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Space Operations Summit, 28-30 May 2019, Kensington UK

UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund

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07 May 19. Romania eyes new maritime drone to counter Russia. The Romanian Navy is exploring the purchase of a new drone for its expansion and modernization plans, the chief of the Romanian Naval Forces said Monday. Amid growing tensions with Russia on the Black Sea, the service is looking at a “totally new” unmanned aerial system for the maritime and riverine domain, Vice Adm. Alexandru Mirsu said at the Sea-Air-Space forum here. The capability would be used by Romania’s Danube flotilla and for coastal surveillance, operated from the shoreline, Mirsu said. He did not provide a timeframe or a budget for the possible acquisition. Plans are underway to buy four new multipurpose corvettes as the core of the Romanian navy, and to modernize its Type 22 frigates. Also expected are purchases of new coastal missile batteries and three new submarines — all part of Romania’s commitment to spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense for the next decade.

The idea is to expand Romania’s presence in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and elsewhere as needed by allies, and to maintain a submarine program beyond 2030.

Mirsu has previously said the submarines are needed to ensure Romania’s operational capacities in the Black Sea, as the one Kilo-class submarine does not meet that need. Its Delfinul submarine was reportedly withdrawn from service and was being used for training purposes.

Mirsu also pointed to “a new iron curtain” of Russian anti access/area denial (A2/AD) hubs in Kaliningrad, Sevastopol and Syria.

He lauded major multinational exercises and NATO operations on the Black Sea for sending a message that the Black Sea is open, and an international body of water.

Romania led NATO’s Poseidon antisubmarine exercise on the Black Sea in March. Also notable, the Romanian-led Sea Shield in April involved 20 ships and crews from Romania, Bulgaria, Canada, Greece, the Netherlands and Turkey, all working with maritime patrol aircraft from the U.S. and Turkey. (Source: Defense News)

07 May 19. USMC Wants MUX to Fly in 2026. The Marine Corps is still evaluating what it wants its proposed large unmanned vehicle to accomplish, but the service wants to issue an airframe request for information in Fiscal Year 2020. Early warning capability for the Amphibious Ready Group still ranks among the top priorities for the proposed Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary – or MUX – Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation, said at the 2019 Sea-Air-Space symposium.

“We hope to have a flying early operational capability in 2026,” Rudder said.

As for what else MUX could or should do, Rudder said the Marine Corps is still drawing up a wish list to see what is possible and what missions can be accomplished by other platforms, such as the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

“The one thing about MUX is there’s not a MUX out there right now,” Rudder said.

As the Marine Corps prioritizes what else it wants MUX to accomplish besides providing early warning capabilities, other factors being considered include balancing the weight of sensors with how much power is required to propel the aircraft, how much fuel is needed to power the aircraft and how long the aircraft can remain aloft.

“We’d like to have the same time on station as other platforms,” Rudder said. “We’re still working on the physics of operating off the deck of a ship.”

Ideally the Army, Navy, U.S. Special Operations Command will also purchase the system that would reduce the overall cost of the program. The Marines also think there’s a potential for sales to foreign militaries, according to during a MUX industry day presentation last year.

The Marines already determined to arm MUX was not a priority because doing so would likely reduce the aircraft airspeed and endurance. Other customers could determine if they wanted to arm MUX.

The Marines want MUX to have about eight hours on station and a range of about 350 nautical miles from a ship, USNI News previously reported. There is no speed requirement, but the Marines want MUX to be able to fly at about 200 knots. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/USNI)

07 May 19. ‘One Ton’ Quadcopter. E Yo Copter plans to start ground tests of its massive jet-turbine powered quadcopter as early as June. The Monaco-based company claims the “One Ton” unmanned air vehicle (UAV) should be capable of lifting 860kg (1,900lb) of cargo slung underneath.

The aircraft is intended to be used for military, parapublic and agricultural applications. The One Ton is powered by four German-made JetCat P550 turbine engines, which spin the aircraft’s rotors not with a shaft but by forcing exhaust out of two rotating pipes.

Each JetCat turbine produces 70hp (52kW). E Yo Copter says when the turbine is spinning at 80,000rpm the attached rotor spins at about 1,300rpm. The company claims the system produces no torque and saves weight by going without a turboshaft.

Each 3-blade set of rotors on the quadcopter are 2.75m in diameter. The entire aircraft is 6m across.

The UAV has an empty weight of 140kg (309 lb). It derives its name from its 1,000 kg maximum take-off weight. The aircraft carries enough fuel for a 1.5h flight. The company is solely backed by its chief executive, Jean-Claude Tourn, who says he is looking to license E Yo Copter’s technology or form a joint venture with another firm to produce the UAV. (Source: UAS VISION/FlightGlobal)

07 May 19. Massive Baykar Armed Drone to Begin Test Flights Soon. Baykar Makina‘s Chief Technology Officer Selçuk Bayraktar announced that the company’s attack UAV Akıncı, the 5.5-ton UAV, is scheduled to make its first flight in three to four months, while development activities are still in progress.

Speaking at the Turkey Innovation Week organized by the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM), BAYKAR Technical Manager and T3 Foundation Chairman Selçuk Bayraktar said the Akıncı UAV’s development activities are currently underway.

“It is a 5.5-ton aircraft with the ability to carry out more strategic tasks,” Bayraktar noted. “It can carry cruise missiles. The first flight will take place three to four months later. This will, in a sense, lead Turkey into a higher league.”

The new drone was previously reported to hit the assembly line next year. Bayraktar introduced the Bayraktar TB2 and the ongoing Akıncı and Combat Unmanned Aerial System (MİUS) projects at the Innovation Week, saying these systems would contribute significantly to Turkey’s UAV power with their advanced systems and smart munitions.

Dubbed “the flying fish,” the Akıncı drone is an important step for Baykar Makina to accomplish their aim to upgrade UAV technology. Operated with two turbine engines, the Akıncı will carry nearly 1.5 tons in useful load: 900 kilograms external and 450 kilograms internal. The platform can be controlled via domestically developed satellites.

The Akıncı armed drone will be equipped with domestically developed sightline and satellite communication system, electronic support pod, multipurpose air radar, synthetic aperture radar and meteorological radar. The platform will operate with various ammunition configurations.

“Bayraktar TB2 has taken on a much more important role in the fight against terrorism. To date, it has performed more than 95,000 hours of flight,” he continued. “Dozens of them fly as we speak, and the number is increasing each passing day. Currently, 80 aircraft are serving in the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the General Directorate of Security (EGM) and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). With nine of them operating abroad, this is Turkey’s first UAV to be exported.”

The company engages in engineering operations in five main areas, including electronics, software, communication systems and design of air vehicles with a team of young engineers. Domestically developed UAVs are manufactured at Baykar’s facility in Istanbul.

The Bayraktar TB2 armed drone has been deployed by the TSK, the General Command of Gendarmerie and the General Directorate of Security.

Baykar Makina’s drones are uniquely developed with domestic resources and make significant contributions by multiplying the existing force and capabilities in operations at home and abroad.

Performing active reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence flights, the Bayraktar TB2 can transmit images it obtains to operation centers without delay and attack targets with its ammunition.

Meanwhile, Defense Industry President İsmail Demir said that projects that are not based on science, technology, and knowledge will fail after a while.

“Currently 680 to 690 projects are in progress in the defense industry. We have close to a hundred projects in research and development (R&D) alone. People sometimes experience learned helplessness. One of the things we will object to is learned helplessness. Question when people say this should be like this for something that you have done. Questioning is very important,” Demir stressed.

Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) General Director Temel Kotil, on the other hand, said TAI spends approximately $1bn on R&D annually, adding this figure will continue to increase for the next 10 years.

“We recruit 1,000 engineers per year, and we currently employ 3,600 engineers. We are going for 10,000 engineers,” Kotil said, adding they expect TAI to achieve a turnover of $2.6bn this year with the aim of reaching $11bn in 2028. (Source: UAS VISION/Daily Sabah)

06 May 19. Northrop Grumman to Outsource Firebird Production. Northrop Grumman designed its optionally-piloted Firebird surveillance aircraft so that parts of its production could be readily outsourced to developing nations that demand local manufacturing involvement. The company says the Firebird’s configuration is simple enough that less sophisticated aerospace manufacturers could easily play a role in its production should their government decide to purchase the aircraft. The firm believes international orders of the Firebird could equal the size of orders from the US government.

It’s a very reproducible aircraft,” says Kristen Griffin, director of strategy and business development with Northrop Grumman. “It’s a composite aircraft, but it’s not exotic.”

Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines or Vietnam, as well as Eastern European countries, haven’t been able to afford expensive and narrowly tailored unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, says Brian Chappel, vice-president of Northrop Grumman’s Autonomous Systems Division. They’ve also been difficult to sell to because of US export restrictions around the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), he says.

“We haven’t tried to take a large system to a country outside the more traditional MTCR [signatories]. This type of system gives them an option.”

Aside from ownership of the aircraft’s design and software code, Northrop Grumman says it has little intention of holding onto production of the aircraft’s components and wants third-parties to line up to integrate with it. The aircraft has an open systems architecture and payloads can be swapped in less than 30min, the manufacturer says.

The Firebird can be flown with a pilot aboard or remotely as a UAV. Countries can opt for a less expensive manned version of the aircraft and then later install the hardware needed to fly it unmanned.

The unmanned version has a 30h endurance capability when flying at about 25,000ft. The aircraft also has ruggedised landing gear to take off from short, unprepared runways.

The Firebird demonstrator was designed by Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites subsidiary. However, Northrop Grumman now has taken over production of the aircraft and thus far built three aircraft at a facility in Mojave, California for unnamed US government customers.  (Source: UAS VISION/Flightglobal)

02 May 19. AeroVironment demonstrating Quantix UAV in potential military roles. AeroVironment could open a new development in the use of agricultural sensors in military roles with the recent demonstration of its Quantix agricultural unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in potential military roles for US customers.

The Quantix UAV launches as a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing system and transitions to conventional forward flight. Introduced to market in March 2018, the aircraft uses a multispectral, or near infrared (IR) camera to evaluate crop health and help farmers decide where to use pesticides or nutrition.

Under the military operational scenario, the platform would detect disturbances caused by the movement of groups or multiple individuals as well as vehicles. (Source: IHS Jane’s)

02 May 19. UAVOS flight testing weapon-capable helicopter UAV. Key Points:

  • UAVOS is flight testing a helicopter VTOL UAV that could deploy missiles
  • The company designed the aircraft to be rotary wing as it would withstand harsh weather

UAVOS is flight testing a helicopter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that a company official believes could deploy a weapon such as an airborne missile.

Aliaksei Stratsilatau, UAVOS board chairman and lead developer, told Jane’s on 2 May that this is because this UAV, the UVH-290E, demonstrated precise controls during flight tests. The aircraft also has four hard points, two on each side. But UAVOS has yet to deploy any weapons during testing because it does not have any military contracts, Stratsilatau said.

The UVH-290E, UAVOS’ flagship aircraft, has other military capability as Stratsilatau said the UAV could be equipped with a high-quality surveillance camera or high-definition (HD) light detection and ranging (LiDAR) capability. The aircraft can carry up to 20 kg payload depending on the fuel level and can carry 5 kg of payload with a full fuel tank. The UVH-290E has an approximate flight time of 6.6 hours with a 3.3 kg payload; roughly five hours, depending on conditions, with a 5 kg payload; and about three hours with a 16 kg payload.

The UVH-290E, part of UAVOS’ Surveyor-H family of helicopter VTOL UAVs, is an industrial grade aircraft with a wankel type four-stroke single-rotor rotary gasoline engine. Take-off, en route flight, and landing are performed automatically. The company also has a proprietary autopilot, which Stratsilatau said enables the UVH-290E to operate beyond line of sight (BLOS). (Source: IHS Jane’s)

02 May 19. UAE allegedly using Chinese drones for deadly airstrikes in Libya. Military analysts are blaming Chinese-made drones for deadly missile strikes on Tripoli as Libyan strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar tries to conquer the city.

Aircraft seen circling over the Libyan capital during nighttime raids in recent days were likely Chinese Wing Loong II drones operated by the United Arab Emirates, which is backing Haftar’s bid to overthrow the United Nations-backed government in the city, analysts claimed.

“Buying drones from the U.S. takes time, is expensive and there is accountability, but buying Chinese drones is now cheap, fast and no one breathes down your neck — the floodgates are open,” said Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.

Emerging from the chaos in Libya after its leader Muammar Gadaffi was overthrown in 2011, Haftar established control over the eastern region of the country before launching a surprise attack on Tripoli four weeks ago.

The UAE previously supplied the general with air support from a base it set up at Al Khadim in eastern Libya in 2016, and its Chinese drones were reportedly used to strike Derna last year as Haftar battled Islamic militants there.

Following his attack against the Tripoli militias supporting U.N.-backed leader Fayez al-Sarraj, 376 people have died in Tripoli and 45,000 have fled, with air raids on Saturday night killing four.

“The fact the raids are at night, combined with eye witness reports, make it very likely these are the UAE’s Chinese drones,” said Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi of the Royal United Services Institute in the U.K. “The UAE has also used them in Yemen, although there they coordinated with the U.S., while in Libya they are breaking a U.N. embargo on supplying arms to the country.”

A website published photos on Monday allegedly showing the remains of Chinese Blue Arrow 7 missiles, which can be fired from Wing Loong II drones, amid wreckage in Tripoli.

“It would be possible to fly these drones from Al Khadim, which is about 460 miles from Tripoli, with a pilot at the base, and a mobile ground station set up closer to Tripoli acting as a relay to enable the radio control of the drone,” said Justin Bronk, also with the Royal United Services Institute.

“The pilots will probably be UAE nationals,” he added.

Added Bassiri Tabrizi: “Another Syria now looks possible in Libya.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)

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