Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
19 Apr 22. USN plans to sink large undersea drone program. The Navy plans to cancel a high-profile unmanned undersea drone research program following missteps during the design and procurement phases, according to newly released fiscal 2023 budget documents.
“Misalignment of Snakehead [Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle] design and procurement efforts with submarine hosting interfaces resulted in limited availability of host platforms to conduct Snakehead operations,” according to a budget highlights book the Navy published on Monday.
Further, the service has experienced “cost and schedule delays” associated with integrating Snakehead onto Virginia-class submarines, according to the Navy’s highlights book. The service estimates it will save roughly $186m during FY23 and $517m over the next five years by canceling the program.
LDUUV, as the name implies, was envisioned as a large undersea drone deployed from a submarine, capable of adapting a wide range of payloads that would have accomplished a variety of missions. Due to the sensitive nature of the missions that submarines undertake, the service has always been mum on the specifics.
Still, a significant amount of time, energy and taxpayer dollars have already been invested in LDUUV. A February 2022 press release cites a senior Navy undersea warfare official, Adam Outlaw, as having worked to “establish, resource and defend” the LDUUV program over a 14 year period. The service has sought at least $200m in funding for development and testing efforts up through 2021, according to budget justification documents.
The Navy’s strategy for undersea drones consists of developing a family of systems, meaning the service is working on several other UUV programs of varying sizes and mission sets, such as the Orca Extra Large UUV and the Lionfish Small UUV. In other words, canceling LDUUV is a loss, but other capabilities are on the way.
The Navy received roughly $80m in funding for LDUUV in the most recent spending bill, but it’s unclear how much of that money has already been spent or could be reprogrammed for other purposes. (There is always a lag time between when Congress appropriates funding and when the Pentagon disburses it to the relevant program offices.)
The service adopted a two-phase strategy for developing LDUUV, with the government investing a large portion of in-house research upfront, followed by industry competing for the chance to produce the Navy’s design. Most of the money saved by canceling the program stems from the second phase of the program being dropped.
The program’s cancellation is not likely to go over well with Congress. Unlike commercial-off-the-shelf drones that the service can purchase and operate for an upfront cost, LDUUV was touted to lawmakers as an exquisite Navy program of record, based on ms of dollars invested in state-of-the-art technology and carefully tested over many years.
Its failure to get off the ground — or out of the submarine — will be fuel for the fire of lawmakers who vigorously argue the Navy’s investments in unmanned technology puts cart before the horse — or payload before the drone.
Other major divestments included in the Navy’s FY23 budget request include the Sea-Launched Nuclear Cruise Missile, retiring the aircraft carrier Nimitz (CVN-68) in FY25, and the elimination of the Littoral Combat Ship anti-submarine warfare mission package. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Breaking Defense.com)
20 Apr 22. Thales obtains type certification for Spy’Ranger 330 system.
- Type certification enables the French Army to proceed with operator instruction and training with the SMDR1 mini-UAS2 reconnaissance system, deploy it in overseas theatres of operations without requiring specific flight approvals, and sustain it over long periods.
- Thales worked with partner companies in the French defence industrial and technological base (BITD3) to develop this French-designed mini-UAS and contribute to France’s national sovereignty.
- With the Spy’Ranger 330 system, the armed forces have access to the most innovative imaging technologies available on the market.
The Spy’Ranger 330 in service with the French Army as part of the SMDR programme has obtained its first type certification by the French defence procurement agency’s airworthiness authority, testifying to the system’s proven performance in combat situations. Type certification guarantees the airworthiness of the SMDR and enables the Army to use its mini-UAS systems for instruction, training and operational deployments without obtaining specific flight approvals.
The Spy’Ranger 330 system was designed, developed and put into industrial production for the French defence procurement agency’s SMDR programme by an ecosystem of French companies specialising in light unmanned air systems for front-line forces. With three times the range capabilities of its predecessor, the DRAC1 the SMDR system brings the French Army a new, strategically important capability.
The Spy’Ranger 330 mini-UAS and the Spy’Ranger 550 tactical mini-UAS are part of the same family of systems and rely on many of the same building bricks. The Spy’Ranger family is designed to meet the requirements of front-line and reconnaissance units engaged in overseas theatres of operations, offering them a single system that combines a number of key sub-systems to support and provide an image intelligence capability for front-line units: a robust, long-endurance air vehicle designed to operate in difficult environmental conditions, an imaging system to contribute to tactical superiority, a secure datalink and an easy-to-operate command-and-control (C2) system.
The SMDR air vehicle can fly for nearly three hours in a radius of 30 km and the system brings the armed forces access to a number of major technological innovations. Key components of the SMDR system include a multi-sensor (EO and IR) high-definition optronics payload, which is mounted in the Spy’Ball gyrostabilised gimbal and uses high-performance image processing techniques developed for combat aircraft pods such as the Rafale’s TALIOS system, the Micro-TMA secure high-speed datalink, and the combat-proven Spy’C command-and-control system. The electrically powered Spy’Ranger 330 air vehicle has an innovative architecture and is made of carbon fibre for low weight and added robustness.
The SMDR programme has demonstrated the complexity of developing a mini-UAS system for military requirements, in particular in terms of survivability, resistance to cyberattacks and electromagnetic threats, and the ability to operate in harsh environmental conditions (rain, wind, sand, dust, etc.).
As programme prime contract, Thales guarantees a high level of safety, security and airworthiness for the SMDR system, which opens a new chapter in the sovereign unmanned flight capabilities of the French forces. Since December 2020, the French Army has operated the SMDR in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane and has been fully satisfied by its performance. Operating in daylight and at night, the SMDR system has contributed to the success of military operations on a routine basis, helping to provide force protection and keep soldiers safe, and consolidating Thales’s role as a key player in the French mini-UAS ecosystem.
“Thales and the members of the French mini-UAS ecosystem are trusted partners of the armed forces and the French defence procurement agency on the SMDR programme. To step up to the challenges of the return of high-intensity conflict, Thales is drawing on the innovative potential of this ecosystem, the technical and industrial capabilities it has developed for the SMDR programme, and other strategic partnerships to ensure that France secures its access to these critical technologies.” Benoit Plantier, Vice President, Optronics and Missile Electronics, Thales
14 Apr 22. XTEND pitches UAS capabilities to FCG. XTEND has pitched its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) capabilities for the UK Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) Future Capability Group (FCG) Human Machine Teaming (HMT) nano UAS (nUAS) programme.
Speaking to Janes at SMi Military Robotics and Autonomous Systems 2022 (SMi MRAS 2022) conference in London, Ido Bar-On, vice-president of business development and sales at XTEND, said that the company had pitched its UAS capabilities, including the Xtender, Wolverine, and their generic Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) operating systems to the FCG nUAS project.
The FCG nUAS project comes under the British Army’s RAS programme, which seeks to exploit emerging technologies to prepare the British Armed Forces for future challenges.
According to Bar-On, XTEND’s UAS capabilities were more technologically advanced for spiral four and five of the nUAS programme, therefore the company profiled their products more generally to the FCG. The FCG subsequently expressed an interest in their systems and a ground demonstration is planned, Bar-On said. (Source: Janes)
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.
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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.