Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
11 May 20. USAF Search for ‘Skyborg’ Drones Starting Soon. The Air Force will shortly launch its effort to buy Skyborg drone prototypes, according to the official running the unmanned wingman program.
The service will begin soliciting aircraft this month and plans to award contracts to the winning designs by the end of the summer, Advanced Aircraft Program Executive Officer Col. Dale White told Air Force Magazine. Chosen drones will then head into experiments to show off what they can do. White did not say how many airframes the service plans to buy.
Officials envision Skyborg as an unmanned aircraft that would take direction from fighter jets and its own artificial intelligence in combat. Skyborg could fly ahead for reconnaissance or carry out airstrikes without endangering the manned aircraft, and could ferry around a box that allows planes with different communications systems to talk to each other.
Skyborg should also be able to autonomously avoid other aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and hazardous weather, and take off and land on its own, the service said in March 2019.
The Air Force hopes Skyborg’s manned-unmanned teaming will give the service an edge over other advanced militaries, even if USAF misses its goal of growing to 386 squadrons. Presumptive next Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr. recently told senators the Valkyrie will offer pilots greater situational awareness and strike capability.
While the Air Force says it has not settled on a single aircraft that will become Skyborg, it often touts Kratos Defense’s XQ-58A Valkyrie as a top contender. Valkyrie is a joint venture between the Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos to develop comparatively cheaper drones that can assist more advanced aircraft and are easily replaceable if lost. The XQ-58A finished its fourth flight test in January, and is slated to fly in the Air Force’s next Advanced Battle Management System experiment later this year.
USAF may also look into designs like the “loyal wingman” combat drone Boeing created for the Royal Australian Air Force. A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine the company plans to submit a bid “leveraging the leading-edge approaches Skunk Works is known for.”
Skyborg is one of three AFRL “vanguard” initiatives that are trying to speed the time it takes to go from research to operational use. The Air Force is asking for $157.6m across its three vanguard programs in fiscal 2021, and seeks a $25m plus-up for Skyborg through the unfunded priorities list.
“This joint effort allows the Advanced Aircraft/AFRL Skyborg team to fulfill the spirit of the vanguard programs by replacing the traditional transition from … laboratory to acquisition program office,” White said.
The service has said it wants Skyborg ready for operations by the end of 2023. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Airforce Magazine)
07 May 20. Test flights of the T-HERON Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) have reached an advanced stage, according to an IAI official. The test flights are aimed at adjusting the new UAV to perform “complicated” missions carrying “multiple sensor” packages while the same official said the new version of the HERON is designed for high end tactical missions carried out by ground forces. The prototype is powered by a Rotax 912 ISC engine, but the official said the series production T-HERON may be powered by a different engine. The new version is designed to fly at altitudes of up to 24,000 feet, reach a speed of 120 knots while supporting four useful payloads concurrently with a total weight of up to 400 pounds. The T-HERON complies with global standards, including STANAG 4671 requirements, has a 1320 pounds Maximum Take-Off Weight and is equipped with a retractable nose landing gear, to allow any radar payload an unobstructed field of view. It also has a full automatic take-off and landing (ATOL) capability and may be fitted with an anti-icing system. (Source: ESD Spotlight)
11 May 20. BMT details autonomous pentamaran seaframe concept. BMT has disclosed details of a new maritime autonomous surface vehicle seaframe concept design based on a pentamaran hullform.
Developed as a private venture activity, the pentamaran is seen to have applications to unmanned surface vessels (USVs) in several autonomous defence roles, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), patrol, and hydrographic survey. BMT’s advocacy for the application of the pentamaran hullform stemmed from work that began several years ago to examine the optimum hullform for fast sea transportation. Having examined monohull, catamaran, and trimaran options, the company determined that the trimaran offered the least hydrodynamic resistance but tended to abruptly roll one side to the other in heavy seas. (Source: Jane’s)
10 May 20. Triton ‘invaluable’ to Indo-Pacific ops, says US Navy. The US Navy (USN) has described its recently deployed Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime System (BAMS) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as being “invaluable” to its Indo-Pacific operations.
The observation was made on 11 May, weeks after the naval variant-RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAVs arrived at Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) on the island of Guam for the type’s first operational deployment.
“Three months after [their] arrival [announced on 26 January], two Tritons are quickly becoming an invaluable asset across the Indo-Pacific region, integrating into a series of missions that showcase [their] increasing range and flight time,” the navy said.
Operated by Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP)-19 (the navy’s first unmanned patrol squadron), the Tritons on Guam are flying under the control of Commander, Task Force (CTF) 72. CFT 72 is the lead for patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance forces in the US Navy’s 7th Fleet.
As noted by the navy when the Tritons first deployed, coupling the capabilities of the unmanned MQ-4C with the manned Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft (MMA), the Lockheed P-3 Orion MMA and the Lockheed EP-3 special mission aircraft is enabling improved maritime domain awareness in support of regional and national security objectives.
Further to its operational support of CTF 72, VUP-19 is using its inaugural deployment to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain.
The inaugural deployment comes 18 months after the US Navy inducted the Triton into service in June 2018. The MQ-4C Triton has been developed from the Block 30 RQ-4N naval variant of the RQ-4 Global Hawk HALE UAV to provide the USN with a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability in support of a full range of military operations. (Source: Jane’s)
07 May 20. DSNA releases names of all eight companies selected in French U-Space Together UTM programme. French air navigation service provider DSNA announced the eight companies selected to provide Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) services for its nationwide U-Space Together pre-operational programme. DSNA has already selected 11 civil partners using digital solutions to support pre-operational services at 12 sites. The eight UTM companies are:
- Airbus, Clearance and X-One Technology
- Altitude Angel
- Sopra Steria-Clearance-ENAC
Each company has been designated a unique area of restricted airspace in which to deploy an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform, the success of which will be appraised by DSNA during the trial period. Trails will be carried out using Minimum Viable Product (MVP) solutions. U-space Together aims to deploy a fully operational U-space system in France by 2023.
(Image: Altitude Angel)
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11 May 20. UAV proponent urges SOCOM to consider unmanned aircraft for Armed Overwatch procurement. Key Points:
- An industry insider believes US Special Operations Command (SOCOM)should consider buying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to satisfy its requirement for new Armed Overwatch aircraft
- The command is only considering manned aircraft to provide backup firepower for operators in the field
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) should consider buying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) instead of only manned platforms for its highly anticipated Armed Overwatch procurement, according to an industry insider.
Armed Overwatch will provide special operations forces (SOF) with deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems fulfilling close air support (CAS), precision strike, and SOF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in austere and permissive environments. (Source: Jane’s)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.