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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

28 Nov 06. DRS Technologies, Inc. has been awarded a new $7m contract to produce lightweight electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor systems for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The sensors will provide imagery during reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) missions and enhanced reconnaissance and security/early warning capabilities, which will increase situational awareness. They also will provide common operating picture information to aid line-of-sight (LOS), non-LOS and beyond LOS targeting. The contract was awarded to DRS by Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Integrated Systems sector, California Microwave Systems unit, located in Belcamp, Maryland. Northrop Grumman is the airborne systems integrator on the Future Combat System program. For this award, DRS will develop and provide emulators and prototypes of an EO/IR system that meets the RSTA requirements of the FCS Class I UAV. Work will be accomplished by the company’s DRS Sensors & Targeting Systems unit – California Division, in Cypress, California, and will continue through September 2008.

25 Nov 06. Pilotless fighter plan gets £200m. Within the next two weeks the Ministry of Defence will award BAE Systems a £200m contract to create the UK’s first unmanned fighter jet, The Times has learnt. The project will contract BAE to develop a “technical demonstrator” version of the aircraft. This will be a full working model with weapons and targeting systems, which will then form the base design for a future generation of fighters. The £175m to £200m contract is thought to be the largest experimental project financed by the MoD since it funded the development of the Eurofighter Typhoon. BAE is leading the project with Rolls-Royce, Smiths Industries and QinetiQ as partners. Western armed forces are increasingly using technology to remove humans from harm’s way, and UAVs are likely to be a key element of this. They are already operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting soldiers and pilots with surveillance and reconnaissance images. The MoD has made UAV technology a strategic priority. The Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS), published last year, says that UAV technology must be developed in the UK. It is too important for the UK to rely on buying the technology from elsewhere. The DIS also reveals that the MoD is planning to replace fighter pilots with computer-flown planes in about 30 years, once the current Eurofighter Typhoon and the proposed Joint Strike Fighter reach the end of their lives. (Source: The Times)
Comment: Whilst recognising the exuberance of the Times feature, (it went on to talk about pilotless Jumbo jets) on the £100m contract to BAE to develop a jet-powered UAV, there are numerous pitfalls to this technology becoming operational. The crash of the EADS jet-powered UAV Barracuda earlier this year is a sign. To put all the UK’s eggs in the UAV basket and drop man-powered flight is akin to Duncan Sandys decision to drop manned jets in favour of rockets in the 1960’s. That killed the U.K. jet plane industry and gave the lead to the French with their hugely successful Mirage range, based on the U.K. Fairy Delta design. There is a limited spectrum available for UAV control, most of which is in U.S. hands and only one area in the U.K., Parc Aberforth, for UAVs to fly, so beware of dropping the known technology for the unknown.

29 Nov 06. iRobot Corp. announced the beta release of the iRobot Aware™ 2.0 Robot Intelligence Software, the first major enhancement to the software platform for iRobot’s family of tactical mobile robots. This also marks the first time the company has offered its Aware software platform, through a rich set of application programming interfaces (APIs) and utilities, to third-party developers. The company also unveiled the Robot Developer’s Kit (RDK), a new set of hardware tools for creating next-generation payloads for military robots. The new software and

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