Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
18 Oct 19. Containerized Launcher for XQ-58A Valkyrie. Kratos has shown off a launcher for its low-cost XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) that fits inside a standard shipping container. There has been a growing trend toward containerized weapon systems around the world and combining this general concept with the Valkyrie could make these already very exciting drones even more capable of conducting flexible, highly agile, distributed operations.
A model of the “Deployable XQ-58A Valkyrie Launch System” was on display at the Association of the U.S. Army’s main annual convention in Washington, D.C., which opened on Oct. 14, 2019, and came to a close today. Northrop Grumman’s James Drew took a brief video of the model at Kratos’ booth and posted it on Twitter on the last day of the show. The California-headquartered unmanned aircraft company developed the XQ-58A for the U.S Air Force’s Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration (LCASD) program, which the Air Force Research Laboratory is managing. The drone took its first flight in March 2019 and conducted a second test sortie two months later. The unmanned aircraft suffered a mishap just last week after completing its third flight.
“Kratos provides ground support equipment that enables agility, remote operations, and deterrence,” a plaque accompanying the model said. “These transportable and deployable solutions offer nondescript launch modules for unmanned aerial/underwater systems and missile defense platforms.”
The Valkyrie Launch System model shows what appears to be a standard ISO shipping container that holds the XQ-58A in a semi-disassembled state with its wings removed and stored on the container walls. Rails on the floor allow the launcher to slide forward out of the container and then angle the drone upward for launch. The display shows that there is also space in the container for other equipment, as well as a fire extinguisher.
If the launch system does fit inside a standardized container, that would open up a world of possible deployment options for the Valkyries. In its present configuration, the XQ-58A is already runway independent given that it takes off from a static launcher and has a parachute recovery system.
The most obvious application of this new containerized system would be to leverage existing military trucks capable of carrying containers, especially those with Palletized Load Systems (PLS) or similar equipment allowing for rapid unloading and offloading. This could allow personnel to quickly set up XQ-58A launch sites, even in very austere locations without any airfield infrastructure, and pack them up just as quickly to avoid enemy counterattacks or otherwise conceal their point of origin.
The limited footprint necessary on the ground could help reduce the need for airfields or other established bases in the future more broadly, as well. The U.S. military as a whole is becoming increasingly concerned about the vulnerability of known, static facilities and their ability to support sustained operations during a major conflict.
US ARMY A US Army M1074 Palletized Load System (PLS) truck unloads a container in Afghanistan.
Valkyries could potentially conduct the sorties in a semi-autonomous or autonomous mode, reducing the need for direct interaction of any kind from human operators. The Air Force, at present, already envisions the XQ-58A, or an evolved successor, being able to provide a low-cost strike, electronic warfare, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platform that can operate individually, in groups of “loyal wingmen” with manned aircraft, or in networked autonomous swarms.
The containerized launch system would also allow rapid movement via other means, including by air, train, or ship. In particular, naval ships, such as amphibious warfare ships with large flight decks, or contractor-operated merchant ships could potentially use the system to launch the drones themselves without the need for other specialized equipment. A single ship could potentially carry dozens of XQ-58As in these self-contained launchers.
The containerized system also means that personnel could launch it rapidly from one location with the intent for another team entirely to recover it at a completely different one. This could squeeze the most out of the drone’s range capabilities by allowing for more optimal route planning, even on short notice. The mobile launcher would also enable personnel to employ the drones in a more flexible manner, in general, and from multiple vectors, which could stretch an opponent’s resources across a broader front and make it more difficult for them to react.
In addition, as Kratos itself has noted, these types of “nondescript launch modules” offer the potential to support discreet or covert operations by using otherwise mundane looking transportation methods, including civilian-style trucks and chartered, contractor-operated ships. This might enable the deployment of more robust unmanned capabilities to support more limited operations, including special operations missions.
These concepts of operation could also benefit from the efforts to make Valkyrie attritable, which is to say cheap enough that it can be employed in riskier situations where chances are lower that it will survive its mission intact. In fact, it is being designed to act basically in a cruise missile, one-way trip mode if required, as well. The containerized launcher and the operating concepts it allows for, as well as the XQ-58A itself, are all well in line with the growing emphasis throughout the U.S. military, as well as in other countries around the world, on distributed warfare.
While we don’t know how much interest the Air Force, or any of Kratos’ other customers, have expressed in this containerized launcher, it will likely be very attractive to the U.S. military, at least, given that it fits its emerging doctrine to an incredible degree. (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive)
18 Oct 19. Vigilant Aerospace Performs 18-Mile Autonomous Flight with Oklahoma State University. On October 8, 2019, Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Vigilant Aerospace Systems (Vigilant) conducted a demonstration flight utilizing OSU’s 13-mile beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) corridor east of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The demonstration was used to evaluate BVLOS capabilities and to demonstrate Vigilant’s latest FlightHorizon software which provided airspace situational awareness throughout the flight.
Vigilant Aerospace Demonstrates FlightHorizon 2 in Autonomous 18-Mile Flight with Oklahoma State University
The flight was the first full exercise of the FAA-authorized 13-mile unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flight corridor located in central Oklahoma. The flight was also a major field test for FlightHorizon 2, the latest version of Vigilant Aerospace’s award-winning unmanned traffic management and active detect-and-avoid (aDAA) system.
The completely autonomous flight was over 18-miles long in total, starting at OSU’s Center for Forensics Explosives range near Pawnee, Oklahoma and culminating in an autonomous landing at OSU’s Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station in Glencoe, Oklahoma.
“The unmanned aircraft industry’s top needs continue to be autonomous safety systems, on-board detect-and-avoid solutions and better unmanned traffic management. This flight allowed us to make progress on all three by demonstrating our system’s capabilities over a much longer duration and greater distances while providing active alerting and airspace visualization to the pilot and observers,” said Kraettli L. Epperson, CEO of Vigilant Aerospace.
“These demonstration flights are critical milestones in the development of the industry and our partnership with OSU provides our company access to some of the top students, researchers and facilities in the US,” said Epperson.
The results from the flight provided a proof of concept for Vigilant’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) capabilities currently in research and development, and will provide the basis for initial deployment of UTM capabilities utilizing FlightHorizon.
The analysis of results from the demonstrations will also provide an understanding of the capabilities of autonomous UAS operations and provide data necessary for additional use cases.
The flight is the first in a new series that will be testing radar integration, ground-based and on-board autonomous detect-and-avoid capabilities, remote ID solutions and UTM processes utilizing FlightHorizon.
“This flight and the team of OSU research engineers and students and Vigilant Aerospace staff who conducted it represent a forward-looking approach to utilizing public-private partnerships to rapidly advance the technology and bring innovations to market,” said Jamey Jacob, Director of the OSU Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI) and John Hendrix Chair Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
The flight was conducted with a twin-motor UAS operating below 400 feet AGL and was conducted under an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) with a visual observer. The COA, released by the FAA in December 2018, allows for the waiving of rules requiring drone pilots to keep their aircraft continuously in line-of-sight and also provides additional operating altitude.
The COA allows OSU and commercial research and development partners like Vigilant Aerospace to pioneer new unmanned flight technologies, safety systems and processes to advance the state of the UAS industry.
“This flight authorization is well-suited to the development and demonstration of systems for safe BVLOS flights over long distances, which are critical for monitoring assets like oil and gas wells, pipelines, wind and solar farms, storage tanks, power lines, farms and ranches, and roads and bridges,” said Epperson.
Using it’s FlightHorizon 2 software, Vigilant Aerospace provided airspace situational awareness, detect-and-avoid and air traffic visualization for the flight. The software tracked dozens of manned aircraft across central Oklahoma during the flight and provided real-time alerting to the visual observer and pilot-in-command. (Source: UAS VISION)
18 Oct 19. Martin UAV Wins New Contracts. After advancing to the next round in the US Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) development contest, Martin UAV has won several other contracts for its V-Bat, a vertical-takeoff-and-landing, tail-sitting unmanned air vehicle (UAV). The company is currently negotiating a research, development, test, and evaluation contract with the US Navy (USN) and US Marine Corps’ (USMC) Warfighting Laboratory, it says at the Association of the US Army exposition in Washington, DC on 16 October.
“Because of the Army contract, [interest] has really exploded,” says Heath Niemi, vice-president of global sales. “It’s kind of a catalyst.”
The USN and USMC don’t have any particular requirement or programme of record, but are looking long term at replacing their Boeing Insitu ScanEagle and RQ-21 Blackjack, says Martin UAV.
As part of a separate effort, the company tested landing its V-Bat on US Naval Forces Southern Command’s expeditionary fast transport ship Spearhead in March 2019.
“That was just a capabilities test to ensure that our new landing feature can track and autonomously land with no controls on to a moving ship based on this [QR code placed on the ship deck],” says Tae Kim, chief operating officer of Martin UAV. “Now, we’re in an operational environment, operating off a ship.”
The V-Bat is being used for counter-narcotics surveillance missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, according to the USN.
Additionally, Martin UAV says it has made a sale to a US ally, which it declines to name. And, it says it is pitching for the Australian Army’s Textron RQ-7 Shadow replacement programme. (Source: UAS VISION/FlightGlobal)
14 Oct 19. This drone may restore comms after disasters. Rare is the flying machine whose most interesting feature comes into play when it is sits stationary on the ground. Bell’s APT-70 tiltbody is, primarily, a resupply vehicle, a flying solution pitched at meeting urgent needs in small landing zones. With all essential hardware for flying located in the airframe of the vehicle — instead of the detachable pod (delivering a 70-pound, or in the case of the smaller APT-20 version, a 20-pound payload) — the utility of the frame itself is what offers new options as a platform. And in a fixed position, it is what lets it work as temporary infrastructure.
“The APT-70 can function as a comms repeater,” said John Wittmaak of Bell, speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
Wittmaak described a scenario where an APT-70 drone is used for resupply as part of disaster relief. After missions depositing water, food, cooled blood if need be and batteries, an APT-70 fitted with a communications signal repeater could land at a high vantage point, restoring signal to the cellphones of people cut off from communication until a more permanent solution can be found.
Such a relay rotorcraft could also land on a hill in an organically denied environment, where mountains and other terrain get in the way of useful radio signals. The ability of a commander to call into place a comms repeater would extend command-and-control capability into otherwise distant or difficult areas.
“We want to make urgent, time-sensitive resupply casual,” Wittmaak said.
The APT-70 flies autonomously, taking off and landing like a quadcopter and then pivoting toward more horizontal, fixed-wing flight once in the air. After that transition, the craft draws 50 percent less power and can travel at twice the speed, increasing the range over traditional quadcopters.
Autonomous navigation is guided by GPS, with inertial sensors and onboard cameras contributing. The APT-70′s communications are encrypted. Users can hard-code mission constraints into the navigation, which would prevent the flying machine from going off course.
APT-70 will be at Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2020. As for the drone’s future, Bell says ship-to-ship takeoff and landing is in the works. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
14 Oct 19. AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ:AVAV), a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), today announced the launch of Puma LE (Long Endurance), the next generation in its Puma All Environment small UAS product line. Puma LE builds on the combat-proven Puma AE legacy with new capabilities, increased range, and expanded payload capacity. With the integrated Mantis i45 gimbaled EO/IR sensor and NVG-visible laser illuminator, Puma LE provides the warfighter with superior imagery for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) during day, night and low-light operations on land and in maritime environments.
Delivering Group 2 capabilities in a Group 1 footprint, the aircraft weighs only 22.5 pounds (10.4 kilograms), and is launchable by hand or bungee, making Puma LE easy to deploy and recover. On-board batteries provide 5.5 hours of flight endurance, doubling the time on station of Puma 3 AE, with an operational range of 60 kilometers when used with AeroVironment’s Long-Range Tracking Antenna (LRTA). Puma LE’s economical dual-case mission pack contains everything needed to perform two complete 5.5-hour missions with a single aircraft and Ground Control System (GCS).
Puma LE is purpose-built for multi-mission operations with up to 5.5 pounds of total payload capacity. The aircraft’s ruggedized secondary payload bay enables the integration of third-party payloads with a dedicated power supply providing 18-24 volts at up to 5 amps, and an Ethernet connection port for payload communications. This capability provides the flexibility for operators to incorporate specialized payloads such as electronic warfare, RF emitter geolocation, laser designation, communications relay and others.
“Puma LE is the next generation of the combat-proven Puma AE small UAS, delivering immediate tactical ISR, extended endurance and a dedicated secondary payload bay to dramatically expand its mission capabilities,” said Rick Pedigo, vice president of sales and business development for AeroVironment. “With Puma LE, AeroVironment expands the envelope of small unmanned aircraft systems, and enables our customers to proceed with certainty in ever-changing operational environments.”
Puma LE can be operated manually or autonomously with AeroVironment’s common GCS. Puma LE utilizes plug and play, interoperable line-replaceable unit (LRU) components that can be shared with other Puma AE aircraft. This native compatibility reduces training and logistical impact for operators. In addition, current Puma AE customers can now optimize their fielded systems by purchasing Puma LE as an add-on aircraft and easily installing Puma AE LRU components. Multiple Puma LE system options provide the flexibility for customers to choose the right configuration based on mission requirements. AeroVironment is now accepting orders for Puma LE, with expected delivery in spring 2020.
10 Oct 19. Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie Completes Flight 3, Successfully Executes 100 Percent of Test Points. Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. (Nasdaq:KTOS), a leading National Security Solutions provider, announced today that the Kratos/AFRL team has successfully completed Valkyrie Flight 3. During the 90 minute flight, the XQ-58A executed a perfect launch and met 56 of 56 baseline test points, plus two additional test points with excess fuel remaining after completion of the mission. After successful completion of the flight, the recovery parachute system worked flawlessly, and the aircraft descended nominally under the canopy system. In final descent, the prototype cushion system, which was employed for the initial test series but is not intended for ultimate operational use, suffered an anomaly resulting in the aircraft sustaining damage upon touchdown. The XQ-58A Valkyrie, like all Kratos’ heritage drones and Kratos’ high performance jet target drones, are designed to be quickly repaired and reused if damage is sustained after performing operational missions. The Valkyrie has been recovered, and the damage has been initially evaluated and determined to be fully repairable. Kratos plans to address the cushion system prior to Flight 4 and complete its test flight series with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) while continuing to execute with its other Valkyrie customers.
Steve Fendley, President of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said, “I am extremely proud of the team and the level of success we have achieved with the entire Valkyrie system. We have now successfully completed three virtually flawless flights and about 270 minutes of flight time performed.
“Based on the flights performed to date and the resulting data generated, we do not need to revise any of the airborne control systems, which is amazing for any newly developed system, but especially so for UAS. We believe that our customer set is extremely pleased with the XQ-58A’s system performance to date. The reliability of the cushion system is an area we must improve, and we’ll be working with our subcontractor to perfect the system before Flight 4. However, this is specifically why flight test series are performed: to address any issues ahead of full operational capability being achieved and ensure our Armed Forces are using the most reliable technologies available.” (Source: ASD Network)
11 Oct 19. C-Astral ATLAS C4EYE in Benchmark Trials with NATO. C-Astral, the Slovenia based integrator of small unmanned systems, has been successfully fielding its new mini UAS ATLAS C4EYE (Advanced Technology Light Acquisition/ATAK System) in a series of closed trials, involving the cooperation of manned, unmanned and NATO JTAC assets.
The 2.6 kg blended-wing-body platform has been going through a flight and feasibility testing phase and is now entering the operational phase, with multiple procurement contracts being currently negotiated.
The system is currently the most advanced mini UAS system in its category with more advanced capabilities than the industry standard RQ-11 Raven, including endurance, flexibility, sensors flexibility and maintainability.
The craft’s hull is also proofed to allow landing in water, due to the use of IP-67 rated connectors and seals across the UAV’s sections. The system is capable of carrying multiple types of digital radio links, depending on the end-user and end-use. The modular structure and advanced power management systems, flight control and emergency flight control termination and C-Astral’s own C3P command, control, communications and planning software enable it to be easily integrated in larger C4I and C2 systems as well as for flight in controlled airspace. The system can carry multiple ISR EO/IR combined payloads, with laser illuminator capabilities and several other imaging sensors with broad tactical use implications. The standard C-Astral silent parachute flight termination system is an integral part of the system.
The ATLAS can fly up to 5 km above sea level and is aimed at applications in defense, security, civil, and critical industrial infrastructure. A modular data link bay allows switching of different radios, frequencies, transponders, or encryption levels, for different missions and regulatory requirements. The ATLAS C4EYE will enable the members of the Terra Drone group to access one of the most advanced ISR capabilities in the market for a myriad of service missions. (Source: UAS VISION)
10 Oct 19. UMS Skeldar positions ViDAR-equipped V-200 for Asia-Pacific customers. Key Points:
- UMS Skeldar has introduced a ViDAR-equipped variant of the V-200 unmanned aerial vehicle
- The variant is being positioned as a persistent maritime surveillance system that requires minimal intervention
UMS Skeldar is showcasing a variant of its V-200 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that has been configured to carry a Visual Detection and Ranging (ViDAR) sensor payload at the Pacific 2019 international maritime exposition.
It is the first time that the variant is being showcased to the public, said David Willems, vice-president of business development and strategy at the company, in an interview with Jane’s at the exposition. The variant has been designated at the V-200 Block 20.
The V-200 Block 20 has also been optimised for the maritime environment and features several improvements over the previous version, the V-200B. These include an airframe that is about 10 kg lighter, improved avionics, and more ruggedised features to withstand conditions at sea, said Willems.
However, the most important improvement is the type of sensor payload it offers, Willems added. “Especially for customers in Southeast Asia, where we have challenges with maritime crime and piracy, the ViDAR sensor is a much better equipment for monitoring vast maritime areas over conventional electro-optical and infra-red (EO/IR) sensors,” he said.
Besides an eight-camera ViDAR payload that can monitor targets as far as 20 n miles in each direction, the V-200 Block 20 can also be equipped with phased array antennas to convey data and visuals in real time to its ship-based operator. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
10 Oct 19. Austal introduces line of autonomous ships to Asia-Pacific. Austal is making an inaugural showcase of its autonomous ships in the Asia-Pacific region at the Pacific 2019 international maritime exposition in Sydney. Speaking to Jane’s at the exposition, Paul Sparke, Austal’s marketing manager, described the line as concepts that have been conceived by its subsidiary in the United States, Austal USA, in anticipation of future requirements from the US Navy (USN). The concepts are based on the catamaran, trimaran, and single-hulled form factors, and range in overall length between 40m and 110m. These include smaller patrol craft that can be deployed for constabulary duties, high-speed troop transports, and replenishment-at-sea vessels. The concepts range in tonnage from 260 to 2,500 tonnes and can operate autonomously for up to 90 days, with a range in excess of 10,000 n miles at 16kt. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
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.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.