Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
17 Sep 21. Uncrewed marine platform with intelligent autonomy to deliver next-generation coastal security. A new uncrewed marine platform that has the “total package” is now available for use by intelligence gathering and threat detection communities around the globe. Licensed by Ploughshare to L3Harris, this Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) technology combines cutting-edge autonomy with marine hardware to provide next-generation marine capability.
The Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) vessel is similar to a water-borne drone that can be partly or fully autonomously controlled to identify threats such as enemy ships or collect intelligence on targets while moving at high speeds.
This capability gives users the potential to deploy uncrewed missions that will help minimise the risk to service personnel by taking them out of harm’s way. It is also being trialled by Border Force to support operations to prevent uncontrolled crossings and save lives at sea.
The original MAST autonomy technology and algorithms were developed by L3Harris under contracts with Dstl for the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and was superseded by the MAST-13 design that was launched at DSEI in 2019. NavyX, the Royal Navy’s autonomy accelerator program, subsequently acquired a MAST-13 platform, MADFOX, which is currently being utilised for a range of test and evaluation trials.
At this week’s DSEI exhibition, a further licence brokered with Ploughshare’s assistance has been signed that covers the design of the MAST-13 platform. The agreement enables the autonomy system, associated hardware and vessel to be made available in configurations including an “off-the-shelf” package suitable for use by a range of international organisations and commercial operators. It can be used as a testbed for experimentation and deployed in coastal security, port security, intelligence and threat detection.
James Cowles, Business Development Manager, L3Harris said: “Through collaborative development with Dstl and Ploughshare, we have a total package – a boat with intelligent autonomy, available for purchase and experimentation in a way that supports the international community’s scalable needs for coastal security.
“We are leading the way in autonomous vessel technology and delivering integrated solutions to the Science and Technology community globally in a number of configurations, including a complete ‘off-the-shelf’ system designed from the bottom up to be a testbed offering an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate, evaluate and exploit the potential of autonomy in maritime security.”
Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, CEO at Ploughshare, said: “The MAST project is a huge success story in which we are pleased to have played our part. It is a true demonstration of how a novel technology developed in conjunction with a government laboratory is supporting UK jobs, our economy, and the security of society. A team that was just a handful of people working in a UK start up is now a successful business of more than 130 specialists. By bringing people to together, this cutting-edge technology now has the potential to secure our borders and protect people.”
Ian Campbell, Principal Advisor, Maritime Autonomy at Dstl, said: “In partnership with L3Harris, Dstl is exploring Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) technologies. Dstl instigated the MAST project to design and build systems to facilitate the development, test and evaluation of USV technologies and tactics. This informs and educates the potential stakeholder community of the capability and potential of such systems, which should expedite the transition to operational exploitation.”
L3Harris, Dstl and Ploughshare exhibited at DSEI 2021.
19 Sep 21. DSEI 2021: Blue Bear emphasises swarm control. UK SME Blue Bear has put a 20-drone swarm through its paces. Walking around DSEI 2021, it was evident that the UAV market for defence continues to enjoy sharp growth but controlling autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft is still a challenge.
Dr Yoge Patel, CEO of Blue Bear Group, spoke on 15 September at a seminar session entitled ‘Commando Forces – Moving Forward for Competition’, during which she emphasised the importance of swarm control technology.
Blue Bear Systems says it has proven its latest swarming drone technology by operating 20 fixed-wing drones to form a collaborative heterogeneous swarm in beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations.
Building on a previous 12-drone swarm, the latest heterogenous UAS swarm consisted of five different types and sizes of fixed-wing Blue Bear aircraft, including VTOL fixed-wing Ghost/Modular Ghost UAS, conventional fixed-wing Red Kite UAS, conventional fixed-wing Cobra UAS and the smaller hand-launched Flat Pack UAS.
Across the swarm, six different types of payload from five different companies were integrated through Blue Bear plug-and-play open architectures and SmartConnect technology.
The swarm of 20 was commanded by three operators in Blue Bear’s Mobile Mission Command System (MCCS) whilst simultaneously handling different, collaborative payload analysis tasks.
To further reduce the burden on the operator, the Blue Bear Artificial Intelligence platform was running on a number of aircraft in the swarm, and processing sensor data on the aircraft before sending only relevant data back to the ground.
Blue Bear Airspace Deconfliction Layer technology was running in the background to aid the automatic deconfliction of BVLOS flights within the swarm, and to track the presence of any third-party aircraft.
Ian Williams-Wynn, Blue Bear MD, said: ‘Demonstrating BVLOS operations of a 20-drone swarm shows how far we have come in the 18 months this project has been running.’ (Source: Shephard)
16 Sep 21. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for the first time approved a point-to-point domestic flight of an unmanned aircraft that utilized the UK’s airways structure when General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew its MQ-9B SeaGuardian® Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) from Lincolnshire, England to Moray, Scotland on Sept. 12, 2021. The GA-ASI-owned RPA flew from Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington to RAF Lossiemouth and the SeaGuardian flight was controlled by NATS, the UK’s civilian Air Navigation Service Provider.
“The Airspace Coordination Notice issued by the CAA for this series of demonstration flights in UK airspace is the largest and most meticulous we have ever produced so that the airspace integration of SeaGuardian is at the highest level of safety,” said Tom Gratton, CAA Airspace Regulator.
“We appreciate the cooperation and collaboration with the CAA and NATS in helping to move the industry forward,” said GA-ASI Vice President of International Strategic Development Robert Schoeffling. “This successful flight paves the way not only for future operations of Protector in UK airspace, but also for other civil and commercial UAS flights.”
Protector RG Mk1 is the RAF’s designation for the RPA they have ordered from GA-ASI that is based on the MQ-9B. The GA-ASI-owned, civil-registered aircraft that made this groundbreaking flight is operating from RAF airfields as part of an ongoing set of demonstrations being conducted by GA-ASI for the RAF.
According to NATS, the flight was controlled through more complex airspace than any previous UAS flights in the UK. “This flight required that we transfer control between multiple civil airspace sectors,” said Mark Watson, Head of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management (UTM) Service Integration for NATS. “The procedures for this flight were close to what we do already with conventional crewed aircraft. This helped us validate that our existing methods of control are equally applicable to controlling remotely crewed aircraft – when the aircraft performs like SeaGuardian.”
Among the capabilities on display is GA-ASI’s revolutionary Detect and Avoid (DAA) system, a safety and situational awareness enhancement designed to support Protector’s flight in non-segregated UK airspace, as well as the platform’s capability to integrate into broader European airspace. DAA will enable Protector to operate amongst normal aviation traffic in the UK’s national airspace, unlike any other aircraft in its class. The demonstration flights are also assisting RAF Waddington, the future home of the RAF Protector Force, to prepare and integrate the new aircraft into its daily operations.
The demos continue until the end of September with the completion of Exercise Joint Warrior. The goal of the flight series has been to showcase the many operational capabilities of the MQ-9B, including the platform’s advanced maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), industry-leading endurance, and interoperability with NATO partners.
16 Sep 21. RAF unveils XIII Squadron as second unit for Protector RG Mk1. Protector is an advanced, medium altitude long endurance, remotely piloted aircraft system. The Protector will boost RAF’s armed intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance capability. Credit: Royal Air Force. UK Crown Copyright.
The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has revealed that XIII Squadron will be the second operational unit of the Protector RG1 remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS).
Currently, the squadron is based at RAF Waddington from where crew operate the Reaper RPAS on overseas operations.
General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems is under contract to deliver SkyGuardian RPAS, which will be known as Protector aircraft following its induction into the RAF.
The contract is for a total of 16 Protector aircraft.
Currently, Britain’s new Protector ‘SkyGuardian’ is in the UK as part of preparations for the new aircraft arrival at RAF Waddington in 2023.
Last week, the UK Government selected RAF Waddington air station as the home of the Protector International Training Centre.
The airbase has been selected as part of a £94m investment aimed at modernising and improving infrastructure for Protector operations.
RAF Air Staff Chief chief marshal Mike Wigston said: “I am delighted to announce that the second squadron to operate this new aircraft will be XIII Squadron.
“Equipped with Protector squadron personnel will be capable of operating anywhere in the world providing the United Kingdom with an operational advantage by delivering intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance effect at range and speed.”
The Protector RG MK1 is a next-generation RPAS intended for use in medium-altitude and long-endurance (MALE) applications.
It will boost the RAF’s armed intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability.
The RPAS brings improved armed surveillance capabilities, including extended range, increased payload and planned integration of British weapons.
RAF ISTAR Force Commander air commodore Hay said: “The arrival of Protector at RAF Waddington will mark a real stepped change in our RPAS capability and ability to support a multitude of operations from both home and abroad.
“I have every confidence in XIII Squadron’s ability to get the very best out of this new and exciting capability.
“Never has their Squadron motto, ‘we assist by watching’ seemed more appropriate to their future task in hand.” (Source: airforce-technology.com)
16 Sep 21. Northrop Grumman and Leonardo enter UAS partnership. The two companies plan to partner on air vehicle design, system architectures and payload optimisation among others.
Northrop Grumman and Leonardo have agreed to join forces to pursue opportunities in the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) domain together.
The strategic partnership builds on an existing collaboration between the two companies that dates to 1995 when they jointly developed the AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis Directional Infrared Counter Measures (DIRCM) for the US and the UK.
Currently, Leonardo and Northrop Grumman are working on the US Army’s Common Infrared Countermeasures (CIRCM) programme.
on air vehicle design, system architectures, payload optimisation and integration within next-generation battlespace architectures.
The collaboration will leverage Leonardo’s expertise in rotorcraft designs and Northrop Grumman’s capabilities in advanced aeronautics and autonomous uncrewed aerial systems.
Northrop Grumman UK, Europe, Middle East CEO Nick Chaffey said: “Northrop Grumman has decades of experience and unmatched expertise in developing and delivering uncrewed and autonomous aerial systems, including the RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-8C Fire Scout, Firebird, a UAS that has the capability to be flown manned, and the pioneering X-47B aircraft.
“There are many possibilities that our collaboration with Leonardo will deliver for customers worldwide as they look to solve new challenges in a complex, unpredictable threat environment.”
Leonardo Helicopters managing director Gian Piero Cutillo said: “This collaboration comes at a time when we see emerging military and civil requirements worldwide in the uncrewed domain.
“This partnership will enable a strong and concerted approach to existing, as well as next-generation VTOL UAS technologies from two leading global aerospace engineering companies.”
Last month, Northrop Grumman opened a new facility in Colorado Springs, US. The facility includes advanced engineering, research labs and software development factories. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
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.