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08 Apr 21. Chinese company Zhongtian Feilong unveils UAV ‘mothership.’ Chinese company Zhongtian Feilong announced on 1 April that it successfully carried out a “technical verification” flight of a newly developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is capable of deploying a number of smaller UAVs for use in different roles, including on reconnaissance and attack missions.
Referred to by the company as an “unmanned airborne swarm system”, the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV, which took to the skies on 20 March from an unspecified airport in China, is a twin-boom design employing a pusher propeller for forward flight and four rotors to enable VTOLs. The platform is fitted with a belly-mounted dispenser that turns it into a carrier of smaller unmanned airborne systems. As a result, this ‘mothership’ could, for instance, simultaneously deploy a loitering munition, a mini UAV with an electronic warfare (EW) payload, and another with advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, according to the company. It is unclear how many of these smaller systems the platform can carry but a company video of a launch demonstration appears to show four. The ‘mothership’ enables smaller systems to be carried to a designated location before opening the cargo bay/dispenser for deployment. The company did not state whether airborne recovery of the mini UAVs is possible but this is unlikely to be the case judging by the size of the ‘mothership’. (Source: Jane’s)
07 Apr 21. Leidos Completes Delivery of Seahawk Vessel to U.S. Navy. Leidos (NYSE:LDOS), a FORTUNE® 500 science and technology leader, announced today that it has completed delivery of a cutting-edge autonomous vessel to the U.S. Navy, known as Seahawk. The Office of Naval Research awarded Leidos the cost-plus-fixed fee contract to build the vessel, with an approximate value of $35.5m, in December 2017. Work was principally performed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“As technology continues to accelerate and adversaries become more sophisticated, our customers must constantly evolve,” said retired Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, Leidos Vice President and Navy strategic account executive. “We are honored to provide this latest technological advancement to America’s sailors who fight to keep the seas open and free.”
Seahawk is a long-range, high-availability autonomous surface vessel with a composite trimaran hull. This medium-displacement unmanned surface vehicle (MDUSV) will enhance capabilities for naval operations. Like Leidos’ MDUSV Sea Hunter, Seahawk is substantially larger than other U.S. Navy USVs and has significantly increased capabilities compared to smaller USVs in terms of range, seakeeping and payload capacity. Seahawk is designed to operate with little human involvement, thus providing a forward-deployed and rapid-response asset in the global maritime surveillance network.
“We didn’t just put an autonomous navigation system onto an existing ship,” said Dan Brintzinghoffer, Leidos Vice President for Maritime Solutions. “Every mechanical and electrical system on Seahawk has unique configurations designed to run for months at a time without maintenance or a crew.”
The trimaran’s displacement (fully loaded) is 145 long tons. This includes 14,000 gallons of fuel that can power the twin diesel engines for a substantial length of time. Seahawk’s upgraded design follows an evaluation of over 300 lessons learned from Sea Hunter. These upgrades were based on joint evaluations by Leidos and the Navy and include upgraded electrical systems, a payload mounting system and test operator control station. Seahawk will join SURFDEVRON in San Diego, California.
(Source: PR Newswire)
07 Apr 21. Germany Opens National Experimental UAS Test Centre. On 31 March 2021, the official launch of the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) National Experimental Test Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems and a Europe-wide network for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) research and testing took place.
“The opening of the National Experimental Test Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at our Cochstedt site heralds the launch of a facility that is unique in Europe. This is where DLR’s capabilities and expertise in the field of Unmanned Aerial Systems are concentrated,” explained Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. “Technology development, certification and work on new regulations determine the cooperation with our partners from industry and public authorities. Science and research thus form the basis for new air transport technologies. The German Federal Government and the state of Saxony-Anhalt have significantly supported and assisted with the establishment and development of this facility as a central location for national and international UAS research.”
Future mobility solutions such as Urban Air Mobility pose numerous new challenges for scientific research, industry and government, and these require solutions. The main focus is on testing demonstrators, propulsion systems and energy storage technologies, the integration of UAS into civil airspace, certification and approval, and acceptance, particularly with regard to noise, safety and environmental impact.
Thomas Jarzombek, German Federal Government Coordinator of Aerospace Policy, emphasised:
“The Cochstedt test centre is another building block towards strengthening Germany as a centre of innovation. Together with the DLR centre in Aachen-Merzbrück, expertise in unmanned flight will be further strengthened in the German research landscape. Numerous high-quality drone manufacturers are already based in Germany and the drone industry has become a major economic factor. New innovations in the field of air transport need space to be tried out. With the Cochstedt site, we have opened up such a space, which will hopefully provide fresh impetus in the field of air transport. I am therefore pleased that the Federal Government can make a significant contribution towards improving the infrastructure through DLR.”
Reiner Haseloff, Minister President of Saxony-Anhalt, said at the opening:
“All previous uses of the traditional airfield in Cochstedt have ultimately proven to be unsustainable. Now, with DLR’s National Experimental Test Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a new project is underway and I am convinced it will enjoy long-term success. I am also certain that it will advance the region and significantly strengthen Saxony-Anhalt as a location for research and innovation.”
Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister of Economy, Science and Digitalisation, Armin Willingmann, stated:
“For years, Cochstedt Regional Airport struggled to be a success, and was almost closed at times. I am very pleased that after negotiations that were as discreet as they were intensive – with the crucial involvement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs – it has been possible for the airport to be taken under the umbrella of the German Aerospace Centre. This means that Cochstedt will not only become the centre of a future technology in Saxony-Anhalt, but the research airport will also evolve into a hub for companies from the air transport and logistics industries that want to develop or use unmanned aerial systems. The Saxony-Anhalt Ministry of Economy, Science and Digitalisation will be providing more than 15m euro in institutional funding in the coming years so that the National Experimental Test Centre in Cochstedt will continue to transform into a place of the future, where high-quality jobs will be created, and international research and development will have a special place. I am convinced that Cochstedt will be a beacon on the way to developing Saxony-Anhalt as the federal state of future technologies.”
The activities are integrated into DLR-wide projects and collaborations with partners from research and industry in Germany, Europe and around the world. DLR already cooperates in the field of UAS research with major institutions such as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The test site in Saxony-Anhalt will be accessible for users ranging from start-ups through to established air transport industry companies for research and testing. It will also have an incubator and enabler function for start-ups and SMEs. For licensing reasons, it is necessary that new unmanned aircraft systems are tested and qualified under realistic conditions in a controlled environment.
Existing buildings and facilities are being renovated and converted. Subsequently, the research infrastructure will be developed and constructed. In order to become truly operational, the reopening of the commercial airport is planned on a smaller scale, probably from 1 August 2021. A total of around 15m euro is to be invested in the development of research as well as operational infrastructure by the end of 2022. Recruitment of scientific and technical staff will drive the development forward in the coming months. The objective is to have a total of around 60 employees working in research and operations at the site by the end of 2022.
Currently, the focus is on further upgrading the infrastructure for the users of the test centre. Test campaigns for the first projects are already taking place in Cochstedt. For example, there will be extensive final tests of the DLR City-ATM project in summer 2021. It is expected that several drones will fly together with approximately 100 virtual drones in a complex traffic scenario at the Cochstedt site. In addition, various flight tests are planned with the DLR ALAADy Demonstrator and superARTIS research helicopter during the course of the year. (Source: UAS VISION)
06 Apr 21. NGC’s Optionally-Manned Firebird Demos Operational Flexibility. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) Firebird multi-sensor aircraft showcased the versatility of the optionally-manned autonomous system as it flew to various locations across the United States last month. The ability of Firebird to be flown manned through national airspace is a demonstration of its unique operational flexibility for self-deployment and its rapid relocation ability to adapt to specific user needs and operational requirements.
The company flew Firebird almost 9,000 miles around the US with stops in Dayton, Ohio; Washington DC; Patuxent River, Maryland; as well as Tampa, Miami and Key West, Florida.
“Our flights showcased one of its key differentiators – the ability to position the system in a manned configuration, then convert to autonomous operations for persistent ISR in under two hours,” said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. “At each stop, plane-side briefings provided customers the opportunity to see first-hand the operational versatility of the platform, its large sensor bay, and rapid configurability for changing mission needs.”
Firebird is a medium altitude long endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that is designed for flexibility and affordability. Customers can install new payloads in as little as one day, and swap payloads in 30 minutes making the system suitable for numerous domains and missions.
The flights concluded in Key West, Florida where the team conducted a series of manned maritime operational events that included a four-sensor package containing two high-definition EO/IR sensors; a maritime configured multi-spectral sensor for small target detection; and an AIS receiver. (Source: ASD Network)
06 Apr 21. Royal Navy details ‘Atlantis’ hybrid underwater capability. A Royal Navy Maritime Enterprise Planning Group presentation seen online by Naval Technology and now withdrawn showed a concept named ‘Atlantis’ for a ‘Hybrid Underwater Capability’ using a semi-autonomous mothership submarine operating in tandem with ‘remote, autonomous and uncrewed platforms’. The presentation, dated December 2020, details challenges in the ‘Under Water Battlespace’, what the Royal Navy plans to deliver in the domain by 2030 and the Atlantis 2040 concept.
Describing Atlantis 2040, a slide from the presentation reads: “Our vision for the underwater domain is ambitious, we must leverage cutting edge technologies from industry, academia and the RN [Royal Navy] innovation ecosystem, through operational experimentation, deployed alongside our conventional RN platforms to accelerate and de-risk future capabilities.”
In the concept for 2040, a semi-autonomous mothership submarine is shown as being capable of deploying uncrewed underwater vessels (UUVs) to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
Autonomous vehicles are shown providing remote sensing, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) barrier and area denial capabilities, and an extra-large UUV or XLUUV is shown as providing long-range underwater operations.
The mothership submarine is detailed as being capable of launching next-generation light and heavyweight torpedoes. An autonomous minehunting capability is also shown.
Underwater gliders are shown conducting environmental analysis which can be fed back to other underwater assets.
Low earth orbit satellites are shown as providing a data relay between underwater and surface assets to create a ‘networked battlespace’.
On the surface, the slide includes a Type 26 or replacement vessel with a towed sonar array, a cross-government environmental research ship, and a Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship.
A fleet of small uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) is shown as working in concert to deploy a sonobuoy field to detect adversaries submarines. An underwater launches aerial drone swarm is also included on the slide.
The mothership submarine is also shown launching a ‘Next Generation underwater launched Precision Strike Missile’.
Another slide reads: “Atlantis is our vision for a hybrid underwater capability in 2040. Centred on a semi-autonomous next-generation submarine, operating in concert with remote, autonomous and uncrewed platforms, in a networked and digitised battlespace, delivering effect above and below the surface.”
The slides detail a more ‘sustainable, efficient and cost-effective procurement’ process that would see a continuous submarine shipbuilding pipeline established to deliver more vessels at a lower cost.
The slide also says the Royal Navy ‘must’ invest and deliver autonomous and uncrewed capabilities and ‘embrace’ artificial intelligence and machine learning. (Source: naval-technology.com)
05 Apr 21. Valkyrie drone launches even smaller drone from inside payload bay. The Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone successfully launched an even smaller unmanned aircraft from inside its internal weapons bay on March 26, the U.S. Air Force announced Monday.
During the Valkyrie’s sixth flight test at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, it opened its payload bay doors during flight for the first time and released an ALTIUS-600, a small, tube-launched autonomous drone made by Area-I, a Georgia-based company that designs unmanned aerial systems.
The Valkyrie is an “attritable” drone, the word the military uses for an asset that can be reused but is cheap enough that a commander would expect and be comfortable with a certain amount of losses while in combat.
The Air Force is experimenting with using the Valkyrie as a communications node for the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, as well as assessing it as a potential Skyborg system that would be equipped with artificial intelligence and be able to fly autonomously alongside tactical aircraft.
ALTIUS-600 can be launched for a variety of missions, including electronic warfare, signals intelligence, counter-UAS, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and it can be outfitted to produce kinetic effects. It can weigh up to 27 pounds — including a 6-pound payload stored in its nose — and has an endurance of about four hours, according to Area-I.
Both Kratos and Area-I worked with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop software and fabricate a carriage that would allow the Valkyrie to release the ALTIUS-600, the lab said in a release.
Once the launch of the ALTIUS system was finished, the Valkyrie completed additional tests geared toward expanding the aircraft’s flight envelope, the lab said.
“In addition to this first [small UAS] separation demonstration, the XQ-58A flew higher and faster than previous flights,” said Alyson Turri, the Air Force’s program manager for the demonstration.
Steve Fendley, President of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division, said the success of the ALTIUS release “adds an exclamation point to the 30-month development of the Valkyrie system by the Kratos and AFRL team, which resulted in a pre-production system with substantial operational capability, not simply a proof-of-concept flight demonstrator.”
The Army is also experimenting with the ALTIUS platform as part of its air-launched effects demonstrations, including last year’s Project Convergence demo, which saw the UAS deployed from an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone. Last week, Anduril Technologies announced plans to buy Area-I and operate it as a wholly owned subsidiary that would retain the Area-I brand. (Source: Defense News)
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