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04 Mar 20. Northrop offers Triton drones to Australia, as US budget request pauses orders. Faced with a possible two-year production pause in the wake of the Trump administration’s fiscal 2021 budget request, Northrop Grumman is offering to accelerate MQ-4C Triton drone production for Australia at what it says is the lowest price it has ever offered for an unmanned platform.
Under the budget request, funding for U.S. Navy MQ-4C acquisition will be suspended until at least FY23, and aircraft that was to be built in low-rate initial production Lots 6 and 7 will now be deferred.
However, the proposal leaves the door open for Triton production to recommence in 2023 while securing funds to complete development of the IFC 4 variant of the drone. This latter model is required by the U.S. Navy to replace its aging fleet of Lockheed Martin-made EP-3E Aries II aircraft used for signals reconnaissance.
Speaking in Canberra on March 4, Northrop’s chief executive in Australia, Chris Deeble, said the company’s proposal is to move forward production of five aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force into the current, and funded, low-rate initial production 5 batch during the two years the U.S. Navy might not buy the aircraft.
“PB21 has created an incredible opportunity for Australia. We’ve been working with the U.S. Navy to provide an option to buy the rest of their aircraft as part of the LRIP 5 contract,” Deeble said. “That provides a significant unit-cost saving to Australia, so now’s the time to buy more than ever.”
Australia has a requirement for six Tritons, built to the IFC 4 standard, under Project Air 7000 Phase 1B. However, it currently has only one aircraft on order, which would be built as part of LRIP 5 and requires a more finalized contract by May 15 if the plan is to go ahead.
Deeble said Australia will need to make a decision on the additional five aircraft by the end of June.
Northrop Grumman’s proposal is to add the five Australian aircraft to the existing three aircraft in LRIP 5 (two U.S. Navy and one RAAF aircraft), bringing the total to eight.
Deeble said the offer preserves Australia’s planned funding profile for Triton acquisition and that the delivery schedule will remain the same. Should Australia finalize an agreement to meet its six-Triton requirement, it expects to receive them between 2023 and 2025, with declaration of final operational capability in the 2025-2026 time frame.
“The two key points are, this will probably the best price you will be able to achieve for the Triton capability, and we’re remaining within the [Australian] defense profile,” Deeble added. “We also look to provide Australian industry opportunities as a consequence. And committing to an additional five aircraft in LRIP 5 will provide about AU$56m [(U.S. $37m)] of opportunity in that regard.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
04 Mar 20. US Marine Corps seeking new medium, long-range tactical UAS platforms. The US Marine Corps is seeking industry proposals to develop new medium- and long-range unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, specifically designed to be fielded and deployed at the small unit level, according to technical specifications in the programme solicitation. Officials from the Navy and Marine Corps Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263), under the Program Executive Officer, Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation (PEO U/W) at Patuxent River, Maryland, issued a pair of requests for information (RFIs) on 27 February: one for a medium-range and medium-endurance (MR/ME) tactical UAS, and a long-range, long-endurance (LR/LE) version of the proposed platform. (Source: Jane’s)
04 Mar 20. UAVOS and KACST announce new Saker-1B MALE UAS. UAVOS has teamed up with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia to develop the Saker-1B MALE UAS.
The two companies had been working on a Flight Control System (FCS) which could be applied to a range of multi-mission, multi-domain UAV platforms.
This subsequently led to the developed of the Saker-1B, which has now completed over 500h of day and night testing.
The endurance of the Saker-1B is reported to be up to 19h and the platform is equipped with SATCOM data links for BVLOS operations. Saker-1B has a MTOW of 1,100kg, a maximum flight range of 2,600km and a maximum flight altitude of 16,400ft. (Source: Shephard)
03 Mar 20. UMS SKELDAR launches new V-150 VTOL platform as perfect partner for flagship SKELDAR V-200. UMS SKELDAR adds to rotary vehicle portfolio with new V-150 platform; demonstrates new capabilities and target sectors. Europe’s leading provider of Rotary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms, UMS SKELDAR, is launching its new enhanced V-150 Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) platform to support tactical operations including defence forces, surveillance, blue light forces and homeland security. This ITAR-free high-performance UAV is unique in its class and includes an ability to carry multiple payloads across two payload bays (up to 30 kg in the main bay and up to 12 kg in the nose). The new platform has a current endurance of up to 2.5 hours with a 12 kg payload, raising to 4 hours in the near future thanks to modifications already being worked on. It operates on a turbine engine propulsion system that uses heavy fuels, making it perfect for maritime missions. The V-150’s modular design enables a high degree of maintainability alongside a minimum turn-around time during operations, and it has a small logistical footprint ideal for storing in small hangars.
“The new V-150 is the perfect partner for our flagship SKELDAR V-200,” explains David Willems, VP Business Development and Strategy for the joint venture between Saab and UMS AERO GROUP, UMS SKELDAR. “With target sectors including defence forces, coastguards, border patrol agencies, blue light forces, fire departments and drug interdiction and trafficking agencies to name a few, the V-150 has been developed as an easy to use, simple to maintain, UAV that can assist organisations with a wide range of smaller critical activities that ordinarily would entail manned crews taking on at an increased cost.”
For maritime operations such as border patrol, sea surveillance, coastguard and naval operations, the SKELDAR V-150 can be equipped with a powerful Electro Optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor and a variety of small tactical synthetic aperture radars (SAR) for delivering real-time intelligence in all weather conditions, day and night. Strip map, spotlight and wide area operating modes enable operators to engage in high-level maritime surveillance and moving target detection. For land-based missions including search and rescue for blue light forces, firefighting missions, emergency response and drug interdiction trafficking, the V-150 can be installed with a combination of EO/IR and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) sensors to enable the provision of critical mission intelligence in the fields of emergency and security. The SIGINT payload locates targets and forwards their location into the integrated mission management system while the high-quality EO/IR systems provides the imagery. Additionally, the V-150 can be equipped with a range of wide area motion imagery sensors to provide a detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) picture of a large footprint in real-time supporting multiple agencies in their daily operations.
03 Mar 20. Bristow and Schiebel Perform UK’s First Unmanned SAR Trial. International aviation services provider Bristow is carrying out the UK’s first trial of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for lifesaving operations in maritime and land environments, in partnership with the Schiebel Group. Bristow is the provider of the HM Coastguard Search and Rescue Helicopter Service. Bristow is operating the Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 system from Caernarfon Airport in Wales, to fully evaluate its capabilities in a search and rescue role.
The trial is being led by Bristow and is complementary to the work being carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to develop the regulation under which UAVs can operate in a range of scenarios beyond visual line of sight – where the pilot cannot see the aircraft – and in un-segregated airspace, where other aircraft are operating.
Caernarfon offers a dynamic operational area, including mountainous and maritime environments, making it an ideal location to incorporate the unmanned aircraft technology into a complex airspace environment.
The CAMCOPTER S-100 is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) rotary UAV, which is used extensively around the world in land and maritime environments, by international agencies such as the European Maritime Safety Agency.
With the capability to travel 200 kilometres from its home base, the S-100 is flown by a pilot in a remote location using digital control and imaging technology to allow them to see through the eyes of its on-board cameras.
Alan Corbett, chief executive of Bristow Helicopters Ltd, said:
“This trial allows us to carry out demanding evaluation of the aircraft, the broader system capability and future suitability as an evolutionary step beyond the current helicopter-focused approach to search and rescue missions.
“Schiebel’s technology has already been operationally proven globally. Integrating unmanned aircraft with our current capability is the logical next stage in the development of search in support of rescue activities.
“Our teams have undertaken significant training and testing of these aircraft in less- active environments. The opportunity to evaluate the platform, safely integrating with different types of air traffic found at and around Caernarfon, while accessing mountain and maritime operating environments, allows us to prove their potential for operational, public service.”
Neil Hunter, business development director at Schiebel Group, said:
“The CAMCOPTER S-100 is a proven and reliable UAS for maritime and land-based operations. In total, we have collected more than 82,000 flight hours so far and we’re looking forward to demonstrating the full range of our capabilities to Bristow in the UK.”
Caernarfon Airport has facilitated access to airspace for the tests to be undertaken. Roy Steptoe, managing director at Caernarfon Airport said: “Without doubt unmanned aircraft are the way of the future. I am pleased to assist Bristow in these trials, which will allow them to look at the potential to integrate the technology safely into operations in and around a busy airport where private and commercial air traffic is present.” (Source: UAS VISION)
02 Mar 20. Northrop Grumman remains positive despite US Triton production halt. It was revealed late last week to a shocked defence community, however Northrop Grumman remains upbeat about Australia’s future Triton acquisition after revelations that the US government had ‘paused’ production of the MQ-4C Triton.
When announced in mid-2018 by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, the $1.4bn proposed acquisition of six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial systems was billed as a major coup in the nation’s pursuit of a fifth-generation, multi-domain defence capability.
Remotely flying out of RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, the Tritons are capable of monitoring 40,000 square kilometres a day and seamlessly flying a round trip for sustained surveillance and in support of allied freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea from the Northern Territory – increasing Australia’s interoperability with key allies, particularly the US.
The Triton is designed to operate in conjunction with Australia’s planned fleet of 12 manned P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft.
Turnbull described the delivery timeline as it stood in 2018: “The first of the Triton aircraft is expected to be introduced into service in mid-2023, with all six aircraft to be delivered and in operation by late 2025, based at RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia.”
Expanding on this, the 2016 Defence White Paper explained the importance of the Triton platform as it fits within the Australian Defence Force:
“To complement the surveillance capabilities of the [P-8A] Poseidon, the government will acquire seven high altitude MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft from the early 2020s … The Triton is an unarmed, long-range, remotely piloted aircraft that will operate in our maritime environment, providing a persistent maritime patrol capability and undertaking other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.”
Despite the recent announcement that Australia was to contract its second of six MQ-4C Triton with the US Department of Defence and prime contractor Northrop Grumman, revelations that the US government had ‘paused’ production of Australia’s platforms has been met with a range of responses.
Indeed, Marcus Hellyer, ASPI senior analyst for defence economics and capabilities, raised some concerns about Australia’s continued acquisition of the MQ-4C Triton, stating, “The pause is unfortunate for Australia for several reasons. Our first Triton should be delivered before the pause takes effect, but overall the goal of initial operational capability in 2023-24 and final operational capability by 2025 look like taking a two-year hit. That’s the best-case future.
“It could be worse. The US is much more willing to cancel programs than Australia is. And the wolves pick off the stragglers. Germany left the program earlier this year. The Triton has already suffered a 61 per cent increase in development cost and a 70 per cent increase in acquisition schedule, so with a two-year production pause on top of that plus the cost of restarting production, it’s looking more and more like an easy target for budget predators.”
Hellyer adds, “It could be worse again. There’s some talk of Australia jumping in and filling the production gap by acquiring its remaining aircraft earlier. But this ‘opportunity’ may be a trap. When the production pause occurs, the US Navy will have received 14 of the 65 originally planned aircraft … Even worse, the US Navy may well decide it’s not worth operating its rump fleet and cancel everything, leaving Australia in the impossible position of holding six or seven orphan aircraft and the entire future cost of supporting the capability after we’ve gone all in for $3-$4bn.
“The sunk cost fallacy suggests it could be better to cut our losses and get out now, even if we have spent hundreds of millions already.”
However, speaking to Defence Connect, Northrop Grumman Australia chief executive Chris Deeble remained optimistic about the future acquisition, stating:
“The United States’ President’s 2021 budget proposes to significantly increase funding for the multi-intelligence configuration of the MQ-4C Triton aircraft system, known as IFC-4. At Northrop Grumman we will work closely with our US Navy customer and our suppliers as this capability meets the critical needs of our warfighters and international partners.
“The budget also proposes pausing production of Triton in 2021 and 2022 while the development of IFC-4 is completed. The Triton industry team recognises that pausing production would have a negative impact on the timely delivery of this capability to the warfighter and we are committed to working with various stakeholders to sustain Triton production, and ensure our US and Australian customers receive this critical capability.”
Expanding on this, Deeble said that the production pause could present significant opportunities for the Australian Defence Force, stating, “The proposed production pause may represent an opportunity for the Australian government to bring the Triton capability forward, while ensuring affordability.
“Production slots opened up by the US Navy could potentially be filled by Australian aircraft. This would ensure earlier delivery of assets to Australia while protecting affordability for both Australia and the United States.”
It is expected that the Tritons will provide a quantum leap in the nation’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, while the facilities and crew required to operate, train and maintain will be part of the initial $1.4bn investment, which includes $364m on new facilities at RAAF Bases Edinburgh and Tindal (in NT).
Deeble added, “The Triton program is progressing well, with two aircraft now in Guam, representing the first operational deployment of Triton, allowing the system to provide vital maritime ISR capabilities in one of the world’s vital trade regions. These two aircraft are the first in what is planned to be a 68 aircraft fleet providing critical 24/7 maritime surveillance for the US Navy around the globe.
“Triton is able to maintain over-watch and relay near-real-time data to allow manned systems to act on relevant intelligence. No other system could replace the high-altitude long endurance capabilities provided of Triton. This system will vastly enhance Australia’s common operating picture and ability to protect its national interests across the maritime domain.” (Source: Defence Connect)
02 Mar 20. Zycraft introduces modified Dolphin USV. Singapore-based unmanned maritime systems developer Zycraft has produced a logistics-optimised variant of the Dolphin rescue unmanned surface vessel (USV), the company told Jane’s.
According to Zycraft president James Soon, the company has developed the BacPac sea transfer module to carry payloads of up to 10 kg between ships that are unable to manoeuvre alongside each other due to sea conditions or security concerns.
The baseline Dolphin rescue USV measures 1,150 mm long, 800 mm wide, and 250 mm tall, and has a displacement of 13 kg. It can operate for up to 30 minutes between charges and is powered by a pair of electric waterjets that propel it at speeds of up to 8 kt.
“The Dolphin is a product created by OceanAlpha in January 2019 for man overboard or distress person situations at sea,” said Soon, adding that the USV has been designed to be operated by one person – with minimal training – via a handheld controller.
The USV can be deployed off the stern or sides of a vessel and recovered using a grapnel hook or line lift, although it can also be extracted from the water by hand if conditions permit. A weight transfer device enables the sea vehicle to be lifted out of the water without excessive induced motion.
“It can be radio controlled to 500 m range and is usable under most sea conditions and has been proven in at least Sea State 3,” Soon added. “It can be dropped from a height of 20 m from the deck of a merchant ship or a bridge over a river.”
Soon highlighted that the BacPac module enhances the command radius of the Dolphin USV beyond 500 m by exploiting commercially available communication 4G or LTE networks, enabling the USV to be controlled from a shore-based control station. (Source: Jane’s)
02 Mar 20. GA-ASI Reveals MQ-25 Defender Armed Aerial Tanker. General Atomics has revealed what appears to be a previously unknown unmanned aircraft concept, called Defender, that is capable of air-to-air combat and mid-air refueling. The company says that its primary mission would be to protect “high-value airborne assets,” such as airborne early warning and control aircraft, standoff reconnaissance planes, and aerial refuelling tankers.
Concept art of the drone appeared online a day after news broke that the U.S. Air Force is seeking to abruptly halt purchases of MQ-9 Reapers, one of the firm’s flagship products, something we at The War Zone noted would very likely lead to the disclosure of new potential business opportunities.
“Capable of protecting the USAF’s high value airborne assets (HVAA) in a contested environment makes the Defender a critical piece of the Future Force,” is all the social media post says.
At least visually, the Defender appears to be derived from General Atomics’ submission for the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray tanker drone program, which lost out to Boeing’s design in 2018. The company did not build a flying prototype for its proposed design, but did do associated work on developing its powerplant and control systems. Some of that research and development was done using one of its existing stealthy Avenger/Predator C drones.
The Defender design in the artwork has a similar overall planform to the proposed Navy tanker design, but with the notable addition of an internal centerline weapons bay with large outward opening doors reminiscent of the ones of the Avenger/Predator-C. It also has a single pylon under each wing, a more streamlined forward-fuselage, and what appears to be an altered wing design with less camber than its carrier-based progenitor.
The concept art depicts one of the Defenders firing a compact missile, reminiscent of Lockheed Martin’s Cuda. That defense contracting giant first revealed Cuda in the early 2010s, but it since has all but disappeared from its marketing literature. It’s also carrying four AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) externally, two on each underwing pylon.
A Defender-like drone would likely be equipped with an AESA radar, radar homing and warning receiver/electronic support measures, missile and approach warning system, and an infrared search and track system (IRST). This would give the aircraft four layers of organic target and situational awareness gathering data—both of an active and passive nature—that could be used not just to engage potential threats, but to have a formation of support assets avoid them as needed.
The IRST would be essential as it is the best early warning tool for detecting stealthy aircraft and long-range missile launches. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, a Defender could also provide electronic warfare self-escort support for the aircraft under its protection. Their operator would also benefit from all the information being piped into the network from combat aircraft operating forward over the battlespace and other surveillance assets.
These same aircraft could also eventually be equipped with a laser system capable of shooting down incoming missiles and even working to deny enemy aircraft the ability to advance on these high-value assets. This concept is already in development, as are hard-kill systems that are capable of shooting down missiles with smaller missiles. This could actually be what we are seeing by the portrayal of the Cuda-like missile in General Atomics’ concept art.
By pushing sensors and weapons onto a combat drone airframe, it would mean that each tanker or other support plane wouldn’t need its own defensive suite, which would not be useful for nearly all missions outside of combat ones against a peer-state. In other words, those systems would be costly dead weight flown on those aircraft daily in peacetime and on operational missions that don’t venture near contested airspace. So, by fielding a Defender drone force to protect strategic aerial assets, the many aircraft that make up that large fleet of those assets would not have to all be equipped with these expensive subsystems, or some combination of them. These savings could help offset a portion of the costs of fielding a Defender fleet. (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive)
28 Feb 20. MARCUS project develops robust net capture technology. Sandia National Laboratories robotics experts are working on a way to intercept enemy unmanned aircraft systems midflight. They successfully tested their concept indoors with a swarm of four unmanned aircraft systems that flew in unison, each carrying one corner of a net. Acting as a team, they intercepted the flying target, trapped it in air like an insect caught in a web and safely lowered it to the ground.
This test was part of a two-year laboratory directed research and development project called Aerial Suppression of Airborne Platforms. That demonstration led to funding for three years of continued research and testing for the Mobile Adaptive/Reactive Counter Unmanned System, or MARCUS, project, which will address current and future national security threats posed by small unmanned aircraft systems.
“This is the future of security and incident response,” said Jon Salton, manager of the Sandia team working on MARCUS. “Think of this as drone-against-drone. What we need to accomplish is combining ground- and aerial-based capabilities to more robustly address the UAS threat into the future.”
The government and defense industry have been exploring ways to intercept enemy unmanned aircraft systems, with some organizations having success in deploying nets toward targets from single drones. Sandia’s research built upon swarm coordination and carrying nets as a team.
The swarm of counter unmanned aircraft systems in Sandia’s 2017 Aerial Suppression of Airborne Platforms demonstration was controlled by a ground-based computer system, said project lead David Novick.
“The computer system knows where each aircraft is at any given time and sends commands that space and move the system as a whole appropriately,” he said. This is what enables the aircraft to optimize its position for intercepting target aircraft systems.
MARCUS continues where previous research ended
Sandia developed algorithms for airborne mobile defense systems during the 2017 aerial suppression project because ground systems have limitations, Salton said. For example, ground-based radar has difficulty identifying low-altitude threatening vehicles through buildings and trees. Airborne systems with sensors, used in the MARCUS project, could dramatically enhance the ability to mitigate threats, even as the technology continues to evolve, he said. The idea of MARCUS is that the unmanned aircraft systems would have the ability to intercept small threats and keep them at a safe distance from protected facilities and people.
MARCUS project research encompasses three phases: identify, track and capture. Novick said in the identification phase, sensors on unmanned aircraft systems will combine with ground-based systems to scan the environment. Computer systems will use this information to detect unmanned aircraft systems that pose a threat.
Additional unmanned aircraft systems could be deployed to track and assess a threat vehicle, gather information and predict future movements, Novick said.
If the threatening unmanned aircraft systems were captured, it would be taken to a safe location, away from the public or response personnel.
Researchers face current national security challenges
Researchers face the challenge of developing a system that has never been created before, said Novick. If the project is successful, multiple agencies could benefit from the technology, including the military, the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement entities and event organizers.
The MARCUS project is led by Sandia in collaboration with Rafael Fierro, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of New Mexico. The project is funded by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, and incorporates advanced algorithms funded by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. The work is being performed in partnership with armasuisse Science and Technology of the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport.
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