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28 Feb 19. Northrop pitches optionally manned Firebird to monitor Australia’s coasts. Northrop Grumman has responded to Australia’s request for information on a new maritime surveillance capability with its optionally manned Firebird aircraft, a company representative said Thursday. Speaking at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, Brian Chappel, vice president and general manager of autonomous systems, said the Firebird could meet some of Australia’s project requirements, which is being managed through the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force.
“We haven’t directly spoken to the Australian government yet, but it’s an application and a mission set that we certainly believe has some applicability. We will be following that with Border Force very closely, [and] we have responded to the request for information,” Chappel said.
“We’re not just going to stand up and say: ‘We have a platform [and] it’s the right answer.’ We work closely with customers to determine what their mission sets are. Our response to the RFI is an architecture and it’s a set of capabilities,” he added.
Chappel also indicated that other, undisclosed platforms could be offered alongside Firebird, once more details of the commonwealth’s requirements are known.
Firebird is developed by Northrop subsidiary Scaled Composites in Mojave, California. Chappel said two prototypes are currently flying and a third will join the program shortly. Production aircraft will be built at an undisclosed location in Southern California.
Firebird is a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft with a 30-hour endurance, with a nominal payload. Chappel said the aircraft has been tested with more than 24 different intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads, which can be swapped in 30 minutes. The initial customer is the U.S. government.
“We’re marketing the airplane now because it has gotten to the stage where the initial production program is assured and we wanted to make sure we were all good before we start talking,” Chappel said. (Source: Defense News)
27 Feb 19. UAVOS introduces tropicalised UVH-170E VTOL UAV. UAVOS. UAVOS has developed a tropicalised version of its UVH-170E vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) optimised for operations in hot and humid environments. Jane’s understands from UAVOS officials that development and modification work had been completed at the end of December 2018. The company is currently performing operational testing with a modified example. The baseline UVH-170E UAV has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 41kg and measures 3.28m long and 0.85m tall, with a main rotor diameter of 2.6m. It is powered by a 4-stroke gasoline direct injection engine rated at 7kW that enables it to attain cruising and maximum speeds of 60km/h and 120km/h respectively, with an operational ceiling of 8,200ft (2,500m). UAVOS claims that the air vehicle can perform VTOL manoeuvres in wind conditions of up to 14m/s.
A 13 litre fuel tank supports up to five hours of flight when carrying a 4 kg payload, which includes a newly developed, gyro-stabilised, two-axis gimbal equipped with an integrated full HD (1080/60p) daylight camera with ×30 optical zoom, a longwave infrared (LWIR) camera with 1,024×768 pixel resolution, a laser rangefinder with a range of 2,500 m, and an onboard graphics processing unit (GPU).
A complete system comprises a UVH-170E UAV with its ground control station.
“The unmanned helicopter is adapted for flying in a tropical climate and is equipped with a modified payload for operations outside of direct radio coverage,” Aliaksei Stratsilatau, UAVOS co-founder and lead developer, told Jane’s.
“The main advantage of the [air vehicle] is that it possesses unique characteristics to work in high [mountainous] conditions [and] in hot and tropical climates, with sudden temperature changes,” he added, noting that possible applications include law enforcement; counter terrorism; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); and search and rescue (SAR). (Source: IHS Jane’s)
28 Feb 19. Zephyr ‘pseudo satellite’ to seek new world endurance record. Airbus Defence and Space (DS) hopes to set a new world record later this year, with its revolutionary Zephyr ‘pseudo satellite’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) seeking to stay aloft for 100 days without refuelling. The previous longest duration flight of 25 days 23 hours was logged by a Zephyr S over Arizona in August 2018.
Nigel Chandler, head of Zephyr sales, said at the Avalon Airshow near Melbourne on 28 February that the flight would be operated from the Zephyr’s primary flight test centre at Wyndham in Western Australia “where every day is a good-weather day. We’re going for 100 days, we’re absolutely confident of the aircraft’s ability to achieve this,” Chandler said, standing beside a full-scale model.
Running exclusively on solar power and weighing only 75kg despite its 25m wingspan, the Zephyr is designed to operate at an altitude of up to 70,000ft, above the weather and other air traffic, maintaining its position over a geographic location.
Potential payloads include an over-the-horizon communications relay for line-of-sight communications and high-definition optical/infrared video.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has acquired three of the type to enhance the country’s airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Information on when they will be delivered and where they will be based has not been disclosed. Several other countries have expressed interest in the aircraft’s military applications, Chandler said.
A number of Zephyrs are based at Wyndham, and Chandler said the primary focus of the current flight programme was on shorter flights carrying diverse payloads of up to 5kg. Anticipated military and civilian roles include ISR, maritime surveillance, forest fire management, and communications relay not just for military purposes but also for regions with poor connectivity in South America and Africa. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
28 Feb 19. Optionally manned Firebird set to enter service. Northrop Grumman expects to deliver its first optionally manned Firebird aircraft to a US government customer before mid-2019. The company will demonstrate the aircraft in Europe and the Middle East in 2019 and in Australia in 2020. Northrop Grumman’s autonomous division senior vice-president and general manager, Brian Chappel, told Jane’s on 28 February at the 2019 Avalon Airshow that the company has “multiple orders over multiple years for US government customers and had been in production for the last three years”.
The Firebird is designed to combine the advantages of manned flight with the ability to deploy easily and operate in controlled airspace and unmanned, as well as lower cost and longer endurance. This conversion from manned to unmanned involves the removal of two seats and the console and the installation of a satcom link and an opaque cover.
Main applications for the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) platform are littoral and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations as an alternative to larger platforms such as Triton or Predator. The company declined to list a price, but it is described as less than that of a Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Chappel said the conversion takes less than four hours and requires a minimal amount of equipment, all of which can be carried in a standard utility vehicle. The platform can carry five payloads at once.
“It has an IP-based [Internet Protocol-based] open mission architecture and payloads can be switched in less than 30 minutes, and we have demonstrated with customer-provided payloads that payloads can be ready within 60 minutes,” he said. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
27 Feb 19. Australia’s Waterproof Black Kite Can Land on Sea. RMIT University engineers, with the Defence Science and Technology Group, have created a waterproof drone that can land on sea. The drone, known as Black Kite, has been nominated for a National Defence Innovation Award at the Avalon International Airshow. RMIT University’s project lead, Dr Abdulghani Mohamed, said Black Kite represented a drone ideal for maritime applications.
“It’s entirely water-proof and can land and take-off on water, even with some level of swell and in all-weather conditions. This system would enhance abilities to investigate or meet incoming vessels or divers,” said Mohamed. Sending a drone to perform this task is quicker ad safer than sending people into potential danger also easier as it completes the mission with high levels of autonomy.”
The drone is on display during this week’s Airshow as a nominee for the $15,000 prize. Mohamed said Black Kite had also been designed to operate with high levels of autonomy in taking off, intercepting and tracking targets, returning to base and landing. It has an operating range of up to 3km and can carry a 3kg payload, including a wide range of sensors and on-board speaker and mic system for two-way communication with vessels.
Black Kite co-creator, RMIT University’s Dr Matthew Marino, said it was satisfying to develop a technology that had its beginnings as a student project, then developed through several prototype stages and testing using RMIT’s industrial wind tunnel facilities.
“That kind of hands-on learning and skills will be highly valued in the growing drone sector,” he said.
The drone has been presented before top US Navy officials and, after nearly 40 test missions and further development, is now fully ready for deployment. Marino and Mohamed are senior researchers in RMIT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Team (RUASRT) – working on drone technology and novel applications. (Source: UAS VISION/Manufacturer’s Monthly)
27 Feb 19. Saudi Arabia Launches UCAV Program. A Science Technology-led defense industry team has revealed details of new long-range, heavy unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), also known as an unmanned bomber, during the IDEX 2019 exhibition held in Abu Dhabi. Science Technology company with partners from South Korea, USA, and Ukraine is launching the program that will use the latest technologies and combat experience to develop a new unmanned aerial platform that can carry up tons of weapons.
Representatives of the company said, “Ambitious project of new unmanned combat aerial vehicle is designing to support counterinsurgency (COIN) attack missions, reconnaissance, and search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), light precision attack, deep air support (DAS), maritime patrol, and internal defense missions.”
The key benefit of the new unmanned bomber by Science Technology-led team is using the latest advanced technology, relatively low cost and free market access. Сompany representatives have not released specification of the new unmanned bomber. However, it is expected that UCAV can carry multiple mission payloads to include: electro-optical/infrared units, multi-mode maritime surveillance radar, laser designators, and various weapons packages.
Combat air vehicle will be able to carry a range of anti-radiation, anti-ship, and precision air-to-ground missiles, and guided bombs. UCAV also will be equipped with onboard equipment to enable laser-guided missile, which possesses highly accurate.
“The work on this project is a priority and received endorsed by number Armed Forces and potential customers in the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region,” the company spokesperson said.
MENA defense spending is expected to rise in the next few years and this to open market for new heavy unmanned aerial systems carrying lethal payloads. The UCAV fleet in the region is forecast to increase from dozens of aircraft in 2018 up to 700 combat drones in 2028 driven by the growing number and intensity of local conflicts.
It is worth noting that during the IDEX 2019 exhibition, Science Technology signed a cooperation agreement with an international consulting firm headed by Wesley Kenn Clark (U.S. general, the former head of NATO in Europe), for promoting the development of new projects of the company and transferring the experience of the American defense industry.
Science Technology is a Saudi Arabian corporation that was established to facilitate the development, production and export of high-tech industrial products designed for civilian and military applications. Science Technology is an established player in the Saudi defense market with a proven track record of sales collaboration with all major KSA military and homeland security government agencies. (Source: UAS VISION/Defence Blog)
26 Feb 19. HAL Unveils Rotary-Wing UAV at Aero India 2019. Indian aerospace and defence company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) unveiled a full-scale prototype of a locally designed rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Aero India 2019 defence exhibition.
Specifically designed to perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations, the UAV was developed by HAL in cooperation with the country’s Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, to meet specific requirements of the Indian Army and Indian Navy. The 200kg UAV, which is equipped with a twin-blade main rotor and a locally developed petrol engine, is stated to have a range of 200km, endurance of six hours, and a service ceiling of 6,000m. The platform, the fuselage of which is 4.2m long and 1.28m wide, is reportedly capable of flying at a top speed of 200km/h and can carry a 40 kg payload.
The preliminary design of the platform was completed in January, with clearance for the preliminary design review (PDR) now pending. The UAV, which features a full‐authority digital engine control (FADEC) and SLR-DC datalink, can fly in fully autonomous mode, including auto take-off and landing with a return-to-home recovery option, according to HAL. It uses GPS for interactive command and control with completely programmable mission management computers. Real-time data and video links are available for line-of-sight operations. The UAV can be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions, coastal surveillance, radar and missile decoy operations, detecting improvised explosive devices and landmines, and tracking and designating targets. (Source: UAS VISION/Jane’s 360)
26 Feb 19. The U.S. Air Force’s new Block 50 Ground Control Station (GCS) – developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) – for the first time controlled an MQ-9 Reaper® on January 8th from the GA-ASI Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, Calif.
The Block 50 GCS cockpit for Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) is designed with improved capabilities through an optimized Human Machine Interface (HMI) that significantly enhances aircrew situational awareness and allows for single seat operations. It integrates multi-level security feeds with onboard sensors to display a comprehensive picture of the battlespace and incorporates improved information assurance capabilities that protect against cybersecurity risks.
“This is an exciting milestone for the Block 50,” said David R. Alexander, president, GA-ASI. “With the Block 50, we’re developing a GCS that will reduce manpower requirements and support future missions in complex operating environments.”
The design of the Block 50 provides separation of flight critical components to increase flight safety posture, enable rapid testing and integration of new mission capabilities.
Features of the new Block 50 GCS include:
- An intuitive glass cockpit design that reduces operator workload and increases effectiveness of mission execution through electronic checklists and integrated mission data information displays
- Demonstrated Single Seat operations
- An increase in modularity and interface definition to aid in overcoming Diminishing Manufacturing Sources (DMS)
- One-deep line-replaceable unit (LRU) access to reduce maintenance down time and increase operational availability (Ao)
- A new Multi-Level Secure (MLS) Integrated Communication System (ICS) for improved situational awareness, leveraging an upgraded network infrastructure for sharing information throughout a globally connected GCS and Squadron Operating Center (SOC) network
25 Feb 19. Frontex Begins Testing RPAS for Border Surveillance. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has begun testing the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in Greece, Italy and Portugal to monitor the European Union’s external borders. Frontex is exploring the surveillance capability of the medium altitude long endurance RPAS and evaluating the related cost efficiency and endurance. The agency will test the unmanned aircraft in several operational situations. These include surveillance of the sea, support of Search and Rescue operations, detection of vessels suspected of criminal activities, such as drug and weapon smuggling and information sharing with multiple users in real time.
In Greece, the trial that started this week is supported by the Hellenic Coast Guard, in cooperation with the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and Air Force. In Italy, the trial, which is in its last phase of preparations, will be supported by Polizia di Stato and Guardia di Finanza.
The RPAS being tested by Frontex carry surveillance equipment, including thermal cameras and radars. The testing in Greece and Italy is scheduled to be completed this year.
In Portugal, the agency is using a smaller unmanned aircraft to monitor the North Atlantic Ocean and share this information in real time. This capability allows Frontex and national authorities to react more quickly to cross-border crime, especially drug smuggling.
In Portugal, Frontex is working together with the European Maritime Safety Authority (EMSA), which provides the RPAS to Frontex there. The agency is also cooperating with the Portuguese Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR), Navy and Air Force. The operation will be remotely coordinated from the Frontex Situational Centre in Poland by both Frontex experts and Portuguese authorities. (Source: UAS VISION)
25 Feb 19. UK Removes One Reaper from Service. The UK has reduced its number of operational General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with one of the 10 aircraft currently in the US for decommissioning. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) made the disclosure in a freedom of information (FOI) request that was submitted by Drone Wars UK, and which was supplied to Jane’s on 15 February.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) operates the Reaper out of Waddington in Lincolnshire, with the vehicles themselves currently based in the Middle East (understood, but not confirmed, to be Kuwait) for operations over Syria. With the MoD reluctant to discuss Reaper operations, it had been assumed that all 10 UAVs were engaged in ongoing operations against the Islamic State.
Drone Wars UK is a London-based non-governmental organisation that describes itself as having, “a long-term goal of an international ban on the use of armed drones”. Its director, Chris Cole, told Jane’s , “This surreptitious removal of a Reaper from service typifies the lack of transparency around its deployment. In contrast to the detail given about other British aircraft undertaking strikes, we have had no official statements about how many of the UK’s Reaper drones are actually deployed, nor where they are. Given the controversy surrounding the use of these systems, secrecy can only lead to greater suspicion and we would urge the MoD to be more transparent about the deployment of Reaper.” (Source: UAS VISION/Jane’s 360)
25 Feb 19. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), the leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems, continues the ontime development of its latest RPA, the MQ-9B. GA-ASI designed MQ-9B as the next generation of multi-mission Predator® B fleet and named its baseline MQ-9B aircraft SkyGuardian, and the maritime surveillance variant SeaGuardian. The Royal Air Force (RAF) is acquiring SkyGuardian as part of its Protector RG Mk1 program and is scheduled for first delivery in the early 2020s. Belgium also selected SkyGuardian for its defense needs. The RPA is being considered as an option for the Australian Defence Force, who chose GA-ASI to supply the RPA system for Project Air 7003.
“MQ-9B is the world’s only RPA being developed to be certified to fly in non-segregated, controlled airspace,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “The development is the result of a five-year, company funded program to deliver an unmanned aircraft to meet the stringent airworthiness type-certification requirements of NATO and various civil authorities.”
As part of the certification effort, MQ-9B is being provisioned with a GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid (DAA) system. The DAA system consists of a Due Regard Radar (air-to-air radar), coupled with a Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B).
The first-ever trans-Atlantic flight of a Medium-altitude, Long-endurance (MALE) RPA that was accomplished last July, and commemorated the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) centenary celebration (RAF100) in 2018. SkyGuardian flew from Grand Forks, North Dakota to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK, covering 3,760 nautical miles in 24 hours. Other recent development achievements include:
- Demonstration of SATCOM Launch and Recovery for MQ-9B Using Expeditionary Command and Control (XC2) – December 2018
- First Flight of the Second MQ-9B SkyGuardian – September 2018
- Integration of MQ-9B with GPS and GALILEO Satellite Systems – June 2018
- Conduct of successful lightning tests on MQ-9B – May 2018
- Demonstration of Auto Takeoff and Landing Using SATCOM for MQ-9B – December 2017
The MQ-9B development aircraft (YBC01) set an endurance record for GA-ASI aircraft when it flew for more than 48 consecutive hours in April 2017. This is an unprecedented level of endurance which enables the MQ-9B to provide persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) around the clock with an operating cost well below most manned platforms. MQ-9B has a range of over 6,000 nautical miles and is equipped with nine hard-points for sensor or weapons carriage with over 4,000 lbs. of available payload.
Both MQ-9B SeaGuardian and SkyGuardian are capable of all-weather day/night operations. The cold weather engine start capability allows ground operations down to -41°C. These RPAS also have an Electro-expulsive De-icing system (EEDS) for wing leading edges, anti-ice heated engine inlet, heated pitot tube and static ports, and lightning protection.
Interoperable with NATO, SkyGuardian’s multi-mission capability makes it a valued asset in a variety of scenarios – from environmental protection, to Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR), to Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), to Search and Rescue (SAR) and overland and overwater Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance. (ISR).
To date, GA-ASI has delivered over 850 aircraft and more than 300 GCS. Every second of every day, there are 69 GA-ASI-delivered RPA airborne worldwide.
26 Feb 19. Turkey details Akinci armed UAV programme. The Presidency of the Turkish Defence Industries (SSB) has revealed fresh details of its Akinci (Raider) armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which is under development by local enterprise Baykar Makina.
The Akinci UAV will have a wingspan of 20 m and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 4,500kg. It is expected to be capable of staying aloft for up to 24 hours and attain an operational ceiling of 40,000ft (12,192m).
The air vehicle will be powered by a pair of indigenously manufactured PD-222 turbo-diesel engines built by Tusas Engine Industries (TEI) in partnership with US company General Electric. The PD-222 is based on the new PD-170 engine that will replace the Thielert Centurion 2.0 S turbodiesel engine, which is currently powering Turkey’s Anka medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV. TEI successfully carried out initial flight tests of a PD-170 powered Anka UAV in December 2018.
According to the SSB, the Akinci will be able to carry internal and external payloads of up to 450kg and 900kg respectively. The air vehicle will be equipped with indigenously developed mission equipment, including an Aselsan-supplied active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, electronic warfare (EW), and satellite communication systems.
It will also be able to carry a wide range of external weapons, such as the Roketsan MAM-L precision-guided bombs (PGBs), Cirit guided rockets, as well as the latest MAM-C smart munition that has just entered serial production. The MAM-C can engage targets that are up to 8 km away depending on its launch altitude. Other weapons are also planned for integration, including the Roketsan SOM-A cruise missile with a range of 250km and a selection of PGBs based on the Mk 82 general purpose bomb. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
25 Feb 19. Australian Army launches Shadow replacement effort. The Australian Army expects to begin the procurement for the replacement of its Textron RQ-7 Shadow 200 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) shortly with the declaration of Gate 1 in the contracting process and the beginning of acquisition effort. The industry engagement paper was released in mid-February and under the timelines outlined in the programme, which is designated Land 129 Phase 3, risk mitigation and requirements setting in Gate 2 will occur up to 2021, followed by acquisition and initial operating capability in 2023/24 and service life through to 2033/34.
Two Shadow 200 systems have been in service for almost a decade with the 20th Surveillance and Target Acquisition Regiment, and the systems have entered obsolescence management. The replacement systems will be operated by the regiment and a third system will be introduced.
There are five core tasks for the new system: surveillance, target detection, targeting for enhanced lethality, intelligence support, and organic support, such as communications relay.
The replacement system will have a higher level of performance than Shadow 200 with a range out to 150km and, most importantly, it will be runway independent. The platform will be required to carry a range of interchangeable payloads with some evaluation already done, such as for multispectral sensors, and synthetic aperture radar evaluation is expected to begin soon.
Laser targeting is essential in the new system along with integration with Joint Fires and Airbus Tiger attack helicopters and Boeing F/A-18 Hornet combat aircraft. The air vehicle will be integrated with improved Bushmaster vehicles and the ground control station will include an intelligence officer, the latter a change from the old system. Following the Australian Army’s success with Shadow 200, one official said they were looking for “a system like Shadow, but better”. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
25 Feb 19. Drone maker Airobotics moving production from Israel to Arizona. Israel’s Airobotics, a maker of automated industrial drones, said on Monday it was moving its manufacturing to the United States to meet growing demand in the U.S., Australia and other areas in Asia-Pacific. As a result, its manufacturing line in Israel will be closed. Some of the 20 workers in Israel have been offered to relocate to its new global headquarters in Arizona, while Airobotics said it planned to expand its U.S. staff. Airobotics’ research and development center will remain in Israel. It noted that was in a period of “hyper-growth” and strong demand in mining, inspection and construction. (Source: Reuters)
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.
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