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21 Dec 20. Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully completed the first flight for the Global Hawk Ground Station Modernization Program (GSMP) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. earlier this month. Leveraging agile development and an open architecture design, the GSMP team transformed both the human-machine interface and the underlying software, paving the way for interoperability with other Air Force systems, enhanced responsiveness to ad hoc tasking, and lower impact updates in the future. The modernized Global Hawk ground stations will revolutionize the operator experience with new cockpit displays, the ability to fly all Global Hawk variants without software or configuration changes, simpler maintenance interfaces, and improved situational awareness and environmental conditions for pilots and sensor operators.
“I am very excited about the new capability the Ground Segment Modernization Program will deliver to the Warfighter.” said Colonel William Collins, Global Hawk System Program Director, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. “Not only will it allow the operators to conduct their missions from an enhanced, building-based control element, it will deliver critical Diminished Manufacturing Sources solutions and system security enhancements that will ensure this vital capability continues to be secure from cyber threats.”
“Global Hawk is a critical asset that delivers vital data to U.S. forces and allies 24/7/365,” said Leslie Smith, vice president Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman. “New, modern ground stations for Global Hawk will significantly improve the system and allow operators to more efficiently deliver timely ISR data to warfighters and connect the joint force through its global communications node mission.”
Northrop Grumman’s family of autonomous HALE systems, including Global Hawk, are a critical component of networked, global ISR collection. Today, Global Hawk operates on the edge of the battlespace, collecting ISR data that enables decision makers to act with the right information at the right time. In the future, Global Hawk is uniquely positioned for additional missions that connect the joint force, including persistent high capacity backbone, pseudo-satellite communications coverage, and joint all-domain command and control.
18 Dec 20. The military is this close to nabbing Gremlins from midair. The U.S. military recently came within inches of successfully retrieving three unmanned air vehicles in flight with a C-130 aircraft, bringing the Gremlins program tantalizingly close to a significant milestone.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s emerging technology arm, wants to demonstrate the ability to launch and recover four cheap, reusable unmanned aerial vehicles — the Gremlins — within 30 minutes in flight. The program uses X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) developed by Dynetics, a Leidos subsidiary. The GAVs are built to dock with a C-130 aircraft via an extension, similar to an airborne refueling operation.
Dynetics secured a 21-month, $38.6m award for the third phase of the Gremlins effort in 2018. While GAVs are relatively small, they have a range of more than 600 miles and can be equipped with a variety of sensors and technologies for different missions. The ability to distribute and collect GAVs from the air could keep them beyond the range of adversary defenses, according to DARPA, expanding the potential impact of unmanned aerial vehicles on the battlefield. Once recovered, GAVs are expected to be mission ready within 24 hours.
In the latest demonstration Oct. 28, DARPA made nine attempts to collect the GAVs with a docking mechanism extended from the C-130 aircraft. While none of the attempts was successful, with each GAV eventually parachuting to the ground, DARPA insisted the effort validated all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features.
“All of our systems looked good during the ground tests, but the flight test is where you truly find how things work,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager for DARPA’s Gremlins effort, in a Dec. 10 statement. “We came within inches of connection on each attempt but, ultimately, it just wasn’t close enough to engage the recovery system.”
Given the GAVs’ performance and the data collected over the nine attempts, Wierzbanowski said success is imminent.
“We made great strides in learning and responding to technological challenges between each of the three test flight deployments to date,” he said. “We were so close this time that I am confident that multiple airborne recoveries will be made in the next deployment. However, as with all flight testing, there are always real-world uncertainties and challenges that have to be overcome.”
The next attempt will take place in spring 2021.
While the Gremlins effort is ongoing, the U.S. Army has made strides in its own effort to retrieve small drones midair. During a recent demonstration, the Army was able to snag air-launched effects (ALE) — effectively small drones — from the air using the flying launch and recovery system (FLAReS). FLAReS uses a hook to catch the ALEs by the wing in flight, saving them from the wear and tear of a belly landing on the ground. (Source: Defense News)
16 Dec 20. Underwater Force Multipliers. Saab’s AUV62 MR is a modular torpedo-shaped UUV designed for MCM missions that can be launched from a submarine via a standard torpedo tube or a MMP. In February 2020, Chinese government sources announced the recovery of the underwater drones China deployed in the Indian Ocean for the purpose of gathering oceanography data. Further east, while Chinese fishermen regularly report finding foreign underwater drones – ‘spies’ – in Chinese waters, China is rumoured to be working on the development of an underwater Great Wall; a seabed of sensors protecting key strategic points on its shores. Further north, Russia has been developing the Poseidon, a submarine-launched underwater nuclear-warhead delivery platform.
Evidently, the race for underwater strategic and tactical superiority is on. As noted by Andrew Davies and James Mug, in a Strategic Insight from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), The next big grey thing – choosing Australia’s future frigate, “the enormousness of the ocean makes it one of the few remaining areas on Earth where big military platforms, such as ballistic missile submarines, can hide. Despite the development of new detection technologies, the ocean remains mostly opaque at depths of just a few dozen meters.” In such context, unmanned vehicles (UV) are key strategic capabilities for carrying out a number of missions without endangering valuable platforms. When launched from a submarine, they represent a great force multiplier.
The opacity of oceans and seas is the result of a wide variety of factors. Chiefly amongst those are the levels of salinity, the topography of sea and ocean beds, and the traffic encountered in those waters, whether military or civilian. All these characteristics vary greatly across the world’s oceans and seas, presenting significant challenges for noise propagation and recognition, and requiring in-depth knowledge of the areas of operation in order to plan missions, assets and payloads accordingly.
In such context, any strategic advantage will go to navies capable of using these challenging characteristics to their advantage. Guarding power projection assets, such as aircraft carriers and amphibious vessels, from adversary underwater assets may be difficult in these environments, yet such difficulties can be contrasted by acquiring the systems that can carry a number of missions autonomously, keeping key capabilities and crew out of harm’s way.
Until recently submarines were the platforms of choice, using this ‘underwater fog of war’ to a navy’s advantage. Stealthy and built to undertake long range missions over sustained periods of time, they can gather significant volumes of data or deliver weapons while remaining undetected. However, the resurgence of Great Power competition over the past few years has brought about increasing concerns over the development of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategies and their threat to such costly capabilities.
According to the document Advancing Autonomous Systems: An Analysis of Current and Future Technology for Unmanned Maritime Vehicles, published by the RAND Corporation in 2019, “the layers of sensors and overlapping weapon rings create multiple opportunities for adversaries to attack detectable platforms; in the most challenging A2/AD environments, targeted platforms are unlikely to survive, even with advanced kinetic interception capabilities.” The development of UVs these past few years is a direct response of submarines’ vulnerability to such A2/AD tactics.
Unmanned – or autonomous – vehicles have been gaining significant traction in the military domain over the last decade because they can be used to carry out missions that would otherwise put human lives and key capabilities at risk.
Until recently, in the underwater domain, this had been particularly evident in relation to mine hunting. Slowly fallen into oblivion after the end of World War II (WWII), mines have made a strong comeback in the past decade with the development of smart mines as part of A2/AD strategies. This has led an increasing number of nations choosing to pair Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) with a mother ship to carry out Mine Counter Measure (MCM) missions. Although the vast majority of MCM systems are launched from surface ships, a number of countries, especially the US, are exploring the possibility of launching them from submarines as well.
But the real, emerging, tactical advantage of submarine-launched UUVs resides in their ability to offer a more extended and safer range for power projection into chokepoints and contested space. Johan Strandlund, head of marketing and sales Underwater Systems, Saab, told AMR that, “UUV operations from submarines not only give the advantage of enhanced ISR (sensor multiplying capability) with a higher degree of covertness (both on a strategic and tactical level) but also a greater stand-off between the submarine and the area of operations.”
Key to overcoming A2/AD barriers is the ability to gather the data necessary to build as complete a situational awareness picture as possible. As noted in the June 2020 report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Artificial Intelligence, Strategic Stability, and Nuclear Risk, “machine learning and autonomy hold major promise for early warning and ISR.” These two technologies – supported by a variety of navigation, sensor and communication payloads – enable the collection and processing of large volumes of data on-board, allowing UUVs to not only identify by themselves signals, objects and situations of interest for the purpose of ISR, but also to safely navigate autonomously over extended ranges and periods of time. These systems can either work in collaboration with other UUVs or may be used as single-system UVs.
“Multiple small platforms distributed across a wide area could help provide broader sensor coverage and would not require more than limited relocation,” notes the RAND report. This would not only allow them to work together as a buoy field or deployable underwater sonar array, it would also make them less vulnerable to individual countermeasures.
Shaped like torpedoes, to facilitate launching from the submarine’s torpedo tubes, UVs working as a part of a network of ISR manned/unmanned systems carry out their programmed mission autonomously from the mother ship. How the data they collect is then shared and used may vary according to different CONOPS. It can be shared rapidly with a surface or air asset for immediate action in the context of early warning. Alternatively, it can be shared with other unmanned platforms – whether underwater, surface and/or air – to then be retrieved by the submarine itself or other manned platforms to plan for future action.
The US Navy (USN) has been experimenting with this CONOPS for the past few years. According to the Congressional Research Service report, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress, published in March 2020, the USN is pursuing such capabilities to meet emerging military challenges, “particularly from China.” The USN vision includes extra large platforms, which are pier launched, as well as large, medium and small systems that can be surface or submarine launched.
AeroVironment, specialised in small unmanned air systems (UAS) and loitering missiles, has been working with the USN to develop its Blackwing project. A small UAS delivering rapid-response ISR, a company spokesperson told AMR in a written statement, the Blackwing “can be deployed from an underwater submarine using an underwater-to-air delivery canister.” It incorporates an advanced Electro-Optical and Infrared (EO/IR) sensor and provides operators with real-time video for information gathering and feature/object recognition. It can relay information to other UUVs via DDL-Joint, interoperable, encrypted wide-band. Conceptualised during the USN Submarine Over the Horizon Organic Capabilities project, “the Blackwing transitioned to USN submarines in 2016.” (Source: AMR)
15 Dec 20. Naval Group accepts two more Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 for French Navy. Naval Group has accepted an additional two CAMCOPTER S-100 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for operational use with the French Navy.
Naval Group has accepted an additional two CAMCOPTER S-100 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for operational use with the French Navy.
This brings the total count of Schiebel’s unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in use with the French Navy to four.
The two additional UAVs passed acceptance tests in October in the presence of the Naval Group and French Navy representatives.
The four UAVs will be deployed on the Mistral-class amphibious helicopter carriers Tonnerre and Mistral.
The CAMCOPTER S-100 has already been integrated on the French Navy’s Mistral-class vessel Dixmude.
Schiebel Group chairman Hans Georg Schiebel said: “After the successful integration on the Dixmude, we are very proud of the confidence the French Navy has in the proven and reliable CAMCOPTERS-100 and we are looking forward to the integration on the Tonnerre and Mistral and their operational deployment.”
According to Schiebel, connecting the rotary wing UAS to the combat system of an amphibious helicopter carrier is a first in Europe.
This integration will enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of the helicopter carrier. (Source: naval-technology.com)
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