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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund

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08 Jan 20. UK ‘swarming drone’ timeline in doubt as development unit delayed. The UK’s ambitious plans to field an operational ‘swarming drone’ capability by the middle of this year looks to be in doubt as the experimental unit dedicated to developing the concept has yet to be stood-up.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane’s on 7 January that 216 Squadron has not yet been activated and that announcements pertaining to its status and future location are “to be confirmed”. The unit was scheduled to be activated by the end of 2019 and the spokesperson did not give a reason for the delay.

In February 2019 the then-Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, said that by the end of that year the Royal Air Force (RAF) would operationally field “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air defence systems”. In July 2019 the then-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, clarified the minister’s comments by saying that 216 Squadron would be stood-up by the end of the year to develop the concept, with the capability itself to be delivered by about July 2020.

“It is a far shorter timeline than you’d expect. Within a year [from the date of his remarks] we will have a capability, which we will then grow,” ACM Hiller said at the time at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC) in London.

“Volume is the key part to this [swarming UAV concept]. We have great capabilities in the RAF but not much of it. This mass is what constantly concerns me – we need to create more targets in the air; we need to grow mass,” he noted. (Source: Jane’s)

09 Jan 20. Brazil to operate UAS from ships. The Brazilian Navy will field its INSITU ScanEagle long-endurance fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from the Niterói-class frigates and Amazonas-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), the service told Jane’s. The UAS will be initially used in the consolidation of an operation doctrine of this technology from the frigates and OPVs, the navy told Jane’s in December. The UAS capability will be later expanded to other surface ships, the navy said but declined to name the vessels. A single system comprising six air vehicles with their electro-optical payload and associated equipment and services was purchased through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme with a letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) signed with the US government on 11 December 2019. (Source: Jane’s)

08 Jan 20. PLAGF, PAP special forces broadening use of small UAVs. Special forces and scout units within China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) appear to be increasing the use of small reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to help them locate and engage potential targets.

Images posted by the PLA-sponsored China Military Online website show PAP special operations soldiers using a small quadcopter-type UAV during the ‘Demon’s Week’ counter-terrorism training exercise held in southern China in late December 2019.

It seems that the photographed UAV can be carried in a backpack – as part of the spotter’s equipment – and easily deployed on the battlefield. The UAV is controlled using a two-handed controller that includes a small flat panel display. It is possible that the UAV is also provided with some form of automation.

Meanwhile, an 8 January report by the state-owned Global Times newspaper stated that similar UAVs are being operated within the PLA’s 80th Group Army, with at least one scout battalion having deployed such a UAV in recent training. Citing a report by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), the paper stated that such UAVs could also be used by sniper pairs, with the platform enabling the spotter to conduct reconnaissance of an enemy position. (Source: Jane’s)

07 Jan 20. Robotic Research unveils Pegasus Mini hybrid UAS/UGV. Robotic Research, a Maryland-based developer of autonomy and robotic technologies catering to commercial and government customers, has taken the opportunity at the CES 2020 exhibition being held in Las Vegas from 7 to 10 January to unveil the Pegasus Mini hybrid vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft system and unmanned ground vehicle (VTOL UAS/UGV). According to specifications released by Robotic Research, the Pegasus Mini is designed to improve situational awareness in confined environments and measures 40.6 cm long and 20.3 cm wide, and weighs 1.9 kg including the battery, with a payload capacity of up to 900 g. It can fly for up to 30 minutes using an electric quadrotor propulsion system in flight mode, while a set of tracks enables it to manoeuvre on land for up to 120 minutes.

The company also claims that the backpackable Pegasus Mini is equipped with advanced autonomy capabilities that support fully independent operations in both air and ground modes, which enables the system to remain effective in GPS-denied environments.

“We are excited to be at CES to showcase Pegasus as a new line of transformable robots and debut the Pegasus Mini, which offers a super-compact yet powerful drone and land vehicle combination capable of bringing remote cameras and sensors into previously unreachable locations,” said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research, in a company statement.

“This small but mighty system has immense versatility and reach like no other robotic vehicle, flying at very high speeds with a payload capacity that can carry important tools to reach critical locations in unpredictable environments,” Lacaze added. “We look forward to leveraging these unique features of the Pegasus Mini to provide more flexible, easily deployable, autonomous systems for customers in both the commercial and federal markets.” (Source: Jane’s)

07 Jan 20. Pakistan Navy Inducts LUNA NG UAV. On 04 January 2020, the Pakistan Navy’s (PN) Director General of Public Relations announced that the PN officially inducted LUNA NG unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

As for the LUNA NG, its manufacturer – EMT Penzberg – terms it as a “tactical unmanned aircraft system” (TUAS). With a take-off weight of 110 kg, the LUNA NG is a lightweight UAV, but its payload options include synthetic aperture radar (SAR), signals intelligence (SIGINT), ESM, and EO/IR. It can fly for over 12 hours. The PN said it will use the LUNA NG to monitor its creeks and coastal areas. The PN also announced that its long-term development plans include the “acquisition of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV).” The UCAV could be in reference to the PN’s reported interest in the Turkish Aerospace Anka-S during the 2018 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS). (Source: UAS VISION/Quwa)

06 Jan 20. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) concluded a series of flight demonstrations using its MQ-9 Guardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) on December 19, 2019. The demonstrations showcased the maritime surveillance capabilities of the MQ-9, and the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid (DAA) system for traffic-deconfliction in civil airspace. The flights were sponsored by the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) and the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) and staged out of Larissa Air Base in Greece. The flights were performed for an audience of European military and civilian representatives.

“We were honored to have the HAF’s and the HCG’s support for these flight demonstrations with our MQ-9,” said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. “The MQ-9 RPAS is already a strategic asset for NATO countries, providing mission persistence and interoperability between allies. We showcased MQ-9s maritime surveillance and the civil airspace integration capabilities for our European customers.” The MQ-9 configuration demonstrated is operational in the U.S.

Currently GA-ASI aircraft systems support the Italian Air Force, the UK Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force. The Ministry of Defence for the Netherlands has selected MQ-9 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and the Government of Belgium has approved Belgian Defense to negotiate the acquisition of GA-ASI’s MQ-9B. In early December, the Australian Government announced selection of MQ-9B for the Australian Defence Force under Project Air 7003. GA-ASI RPAS are operated by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA.

“The advanced capabilities of these aircraft are striking. Through the 10 days of demonstrations, the country of Greece has seen the value of MQ-9’s for maritime patrol and EEZ monitoring, border surveillance, support for search and rescue efforts, and over-watch of forest fire response efforts,” said an HAF official.

The DAA system consists of an air-to-air radar integrated with Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II), and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). The DAA system enables safe flight of an MQ-9 in civil airspace, and can even detect air traffic that is not actively transmitting its position.

The MQ-9 also demonstrated a multi-mode, maritime surface-search radar, and High-Definition/Full-Motion Video Optical and Infrared sensor. This sensor suite enables real-time detection and identification of large and small surface vessels in all-weather at long ranges, 360 degrees around the aircraft. The featured Raytheon SeaVue surface-search radar provided continuous tracking of maritime targets and correlation of AIS transmitters with radar detections. The Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) mode facilitates classification of vessels which are beyond optical sensor range.

For the demonstration, GA-ASI partnered with SES, a leading satellite communications (SATCOM) operator and managed services provider, with over 70 satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). SES provided the GEO satellite connectivity that enabled the MQ-9 to operate securely with a high capacity datalink, enabling real-time transmission of sensor data from the aircraft, and extending its effective operational range far beyond that of “line-of-sight” datalinks.

“With our global satellite fleet, SES has been supporting the critical needs of GA-ASI and their government customers who have operated these aircraft for close to two decades,” said Nicole Robinson, Senior Vice President, Global Government at SES Networks. “We were proud to support this demonstration effort for the Hellenic Air Force as part of our long-standing relationship with General Atomics.”

03 Jan 20. CASC expands domestic UAV testing and production capabilities. The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) – the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development arm of defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) – has expanded its domestic production capabilities with a newly commissioned automated manufacturing facility in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, in eastern China.

The company said in a 30 December 2019 announcement that the new facility, located in the 565 km2 Taizhou Bay Circular Economy Industrial Agglomeration Zone, had been inaugurated on the same day. The event also marked the delivery of the first batch of Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs produced in Taizhou – specifically configured for airborne survey and geospatial mapping operations – to the Zhejiang Department of Natural Resources.

According to the company, the first CH-4 assembled under the Taizhou Rainbow UAV Base Project made its maiden flight on 23 October that year. The flight, which was conducted from an undisclosed airport in the city, lasted 48 minutes and covered a total distance of 95 km.

The company also stated that the successful test resulted in a November contract award from the National Geomatics Center of China’s (NGCC’s) for fixed-wing UAV-based surveying and mapping systems and also the “largest civil UAV order” in the country, although it did not disclose details on the scope and size of the contract. However, it is understood that the deal also includes maintenance and aftermarket support.

Jane’s understands from an industry source that the facility is the latest among several primary UAV production lines CAAA has set up across the country, and it will be capable of manufacturing the full range of the CH portfolio, which ranges from man-portable micro-UAVs to satcom-enabled, long-range MALE-class armed reconnaissance platforms. (Source: Jane’s)

02 Jan 20. Karayel UAV lost over Yemen. The Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah (the Houthis) claimed on 30 December that it shot down a Turkish-developed Karayel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over Al-Hudaydah province as part of an escalated air defence campaign.

The group’s website cited its military spokesman as saying the Karayel was operated by Saudi Arabia and was brought down with a surface-to-air missile (SAM) near the Red Sea port of Al-Salif.

It supported this claim with a video purportedly showing the SAM being launched during the night and armed men carrying the wreckage of an aircraft that matched a Karayel from the sea the following day. The air defence system used in the engagement was not shown.

The Karayel was developed by the Turkish company Vestel Defence Industry, which told Jane’s in 2016 that it was operating the type on behalf of the Turkish Land Forces. The company unveiled the Karayel-SU extended-wing variant that can be armed with Roketsan MAM-L and MAM-C guided bombs at the Dubai Air Show in November 2017.

The Karayel was not previously known to be in service with the Saudi military. The downed aircraft may have been operated on its behalf by Intra Defense Technologies, a Saudi company that advertises the Karayel as one of its products and offers “end-to-end” UAV surveillance and reconnaissance services for both military and civil customers. (Source: Jane’s)

02 Jan 20. Will Russia’s nuclear armed bombers in 2040 be drones? The first, and so far only, nuclear weapons used against people were carried by bombers and guided into position by human pilots. In the decades since, nuclear delivery systems expanded to include missiles as well as bombs. At the same time, the vehicles carrying such payloads expanded to include submarines and specially-designed trucks. But in all of these situations, the human at the launch control always remained a key part of design.

As Russian military planners look to the middle of this century, and a possible sixth-generation strategic bomber, could that mean putting a nuclear weapon in the control of a robot?

An announcement by Russian leaders was not so explicit. Speaking to a newspaper in December, Lt. Gen. Sergey Kobylash of the Russian Aerospace Forces stated that Russia would have a sixth generation strategic bomber by 2040, and that this strategic bomber would already be unmanned.

Russia’s main strategic bombers, the Tu-95 and its maritime counterpart the Tu-142, entered service in 1956, and are expected to serve until the 2040s. How Russia will adapt to the retirement of the main bomber leg of its nuclear triad is addressed in this announcement in two ways. There is the introduction of a new bomber timed to the full retirement of the venerable Tu-95s, the “already unmanned” bomber that Kobylash is alluding to.

In between now and that retirement is another Russian craft in the works, one that might portend the shape of bombers to come. Such an aircraft would fill the gap between the turboprop-powered Tu-95 and modest fleet of jet-powered Tu-160 bombers.

“Russia is actually working on the next-gen bomber — PAK-DA, which could be in service around 2027,” said Samuel Bendett, an adviser at the Center for Naval Analyses. “The real question is now whether PAK-DA will be in an unmanned configuration.”

When the United States announced plans for its latest bomber generation, it included the possibility of the B-21 bomber being “optionally manned,” a capability that would lend flexibility and possibly endurance to conventional bombing missions. (In 2014, an Air Force roundly rejected the notion of the B-21 carrying nuclear payloads without human crew on board.)

Whatever Russia’s ambitions are for uncrewed strategic bombers, it still has a lot of ground to make up first to have armed drones for more tactical missions.

“Russia is getting into [unmanned combat aerial vehicle] business – while it still does not have a strike drone in service, it recently tested Orion MALE UAV in Syria where it struck enemy positions,” said Bendett, who is also a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. “Those drones are expected to enter service as early as 2020. Until now, Russia demonstrated the capability to conduct strikes from small drones, like quadrocopters/multi-rotor models.”

The 2040 uncrewed strategic bomber is aspirational, a mark set against the horizon. It remains to be seen if it will be human eyes or robotic electro-optical sensors which ultimately see that future. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)

03 Jan 20. CES2020: Debut of First Football-size Transformable Drone. Robotic Research to unveil Pegasus Mini™, expanding new family of autonomous robots that operate both in the air and on the ground.

Robotic Research LLC, a leading provider of autonomy and robotic technologies to commercial and federal customers, will be debuting a new football-size transformable drone, the Pegasus Mini™, at CES 2020 in the company’s Booth #25664 in LVCC South Hall 2. The Mini is a smaller version of the original Pegasus™, introduced in August, which established a new category of transformable unmanned autonomous vehicles (hybrid unmanned aircraft system/unmanned ground vehicle) that both drive on land and fly. This patented combination of features provides a new range of capabilities to support commercial industry, first responders, law enforcement and military customers that previously had not been possible with autonomous drones or land vehicles.

“We are excited to be at CES to showcase Pegasus as a new line of transformable robots and debut the Pegasus Mini, which offers a super-compact yet powerful drone and land vehicle combination capable of bringing remote cameras and sensors into previously unreachable locations,” said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research. “This small but mighty system has immense versatility and reach like no other robotic vehicle, flying at very high speeds with a payload capacity that can carry important tools to reach critical locations in unpredictable environments. We look forward to leveraging these unique features of the Pegasus Mini to provide more flexible, easily deployable, autonomous systems for customers in both the commercial and federal markets.”

The Pegasus hybrid UAS/UGV configuration delivers advanced GPS-denied mapping with fully autonomous high-speed flying and driving capabilities. Pegasus Mini is designed to provide the extra reach that a UAV or UGV alone cannot provide. Uses include inspection, rescue, rapid response, and applications that strongly benefit organizations in oil and gas, public transportation, law enforcement, public safety, and more.

The features of the Pegasus Mini include:

  • Capability of autonomous operations in the air and on the ground.
  • Compact and similar in size to a football — approximately 16 inches by 8 inches.
  • Weight of 4.2 pounds.
  • Payload of up to 2 pounds.
  • Up to 30 minutes of operation in flight mode.
  • Up to two hours of operation in drive mode.

Learn more about Robotic Research by visiting https://www.roboticresearch.com/.

About Robotic Research

Robotic Research, LLC, is a leading provider of autonomy and robotic technology driving the transformation of commercial and government autonomous operations through innovative and intelligent systems. Whether providing autonomous vehicles to the military to keep the warfighter safe; delivering unmanned, transformable robots to extend the reach of Special Forces units; or making commercial transportation safer and more efficient, Robotic Research is leading this dynamic revolution in technology. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)

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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.

www.britbots.com/fund

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