Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
31 Dec 20. UK Royal Navy Issues RFI for Heavy-Lift UAS. The UK Ministry Of Defence is currently seeking information in order to qualify requirements and develop our understanding of the potential for the market to provide an autonomous maritime airborne heavy lift capability for the Royal Navy.
The purpose of this Request for Information is to enhance the Authority’s awareness and allow for initial review of a range of maritime airborne autonomous capabilities which currently exist or are in development within the marketplace to support the development of the RN’s Autonomy network and the creation of the Future Maritime Aviation Force (FMAF, the rapid transformation of crewed aviation roles (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Communications, Lift and Strike) to uncrewed).
The Authority intends to use the responses to this RFI to inform future decision making regarding the potential supply of maritime autonomous airborne heavy lift capability. For clarity, this RFI is not a bidding opportunity but a means by which industry can provide information to the Authority.
This RFI aims to achieve the following three (3) outcomes:
- Develop further the Authority’s understanding of the different technologies and capabilities available in the market, both current and emerging.
- Align Authority requirements with industry standards and processes for procurement of maritime autonomous airborne capabilities; and,
- Enable the Authority to develop a procurement strategy that will deliver best value for money for Defence.
- Requested Information:
The Authority wishes to assess potential maritime airborne autonomous heavy lift solutions for use within the Royal Navy.
Potential suppliers and interested parties are invited to provide information in relation to potential solutions which could deliver an airborne autonomous heavy lift capability which is aligned to the following indicative requirements.
Potential solutions ideally should offer:
- Autonomous / Crewless operation;
- Accurate delivery of payloads exceeding 200kg;
- Ability for over the horizon operation;
- Suitability for maritime environments (sea states, salt ingress, deck mobility)
- Suitability for use in a variety of environmental conditions ashore and at sea
- Rapidly interchangeable, multiple payload types;
- Open Architecture;
- Sustainability and enduring capability.
View RFI notice here: https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/bcac329d-7e85-480e-a619-521cb0fa561d (Source: UAS VISION/UK Ministry of Defence)
28 Dec 20. Russia’s TU-95MS Bomber Controls UAV In-Flight. During recent exercises, the crew of a Russian Tu-95MS strategic bomber practiced in-flight guidance of an unmanned aerial vehicle from the cockpit, a Russian defense industry source told TASS.
“Recently, flight trials were held to practice the interaction between a Tu-95MS and a drone. In other words, they trained to guide the drone from the plane’s cockpit,”
the source said, adding that the plane had been refit with special drone guidance equipment.
The source did not specify the type of the drone used during the trials. He also did not confirm that such trials ever involved the Okhotnik (Hunter) heavy strike drone, but did not rule out the possibility of such exercises in the future.
“What really matters here is to practice the process itself, the type of drone would be irrelevant,” he said.
Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Aerospace Forces Lt. Gen. Sergei Dronov said on August 12 that during the development of UAVs, special attention is paid to integrating them into a single system with manned aircraft.
Russia’s Okhotnik heavy attack drone developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau performed its debut flight on August 3, 2019. The flight lasted over 20 minutes under an operator’s control. On September 27, 2019, the Okhotnik performed a flight together with a Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet. The drone maneuvered in the air in the automated mode at an altitude of around 1,600 meters and its flight lasted over 30 minutes.
The Okhotnik features stealth technology and the flying wing design (it lacks the tail) and has a take-off weight of 20 tonnes. The drone has a jet engine and is capable of developing a speed of around 1,000 km/h.
According to the data of Russia’s Defense Ministry, the drone has anti-radar coating and is outfitted with equipment for electro-optical, radar and other types of reconnaissance. (Source: UAS VISION/TASS)
21 Dec 20. ADF releases Concept for Future Robotics and Autonomous Systems. The ADF’s Force Exploration Hub has released its Concept for Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS). This describes the challenges and opportunities provided by RAS, and what actions Defence must take to create advantage in the future operating environment.
It was approved by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, whose organisation hosts the Hub as part of its Force Design Division, in November 2020.
The RAS concept considers the military problem: How will Defence’s future force exploit RAS to gain advantages throughout the spectrum of conflict, and how can Defence counter threats posed to the future force by RAS?
The concept identifies that RAS provides opportunities for Defence to exploit, especially enhancing its combat capability by employing RAS in human-commanded teams to improve efficiency, increase mass and achieve decision advantage while decreasing risk to personnel. To counter adversary RAS the concept discusses how attacks on environmental perception and control systems, information warfare and platform destruction can be used to mitigate these threats.
The concept is intended to be used by those in Defence, industry, and research institutions involved in operational planning, force design, force exploration, experimentation, and in the delivery of professional military education and training. Download a copy here.
The release of the Concept for Robotic and Autonomous Systems follows the release earlier this year of the RAN’s RAS-AI Strategy. (Source: http://rumourcontrol.com.au/)
29 Dec 20. Russian Armed Forces Received 900+ UAVs Since 2012. The Russian armed forces have received more than 900 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since 2012, the Russian Defense Ministry said in its bulletin, headlined ‘Main results of the Russian Armed Forces’ activities in 2012-2020,’ obtained by TASS.
“Russia’a unmanned aviation received over 900 systems with UAVs,” the document reads.
Among them are the Forpost and Inokhodets reconnaissance-and-combat unmanned aerial vehicle systems.
First modern scout unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) dubbed Inokhodets and Forpost are now supplied to the Russian troops, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a defense meeting on Monday.
Medium-range Forpost is the biggest serial drone in the Russian armed forces. The Aerospace Forces and the Navy operate several dozens of them. The drones have been produced by the Ural Civil Aviation Plant since 2014. The drones are engaged to detect ground targets and adjust artillery and missile fire, as well as in humanitarian and monitoring missions. Each system has three drones, weighting 450 kg, which can fly for 18 hours and are equipped with powerful optical reconnaissance means, transmitting and radio equipment.
Inokhodets is a medium-range UAV for round-the-clock all-weather surveillance of objects on the ground and water surface. Then Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said in late 2018 that a new modification of Inokhodets was about to complete trials. In his words, it can carry a payload of 450 kg and fly for up to 30 hours. (Source: UAS VISION/TASS)
23 Dec 20. Stingray: No Barb or Venom for Now. A team of aerospace specialists led by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Boeing’s Phantom Works is currently developing a new weapon system, one that’s set to change many of the established cultures of military aviation. Designated the MQ-25A and named Stingray, this 15.5 metre (51 foot) long non-experimental unmanned air vehicle (Us the world’s first designed for carrier-based operations. In addition to catapult launch and arrested landing capabilities, the Stingray will perform autonomous aerial refuelling (AAR) in support of all fixed wing aircraft assigned to the Carrier Air Wing (CVW).
Secondary to that, the MQ-25A has an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role afforded by an electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensor. Data will be transmitted at appropriate classification levels to other aircraft, naval vessels, ground forces, and to exploitation nodes afloat and ashore, specifically the Navy’s Distributed Common Ground System.
In official Department of Defense (DoD) parlance, the MQ-25 extends CVW mission effectiveness range, partially reduces the current Carrier Strike Group (CSG) organic ISR shortfall and fills the future CVW-tanker gap, mitigating strike fighter deficit and preserving F/A-18 Super Hornet fatigue life for fleet defence and strike missions.
As the first carrier-based, Group 5 unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the MQ-25 will pioneer the integration of manned and unmanned flight operations, demonstrate mature sea-based UAS command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) technologies, and pave the way for future multifaceted multi-mission unmanned air vehicles to keep pace with emerging threats.
The latter is a pointer to follow-on roles for the MQ-25. Certainly the air vehicle’s low-observable stealthy configuration points to the air vehicle being used to drag aircraft in CVW strike packages further from the carrier than ever before: most importantly supporting F-35C Lightning IIs into non-permissive environments.
A likelihood not denied by Captain Chad Reed, MQ-25 programme manager, Unmanned Carrier Aviation with PMA-268 who said: “Right now, even though its configuration is stealthy, there is no low-observable requirement for the MQ-25. Our requirement was for Boeing to use mature technologies in accordance with the accelerated programme goals. It is designed to operate in permissive environments when it enters the fleet, while concepts of operation are explored, and it’s meshed with manned operations. Manned-unmanned teaming is a notable aspect of the programme, one that’s on the cutting-edge simply because other aircraft are not designed to operate in such close proximity to and with manned aircraft: Stingray has a configuration and a new capability unmatched in a current air wing.”
UCLASS and NGAD
MQ-25 requirements are aligned with the initial capability documents for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) programme, and the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) family of systems. Both documents highlighted the need for carrier-based refuelling and persistent ISR capabilities.
The Joint Requirements Oversight Council’s (JROC’s) guidance set out a requirement for a versatile platform that supports a myriad of organic naval missions such as aerial refuelling and ISR to support the CSG. On 21 July 2017, the JROC validated the capability development document for the MQ-25 Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS).
Designed to be sustainable on board an aircraft carrier and from shore bases, the MQ-25 system is comprised of three major architectural segments:
– the air segment includes the MQ-25A air vehicle and associated support and handling equipment including the deck handling system, spares and repair materials.
– the control system and connectivity (CS&C) segment includes the Unmanned carrier aviation Mission Control System (UMCS) and its associated communication equipment; mission support functionality of the Distributed Common Ground Station-Navy (DCGS-N), the Navy’s primary intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting system; all network based interfaces and routing equipment required to control the Stingray; and all required modifications to existing networks and C4I system infrastructure.
– the CVN (aircraft carrier) segment comprises the ships’ spaces allocated to unmanned carrier aviation, installed ship systems and modifications necessary for interface with the air and CS&C segments. CVN systems important to the MQ-25 include aircraft launch and recovery systems, data dissemination systems (including radio terminals and antennas), and deck operations systems. Ship installation requires considerable work to re-model nearly 900ft² (84m²) of space on board the carrier to house the UMCS.
As Lead Systems Integrator (LSI), PMA-268 manages all three.
In terms of its operating envelope, the MQ-25 adequately meets the fleet’s current operational needs and achieves the two primary roles. Driving that performance is a relatively low air vehicle empty weight and the fuel-efficiency of the Rolls-Royce AE3007N engine.
Components integrated on the air vehicle to meet mission requirements include a long wingspan for flight stability and endurance; a Héroux-Devtek landing gear system; redundancy systems for safety of flight; Raytheon ALR-69A(V) all-digital radar warning receivers providing 360 degree coverage; a Raytheon AAS-52 MTS-A multi-sensor imaging system equipped with infrared and CCDTV sensors, laser rangefinder, designator and illuminator; and one Rolls-Royce AE3007N turbofan engine rated at 9,000lb (40kN).
Systems specific to carrier flight deck operations include a tail hook for arrested landings; foldable wings to minimise the air vehicle’s parking footprint on the flight deck; design features that ease maintenance; and on-deck control systems that integrate with systems currently used on Nimitz and Ford-class carriers.
Based on the US government’s acquisition strategy approved in April 2017, the MQ-25 programme is an evolution from the previous UCLASS programme.
Concepts for the now defunct UCLASS programme were deemed too difficult and challenging given the number of new technologies involved, all of which required evaluation. Consequently, NAVAIR’s PMA-268 implemented a restart to evaluate the art of the possible for introducing something so new as the MQ-25, and to explore concepts of operation.
In 2016 Congress appropriated PMA-268 a congressional plus-up award for four contractors each capable of developing an UAS suitable for the CBARS requirements; Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Each contractor presented PMA-268 with ideas about how they were to mature their own technologies and concepts prior to receiving their share of the congressional plus-up award; a means of funding their respective concept development programmes through mid-2018. At that point with details, including the giveaway fuel load and ranges of each of the concepts submitted, PMA-268 conducted a tanker trade study which help conclude its requirements for the CBARS programme.
PMA-268 released the draft air system Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development (EMD) Request for Proposal (RFP) in July 2017 and released the final EMD RFP in early October 2017. Shortly after, Northrop Grumman dropped out of the competition citing an inability to meet the Navy’s specification and deliver a profit.
Less than eight months after receiving qualified proposals, PMA-268 awarded the EMD contract to Boeing Company in August 2018. This was the fastest Acquisition Category 1 (ACAT-1) EMD award of the past ten years.
Under the EMD contract, the first seven aircraft procured by the Navy are four Engineering Development Model (EDM, not EMD) test air vehicles (AV-1, AV-2, AV-3 and AV-4), and three System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA). In addition, Boeing will also build two more airframes – one for fatigue testing and one for static loads testing.
Part of the requirement was to have a considerable amount of the design already complete prior to contract award; each company had either a prototype or a developmental article ready.
PMA-268 staff conducted a thorough review of each proposal over the next eight months. Boeing’s bid was determined to offer the best value for the government, first and foremost because of its ability to meet the schedule, and the ability to meet the key performance parameters (KPPs). It’s notable that the MQ-25 had just two KPPs. This a consequence of a pilot programme launched by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson in 2017 that sought to limit the number of KPPs for a new weapon system to no more than three. PMA-268 opted for two; the capability to give away a set amount of fuel to a CVW strike package hundreds of miles away from the carrier, and full integration with Nimitz and Ford-class carriers as they currently operate.
MQ-25 is designated a maritime accelerated acquisition programme because the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, James Geurts saw the importance of getting the system to the fleet quickly. More specifically to reduce the amount of flight time used up by F/A-18 Super Hornets when conducting the aerial refuelling role. The 6,000-hour Super Hornet service life is being depleted at much faster rates than anticipated. This has forced the Navy to devise and develop a new weapon system to conduct its tanker mission and save Super Hornet service life. This is a primary reason why the Navy switched its plan for a carrier-borne UAS from one programme, UCLASS, to another; CBARS (see below).
The CBARS concept also addresses other tactical aspects of carrier aviation; it helps to counter emerging threats now fielded by potential adversaries. That capability almost certainly points to a need for the MQ-25’s stealthy, low-observable configuration.
T1 and Phase One Testing
Phantom Works, Boeing’s advanced prototyping division, started building air vehicle T1 in 2012.
The design features a blended wing-body-tail air foil with folding, high-aspect-ratio wings and a V-tail. Its configuration reflects the long-endurance mission requirements of the UCLASS programme, particularly the long thin wings. Phantom Works finished the first iteration in 2014 as part of its design proposal for the UCLASS programme.
Air vehicle T1 has the same outer mould line and the same engine to nascent production standard MQ-25s. Consequently, some aspects of testing already undertaken with T1 will not require repeating with a production standard air vehicle.
The objective of the MQ-25 test programme is to evaluate system maturity and technical performance of the aerial refuelling role; both mission and recovery tanking.
Initial ground testing with T1, including communications integration, towing, combined system and taxi, began almost immediately following contract award at Boeing’s facilities in St Louis, Missouri. In April 2019, Boeing trucked T1 to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Illinois to conduct the first phases of flight testing. T1’s maiden flight took place there on 19 September 2019. The company chose MidAmerica (the commercial side of Scott Air Force Base) because of hangar, runway, taxiway and air space availability.
As of 20 March, T1 had flown 12 flights and amassed nearly 30 hours during which the team worked through test points designed to evaluate the aerodynamic performance of the air vehicle, altitudes and air speeds, and the performance of the engine. T1 is fully instrumented for capturing flight test data used to evaluate flight and aerodynamic performance.
T1 is currently undergoing a planned modification for the installation of an aerial refuelling store underneath the left wing, specifically a Cobham 31-301-7 buddy store. The modification is required because T1 was originally developed without pylons to carry stores; that was not a requirement of UCLASS. The first series of aerial refuelling flight tests will follow later this year.
Testing with T1 will continue over the next few years to include envelope expansion, engine testing, aerial refuelling store operations, and Joint Precision Approach Landing System (JPALS) functionality testing.
The latter will require T1 to undergo a second modification period to enable the air vehicle to land using the JPALS, a differential, GPS-based precision landing system that guides aircraft onto carriers in all weather and surface conditions up to the rough waters of Sea State 5.
An important mod to evaluate functionality and identify any issue with JPALS before the FY2021 delivery to Naval Air Station Patuxent River of the first EDM test configured air vehicle AV-1.
T1’s involvement in the test programme will culminate with its hoisting aboard an aircraft carrier to test the deck handling and control station systems.
Risk Reducer / Later Test Phases
T1 has already proven beneficial as a risk reducer during initial ground and flight testing. According to PMA-268, T1 is performing as the models projected to give the programme confidence as it moves to EDM standard air vehicle production and test.
Having T1 available for testing years before the first EDM comes off Boeing’s St Louis production line supports early learning and the discovery of any issues much earlier than is typical. Lessons learned and any issues identified can be applied and corrected during the development of the EDM air vehicles. For example, an icing susceptibility issue with the air data probe system has already been identified. To correct the issue, a different air data probe has been designed and will be fitted to all four EDM air vehicles AV-1, AV-2, AV-3 and AV-4, during their production.
Without T1, the test team would not have been able to identify the air data probe problem for several years.
Initial testing of each EDM air vehicle will take place at Boeing’s MidAmerica St Louis Airport facility by an integrated Navy-Boeing test team before delivery to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. The Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) ‘Salty Dogs’ will lead testing of MQ-25.
Part of the air vehicle’s catapult launch and arrested landing equipment testing will take place at Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, followed by cold soak trials in the McKinley climatic laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
AV-1 will undergo all aspects of a standard flight test programme followed by catapult launches and arrested landings at both Patuxent River and Lakehurst.
Boeing is conducting T1 flights in partnership with PMA-268, whereas EDM flight testing will be conducted by an integrated Navy-Boeing test team led by VX-23.
PMA-268 is overseeing all preparations for the MQ-25’s test programme at Patuxent River. A hangar and laboratory facility are under construction, support equipment is being acquired, and personnel recruited.
AV-1 and AV-2 will be dedicated to flight sciences testing and fitted with similar instrumentation to T1. AV-3 and AV-4 will be dedicated to mission systems and carrier suitability testing, and the air vehicle’s effectiveness to the aerial refuelling role, all planned for the second phase.
The air vehicle’s all-up weight is an incredibly important design parameter for carrier suitability. The MQ-25 must be capable of fulfilling its tanking role despite the constraints imposed by maximum catapult shot weights and arrested recoveries from Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers. All-up weight was also constrained by the requirement for a fuel giveaway of 16,000lb (7,257kg) at 500 nautical miles (925km) from the carrier. By comparison, a Super Hornet holds a giveaway fuel load of 12,000lb (5,443kg) on a two-hour cycle, 15,000lb (6,803kg) on a normal cycle and 25,000lb (11,339kg) on a short cycle.
The MQ-25 will also be tasked with recovery tanking, which involves having a tanker airborne in orbit close to the carrier while aircraft recover. A critical capability at night or when the weather conditions are bad with a pitching deck in heavy seas, such that pilots need to top up the tanks to afford further attempts to land on the flight deck.
Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) is the final phase.
Designated the MD-5 A/B (ship/shore), the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS). An MD-5 A/B control station comprises open architecture software, six OJ-845 common display systems, two UYQ-122 common processing systems, one network processing group, one integrated communication system, and network connectivity.
Both the MD-5 and its operating software are being developed by PMA-268, which is also responsible for all modifications required to shore-based and CVN infrastructure. The latter includes integration of NAVAIR-developed software with Boeing’s air vehicle OFP, the network, and the command, control and communication systems that will enable both CVN and shore-based control of the air vehicle.
A PMA-268 team demonstrated the first build of the UMCS using representative shipboard equipment and a simulated air vehicle at Patuxent River on April 11, 2017.
During the demo, the UMCS communicated with a Surface Mobile Aviation Interoperability Lab truck, simulating an air vehicle, and verifying command and control. Connectivity between the UMCS and shipboard network systems was tested and voice trunking (internet protocol to serial) between the air vehicle operator (AVO) and the simulated UAV was verified.
Limited control and data dissemination between the UMCS and simulated air vehicle to include automatic identification system detection, electro-optical/infrared camera operation, and full motion video, pre-planned and dynamic mission re-planning, was also performed.
UMCS 1.0 demonstrated that third party software can coexist with the common control system (CCS) framework, thereby proving the architecture is viable.
This demonstration was the first of a series to demonstrate UMCS capabilities as development of the system progresses.
Integration testing is ongoing at Patuxent River as part of the programme’s first test phase.
UMCS hardware builds on Naval Sea Systems Command’s common display and processing systems from the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer and other Aegis-equipped ships.
It also incorporates the Navy’s CCS, a software architecture that features a common framework, user interface, and components designed for use with a variety of unmanned systems.
US Navy documentation lists a requirement for 12 UMCS sub-systems for assembly and delivery to installation sites between September 2020 and October 2027.
Air Vehicle Control
Using mouse and keyboard controls, the AVO commands the air vehicle where it needs to go and what it’s required to do: the system determines how to get there in the most safe and efficient way.
Typical operation involves the AVO maintaining positive control of the air vehicle, including the ability to change speed, direction and altitude, and continuously monitor the machine while in flight.
Flight control software is designed to handle unexpected events such as bad weather or when a change to altitude or the position of its tanking pattern is required.
The AVO, a warrant officer, will use the MD-5 control station housed within the carrier’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation Warfare Center throughout all stages of the mission from the catapult launch to the arrested landing.
Prior to launch and landing, a deck handling operator will use a deck control device to taxi the Stingray around the flight deck. Once the air vehicle is on the catapult, at some point the deck handling operator will hand-off to the AVO. After landing, the deck handling operator will assume control to taxi the air vehicle to its parking spot. This is a similar method to the one used for the Northrop Grumman X-47B demonstrator.
During aerial refuelling ops, the AVO will have the ability to communicate with the receiver aircraft’s pilot. PMA-268 is currently developing a concept of operations for aerial refuelling which will follow the same procedures as currently used by Super Hornets.
Milestone C and Beyond
Since contract award to Boeing, PMA-268 is following a non-standard version of the rigorous Systems Engineering and Technical Review (SETR) process to finalise the design. The DoD tasked PMA-268 to tailor out elements of the standard SETR process as part of the MQ-25’s Military Airworthiness Authority distinction in order to achieve a six-year schedule. MQ-25 milestone names and requirements differ from the traditional convention because of the focus on accelerating development and delivery to the fleet. Work will continue through to the MQ-25 system design review (SDR) later this year to set its baseline design. This will allow production of the EDM air vehicles to begin. SDR is similar to a critical design review used by other DoD programmes.
PMA-268 is pursuing a Milestone C decision for low rate initial production in FY2023 to procure up to 12 MQ-25A air vehicles. Following successful IOT&E, PMA-268 will pursue a full rate production decision for an estimated total of 76 air vehicles. Stingray is expected to achieve its initial operational capability with the fleet in 2024.
MQ-25 Stingray Characteristics
Wingspan: 22.86m (75ft)
Wingspan folded: 9.54m (31ft 3in)
Length: 15.54m (51ft)
Height: 4.78m (15ft 8in)
Flight deck footprint – no greater than a Super Hornet
22 Dec 20. Skyways attempting autonomous folding wings for US Navy Blue Water UAS. Skyways of Austin, Texas is developing autonomously folding wings for its Group 3 unmanned aerial system (UAS) selected for the US Navy (USN) Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS programme.
Charles Acknin, company founder and CEO, told Janes on 30 November that the company’s goal is to have its Group 3 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft’s wings autonomously fold after take off and before landing. Folding wings are intended to provide better handling and ship storage.
The company is experimenting with different concepts, but as Skyways’ Blue Water UAS has four pairs of rotors for VTOL mode, it cannot experiment with the entire spectrum of folding wing possibilities. This includes pulling the wings back toward the tail. Additionally, Acknin said that the Skyways Blue Water UAS’ wings can be fully removed in less than 30 seconds.
Skyways was awarded a USD575,141 other transaction award (OTA) on 29 August 2019 for the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS programme, according to the Naval Aviation Systems Consortium (NASC). Skyways’ folding wing work is being performed under a large expansion of the original August 2019 OTA, which Acknin said is now worth four-times its original value.
Skyways, under the August 2019 OTA, developed a dual-propulsion system that is flying on one of its aircraft. Acknin said that this system has electric propulsion for VTOL and a heavy-fuel gasoline engine for the whole duration of cruise flight. Acknin said, for example, 99.9% of a 644km flight will use the heavy fuel engine. (Source: Jane’s)
22 Dec 20. Swarm attack: taking on piracy’s deadliest tactic. The threat of swarm attacks to navies is growing across the world, and with it the importance of staying ahead in the development of defence systems. Alex Love speaks to QinetiQ about its technological approach to countering piracy swarm attacks.
Swarm attacks are an unpredictable threat for even the best-equipped naval fleets due to the high volume of small, fast-moving vessels involved. Failure to prepare for such an attack risks naval defences becoming overwhelmed and decreases the effectiveness of a fleet’s medium and long-range weapons.
Hostile fast boats may be equipped with weapons such as anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers, or packed with explosives intended for a collision. Furthermore, swarms are increasingly being controlled remotely, allowing the operator to launch an attack while being well out of the firing line and deploy more aggressive tactics than crewed vessels.
In order to combat this threat, sheer firepower alone will not suffice; a swarm attack needs to be outthought.
“It’s all about their manoeuvre of the ship and how they actually avoid it in the beginning. It would obviously be due to intelligence as well, and this is all coordinated from the command platform,” explains Jules Werner, business development manager at QinetiQ Target Systems.
“When a ship deploys, they look at their training. Their intelligence is huge. So they would have a good idea, hopefully, that there is some sort of threat as they go into a certain area. A surprise attack can happen anywhere and that’s when they need to be ready for it.”
Preparing for a swarm attack
Training is vital to prepare crews for defending against a swarm attack. While computer simulations are helpful and widely used, training in real-world environments is considered even more important. QinetiQ provides solutions to help navies and shipping operators train to combat these threats.
“For a warship, army or air force to go into an operational area, the confidence and morale of the troops is from actually seeing that weapon system working as it’s been designed to do,” says Werner.
“You can do as much training and as much simulating as you like, but until you actually see that weapons system fire or that missile system launch from that platform to hit that target, that’s the only way you’re actually going to get that confidence to go into battle. Knowing that your systems work appropriately; you’re trained appropriately as well to be able to deal with the current threat.”
Typically, a navy or commercial shipping company will have a solid idea of where the highest risks are based on geographical location. Crews passing through these areas must be prepared to encounter a swarm attack.
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“We are constantly looking at what’s going on with the threat. We’re always looking at how we need to change our targets going forward and look at what the threat is out there,” adds Werner. “We know swarms are out there, that can impose a threat globally.
“We’ve seen the damage that’s happened in Saudi Arabia, and attacks on allied ships in the past. And also other threats that we have from the likes of Iran – they have fast patrol boats, these are very small, they’re quite prepared to put weapons on these types of small vessels and they go very, very fast.
“From a ship going through something like the Suez Canal, for instance, or the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf, this really does pose a very big threat. Our allied forces need to be able to train appropriately to be able to deal with this.”
Training vessels to defend piracy swarms
For real-world training exercises, QinetiQ provides highly manoeuvrable vessels to simulate those most commonly used in a swarm attack.
“We can swarm up to 40 vehicles at a time to give them a realistic threat. If we had 40 vehicles closing in on a ship at very high speed, weaving at 35-40 knots would be very challenging indeed to be able to take those out,” explains Werner.
QinetiQ’s main swarm training vessel is the 5m long Hammerhead uncrewed surface vehicle-target (USV-T). This is an advanced composite surface-effect hull speedboat capable of achieving speeds of approximately 35 knots in various sea states, driven by a 3l 135hp gas engine.
The Hammerhead has been designed to convincingly imitate the varied movements and vessel signatures of fast inshore attack craft involved in multivehicle swarms. “The Hammerhead is what we call a ‘kill target’. It is designed to be destroyed out on the water. It has a towing capability, which some customers use but it is literally a target that is very fast to be killed,” explains Werner.
QinetiQ’s Barracuda USV-T is a type of fibreglass hull, rigid inflatable boat. Adapted from a navy standard, the 7m vessel is powered by a 225hp marine diesel engine capable of achieving speeds of 36 knots. It can be controlled remotely more than 10nm away, as well as featuring settings for over-the-horizon control to imitate where threats are most likely to appear.
Operators receive information on system performance and the craft’s location from video signals and telemetry. The vessel can be tracked by its onboard GPS system, which can then be compared with a ship’s radar and other onboard sensors to verify their effectiveness in detecting such threats. It is commonly used to pull a high-speed inflatable towed target, which is fired upon so the Barracuda can be reused.
“The Barracuda is what we call a workhorse sea boat,” says Werner. “It’s got a very good towing capability. We would mostly look at using it towing a target. It’s still very manoeuvrable, but any engagement from a weapon system would be actually firing at the tow, not the actual boat because the boat is more expensive. However, some customers choose to use that as the main target as well. The beauty of the Barracuda is that it can also be used as a work boat on the ship for daily sea boat tasks.”
Both vessels have been widely used to train crews on naval and commercial vessels to replicate the threats they may encounter. The Barracuda and Hammerhead have been used as targets to test weapons systems such as surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, as well as naval guns and close-range weapon systems. Payload options can feature visual augmentation, including flags, flares, smoke, and strobes.
Real threat representation
Another solution in QinetiQ’s anti-swarm suite is the Active Radar Enhancement Payload, a versatile emulator that provides an accurate simulation of threats from homing missiles. Its two modes are sweeping and target acquisition. When used with an aerial target platform, it can detect incoming skimming attacks such as projectiles flying as low as 5m above the surface. The platform can also simulate scenarios involving multiple threats, providing operators with crucial experience in how to handle them.
According to Werner, QinetiQ Target Systems works to provide real threat representation, working with customers to understand their requirements and offer an appropriate solution. Any gaps in training are identified and addressed with the customer.
“If there’s a new customer that hasn’t used their weapon systems for a while, we wouldn’t suddenly go and put a swarm attack scenario straightaway,” adds Werner. “We would build up from one target, get them to understand what that target is actually doing and the threat that is replicating as it comes towards the ship. And we would help progress with that going forward, i.e. bring in two targets, maybe three.
“As soon as you go in with more than two targets, it becomes a very complex type of scenario. This type of training also benefits other members of the crew, from the bridge team to the operations room team. QinetiQ’s priority is always safety, making sure that any trial is done in as safe as possible way.”
Swarm attacks are predicted to increase in future due to the relatively low costs involved and advances in technology. While attacks from swarms of thousands of automated drones are still some years away from being a reality, it is vital for vessel operators to stay ahead of the curve.
“We work with our customers; we look at what’s out there and try to understand what other countries like China and Russia are up to as well,” says Werner. “If a customer suddenly says there’s a threat they believe is now a moving surface target that’s now doing 70 knots and we can only provide 35 knots, we then as a business would consider the investment of a faster, more appropriate target and get ahead of the game.” (Source: naval-technology.com)
16 Dec 20. Underwater Force Multipliers. 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.”
A small UAS delivering rapid-response ISR, AeroVironment’s Blackwing can be deployed from a submarine using underwater-to-air delivery canisters.
The role of the submarine in these case scenarios, however, remains limited. Technological advances have made significant strides in recent years to improve range and autonomy, but underwater communication remains challenging. Not only do ocean and sea characteristics considerably limit communication frequencies, but the necessity for a submarine to remain undetected also constrains communications with other platforms to a minimum. Unless the submarine is already at periscope depth, which is unlikely to be the case in an A2/AD environment.
Submarine-launched UVs may also be used as single platforms to undertake ISR missions. In this scenario, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) are launched from the submarine to carry out specific ISR missions in complete autonomy and are subsequently recovered to allow data processing onboard.
“Recovery is the main issue for submarine-launched UUVs,” Cyril Levy, Head of Unmanned Systems & Mine Warfare at Naval Group told AMR. “On a surface ship there will always be crew-members assigned to assist with the recovery of a returning UV, but this is not possible on a submerged submarine.” A submarine, which is in movement most of the time, creates turbulences around its shell that make it particularly difficult for UUVs to fit back into the tube without endangering the submarine according to Levy.
As such, Naval Group has been working to develop a docking station that can be fitted onto a submarine and can safely host the UUV. The docking station is complete with an automatic charging system working with induction technologies and a special liquid that allows for long-term storage of the UUV, thus avoiding corrosion from seawater. The large volumes of data collected during the mission are transferred from the UUV to the submarine via the submarine’s secure Wi-Fi system, then transformed in the correct format to be processed and analysed via the submarine’s Combat Management System (CMS).
Naval Group has also developed the D19, a torpedo-shaped UUV weighting approximately one tonne and between six and eight metres-long – depending on the number of batteries fitted to increase autonomy. “The engine of the system has also been designed to ensure stability at very low speed,” added Levy.
Similarly, Saab Kockums’ latest submarine design, the A26, features a Multimission Portal (MMP). Initially developed for the delivery of Special Forces divers, the MMP design takes into consideration “the various needs for operating a UUV, both in terms of ensuring the necessary space and handling considerations inside the vessel, and the MMP itself to ensure safe and quiet operation in the confines of a submarine,” Benoit Passard, Kockums executive, told AMR.
Additionally, all Saab’s Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) and UUVs can be launched from a submarine as long as there is space on-board. More specifically designed for these operations are the SUBROV, a small ROV for general underwater operations tethered to the submarine by a fibre optic cable, and the AUV62 MR, a modular torpedo-shaped UUV designed for MCM missions. “Both systems are launched and retrieved from a standard torpedo tube and the Swedish armed forces have been operating both systems for years,” Strandlund told AMR, although in the future the AUV62 MR will also be launched from the MMP.
UVs have been in development for quite some time across different branches of the armed forces around the world. Yet, in the naval domain, it is the increase in A2/AD strategies brought about by the resurgence of Great Power competition that has triggered a race in the development of these force multipliers. Whether they are employed for MCM or ISR missions, UVs provide submarines with a significantly extended range to facilitate power projection in denied environments.
However, despite great technological strides, a number of challenges remain. “One of the greatest issues for the future is the ability to continue developing the autonomy of these systems,” Levy told AMR. Autonomy not only in terms of being able to interact intelligently with the environment they operate in, through artificial intelligence, but also through high performance batteries that can continue extending their ranges. “Increased intelligence also means increased need for communications,” noted Levy, and if the industry succeeds in overcoming some of the constraints of communicating underwater, then these systems will have truly become untethered. (Source: AMR)
22 Dec 20. NATO defers IOC for AGS, citing Covid restrictions. NATO has deferred declaring initial operating capability (IOC) for its Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme, citing delays due to ongoing Covid-19-related restrictions.
A spokesperson for the multinational programme told Janes on 22 December that the IOC that was due to be declared before the end of the year will now happen in early 2021.
“IOC for NATO’s fleet of AGS long-range surveillance drones is currently expected for early 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic delayed the programme back several months,” NATO told Janes.
While IOC for the NATO AGS Force (NAGSF) has been temporarily deferred, the spokesperson noted that training missions of the five RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40-derived RQ-4D Phoenix high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have already been flown via the early site acceptance (ESA) and early operational capability (EOC) constructs from earlier in the year. With these constructs, the spokesperson told Janes that the NAGSF was already offering up operational reconnaissance data to the alliance even though IOC was not yet declared.
Although NATO has taken the decision to defer IOC to early 2021, Janes understands that it is too soon to say if this might have any knock-on effect for plans to declare full operating capability in 2022.
The NATO AGS system is designed to provide member nations with a persistent and near-real time, all-weather, wide-area terrestrial, and maritime surveillance system in support of a range of missions, such as the protection of ground troops and civilian populations, border control, maritime safety, and humanitarian assistance. (Source: Jane’s)
21 Dec 20. Boeing Uncrewed Loyal Wingman Conducts 1st High-Speed Taxi Test. Boeing test personnel monitored the aircraft’s performance and instrumentation from a ground control station to verify the functionality while the vehicle reached accelerated speeds. The uncrewed aircraft has been undergoing low-, medium-, and high-speed taxi testing at a remote test location in Australia.
“Our test program is progressing well, and we are happy with the ground test data we have collected to date,” said Paul Ryder, Boeing Flight Test manager. “We are working with the Air Warfare Centre to complete final test verifications to prepare for flight testing in the new year.”
Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force will resume final taxi tests and preparations for flight in early 2021 when the range reopens.
RAAF Head of Air Force Capability Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts said seeing the aircraft in person during the December trials had been extraordinary.
“There is something very special about testing an aircraft that takes technology to the next level. It is iconic in its own way,” said Roberts. “Experiencing the enthusiasm of the Boeing and Air Force team reminded me of my early career testing aircraft.”
“This is what innovation is all about – working together to achieve many firsts,” she said.
More than 35 Australian suppliers on the Australian industry team have contributed to the aircraft development, including investment partner BAE Systems Australia, which has been embedded with the Boeing test team on-site.
“In the past year alone, we have made amazing strides on this aircraft, taking it from a fuselage to a finished aircraft that has undergone rigorous testing,” said Dr. Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “Our focus now is on conducting a safe and secure flight-test regimen for the Loyal Wingman program.” (Source: ASD Network)
28 Dec 20. BAE Systems collaborates with UAVTEK to develop nano ‘Bug’ drone. BAE Systems, in collaboration with UAVTEK, has developed a nano “Bug” drone, and delivered the first 30 units to the British Army, which has put it through its paces as part of a trial.
The Bug is a nano-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) weighing 196g – similar to the weight of a smartphone – with 40 minute battery life and a 2km range. It boasts a stealthy low visual profile and the ability to fly even in strong winds of more than 50mph. It was the only nano-UAV able to cope with the uncompromising weather during a recent Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) event hosted by the Ministry of Defence’s Future Capability Group.
“We delivered the Bug in partnership with UAVTEK, an SME that designs and builds UAVs from its workshop in the Cotswolds. Our experience in developing large volumes of secure hardware means we were able to help the team turn the excellent design into a real product which our Armed Forces can use. This kind of collaboration is happening right across BAE Systems and is a great way to quickly get the best thinking from small companies into the hands of military users.” said James Gerard, Principal Technologist at BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence business.
James added: “In even the toughest weather, the Bug can deliver vital tactical intelligence on what’s around the corner or over the next hill, working autonomously to give troops a visual update. Combined with our other information advantage products, this video feed could be shared multi-domain, enabling commanders on land, sea and air to increase their situational awareness and inform their decisions.”
Innovations at the annual AWE event are designed to explore emerging technologies and identify specific capabilities, this year focusing on Agile Command, Control and Communication (C3) space suitable for rapid exploitation. Emphasis is placed on innovations which push the boundaries of technology and military capability, testing a range of prototype systems by putting them in the hands of the user whilst giving invaluable military feedback to suppliers.
Jenna Copley, Director at UAVTEK said: “BAE Systems has been extremely supportive of us as an SME and the team has shared procedural knowledge to improve our engineering processes and practices. BAE Systems has effectively offered us a mentoring partnership and supported us in a variety of activities, whilst still enabling us to remain an agile SME and keep our core offerings and DNA.”
The teams are now working on the next developments on the nano-UAV, exploring sensing equipment and capabilities which could be added, as well as how the Bug could be integrated with other military equipment.
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