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UNMANNED SYSTEMS UPDATE

Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund

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02 Jul 20. Elbit Systems Hermes 900 StarLiner. Elbit Systems has built the Hermes 900 StarLiner—a UAV that is fully compliant with NATO’s Standardization Agreement known as STANAG 4671. It can be integrated into NATO members airspace and certified for civilian airspace. The StarLiner was announced in 2018 and, like most complex hi-tech large drones, it must go through rigorous paces to meet the needs of militaries. It has conducted Civil Aviation Authority certified flights over Masada, the historic Jewish desert fortress that dates from the Roman era which overlooks the Dead Sea. It is supposed to be delivered to Switzerland and other customers in the future. StarLiner and the concept behind it are part of the challenges that drone manufacturers face. Israel is a historic pioneer in drones, once dominating the global market. However, new competition from China and other countries presents a challenge. One issue is that large medium-altitude long-endurance drones, known by the acronym MALE, face questions as to how they can be used both abroad to monitor terror groups, but also at home. With the need to integrate drones for more missions that might take place in civilian airspace, Elbit built the StarLiner, based on the success of the Hermes 900. The Hermes 900 is a large drone with a weight of 1,180 kg that can fly up to thirty-six hours up to 30,000 feet with a payload of 350kg.

This format of the Hermes is comparable in function and appearance to the Predator or Reaper. It also came with experience, rolled out when Elbit’s smaller Hermes 450 had some 170,000 flight hours in 2009 and would reach 300,000 several years later. The Israeli Air force said the Hermes 900 was operational during its 2014 conflict with Hamas. Hermes 900s have been sold all over the world, especially in Latin America, and it has been used by the UN and EU. Israel’s Globes media reported in 2017 that the unit cost was several million dollars, but customers who buy UAVs don’t buy just one airplane, they buy the container to operate it, communications and also several platforms so that they can be flying them at all times, even if one needs to be on the ground for maintenance or changes in payloads.

A multi-mission capable large UAV that can fly in non-segregated civilian airspace in places like Europe is a necessity today. Starliner has a diesel engine and has been improved to fly in bad weather conditions. It is to be fitted with radar cooperative and non-cooperative Detect and Avoid (DAA) features for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). The idea is that the Starliner will have triple redundancy in its ability to avoid collisions. This is the future Israelis think of in terms of new drone technology. Western countries will be buying more UAVs, and the market for these kinds of medium-altitude long-endurance models is already some $2.5 billion globally. But it’s a competitive market. However, on the civilian or homeland security use of these larger UAVs, no one so far is buying Turkish, Chinese, or Russian drones to do border security in Europe. Israel would like to play a greater role in these areas, especially at a time when the United States is reluctant to export its Predators and Reapers, and as the Eurodrone concept unveiled in 2018 has gotten off to a slow start. There are others out there with similar ideas, such as Leonardo’s Falco Xplorer, which since 2019 is targeting the civilian non-segregated airspace.  (Source: UAS VISION/The National Interest)

02 Jul 20. BAE and Royal Navy Provide 1st Look at Autonomous Sea Boats of the Future. During Armed Forces Week, BAE Systems and the Royal Navy announce a £3.2m autonomous boat contract that will increase Navy’s capabilities while protecting sailor’s lives.

The autonomous capabilities of BAE Systems’ Pacific 24 (P24) Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), a staple in the Royal Navy surface fleet, could significantly enhance the Royal Navy’s ability to protect its sailors at reach, as the upgraded sea boat is able to execute its own missions without crew and be run from a warship.

Such missions could include anti-piracy operations, border control, persistent intelligence gathering, maritime security and force protection, all while keeping a sailor safe from harm.

The autonomous P24 has been procured under the Royal Navy’s autonomy and lethality accelerator programme, Navy X, which aims to deliver new technology into the hands of sailors and marines at pace.

Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said: “Commencing the trials of the crewless Pacific 24 boat is an important stepping stone in the Royal Navy’s development of its autonomous capability to ensure our fleet remains at the forefront of military innovation and technology, ready to meet the evolving threats of modern warfare.”

A key step in supporting Navy X

Brooke Hoskins, Products & Training Services Director at BAE Systems, said: “It’s fantastic to see the Royal Navy’s first autonomous Pacific 24 enter the water during this challenging time. This milestone has been a goal since we demonstrated the autonomous capabilities of this sea boat last year.

“It is a key step in supporting Navy X, turning what was originally an innovative research and development experiment into a fielded capability for the Royal Navy.

“This contract is one of the first autonomous boat contracts for Navy X. We are proud to support the Royal Navy’s autonomous requirements, which includes increasing its operational effectiveness while reducing the burden on, or threat to, its sailors.”

A step-change for the Royal Navy in unmanned operations

Lt Cdr Rob Manson, Navy X Requirements Manager, said: “The autonomous P24 is not just a step-change for the Royal Navy in unmanned operations, it also ensures we remain at the forefront of technological improvement and innovation.

“While initial tasks are likely to be familiar to our Royal Navy crews who already operate manned P24 RIBs, the autonomous nature of this craft adds huge capability and flexibility.

“Additionally, this capability can be constantly improved, allowing continuous updates and capability upgrades, resulting in regular additions to the toolbox of our sailors and ships.”

The successful launch of the sea boat took place at Trafalgar Wharf, Portsmouth, earlier this month, in spite of the challenges posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

BAE Systems and Navy X will continue to collaborate on the development of its first autonomous P24 which is carrying out a series of acceptance trials throughout 2020.

The success of these trials could determine whether the Royal Navy decides to upgrade or procure an entire fleet of such craft. This could include their adoption on future classes of warships, such as the Type 26 or Type 31 frigate. (Source: ASD Network)

01 Jul 20. Taiwan quietly testing possible shipborne UAV. Taiwan’s Formosa TV News Network has captured video imagery of an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being tested by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST).

In a news segment aired on 21 June, Formosa TV said the new UAV – which has a distinctively different physical profile from the Republic of China Navy’s (RoCN’s) in-service Albatross tactical UAVs – was seen flying over Hengchun Township in Taiwan’s southernmost Pingtung County.

RQ-21 lookalike

The unknown air vehicle is visibly similar in terms of airframe design and size with the US-made Boeing-Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack, featuring a main fuselage pod that supports an under nose electro-optical payload, shoulder-mounted wings located mid-fuselage, and a rear-mounted engine that drives a two-bladed pusher propeller.

Booms attached to the underside of each wing support the air vehicle’s tail assembly. The Taiwanese UAV is however, clearly differentiated here from its US counterpart with an inverted V-tail assembly as opposed to the latter’s vertical tails with a high-mounted tailplane.

Launch and recovery methods appear to be comparable, with the Taiwanese UAV clearly not equipped with a conventional undercarriage that would enable it to take-off and land on a runway.

The air vehicle was instead seen with a pneumatic catapult launcher and what appears to be a stowable skyhook-type recovery system. Taken together, these features indicate that the air vehicle is likely being developed for the RoCN’s current and future surface combatants.

Current UAV

The RoCN presently operates the Albatross tactical UAV, which is also developed by and manufactured by NCSIST. Around 32 Albatross UAVs were originally operated by the RoC Army (RoCA)’s Aviation and Special Forces Command from 2010, although several had been lost during operations over the years. The surviving air vehicles were subsequently transferred to the Naval Fleet Command in September 2017.

Unlike the unknown UAV which is clearly designed to be deployed from naval vessels, the larger Albatross platform – which has a take-off weight of 450 kg and has a wingspan of 8.7 m – has a conventional undercarriage and requires a runway for take-off and landing, with its operational radius over water impacted by the location of available runways. (Source: AMR)

01 Jul 20. Parrot unveils Anafi USA quadrotor UAV. Paris-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developer Parrot has launched the new Anafi USA quadrotor UAV aimed at military, homeland security, and civil defence applications, the company announced via a teleconference on 30 June.

The Anafi USA draws on the company’s experience in developing the Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) UAV for the US Army and brings several improvements over its original Anafi design including a new camera payload, enterprise-class data security, and IP53 environmental resistance.

Parrot’s new Anafi USA quadrotor UAV incorporates the experience gained from participating in the US Army’s SRR UAV programme. (Parrot)

“[The Anafi USA] is not just a clone of the [original model] – it’s a relation of it but there’s a huge difference between the two with its larger size, camera payload, and ruggedisation,” Chris Roberts, vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, briefed Janes on 26 June. “It’s the next generation.”

According to company specifications, the Anafi USA has a weight of 500g and measures 252×104×82 mm when folded, expanding to 282×373×84 mm in use.

The air vehicle can travel at a stated maximum horizontal and vertical speed of 52.9km/h and 21.6km/h, respectively, and attain a service ceiling of 6,000m above mean sea level (MSL). A 3400 mAh lithium polymer (LiPo) battery pack provides a stated flight endurance of 32 minutes.

Parrot claims that the Anafi USA can be prepared for flight in less than 55 seconds and can be operated in wind conditions of up to 14.7 m/s. The company highlighted that the air vehicle can also be flown indoors without GPS and generates a noise signature of just 79 dB when operating 50cm off the ground. (Source: Jane’s)

01 Jul 20. TAI will Produce Cargo UAV for Turkish Armed Forces. Cargo unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be used to meet the logistics needs of the Turkish Armed Forces at the operation sites.

The Presidency of the Turkish Presidency for Defense Industry (SSB) continues its efforts to increase the operational capabilities of the security forces and to bring products and solutions that can respond to current threats and needs into inventory. Unmanned systems have an important place in this context. SSB coordinates the development of new systems and solutions with local and national facilities, to be used in different areas and in various missions than UAVs and SIHAs, which are effectively used by security forces.

In its tender announcement in June 2018, SSB announced that the project was launched for the purpose of supplying Vertical Landing Departure Cargo UAV Systems.

SSB President İsmail Demir stated that the evaluations for the project have been completed and that a contract has been signed with the Turkish Aviation and Space Industry (TAI) for the Vertical Landing Departure Cargo UAV Project.

Indicating that the features of Kargo UAV will be further improved after the operations in the operation area, Demir said,

“We are aiming for the Cargo UAV system to go into mass production in 2021. Cargo UAV, which will carry 50 kilograms of useful cargo, will provide the logistic support needed by the hero Turkish soldier in the field by carrying a cargo of 1 hour, especially in the mountainous terrain, between the two points in both the closed cargo compartment and the suspended cargo. We are also working on our Cargo UAV project with a payload capacity of 150 kilograms. ”

Thanks to the cargo UAV systems, the requirements such as weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, equipment required by the security forces on the battlefield will be delivered in a very short time and safely even in difficult weather conditions. Turkish aviation giant TUSAŞ, which also has works for revolving wing UAV systems, exhibits its solutions and systems that it develops both at home and abroad.  (Source: UAS VISION/Ray Harber)

30 Jun 20. Philippines Expect Delivery of Final Six Hermes 900. The Philippine Air Force (PAF) revealed in its latest ‘Lead One Today’ quarterly e-newsletter that it is expecting delivery this year of the final six of nine Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it ordered from Israel’s Elbit Systems to enhance its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR] capabilities.

“For ISR capabilities, the PAF is expecting the final delivery of two unmanned aerial system[s] [UASs] composed of [a total of] six Hermes 900[s], ground control station[s], ground data terminal[s], and other support equipment,” said the PAF in the newsletter, indicating that delivery of the first UAS comprising three Hermes 900s has been completed.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) revealed in its latest ‘Lead One Today’ quarterly e-newsletter that it is expecting delivery this year of the final six of nine Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it ordered from Israel’s Elbit Systems to enhance its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR] capabilities.

“For ISR capabilities, the PAF is expecting the final delivery of two unmanned aerial system[s] [UASs] composed of [a total of] six Hermes 900[s], ground control station[s], ground data terminal[s], and other support equipment,” said the PAF in the newsletter, indicating that delivery of the first UAS comprising three Hermes 900s has been completed. Source: (Source: UAS VISION/ Jane’s)

29 Jun 20. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) completed a month-long demo event that showcased a suite of long-range sensors, Air Launched Effects (ALE) and Scalable Command and Control (SC2) on its Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). This was the third in a series of demonstrations for the U.S. Army that were based out of the Yuma Proving Grounds dating back to November 2019. GA-ASI partnered with industry to integrate best-of-breed long-range ISR payloads and ALEs on the GE-ER. The aircraft showed a persistent stand-off survivability with stand-in capabilities with up to 40 hours of endurance that Army Commanders can leverage to orchestrate forces in the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) environment.

“We set out on a mission to demonstrate survivability and capability to the U.S. Army through strong industry partnerships in a cost conscious and affordable way,” said David R. Alexander, president, GA-ASI. “The goal was to take the Army’s concepts and put the power of industry innovation to work to make them a reality. We are in the business of solving problems and ensuring the U.S. Army Soldier has overmatch on the battlefield.”

The third demonstration built on the previous demos as the GE-ER – in flight at 25,000 feet – identified emitters with Communications Intelligence (COMINT) payload and integrated antenna array. This configuration provided single aircraft geo-location and cross-cueing to the onboard Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to produce precision coordinates sufficient for targeting within minutes. L3Harris’ Rio Nino lightweight COMINT system, capable of detecting emitters out to 250 km, was combined with GA-ASI’s Lynx® Multi-mode Radar with SAR to perform the task. Additionally, the GE-ER gathered Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) using a Sierra Nevada Small SWAP Auto-ELINT (SSAE) system. The ELINT detections were cross-cued to the Lynx® SAR for rapid processing of target identification and targeting coordinates.

GA-ASI also conducted the first-ever launch and control of ALEs from the GE-ER. The ALEs were launched and controlled through the GE-ER and provided real-time full-motion video to simulated ground forces over a Tactical Scalable Mobile (TSM) network. This successful teaming between GA-ASI’s GE-ER and Area-I’s Altius-600 ALEs is a significant innovation milestone that demonstrates capability required for the future battlefield. The GE-ER also acted as a Tactical Scalable Mobile Ad-hoc Networking node, relaying voice and data to displaced users during the demonstration. All flight activities (including preflight, taxi, mission profiles and landing) were controlled from a GA-ASI laptop-based SC2 system. GA-ASIs SC2 system reduced emplacement and mission launch timelines by 75% from the currently-fielded Ground Control Station.

GE-ER is a long-range variant of the U.S. Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS. It provides the U.S. Army with increased endurance and more payload capacity to support future mission tasking with considerable improvements in system reliability and maintainability. GA-ASI continues modernization in both aircraft reliability and mission effectiveness. The next milestone that GA-ASI will accomplish is flight testing of the 200 HP Enhanced Heavy Fuel Engine and dual 7.5kw brushless generators. GA-ASI will continue the demo series next year to advance the aircraft and its payloads to meet the emerging needs of the U.S. Army.

30 Jun 20. AeroVironment Quantix Recon provides near-real-time mapping. If it had not been cancelled, Eurosatory would have seen the debut of AeroVironment’s Quantix Recon unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at an international exhibition. The vertical take-off and landing reconnaissance and surveillance UAV has an 18 Mp colour camera sensor in the lower part of its nose providing images with 4,864 × 3,648 pixel resolution. Behind it is a multispectral sensor that generates 2,432 × 1,824 pixel images. Shifting red, green and near-infrared filters in front of the latter allow images to be captured in three bands: 583-676 nm, 538-589nm and 798-891nm.

Data is processed on board the UAV while it is returning to a landing site. Low-resolution imaging and mapping is available upon landing and can be transmitted to a tablet-based ground control station via a Wi-Fi link. The onboard SD memory card can be removed for high-resolution views, all georeferenced, and further analysis using more sophisticated tools to create 3D maps. The multi-spectral capability can be used to see where earth has been removed, differences in vegetation, and local features. Quantix Recon has a small footprint, with a maximum take-off weight of 2.27kg, a 975mm wingspan, and four 518 × 381mm rotors/propellers with a 210mm diameter. The two-blade rotors/propellers are driven by electric motors fitted to the end of Y-shaped winglets. (Source: Jane’s)

30 Jun 20. Iran Unveils New Drone with 1,000 Km Range. The Islamic Republic has been increasingly developing its domestic arms industry for years now, having started to do so in the face of international sanctions and its inability to buy weapons systems abroad. In recent years, the country has developed its own tanks, transports, radars, air defence systems, and jets, among other things.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has presented the most recent additions to its arsenal of weapons, including a new armoured personnel carrier, a drone, and a machine gun, all of them manufactured by the Iran-based Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organisation of the IRGC Ground Forces.

The IRGC revealed its newest drone, called Me’raj-1, which will complement the recently revealed domestically developed and manufactured Karrar combat-capable drone and Ababil spy drone. The Me’raj-1 is capable of travelling a distance of up to 1,000 kilometres, stay in the air for over 10 hours, rise to an altitude of 3.7 kilometres, and carry five kilograms of payload.  (Source: UAS VISION/The Iranian)

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