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16 Jul 20. Boeing conducts end-to-end autonomous flight test in Australian outback. Boeing announced on 16 July that it has conducted an end-to-end flight mission using three “high-performance testbeds” in the Australian outback in Tara, Queensland, as part of the company’s Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project.
“The goal of our mission was to completely test out our mission system software from start to finish, using three high-performance jets,” Emily Hughes, director of Boeing’s Phantom Works International, was quoted in a company statement as saying.
Boeing, which released a video showing what appeared to be three scale-model jet aircraft, said it successfully performed a number of tests, including the aircraft taking off autonomously, achieving the required in-air formations, departing from the formation, and landing autonomously.
“While we have previously flown larger numbers of aircraft autonomously, this was our first opportunity to perform an end-to-end mission test with three high-performance testbed aircraft, at speeds of up to 200 km per hour,” said Hughes.
Under the Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project Boeing and its partners are developing new onboard autonomous command-and-control technology to enable unmanned vehicles to perceive, process, communicate, and act in accordance with their programmed mission – without input from a human operator, said the company.
The technology being developed under this project is informing Boeing’s broader development of autonomous aircraft, including the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS), which is informally dubbed the ‘Loyal Wingman’, and is aimed at complementing and extending airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft.
Boeing said the Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project is the company’s second ‘Advance Queensland’ investment partnership with the government of Queensland, adding that it will continue flight tests for the project in Cloncurry later this year. (Source: Jane’s)
15 Jul 20. UK MoD Buys British Nano Drone. The UK MoD has taken delivery of the latest market leading technology. UAVTEK, a UK based SME has developed and provided UK forces with the latest world-beating technology Nano Drones after winning the UK MoD Nano drone programme. The UK MoD recently went to tender for a new Nano drone to support UK forces. UAVTEK submitted a bid and came top overall beating previous market leaders FLIR with the Black Hornet 3. The Bug Nano drone provides evidence that a Nano drone can not only stand up to heavy wind, but is also able to compete with its bigger brothers. This 191 g UAV provides the operator with an eye in the sky able to send full-motion 1080p video back from 2km away. This combined with the ability to withstand gusts of over 40 knots and flight times up to 40 minutes it provides a capability never seen before in this class.
The UAV was designed and built in the UK marking a change in the ability for UK industry to produce world class unmanned systems. The core system created for the Bug is the first in a range of airframes providing a full suite of capabilities ranging from:
- Bug – 191g Nano drone
- Proteus – folding 1kg drone with modular camera system and modular payload it is configurable for almost every job
- Scout – compact VTOL fixed wing weighing 4kg providing front line troops with ISTAR capability for upto 3 hours.
- Sentinel – 2.4 meter fixed wing with high endurance capability as a fraction of current leading military UAS
All these systems have a common control interface providing a leading UAV suite in multiple format airframes. (Source: UAS VISION)
15 Jul 20. Third NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Aircraft Arrives at Sigonella. On July 15, 2020 the third remotely piloted aircraft of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Programme arrived at 13:37 local time at its new home base in Sigonella, Italy. The landing marks yet another step for NATO on its way to acquiring a total of five RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft, referred to as “Phoenix”, all to be based at Sigonella.
“The ferry flight of aircraft NATO-03 from California to Sicily is a significant milestone in the Alliance Ground Surveillance procurement programme,” Brigadier General Volker Samanns, the General Manager of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency, said.
“Having now three Phoenix aircraft in Sigonella gives the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency more flexibility in working test and verification issues, by simultaneously providing the equipment for familiarization and training,” he added.
“This is another important milestone on our way to establishing a leading-edge Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability for all NATO Allies.”
Brigadier General Houston Cantwell, who took over Command of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force earlier this month, was on site to witness the landing. “This is a great debut for me.” he said. “This is another important milestone on our way to establishing a leading-edge Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability for all NATO Allies”.
This latest crossing of the Atlantic from California to Italy was entirely controlled by pilots at the Alliance Ground Surveillance Force’s Main Operating Base in Sigonella, in the same manner as the ferry flight of the first and second Alliance Ground Surveillance aircraft in the end of 2019.The Phoenix took off on Tuesday, 14 July 2020 from Edwards Air Force Base in California in the United States at 07:47 local time and landed at Sigonella around 21.8 hours later. The aircraft is now scheduled to undergo a system level performance verification phase before being officially handed over to the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force.
Once all five aircraft have arrived at the Alliance Ground Surveillance Main Operating Base in Sigonella by the end of 2020, NATO’s collectively owned and operated Alliance Ground Surveillance system will provide a unique state-of-the-art capability procured by 15 Allies and shared with all 29 Alliance members.
The entire Alliance Ground Surveillance system is a custom-made system uniquely adapted to NATO requirements and specifically designed to meet the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance requirements identified by the North Atlantic Council and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/NATO)
15 Jul 20. Congress skeptical of Navy’s unmanned vessels plans. The U.S. Navy wants $464m for unmanned surface vessels, but Congress is not on the same page.
Legislators have so far declined to fully fund the massive investment into research and development for large and medium unmanned surface vessels as they work through the annual defense bill, citing the request as “excessive procurement ahead of satisfactory testing.”
Among other things, that budget request would give the Navy $239m to purchase two Overlord large unmanned surface vehicle (LUSV) prototypes for testing.
While the Senate Armed Services Committee has declined to authorize any of the $464m request, the House Armed Services Committee agreed to authorize just $270m of that request — specifically cutting funding for the two LUSVs. Instead, the House version would provide the Navy $45m to convert a Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship into a LUSV for further testing.
In a report on the bill issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, lawmakers argued that the Navy already has the LUSVs that can fill the Strategic Capabilities Office’s needs in this area.
But perhaps more importantly, the committee members do not seem convinced that LUSVs are ready for prime time.
“The committee remains concerned that the budget request’s concurrent approach to LUSV design, technology development, and integration as well as a limited understanding of the LUSV concept of employment, requirements, and reliability for envisioned missions pose excessive acquisition risk for additional LUSV procurement in fiscal year 2021,” the report reads. “The committee is also concerned by the unclear policy implications of LUSVs, including ill-defined international unmanned surface vessel standards and the legal status of armed or potentially armed LUSVs.”
Furthermore, legislators remain unconvinced that the current unmanned vessels can hold up to the physical environment of extended operations at sea. While the Navy requires its unmanned platforms to be able to operate continuously at sea for 30 days without maintenance or repairs, the committee report notes the Strategic Capabilities Office’s prototypes have only demonstrated two to three days of continuous operation.
The Senate version of the bill would require the Navy to formally qualify two main engines and electrical generators — including successfully demonstrating 30 days of continuous operations at sea — before Milestone B approval is granted.
An industry group hit back July 9.
In a letter to leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International called on legislators to fully fund the Navy’s fiscal 2021 request.
“It is imperative that Congress continues to fund the research and development (R&D) efforts included in the Navy’s FY21 budget request,” wrote President and CEO Brian Wynne. “Failing to do so will disrupt the significant investment industry has made in unmanned systems over the last several years. The severe reduction in funding being considered in the FY21 NDAA would eliminate jobs, drive many small companies out of business, and cause larger companies to shift their R&D investments to more stable opportunities”
The committee report argues that its requirements do not delay these programs, but in fact will enable the delivery of unmanned surface vehicles faster by ensuring they are “capable, reliable and sustainable.”
In the meantime, the Navy has moved forward with its unmanned surface vehicle efforts.
On July 13, the Navy awarded L3Harris $35m to develop a medium unmanned surface vehicle prototype, with an option to buy eight more later on. If all options are exercised, the contract could be worth up to $294m.
“The award of Medium USV is the culmination of a great dialogue with industry to right-size the requirements for a capable, reliable, and affordable unmanned surface vehicle that will employ a variety of modular payloads,” said Capt. Pete Small, program manager of Unmanned Maritime Systems within the Unmanned and Small Combatants Program Executive Office. “Leveraging new rapid prototyping authorities and mature commercial technology will allow us to quickly deliver a capable prototype to the Surface Development Squadron to conduct experimentation and learning in support of the Navy’s plans for a future fleet incorporating unmanned vessels.”
The prototype is expected to be delivered in fiscal 2023. However, the Navy press release announcing the award notes that funding for future MUSV prototypes is uncertain. While the Navy has asked for additional fiscal 2021 funding for a second MUSV prototype in fiscal 2023, that acquisition strategy is yet to be determined. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
15 Jul 20. RAF to trial unmanned aircraft from Royal Navy carriers. The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is to trial the use of unmanned aircraft from the decks of the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) disclosed on 15 July.
Speaking at the ‘virtual’ Air & Space Power Association conference, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said that work to evaluate the use of swarming drones and unmanned ‘loyal wingmen’ from HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales had already begun, and that flight trials are expected shortly.
“We will expand 216 [Experimental – X] Squadron’s operational trials to evaluate the use of swarming drones from our Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, and we will do the same with our autonomous wingman programme too,” ACM Wigston said. “This is happening now, and further developments are expected towards the end of this year.”
The comments from the CAS came some three months after the RAF stood up 216 Squadron on 1 April for the purpose of developing and delivering an operational ‘swarming drones’ capability, and some 17 months after Janes first reported on 15 February 2019 that the UK was looking to create a carrier-capable unmanned aircraft as part of its wider efforts to develop the Tempest next-generation combat aircraft. (Source: Jane’s)
15 Jul 20. UK MoD Signs £65m Contract for Protector Aircraft. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has signed a £65m contract to build the UK’s first three Protector aircraft – the first UK operated system capable of strike missions anywhere in the world.
After a successful development phase Protector is set to enter service by mid-2024, meaning that the Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) will deliver a step-change in capability for the RAF.
Protector is the world’s first certified RPAS, enabling it to fly in busy, unsegregated airspace, including civilian airspace, thanks to its ground-breaking ‘sense and avoid’ technology.
The contract was announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the virtual 2020 Air and Space Power Conference. He said: “The UK is proving once again that we are a world leader in defence technology. Protector will provide the RAF with vast global reach, meeting the UK’s defence and security needs for decades to come, and provides another increase to the unmanned inventory for the Armed Forces.
“This aircraft will upgrade a whole range of lethal capabilities allowing us to control, protect and manage the battlespace from the air for hours on end.”
The cutting-edge aircraft, which will replace the current Reaper RPAS force, will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations from its base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
Its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer the RAF vastly improved armed intelligence and reconnaissance sorties.
The innovative fleet will also have advanced anti-icing and lightning protection, providing the RAF with unprecedented flexibility to operate in extreme weather conditions.
Protector also comes with enhanced data links and will carry next-generation, low collateral, precision strike weapons – the UK-made Brimstone missile (MBDA) and Paveway IV Laser Guided Bomb (Raytheon UK).
The contract follows a successful development phase by manufacturers General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. which will build the first three Protector aircraft, plus three ground control stations and other associated support equipment.
It also includes an option to build 13 more aircraft and four ground control stations, which will complete the current planned fleet of 16 aircraft, more than doubling the capability currently provided by Reaper.
Sir Simon Bollom, CEO of Defence Equipment and Support, said: “I am delighted to announce that we have got Protector production on contract. The DE&S team have demonstrated their remarkable resilience and overcome considerable challenges to ensure this significant programme remained on track. Their efforts and the collaborative commitment from industry means that the RAF can still look forward to the delivery of the cutting-edge Protector and the step-change in capability that it brings.”
Meeting stringent NATO and UK safety certification standards, the aircraft could, if requested, operate in civilian airspace to support civilian agencies in the UK, for example, in search and rescue and disaster response missions. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/UK MoD)
13 Jul 20. US Navy Inks Deal For New Unmanned Fleet. The $34m deal marks the service’s first real thrust to get unmanned ships into the water, despite Congressional worries the service is moving too fast.
Despite deep and bipartisan skepticism from Capitol Hill over its plans to build three new classes of unmanned warships, the Navy went ahead today with its plans to begin building as many as 40 Medium Unmanned Surface Vessels.
The service awarded L3 Technologies Inc. a $34.9m contract for a prototype MUSV, along with an option for up to eight additional ships. If the company builds those eight unmanned ships, the contract will be worth $281m through June 2027.
Overall, the Navy wants to build about 40 MUSVs in coming years, which will clock in at between 45 to 190 feet long, with displacements of roughly 500 tons. The medium ships are thought to skew more toward mission modules revolving around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems.
In their versions of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, however, both the House and Senate told the Navy to slow down on its acquisition of some unmanned ships, specifically the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel. Both documents boost Congressional oversight over the LUSV, an ambitious new ship the Navy hoped to begin building in 2023.
While the MUSV will focus on gathering intelligence, the LUSV will act as a forward-deployed missile launcher, bristling with missile tubes and other weapons, Navy planners have said.
Lawmakers are looking to ensure the Navy finalizes its design and operational plans before building the larger ship, something the service has struggled with as it built other classes such as the Littoral Combat Ship, the Ford class of aircraft carriers, and the Zumwalt destroyers, all of which fell behind schedule, went over budget and struggled with new technologies.
“USVs are one of the centerpieces of distributed maritime operations,” Rear Adm. Casey Moton, head of the Unmanned and Small Combatants office, said last month at a U.S. Naval Institute event. The ships will act as platforms to enable the fleet to spread out and counter China’s ambitions in the Pacific either as a forward screen for a carrier strike group or as vessels pressed forward with an acceptable risk of attrition.
The Navy hasn’t yet fully prepared to deploy or sustain a new fleet of unmanned vessels, Capt. Pete Small, program manager for unmanned maritime systems said in May. “Our infrastructure right now is optimized around manned warships,” Small said. “We’re gonna have to shift that infrastructure for how we prepare, deploy, and transit” over large bodies of water before the navy begins churning out unmanned ships in greater numbers, he added. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Breaking Defense)
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