Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
24 Oct 18. GD Mission Systems Launches Latest UUV at Oceans 2018. The completely redesigned BluefinTM-9 is the newest member of the Bluefin Robotics family of autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) products. General Dynamics Mission Systems today released the new Bluefin-9 autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) at Oceans 2018 in Charleston, South Carolina. The completely reengineered vehicle combines high navigational accuracy, outstanding sonar resolution, and precision manufacturing to deliver defense, commercial and academic customers highly-detailed subsurface data in minutes rather than hours. The two-man portable UUV provides the same data collection capabilities of larger UUVs, and can be deployed and recovered from piers, a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) or other vessels of opportunity.
The Bluefin-9 includes a removable data storage module (RDSM) which stores high-definition images, video and sonar data that can be accessed within minutes of the vehicle’s recovery. It delivers mission endurance of up to eight hours at a speed of three-knots, and can reach speeds of six-knots and dive to 200 meters. Because of its modularity, customers can exchange both the RDSM and battery to redeploy the Bluefin-9 in 30 minutes or less. These capabilities align with environmental surveying, water quality measurement, search and recovery, security, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and other tactical missions.
“General Dynamics has invested in the redesigned Bluefin-9 and a broad team of engineering experts has made significant improvements to the design, production quality, modularity and reliability of the entire Bluefin Robotics product family to deliver cost-effective UUVs with more mission capability and range,” said Carlo Zaffanella, a vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Mission Systems. “We are proud to introduce this first product of a new generation of UUVs, designed to meet the dynamic operational challenges of our defense and commercial customers.” (Source: ASD Network)
24 Oct 18. Leonardo’s upgraded Falco EVO RPAS completes flight trials in Bulgaria. Leonardo has successfully concluded a series of test flights using its Falco EVO remotely piloted air system (RPAS) in Bulgaria. Flight trials have been carried out to demonstrate the upgrades that have been added to help improve the endurance and operational range of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for both overland and maritime operations. Manufactured by Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the upgraded Falco EVO RPAS includes a beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) satellite data-link system and a new propulsion system based on a heavy-fuel engine.
The new heavy-fuel engine helped extend the flight envelope of the autonomous system, in addition to generating more electricity on board the aircraft platform. This provides access to more power-intensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors required to address challenging missions.
Additional trials have been planned to conduct flight tests using Falco EVO aircraft fitted with Leonardo’s new Gabbiano TS Ultra-Light surveillance radar, together with a high-definition infrared (IR) electro-optical system, an automatic identification system, and a communications relay suite.
Being the longest-endurance variant from the Falco RPAS family, the Falco EVO UAV serves as a surveillance and intelligence-gathering platform that can travel for more than 20 hours while carrying a payload of up to 100kg. The RPAS is an all-weather, persistent-surveillance unmanned system capable of conducting real-time, stand-off target detection, classification and identification in ground, littoral and maritime environments. Currently, more than 50 Falco family RPAS are deployed on a wide range of operations around the world.
23 Oct 18. This amphibious drone belly-flops … and that’s a good thing. With the right airframe, it’s possible to land on over 71 percent of the Earth’s surface. Seagoing airframes are hardly a new phenomena; the first powered flight took place on a beach, after all, and the early days of aviation were heady with designs that took the comfort of a softer landing on water over harder landings on, well, land. Like their peopled predecessors, amphibious drones are following suit and expanding the places an airborne robot can return to the surface.
Consider the Aeromapper Talon. With a top speed of 38 mph and two hours of flight endurance, the Talon can do both serious surveying and moderate patrolling. The Talon is marketed primarily at governmental, commercial and environmental clients that want the utility of a commercial drone and don’t mind prices available on request. In an hour of flight, a Talon drone can use its downward-facing camera to map a 13-square-mile area with a resolution of 4.6 inches a pixel. (High resolutions in smaller areas can be captured in the same time.)
Beyond the mapping capability, it’s the nature of the manufacture that stands out for why Talon might interest a Department of Defense customer. It’s made by Aeromao, which is a Canadian company. That doesn’t exempt it from Pentagon bans on using foreign-made drones, but a Five Eyes partner should be an easier sell than other non-American commercial models.
And then there is the utility of the amphibious form. Operations in littoral and wetland areas are difficult to begin with. The ability to regularly fly a drone from a ship or boat into the marshes and then rapidly process the imagery into a usable map means fewer surprises and a better understanding of the operational environment.
As small drones become a regular part of military operations, finding the right drone for the mission needed likely means looking to the commercial world to see what solutions have already been attempted and refined. Autonomously belly-flopping a camera-carrying robot onto the surface of the sea isn’t the most graceful process, but it’s an effective one and, provided the drone can be easily recovered by friendly people in the area, it could be a useful adaptation for small maritime drones in the future. (Source: Defense News)
23 Oct 18. KAI pursues indigenous VTOL UAV development. Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has launched an internally funded programme to develop an indigenous multirole vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to meet a future Republic of Korea Army (RoKA) requirement, with flight trials expected to commence in 2019. KAI officials told Jane’s that the Night Intruder 600 VT is the company’s first attempt at developing a VTOL UAV. The prototype air vehicle has an overall length of 9 m, width of 2 m, height of 2.5 m, and a planned maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 600 kg. However, its MTOW could be extended to more than 750 kg when the programme matures. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
23 Oct 18. USN issues RFI for Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle. The US Navy (USN) issued a request for information (RFI) on 18 October for its Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV) programme.
“The navy is conducting market research to determine if sources exist that are capable of satisfying the navy’s anticipated programme requirement for independently deploying MUSVs,” the RFI said. Responses are due by 19 November.
“MUSVs are defined as vessels between 12 and 50m in length,” the RFI said, adding that the US Naval Sea Systems Command “is taking an accelerated approach with industry to leverage existing manned or unmanned surface ship designs that can be designed and/or modified to rapidly deliver an unmanned surface ship capability.” (Source: IHS Jane’s)
23 Oct 18. NATE Hosts UAS Operations Showcase Event. Key stakeholders from federal government agencies, industry and media participated in the inaugural NATE Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Operations “Field Day Showcase” on Tuesday, October 9. This dynamic drone experience was held at a Crown Castle tower site located in Gainesville, Virginia, in close proximity to the Washington, D.C. beltway.
At the event, attendees were provided an opportunity to witness live flight demonstrations conducted by prominent companies ETAK Systems, LLC; Talon Aerolytics, Inc.; Ehresmann Engineering, Inc.; and B+T Group. The many applications and use cases for drones from the perspectives of wireless carriers, vertical realtors, contractors and technicians were on display in real-time directly from the tower-site. At the event, attendees also were provided with a unique opportunity to visit with drone and aviation subject matter experts on hand about the transformative impact this technology is having on the wireless industry.
“Crown Castle was excited to partner with NATE in order to make this UAS Showcase experience a success,” said Robert McCoy, Manager Quality Assurance, at Crown Castle, and a member of NATE’s UAS Committee. “Drones are tailor made for the communications infrastructure industry, and the demonstration flights that were performed at our Crown Castle cell tower site only served to reinforce the fact that the use cases for this technology continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Crown Castle is enthusiastic about the future of commercial UAS,” added McCoy.
“The timing of this UAS Showcase event could not have been better given the fact that it was held in the immediate aftermath of the passing of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 legislation,” stated NATE UAS Committee Chairman Jimmy Miller. “The showcase enabled influential stakeholders from both the public and private sectors the platform to witness first-hand the power of the drone and facilitate discussions that will ultimately help get commercial UAS operations to scale in our diverse industry,” added Miller. (Source: UAS VISION)
23 Oct 18. Spain’s Alpha Unmanned Systems at NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018. The Spanish UAV manufacturer Alpha Unmanned Systems will present the Alpha 800, gasoline-powered helicopter UAV, at NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise in Trondheim, Norway. From October 25th to November 7th, a live field exercise will take place, spanning air, sea and land areas of Norway. 45,000 participants from 31 nations will be deployed for the event. During the exercise Alpha will take part in the Enhanced Logistical Base demonstration, where leading players will show the future of military logistics. Alpha Unmanned Systems will exhibit its Alpha 800 helicopter UAV. The Alpha 800 is a tactical 14kg gasoline powered helicopter that provides 2.5 hours of continuous flight with a 3kg payload and 30km of operating range. It is equipped with the lightest and strongest airframe in its class and a military-grade autopilot with high precision GPS and sensors. It is well suited for surveillance and for the delivery of urgently needed supplies.
The Trident Juncture 2018 is an excellent event to carry out complex air operations, and it’s a great chance to highlight the Alpha 800, a reliable UAV platform “Made in Spain” and designed for hard work in challenging and complex environments. (Source: UAS VISION)
23 Oct 18. UMS SKELDAR Teams with Scanfil for Production. UMS SKELDAR has teamed up with international outsource manufacturing contractor Scanfil to ramp up its volume production capability. The announcement represents a significant boost to production of the NATO-compliant heavy-fuel SKELDAR V-200, according to Axel Cavalli-Bjorkman, CEO of UMS SKELDAR, the joint venture between Saab and UMS AERO GROUP:
“The rationale for contracting out volume production was compelling, and based on more than a year of collaboration where our engineers and production team have worked closely with Scanfil to ensure that all technical aspects have been taken into account.
“We have been extremely impressed by the professionalism and the rigorous standards across the production team. This close relationship is a true partnership of expertise and importantly provides us with immediate volume production as we progress our world navy strategy in parallel to expansion of our service offering globally.”
The VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) SKELDAR V-200 and its variants will be produced at Scanfil’s manufacturing facility at Åtvidaberg, just 30 kilometers south of UMS SKELDAR’s Swedish base in Linköping, ensuring efficient communications and logistics.
According to UMS SKELDAR, the German Navy contract, is seen by many as a template for best practice in rotary UAV VTOL across NATO forces, in a range of missions.
It is envisaged that the first batch will include up to 10 UAV systems, with a significant capacity to increase the production volume. Series production is due to start by January 2019. UMS SKELDAR will continue to develop prototypes, complete software installation 6 and base its R&D programmes at its facilities in Switzerland (Möhlin) and Sweden (Linköping). Finnish-owned Scanfil, with 10 manufacturing locations worldwide, employs 3,500 people and as contract manufacturers in Sweden boasts manufacturing experience in the aerospace sector, including helicopters, and other technologies such as medical devices.
“This solution is not just a great fit in terms of technology skills sets,” explains Per-Erik Cardell Site Manager Sweden and Product Manager SKELDAR V-200. “The fact that the company meets stringent standards demanded in a range of sectors, and relevant aerospace experience provides us with the ideal partner, and our collaboration allows us to quickly react to customer demand.”
Steve Creutz, Managing Director at Scanfil in Åtvidaberg add: “We are very excited about the UMS SKELDAR venture. It is a customer who integrates perfectly with our experience of manufacturing advanced technology products and will benefit from our skills and processes and adherence to the highest production standards.”
SKELDAR V-200 and its variants, are used in a range of applications across military and civilian sectors, with roles including ISR, SAR, tactical logistics support and inspection and maintenance. (Source: UAS VISION)
22 Oct 18. To combat Russian subs, NATO allies are teaming up to develop unmanned systems at sea. The U.S. and its NATO allies are teaming up to more closely cooperate on the development and fielding of unmanned maritime systems, according to an agreement signed by the defense heads of 13 NATO allies.
During the July summit, the powers signed onto a plan to jointly pursue technologies aimed at mine and sub hunting, according to an October news release making the agreement public.
“The use of unmanned systems is a potentially game changing leap forward in maritime technology,” the release read. “Working alongside traditional naval assets, these unmanned systems will increase both our situational awareness and our control of the seas.”
The release, while short on details, seems to open up the possibility that development of underwater and surface drones could be even more lucrative for companies involved, as it hints at the alliance seeking common, interoperable systems. That means a proven drone might be competing for business in 13 markets simultaneously instead of just one.
“Through this initiative, Allies will also be able to exploit economies of scale to reduce costs, allowing increasing defence budgets to go even further,” the release said.
The countries involved in the agreement are Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
For NATO watchers, the agreement is the latest sign of just how seriously the alliance is taking the threat from Russian submarines.
“NATO members are alarmed by the growing threat from Russian submarines, and are investing more resources to deal with it,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who previously served as the lead on NATO issues for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “Under [President Vladimir] Putin, Russia has deployed new, stealthier submarines in the north Atlantic that are much harder for NATO navies to track.
“This new multinational cooperation in undersea drones is the most recent example that NATO is taking the Russian threat in the north Atlantic much more seriously than it has in the past quarter century.”
The agreement also reflects the ever-expanding role of unmanned systems in the underwater domain, which countries are banking on to offset the ever-quieter and more advanced submarines.
As the U.S. submarine fleet has dipped to 56 attack and guided-missile boats, and the Navy projects that number is slated to further drop to 42 by 2028 and hold below 48 boats through 2032, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
The Navy’s 2019 30-year shipbuilding plan shows the number of attack submarines dropping precipitously in the mid-2020s, something CRS has warned about for years as the Los Angeles-class boats begin to retire in numbers.
That shortfall is prompting an all-out push on developing unmanned systems that can perform some functions to free up the big hunters for missions where they are more needed.
When it comes to cooperating in development of drones, monitoring the littorals in and around the Baltic — and in the Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom gap — is an area where this kind of cooperation could be helpful, said Bryan Clark, a retired submariner and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The Battle of the Atlantic
The renewed threat from Russian submarines has triggered what the U.S. Navy’s Europe commander, Adm. James Foggo, has dubbed “The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,” harkening back to the fight with German U-boats in World War I, World War II and the standoff with Russia in the Cold War.
But with the expansion of NATO to former Soviet satellite states, the Battle of the Atlantic will sprawl from the Eastern Seaboard all the way to the Baltic and Black seas, areas that Russia has fortified with anti-access, area denial weapons and other capabilities in recent years.
That battlespace, however, extends not only to the undersea domain but all the way to the ocean floor, which is home to everything from pop-up mines to undersea internet cables that transmit the vast majority of the world’s data.
That means the alliance will need to know more than ever about what’s on the sea floor, a job that simply can’t be done with the declining number of attack submarines needed to shadow nuclear missile subs and conduct high-risk intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions around the globe.
In that arena, experts say that underwater systems — be it drones or stationary systems — will be necessary to monitor crucial chokepoints.
“We don’t have to know everything everywhere,” retired Vice Adm. Michael Connor, former head of American’s submarine forces, told the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee in a 2015 hearing. “But there are places where you would like to have very good knowledge. We have critical things we want to protect, like some of the undersea infrastructure that is so critical to our economy.
“There may be places we decide we want to have some volume of systems and that relatively small area around that infrastructure where you would have sufficient vehicles to obtain perfect knowledge.”
Developing and using autonomous underwater unmanned vehicles has proven to be a challenge. The issues are multifarious, but they boil down to three core problems: communications, navigation and endurance.
Communicating underwater is a challenge in the best of circumstances, and surveillance drones aren’t worth much if they can’t tell others what they find. To that end, they must either have a home base to which they can navigate and upload data, or they need to surface and transmit, said Clark, the CSBA analyst.
A second challenge is navigating around obstacles. Fish, which know quite a bit about navigating underwater, have trouble avoiding commercial fishing nets that are common in sea lanes. Likewise, drones have issues finding and avoiding them, and that’s just one example.
Endurance is another challenge. Some of the best underwater drones in the U.S. Navy’s inventory, under ideal usage conditions, last a day underwater, Clark said.
“UUVs can only go a few knots, and that’s of limited duration,” he said.
Underwater drones are showing promise in the areas of mine hunting and mine sweeping, but perhaps even more promising — in terms of becoming an adequate stand-in for an attack boat — are some of the surface drones in development. Clark said programs such as the Sea Hunter, a medium-displacement unmanned surface vessel, could be a huge leap forward for monitoring chokepoints.
Developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV, was designed to track enemy subs while avoiding collisions and abiding by the rules of the road. The first Sea Hunter was christened in 2016, and in January the project transitioned to the Office of Naval Research for further development.
The idea behind Sea Hunter is that one can field a multitude to cover a lot of area at a fraction of the cost of a frigate of destroyer.
“ACTUV represents a new vision of naval surface warfare that trades small numbers of very capable, high-value assets for large numbers of commoditized, simpler platforms that are more capable in the aggregate,” Fred Kennedy, head of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in a January news release. “The U.S. military has talked about the strategic importance of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chessboard with lots of ‘pawns,’ and ACTUV is a first step toward doing exactly that.”
Other technologies have also shown promise. Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider, which uses ocean current and solar panels to power itself, can stay at sea for months at a time and provide persistent surveillance for anywhere from $250,000 to $300,000 a unit, a company representative told Defense News last year.
The agreement reached by 13 NATO powers is just the latest indication of how countries see unmanned systems impacting the future of warfare.
“It’s an important statement that NATO allies and partners are thinking seriously about these emerging capabilities — and they need to think about them,” said Michael Horowitz, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research has centered on unmanned systems. “It’s a reflection of how they see these systems impacting the maritime domain.” (Source: Defense News)
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