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12 Mar 20. USMC Change MUX Ship-Based Drone Project. The US Marines have ditched their plan to field a very large drone on amphibious ships, instead breaking the four-year-old MUX program into a family of systems that will include a very large land-based unmanned aerial vehicle and a medium-sized one for shipboard operations.
Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder told USNI News today after a hearing that it became clear as the service moved forward with the program that it couldn’t get the endurance it needed for high-end missions like airborne early warning and communications relay with the kind of air vehicle design that would be able to launch vertically off a ship’s helicopter deck.
“I think what we discovered with the MUX program is that it’s going to require a family of systems. The initial requirement had a long list of very critical requirements, but when we did the analysis and tried to fit it inside one air vehicle,” they realized they had competing needs, Rudder said.
“With a family of systems approach, my sense is we’re going to have an air vehicle that can do some of the requirements, some of the higher-end requirements, potentially from a land-based high-endurance vehicle, but we’re still going to maintain a shipboard capability, it just may not be as big as we originally configured.”
The MUX program – formally the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary – was meant to be a Group 5 UAS, the largest of the categories with highest altitude and greatest endurance. It would cover seven missions: command, control and communication; early warning; persistent fires; escort; electronic warfare; reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition (RISTA); and tactical distribution.
The MUX program was intended to help the Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) team operate more like a carrier strike group. With the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter coming online at that time, the major gap between a carrier air wing’s capabilities and what the Marines could bring to the fight was an airborne early warning capability the Navy has in its E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. MUX would fill that role, the Marine Corps envisioned.
Program officials realized they had a huge task ahead of them with so many separate missions, though, and early industry talks showed it may become cost-prohibitive. The seven missions were later sorted into two tiers of priority.
Still, as Rudder said, it became clear that those higher priority missions were incompatible with shipboard launch and recovery.
“Power output and weight capacity, obviously you get more weight and power output with a ground-based system with a longer runway, expeditionary runway, than you can coming vertically off the back of a ship. Shipboard compatibility continues to be a challenge for all our air vehicles,” Rudder said.
He made clear the Marines weren’t ruling out the idea of doing a Group 5 UAS on an amphibious ship in the future – but he said Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger wants to see UAVs on ships soon.
“In the next 10 years, the quickest way – the commandant wants to go quick on this – this quickest way will be some sort of land-based high-endurance that can be based and still be able to provide the surface force, the amphibious force the capabilities that we would call ‘quarterback,’ or some sort of node that can provide 24 hours on station time, it will have all the networking and early warning and electronic warfare capabilities that they require for that type of thing,” Rudder said.
Rudder noted the Navy and Marine Corps operate the small fixed-wing RQ-21 Blackjack UAV from ships using a pressurized air catapult and a “Skyhook” recovery system, and they also operate the MQ-8 Fire Scout rotary-wing UAV. RQ-21 is a Group 2 UAS, and MQ-8 is a Group 4.
As for the shipboard variant of the Marines’ upcoming program, “it’s probably RQ-21-plus or some sort of Group 3, Group 4 capability, but not a larger (Group 5) air vehicle that does everything,” Rudder said.
Berger himself alluded to upcoming changes in the MUX program in January. He said in response to an audience question during a talk that the many missions MUX was expected to carry out left the program “wrapped around the axle.”
“MUX is a great example of how to pile on 15 requirements and just burden yourself in them. Because everybody has one more thing – I’d just like it to do that, can you write that in? – and then what was this becomes unmanageable and you become buried in your own requirements,” he said while speaking at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference.
“Now we’re going the other way. … What do we need it to do?”
Even as he criticized the MUX program for getting out of control compared to its original purpose, he also said the Marine Corps hadn’t thought innovatively enough about how to use UAVs in general.
“In the future, we have to get to a point where an aerial vehicle can take off of this ship, any ship, go do its mission, land on that ship over there. Change payloads, launch, do another mission, land on a third ship. We’re nowhere near that right now. We’ve got to get there,” he said.
Hinting at what might replace MUX, he said, “MUX to me is a capability. It’s a truck, a platform, with a payload or multiple payloads.” A future large UAV could be built on a faster timeline with the “truck” approach, and new payloads developed and fielded as needed.
He also said he wanted to spin off the Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based tanker into a family of systems that included a UAV that could operate from an amphibious assault ship that hosts the F-35Bs.
“I think things like the unmanned aerial refuelling – brilliant. We need to move fast on that. If we can launch it from an aircraft carrier or potentially in the future some other kind of variant of it off a big-deck, and it’s unmanned and it can refuel our [tactical aircraft] in flight, why would we not do that? All of us who think above the tactical level, some of your limiting factors fighting at the operation level: tankers. Mobility. So if you can have a group, a family of unmanned tankers, why wouldn’t you think of that?”
Overall, Berger said, “we have to discipline ourselves in terms of requirements; we have to open the aperture in terms of how to employ a capability.”
That Berger’s Marine Corps would cancel its first major foray into unmanned systems is certainly not an indication of his support for unmanned – in fact, since Berger took command in July, the Marine Corps has proposed developing a Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel (LR-USV) to support the Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concept, has discussed unmanned vehicles in all domains to support moving logistics to small units in support of EABO, and is even funding development of a remotely operated truck based on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle that could launch anti-ship missiles from the ground in support of sea control for the Navy/Marine Corps team. (Source: UAS VISION/USNI News)
12 Mar 20. Could a commercial drone replace the MQ-9 Reaper? The Air Force is considering it. The USAF is looking for a replacement to the stalwart MQ-9 Reaper and intends to explore options ranging from commercial drones built by emerging tech firms to high-end unmanned aircraft, the service’s top acquisition official said Tuesday.
Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the service is working on a study that will inform the fiscal 2022 budget and lay out a path for replacing the MQ-9 Reaper made by General Atomics.
“The Reaper has been a great platform for us. Four million flight hours, just undeniable overmatch in a low-end uncontested fight, and it is certainly saving lives,” Roper told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. “But as we look to the high end fight, we just can’t take them into the battlefield. They are easily shot down.”
The MQ-9 Reaper and its precursor, the MQ-1 Predator, have been the Air Force’s workhorse drones in the Middle East over the past two decades, providing both real-time video surveillance and the ability to strike targets. But looking forward, the Reaper is ill-suited to a war with Russia and China while at the same time seen by the Air Force as requiring too much money and manpower to sustain for continued operations in low-threat environments.
There likely won’t be a single, one-size fits all solution for replacing the MQ-9, Roper said. The Air Force may need drones that “are more high-end, military-unique” systems, and “they’ll likely be expensive,” he acknowledged. There may also be room for unmanned attritable aircraft, which are reusable but are cheap enough that they can be shot down in battle without incurring massive financial losses.
For lower-end missions, the Air Force sees promise in the emerging unmanned systems market, where new entrants have begun creating long-loiter drones for applications in agriculture, communications and the oil and gas sector.
“A lot of companies are targeting that market, not thinking about defense because we’ve been buying Reapers forever,” Roper said, who added that by buying from promising commercial drone makers, Air Force may be able to influence those companies to keep their supply chains out of China and to incorporate military-specific features — potentially even weapons.
“I think if we do the program right on the commercial side, we might be able to bring a new entrant into defense without making them a defense prime,” he said, adding that funding from the Air Force could help a commercial company move from making prototypes to building up a stable production line that could further be grown to manufacture drones on a more massive scale.
“Working with the Defense Department, you don’t need the kind of production capacity that the globe does. So, we’re a pretty good first stop,” he said.
However, the Air Force may face an uphill battle in getting Congress to support a plan to replace the Reaper. The service in its FY21 budget request has asked for 24 more MQ-9s before ending the programs of record — a move that would curtail the program from 363 to 337 Reapers.
The early shutdown of the line would have major financial implications for General Atomics, said Chris Pehrson, the company’s vice president of strategic development, in a February interview with Air Force Magazine.
“We’re actually going out about 22 months ahead of delivery and procuring the long-lead item parts, … whether it’s [satellite communication] equipment or engines … to negotiate the best prices and get the best deals for the government,” Pehrson said. “Having the rug pulled out from under your feet at the last minute kind of disrupts all your supply chain investments that you’re making.”
Top generals in the Middle East and Africa have also raised concerns about the demands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and privately helped stave off retirements of the MQ-9 by the Air Force in FY21. In its unfunded wish list, U.S. Central Command included additional contractor-flown MQ-9 hours as its number one priority, at a cost of $238m. (Source: Defense News)
12 Mar 20. Orbital UAV Appointed Primary Engine Supplier to Insitu. Orbital Corporation Ltd has announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Insitu Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company, designating Orbital UAV as the primary supplier of two Insitu designed engines.
Primary supplier status
The two engine models form part of Orbital UAV’s current Long Term Agreement (“LTA”) with Insitu and were previously part of a multi-source award (see ASX announcement 15 October 2018).
Orbital UAV’s designation as primary supplier pursuant to the MoU means that the Company will be:
- the sole source supplier for the Insitu designed engine currently in production (see ASX announcement 15 January 2020);
- the sole source supplier for the second Insitu designed engine which is currently in development; and
- as primary supplier, Insitu will approach Orbital UAV for the purposes of fulfilling all demand requirements. Where both parties agree that Insitu’s demand requirements cannot be totally fulfilled by Orbital UAV, Insitu may approach another party to assist meeting total demand.
Primary supplier status will increase Orbital UAV’s share of Insitu designed engine orders and provides the Company with opportunities to increase production volumes under the LTA. The award supports the Company’s decision to locate Orbital UAV’s new production facility in Hood River, Oregon and provides incentive for further investment in production capacity.
“Over the past two years, we have continued our accretive growth strategy within the UAV industry and our LTA with Insitu represents a key aspect of that growth. We are delighted to now be awarded primary supplier status in the delivery of these two Insitu designed engines. This opportunity is a result of the progress we have already made and a demonstration of Orbital UAV’s ability to deliver superior quality in our field,” said Todd Alder, CEO and Managing Director of Orbital UAV.
“Since signing the expanded LTA 17 months ago, we have worked side by side with Insitu, demonstrating our industry leading quality and expertise. The MoU represents further confidence in our capability as both a leading manufacturer and designer of the world’s best propulsion solutions for tactical UAVs,” said Mr Alder.(Source: UAS VISION)
10 Mar 20. FVL: Attack Of The Drones. Before manned aircraft enter hostile airspace, three different types of drones – long-range, tactical, and miniaturized – will rip open the seams in the enemy’s defenses.
As Russian and Chinese-made anti-aircraft weapons become ever more lethal, human pilots are, quite literally, the last thing the Army wants to send into harm’s way. Before the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft makes its first probe into enemy airspace, and long before the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft carries troops deep into hostile territory, a whole array of unmanned aircraft will scout out the enemy defenses, deceive their radars, and strike vital points.
In fact, much of this drone technology should be available years before the manned FARA and FLRAA aircraft enter production, which means it can help the Army’s existing helicopters survive an increasingly dangerous world.
“What we have to do is improve our stand-off and our survivability with the introduction of some technology that will be available prior to the actual FVL [Future Vertical Lift] platform,” said Maj. Gen. David Francis, the commander of the Army’s Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala. That includes a new Long-Range Precision Munition – the Army’s buying the Israeli Spike missile as an interim solution, but that may not be the permanent one – and a whole family of mini-drones known as Air-Launched Effects (ALE), because they can be launched from the missile racks on both future and existing helicopters.
“Those combined, we think, will keep us very, very competitive in that [air defense] environment until we get the increased speed and survivability of our Future Vertical Lift platforms,” Francis told me during an interview.
Replacing Shadow & Predator
Air-Launched Effects aren’t the only drones the Army’s Future Vertical Lift task force is developing. The most immediate effort is a competition to replace the aging RQ-7 Shadow, which requires a runway, with a new Future Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (FTUAS), which will take off and land vertically like a helicopter, from wherever soldiers need it. FTUAS also needs to be quieter, so the enemy can’t hear it coming as easily, and to require less support equipment, so the Army can more easily deploy it to a war zone more and keep it working in harsh conditions.
The service originally selected two companies to provide demonstration aircraft, then decided to double the number to four. This year, samples of all four types are going to operational Army combat brigades, which will try out the different designs and provide feedback that helps the service shapes its final, formal requirement.
Three of the contenders – Arcturus UAV’s Jump 20, L3 Harris Technologies’ FVR-90, and Textron’s Aerosonde HQ – share a similar configuration, something we’ve never seen on a full-size manned aircraft. Each of them has wings and a pusher propeller in back for forward flight, but also quadcopter-style mini-rotors for vertical takeoff and landing. The fourth, equally unconventional design is Martin UAV’s V-Bat, a “tail-sitter” that has a single large fan for both vertical and forward flight, changing from one mode to the other by simply turning 90 degrees.
Just as FTUAS will replace the Shadow, the Army also wants to replace its long-range Grey Eagle – a variant of the iconic but venerable Predator – with a new Advanced Unmanned Aerial System. The service has revealed very little about what it’s looking for in the Advanced UAS, however.
Air-Launched Effects & Missiles
The most innovative of the Army’s future drones, however, is definitely the Air-Launched Effects family, because ALE doesn’t replace any existing unmanned aircraft. It’s altogether new. As computers simultaneously shrink and grow more powerful, it becomes possible to build drones small enough for a person or another aircraft to carry – and to make them smart enough that they can operate largely autonomously, without a human being to provide constant direction by remote control.
Those advances make possible a radically new kind of operation — a single manned mothership launching a flock of mini-drones to scout ahead and provide a host of what the military blandly calls “effects,” from decoying the enemy with fake transmissions to jamming their radars to blowing them up. That combination of new technology and new tactics, in turn, could dramatically improve the chances of Army aviators to survive and prevail in future wars.
“When we look at ALE and Long-Range Precision Munition,” said Brig. Gen. Walter Rugen, the Army’s FVL director, “what we’re finding, in our modeling and our experimentation at Yuma last year, is you really generate that stand-off and overmatch against threats….We can stay outside their weapon engagement zone, and put effects on them.”
In the time-honored military framework where you “find, fix, and finish” an enemy, Rugen told me in an interview alongside Gen. Francis, “Air-Launched Effects are what is going to find and fix these threats, and then what the long-range precision munition is going to do is finish that threat.”
The Army’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 includes $152m to field Israeli armsmaker Rafael’s Spike NLOS (Non-Line Of Sight) missile to three Combat Aviation Brigades. “We’re currently projecting that it would be an FY’22 initial [operational capability,” Rugen told me. “But that’s just our initial increment of the Long-Range Precision Munition. We will follow that on with more detailed requirements to fix some of the challenges that we see already with Spike [and] improve upon that capability.”
To make all this work, however, the Army needs more than new missiles and mini-drones. It also needs a digital communications system that can rapidly pass data between manned and unmanned aircraft, not through slow and error-prone humans, but near-instantly from machine to machine. The electronic architecture to make that possible is the subject of the next story in this series. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
11 Mar 20. New Tethered UAS from Spain. Spain’s Sistemas de Control Remoto SL (SCR) has revealed its new ASTER-T tethered vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft system (VTOL UAS).
The ASTER-T system was developed using internal research and development funding and has already been exported to a launch customer in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region to meet a surveillance requirement.
The tethered UAS features a carbon-fibre airframe and is aimed at the civil and military markets. It is described by the company as a “tri-propeller UAS” with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of up to 14 kg, including a 4 kg payload.
The sensor package is located underneath the fuselage and comprises a stabilised infrared (IR) camera with a ×2 to ×20 zoom capability and a daylight camera.
The IR camera can detect a human-sized object at a range of 940 m, while recognising at up to 240 m and identifying at 120 m. The daylight camera can perform these tasks at ranges of 5 km, 3 km, and 1.5 km, respectively.
In contrast, larger objects such as vehicles can be detected by the IR camera up to 2.5 km away, be recognised at 600 m, and identified at 300 m, with the daylight camera performing the same tasks at 20 km, 5 km, and 3 km, respectively.
Secure communications, jam-resistant flight control and video data is sent through the tether cable, which supports a maximum altitude of up to 328 ft (100 m), although SCR quotes a typical operating altitude between 230 and 328 ft.
The ground-based power box weighs 23 kg and incorporates a variable torque self-winder to prevent entanglements. The ASTER-T is provided with an onboard battery to ensure a safe recovery in the advent of power loss. (Source: UAS VISION/Jane’s)
10 Mar 20. Drones that work in the cold are so hot right now. An explosive ordnance disposal team with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistic Group, utilize a water charge placed by a small unmanned ground vehicle to neutralize a civilian drone in Fort Greely, Alaska, Feb. 25, 2020, as a part of U.S. Northern Command exercise Arctic Edge 2020. Marines participating in the training will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain readiness in arctic regions including Alaska, the most strategic place in the world. (Christopher England/Marine Corps)
The only forgiving part of warfare in the Arctic is how mercifully few wars have actually been fought there. However, given both the persistence of climate change and the durability of tensions regarding access to the Arctic, the military is training for the possibility of an end to that cold peace. And part of that training means making sure bomb squad robots can still disable explosive threats at freezing temperatures.
As part of the Arctic Edge 20 exercise in Alaska, joint forces from across the Department of Defense and Canada gathered to tackle the challenges of adapting military equipment designed for hot, dry environments to one that is both cold and wet. This included, more notably, figuring out what it would take to make the Light Weight Purification System work in below-freezing temperatures.
But the work of explosive ordnance detonation in the frozen north is worth a closer consideration.
This minor learning experience, a component of a much larger exercise, featured a remote-control robot delivering a water charge to a suspicious target. Water charges blast a suspected improvised explosive device with water, hoping to soak the electronics and render the weapon nonfunctional. Delivering the water charge by robot is a way to make sure that, should the charge fail, the loss is measured in dollars of robot and not human life.
The target in question was a civilian drone model. It was, by all appearances, a DJI-style quadcopter, the kind specifically banned from military use unless it is used as a target or for counter-drone training exercises.
The hobbyist quadcopter’s inclusion in the exercise suggests that quadcopter-borne IEDs are a low-cost enough threat that the impact from them can be felt anywhere. That the main method for disabling any explosives carried by such a drone involves eminently freezable water is all the more reason to test it outside a combat situation. That the default-white of the plastic frame on the drone’s body blends into the landscape effortlessly, as though it were naturally camouflaged, is just further reason to train against it. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
10 Mar 20. Royal Navy tests unmanned equipment in operational setting. The British Royal Navy has tested a set of unmanned equipment in an operational environment for the first time in Norway. The four-day Exercise Autonomous Advance Force saw the equipment undergo trials in harsh arctic conditions.
Vehicles tested include unmanned boat Mast 13, heavy-lift drone from Malloy, remotely-piloted air system Puma and the Remus unmanned sub-surface drone.
The four-day exercise was conducted with support from Royal Marines small boat specialists 47 Commando, HMS Albion, the Royal Navy’s autonomous accelerator NavyX, and the office for the Chief Technology Officer.
Plymouth-based 47 Commando commanding officer colonel Chris Haw said: “We wanted to operationalise the technology, both in an operational environment and as part of a Nato deployment.
“This exercise also enabled us to also integrate technology as far as possible into a Royal Navy warship.
“Integration of autonomy equipment is a key strand in the development of Future Commando Force and the Littoral Strike concept. The future vision is of this type of system being used to control multiple assets in different domains. (Source: naval-technology.com)
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 1,150mm long, 800mm wide, and 250 mm tall, and has a displacement of 13kg. 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 8kt.
“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)
09 Mar 20. Schiebel’s new S2 engine for Camcopter S-100 UAV completes acceptance tests for RAN. Austrian company Schiebel announced on 9 March that its newly designed S2 heavy fuel engine for the Camcopter S-100 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had successfully completed acceptance tests for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
“A comprehensive series of test flight activities demonstrated both the endurance, and maximum take-off weight [MTOW] – with multiple payloads – providing the evidence and assurance that the Camcopter S-100 fulfils the requirements of the RAN,” said the company in a statement.
Schiebel said the new S2 engine, which has been developed as a next-generation replacement for the current propulsion unit, increases the overall capability of the Camcopter S-100 system. The new lightweight heavy fuel engine is initially cleared for JP-5 (F-44) and Jet-A1 fuels with other fuel types set to be approved in future, it added.
The enhancements offered by the S2 engine, said Schiebel, will “enable the RAN to continue to expand their test and evaluation programme, examining advanced vertical takeoff and landing UAS capabilities” ahead of the Australian Department of Defence’s Sea 129 Phase 5 programme, which seeks to equip the RAN’s future Arafura and Hunter warship classes with embarked UAS capabilities.
The latest announcement comes almost a year after Schiebel confirmed that it was developing the S2 engine for its Camcopter S-100 after its initial choice of heavy fuel engine had failed to meet the endurance requirements set by the RAN.
Andrew Watson, general manager at Schiebel Pacific, had told Jane’s in April 2019 that two JP-5-powered S-100 Camcopter UAVs contracted by the RAN as lead customer in December 2016 had been replaced by two aviation gasoline (avgas)-powered S-100s after the former failed to meet the RAN’s endurance requirement of six hours with a 20 kg payload. (Source: Jane’s)
06 Mar 20. Evolution of UAVs Employed by Houthi Forces in Yemen. In July 2019, Houthi forces unveiled a collection of UAVs, which they claimed to have manufactured domestically. Eight types of Houthi-manufactured UAV have been identified in media reporting: Hudhed-1, Raqib, Rased and Sammad-1 (Reconnaissance UAVs – although the Sammad-1 can be weaponised), and Qasef-1, Qasef-2K, Sammad-2 and Sammad-3 (Combat UAVs).
Between October 2016 and September 2017, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) documented nine UAVs and one UAV engine, which United Arab Emirates (UAE) Presidential Guard forces had seized in Yemen.
CAR is an independent investigative organisation that tracks the sources of weapons, ammunition, and other military materiel that have been diverted into the hands of non-state armed actors. CAR’s field-investigation teams co-locate with national governments and local security forces on the ground to document illicit weapons that have been captured, surrendered, lost or left behind during fighting. CAR’s EU-funded iTrace project is the world’s most powerful public access weapon-tracking database.
This is an abridged version of an article which is republished with permission from Conflict Armament Research, and comes from CAR’s February 2020 dispatch, ‘Evolution of UAVs employed by Houthi forces in Yemen’.
The Qasef-1 is a first-generation, rudimentary UAV in service with Houthi forces in Yemen. It is virtually identical in design, dimensions, and capability to the Iranian-manufactured Ababil-T UAV.
The Qasef-1 has an estimated maximum range of 200 km; when operated from the western part of the country (where the Houthis hold control) its targets are therefore restricted to those that are on Yemeni territory. Recently, Houthi forces have fitted the Qasef-1 with improvised fragmentation charges (including nuts and bolts), which are initiated in flight and directed at soft targets, including exposed personnel below.
The most notable use of these charges took place on 10 January 2019. A Qasef-1 UAV (or Qasef-2K, which looks almost identical; it is impossible to identify which of the two models was used in the attack) detonated in the sky above a Yemeni government base during a military parade. Six people were reportedly killed.
Between October 2016 and July 2018, CAR documented eight Qasef-1 UAVs, as well as one engine recovered from a Qasef-1. The UAE Presidential Guard forces seized these items in Yemen. Seven of the Qasef-1s, which CAR documented in 2016–17, were manufactured on a production line, were identical in construction, and had matching internal components. In contrast, the eighth Qasef-1, which CAR documented in July 2018, had a frame and attachments whose construction was relatively rudimentary.
The fuselage and wings of the Qasef-1 UAVs bear printed and written serial numbers, which correspond to handwritten serial numbers applied to various internal components. The serial numbers, some of which are consecutive, indicate that the UAVs were manufactured on the same production line and that an external source supplied them to Houthi forces for further assembly. The components display a relatively high degree of precision in their fabrication; they are well assembled and markings on the electronic components point to industrial production and quality control processes. Some internal components match those found in Iranian-made UAVs.
In July 2018, a CAR field investigation team documented a Qasef-1 UAV that UAE forces reportedly captured in an unidentified location on the western coast of Yemen on 18 April 2018. While the UAV’s engine and internal components are mostly identical to those of the industrially manufactured Qasef-1s, the frame is poorly constructed and comprises both industrially produced parts and crudely moulded fibreglass parts. CAR suspects that Houthi forces may have produced this hybrid frame domestically.
While many of the commercially produced internal components are small and easy to smuggle, the UAV frame is much larger and would be more difficult to transport discretely. As CAR reported in 2018, Houthi forces have the ability to manufacture IEDs on a semi-industrial scale, which suggests that they may also possess the tools and expertise to produce parts for UAVs.
In an effort to expand the reach and impact of their UAV capabilities, Houthi forces began deploying a new, more advanced UAV—the Sammad—in mid-2018. According to various media releases, the UAV comes in three variants. In addition to its distinct design, the Sammad features a larger warhead than the Qasef-1, and it has a more powerful engine, which provides it with a longer effective range.
The Sammad has an estimated maximum range of 1,500 km, which supports claims by Houthi forces that they maintain the capability to strike targets outside of Yemen. The Sammad has the same exterior cast and paint colour as the imported Qasef-1.
In September 2018, CAR documented a Sammad-pattern UAV, which UAE forces reportedly had captured on Yemen’s west coast on 21 June 2018. Several of the components resemble those of the Qasef-1, but with a few notable differences.
Since March 2015, when the current conflict in Yemen began, Houthi forces have demonstrated an increasing ability to inflict damage through the use of UAVs. They deploy a variety of reconnaissance and combat UAVs, which they have assembled using imported parts, or a combination of imported and domestically manufactured components. Their use of UAVs has evolved thanks to growing domestic capabilities, and to their acquisition of more sophisticated materiel from external sources.
Having previously relied on un-weaponised UAVs to destroy Saudi-led Arab Coalition weapon guidance systems—by crashing them into sensitive electronics, such as radar units—Houthi forces now employ longer-range UAVs, which are designed to deliver an explosive payload. These forces appear to have started producing a hybrid UAV, parts of which are manufactured domestically, rather than utilising only externally sourced industrial models. Since airframes are the largest component of a UAV, they are presumably more difficult to smuggle into the country.
Houthi forces continue to rely on smuggling smaller components, whose design and construction are increasingly sophisticated, rendering the UAVs capable of delivering increasingly lethal payloads.
The components and parts found in Houthi UAVs are in many cases identical to those used in the construction of IEDs by non-state forces in Yemen and Bahrain. Some components are also identical to those contained in Iranian UAVs and among components seized from the Jihan 1 merchant vessel, which Yemeni forces interdicted while the ship was ferrying weapons from Iran to Yemen. (Source: UAS VISION)
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.