Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
30 Sep 20. USAF initiates Phase 2 of Skyborg ‘loyal wingman’ concept. The US Air Force (USAF) has commenced the second phase of development of the Skyborg attritable unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) that it plans to fly in 2023, the service disclosed on 30 September. Nine companies and academic institutions are now in line to receive a share of up to USD400m, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio noted in its announcement following the award of the latest round of contracts for the Skyborg ‘loyal wingman’.
“This second phase of awards establishes a diverse and competitive vendor pool by adding several non-traditional and traditional contractors we saw as important additions to the effort,” Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, Brigadier General Dale White, said. Vendors contracted under the latest Skyborg Prototyping, Experimentation, and Autonomy Development (SPEAD) multiple indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) award comprise AeroVironment Inc., Autonodyne LLC, BAE Systems Controls Inc., Blue Force Technologies Inc., Fregata System Inc., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, NextGen Aeronautics Inc., Sierra Technical Services Inc., and Wichita State University. Previous awards had been made to Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), Kratos, and Northrop Grumman, bringing to 13 the number of organisations outside of the USAF now involved in the effort.
“It has always been the Skyborg programme’s intent to award as many IDIQ contracts as practicable, and to include additional contractors over time. The second phase of awards demonstrates the program’s continuous efforts to identify applicable technology and expeditiously inject it into the program to meet warfighter needs,” the AFLCMC said. (Source: Jane’s)
29 Sep 20. US Army evaluated Robotic Research’s Pegasus hybrid drone. Out in the hot desert environment of Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, the US used Project Convergence 2020 range time to separately test out new and appealing technologies not part of the capstone demo including Robotic Research’s Pegasus: a hybrid unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Over six weeks, various army modernisation leaders spent time out at Yuma working on an experimental sensor-to-shooter demonstration that ended with a capstone demonstration, in part geared at reducing the decision-making cycle from 20 minutes to 20 seconds. Various new weapons and stand-in systems were put to the test, including the Extended Ranger Cannon Artillery (ERCA) effort, an MQ-1 Grey Eagle representing a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) surrogates.
However, the month-plus desert event was not limited to technologies demoed in the event, and the army used its time there to test out other capabilities that it may be interested in, including Pegasus.
”What we’ve proven is that Pegasus, combined with ground systems, can autonomously map an area,” NGCV Cross-Functional Team lead and the director for Project Convergence Brigadier General Ross Coffman told Janes on 22 September.
”You can envision sending two unmanned ground vehicles and two Pegasus to an area and say, ‘I want you go map that airfield’ and they would digitally map it. That’s all done autonomously through air-and-ground pairing,” the one-star general added.
Alberto Lacaze, Robotic Research’s cofounder and president, later told Janes that the “mapping team” performed approximately 100 missions, both indoors and outside. (Source: Jane’s)
29 Sep 20. VIC claims successful high-altitude test of AR500C VTOL UAV prototype. The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has completed the first high-altitude flight trial of its AR500C vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the company announced on its official Weibo social media account on 27 September.
AVIC stated that the trial took place at the dual-use Daocheng Yading Airport, which is understood to be the world’s highest airport and located at 4,411 m (14,472 ft) above sea level in the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southwestern Sichuan Province.
The company added that the AR500C prototype – which is marked with the serial number of AV500C-PT01 on its tailboom – launched at 0900 hours local time and performed a stable hover 10 m above the ground and landed after 15 minutes of flight. It claimed that the trial validated projections that the air vehicle would be able to offer up to five hours of endurance while carrying an 80 kg payload.
The AR500C – also identified as the AV500C – is being developed by AVIC’s China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) and is a derivative of the AV500B VTOL UAV that has been specifically designed for high-altitude operations. The prototype completed a 20-minute maiden flight at AVIC’s dedicated UAV research and development (R&D) facility in Poyang county, northeastern Jiangxi Province, in May.
While the company has yet to release detailed specifications of the AR500/AV500C, the baseline AV500 platform features a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 500 kg with an overall length of 7.2 m – inclusive of a 5.7m-long fuselage and tail section – as well as a height and rotor diameter of 2.4 m and 6.3 m, respectively. (Source: Jane’s)
29 Sep 20. MQ-4C Triton Deployed, Quickly Became an ‘Invaluable Asset’ In January this year, the U.S. Navy deployed Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton to Guam. The deployment is a first for the high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system.
The Guam deployment is part of an early operational capability (EOC) and will enable the U.S. Navy to further develop concepts of operation for employment of the system in the maritime environment, as well as fleet learning for operating and maintaining the HALE ISR platform.
The U.S. Navy declared the system as EOC in early May following its first sortie tasked by Commander, Task Force 72, 7th Fleet’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance command, and acknowledged Triton is already becoming an “invaluable asset.” Two aircraft have flown more than 765 hours since Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine (VUP-19) deployed from Naval Air Station Ventura County.
“Triton is quickly providing vital information to operational users,” said Doug Shaffer, vice president, Triton programs, Northrop Grumman. “This game-changing, persistent system is going to revolutionize the Navy’s maritime ISR capabilities by providing an unprecedented amount of data to inform critical decision making.”
While the inaugural deployment and ensuing EOC declaration are critical milestones, Northrop Grumman’s Triton program has faced challenges in 2020. The Department of Defense’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2021 includes a two-year production pause on Triton in 2021 and 2022, posing a significant risk to the program’s ability to keep costs low and deliveries on track.
“A two-year gap in production would have significant negative effects on the production line and the supplier base,” Shaffer said. “A pause would mean we risk losing the lessons learned that have enabled our suppliers and Northrop Grumman to achieve production efficiencies and get to this mature point of the program, which would then add more risks and costs to the program. We estimate that stopping and restarting the line alone will cost roughly $150m and then each aircraft likely costs about $20m more. Consequently, we are talking to Congress and our Navy customer about opportunities to sustain the production line, protect our suppliers and support the program long-term.”
Australia is part of a cooperative development program with the U.S. Navy for the Triton program and was key in the requirements development phase of the system. The system being acquired by the Royal Australian Air Force will be identical to the U.S. Navy’s which will enable Australia to establish a ‘sixth orbit’, adding to the U.S. Navy’s planned five operational orbits around the globe to maintain surveillance in some of the most strategically important locations.
“We have had multiple discussions with the U.S. Navy and Australia about options to help fill the FY ’21 and ’22 production lines with Australian aircraft,” Shaffer said. “An acceleration of the Australian program would result in significant savings to Australia and ensure cost savings to the U.S. Navy by helping prevent a pause in Triton production. While any decision to accelerate the Australian program is between the U.S. Navy and Australia, we are prepared to provide the necessary support to an accelerated Australian program.”
The Australian National Security Committee (NSC) announced approval for acquisition of the first Triton aircraft, one main operating base (MOB) and a forward operating base (FOB) in June 2018. A second Australian aircraft was authorized in March 2019, and a third Triton aircraft and an additional MOB in June 2020. Australia also finalized all necessary contracts for three aircraft, two MOBs and one FOB in June.
Australia is currently scheduled to receive their first Triton in late 2023, and stands to receive all six of their Tritons by 2025 if the NSC opts to approve the remainder of their program of record six (potentially seven) aircraft by then end of 2020. Northrop Grumman is currently scheduled to begin production of Australia’s first aircraft next month.
For both the United States and Australia, Triton will represent a massive leap in available maritime ISR capability. At a time during regional tensions in the Pacific and South East Asia, Triton’s ability to see more, hear more and share more has never been so valuable.
The two Tritons currently deployed to Guam are in the integrated functional capability three configuration (IFC-3), or the baseline configuration of the system. As part of Triton’s roadmap to replace the EP-3 Aries as the Navy’s multi-intelligence maritime ISR platform, the system will be upgraded with a robust signals intelligence capability in the IFC-4 configuration. Two Triton aircraft located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River are currently being upgraded to the IFC-4 configuration along with other assets located at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale Aircraft Integration Center. The Patuxent River aircraft are the first two to be brought into the IFC-4 configuration for use in the flight test program, with the first aircraft already conducting post-upgrade tests.
“2020 has been, and will continue to be, a year of significant milestones for Triton,” concluded Shaffer. “Our partnerships with the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force have been crucial in shaping the future of this program, and Triton will have a significant impact on the future of both forces’ approach to mission execution.”
25 Sep 20. James Fisher and Sons’ JFD delivers rescue vehicle mock-up for ROKN. Underwater capability provider JFD, part of James Fisher and Sons, has delivered a full-scale mock-up of its Search and Rescue Vehicle (SRV) built for the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN).
Underwater capability provider JFD, part of James Fisher and Sons, has delivered a full-scale mock-up of its Search and Rescue Vehicle (SRV) built for the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN).
In January last year, JFD secured a contract to design and build an advanced deep search and rescue vehicle (DSRV) for the ROKN.
South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) awarded the contract as part of a comprehensive submarine rescue provision.
At present, DSME is constructing a new auxiliary submarine rescue ship for ROKN.
The SRV is being constructed according to the brief from the ROKN and will form an important part of the vessel.
It is expected to be delivered soon and will increase the operational capabilities of the submarine rescue service.
RKN will launch and recover the DSRV from the submarine rescue vessel through a moonpool.
The vehicle can be deployed in support of rescuing the crews of distressed submarines at depths of up to hundreds of metres.
The full scale SRV mock-up is expected to help DSME carry out factory acceptance tests (FATS) and harbour acceptance trials (HATS) of the Launch and Recovery system, which is on the new auxiliary submarine rescue ship.
It will also conduct familiarisation training for the LARS operators.
The measure is expected to ensure that the interfaces between the SRV and LARS are compatible before the integration of the vessel for an efficient process.
JFD managing director Danny Gray said: “Following the delivery of the SRV next year, we will continue to work with the Republic of Korea Navy and its partners in providing a comprehensive training and support programme that will ensure that the submarine rescue operations are carried out safely and efficiently.
“Protecting the lives of submariners is of utmost importance to JFD, and ensuring our customers have the most advanced and comprehensive submarine rescue capability is fundamental to this.
“We are pleased we can provide innovative solutions to meet our customer’s requirements and look forward to the SRV becoming operational next year.”
In February, JFD supplied two sets of life-saving equipment to the Indian Navy. (Source: naval-technology.com)
28 Sep 20. X-Chimera VTOL UAV seen in PLAAF Airborne Corps exercise. Chinese state-owned television has released video footage showing what appears to be the X-Chimera vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being used by a brigade of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Airborne Corps: an indication that the twin-tailboom UAV is either being tested or is already in service with the corps.
Weihutang, a programme on military affairs from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), released footage on 27 September showing the platform, which is made by Chengdu-based company Aossci, taking part in a large-scale exercise that CCTV said took place recently in the Chinese autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.
The UAV was shown with an electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensor turret fitted onto its underbelly.
No further details were provided about the platform, which features a total of four rotors – two on top of each boom – to enable vertical take-offs and landings, as well as a pusher propeller to the rear of the fuselage pod. (Source: Jane’s)
28 Sep 20. On September 25th General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) completed the first flight of the Protector RG Mk1 Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), the fourth MQ-9B SkyGuardian® air vehicle (the first three MQ-9B air vehicles are company-owned assets supporting the certification qualification). The first Protector RPAS, known within GA-ASI as UK1, will be used to support system testing as part of a combined UK Ministry of Defence, U.S. Air Force and GA-ASI test team. Upon completion of this initial testing, UK1 will be delivered to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in the summer of 2021, but will remain in the USA to complete the Royal Air Force’s test and evaluation program.
“It was exciting to see the first flight of MQ-9B in the Protector configuration,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “The Royal Air Force has been a great partner for GA-ASI for more than a decade. We’re thrilled to see this first customer aircraft completed and we look forward to delivering their Protector fleet and gaining more MQ-9B SkyGuardian customers in NATO and around the globe.”
MQ-9B is GA-ASI’s most advanced RPAS. The RPAS is available as the SkyGuardian, the maritime SeaGuardian® (fitted with a multimode 360-degree field-of-regard Maritime Patrol Radar and optional sonobuoy capability) or, as with the UK Protector, in a special customer specified configuration. The first MQ-9B customer delivery will be to the UK, but the RPAS has also been selected by the Belgian Defense and Australian Defence Force, with significant interest from customers throughout the world.
“Protector will be deployed in wide-ranging Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations where its ability to fly consistently for up to 40 hours will offer a vastly improved ISTAR capability. Given that it is designed to fly in non-segregated, civil airspace, the Protector RPAS will be able to respond rapidly and offer flexibility, delivering many types of military or civil authority support missions, including search and rescue,” said Group Captain Shaun Gee, the RAF’s Director Air ISTAR Programmes.
MQ-9B development began in 2014 as a company-funded program to deliver an RPAS to meet NATO’s stringent airworthiness type-certification standard (STANAG 4671). STANAG certification will enable SkyGuardian, SeaGuardian and other MQ-9B variants to operate in civil airspace and better perform border patrol, fire detection and firefighting support, maritime patrol, and resource monitoring missions. MQ-9B is provisioned for the GA-ASI-developed Detect and Avoid System (DAAS) to enhance safety of operations in civil and military airspace. The MQ-9B is built for adverse-weather performance with lightning protection, a damage tolerant airframe, and a de-icing system.
25 Sep 20. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) conducted captive carry Sparrowhawk Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) flight demonstrations on September 16-17, 2020. The Sparrowhawk aircraft is designed as an airborne launch and recovery demonstrator aircraft tailored to fit GA-ASI platforms, and is focused on Advanced Battle Management System’s attritableONE technologies. Sparrowhawk iterates on the DARPA Gremlins Program to further airborne recovery of sUAS, reducing the cost of operation and enabling new mission capabilities to GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft.
“Sparrowhawk extends and multiplies MQ-9-based sensors, reduces manpower and increases ISR coverage,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “With attritableONE technology that is survivable and precise, Sparrowhawk is a true game changer.”
The Sparrowhawk sUAS was carried on a MQ-9A and controlled exclusively using GA-ASI’s Metis Software Defined Control Station hosted on a laptop computer, which drastically reduced the system’s logistical footprint and supports the vision for interfaces to the aircraft from across the battlefield — without the need for a Ground Control Station shelter or vehicle. Communications were achieved using a fielded meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among the platforms. The Cooperation in Denied Environments (CODE) autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.
The test flights build on the capabilities demonstrated when Gray Eagle carried two Area-I Altius-600 Air Launched Effects (ALEs) during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) demonstrations, underscoring GA-ASI’s commitment to expanding the capabilities of its aircraft. Sparrowhawk and airborne recovery also enable these benefits:
- Allows below-the-weather ISR, and enables reduced visual and acoustic ISR
- Enables attritable ISR/EW in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges
- Employs larger and more expensive payloads at greater transit ranges compared to ground-launched aircraft and air-launched expendables
- Maintains the chain of custody, through adverse weather, MQ-9 rotations, or with multiple targets
25 Sep 20. Russia Uses ‘Swarm Of Drones’ in Military Exercise. Three models of drones – Forpost, Orlan-10 and Eleron-3 – were pooled into one group for participation in drills during the command and staff exercise Kavkaz-2020, the Russian Defense Ministry told the media on Thursday.
“At the Kapustin Yar proving ground a combined group of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) was created. It incorporated Southern Military District units armed with drones Forpost, Orlan-10, Eleron-3 and others,” the Defense Ministry said.
UAVs are used at altitudes ranging 100 meters to 5,000 meters for exposing the enemy’s defenses and hitting ground targets.
The drones are capable of spotting military units on the move, command centers, weapons, military equipment and manpower to adjust fire strikes being delivered against the identified targets. Also, they are an integral element of radio-electronic warfare.
The Kavkaz-2020 drills, running from September 21- 26, led by Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov, are underway in Russia’s Southern Military District and in the Black and Caspian Seas. The exercise involves about 80,000 personnel, including officers from the Russian Emergencies Ministry and the Russian National Guard.
Furthermore, this is a multinational endeavour which includes up to 1,000 servicemen from Armenia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and Pakistan. Representatives from Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Sri Lanka are participating as observers, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
In addition, Russia’s top brass said that roughly 250 tanks, up to 450 mechanized infantry fighting vehicles and APCs, as well as up to 200 artillery systems and multiple-launch rocket systems were set to be used in the exercise on firing grounds.
About 12,900 troops are going to take part in activities in line with the 2011 Vienna Document of the Negotiations on Confidence-and Security-Building Measures. (Source: UAS VISION/TASS)
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