Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
30 Aug 18. US Navy selects builder for new MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone. Boeing has seized the Navy’s MQ-25 tanker drone contract, a major victory for a company that has in recent years struggled to win combat aircraft awards, marking a major step toward a new kind of carrier air wing. The $805m contract covers the design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four Stingray aircraft, a program the service expects will cost about $13bn overall for 72 aircraft, said Navy acquisition boss James Geurts. The award to Boeing kicks off what the Navy would is aiming to be a six-year development effort moving toward a 2024 declaration of initial operational capability. At the end, it will mark a historic integration of drones into the Navy’s carrier air wing. The Navy has traversed a long and complicated road in trying to develop a UAS that would fly on and off its aircraft carriers. It first envisioned UCLASS as a surveillance and strike asset, but the program was cancelled in 2016 after stakeholders including the Navy, the office of the secretary of defense and Congress publicly butted heads over the requirements.
Instead, the effort to field a carrier drone was reborn that year as an unmanned tanker that could double the range of the carrier air wing.
“I think we’ll look back on this day and recognize it as a pretty historic event,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson. “From an operational standpoint we are putting our feet in the water in a big way of integrating unmanned with manned into the air wing,” adding that getting the Stingray into the fleet will free up the Hornets now dedicated to the tanking mission
While the MQ-25 contract would have been a massive win for any of the competitors, which also included Lockheed Martin and General Atomics, it holds special meaning for Boeing. Boeing has a long history in both naval aviation and the tanking mission, but its Phantom Works advanced technology wing has failed in recent decades to win high-stakes awards like the joint strike fighter and long-range strike bomber contracts. Today’s win is a big step in toward reversing the trend. Boeing and General Atomics were widely seen as the favorites for the MQ-25 contest, with each firm offering wing-body-tail designs that were heavily influenced by the company’s work in the precursor to the program, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike effort.
Both companies designed their aircraft with an eye on lowering-costs and conducted extensive and public testing of its air vehicle or major subsystems. Analysts also pointed to the companies’ experience building tankers and unmanned aerial systems. Boeing built a full prototype of its MQ-25 design — a reworked version of a UCLASS demonstrator, its MQ-25 Program Director Don “BD” Gaddis told Defense News in March — which it then used in deck handling demos in St. Louis. Program officials have said a first flight could occur soon after contract award. Meanwhile, General Atomics opted not to construct a full flying prototype, but has been using its Avenger drone in deck handling drills.
A win by Lockheed was unexpected, in part because it was the only vendor to put forward a flying wing design after Northrop Grumman dropped out from the competition in 2017 — which analysts interpreted as a sign that the requirements could favor wing-body-tail designs like those offered by General Atomics and Boeing. (Source: Defense News)
28 Aug 18. Russian-Made ‘Predator’ by Kronshtadt Group. Russian Company Kronshtadt Group showcases the Orion-E unmanned aerial vehicle MALE (Medium Altitude Long-Endurance) designed for air reconnaissance at the Army-2018 International Military-Technical Forum. The Orion-E seems very similar to the American-made Predator and could be armed according to our first analysis. According to the Company, the Orion-E was fully designed and developed in Russian using local-made components. This new generation of UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) is intended for export market and is expected to be ready for production by 2020. The Orion-E has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,000 kilograms, standard payload of 60 kilograms, maximum payload of 200 kilograms, horizontal flight speed of 120-200 km/h, direct vision engagement range of 250 kilometers and the range with unmanned transponder of 300 kilometers. A typical Orion-E system configuration includes one ground control system using for mission control and data processing, maintenance and support station, one launch and recovery station and one ground terminal. The Orion-E air vehicle is 8m in length and has a 16 m wingspan. The surveillance and reconnaissance optics are mounted at the front of the superstructure and it can carry electro-optical and infrared cameras that can be used for ground targets search and detection in visible and infrared spectrum. The optic system is able to measure distance to target with laser target designation capability. The camera can take high resolution aerial photography with pictures storage capacity. Source: (Source: UAS VISION/Army Recognition)
29 Aug 18. Mid-East Customer for Russia’s Predator Knockoff? Officials from the Russian defense firm Kronshtadt Group announced the possible sale of the company’s Orion UAV to a country in the Middle East. But which Middle Eastern country is purchasing the platform, and what capabilities does the system bring to bear? The Orion-E (export version) is Russia’s medium-altitude, long-endurance drone with a reported range of 250 kilometers, a total flight duration of about 24 hours and a maximum altitude of 8,000 meters. While originally designed for only intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Russia has announced a combat version that can carry up to 200 kilograms of cargo, which will also be available for export.
The Orion “most closely resembles America’s Predator/Gray Eagle UAV in its technical characteristics,” according to Samuel Bendett, an expert on Russian military robotics.
The Chinese model that most resembles the Orion’s capabilities is the Wing Loong. According to Russian sources, Bendett said, “the two countries most likely to acquire [the Orion] are Syria and Egypt. Syria and Russia already enjoy a very close mil-to-mil relationship, while Egypt is diversifying its military imports from reliance on U.S. and occasional Chinese technologies.”
But there are other potential buyers, Bendett notes. “[The United Arab Emirates] has imported Russian military technology before, and Russia recently announced closer cooperation with Lebanon. Iraq, which has imported Chinese UAVs, has also started to import more Russian military equipment,” he said.
The impact the sale will have on balance of power in the region is difficult to measure. “Whether Russia’s sale of the Orion will influence the balance of power in the region really depends on three things: details about the system itself that remain murky, the existing capabilities of the importer and the capabilities of their neighbors,” said Michael Horowitz, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “My best guess is that the Orion will not be game-changer for whoever acquires it, but it is hard to know,” he added.
Both Horowitz and Bendett agree Russia’s attempt to establish itself in the Middle East UAV market is not surprising. “Russia is keen to win new UAV markets but realizes it has an uphill climb against American, Israeli and Chinese UAVs in the short- to mid-range sector,” Bendett said. Horowitz concurred that UAV proliferation in the Middle East has accelerated over the last half decade, and Russia is now starting its business “from a weak market position relative to China and the United States.”
China in particular is a fierce market competitor. As the U.S. Defense Department noted in its annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments, “the Middle East and North Africa region was China’s second largest regional arms market, probably because of the demand for armed UAVs — a niche area where China is one of the few suppliers.”
“China has sold armed UAVs to several states in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. China faces little competition for sale of such systems, as most countries who produce them are restricted in selling the technology as signatories of the Missile Technology Control Regime,” among other export control agreements, the report said. (Source: UAS VISION/Defense News)
27 Aug 18. AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV), a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems for both defense and commercial applications, today announced its MacCready Works lab has donated automated Quantix™ hybrid drones, spare parts and AeroVironment’s Decision Support System (AV DSS™) analytics software to West Point to support the military academy’s Center for Innovation and Engineering and Geography and Environmental Engineering Department.
“MacCready Works is a focal point for AeroVironment’s continuous innovation, focusing on relentless problem solving and doing what has never been done before,” said Kirk Flittie, AeroVironment vice president and general manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with and support the prestigious West Point Military Academy as we work together to advance unique and innovative solutions using the Quantix system.”
West Point cadets will deploy two Quantix systems as part of the collaboration. The Quantix system is a fully integrated drone, sensor and software information solution for collecting and using aerial imagery that is as easy to use as an app. The drone’s robust hybrid VTOL technology allows Quantix to operate effectively in a variety of conditions so cadets can collect data and create actionable intelligence when and where they need to. This donation is part of AeroVironment’s ongoing support for West Point cadets and the company’s commitment to supporting those who defend freedom. The company also hosts West Point cadets as interns at AeroVironment’s California facilities and hopes to collaborate on future projects with West Point.
24 Aug 18. DJI Announces Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom Drones. Starting with the Mavic 2 Pro: This variant features a 3-axis gimbal-stabilized Hasselblad camera with a 20MP 1″ CMOS sensor that’s capable of capturing UHD 4K video with 10-bit HDR support. It uses an adjustable f/2.8 – f/11 aperture and supports a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile for greater dynamic range—all of this making the Mavic 2 Pro one of the most sophisticated flying cameras on the market. The Zoom, on the other hand, features a 12MP 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor and gives users the option of 2X optical zoom (24 – 48mm) for detailed aerial close-ups. It also comes with zoom-specific features not found on the Pro, such as 4x Lossless Zoom FHD Video. Regardless of variant, both drones provide H.265 compression at 100Mb/s.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
- Hasselblad 20MP / UHD 4K Gimbal Camera
- 1″ CMOS + f/2.8-f/11 Adjustable Aperture
- 10-Bit Dlog-M + 10-Bit HDR Video
- OcuSync 2.0 Transmission Technology
- Up to 31 Minutes Flight Time
- Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing
- Hyperlapse Time-Lapse Mode
- Top Speed of 44.7 mph
- Enhanced HDR Photos with 14EV
- Remote Controller Included
Camera differences aside, both variants share many of the same features, including the travel-friendly folding style that helped make the original Mavic Pro such a fan favorite and each employs low-noise propellers—à la the Mavic Pro Platinum—to keep prop buzz to a minimum. They also come equipped with omnidirectional obstacle sensing, so you’ll get 360 degrees of protection and collision avoidance. In terms of performance, the Pro and Zoom top out at 44.7 mph and feature 31-minute flight time. And, as an added bonus, both variants come with 8GB of onboard storage.
DJI also bolstered several software features, including upgrades to the Active Track mode, additional Quickshots, and the all-new Hyperlapse mode, which lets pilots create professional-looking time-lapse aerial shots. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.