Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
06 Jan 21. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has been selected by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) to support the Skyborg Vanguard Program. Skyborg will become the foundation of Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) autonomous capabilities for a family of future USAF unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
“GA-ASI is excited to continue working with the Air Force to advance the Skyborg concept,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “Our ongoing investments in advancing unmanned systems over the past 30 years provide a critical advantage for fast-tracking development time and reducing overall program risk.
GA-ASI will modify two of its company-owned Avenger Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) with upgraded datalinks and the core Skyborg System Design Agent (SDA) software, as well as other payloads. These Avengers will then be used as part of various experimentation events in 2021 and 2022, which will enable manned aircraft to control Avengers while in flight and relay specific information between the manned and unmanned aircraft. Flights will be conducted from GA-ASI flight centers in Southern California.
“The Avenger platform is a jet-powered, advanced RPA that is well understood and has undergone more than a decade of research and design,” Alexander said. “We have already shown its suitability as a next-generation host for advanced AI software. This next phase of integration will combine the Skyborg software with GA-ASI hardware, in order to prove that a dynamic mix of manned and unmanned aircraft can communicate, collaborate, and fight together.”
According to the AFLCMC, the aim of the Skyborg Vanguard program is to integrate autonomous, attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. Skyborg will provide the foundation on which the Air Force can build an airborne autonomous ‘best of breed’ system that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.
07 Jan 21. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) completed the first Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) High Frequency (HF) Command and Control (C2) demonstration for an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The HF C2 capability does not require a Satellite Communications (SATCOM) link and is capable of providing BLOS connectivity up to 8,000 miles, depending on transmit power and link geometry.
“We demonstrated a BLOS assured Command & Control capability that can be used in contested or denied environments,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “GA-ASI is committed to developing a flexible UAS architecture with assured C2 that is relevant in a broad set of mission scenarios.”
For the demo, GA-ASI integrated the U.S. Government’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy software into the Open Operational Flight Profile (OFP) of an MQ-9A Block 5 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and flew the MQ-9 using improved diagonal tails with conformal HF antennas incorporated into the leading edges.
GA-ASI’s MQ-9 housed a FlexRadio Systems’ FLEX-6600 HF software-defined radio and associated hardware to translate and execute an autonomous mission plan. GA-ASI created a specialized HF software adapter to manage the unique latency and throughput constraints of the HF waveform to demonstrate BLOS command and control of the RPA.
The demonstration was flown out of Laguna Army Air Field/Yuma Proving Grounds on Dec. 16, 2020. The MQ-9 was commanded from Austin, Texas approximately 1,000 miles away over an HF C2 link. This capability enables an operator to task the MQ-9 without needing SATCOM, providing a means to operate in SATCOM-denied, contested environments.
06 Jan 21. Iran Army’s Large-Scale Drone Drill. The Iranian Army launched a large-scale drone drill in Semnan province on Tuesday January 5th. The drill was attended by Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Bagheri and Army Chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi.
“The fingers of our heroic armed forces are on the trigger, and if enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” said Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, quoted by state media. (Source: UAS VISION/ FARS Agency)
06 Jan 21. USAF bases MQ-9 Reapers in Romania. The Air Force said Monday it has based a squadron of MQ-9 Reaper drones and 90 airmen in Romania.
The Reapers, which are stationed at the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii Air Base, will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said in a release.
They will also support the Air Force’s agile combat employment concepts, wherein the service distributes airmen and aircraft across several locations to increase the chances of surviving an attack from a major power such as Russia or China, USAFE said. Additionally, the drones will fly freedom of maneuver missions, work together with other U.S. military forces and allied forces in the region, and may also take part in exercises to ensure interoperability between the U.S. and allied and partner nations.
“The forward and ready positioning of our MQ-9s at this key strategic location reassures our allies and partners, while also sending a message to our adversaries, that we can quickly respond to any emergent threat,” USAFE commander Gen. Jeff Harrigian said in the release.
Until the Reaper squadron is fully operational, it will fall under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group, Detachment 1, the release said. The units are part of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
The heading on the release described the deployment as establishing an “enduring presence” in Romania. When asked if this is a permanent basing, USAFE spokeswoman Maj. Selena Rodts said the command does not discuss lengths of time for deployments for operational security concerns.
“U.S. Air Forces in Europe routinely moves aircraft around Europe for theater familiarization, to conduct training, and support combatant commander objectives,” Rodts said in an email. “These deployments are just one of the many ways we demonstrate our steadfast commitment to our NATO allies and regional partners.”
The Air Force previously deployed a detachment of Reapers from Poland to the 71st Air Base in January 2020, and at the time described that as a “temporary relocation” that was expected to last through early spring 2020.
USAFE said the deployment was coordinated with the Romanian government, a NATO ally that has a close military relationship with the United States. Romania is in a strategically key region, with Ukraine to its north and the Black Sea to its east, and not far from Turkey and Russia.
Defense News, a sister publication to Air Force Times, reported in 2018 that the Air Force had constructed a hangar at the 71st Air Base that could be used to house Reapers and gather intelligence around the Black Sea and eastern Europe. The Air Force also deployed Reapers to Estonia in June 2020. (Source: Defense News)
05 Jan 21. Iran tests drones in military exercise. Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq.
Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
“The fingers of our heroic armed forces are on the trigger, and if enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” said Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, quoted by state media.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said U.S. President Donald Trump may be trying to find an excuse to attack Iran in his last days in office, or Israel might try to provoke a war. Israel rejected the allegation.
The exercises coincided with increased tensions between Iran and the United States, two days after the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport, and two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Biden aims to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran abandoned by Trump, though diplomacy is expected to be tricky.
Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters here.
Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons. Western military analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its ballistic missiles contributed to Washington leaving the nuclear pact. (Source: Reuters)
The British Robotics Seed Fund is the first SEIS-qualifying investment fund specialising in UK-based robotics businesses. The focus of the fund is to deliver superior returns to investors by making targeted investments in a mixed basket of the most innovative and disruptive businesses that are exploiting the new generation of robotics technologies in defence and other sector applications.
Automation and robotisation are beginning to drive significant productivity improvements in the global economy heralding a new industrial revolution. The fund allows investors to benefit from this exciting opportunity, whilst also delivering the extremely attractive tax reliefs offered by the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). For many private investors, the amount of specialist knowledge required to assess investments in robotics is not practical and hence investing through a fund structure makes good sense.
The fund appoints expert mentors to work with each investee company to further maximise the chance of success for investors. Further details are available on request.