Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
27 May 20. BAE Systems grows UUV capabilities. One year since its acquisition by BAE Systems FAST Labs, unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) specialist Riptide is expanding its portfolio, building UUVs that are larger, operate at greater depths, and increasingly autonomous, the company told Janes. Riptide is more commonly associated with smaller UUVs, notably a Micro system that has been acquired by the US Navy (USN) and several research organisations. This focus was dictated by the company’s funding levels when it operated independently, said Jeff Smith, who founded Riptide and is now BAE Systems’ director of UUV systems.
The aim with the Micro platform was to develop a UUV capability that could house a single payload, or possibly two depending on their size, Smith said. As the company sold these systems, customer feedback suggested a need for larger systems, he added, with Riptide now working on a one-man portable (1MP) UUV and a 2MP variant.
The Micro system has been upgraded in several ways since Riptide became part of BAE Systems, Smith said. It now has a new, quieter motor, as required by many naval operators.
“We realised that we needed to do a lot in terms of design evolution to move toward much quieter vehicles for certain military applications, particularly for submarine missions,” he said.
The 2MP platform design is also being improved with a prototype completed. This upgrade work focused on the platform and its payloads, notably an effort “to field a very capable mine countermeasures mission payload”, he explained. (Source: Jane’s)
27 May 20. ZALA Aero unveils VTOL-capable ZALA 421-16EV mini-UAV. Russian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer ZALA Aero has developed a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) variant of its ZALA 421-16E fixed-wing mini-UAV, the company announced on 21 May.
ZALA Aero has incorporated four electric motors – two on each wing – to provide a VTOL capability to the air vehicle. The new configuration has been designated the ZALA 421-16EV.
According to company specifications, the ZALA 421-16EV can stream HD video at 1,280 × 720 pixel quality for more than 2 hours within a range of 100 km.
The air vehicle can be fitted with a range of electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors including the in-house Z-16VHD20-IR-TEM video and thermal camera.
The company claims that the ZALA 421-16EV can navigate autonomously using its inertial navigation system (INS) and two independent radio rangefinders.
The VTOL variant is physically comparable to the baseline ZALA 421-16E with a 2.8 m wingspan and shares many of the same performance characteristics including a flight speed of 110 km/h, although it offers a reduced stated endurance of 2+ hours as opposed to 4+ hours. Optimal mission flight altitude has also decreased from 16,404 ft (5,000 m) to 6,561ft (2,000m).
Both models have a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 10.5 kg and a payload capacity of 1.5 kg. The type is claimed to be able to withstand wind speeds up to 10 m/s and operate in temperature ranges of –40°C to +50°C.
The company stated that the ZALA 421-16EV has completed factory testing and field demonstrations. (Source: Jane’s)
26 May 20. IAI lease-to-buy offers cheaper route to UAS use. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is supplying its drone systems under a lease-to-buy programme offering states with smaller defence and security budgets the ability to keep pace with countries that can afford to buy systems outright.
In May, IAI announced it would begin leasing one of its systems, the Heron unmanned aerial system (UAS), to Greece for border security purposes. The maritime configuration of the UAV is being leased to Greece over three years at the end of which the country can purchase the UAS.
Explaining the advantages of leasing UAVs, IAI Malat (UAS) head of marketing Dan Bichman told Air Force Technology: “IAI’s leasing system democratises UAS usage by allowing countries with smaller defence budgets to receive a top-level system for a fraction of the price. The programme allows countries to receive a service that’s usually quite expensive, levelling, to a certain extent, the playing field with countries who can buy their own systems.
“The programme also offers a low-risk investment for these countries because they’re able to customise the UAS to fit their needs and can buy the system when the leasing contract is completed with the confidence they’re buying a UAS that is perfectly fit for them.”
IAI said it has leasing agreements with Australia, Canada, Germany, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex, and Israel’s Ministry of Defense (IMOD), on top of the recently announced deal with Greece. However, the company said more parties that cannot be named at this time are interested in the programme.
Under the lease-to-buy scheme, all of IAI’s UAS systems are available. The terms of the lease itself are not also limited to just the system Bichman explained but also can include everything needed to operate the UAS including personnel.
Bichman said the offering includes: “All of IAI’s UAS that are for sale, from the smallest to the largest (the Heron TP). A lease can contain a wide range of services that meet the customer’s needs. It can be all-inclusive, with IAI providing the system, control station, operators, maintenance, and more, or it can be as scaled back as the customer desires, with the customer handling all of the operations.
“IAI can also provide drone operator training to the client. Data from the systems can be transmitted in real-time to any site in the world that the customer desires. The structure of the lease is completely flexible.”
Leasing is also a market IAI thinks will only get bigger in the near future, as countries’ gross domestic product (GDP) and in turn their defence spending are hit by the effects of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Leasing systems will allow countries with tighter budgets to access the same technologies as those with sovereign industries or deep enough pockets to purchase UAS outright.
Bichman explained: “With newly-tightened budgets due to the economic repercussions of Covid-19, countries and government bodies will increasingly look towards drone and system
leasing to save money while still investing in the latest technologies to keep their citizens safe.
IAI stressed that another aspect of the programme was the convenience and cost of leasing UAS.
Bichman said: “Through our drone leasing programme, our customers are leasing an end-to-end service, not just a system, from a company with decades of expertise, making it a great solution for a country whose budget may prohibit them from buying a multipurpose drone platform [that] can be adapted for different tasks relatively quickly, i.e. border defence, disaster relief, search and rescue, and others.
“The programme allows them to lease a service which includes the UAS, and can also include operations, maintenance, and other features from IAI depending on their needs.”
IAI’s Malat UAS division manufactures the Heron UAS which can operate across land, air and naval domains, alongside some other smaller systems. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
26 May 20. China’s AVIC expands AV500 VTOL UAV family with new high-altitude model. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has successfully test flown a new variant of its AV500 rotary wing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the company announced on 21 May.
AVIC’s China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) stated on the company’s official social media account that a prototype AR500C/AV500C – with serial number AV500C-PT01 clearly shown on its tail boom – completed a 20-minute maiden flight at AVIC’s dedicated UAV research and development (R&D) facility in Poyang county, northeastern Jiangxi Province. The prototype was seen equipped with a chin-mounted dummy electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret.
According to AVIC, the AR500C/AV500C is a further development of CHRDI’s AV500B VTOL UAV and has been specifically designed for high-altitude operations. While the company did not disclose detailed specifications of the new air vehicle, the baseline AV500 platform has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 500kg with an overall length of 7.2m – inclusive of a 5.7m-long fuselage and tail section – as well as a height and rotor diameter of 2.4m and 6.3 m, respectively.
The AR500C/AV500C offers a comparable MTOW with the other members of the AV500 VTOL UAV family – which includes the AV500B and the armed reconnaissance AV500W (the latter of which is also marketed internationally as the U8EW) – but is physically differentiated from the other variants with a composite airframe featuring an aerodynamically optimised fuselage shell and enclosed tail boom. Another key modification is a new three-bladed main rotor as opposed to the twin-rotor configuration adopted for the AV500B and AV500W. (Source: Jane’s)
26 May 20. AVIC’s AR500C VTOL UAV conducts maiden flight. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) announced on 21 May that it has conducted the first flight of its AR500C/AV500C vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype.
The company’s China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) said in a statement that the multirole platform, which is based on the AR500B/AV500B and was shown bearing the designation AV500C-PT01, took to the skies on 20 May for 20 minutes at a CHRDI facility in Poyang in China’s northeastern Jiangxi Province.
AVIC said that the rotorcraft, which is being developed for high-altitude operations – especially from plateaus – has a maximum take-off weight of 500 kg, and a service ceiling of 6,700m from a take-off altitude of 5,000m. It has an endurance of 5 hours, a cruising speed of 165 km/h, and can achieve a maximum level flight speed of 170 km/h.
The company said the new UAV variant is expected to be used mainly for reconnaissance (including electronic reconnaissance) and battlefield surveillance missions as well as for communications relay. Depending on the mission payload, other possible applications/roles include electronic warfare, indicating and striking targets, cargo delivery, maritime surveillance, detection of nuclear radiation and chemical contamination, search and rescue, and forest fire prevention.
Development of the AR500C variant, which features a revised external design, began in 2019, including the selection of the engine, modifications to the design of the rotor system, and aerodynamic changes for the composite structure. (Source: Jane’s)
26 May 20. Sonardyne tests navigation systems for autonomous surface vehicles for UK MoD. Marine robotics company, Sonardyne International Ltd. has demonstrated technologies that will aid autonomous vehicle operations in challenging environments under a project funded by the UK’s national Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).
Working with a 12 m-long SEA-KIT X class unmanned surface vehicle (USV), Sonardyne tested and validated sensors already used by unmanned underwater vehicles for use on USVs in support of missions in coastal waters
Specifically, Sonardyne’s market leading SPRINT-Nav hybrid inertial navigation instrument was integrated into a SEA-KIT X and tested against local real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS positioning, as part of the DASA programme to fast-track autonomous vehicle capability in challenging or harsh conditions.
Loss of satellite-based timing signals needed for navigation and positioning can occur in ports and harbours around tall structures or close to cliffs or inside fjords, where GPS or GNSS receivers may not have a clear line of sight with the sky. It can also happen through deliberate signal jamming or degrading of performance, known as spoofing.
Sonardyne’s SPRINT-Nav is already proven as a reliable navigation instrument for unmanned underwater vehicles, which operate in what is effectively a GPS or GNSS denied environment. Now it will also be used to provide a high integrity, continuously available navigation solution for a USV, like SEA-KIT X, operating in littoral zones in water depths up to 150m.
SEA-KIT is a 10,000 nautical mile-range vessel able to carry up to 2.5 tonnes of payload and deploy and recover autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). This capability, and flexibility, means it is well suited to support naval missions including intelligence gathering, hydrographic survey and as a communications gateway.
Ioseba Tena, Global Business Manager, Defence and Marine Robotics at Sonardyne, says, “Most USVs rely on uninterrupted GPS or GNSS signal updates to inform their situational awareness and plot a course safely. When there’s no signal, or what’s called spoofing or jamming, USVs must consider alternative navigation sensors and instruments or they need to be remotely piloted adding expense and risk to over-the-horizon operations.
“By integrating SPRINT-Nav onto a USV, such as SEA-KIT, we have shown we can overcome this challenge, providing a continuous and resilient navigation in denied environments capability that will be ideally suited to challenging operations such as mine-counter measures (MCM).”
In total, 21 contracts were awarded by DASA, on behalf of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), amounting to £2.1m in funding. The awards are part of the Autonomy in a Dynamic World competition, launched last year, which aims to address factors that affect the military effectiveness of current autonomous technologies.
DASA project manager Helen Mullender said: “The work being funded is to mature autonomous systems with the capability to operate on demand, under all conditions that may be encountered. Military operations are undertaken in all kinds of challenging environment. The inclusion of autonomous systems in these operations will demand their ability to operate effectively and efficiently regardless of the environment.”
The competition is funded through the MOD’s Chief Scientific Adviser’s Research Programme’s Autonomy Incubator project that aims to: Identify and develop underpinning research and technologies to support the development and fielding of unmanned systems across defence which may be matured through the DSTL Autonomy Programme and other Research and Development programmes.
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