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25 Jun 20. As part of the ongoing U.S. Air Force contract for MQ-9A Reaper modernization, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) demonstrated three expanded Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) enhancements that provide the MQ-9A with a dramatic increase in operational flexibility. One enhancement enables the MQ-9A to land at an alternate or “divert” airfield in which no Ground Control Station (GCS) is present, and under satellite communication (SATCOM) control. The second enhancement expands the cross-wind limits of the MQ-9A. The third increases the maximum landing weight for normal and emergency landings.
“This achievement will enable operational MQ-9A’s to land at alternate airfields, on their own, in case of inclement weather, changing mission requirements, or damaged runways,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “These upgrades will improve mission-effectiveness tremendously.”
With the “divert landing” enhancement, the remote pilot can enter the new landing area coordinates to automatically land at the selected location, or the pilot can overfly and self-survey the divert airfield’s runway using the MQ-9A’s multispectral Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) sensor to obtain coordinates for automatic landing. Once uploaded to the MQ-9A’s mission profile, the MQ-9A aircrew enables the ATLC system, which allows the aircraft to automatically maneuver itself into a landing pattern and make the automatic landing.
“All three enhancements provide MQ-9A aircrews with increased runway options, as well as expanded weather tolerances that greatly improve mission flexibility, operational availability and time on station. It will also lead to a substantial reduction in aircrew,” said Alexander.
24 Jun 20. NATO RQ-4D Phoenix Reaches New Milestone. The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF), with support from Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC), marked a significant milestone recently in the System Level Performance Verification with the completion of a nine-hour training and test flight conducted for the first time under control of NAGSF trained pilots.
“Northrop Grumman is proud to support NAGSF pilots training as they control flights with number one NATO RQ-4D Phoenix,” said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. “We remain committed in our relationship to NATO and the mission to protect and defend global security.”
The NATO AGS RQ-4D aircraft is based on the U.S. Air Force wide area surveillance Global Hawk. It has been uniquely adapted to NATO requirements and will provide NATO state-of-the-art intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. This includes protecting ground troops, civilian populations and international borders in peacetime, times of conflict and for humanitarian missions during natural disasters.
Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services. (Source: ASD Network)
24 Jun 20. Russia to Replace Helicopters in Arctic by Drones. Russian defense firm Rostec is partnering with Aeroxo, a small startup based in Moscow and Riga, to make tilt-rotor drones for dangerous Arctic operations.
“The Roselektronika holding (part of Rostec) will begin production of unmanned convertiplanes, which in the future will be able to operate in the Far North,” RIA News reported.
According to RIA News, Rostec and Aeroxo initially will build Aeroxo’s existing ERA-100, a four-engine tilt-rotor with a six-foot wingspan, a 5.5-pound lifting capacity and a range of around 75 miles at a top speed of 75 miles per hour.
In the future, the two companies will work on a much larger drone with a 175-pound payload, according to the RIA News report. The Aeroxo drones can carry a wide range of sensors including cameras and mapping-lasers.
“This is both a technical and a commercial decision by Rostec, one of Russia’s largest defense-industrial conglomerates,” said Samuel Bendett, an advisor at the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.
“Presently and for the near future, Russia will be investing in its Arctic infrastructure, both to tap the natural resources and to secure the Northern Route for the impending rise of sea-based traffic,” Bendett said. “A tiltrotor aircraft offers the advantages of both helicopter and aircraft in terms of lift capacity, in-flight stability and airspeed.”
Russian industry is working on several tilt-rotor drones. Russian Helicopters, the national rotorcraft-manufacturer, has displayed tilt-rotor drones at various military and defense expos, Bendett said. “Rostec is positioning itself in the rapidly maturing market for these kinds of products in order to retain a market share.”
The Arctic can be unforgiving for manned aircraft. Crews must “contend with mountain ranges, icing conditions, volatile sea states, unpredictable sea ice, extreme temperatures and large swings in seasonal daylight, all with a lack of support or communications infrastructure,” the California think-tank RAND explained.
Replacing manned vehicle with drones could save money and lives, Bendett said.
“The Russian Far North is a dangerous environment for many manned aircraft, and the Russian industry and military is turning to unmanned systems specifically developed for the Arctic weather conditions as a way to save money, expand capabilities and prevent potential human pilot losses.” (Source: UAS VISION/Forbes)
23 Jun 20. USMC brings RQ-21 Blackjack drones to Darwin. Officials from both countries have confirmed that the annual Marine Corps rotation will see RQ-21 Blackjack drones deployed in Australia for the first time. Though delayed by two months due to pandemic restrictions, some 1,200 Marines have departed for Darwin.
Rotational Force Commander Colonel David Banning confirmed in a telephone interview Thursday that RQ-21 Blackjack drones will soon arrive in Australia to support Marine Rotational Force.
He declined to reveal exactly how many Blackjacks will support the force until the aircraft arrive in Australia.
“It’s the first time for the rotational force to incorporate unmanned aircraft,” said Col Banning of the RQ-21s.
He did, however, confirm that the drones would be used to monitor remote battlespace, and that the troops will practice deploying the drones and using them to relay information back to unit command.
The rotation troops consist of US Marines from Twentynine Palms, California, Combat Logistics Battalion 5 from Camp Pendleton, California, and a command element from the III Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa.
While these RQ-21 Blackjack drones don’t belong to the Australian army, it is currently working on getting its hands on its own MQ-4C Triton drones and MQ-9 Reaper drones. Australia said in 2018 that it will be purchasing six MQ-4C Triton drones with three of those currently being in its hands.
The RQ-21A Blackjack is a small tactical unmanned aircraft system designed by Insitu, a Boeing company, to meet the requirements of the US Navy and the US Marine Corps.
The Blackjack can be deployed in persistent maritime and land-based tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, data collection, target acquisition and dissemination missions.
The twin-tailed successor to the previous ScanEagle iteration, the Blackjack’s roll-on, roll-off capability makes it particularly suited to ship-to-objective manoeuvres. (Source: Defence Connect)
22 Jun 20. NATO’s new surveillance drone begins test flights over the Mediterranean. The first of five new NATO surveillance drones began test flights over the Mediterranean Sea this month, nudging the alliance toward a new capability meant to relieve the demand for U.S. equipment.
The flights took off from Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, where the Northrop Grumman-made Global Hawks of the Alliance Ground Surveillance program, will be based. The planes are owned by a collective of 15 NATO members.
The alliance’s supreme allied commander for Europe, a job currently filled by US Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, has tasking authority over the new capability. The North Atlantic Council also gets a say in cases of missions outside of NATO territory.
The first two drones arrived late last year. Officials expect the rest of the fleet to make the trip from the manufacturer’s facilities in Palmdale, California, throughout the the summer.
Earlier this spring, travel restrictions spurred by the spread of the novel coronavirus had raised the possibility of a delay in getting the initial plane approved for its flight schedule. But the Italian government allowed a team of Northrop specialists into Italy in late May for acceptance testing, a key step in obtaining an airworthiness certificate for the drone.
“Covid-related delays ended up only being a few weeks, but nothing that significant,” Camille Grand, NATO’s assistant secretary-general for defense investment, told Defense News in an interview, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “We are now moving to a pattern of regular flight to enable the force to use the drone.”
Officials have been tight-lipped about exactly where they intend to use the aircraft once they are fully operational.
“You can imagine missions of looking into the situation on NATO’s borders,” Grand said. “Both in the south, in the Middle East or the east. The drones enable you to collect intelligence beyond your airspace.”
While the initial aircraft has already completed at least one nine-hour flight over the Mediterranean Sea, it remains to be seen if the the aircraft can get clearance from Italian regulators to fly over land, where air traffic is more crowded and a mishap could be catastrophic.
The general idea is to use the Italian airworthiness approval to fly anywhere. “The beauty of the European airspace is that once your are certified in Italy, you can fly across the European airspace,” said Grand.
He noted that the certification currently in effect is provisional, and that the scope of the process is “likely to expand over time.”
For now, high-flying military surveillance drones traversing the continent must obtain permission from national airspace authorities for a restricted flight corridor to protect nearby civilian traffic. Such is the case, for example, when US unmanned aircraft fly reconnaissance missions close the Baltics.
The AGS program’s ambition is to “lift any limitations,” Grand said. “It is a very interesting and fascinating challenge, because it is the first time ever that we are incorporating those Global Hawks in what is usually a crowded airspace on a permanent basis.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
22 Jun 20. US Army Drones Could Change Shape Mid-Flight. Soon, the U.S. Army will be able to deploy autonomous air vehicles that can change shape during flight, according to new research presented at the AIAA Aviation Forum and Exposition’s virtual event June 16.
Researchers with the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory and Texas A&M University published findings of a two-year study in fluid-structure interaction. Their research led to a tool, which will be able to rapidly optimize the structural configuration for Future Vertical Lift vehicles while properly accounting for the interaction between air and the structure.
Within the next year, this tool will be used to develop and rapidly optimize Future Vertical Lift vehicles capable of changing shape during flight, thereby optimizing performance of the vehicle through different phases of flight.
“Consider an [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] mission where the vehicle needs to get quickly to station, or dash, and then attempt to stay on station for as long as possible, or loiter,” said Dr. Francis Phillips, an aerospace engineer at the laboratory. “During dash segments, short wings are desirable in order to go fast and be more maneuverable, but for loiter segments, long wings are desirable in order to enable low power, high endurance flight.”
This tool will enable the structural optimization of a vehicle capable of such morphing while accounting for the deformation of the wings due to the fluid-structure interaction, he said.
One concern with morphing vehicles is striking a balance between sufficient bending stiffness and softness to enable to morphing,” Phillips said. “If the wing bends too much, then the theoretical benefits of the morphing could be negated and also could lead to control issues and instabilities.”
Fluid-structure interaction analyses typically require coupling between a fluid and a structural solver.
This, in turn, means that the computational cost for these analyses can be very high – in the range of about 10,000s core hours – for a single fluid and structural configuration.
To overcome these challenges, researchers developed a process that decouples the fluid and structural solvers, which can reduce the computational cost for a single run by as much as 80 percent, Phillips said.
The analysis of additional structural configurations can also be performed without re-analyzing the fluid due to this decoupled approach, which in turn generates additional computational cost savings, leading to multiple orders of magnitude reductions in computational cost when considering this method within an optimization framework.
Ultimately, this means the Army could design multi-functional Future Vertical Lift vehicles much more quickly than through the use of current techniques, he said.
For the past 20 years, there have been advances in research in morphing aerial vehicles but what makes the Army’s studies different is its look at the fluid-structure interaction during vehicle design and structural optimization instead of designing a vehicle first and then seeing what the fluid-structure interaction behavior will be.
“This research will have a direct impact on the ability to generate vehicles for the future warfighter,” Phillips said. “By reducing the computational cost for fluid-structure interaction analysis, structural optimization of future vertical lift vehicles can be accomplished in a much shorter time-frame.”
According to Phillips, when implemented within an optimization framework and coupled with additive manufacturing, the future warfighter will be able to use this tool to manufacture optimized custom air vehicles for mission specific uses.
Phillips presented this work in a paper, Uncoupled Method for Massively Parallelizable 3-D Fluid-Structure Interaction Analysis and Design, co-authored by the laboratory’s Drs. Todd Henry and John Hrynuk, as well as Texas A&M University’s Trent White, William Scholten and Dr. Darren Hartl. (Source: UAS VISION/US Army)
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