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16 Apr 19. Korean Army Forensic Probe System to Track Intruders. South Korea’s Army has recently established a new forensic investigation system to counter the illicit use of commercial drones for infiltrating and filming military installations.
The armed service’s Central Investigation Group introduced the system for the detailed analysis of crimes and accidents involving drones. It has also started to use military drones to investigate accidents on steep cliffs and other dangerous locations.
The forensic system is designed to analyze video footage available online of military facilities taken by without permission commercial drones and produce detailed information about the drones’ flight altitudes, speeds and locations, the Army said.
“The Army’s military police will focus on more accurate and reliable scientific investigation by utilizing new technologies from the fourth industrial revolution,” an Army official was quoted as saying in a press release.
To launch the new system, the Army conducted research with a local firm specializing in aeronautical engineering and digital forensic analysis from March to December last year.
In recent years, the Army has been striving to capitalize on cutting-edge technology such as big data, virtual reality and robots to overcome a series of challenges that include the planned troop drawdown and uncertainties in the security landscape.
South Korea plans to pare down its total troop numbers to 500,000 by 2022 from the current 599,000 under a reform plan aimed at creating a smaller yet stronger military based on technological advancements. (Source: UAS VISION/The Korea Herald)
16 Apr 19. Bell develops Autonomous Pod Transport unmanned VTOL aircraft. Bell has developed a pair of Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) scalable modular unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft capable of transporting payloads such as medical equipment, ammo, and water, among others. Todd Worden, Bell senior manager for advanced tiltrotor systems, told Jane’s on 16 April that these two tail-sitting aerial resupply systems aircraft are called APT 20, for 20 lb (9 kg) payloads, and the larger APT 70, for 70 lb payloads. As the aircraft is scalable, Bell has an eventual goal of carrying a 1,000 lb payload with APT. APT uses VTOL then transforms into wing-borne flight, flying nearly horizontally, on its bi-wing design, to provide more efficient flight than by flying on the rotor system. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
16 Apr 19. 2017 Watchkeeper Crash Report Published. A British Army Watchkeeper drone stalled itself and crashed into the sea on a bad weather flight test, military investigators have said – though most of the wreckage was never found. The unmanned aircraft, tail number WK042, fell from the sky in February 2017 while trialling a new ice detection system. The drone was being flown from West Wales Airport, formerly known as Aberporth Airfield, by 47 Regiment Royal Artillery.
Investigators concluded that one of its pitot probes used for reading the aircraft’s speed and angle of attack (AOA) became blocked, causing the Watchkeeper’s onboard flight control logic to enter an erratic series of climbs and dives until it stalled itself and flopped into the sea. They criticised the craft’s maker, Thales, for not fully understanding how its algorithms responded to loss of accurate sensor data.
Air Marshal Susan Gray, director-general of the Defence Safety Authority, criticised the Ministry of Defence and Thales for their “incomplete level of detailed technical understanding” regarding the drone and its systems. So far the British military has crashed five Watchkeepers, including two in quick succession during 2017, which led to a months-long grounding of the entire fleet.
Those two crashes, of which WK042 was one, were not publicly revealed until a senior Navy officer blabbed about them within earshot of a sharp-eared reporter, prompting accusations of an MoD cover-up over the troubled multimillion-pound programme.
The automated decision-making that led to the crash has some parallels with the recent Boeing 737 Max controversy, in which automated flight control software has been fingered as a potential factor in two fatal airliner crashes that cost hundreds of lives. The Watchkeeper crash investigators stated:
The software algorithms used to identify and disqualify single sensor failure were not always well understood by [Thales] within the UK. Consequently, the effectiveness of the algorithms at maintaining the integrity of the air data required by the [flight control system] for safe flight was in part unknown.”From its detailed analysis,” wrote Air Marshal Gray in her formal comments on the Service Inquiry (SI) report, “the SI concluded that the design of [Watchkeeper’s] air data system limited its ability to fly safely in cloud and precipitation.”
A buildup of moisture in the Watchkeeper’s pitot probes was found to have caused its automated flight logic to start doing crazy things – ultimately leading to a stall and a crash.
Ice, ice, baby
After taking off uneventfully from Aberporth on the scheduled icing detection trial flight, WK042 climbed first to 3,000 ft in the hope of finding icing conditions, gradually stepping up to 8,800 ft. It then “experienced high wind that was momentarily on the allowable limits”, prompting its operators to command a descent and return to base.
Watchkeeper is not flown like a conventional aeroplane with a human sitting at a stick and rudder. Its operators select waypoints on a screen for the drone to fly itself towards. During flight, its onboard logic decides precisely how the drone arrives at those waypoints, within constraints selected by human operators. Watchkeeper’s predecessor, the Hermes 450, could be flown manually but this design feature was not included on the British Army’s craft.
Twenty minutes later, a spate of warnings began to be displayed to the operators as their controls relayed the drone’s violent oscillations. Fifteen minutes after that, contact with the Watchkeeper was lost. In that last quarter of an hour, the drone “pitched up and down repeatedly between 3,200 ft and 3,500 ft” until it “descended rapidly into the sea” about two miles northwest of the hamlet of Llangrannog, which itself is four or five miles northeast of Aberporth Airfield.
Among the warnings displayed to its operators during the pitching incidents were “estimated AOA in use” and “flight envelope protection active”, indicating that the Watchkeeper was no longer trusting its sensors. Thales’ own investigators concluded that the left tail fin had been damaged or possibly even been torn from the airframe by the violent manoeuvres, “causing a catastrophic loss of control”, though the MoD inquiry downgraded this to saying it was a contributory factor but not the critical one.
A seabed search using remote underwater vehicles failed to turn up any of the Watchkeeper wreckage, though RAF personnel later found one of its composite panels washed up on a beach. That was the sum of wreckage found by investigators – all the analysis was done from data transmitted by the UAV back to its ground station. There is no “black box” on a Watchkeeper.
The MoD has 50 Watchkeepers remaining on charge. Another report into WK050 – the 2018 crash on land near Aberporth village – is expected soon, while The Register will be separately reporting about the crash of WK043, which also had an unscheduled surface/aircraft interaction event a month after the drone featured in this article. (Source: UAS VISION/The Register)
14 Apr 19. China advances Marine Lizard amphibious USV development. Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, a Wuhan-based subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Company (CSIC), has delivered the first pre-production hull for the Marine Lizard amphibious combat unmanned surface vessel (USV) following successful factory acceptance tests at its Shuangliu shipyard, CSIC announced on 8 April.
The partially completed hull, constructed by Wuchang Shipbuilding’s Module Company division and furnished with a twin waterjet propulsion system, was handed over to Qingdao Wujiang Technology Company for systems integration and further development.
A full-scale prototype of the Marine Lizard USV was first unveiled at the Airshow China exhibition in November 2018 by Qingdao-based unmanned platform control and navigation systems developer Zhongbang Intelligent Technology (ZB Intelligence), which was set up in 2017 by a team of former engineers from state-owned and private companies. Jane’s earlier reported that ZB Intelligence’s products include the Nob-X unified USV control and navigation system, a software-based interface that enables the operator to control multiple unmanned surface and subsurface platforms. It is understood that the Marine Lizard USV is under joint development by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group and Qingdao Wujiang Technology Company. The prototype sea vehicle is constructed from aluminium alloy and adopts a 12-13.5m long and 4.14-m wide trimaran hullform with a design displacement and draft of 14.7 tonnes and 0.55m respectively. According to Wuchang Shipbuilding, the hull comprises “thousands” of aluminium alloy plates that are 5-8mm thick and bonded together using novel fitting and welding processes designed to minimise plate deformation and other production defects.
It is equipped with a hybrid-electric propulsion system – centred on a pair of marine diesel generators of undisclosed output – that power the four electric track units installed under each corner of the hull. The track units are independently driven and enable the USV to travel on land at a maximum speed of 20 km/h depending on terrain conditions. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
14 Apr 19. USN expands MQ-8C Fire Scout capability. The US Navy (USN) is continuing to evolve the MQ-8C variant of the Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV), service officials told Jane’s. Capability is currently spread across the two variants of the Fire Scout – the Schweizer 333-derived MQ-8B and the Bell 407-based MQ-8C – but eventually modifications will be made to ensure that the C-model can solely support the navy’s mission.
Modifications include the introduction of a Link 16 datalink to enhance the UAV’s ability to network the Lockheed Martin MH-60 naval helicopter. This will enable the helicopter crew to receive data being collected by the Fire Scout directly instead of relaying it via the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
“The direct link between the two is the LCS at the moment,” Captain Eric Soderberg, programme manager at the USN’s Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems office (PMA-266), told Jane’s .
“Future variants are going to have a Link 16, so that any Link 16-enabled platform will be able to share the sensor data from the Fire Scout, as well as the Link 16-enabled H-60s,” he added.
This will provide more scope for the UAV to further engage with other USN assets that are Link 16-enabled – which constitutes the majority of the service’s platforms – so the entire air wing’s worth of data would then potentially be available for the Fire Scout to receive, or for it to feed back into.
The MQ-8C’s 12 hour endurance enables it to carry out more on-station surveillance than the 3.5 hour endurance of the MH-60S, while the forthcoming introduction of the new Leonardo distributed aperture active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar on this variant will also provide a capability not found on the helicopter. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
15 Apr 19. Terra Drone Acquires Stake in Slovenia’s C-Astral. Terra Drone Corporation has acquired a stake in Slovenia-based C-Astral Aerospace, which specializes in the manufacturing and services of fixed-wing small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), with a specific focus on high-productivity and high-endurance surveying, security, and remote sensing. Explaining the reason behind the investment, Toru Tokushige, CEO of Terra Drone, said,
“As a global company looking to expand our portfolio, we have had discussions with many drone developers. But, we were especially impressed with the advanced technology, mission flexibility, and the full spectrum of solutions offered by C-Astral. I am sure C-Astral’s UAS will be coveted by various markets all over the world and Terra Drone’s global network will help them rapidly increase their sales volume.”
Nejc Trost, Co-founder of C-Astral Aerospace said, “Over the past 11 years, C-Astral has successfully focused on the technological development of advanced long-endurance electric small unmanned aerial systems. Now, we are looking forward to collaborating within the Terra Group to strengthen our global sales and support network. We are also excited about the synergistic effects of systems utilization from within the group to further our R&D and adapt to the most demanding market opportunities.
With more than 20 group companies already in its network, Terra Drone is always on a lookout to collaborate with cutting-edge drone technology companies. (Source: UAS VISION)
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