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17 Jul 21. Drone swarms support Commando Forces trials in a first for the UK’s armed forces. Drones dived, sailed and flew together in a swarm in a first for the UK’s armed forces during experimental exercises with the Royal Marines. An array of autonomous systems operated underwater, on the water, in the sky and over land to help Royal Marines Commandos as they carried out training raids on a number of complex ‘adversary’ positions – such as missile and radar installations – in Cumbria and Dorset. The uncrewed systems were used on missions at the Electronic Warfare Tactics facility at RAF Spadeadam on the border with Northumberland and off the south coast in training areas around Lulworth Cove and the Defence BattleLab. In a first for UK Defence a group of six medium-heavy lift drones were operated in one autonomously controlled swarm from a single ground control station.
The drones were tasked with tactically re-supplying commandos with everything from ammunition for the assaulting troops, through to blood for combat medics.
The swarm also demonstrated significant flexibility and switched roles to conduct reconnaissance missions to provide intelligence for commando raids ashore and at sea against a hostile target, when launched from RFA Mounts Bay.
The autonomous systems also worked together, being tasked independently to find and identify enemy targets, accurately using their range of increasingly powerful sensors and target acquisition algorithms.
The trials – named Autonomous Advance Force 4.0 – are the latest in a series of experimental exercises that have developed ways in which the UK Commando Force will operate in the future, putting an emphasis on human and machines teaming closely together to gain a battlefield advantage.
The ultimate aim is to seamlessly embed autonomous systems on the front line to support commando forces on the battlefield. These experiments scrutinise tactics and develop knowledge of how the drones can and cannot be used.
First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said: “Only by continued experimentation with the latest technology and innovation can we properly prepare our people for the challenges of the future.
“Autonomous Advance Force 4.0 is testing just how hybrid forces can operate on the battlefield, with elite Royal Marine Commandos enhancing their capabilities with the use of drone swarms.”
Colonel Chris Haw, the officer in charge of the experiments, said: “This has been yet another enormously important step forward in Royal Navy autonomy and particularly Commando Force transformation; I have seen phenomenal progress through this series of trials over the past two years.
“But we must always we must always remember that this tech is there to enhance commando excellence, not to replace it.”
Commandos experiment with autonomous systems
Royal Marines strike teams from Alpha Company, of Taunton-based 40 Commando, were on the ground and able to call on swarms of Malloy TRV150 drones – which can lift up to 68kg in all weathers – for deliveries of ammunition, blood and other supplies.
The commandos carried a small rugged tablet on their chest giving the ability to tap a map location and time for the delivery of their supplies, leaving the Malloys to do the rest and drop in what they need when they need it.
A mini-helicopter called the Anduril Ghost drone – which flies almost silently and is equipped with advanced sensors – gave the commandos a live feed of what lay ahead.
The Ghost is very difficult to detect, can fly autonomously, accurately identify targets and has a long endurance.
It can work in a swarm with other Ghost drones – capturing thermal images and footage – and can be tasked with finding numerous targets in coastal zone, be that a human on the land or a vessel at sea.
The Ghost can also carry a payload, paving the way for forces to land ashore and conduct their mission without delay with the drone continuing to support in a variety roles, with a payload bespoke for the mission at hand.
Also plugging into this network were Remus underwater vehicles dropped into the sea by the Malloy TRV150s. Remus can scan the ocean for mines and obstructions using an array of sensors to feed valuable information back to the amphibious command and help make decisions on where marine forces can land ashore via a clear route.
On the waves, the Royal Navy’s MADFOX vessel scanned the horizon using advanced sensors.
The autonomous vessel can carry out reconnaissance operations and surveillance patrols, providing valuable information on a coastal area before Royal Marines get in their raiding craft to come ashore.
Adding to the already impressive range of autonomous systems, the commandos also had the fixed-wing Cobra drone flying overhead.
The Cobra – which has a 3.1m wingspan and long endurance – can be launched from unprepared ground or from ship and is used for identifying and tracking targets.
This drone can be carried in a backpack and has been engineered to function in harsh environments, ideal for following commandos into all extremes of climate.
Finally, the commandos carried out simulator and range training with the Tactical Precision Strike system – which is what’s known as a lethal loitering munition (essentially meaning it flies to the vicinity of a target, and waits until the human operator specifies it to attack).
The information fed through from all these autonomous sensors were brought together in an experimental communications network – known as an EVE network – which ultimately increases commandos’ situational awareness on the battlefield but also helps reduce the physical threats personnel face while on operations.
Together, these autonomous sensors enable commandos to carry out find and strike missions, while also keeping them supplied and in the fight for longer.
During two weeks on Autonomous Advance Force 4.0 the drones have been tested in a range of scenarios, adding to experiments completed in the Mediterranean and in the Arctic last year.
The experiments have continually increased in complexity and have taken big leaps and will continue in the United States later this year on Exercise Green Dagger in the Californian desert. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
15 Jul 21. Sefine Shipyard teams up with Aselsan on new USV development. Turkish shipbuilder Sefine Shipyard and defence electronics company Aselsan have launched a new multirole unmanned surface vehicle (USV) project, the companies jointly announced on 9 July during a steel-cutting ceremony to mark its start. It is understood that two USV prototypes – comprising an anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) variant – are under construction, with block assembly under way for the former and first steel cut for the latter.
Sefine Shipyard will lead USV construction, while Aselsan will contribute its expertise in autonomous systems, communication, electro-optical sensors, and remote-controlled weapon stations (RCWSs).
Both variants are expected to offer a maximum range and endurance of 600 n miles and 80 hours respectively, and attain sprint speeds of over 36 kt. These will also be designed to operate in conditions of up to Sea State 4.
The companies revealed few details of the two USVs but indicated that they will be 15 m long and will be air-transportable by Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft, suggesting that the overall width of the USVs will not exceed 4 m to fit within the cargo hold of the A400M. The displacement of the USVs will also not exceed 37 tonnes, given the aircraft’s maximum payload capacity.
Besides being airlifted, the vehicles can also be transported via road or aboard the DİMDEG fleet replenishment ship built by Sefine Shipyard.
14 Jul 21. US Navy, Pentagon to test large unmanned ships as program winds down. The U.S. Navy and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office are making the most of the remaining months of their partnership on the Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface vessel program, taking lessons learned from two recent voyages across the Panama Canal and upping the ante by putting these vessels into fleet exercises and operations.
SCO purchased two large USVs in 2017 as part of a Pentagon-led effort to understand how large unmanned craft with weapons and sensors could expand the reach of the naval fleet. Since late 2019, SCO and the Navy have been working to learn from testing, with their efforts culminating in the October 2020 transit of Overlord ship Ranger across the Panama Canal – the first time any unmanned ship had crossed the locks of the canal – and a subsequent second canal crossing last month of the second Ghost Fleet ship, Nomad.
Luis Molina, the deputy director of SCO, told reporters on July 13 that the trips from the Gulf of Mexico to the California coast were planned as part of an escalating series of events to prove not only that the USVs worked but that they worked in operationally relevant ways for the fleet.
“The transit by both vessels aimed to demonstrate that the vessels could reliably operate at sea for a significant amount of time and that the inherent reliability of the vessels was suitable for that type of mission” that the Navy might send it on, he said.
Until SCO formally hands over the program management and ownership to the Navy – expected in January – SCO and the Navy will operate Ranger and Nomad at sea to verify that some recent improvements to the autonomy controls and hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) systems are working, and to refine ideas for how to operate these large USVs alongside manned warships.
Without naming specific exercises, Molina said “the intent is to utilize this time period to do fleet demonstration exercises and operational vignettes to continue to demonstrate in an operational context the utility of these vessels to augment manned combatant capabilities.”
“In order to get a scalability of capacity in a near-peer fight, we’re going to rely on unmanned systems to augment our shipboard systems and to extend our reach and our sensing of the environment, and so we aim to utilize this time period to demonstrate some payload operations and some sensing systems to be able to enhance the Navy mission sets,” he added, without naming payloads.
The Navy has previously said it wants its large USVs to launch missiles and other weapons, but lawmakers aren’t onboard with arming vessels whose autonomy and self-defense capability are still unproven. Until Congress approves arming the LUSVs, the Navy will focus on putting payloads on these Ghost Fleet vessels that are comparable to the sensors and communications packages that manned ships use, said Capt. Pete Small, the unmanned maritime systems program manager.
Defense News asked Small why it mattered to have these large USVs to experiment with alongside SCO, compared to the two medium-sized USVs and a slew of smaller unmanned craft that the Navy has developed on its own. He said size allows the larger unmanned surface vessels the endurance and to support the payloads needed.
Molina added that “the shipboard control systems are a little more complex, and so automating the functionality of those more complex systems and improving on the reliability to enable those longer-range missions is important. So the open-ocean navigation, the open-ocean [regulations for preventing collisions] management and path planning, the C4I systems that have a much longer reach than we’ve done traditionally, and that HM&E complexity – those are some of the things that are important to learn.”
As the Ghost Fleet Overlord program has progressed, Molina said some modifications have been made to the original two vessels, both of which were manned commercial ships designed with high levels of autonomy to be used by the oil and gas industry with a small crew aboard and were subsequently converted to fully autonomous unmanned ships. The decks were somewhat reconfigured to make it easier to install new payloads, new radars and sensors were added, and the autonomy that manages ship functions and the overall health of the vessel have been improved over time.
All these improvements are being incorporated into the construction of two additional Overlord vessels, which the Navy bought with its own money. Small said that by the end of fiscal 2022, SCO will have turned over the original two Overlord ships to the Navy and the second pair – which are in construction now and remain on schedule for an on-time delivery – will have completed acceptance trials and be delivered to the Surface Development Squadron-1 that’s overseeing Navy USV testing and fleet integration.
As the Navy continues down the path of buying large USVs for testing and eventually for operations, Small said the Navy and SCO team that has worked together for the last four years as a single team will remain in tact: many of the SCO personnel will transition over to a Navy team that will focus on developing and procuring the Medium USV and Large USV programs that follow this Overlord test program and another Navy-managed Sea Hunter medium USV test program.
“That’s a really powerful benefit, we have a really robust team of subject matter experts that have been working together for the last three or four years and are really tuned in to the status of the technology and the programs. … It’s really not a transition from an execution perspective, it’s the same people, it’s just transitioning over to Navy funding and program manager.”
The Pentagon announced last month that Nomad had traveled 4,421 nautical miles from the Gulf Coast to San Diego, with 98 percent of the voyage in autonomous mode. Like Ranger before it, Nomad was in manual mode during the canal transit itself.
Molina said that a skeleton crew was onboard during the transit for safety reasons. At an Unmanned Operations Center ashore in California, SCO technical experts were teaching SURFDEVRON sailors how to monitor the ships remotely and help plan missions in coordination with other fleet operators working with or in the vicinity of the unmanned vessels. (Source: Defense News)
13 Jul 21. Volansi, new CEO, plan Voly M20 demonstration in 2021. US company Volansi and its new CEO, Will Roper, plan in 2021 to demonstrate the Voly M20 autonomous hybrid-electric unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
Volansi’s chief technology officer (CTO) and product architect, Hannan Parvizian, who was previously CEO, told Janes on 8 July that the company is working with AFSOC to demonstrate not only the vehicle’s performance, but also its autonomous capabilities in logistics scenarios. The company is awaiting approval from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to begin flight testing. Volansi has a Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract that it was awarded through the USAF.
The Voly M20 can simultaneously carry 9 kg of cargo and a 4.5 kg intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) or sensor payload. The aircraft has a range of 563 km, depending on payload, cruise speed, and environmental factors, and an 8-hour endurance.
Roper joined the Volansi board of directors in March after serving as the USAF’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics (AT&L) from February 2018 to January 2021.
Parvizian said that Roper is taking on the role of CEO because the company, which was created in 2015 to serve enterprise customers such as Tesla, is growing its operations. Roper told Janes on 8 July that product development is a huge task as the company scales its operations and logistics. (Source: Jane’s)
14 Jul 21. RAF to expand swarming drone capabilities. The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is to expand its plans to field ‘swarming drones’, with the service chief saying on 14 July that he has a “futuristic and ambitious” vision for the capability.
Speaking at the Air and Space Power Association’s Global Air Chiefs conference in London, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said that trials conducted so far had demonstrated the potential of the capability, and that the RAF is now on a path to turning this potential into an operational reality.
“With swarming drones and uncrewed combat aircraft, we are on the threshold of a change in air warfare as profound as the advent of the jet age,” ACM Wigston said. “Our drone test squadron, 216 Squadron, has proved beyond doubt the disruptive and innovative utility of swarming drones under our Alvina programme…. That success, in little over a year, points to the operational utility of swarming drones. I aim to declare it operational in an equally short period of time, with more than one squadron, such is its impact; and we will spirally develop it year by year, moving swiftly where the technology allows and the threat invites”.
As ACM Wigston noted, the trials conducted by 216 Sqn have included demonstrations of exercised swarms of over 20 ultra-low cost ‘drones’ operating together against threat systems “to brilliant effect”.
“We have been focused on confusing and overwhelming adversary air defences but we are already contemplating new disruptive missions, that I will leave to your imagination,” he said. (Source: Jane’s)
13 Jul 21. Innovaero, Insitu Pacific to collaborate on UAS platform development. Brisbane-based Insitu Pacific Pty Ltd and Perth-based aeronautical technology company Innovaero Pty Ltd have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to strengthen and support the development of Australian technology for Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS).
A key collaboration area of the agreement will see Insitu Pacific provide its common architecture software and ground control solutions to enable Innovaero to rapidly progress development of its innovative Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) InnovaeroFOX UAS. The two companies will also explore opportunities for Innovaero to support Insitu Pacific by participating in its global supply chain.
Insitu Pacific is part of Boeing which has been shortlisted for the RAN’s UAS project, SEA 129 Ph.5. The Innovaero FOX UAS was also designed with SEA 129 Ph.5 requirements in mind.
Andrew Duggan, managing director, Insitu Pacific said the MOA demonstrated both companies’ commitment to building sovereign capability in Australia through the development of leading-edge technologies.
“As part of Boeing, Insitu Pacific has extensive experience in autonomous systems technology projects in Australia and across the region, and we look forward to leveraging this experience to work with Innovaero on new opportunities,” Duggan said.
Innovaero Group CEO Simon Grosser said the agreement would advance Innovaero’s plans for integrating FOX with a common operating system across a broad range of platforms.
“We are delighted to begin working with Insitu Pacific and Boeing on areas of mutual interest.
“I am very proud that as a 100 percent Australian-owned company, Innovaero has been able to demonstrate a sovereign design and manufacturing capability that is clearly world class,” Grosser said.
The MOA is also expected to support projects and innovation to explore the interoperability of UAS platforms, and how these capabilities can be employed by the Australian Defence Force and regional Asia-Pacific defence forces.
“Innovaero recognises that partnerships with established defence prime systems integrators such as Boeing’s Insitu Pacific, along with ongoing support and encouragement from the Australian Government, are key to accessing global markets for unique, Australian products such as FOX,” Grosser said. (Source: Rumour Control)
12 Jul 21. Kratos to support Wave Engine on USAF’s contract to build VALP. The low-cost platform is an air-launched vehicle designed to demonstrate high-impact technologies for future aerial systems.
Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has reached a partnership agreement with North American firm Wave Engine to help the latter in the development of the Versatile Air-Launched Platform (VALP).
The low-cost platform is intended to showcase the use of affordable and high-performance technologies for potential aerial systems in the future.
It will use Wave Engine’s proprietary engine technology to reduce lead times for capabilities that are required to challenge near-peer competitors.
Wave Engine North American CEO Daanish Maqbool said: “A vehicle like the VALP demands innovative design philosophies, and we are pleased to have a dynamic industry-leading partner in this effort.
“We look forward to working with Kratos to develop the VALP and lay the technical foundations for the next generation of high-performance aerial vehicles.”
Kratos Unmanned Systems Division is a provider of high performance unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for threat representative target missions.
The partnership comes after Wave Engine won a contract last month from the US Air Force (USAF) Armament Directorate to advance its VALP product and demonstration.
As part of this, Kratos will manage the airframe’s aerodynamic and structural design and provide support in systems engineering.
Kratos Unmanned Systems Division president Steve Fendley said: “Being at the forefront of high-performance unmanned systems, Kratos continuously pursues technologies that can transform the paradigms of their cost-per-performance.
“We look forward to working with Wave Engine Corp to advance and help bring this state-of-the-art, novel platform and propulsion technology to market.” (Source: airforce-technology.com)
09 Jul 21. Skyborne unveils new Gannet Glide Drone. Skyborne Technologies has unveiled its new payload delivery drone this week, which is capable of being deployed on board larger unmanned aerial systems and gliding over longer distances to their targets.
Dubbed the Gannet Glide Drone (GGD), the system seeks to extend the range of conventional UASs by launching on board larger drones such as the Cerberus and gliding to their target, thus creating a larger distance between the objective and the operator.
The GGD is able to onboard electronic warfare capabilities, as well as parachutes, kinetic weapons and additional communications technology.
Due to the GGD’s ability to integrate into numerous unmanned aerial systems, the GGD is capable of swarming their targets.
According to a company, the GGD’s 10:1 glide ratio extends the range between the drone and the launching platform.
Interestingly, the drone is also equipped with an Inertial Navigation System, which will allow the drone to continue operating in theatres with GPS jamming.
Skyborne has also confirmed that the GGD is capable of stealth operations in which the RF is silent.
Dr Michael Creagh, chief executive of Skyborne, outlined that the GGD expanded the Cerberus’ operational capabilities.
“The initial phase of the GGD program is almost complete and will culminate in a series of flight trials in Q3 and Q4 2021. We’re excited to expand the Cerberus system’s utility and expand our product lineup. The adaptable nature of the GGD system being modular in payload and launch vehicle agnostic lends itself to a multitude of mission profiles and capabilities,” Dr Creagh said.
Adrian Dudok, chief business officer of Skyborne, outlined how the system created operational benefits to in the warfighting domain.
“The GGD extends tactical and operational reach remaining outside of range of enemy sensors and weapon systems. Defence require a relatively low cost and scalable Air Launch Effects system that can deliver non-kinetic and kinetic mission effects against multiple threats,” Dudok said.
The release of the GGD comes following Skyborne’s latest release of the Cerberus GLH in March.
The Cerberus GLH is Skyborne’s most recent variation of the Cerberus UAS, and is a portable UAS which supports the warfighter a 30-minute flight time, five 40mm rounds and vertical take-off and landing capabilities.
““The new Cerberus GHL is a natural extension of the single shot. Most of our customers pointed out the shortcomings of the fire proven single shot Cerberus prototype, so we listened. The Cerberus GLH comes with our bespoke electronically-fired HAVOC [grenade] launcher. You get five 40mm standard rounds to put on target with only a minimal weight penalty,” Dr Creagh noted. (Source: Defence Connect)
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