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03 Jun 20. US Air Force begins search to replace General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper in 2030. The US Air Force has formally launched its search for an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to replace the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper beginning in 2030.
The service is conducting market research to find its next medium-altitude UAV for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as air-to-ground strike, missions, Air Force Materiel Command says, in a request for information (RFI) posted online 3 June.
The MQ-9 was given initial operating capability in 2007 and has been used extensively against insurgents and terrorists in the Middle East. Its flight endurance of 27h allows the UAV to loiter above battlefields for long durations. That’s made it a favoured air-to-ground strike aircraft against combatants who often blend into the surrounding populace and must be picked off at fleeting moments, so as to avoid hurting or killing nearby civilians.
However, the UAV is vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles. As the USA pivots towards Great Power rivalries against China and Russia – countries with sophisticated and long reaching anti-aircraft missile batteries – the MQ-9’s potential is limited, according to the USAF.
The USAF wants a UAV that embodies what it gets from the MQ-9, but with capabilities to operate in a new era of more advanced threats.
“The hunter-killer mission set provides a unique capability of combined ISR and strike attributes in a single platform fulfilling the highest demand of all Air Force assets through vast capacity,” says the notice. “With the MQ-9 platform planning for end of service life, a need to identify a solution that continues to provide for this demand is imperative. The purpose of this RFI is to research potential solutions for the Next Generation UAS ISR/Strike platform, the Next Generation Medium Altitude UAS and potential follow-on program to the MQ-9 weapon system.”
It is not clear if those different aircraft types listed means the USAF is looking to replace the MQ-9 with three separate vehicles. The air force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The service also wants ideas for “alternative ways to support future lower-end, lower-cost ISR missions which may include initiatives to modernize, augment, and/or replace existing systems,” it says.
The USAF plans for the UAV to have an initial operational capability by the third quarter of fiscal year 2031. To make that goal, initial deliveries are planned to start fourth quarter FY2030.
The next-generation UAV is expected to integrate certain advanced technologies including autonomy, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital engineering, open mission systems architecture and attritable technology, the USAF says.
The service says it has not yet decided on the structure of the upcoming acquisition competition. However, it wants to have multiple competitions around “the air vehicle, automated ISR sensors and data exploitation, and ground control stations, systems, suites all adhering to open architecture principles with an emphasis on welcoming innovative solutions form small businesses.”
The potential programme would have three focus areas: future medium altitude UAV ISR and strike solutions, innovative development business practices, and digital engineering initiatives.
The USAF wants to know about aircraft currently being developed or already developed that can adopt its advanced technology priorities. “Solutions from the commercial marketplace that are scalable to a military platform are highly encourage,” it says. “Due to the current fiscal constraint environment, interested parties are highly encouraged to propose solutions of reduced life-cycle cost.”
The service also wants information about opinions on “best approach to integrate advanced technologies into a single platform through the implementation of modular open systems architecture principles.”
And, it appears the USAF’s next-generation ISR and strike UAV could leverage the Air Force Research Laboratory’s forthcoming Skyborg effort. That is a separate development competition which launched in May 2020 to create an artificially intelligent software for aircraft flight and mission control.
“Interested parties are encouraged to consider and assume the Air Force Research Laboratory Skyborg programme as the primary [UAV] autonomous baseline solution,” says the USAF’s notice.
The service did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the role of the Skyborg artificially intelligent software in its next-generation ISR and strike UAV.
In relation to the digital engineering initiatives focus area, the service wants to know how digital engineering could reduce early development risks. “Testing and experimentation of virtual prototypes in a multi-physics digital ecosystem are of primary interest,” it says. (Source: News Now/Flight Global)
01 June 20. USAF Global Hawk begins Japan deployment. The US Air Force (USAF) has deployed a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk to Japan for what has become a regular seasonal rotation for the high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
An RQ-4 Global Hawk, assigned to the 319th Operations Group, Detachment 1, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, lands at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on 30 May. The rotational deployment maintains operations for Global Hawks during months of inclement weather endured on Guam, as typhoons and other scenarios have the potential to hinder readiness.
The deployment saw a Global Hawk from the 319th Operations Group, Detachment 1, stationed at Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) on Guam arrive at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Japan, on 30 May.
“The movement maintains operations for Global Hawks during months of inclement weather endured at Andersen AFB, as typhoons and other scenarios have the potential to hinder readiness,” the USAF said. The annual rotation was agreed between the governments of the United States and Japan in 2013.
The USAF has 31 Block 20, 30, and 40 Global Hawk UAVs in its inventory. As noted by Janes World Air Forces, the platform’s integrated sensor suite is designed to provide all‐weather, night or day intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in near real time. The most recent Block 40 variant carries the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program package that features an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar providing moving target indication information and synthetic aperture radar imagery. (Source: Jane’s)
02 Jun 20. Securing Our Skies Against Chinese Technology Act. If a proposed U.S. Senate bill passes, public safety agencies wouldn’t be able to use federal dollars to purchase drones made in China.
The bill, titled “Securing Our Skies Against Chinese Technology Act of 2020,” would also prohibit state and local public safety organizations from receiving future funding unless they certify that they’re not using a “drone manufactured in the People’s Republic of China or by an entity owned or controlled by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.”
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced the legislation last week. In a statement, McSally said the law is a “commonsense step” that would protect the country from malevolent intelligence gathering.
“At a time when federal agencies are banning or grounding Chinese drones base[d] on cybersecurity concerns, China is now donating them to state and local law enforcement across the United States,” McSally said. “This is just another part of China’s ongoing effort to exploit the global pandemic and it is unacceptable. We should not risk giving China the chance to spy on Americans amid our efforts to combat the coronavirus.”
McSally’s statement made reference to Chinese company DJI, which has donated dozens of drones to U.S. public safety agencies as part of its Disaster Relief Program. This program has helped support the rise of drone usage by local police departments in response to COVID-19.
In an email to Government Technology, Mark Aitken, director of U.S. legislative affairs for DJI, dismissed the bill as another version of the American Security Drone Act of 2019.
“Senator McSally’s copycat bill tries to put a new face on the old and discredited idea of taking lifesaving technology away from America’s first responders, including firefighters and law enforcement officers across Arizona,” he said in the email. “The government experts who actually use drones agree that banning or restricting drone technology based on where it is made is fear-driven policy that would make America less safe, and that the U.S. businesses and government agencies that use DJI drones can secure and protect the data they collect.”
Segments of the federal government have been skeptical of drones made in China for years. In 2017, an investigative unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded with “high confidence” that DJI markets drones to U.S. organizations to “expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.” During the same year, the U.S. Army stopped using DJI products.
Not all government research, however, has led to negative findings in regard to using DJI drones. For example, a 2019 DHS report suggested that “two models of DJI drones were safe for federal use when equipped with a suite of cybersecurity upgrades called Government Edition,” as written in Politico. The report still urged caution, implying that data theft could occur “with the right conditions and circumstances.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of the Interior officially grounded hundreds of DJI drones, though it didn’t specifically mention concerns about China spying. The order followed a more informal “pause” of the technology in late 2019. DJI provided a reaction to The Verge about this pause.
“We are aware the Department of Interior has decided to ground its entire drone program and are disappointed to learn of this development,” a DJI spokesperson told The Verge. “As the leader in commercial drone technology, we have worked with the Department of Interior to create a safe and secure drone solution that meets their rigorous requirements, which was developed over the course of 15 months with DOI officials, independent cybersecurity professionals, and experts at NASA. We will continue to support the Department of Interior and provide assistance as it reviews its drone fleet so the agency can quickly resume the use of drones to help federal workers conduct vital operations.”
Earlier this month, 14 GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency requesting an investigation of DJI drone use among law enforcement agencies in the nation, according to The Federalist.
The letter requested, among other items, a list of all such agencies that have used federal funds to buy or utilize DJI drones.
Source: (Source: UAS VISION/government technology)
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