Sponsored by The British Robotics Seed Fund
05 May 22. Northrop Grumman releases new future UAV concept art. Northrop Grumman has released new concept art of a future unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which shows a sleeker design to that previously shown in late 2021. The artist’s rendering, released to Janes on 5 May, shows an unmanned version of the Model 401 manned experimental prototype developed by Northrop Grumman subsidiary, Scaled Composites. Although the latest concept art shares the same scale and overall dimensions of the manned Model 401 on which it is based, it differs from an earlier concept drawing of the unmanned Model 437 version released by Northrop Grumman in September 2021. This latest rendering reveals a sleeker and more aerodynamic design of the frontal fuselage and swept back wings, suggesting that speed is to be prioritised as a performance characteristic of the new vehicle. (Source: Janes)
04 May 22. Switzerland Receives First Hermes 900 Ahead of Flight Trials. Switzerland has received from Israel the first two of six Elbit Systems Hermes 900 Heavy Fuel Engine (HFE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were ordered under the Reconnaissance Drone System 15 (ADS 15) requirement. The Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection, and Sport (VBS) announced the milestone on 29 April, noting that the two UAVs and two ground control stations (GCSs) arrived in Emmen in two deliveries on 21 and 26 April, respectively.
“The [UAVs and GCSs] were transported from Israel to Switzerland by sea and land. Another component of the deliveries was various material for the maintenance and the subassemblies, which are necessary for the operation of the ADS 15,“ the VBS said.
The first UAV has already been assembled and they will undergo a functional check before the first flight tests in mid-May. They will then be handed over to the air force in the second half of the year. Four more UAVs will be delivered by the end of 2023.
Total cost of the six drones is around CHF 250 m (around $256 m at the time) and they are expected to be operational for 20 years.
In March, the first pilots of the Swiss Air Force and armasuisse successfully completed the basic training for the new drone system in Israel.
The Hermes 900 HFE (also known as ADS 15) is an unmanned and unarmed reconnaissance system. The drone are nine metres long with a wingspan of 17 metres. The drone system can be used both during the day and at night and can detect aircraft, other drones and missiles. The six drones will be used, among other things, to monitor borders, search for missing persons in the mountains or assess a situation after a natural disaster.
Switzerland currently has no more reconnaissance drones. The Ranger ADS 95 was decommissioned in November 2019 after 20 years of use. The border guards currently use helicopters.
Even before arriving in Switzerland, the drones manufactured by the Israeli firm Elbit Systems, generated controversy. In 2015, when the purchase was approved by parliament, there were criticisms about the purchase of Israeli military technology.
In January, a senate committee issued a report stating that the purchase represents a “considerable risk” for Switzerland. The project has been delayed for almost three years, mainly due to the crash of a drone during a test flight in 2020. The company has since been able to rectify the technical problem, without changing the design of the drones. (Source: UAS VISION/SWI)
04 May 22. XTEND highlights its next-generation Xtender tactical sUAS system, and announces two new strategic collaborations.
The two collaborations expand XTEND’s new strategic plan for perimeter security and its edge AI capabilities.
Modern Day Marine, Washington DC, May 10-12, Stand no. 240.
XTEND – a company specializing in human-guided autonomous drone operating systems for military forces and law enforcement agencies – is highlighting its recently-launched second-generation indoor tactical sUAS system – the Xtender. In addition, XTEND is announcing two new strategic partnerships with Easy Aerial and SightX, which will enable expansion into new markets and enhancement of the solution’s AI capabilities.
Following the launch of the latest version of its indoor ISR sUAS, XTEND will show at its booth, the new Xtender in its final production form, with its added capabilities.
Taking a step forward in enhancing its edge AI capabilities, XTEND is partnering with SightX, which is developing mission-critical, real-time Edge AI, bringing revolutionary deep-learning research to real-world problems. SightX specializes in cutting-edge AI-based technology for superior situational awareness, and autonomous multi-object classification and tracking. SightX’s Edge AI technology is one of the first third-party apps running on XTEND’s operating system (OS), enabling a variety of AI-driven capabilities to be quickly integrated into XTEND’s OS. At the show, XTEND and SightX will demonstrate their combined offering.
The partnership with Easy Aerial – A world-class leader in military-grade autonomous drone-in-a-box solutions, has resulted in the integration of Easy Aerial’s Easy Guard EGV 90 ground station, with XTEND’s Wolverine Multi-Mission UAS. The integrated solution enhances XTEND’s capabilities to provide a complete perimeter security solution for long-endurance ISTAR missions and enable the operation of XTEND’s drone platforms from Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV). The mutual product combines the autonomous operation, offered by Easy Aerial, together with the intuitive and Human-centric interface of XTEND’s Operating System running on the Wolverine UAS.
“In response to the needs and challenges of our customers around the world, we are pleased to announce the expansion of XTEND’s capabilities and solutions thanks to these two strategic collaborations,” says Gadi Bar-Ner, Chief Business Officer of XTEND. “As a groundbreaking company in our field, we are constantly working on new developments, together with carefully-selected partners, in order to continue bringing our customers advanced systems for mission completion, while fully maintaining the protected of forces in the field.”
03 May 22. USAF secretary lauds Ghost Bat, eyes AI integration. Australia’s advanced uncrewed aircraft program has been praised by the US Air Force secretary, who is set to request additional investment in AI capability from Washington.
The intervention of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall – who leads 700,000 military personnel and oversees the department’s AU$237 bn budget – will come as a huge endorsement to the country’s defence and manufacturing industry.
The Loyal Wingman program – subsequently renamed Ghost Bat – is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and built in Australia in more than 50 years. It uses AI to fly alongside both manned and unmanned aircraft in mid-air, hence its previous Australian project name.
“The gamble that I’m making in the tech air case is that we’re going to go ahead with un-crewed combat aircraft,” said Kendall on Tuesday.
“We’re going to use technologies that are coming out of programs like the Australian Loyal Wingman program and others, and we’re going to integrate those into our operational capability, and that it’ll be the first time we’ve done that.
“I think the technologies are there to support this now. And I don’t think we need to wait for more development on that. I am more focused on quality than I am on quantity right now.”
His comments were first reported by The Australian Financial Review, and initially told to the Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution.
Frank Kendall is the 26th Secretary of the Air Force and one of the most respected military figures in the US, responsible for organising, training, and equipping of both the US Air and Space Forces.
He was directly appointed by President Joe Biden in April last year and has more than 50 years of experience, including being a former VP for Raytheon.
This year, the Loyal Wingman program will accelerate with a focus on sensor and missionisation capabilities.
The planemaker partnered with the RAAF in order to create the aircraft, which measures 11.7 metres long, has a range of 2,000 nautical miles and can deliver fighter-like performance, while also offering intelligence capabilities.
The drones are designed to leverage artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining a safe distance between other jets.
The Australian government initially ordered three, but has since doubled the size of the fleet, following the Loyal Wingman’s first successful flight in February 2021.
In November, Boeing announced that two Ghost Bat prototypes completed separate test flights in South Australia’s Woomera Range Complex, in the biggest milestone yet for the program.
So far, in excess of 35 local companies have worked on the program such as Whitehorse and Form 2000 – two Australian SMEs that partnered on the manufacture build-to-print components of the aircraft. Other companies include Ferra Engineering, AME Systems, Allied Data Systems and Microelectronic Technologies.
29 Apr 22. HSC 23 completes MQ-8C’s return to flight operations aboard USS Jackson.
The helicopter can now operate with ships and airborne assets as per the operational requirement.
US Navy’s MQ-8C Fire Scout was assigned to Independence-class USS Jackson (LCS 6) during the return to flight operations. Credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles/US Indo-Pacific Command.
The US Navy’s uncrewed helicopter MQ-8C Fire Scout has completed its return to flight operations aboard Independence-class littoral combat ship, USS Jackson (LCS 6).
The return to flight operations were conducted in the Philippine Sea on 20 April. It required coordination between the surface and the aviation entities.
The MQ-8C uncrewed helicopter is assigned to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, also called the Wildcards.
A part of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, LCS 6 is on a rotational deployment to support the security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
The flights at sea mark the end of the aircraft’s operational testing, which allowed MQ-8C to continue routine flights on the littoral combat ships (LCS) deployed in the region.
With the completion, the helicopter can now operate with ships and airborne assets as per the operational requirement.
HSC-23 head lieutenant commander Richard Mooney said: “It’s great to be flying the MQ-8C again, especially for an extended period with our MH-60S.
“Coordinated manned-unmanned operations like these provide numerous advantages to our surface combatants.”
HSC 21, or Blackjacks, also recently completed the return to flight operations for the MQ-8B Fire Scout variant.
The HSC 21 variant is assigned to USS Charleston (LCS 18) and USS Tulsa (LCS 16), deployed in the US 7th Fleet area of operations.
The uncrewed MQ-8B and C Fire Scout helicopter variants are designed as land-based and ship-based autonomous systems. (Source: naval-technology.com)
29 Apr 22. Tekever reveals VTOL-capable variant of AR3 UAV. Portuguese company Tekever Autonomous Systems has unveiled a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) variant of its AR3 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with integrated synthetic aperture radar (SAR) at AUVSI Xponential 2022 in Orlando.
The conventional fixed-wing AR3 UAV has been fitted with four electrically powered rotors, two on each wing, which enables VTOL operations making it more suitable for vessel-based maritime missions and difficult terrain environments. The AR3 VTOL has port and starboard underwing fairings. Each fairing is fitted with fore and aft electric lift engines driving two-bladed propellers. A fixed-wing AR3 can be converted to VTOL configuration in hot-swappable mode in power-on conditions.
The company’s CEO, Ricardo Mendes, told Janes that “the new version of our vastly proven AR3 is a modular and transformable platform. Users no longer have to choose between having pure fixed-wing assets for longer endurance missions, or fixed-wing VTOL assets for more challenging deployment conditions. The AR3 combines both capabilities and provides users with the ability to decide the configuration just moments before take-off”. (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.