Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
11 Sep 20. Anduril’s New Drone Injects More AI Into Warfare. The Ghost 4, the latest product from Anduril, a defense-tech startup founded by Palmer Luckey, the creator of Oculus Rift, shows the potential for AI in military systems.
Luckey says it is the first generation that can perform various reconnaissance missions, including searching an area for enemy hardware or soldiers, under the control of a single person on the ground. The vehicle uses machine learning (the method behind most modern AI) to analyze imagery and identify targets, but it also relies on more conventional rules-based software for critical control and decisionmaking among swarm teammates.
Luckey says the drones can carry a range of payloads, including systems capable of jamming enemy communications or an infrared laser to direct weapons at a target. In theory the drone could be fitted with its own weapons.
“It would be possible,” he says. “But nobody’s done it yet.”
Kevin Ryan, a retired brigadier general and a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says the military is interested in small drones, because they can gather the same intelligence as a satellite or a large, conventional drone more cheaply, quickly, and independently.
However, Ryan, who previously worked at iRobot, a company that used to make military systems as well as robot vacuum cleaners, says it remains unclear just how intelligent and how useful such systems will actually be.
“Everybody understands that AI is gonna be able to do these fantastic things down the road, Ryan says. “What we don’t know is how soon.”
AI and military systems are either a perfect match or a terrible idea—depending on who you ask. Many researchers view military use of AI as deeply troubling and are seeking bans on weapons that could act autonomously. In June 2018, Google was famously forced to abandon a contract to supply AI-infused image-reading software to the Air Force after employee protests. But with cutting-edge innovations being developed at consumer tech companies, and other countries rushing to make use of AI in their militaries, the Pentagon is keen to court tech firms and talent.
Some companies, such as Anduril, are only too happy to lend a hand. The company, which is also developing a virtual reality platform for patrolling the US border with Mexico, aims to shake up the defense industry with a playbook borrowed from Silicon Valley. Instead of waiting for direction from the Pentagon, it develops products internally that it then hopes to sell to the military. It also looks to militarize consumer technologies such as AI and VR, and to develop prototypes more quickly and cheaply.
Anduril was founded by Luckey and several veterans of Palantir, which sells analytics software to the intelligence industry, and which last month filed for an IPO that could value it at $20bn. Both Anduril and Palantir are backed by Peter Thiel, a prominent tech investor and Trump adviser.
Drones are also part of a deepening technological standoff between the US and China. Members of Congress have proposed legislation banning government agencies from using consumer drones made in China, and last month the Trump administration named five US consumer drone companies as approved government suppliers. Last week, China banned exports of several kinds of components used in drones.
Luckey says all of the components used in Anduril’s technology are made either in the US or in allied countries, or can be replaced with ones that are.
According to Luckey, the company is one step ahead of most in the US military too.
“We’re usually building things that the government wants, but does not necessarily believe can be built,” he says. “If we believe something can exist, we just make it as fast as we can.” (Source: UAS VISION/Wired)
11 Sep 20. Elbit Systems UK Demonstrates Hermes 900 Maritime Search & Rescue Flights for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Hermes 900 was able to fly in unsegregated and uncontrolled airspace in full alignment with the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900 Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) recently successfully completed a series of flight demonstrations for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). The demonstration were run by the MCA and were designed to test the capabilities of using a UAS to enhance Search and Rescue (SaR) capabilities and the use of long-range unmanned capabilities in civilian airspace.
Taking place off the West Coast of Wales over the first two weeks of September, the Hermes 900 was able to fly advanced Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) missions into unsegregated and uncontrolled airspace, in full alignment with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The success of these trials is a significant step forward in enhancing the capabilities of the MCA as they seek to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its search and rescue operations while reducing the risk to MCA personnel in the field. Elbit Systems UK is closely collaborating with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, supported by additional UK companies, including Inzpire and Aviation Systems Group.
In the recent demonstration, the Hermes 900 equipped with search and rescue specific radar, an Automatic Identification System (AIS), EO/IR payload, an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and full satellite communications, was deployed on a range of missions that simulated shore-line rescues, water rescues in dangerous air space and long-distance ship rescues which crossed international air space lines.
With a wingspan of 15m, the 1.2 ton, Hermes 900 is already deployed with more than a dozen advanced customers around the globe providing search, rescue and reconnaissance capabilities. The Company offers extended life-saving capabilities with its recently launched Hermes 900 Maritime Patrol configuration with inflated life-rafts for detection, identification and saving the lives of survivors at sea. It was revealed that this configuration was delivered to an undisclosed customer in South-East Asia.
Martin Fausset, CEO of Elbit Systems UK commented: “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to showcase our enhanced search and rescue capabilities to the MCA this week. The Hermes 900 is perfectly equipped to deal with the needs of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and we are proud to be able to support them as they continue with their vital, life-saving work.”
Director of HM Coastguard Claire Hughes said: “We continue to do all we can to use existing technology as well as look to the future in our ongoing work of saving lives at sea. Remotely piloted aircraft continue to be a big part of that work both to potentially save lives in search and rescue and protect our beautiful coastlines from the worst effects of pollution.”
10 Sep 20. Helo drone maker unveils new electric aircraft for maritime, covert missions. Unmanned helicopter maker Steadicopter has created two new models of its rotary unmanned aerial vehicles that use quieter electric engines and can perform maritime and covert missions.
The Israeli company announced this month that it updated its existing Black Eagle 50 platform to two new models: the Black Eagle 25E and Black Eagle 50E.
The coronavirus pandemic spurred focus on these new products, according to Noam Lidor, director of sales and marketing for Steadicopter. With the spread of COVID-19 slowing the global economy, the company found the time to review recent customer requests to develop a system more suitable for local and tactical missions. That resulted in providing the two new electric drones, which can be used for covert missions that require a quieter engine, or for maritime surveillance of facilities such as offshore gas platforms.
The Black Eagle 25E weighs 18 kilograms and can carry a payload that increases its maximum weight to 25 kilograms. The 50 and 50E drones can weigh up to 35 kilograms, with the 50 weighing 27 kilograms and the 50E weighing a bit less due to the electric engine. With the lighter engine, the 50E can carry 10 kilograms of payload.
Of the three options, the Black Eagle 50 has the longest range, at 150 kilometers, as well as the longest endurance, at 4 hours of flight time. The Black Eagle 50E can reach the highest altitude at 10,000 feet.
Steadicopter is based in northern Israel and was founded in 2005. Like many Israeli companies that sell defense or security products, Steadicopter doesn’t name customers. The Black Eagle 50 was shown at the Singapore Airshow in February 2020, DSEI in London in 2019 and Eurosatory in 2018. (Source: Defense News)
08 Sep 20. U.S. Military Set to Deploy Advanced Drone System Developed with Israel Ministry of Defense. Following a joint R&D program led by the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), in the Israel Ministry of Defense, with leading drone developer, XTEND, and the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), of the U.S. Department of Defense, an operational pilot program has been launched employing Sparrowhawk drones in the defense of U.S. Special Forces. The program has produced a drone system with a remote immersive interface that protects troops from various inbound aerial threats – particularly drones.
As a result of the close cooperation between the institutions involved, the system has been developed in accordance with concrete operational requirements. As such, following a year of R&D and various tests, the CTTSO decided to launch an operational pilot program, testing and validating the system’s capabilities in the field. As part of the pilot program, several dozen Sparrowhawk systems will be employed by U.S. troops.
Using an AR device and single-handed controller, a military operator may employ the Sparrowhawk system to control the drone and perform complex tasks remotely, with great ease and precision. Its interface enables the operator to immerse themselves or “step into” a remote reality and engage targets effectively yet safely. With minimal training and no expertise required, troops enjoy a full sensory situation assessment and may utilize C-UAV net payloads in the battlefield. The system’s capabilities have been demonstrated in Israel, with confirmed interceptions of incendiary devices flown over the Gaza border by terrorist organizations.
This operational pilot program is the first step towards the widespread deployment of smart systems to Special Forces, enabling them to perform complex tasks in the modern battlefield, while minimizing risk. It is also one of the most significant and successful areas of cooperation between the DDR&D and its American partners, highlighting the crucial and extraordinary relations between our respective defense establishments.
“This joint activity implements novel technological capabilities taken from the field of AR (augmented reality), and the from world of gaming,” said Head of the UAV Branch in the DDR&D of the Ministry of Defense, Lt. Col. Menachem Landau. “It enables the troops of both nations to employ intuitive, battle-proven and precise systems follow a minimal training period, and to engage hostile flying objects such as drones. We look forward to expanding our collaboration with our partners in the CTTSO of the U.S. Department of Defense, in developing advanced technology protect troops and enhance operational capabilities.”
“We have established amazing partnerships in the development, and fielding this product for the operational end user,” said XTEND CEO, Aviv Shapira. “The Sparrowhawk is one of the world’s most advanced C-UAS Hard Kill solution, and the XTEND team is thrilled at the opportunity to deploy our systems in operational missions – and to protect the lives of both US & IDF combat soldiers.”
08 Sep 20. IAI Introduces MultiFlyer – A Fleet of Small Helicopter Non-Military UAVs. Israel Aerospace Industries has introduced MultiFlyer, a UAV squadron of small unmanned helicopters that can fulfill a large range of non-military tasks. MultiFlyer provides advanced monitoring capabilities for large areas and is based on commercial, off-the-shelf helicopter UAVs from Alpha Unmanned Systems integrated with components from IAI and several Israeli startup companies.
The command and control system was designed by Simplex and the area scanning technologies are powered by Sightec. Use cases include disaster area monitoring, guiding rescue units in lifesaving missions, traffic control in mass events, securing sensitive facilities, police enforcement, and surveys of large agricultural or marine areas.
MultiFlyer transforms what would otherwise be several isolated UAV missions into a cloud of information. MultiFlyer can be activated from a tablet or smartphone that serves as a single point of control of several synchronized missions including automated takeoff and landing, flight routes, mission management, and others. The system network connection is secured to allow usage by several simultaneous users. The MultiFlyer system can be used with different types of UAVs and drones as well as carry different types of payloads.
IAI EVP and CEO of the Military Aircraft Division, Moshe Levy, said “IAI is a leader of trailblazing technologies with UAV experience spanning 50 years and we are constantly seeking additional areas in which we can invest our R&D capabilities. MultiFlyer is a significant milestone in this respect and we anticipate more developments in this field.”
CEO of Alpha Unmanned Systems Eric Freeman, states, “Alpha is delighted to be the platform of choice for this world-leading initiative. Reliable and versatile platforms that can fly at least 90 to 150 minutes are essential for a variety of missions. Alpha helicopters make many more missions possible and it is an honor to support IAI.”
CEO of Simplex Shai Levy, said “Simplex is proud of our collaboration with IAI to develop this system. The command and control system, known as the Flightops, is designed to enable the control of a large number of UAVs autonomously and allow the operator to focus on the mission at hand.”
CEO of Sightec Roy Shmuel said “Sightec is a leading creator of AI-powered optical scanning solutions for autonomous systems. The use of our technology as part of the MultiFlyer UAV system enables the autonomous and efficient scanning of large areas of territory.” (Source: UAS VISION)
03 Sep 20. Airsight, Frequentis consultancy service guides drone detection concepts and systems for airports. Consultancy company airsight, in collaboration with Frequentis, has launched a consultancy service to guide airports in the selection of their drone detection system and associated mode of operations. Together they provide guidance, from specifications development through tendering up to the final implementation, testing and commissioning, of an airport drone detection system.
Frequentis is an independent CUAS system integrator, who provides expertise in optioneering and design of CONOPs with its dedicated control room consulting team. airsight is an aviation safety and airport specialist, who supports with the operational know-how and a safety-based approach in the decision-making process.
Airsight says illegal drone activities near or at aerodromes made the news several times in the last few years – causing major disruption to aircraft operations and representing a major threat to passenger safety. Many airports also benefit more and more from the utilisation unmanned aircraft system for several of their routine inspections (pavement, PAPI, ILS, etc.), as demonstrated in several airsight projects.
To manage both – legal and illegal – drone activities, new drone detection systems appeared on the market. Most of these systems use complex hardware (sensors) and software, claim to be able to detect, track, classify drones – and possibly respond to a threat. These systems rely on different technologies – notably in terms of hardware sensors – and the capital investment required is often proportional to the size of the area to be covered. System selection also depends on the desired Concept of Operations (CONOPS). Airsight and Frequentis help with these selection and investment decisions.
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04 Sep 20. Lockheed Martin suggests wingman UAV for Poland. Lockheed Martin is aiming to offer a new UAV, based on existing systems, for the Harpi Szpon (Harpy Claw) programme in Poland.
The new UAV is also intended to meet the US requirement to replace MQ-9 Reaper systems, an RfI for which was recently released.
Both of these requirements and the future UAV (a concept image of which is pictured above) are at a nascent stage; however, Lockheed Martin officials said on 3 September that they are looking to work closely with Polish industry to create an aircraft to act as ‘wingman’ UAV support for fighter aircraft such as the F-35A Lightning II.
The UAV will have a stealthy design — potentially a flying wing similar to the RQ-170 Sentinel HALE UAS — but much of the design work will be frozen until Polish and US requirements become clearer.
The US scrapped plans to replace the MQ-9 eight years ago but in June the DoD issued an RfI to ‘research potential solutions for the Next Generation UAS ISR/Strike platform [and] potential follow-on programme’. IOC is planned for Q3 FY2031 with initial deliveries beginning in Q4 FY2030.
Jack O’Banion, Lockheed Martin vice-president of strategy and customer requirements for Advanced Development Programs (Skunk Works), argued the company is well positioned to meet any requirements quickly.
‘Once we know the requirements as decided by the Polish Ministry of [National] Defence, then it can be a fast-moving programme,’ O’Banion said.
‘We are not talking about an extended decade-long programme [but] just a few years to go through contracting, development, production. That is what we are able to do but what is decided by US and Polish governments will decide this.’
Boeing is expected to fly a system of a similar class before the end of 2020. The first prototype of a Loyal Wingman large multirole UAV was delivered to the RAAF earlier this year and the aircraft also serves as the foundation for Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System (ATS).
There is no commitment from Australia to go beyond the three prototypes but, as with the Polish requirement, the platform would be designed to operate alongside F-35 aircraft. (Source: Shephard)
04 Sep 20. US Navy Awards Study Contracts On Large Unmanned Ship – As Congress Watches Closely. Today’s deals for designs — Large Unmanned Surface Vessels displacing 2-3,000 tons — reflect the ‘take it slow’ approach being forced on the service.
The Navy took another step toward building a fleet of robotic ships today, awarding several shipbuilders contracts worth a cumulative $41m to begin developing requirements and potential designs for a new class of Large Unmanned Surface Vessels.
The LUSV has been the object of sustained interest from members of Congress wary of the Navy’s spotty track record of building first-in class ships, who’ve demanded the service take it slow and get its requirements in order before bending steel.
The ship is being envisioned as a critical part of a radically modernized fleet that will rely heavily on unmanned ships to scout ahead of manned vessels, conduct electronic jamming and deception, launch long-range missiles at targets found by other forces, and act as a picket line to keep Chinese and Russian ships and submarines away from American aircraft carriers, and far-flung bases.
Today’s contracts are a mix of requirements analysis and alternative design approaches that will help the Navy figure out exactly what it wants, and avoid the ire of skeptical lawmakers who are watching the program closely.
Huntington Ingalls; Lockheed Martin; Bollinger Shipyards; Marinette Marine; Gibbs & Cox Inc.; and Austal USA were each awarded $7m contracts for the LUSV studies. Each contract includes an option for engineering support, that if exercised, would bring the cumulative value to to $59m.
The bipartisan consensus is aimed at putting pressure on the Pentagon to deliver long-delayed shipbuilding and modernization plans, and reflects a wider uneasiness on Capitol Hill over the Navy’s ability to build first-in-class ships on time and on budget.
The awards today are part of the effort to take a relatively slow approach to buy the new ships, which are envisioned as coming in about 200 feet to 300 feet in length and having full load displacements of 1,000 to 2,000 tons. The idea is to use existing commercial ship designs to build low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships capable of carrying a variety of anti-ship and land-attack missiles.
But in the 2020 budget, Congress mandated that the Navy wait on designing the vertical launch tubes until the basic design of the ship was finished, and they were briefed by the Navy’s top acquisition official.
The Navy is using a mix of land-based prototyping and at-sea experimentation to build requirements for the LUSV, something it failed to do on the USS Gerald Ford, the first of the new Ford-class of aircraft carriers. That $13bn ship has already gone over budget, and is years behind schedule, due to the lack of land-based testing for critical new technologies.
Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez told me today the service “is pursuing this balanced approach in consultation with Congress and in part in response to Congressional concerns.”
The LUSV is following on the heels of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel program, which saw a $34.9m contract award in July to L3 Technologies Inc. for a prototype for what could be as many as 40 ships. The contract included an option for up to eight additional ships, making the contract potentially worth $281m through June 2027.
The Medium USV will likely clock in at between 45 to 190 feet long, with a displacement of roughly 500 tons. The medium ships will likely serve the role as mission modules revolving around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems.
As of right now, the Navy isn’t 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: Breaking Defense.com)
02 Sep 20. Kraken Robotics announces ThunderFish XL AUV development. Canada’s Kraken Robotics announced that it has received CAD2.9m (USD2.32m) in funding from the Canadian government to develop the new seabed resident ThunderFish XL autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the company announced on 31 August.
Kraken Robotics said in its statement that the non-refundable financial contribution will be received from the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) over a 26-month period to support research and development (R&D) work.
“AUVs have evolved from an emerging, niche technology to a viable solution and an established part of underwater operations in both military and commercial applications,” said Karl Kenny, President and CEO at Kraken Robotics.
“In the AUV space, Kraken is focused on using our in-house developed AUVs and procured AUVs to build a fleet of vehicles capable of providing robotics-as-a-service [RaaS] rather than having a primary focus on selling AUVs,” Kenny added, asserting that this approach will enable the company to differentiate itself in the market.
According to specifications provided to Janes, the ThunderFish XL will measure 4.5m in length, 1.4m in width, and will have a dry weight of 2,000 to 2,500kg depending on its payload and energy storage configuration. The hover-capable vehicle will also be able to operate at depths of up to 6,000m, travelling at speeds of approximately 3m/s during survey operations. (Source: Jane’s)
04 Sep 20. Dynetics seeks closer soft docking of X-61A Gremlins in next flight test. Dynetics believes it gained enough data from a July flight test of its X-61A Gremlins unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to next time achieve a closer soft docking to the recovery aircraft than the 38 m distance it reached in July.
The July flight test was the demonstration of a second X-61A air vehicle as well as the Gremlins airborne recovery system. The X-61A, which weighs 544 kg, flew for a total flight time of 2 hours 12 minutes and flew in formation with a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft from as close as 38 m back and 38 m below the aircraft.
Tim Keeter, Dynetics Gremlins programme manager, told Janes on 27 August that the company needed centimetre-level accuracy and precision to get the air vehicle’s engagement arm into the 30 cm stabilised towed docking, or capture, device. This process is known as soft docking. Dynetics, Keeter said, advanced the maturity of the system, its confidence in the air vehicle’s behaviour, and downloaded enough data where the company is confident it can close that last 38 m for a closer soft docking event in an upcoming flight test.
The X-61A that flew in July was Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) Number 3, the first flight for this air vehicle. Keeter said Dynetics launched this air vehicle the same way it launched the first one: from a pylon on a C-130 operated by International Air Response (IAR), which offers C-130 services. Dynetics used the same C-130 for both launch and recovery. (Source: Jane’s)
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