets from above, and the enemy usually doesn’t account for this view. They’ll usually set up camouflage and defenses linear to their position, not vertically.”
The soldiers here share their gathered intelligence and methods of collecting it with the units they’re opposing during rotational exercises after they have concluded. Their intent is to relay how successful SUAS operations can be and how all Army units should start implementing them into their repertoire of tactics, techniques and procedures.
During Exercise Allied Spirit 8, Curley said, a quadcopter was launched from a remote area deep in the wooded training area, and within 15 minutes an enemy’s position was spotted and grid coordinates were accurately reported to the team’s higher command.
“Having this capability allows us to paint the big picture,” Bria said. “We can provide information for indirect fire, for enemy movement, and anything our higher command may use it for. We’re giving them a new view, and new information that they weren’t able to get as quickly as before.” (Source: ASD Network)
17 Feb 18. USAF announces official retirement date for iconic MQ-1 Predator drone. The Air Force will officially retire its iconic, groundbreaking — and controversial ― MQ-1 Predator on March 9, officials at Creech Air Force Base said.
In a Wednesday release, Creech said that the Air Force will shift to entirely using MQ-9 Reapersfor combat missions after the Predator’s sunset. The Air Force also flies unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks for reconnaissance missions.
First Lt. Annabel Monroe, a spokeswoman for Air Combat Command, said that the Air Force is still figuring out what it will do with its retiring Predator fleet. Some could be transferred to Air Force museums, and the Air Force is exploring the possibility of transferring some to the Navy.
But the Air Force won’t sell them to private organizations, Monroe said, and does not expect to sell or give them to allied nations through the Excess Defense Article Program for Security Cooperation.
And while the active duty Air Force and Air National Guard will stop flying the MQ-1 after March 9, contractor flights in the Middle East will continue through December, she said.
The Predator was a landmark in the development of the military’s use of remotely-piloted aircraft. The Air Force first deployed the unarmed reconnaissance version of the Predator, the RQ-1, in Albania in July 1995, and also set up Air Combat Command’s first Predator unit that month.
The Predator had a checkered level of success in the early days. Creech said several RQ-1s were shot down early on, and others crashed due to infrastructure problems. But air crews kept tweaking the design to improve its flight capabilities, such as by adding helicopter missile pylons and switching to a more reliable turbo engine. It was also tweaked to do something it wasn’t originally intended to do: Carry and fire ordnance such as Hellfire missiles.
Unarmed Predators were used to scout Afghanistan beginning a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And on Oct. 7, 2001, the day strikes on Afghanistan began, the first armed mission with a Predator was carried out — this one by the CIA, unsuccessfully targeting Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar ― and it ushered in a new era of warfare. That Predator, tail number 3034, now hangs in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
In 2003, Creech said, the Air Force developed the ability to allow pilots to fly RPAs from across the globe. This “remote-split operation” tactic beamed signals to RPAs once they took off, allowing RPA pilots to conduct missions from stateside bases such as Creech.
The Predator drone quickly became an iconic weapon ― and one steeped in controversy. The RPA’s ability to loiter for long periods watching potential targets, and then to fire precision-guided munitions without putting American or allied troops at risk, made it very attractive to the Pentagon. The Obama administration dramatically increased the number of drone strikes as a key part of its counterterrorism strategy.
But critics blasted President Obama for civilian casualties caused by Predator and other RPA strikes, which they said were much higher than the administration acknowledged.
Afghans even began weaving images of the Predator in their traditional “war rugs,” which previously incorporated images of Kalashnikovs, tanks, helicopters, and other Soviet weaponry from the USSR’s occupation.
In 2011, the Predator and Reaper combined marked their one mth combat hour flown, about a decade after the Predator began flying in Afghanistan. In a sign of how much the military had grown to rely on RPAs, those drones hit 2 m combat flying hours two years later.
The Predator and Reaper also continued to play critical roles in Operation Inherent Resolve, the conflict against the Islamic State that began in 2014. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
16 Feb 18. Nigerian Air Force unveils new indigenous UAV. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has unveiled a new indigenously produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Tsaigumi, which will be used to enhance the NAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The aircraft was unveiled in a ceremony on 15 February attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, who said “this outstanding accomplishment holds promise of both military and economic benefits to the nation. From the military perspective, the added capacity for ISR provided by Tsaigumi UAV would undoubtedly boost ongoing and future security operations”. He said series production would create employment and generate export revenue. The Tsaigumi UAV was produced by NAF aerospace engineers in collaboration with UAVision of Portugal. Capable of day and night operations, it has an operational endurance in excess of 10 hours, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet and a mission radius of 100km. It has a maximum take-off weight of 95kg and its payload is an electro-optic/infra-red camera system.
The Nigerian Air Force on 4 October 2016 signed a memorandum of understanding with UAVision regarding the production of UAVs in Nigeria. At the time the NAF said the collaboration would lead to the production of four UAV prototypes with two each produced in Nigeria and Portugal.
Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, Director of Public Relations and Information of the NAF, said on Thursday the Tsaigumi UAV could be used for many tasks, such as ISR, policing, disaster management, convoy protection, maritime patrol, pipeline and power line monitoring as well as mapping and border patrol duties. In addition, it could be deployed for the protection of wildlife, weather forecast and telecast. Additionally, in the maritime domain, the Tsaigumi UAV could be used for search and rescue, coastal monitoring and patrol of Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, said his state was willing and ready to procure the Tsaigumi from the NAF, once available.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said the NAF would develop another UAV, called Ichoku, which would be Nigeria’s first indigenous unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV).
The NAF said the Tsaigumi UAV is a much more advanced and operationally ready version of the earlier Amebo and Gulma prototype UAVs. The indigenously produced Gulma was unveiled in December 2013 and was produced by the Nigerian Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) with the help of aerospace engineers from Cranfield University in Britain. Since 2007, the British institution partnered the AFTI as part of the Nigerian government’s bid to develop an in-house capacity for advanced aviation design, research and development.
Nigeria has previously relied on foreign UAVs, and acquired nine Aerostars from Israel’s Aeronautics Defence Systems (ADS) between 2006 and 2007 and several armed CH-3 UAVs from China, which have been used against Boko Haram militants. After Buhari unveiled the Tsaigumi he also examined other NAF research and development projects, including a Hind helicopter hydraulic accumulator diaphragm, aviation power pack, unmanned ground vehicle and F4 rocket launcher heat shield cone.
Also on display was a mockup/fuselage component of the NAFSA Eagle eight passenger multirole aircraft. The NAF said it was locally designed and is being manufactured at the Air Force Research and Development Centre to fulfil a variety of roles in the NAF.
It is being developed in partnership with US manufacturer Comp Air Aviation after an agreement was signed in January 2017 with the NAF. Comp Air Aviation (formerly Aerocomp) is based in Florida and specialises in the production of a family of composite kit-built aircraft ranging in size from four to ten seats and powered by engines from 180 to 1 880hp. (Source: Google/Defence Web)
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