Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
24 Mar 21. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) announced today that the family of Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) surpassed 1 million flight hours on March 16, 2021 during U.S. Army flight operations.
This historic milestone is the latest accomplishment on a remarkable journey that started in March 2004 with the first flight of an early variant of the Gray Eagle UAS family called Army IGNAT. Since that first flight, GA-ASI and the U.S. Army have fielded over 250 Gray Eagle-type aircraft, including the new Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) aircraft. Over 80% of the 1 million flight hours were flown in support of deployed operations with a better than 90% Mission Capable Rate.
“This landmark event demonstrates the inherent value of our Gray Eagle systems for the warfighter,” said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. “It also is a testament to the great partnership between GA-ASI and the U.S. Army, which have worked together to expand the capability of Gray Eagle so the system will continue to be a key enabler for today’s mission and an enduring platform for tomorrow’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO).”
The GE-ER UAS is a 40-hour endurance aircraft with increased payload capacity, reliability and maintainability over the legacy MQ-1C Gray Eagle first fielded in 2009. On the dawn of the next million flight hours, GE-ER is being further enhanced under the U.S. Army’s modernization program to incorporate leading-edge technology for standoff survivability, while expanding the payload capabilities to include Air Launched Effects (ALEs) and long-range sensors for stand-in effects. This MDO-ready UAS will be powered by a new 200-hp Enhanced Heavy Fuel Engine and dual 7.5kw brushless generators to enable the growing capabilities needed by commanders in the future MDO environment.
24 Mar 21. Royal Navy Project Vixen exploring potential Carrier UAS. The UK Royal Navy is exploring how a large fixed-wing uncrewed aerial system (UAS) could be used for strike and air-to-air refuelling missions as part of a future carrier air wing and maritime aviation force.
The UK Royal Navy is exploring how a large fixed-wing uncrewed aerial system (UAS) could be used for strike and air-to-air refuelling missions as part of a future carrier air wing and maritime aviation force.
The conceptual work is being done under a programme called ‘Project Vixen’ that likely draws its name from the Royal Navy’s Sea Vixen carrier-based air defence fighter from the 1950s.
As it is only a conceptual project, the work on Project Vixen may not lead to any commitments to a future system.
Under Project Vixen, the Royal Navy is exploring how fixed-wing UAS could be used for missions including surveillance, air-to-air refuelling, electronic warfare and strike.
Naval Technology understands that the work is also exploring how the UAS could deliver these capabilities either as an independent platform or by acting as a complementary platform to crewed aircraft such as the F-35.
The UK Royal Air Force is already working on a project to develop a new Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept through Team Mosquito.
The UK’s plans for a ‘Loyal Wingman’ type platform could see a system able to operate alongside Typhoon and F-35 by the end of the decade.
Naval Technology understands that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are working together on understanding what shape ‘Loyal Wingman’ platforms could take and that there is interest in having platforms of these types work from both land and sea. (Source: naval-technology.com)
23 Mar 21. Germany’s EuroHawk to Become Costly Museum Exhibit. The story of Germany’s Euro Hawk surveillance drone — a planned Europeanized version of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk — has finally come to its sorry end. The ill-fated RQ-4E unmanned aerial vehicle is headed to a museum in the German capital, after plans to sell the one-off aircraft to Canada collapsed.
A report on the German-language Augen geradeaus! defense website confirmed that the final resting place of the Euro Hawk will be the Bundeswehr Military History Museum at Berlin-Gatow Airfield.
Responding to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Ministry of Defense confirmed that, under an agreement signed in October 2019, spare parts, ground service equipment, test equipment, and special tools would be transferred to the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, which will presumably use them to support its fleet of five RQ-4D Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drones, also based on the Global Hawk. The cost of the deal was not disclosed.
The remaining equipment, namely the single RQ-4E aircraft itself, plus the ground control stations will go to the aforementioned museum, being put on show as part of its permanent exhibition in 2022 at the earliest.
The RQ-4E airframe ending up as a museum exhibit was not what the German Defense Ministry expected when it launched the program, intended to field five examples of the signals intelligence (SIGINT) platform to replace the German Navy’s small fleet of specially configured manned Breguet Atlantic aircraft that had served in the same role — ranging mainly around the Baltic Sea — until 2010. The drones would have carried an Airbus-developed SIGINT system known as ISIS.
As it turned out, the Euro Hawk program was an unmitigated disaster. European aviation authorities repeatedly refused to certify the giant drone to fly over the continent. Fears that the unmanned aircraft could put civilian air traffic at risk in congested European airspace meant that European Aviation Safety Agency certification was only available for flights over unpopulated areas, and there was no guarantee that this would change in the near-term. With that in mind, the German military would not be unable to operate the aircraft from its own bases for either training purposes or operational missions.
Combined with major cost overruns and long delays, Berlin decided to scrap the program in 2013 after spending a total of $793.5m. Amid the embarrassing fallout, the German Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière defended his position under political pressure before stepping down from his position the same year.
Stripped of all military and mission equipment, the RQ-4E ended up in mothballs at Manching Air Base in Bavaria. A possible sale to Canada failed to materialize after Ottawa submitted a formal bid for the aircraft, despite not having any other similar drones in its inventory. It was reported in the Canadian media that Canada could have returned the drone to airworthiness and used it to monitor oil spills, ice levels, and marine habitats in the increasingly contested Arctic region. Exactly why this deal fell through is unclear, but, as The War Zone observed at the time, the drone lacked essential components, including its navigation and flight control systems, which rendered it unflyable without significant intervention and expenditure.
As for the German Armed Forces, they now pin their hopes on an all-new SIGINT platform, being pursued under the Persistent German Airborne Surveillance System program, or Pegasus.
De Maizière’s successor as defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen had originally wanted another unmanned platform based on the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton drone — yet another Global Hawk derivative — that could enter service after 2025. Unlike the RQ-4E, the MQ-4C was developed from the outset for civil certification.
Those plans changed last year when the ministry of defense instead opted for a manned solution, the Pegasus based on the Global 6000 bizjet. For the time being, however, no budget has been allocated to integrate the required SIGINT payload.
Originally, Germany’s Luftwaffe expected to get its hands on a first RQ-4E under the Euro Hawk program in 2012. Now, it looks like Germany is going to have to wait a little longer for its successor. (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive)
23 Mar 21. GDMS Delivers 1st Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure UUV System. General Dynamics Mission Systems recently delivered the first Knifefish surface mine countermeasure unmanned underwater vehicle (SMCM UUV) system under a contract awarded by the Navy on Aug. 26, 2019. The contract, awarded immediately after a successful Milestone C decision and approval to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP), calls for the procurement of five Knifefish systems (10 total UUVs) and support equipment.
Knifefish SMCM is a medium-class mine countermeasure UUV intended for deployment from the Navy’s littoral combat ship and other Navy vessels of opportunity. Knifefish SMCM will reduce risk to personnel by operating within minefields as an off-board sensor while the host ship stays outside the minefield boundaries.
“Together with the U. S. Navy’s Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants, our Knifefish team has worked to deliver critical mine countermeasure mission capabilities to protect our Sailors,” said Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager at General Dynamics Mission Systems. “We designed Knifefish using an open architecture concept that can be quickly and efficiently modified to accommodate a wide range of missions.”
General Dynamics Mission Systems is the prime contractor for the Knifefish program. The company designed the tactical UUV using an open architecture concept that can be quickly and efficiently modified to accommodate a wide range of missions. The Knifefish SMCM UUV is based on the General Dynamics Bluefin Robotics Bluefin®-21 deep-water autonomous undersea vehicle. (Source: ASD Network)
22 Mar 21. Two Saudi companies to produce Turkish drones. Two Saudi Arabian manufacturers have started co-producing a Turkish-made medium-altitude, long-endurance drone.
Intra Defense Technologies and Advanced Electronics Company will produce the Karayel-SU under license from the Vestel Savunma.
Vestel Savunma did not respond to a request for comment, but a company official told Defense News on condition of anonymity that AEC will provide electronics parts and Vestal will supply “essential, critical components of the aircraft.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed March 16 that “there was Saudi demand for Turkish armed drones,” without elaborating.
The Vestel official said that in addition to the co-production deal, Saudi Arabia is also negotiating for the off-the-shelf purchase of an unknown batch of Karayel-SU drones.
“This deal dates back to 2017 Dubai Air Show where Saudis wanted to pen both direct purchase and co-production contracts,” said Anil Sahin, a Turkish defense analyst.
Sahin said the co-production program involves building a batch of 40 Karayel-SU aircraft between 2021 and 2025. The Turkish drone will be reflagged as Haboob in Saudi Arabia.
When unloaded, the Karayel-SU can fly up to 20 hours at an altitude of 18,000 feet; or for eight hours with a 120-kilogram payload. It can fly at a speed of 60-80 knots at a ranger of up to 150 kilometers.
The drone features a 97-horsepower engine. It uses two rocket systems and is equipped with the smart micro munitions MAM-C and MAM-L. Those weapons are both produced by Turkey’s state-controlled missile-maker Roketsan. (Source: Defense News)
18 Mar 21. Skyfront Drone Sets Endurance Record of 13 hours, 4 minutes and Distance Record of 205 miles. Skyfront, a manufacturer of long endurance gasoline-electric hybrid drones, broke the multirotor drone flight time record by staying airborne for 13 hours and 4 minutes and traveling a distance of 205 miles.
The world record-breaking flight was achieved by the lightweight, powerful, and efficient Skyfront Perimeter 8—the company’s most advanced eight rotor drone designed to meet and exceed the capabilities of even the most advanced helicopters. The historic event was captured via the drone’s onboard 360 cameras.
The secret behind their record-breaking flight is the Skyfront proprietary fuel-injected hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain. The powertrain replaces the battery and dramatically extends flight times by a factor of twenty. It is optimized for power and efficiency and is seamlessly integrated into the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) design to reduce weight and power consumption.
Skyfront CEO Troy Mestler PhD told UAS VISION:
“The previous multirotor drone record for duration was 12 hours and 7 minutes and set by a specially configured hydrogen fuel cell drone. Essentially, the drone was stripped down to the minimum to reduce weight and extend flight time. For this record, we wanted to showcase that our off-the-shelf drones are worthy of the record. As such, we flew the record with our stock vehicle with the addition of a larger gasoline tank. That’s it.”
Skyfront CEO Troy Mestler with Perimeter Drone
Founded in 2014, Skyfront drones are designed to solve flight time limitations and unlock the true economic potential of UAVs. Now, previously time-consuming missions can be performed in a single flight. Drone operators are freed from the fear of running out of power and from the hassle of constantly swapping and charging batteries. These advanced drone capabilities enable industries to finally scale their operations with ease.
“In an unheard of industry feat, our drone stayed aloft for the entire day,” said Skyfront CEO Troy Mestler. “Outfitted with an auxiliary fuel tank, the Perimeter 8 captured the sun traversing the sky, rising and setting over California’s Coastal Ranges. This flight signals a paradigm shift in aviation for public safety and commercial applications. No longer will police departments, fire departments, and utility companies have to spend huge sums of money on traditional helicopters to monitor, search, or rescue. Most importantly, no longer will we have to risk lives to save lives.” (Source: UAS VISION)
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