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21 May 20. US Navy contributes Remora ROV to Canadian CH-148 recovery attempt. The US Navy (USN) is contributing a Remora 3 salvage remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to the Canadian Armed Force’s (CAF’s) recovery attempt of a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter crash that took place in the sea off Greece on 29 April.
The Phoenix International Remora 6000 is a 6,000 m-rated work-class vehicle developed for deep ocean salvage, search, and broadcast-quality optical documentation. There are two Remora ROVs: Remora 2 and Remora 3.
The US Navy is contributing a Remora 3 remotely operated vehicle in an attempt to recover a Canadian CH-148 that crashed in the sea near Greece on 29 April.
The Remora 3 is larger, heavier, and has more vehicle power than Remora 2. CAF spokesman Major Olivier Gallant said on 21 May that the USN is providing a Remora 3 for the recovery effort.
The Remora 3 will be used with a Flyaway deep-ocean salvage system to support the search and recovery operation. Integration of these two systems was expected to take place on 20 May.
The search site is in the Ionian Sea about 220 nm east of Sicily and roughly 3,000 m below sea level. The CAF said it had excellent positioning data on where the helicopter was potentially located. The underwater locator beacon, which enables it to zero in on the wreckage with a high degree of certainty, will also potentially assist with locating the aircraft or debris on the ocean floor, although the CAF said it would not know if the beacon was working until it arrived at the crash site. (Source: Jane’s)
20 May 20. US Navy MQ-4 Triton Flying Operational Missions from Guam. Almost three months after arriving in Guam, a pair of MQ-4C Triton autonomous, unmanned aircraft have integrated into fleet operations and training flights and stretched the Navy’s maritime domain awareness across the Indo-Pacific, according to the US Navy.
The Navy is counting on the Triton, which can operate at greater than 50,000-foot altitudes and at the 2,000-mile-plus range, to provide an unmanned platform for persistent, maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and work alongside its manned fleet of reconnaissance and surveillance patrol aircraft. The Tritons with Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 – the Navy’s first unmanned aircraft squadron – arrived in Guam in late January to support CTF-72, which oversees the patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance force in the U.S. 7th Fleet region.
“Bringing Triton forward creates a complex problem set for our adversaries,” Cmdr. Michael Minervini, VUP-19’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “Our ability to provide persistent ISR to fleet and combatant commanders is unmatched in naval aviation.”
Along with supporting current operations for several Indo-Pacific-based task forces, one Triton drone recently joined in a “close formation” taxiing along with more than a dozen manned aircraft prior to takeoff at Anderson Air Force Base, Commander Task Force 72 officials said.
The radar and sensors-packed Triton drones have been operating from Anderson AFB to provide, according to the Navy, an “early operational capability (EOC) to further develop the concept of operations and fleet learning associated with operating a high-altitude, long-endurance system in the maritime domain.” Tritons’ onboard sensors and radar can track ships at sea, match tracks with automated identification systems and relay that information to shore-side bases or nearby aircraft, for example.
While the Tritons fly from Guam, the “Big Red” squadron of 300 personnel isn’t based in Guam. A group of VUP-19 aircrew and maintainers are forward-deployed to Guam, but squadron officials and mission operators are based at VUP-19’s home at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., and a permanent detachment including maintenance personnel reside at NAS Point Mugu, Calif.
CTF-72 has been working with the squadron “to provide Indo-Pacific focused expertise to each crew prior to executing their missions,” the Navy said.
“It’s been a long road to get to 7th Fleet, but it’s an exciting time to show off what our sophisticated sensor suite can do,” Naval Aircrewman (Operator) 1st Class Ryan Gray, VUP-19’s operations lead petty officer, said in the CTF-72 story. “Our operators have been training rigorously to hone their expertise and they are the best at what they do. We are chomping at the bit to support the combatant commanders and maintain an overwatch posture to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
The Guam deployment, originally planned for late 2018, was delayed after a Triton crashed during operational testing in California in September 2018. The Navy received the first delivery of the MQ-4C in 2017.
The Triton can fly for more than 24-hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles, according to manufacturer North Grumman. The Navy’s program of record would field 68 aircraft. (Source: UAS VISION/USNI News)
20 May 20. More than one company could get cash to build the Air Force’s AI-equipped Skyborg drone. The U.S. Air Force has kicked off a competition for one of its most highly anticipated tech programs, a drone known as Skyborg that will use artificial intelligence to make decisions in battle.
The service released a solicitation May 15 for Skyborg prototypes, which will merge autonomous, low-cost aircraft with a suite of artificial intelligence capabilities.
The Air Force envisions Skyborg as a family of drones — each designed for a specific mission or set of missions — with modular hardware and software payloads and a common AI backbone, which will allow software to be rapidly updated across the fleet.
The Air Force intends to give multiple companies $400m to develop different versions of the Skyborg system, although it reserves the right to award just one or no contracts. Proposals are due June 15, with awards projected around July 8, according to the solicitation.
Once under contract, companies will “conduct research to develop, demonstrate, integrate and transition air vehicle, payload and autonomy technologies and systems that will provide affordable, revolutionary capabilities to the warfighter through the Skyborg program,” the Air Force said.
The service previously intended to use experimentation and prototyping to have Skyborg operational by 2023.
Skyborg will be what the service calls an attritable system, meaning that aircraft loss is expected and can be tolerated even though the system is not considered expendable and can be reused.
Aircraft should “generate massed combat power with minimal logistical footprints,” with cost per unit and the price of operating and maintaining the air vehicles a “small fraction” for that of the Air Force’s existing fighter inventory, according to the solicitation.
Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper has compared Skyborg to R2-D2, the Star Wars droid that feeds Luke Skywalker helpful information while piloting an X-Wing. Skyborg would build up efficacy on its own via artificial intelligence by working with manned pilots, who would issue commands to the drone and provide feedback on the data presented by it.
Last year, Roper told Defense News that the service was exploring the possibility of teaming Skyborg both with the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Boeing F-15EX aircraft. The ability to team manned fighter jets with smart, autonomous drones could “open up the door for an entirely different way to do aerial combat,” he said in May 2019.
“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” he said at the time. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned.”
Numerous aircraft companies are expected to bid on the Skyborg solicitation.
Kratos Defense and Security Solutions is already working with the Air Force on its XQ-58A Valkyrie drone, which logged its fourth successful flight test in January as part of the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology program.
Earlier this month, Boeing rolled out its own loyal wingman drone, the Airpower Teaming System. The Royal Australian Air Force has committed to buy three of those systems for experimentation under its Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.
General Atomics and Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works each plan to offer their own aircraft proposals, according to Air Force Magazine.
In fiscal 2021, the Air Force intends to spend $157.6m across its three “vanguard programs,” which includes the Skyborg effort. The service also included an additional $25m for Skyborg on its unfunded priorities list, which would allow it to begin integrating UAVs with artificial intelligence software. (Source: Defense News)
20 May 20. Taiwan upgrades Albatross tactical UAVs. Taiwan’s military announced on 17 May that the entire fleet of Albatross (Ruo Ying) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in service with the Republic of China Navy (RoCN) will be upgraded to improve the type’s mechanical reliability and operational safety.
The announcement follows at least eight recorded incidents during Albatross UAV operations between 2016 and mid-2019, including the complete loss of an air vehicle in the waters off the southeastern county of Taitung in January 2019.
An Albatross tactical UAV, seen here in its original army camouflage scheme, prior to the type’s transfer to naval service in September 2017.
The Albatross is an indigenous tactical-class UAV designed and manufactured by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), Taiwan’s principal defence science and technology agency. Development of the Albatross – originally known as the Chung Shyang II – was undertaken by the institute’s Aeronautical Systems Research Division (ASRD).
Janes earlier reported that 32 air vehicles had been acquired by the Republic of China Army’s (RoCA’s) in 2010, along with eight complete control suites, each comprising a command post, ground-control station (GCS), an external launch and recovery system, a remote video terminal, and ancillary systems.
The air vehicles were commissioned in September 2013 and operated by the Army Aviation and Special Forces Command as the service’s principal unmanned battlefield damage assessment (BDA), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as target acquisition and tracking platform. The type was also used by the RoCA as an airborne communications relay. (Source: Jane’s)
11 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. (Source: Jane’s)
12 May 20. UK government confirms funding for Drones Pathfinder Programme in 2020-21. The UK Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed that funding for the Drones Pathfinder Programme will be extended to cover the 2020-21 period. The programme follows a phased approach to achieving routine use of drones within the UK, identifying and overcoming the technical, operational, and commercial barriers for bringing new BVLOS services to the UK.
A new project announced on 12 May 2020 will allow the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to regularly and routinely use drones, to carry out its time critical, reactive search and rescue, and international counter pollution obligations. It aims to explore and develop the safe use of drones Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) through demonstration of drones such as the Hermes 900 in all classes of airspace.
The MCA will deliver this project by working in partnership with Elbit Systems UK, Inzpire and Aviation Systems Group (ASG) and through close co-operation with the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
Flight trials of the Hermes 900 are designed to demonstrate the safe use of drones in unsegregated airspace and will be conducted from West Wales Airport in late Summer 2020. The MCA Drone Demonstration and Development Pathfinder seeks to demonstrate the use of Hermes 900 and Skylark I-LEX drones in the agency’s life-saving work and will explore ways to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and safety of staff.
UK Transport Minister Rachael Maclean said: “Going beyond search and rescue, the project will also help teams to quickly spot and tackle pollution, protecting our valuable marine environment. This is an exciting project that is supported by our Drones Pathfinder Programme which we are pleased to be funding into 2020/21.”
The MCA is investing GBP1 million in the project and will combine its experience in managing aviation operations with its expertise in search and rescue and counter pollution to direct the project.
Elbit Systems UK is recognised for its technical and commercial innovation together with its collaborative behaviour with regulators and customers worldwide to achieve clearances for the use of unmanned aviation vehicles of varying size, weight and capability for search and rescue. Together with Inzpire and ASG, they have formed a team with the requisite skills, experience and personnel to achieve the MCA’s principal objective. MCA selected Elbit Systems to participate in demonstration flights in February 2020.
The Drones Pathfinder Programme is managed by the Connected Places Catapult in partnership with the Department of Transport (DfT) and supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the CAA.
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15 May 20. Bundeswehr Heron 1 to continue Mali operations. The Budget Committee of the German parliament on 13 May approved funding for the extension of the Heron 1 UAS deployment in Mali. Approximately €30m ($32.4m) has been allocated for the one-year extension, with another one-year extension available for 2021-2022. Funding also covers all procurement and development projects in connection with the Mali mission, in which Germany participates as a member of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Heron 1 is only operated by Bundeswehr personnel and provides additional ISR capabilities to UN forces stationed in Gao as part of MINUSMA. From 2023, it is expected that the Heron 1 will be replaced by Germany’s Heron TP UAS, if the UN continues to require its capabilities. Payload options for the Heron 1 include multi-sensor mission capability, ELM-2022 maritime patrol radar, SAR, IAI EO.TV/IR and laser, ESM and COMINT. It is powered by a 4-cylinder Rotax 914 100hp four-cycle engine. The Bundeswehr currently has eight Heron 1 units in its inventory, according to Shephard Defence Insight. (Source: Shephard)
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