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19 Dec 19. Raytheon readies new multirole Coyote.
- An evolved version of the Coyote ISR and sacrificial UAS is nearing completion with a schedule of flight tests through 2020
- New Block 3 version can be fitted with a range of effector payloads and a MOSA design
Raytheon Missile Systems has completed airframe development of the latest variant of its Coyote family of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and is now conducting command-and-control (C2) integration along with a rigorous launch and flight test programme.
Coyote Block 3 is a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) evolution of the earlier Coyote Block 1 in operational service with the US Army. (Source: Jane’s)
18 Dec 19. How can drones protect civilians in armed conflict?Drones are usually in the news for bad reasons, like controversial killings of suspected terrorists in the Middle East, bombings of Saudi oil facilities or an assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
What many people may not know is that United Nations peacekeepers use drones to protect civilians from violence. These drones are different: They don’t carry weapons.
I have followed the U.N.’s use of drones since its beginning in 2013 and have spoken with peacekeepers and U.N. officers who are familiar with their use. I believe drones have the potential to save lives.
But that doesn’t mean they necessarily will.
Violence is common
The U.N. is often called in to help calm trouble spots around the globe, sending soldiers, police and other officials from U.N. member countries to conflict zones to keep warring groups separate and reduce violence.
In countries with civil wars and sectarian conflict, civilians are often caught up in the violence, either by accident or targeted intentionally by armed fighters.
In July 2016, for instance, fighting between armed militias in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, pinned U.N. soldiers in their own base, leaving them unable to help protect civilians. When more than two weeks of fighting ended, 73 civilians were dead, 217 women and girls were sexually assaulted and 36,000 civilians fled into refugee camps.
Just a year later, in 2017, in the Central African Republic, more brutalities against civilians under U.N. protection left 188 dead, 25 women and girls raped, and many more displaced, according to the Human Rights Watch advocacy group.
These types of incidents are common throughout the U.N.’s many decades of peacekeeping efforts, with civilians slaughtered, raped or displaced even while supposedly under U.N. protection.
Help may be in the air
Since 2014, the U.N. has been using drones in the conflict zones of Democratic Republic of Congo and more recently in Mali and Central African Republic to gather information, in hopes of directing peacekeepers to people and places under threat.
This sounds good in theory, but there are no known cases where drones have actually triggered troop movements that saved lives. At least not yet.
The U.N. has a history of trying new ways to protect civilians that end up not working out. For instance, plans to protect civilians in South Sudan or Central African Republic were not ultimately followed by the U.N. troops on the ground. So it’s not certain that new methods would, in fact, work better.
For one thing, getting drones in the right places can be complicated. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there were five drones to cover more than 900,000 square miles, but there was money to operate only one at a time. On the ground, there is one peacekeeper for each 50 square miles. This is too small to guarantee a quick response to crises.
Even if drones are in key places, the information they gather has to get to peacekeeping soldiers quickly enough that a response can arrive and prevent violence. To be fast enough to save lives, drone pilots, intelligence analysts and the peacekeepers themselves have to coordinate closely.
The U.N.’s drones are unarmed, so the people who fly them by remote control have to write reports and send data to intelligence units to determine whether there are any threats to civilians, and, if so, what the peacekeepers should do about them. Most U.N. missions don’t have enough people or equipment to analyze drone footage, so the process can take days or weeks.
The 15 U.N. intelligence officers working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, say they have enough work to occupy hundreds more colleagues. However, the U.N. has historically avoided intelligence activity because of its association with covert operations, which run counter to the organization’s intentions of operating openly and without deception.
Even if peacekeepers do get timely information, they may not respond quickly to prevent civilians from being harmed if they do not have enough soldiers or patrol vehicles or helicopters to respond.
Drones still have potential
All these problems don’t mean drones are useless at protecting civilians. For instance, U.N. drones discovered armed groups smuggling gold believed to be providing funding for the armed groups and their activities. That was news to the U.N., and authorities stopped the smuggling. Drones also helped save 14 people in Democratic Republic of Congo after their boat capsized.
I believe these efforts and others aimed at preventing violence could be more effective with more support from U.N. member nations. In recent years, though, wealthy countries have slashed their contributions to the U.N. peacekeeping budget and reduced the number of soldiers they’ll send on missions. That has left peacekeeping missions to do their work with ill-equipped, poorly trained soldiers from poor nations. (Source: Defense Systems)
17 Dec 19. Spanish Air Force receives first Predators. The Spanish Air Force announced on 13 December that it has taken delivery of its first Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. They were flown by An-124 transport from Los Angeles to the joint US/Spanish southern airbase of Moron. An air force spokesman on 17 December confirmed that the UAVs and mobile ground control station (MGCS) were being transferred to the remote piloted aircraft system (RPAS) command centre at the Wing 23 base at Talavera la Real in Badajoz province. All four Predators and two control stations on order will have arrived in Spain by the end of the year, ready to enter service by January 2020, he added. (Source: Jane’s)
12 Dec 19. Rival Shadow Drone Replacements Head To Combat Units For Tests. The Army aims to replace its RQ-7 Shadow with a new, more nimble drone that doesn’t require a runway, to better scout and survive in fast-moving conflicts with great powers.
Today, the Army announced the five operational units that will field-test the four contenders for the Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS) replacing the Shadow. The units – real soldiers in deployable formations, not specialized testing personnel – represent a cross-section of the Army’s different kinds of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs):
- The 1st Armored BCT, 1st Infantry Division – heavily armored tracked vehicles based in Fort Riley, Kansas – will get the first prototypes in April.
- The 2nd BCT of the 101st Airborne – helicopter-borne light infantry out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky – will get their FTUAS in May.
- The 1st BCT, 2nd Infantry – a medium-unit mounted in wheeled Strykers, based at Fort Lewis, Washington – gets theirs in June.
- The 3rd Armored BCT, 1st Armored Division – another heavy unit, this one at Fort Bliss, Texas – start in July.
- The 1st BCT of the 82nd Airborne – more light infantry, this time paratroopers – come last, in September. (The Army’s skipping August, like the French).
“We give our first briefing to the Big Red One last week and spoke to the battalion commander that’s going to receive these in the 101st also last week,” said Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, head of the Army’s aviation modernization task force, the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team. “These commanders and soldiers are extremely excited to get this kit,” he told reporters.
Each of the four FTUAS contenders will be tested by a different brigade for at least six months, culminating in wargames at the famed Combat Training Centers, with funding for another six if needed. One happy company will get to equip two brigades; Rugen said that determination is up to Army Contracting Command’s assessment of “best value” and should be announced this December.
Which unit gets which drone is still to be determined, largely based by which company gets its prototypes ready when. The contenders take two different approaches to taking off and landing vertically like a helicopter, without a runway, but still flying efficiently and quietly over distances like an airplane:
Arcturus UAV’s Jump 20 (in the video above), L3 Harris Technologies’ FVR-90, and Textron/AAI’s Aerosonde HQ are all part quadcopter and part propeller plane: They’ve got wings, pusher propellers, and helicopter-style rotors.
Martin UAV’s V-BAT (above) is what’s called a tailsitter: It perches on its tail, nose to the sky, to take off and land, but flips to horizontal flight once in the air.
As the field tests wrap up – in February 2021 if the schedule holds – the Army won’t immediately move to picking a winner. Instead, feedback from the brigades will inform the service’s final Capabilities Development Document (CDD) and the official requirement, which in turn will guide the final choice.
“Shadow has been around for a long time,” Rugen said, entering service in 2002-2003. It was revolutionary in its day – frontline ground units had never had their own scout aircraft before – but it’s showing its age:
- Shadow is loud enough to alert the enemy it’s overhead, giving them a cue to hide or – for well-armed adversaries like Russia or China – to shoot it down.
- It requires a runway to take off and land. That limits its ability to keep up with fast-moving combat units and makes it dependent on a static, centralized, and easily targeted base. These weren’t crippling problems in the largely stationary counterinsurgency warfare of the last 20 years, but they could be fatal against Russia or China, which have their own recon drones and long-range missiles.
- A full platoon of four Shadows, ground control stations, and support equipment takes two and a half C-130 transport planes to deploy. The goal for FTUAS is to fit the platoon in a single CH-47 helicopter — so it can not only operate without a runway, it can deploy without one as well. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
18 Dec 19. US Naval Integration Drive Shapes Acquisition of Marine MUX UAV. As the US Navy and US Marines continue to highlight close naval integration, the interconnectedness of the two services has moved beyond concepts and doctrine and is spilling into acquisition decisions being made, a top Marine Corps general told USNI News.
The Navy and Marine Corps both recognize that their futures are intertwined, with the Marine Corps expecting to use the sea as manoeuvre space and require greater intratheater lift from the Navy. With adversaries growing more lethal, the Navy has recognized it will need the Marine Corps to help neutralize enemy radars and weapons ashore to give U.S. ships continued freedom of navigation.
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday have made clear they’re in lockstep going forward, and their services’ Distributed Maritime Operations and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concepts go hand-in-hand. Even the top requirements officers for both services, Vice Adm. Jim Kilby and Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, recently joked that they only speak at conferences as a pair and don’t go on lunch breaks without checking in with each other.
Smith, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, told USNI News that now tight naval integration is shaping how program managers conduct their business, too.
The Marines since 2016 have been working on a large Group 5 unmanned aerial system (UAS) called Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) UAS Expeditionary, or MUX. The Marine Corps wanted this capability to help fill a specific gap in its sea-based aviation capability: it would have helicopters and tilt-rotors for lift and would have the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter for strike and data collection, but it needed an advanced early warning and electronic warfare (EW) platform to round out a carrier air wing-like capability. Though the Navy didn’t have plans for a Group 5 UAS, the Marine Corps from the start ensured that future integration would be possible by requiring that MUX fit into the hangar on a destroyer.
Smith said the naval integration has gone much deeper recently, though, as the two services tighten their bonds.
“We have to do this together. … We’re talking about, while the Navy is working the Future Vertical Lift and that is kind of foremost in their priority group right now, is we start moving toward MUX – what it is, what it’s not, what it has to do – and mostly it’s [electronic warfare]. It’s not a cargo-hauler. One of the requirements is, it has to fit on a hangar on a destroyer, so before we make big decisions, we have to confer with the Navy to make sure we don’t go down a dead end where the Navy says, look, two years ago you took this right turn, I can’t go with you anymore, if only you had asked. So we’re asking on every decision that we’re making that’s a significant decision. Is this still working for you, even though you’re not ready to go yet?”
Smith said, noting that he and Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Stephen Rudder are in regular contact with Naval Air Systems Command as well as Kilby and his air warfare directorate (OPNAV N98).
After a 2018 request for information and industry day for the MUX unmanned vehicle program, the Marine Corps in October 2018 took on a Model Based Systems Engineering approach to streamline the MUX design, development, test and evaluation process, and then the following month NAVAIR announced a rapid acquisition strategy based on a Department of Navy recommendation to get to initial operational capability faster and for less money, Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Joshua Benson told USNI News.
The rapid acquisition strategy included prize challenges to industry to focus on specific payloads, including airborne early warning (AEW); intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare (EW); and data relay (DR). These challenges were announced in May 2019, with bids coming in from June through September, Benson said, adding that prizes were awarded last month.
In September, NAVAIR stood up a MUX Lab for early assessments of ground-to-air communications, and the lab is expected to evolve as more systems are ready for testing to see if they are suitable for the MUX program.
Beginning last month, NAVAIR and Smith’s Combat Development and Integration directorate began a simulation experiment to look at payload configurations and capabilities, Benson said.
“The SIMEX assists with the development of a formal Concept of Operations (CONOPs) for MUX and other potential UAV solutions to address potential threats around the world,” he said.
“We will continue to explore MUX concepts and capabilities via modelling and simulation, wargaming and experimentation in anticipation of emerging force development guidance.” (Source: UAS VISION/USNI News)
17 Dec 19. After years of delays, NATO receives U.S.-made spy drones. NATO will receive its second U.S.-made Global Hawk drone on Thursday and aims to have all five unmanned aircraft of its $1.5bn (1.17bn pounds) surveillance system operational in 2022, alliance officials said on Tuesday. After years of delays, the drone system, which NATO says will be the world’s most advanced, will give the alliance 24-hour, near-real time surveillance of land and sea beyond its borders and provide greater visibility than satellites.
“It’s been a very, very long road,” said Brigadier General Volker Samanns, a senior manager at the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone system, which was first discussed three decades ago and was scheduled to operate from 2017.
Having resolved contractual disputes over cost with manufacturer Northrup Grumman, the first drone was delivered last month to the Sigonella air base in Italy.
Following Thursday’s delivery of a second drone, three more will come by next summer, Samanns said.
“We are basically creating a small air force,” he told reporters at the air base in Sicily, where NATO showed off the drone, which can fly for up to 30 hours at high altitude in all weather, seeing through clouds and storms to produce detailed maps, photos and data for commanders.
Fifteen NATO allies have funded the acquisition of the aircraft, including Germany, Poland, the United States and Italy, as well as ground stations built by Airbus.
All 29 allies will have access to the intelligence they generate, which could include missile sites in Russia, militant activity in the Middle East or pirates off the coast of Africa.
The drones will be piloted remotely from Sigonella and will fly within NATO airspace, but could be flown more widely in a conflict. Drones are increasingly a feature in modern warfare because of their long flying times and intelligence-gathering.
The delivery of the NATO drones marks a breakthrough for European allies after Germany cancelled plans to buy its own Global Hawks due to cost and certification issues, while a Franco-German project for a Eurodrone has been delayed.
They also help underpin Western efforts to remain more technologically advanced than Russia and China, officials said.
Brigadier General Phillip Stewart, a former Global Hawk commander in the United States, said he did not believe Moscow and Beijing had the sophistication of the NATO system.
“This is a quantum leap forward,” Stewart told reporters.
The delivery comes as NATO is spending $1bn to modernise its 14 AWACS reconnaissance planes, which along with the drones, are the few military assets owned by NATO. (Source: Reuters)
12 Dec 19. Orbiter 4 UAS completes 25hr flight. Aeronautics Group’s Orbiter 4 UAS has completed a 25 hour flight, setting a new endurance record for the platform. The flight was performed at mission altitude carrying the T-stamp EO payload with laser capabilities.
Orbiter 4 can carry and operate two different payloads simultaneously, integrating EO payload with laser designator, SAR radar, MPR maritime radar or other advanced payloads. The runway free UAS is highly portable and easily deployable with a small logistics footprint. The system is designed for ISTAR missions, intelligence gathering, border protection and naval operations with ability to take-off and land from vessels.
Amos Matan, CEO, Aeronautics Group, said: ‘This new achievement highlights our technological leadership in the tactical UAS segment.
‘The Orbiter 4 is a breakthrough system with impressive roadmap, based on Rafael advance technology and payloads and we are committed to continue investing in developing the platform for the benefit of our customers and users, reaching more records and maintaining excellence.’ (Source: Shephard)
13 Dec 19. US Air Force completes initial flight tests of Ultra LEAP UAS. The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has concluded the initial flight tests of the Ultra Long Endurance Aircraft Platform (Ultra LEAP) unmanned aerial system (UAS). The Ultra LEAP aircraft is equipped with a customisable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) suite to enable long-endurance missions. AFRL conducted a flight demonstration that lasted for two and a half days from 9 to 11 December.
The continuous flight demonstration was the last in a series of flight tests that started in February at a military test facility in Utah.
The airforce intends to undertake further flight tests in the future to showcase enhanced flight endurance of the UAS.
AFRL commander major general William Cooley said: “As the airforce balances current readiness with long-term modernisation, Ultra LEAP represents an affordable approach that supports both existing and future force needs.
He added that the ‘enhanced UAS capabilities along with the cost savings offers the military a winning solution’.
Ultra LEAP is based on a cost-effective, high-performance commercial airframe that was modified to enable autonomous takeoff and landing capabilities.
The US Air Force said: “Ultra LEAP also features secure, easy to use navigation employing anti-jam GPS and full global operational access via a satellite-based command and control and high-rate ISR data relay link.”
AFRL project engineer Paul Litke stated that the high-endurance UAS will contribute to mission success on the battlefield.
Litke added that the use of commercial off-the-shelf components in Ultra LEAP will provide significant cost benefits for the service.
The aircraft is expected to be available for operational deployment as early as 2020.
The automation feature of the system allows for reduced operator training needs and lower operating costs.
AFRL Center for Rapid Innovation director Dr Alok Das said: “Accomplished after only 10 months of development by our AFRL / industry team, today’s 2.5-day Ultra LEAP mission is a significant milestone in solving the tyranny of distance problem for ISR systems.
“It will provide immediate benefit to our warfighters while at the same time paving the path for future low-cost, multi-day endurance ISR systems.”
The approach of using the commercial aircraft market offers reduced manufacturing and spares costs for the platform. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
14 Dec 19. Russia will test swarms for anti-robot combat in 2020. Before the future of war is realized on battlefields, it is shaped in laboratories and practice ranges. As Russia’s Ministry of Defense iterates design around the Marker unmanned ground vehicle, the Ministry of Defense is learning the opening plays of future robot battles. In the first half of 2020, Russia is expected to test robot swarms, guided by humans, and armed, in exercises that will inform how, exactly, the country prepares for the robot wars of tomorrow.
In late November, “President Putin called for the Russian military and defense industry to develop more ISR and combat UAVs, as well as other unmanned military systems.” said Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “There is a clear signal from the Russian government that military robotics will become more and more essential in future conflicts, concurrent with the development of AI that can presumably guide such systems in combat.”
Testing that AI in the spring will center around the Marker robot, though it will not exclusively rely on the platform. The tests will likely involve groups of five platforms, which will feature the Marker but also the Kungas family of unmanned ground vehicles. Coordinated together, these robots would represent the first swarms of ground robots tested by Russia.
Russia press reported in November that sources in the defense industry see the primary occupation of battlefield robots as a countermeasure to armed autonomy on the battlefield.
“The article alludes to Russian robots fighting adversary robots,” said Bendett.
The Kungas platforms, which range from a human-portable small robot through medium-sized variants and up to a robotic control scheme that can go in full-sized combat vehicles, can all be controlled by the same console, simultaneously. With multiple robots on the same network, the vision is that a Kungas controller can direct all of those robots on the same mission, inverting the ratio of humans needed to guide robots into action.
“There is also the possibility of equipping Marker-based robots with a grenade launcher module and/or 120 mm mortars,” said Bendett, a a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “The last part is a significant change from the current large-caliber gun used on Russia’s biggest UGV – Uran-9. That UGV is equipped with a 30mm gun and light machine guns.”
The testing in spring will likely feature the Marker UGV in fully autonomous mode, though with a human on the loop to monitor it in action. Specifically, humans may be involved in helping with targeting changes for the Marker as the robot learns to tell targets apart from its surroundings.
“Fielding a UGV lineup that can bust out 120mm mortars creates a significant mission multiplier for the ground forces, assuming a proper mechanism is worked out for coordinating unmanned and manned formations,” said Bendett, “These future UGVs will become part of the Russian military’s concept of operations after 2025.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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