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28 Jul 22. New testbed ship to enhance experimentation in Royal Navy. The Royal Navy today unveiled a unique testbed ship to support trials of the latest tech and autonomous systems. The 42m, 270-tonne vessel arrived in Portsmouth this week and is named after former Royal Navy sailor and Nobel Prize winner Patrick Blackett.
It will be used by the navy’s experimentation and innovation experts NavyX who have been driving innovation across the service and testing new technology, kit and concepts, passing them quickly to the frontline.
And procuring the Damen 4008 Fast Crew Supply ship has been an example of this with the boat purchased, adapted for Royal Navy use and delivered within 12 months.
Thanks to the addition of the XV – Experimental Vessel – Patrick Blackett, NavyX will be able to carry out more trials at sea to enhance the Fleet’s operations and ensure the UK stays at the leading edge of naval warfare.
XV Patrick Blackett will enable NavyX to experiment without the need to place demand on other navy ships, many of which are deployed permanently away from UK waters. She will also offer the chance to work closer with industry and academia partners.
Damen Shipyards, in the Netherlands, won the contract for the test ship which can reach speeds of 20 knots and has been modified to support NavyX operations.
The ship, with a crew of five Royal Navy personnel, will have a “plug and play” element to support the navy’s new PODS (Persistently Operationally Deployed Systems) concept which means it can be adapted to the specific trials or experiments it’s carrying out including testing drones and autonomous vessels and AI decision-making.
It will also have container secure points on the work deck so a range of payloads can be embarked, offering flexibility and a modern approach to testing.
In the future, XV Patrick Blackett will take part in Royal Navy and NATO exercises, with the possibility of it being upgraded with autonomous technology.
Colonel Tom Ryall, Head of NavyX, said: “The arrival of this vessel is a pivotal moment for NavyX’s ability to deliver output for the Royal Navy.
“She will give us greater flexibility to experiment with novel military capabilities, and accelerate new technology, kit and concepts to the frontline.”
NavyX chose to name the ship XV Patrick Blackett to honour the British physicist who won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948.
He served in the Royal Navy in the First World War and made a major contribution in the Second World War advising on military strategy and developing operational research – being named the Admiralty’s first director of Operational Research. (Source: Royal Navy)
27 Jul 22. USAF’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drones headed for the boneyard in FY27. The Air Force has sought to retire the Global Hawk at various points over the last decade, but now has an official retirement target for the high-altitude drones, Breaking Defense has learned.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance drone’s days are numbered, as the US Air Force plans to phase out all remaining air vehicles by fiscal 2027, Breaking Defense has learned.
Breaking Defense has obtained a June 27 letter from an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center contracting officer, which informed prime contractor Northrop Grumman of the sunset date for the Global Hawk Block 40 — the most modern version of the RQ-4 used by the service to collect surveillance and track ground targets.
“Northrop Grumman shall base their DMS [diminishing manufacturing source] and Life Cycle Management plans with the expectation that the entire USAF Global Hawk fleet will reach its end of life in 2026,” the contracting officer wrote.
In response to questions, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed the service plans to divest its nine Global Hawk Block 40 drones, but clarified that the plan is to shut down the drone fleet in FY27, not FY26 as the letter states, to make way for more survivable surveillance technologies.
“Our ability to win future high-end conflicts requires accelerating investment in connected, survivable platforms and accepting short-term risks by divesting legacy ISR assets that offer limited capability against peer and near peer threats,” Stefanek said in a statement. (Northrop Grumman declined to comment.)
After almost a decade where the Air Force unsuccessfully attempted to mothball its entire Global Hawk fleet — or alternatively, the U-2 spyplane that also conducts high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance — the service has recently been allowed by Congress to begin divesting its older-model RQ-4s.
Its four remaining Global Hawk Block 20s were divested in October and are now used to test hypersonic missiles as part of the Pentagon’s Sky Range program, according to a news release published by Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, last year. The 20 Block 30 aircraft have already begun being retired, and are set to be removed from service with the Air Force by 2023, Stefanek said.
Of course, while the Air Force may be planning to retire its Block 40 aircraft in FY27, the service has a long history of being stymied in its attempts to divest older systems. Ultimately, Congress will make the final call on whether to retire the Global Hawk, which lawmakers may be unwilling to do if the loss of the platform leaves open a capability gap. Even if retirement is allowed to go ahead, the date could change depending on budgetary pressures or current threats.
Capability Gap Risks
The Air Force has been skeptical of the RQ-4 for about a decade, first trying to retire its Global Hawk fleet in FY13. At the time, service leaders claimed it would be too expensive to upgrade the RQ-4 Block 30’s sensors to achieve parity with the U-2, which it intended to operate in place of the Global Hawk.
After that effort failed, the Air Force attempted the opposite tactic as part of its FY15 budget proposal, trying to retire its U-2 fleet and having the Global Hawks take over the high-altitude surveillance mission. After Congress beat down that proposal, the Air Force allowed both platforms to quietly coexist for a couple years, before successfully getting permission from Congress to divest its Global Hawk Block 20 and Block 30 aircraft in FY21.
Meanwhile, the Navy has remained committed to the maritime version of the Global Hawk, the MQ-4C Triton. It plans to buy three MQ-4Cs in FY23 after congressional adds and foreign military sales kept the production line alive during FY21 and FY22.
Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, said it will be important for the Air Force to retain its Block 40 drones “as a stopgap” while it phases out its E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) planes. The service plans to retire eight of its 12 JSTARS aircraft in FY23, with the rest of the fleet likely to be divested in subsequent years.
That would leave the Global Hawk Block 40 drones — which are outfitted with a synthetic aperture radar with a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) mode — to track mobile troops on the ground until the Air Force fields systems that can do the mission with a much lower risk of being shot down by enemy missiles.
“I think, in many ways, the Air Force is right: This is not a survivable platform if you were in war with a country that has advanced air defenses,” Pettyjohn said. “But really, none of our ISR platforms are. … It points to one of the overall limitations and our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance portfolio of aircraft.”
So what will ultimately fill the Global Hawk’s shoes?
“It’s not really a one-for-one trade. They’re not building a new system that’s replacing all the functionality of JSTARS or the Global Hawks,” Pettyjohn said. Rather, the service is taking a more “composite” approach that could stitch together sensor data gathered from tactical fighters like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or satellites that have been outfitted with GMTI sensors.
In 2021, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond revealed a previously classified effort to develop satellites capable of tracking ground troops from space to help replace JSTARS. The Space Force is also considering asking commercial satellite providers to host sensors that could provide ISR data, Breaking Defense reported earlier this month.
Pettyjohn pointed out that Air Force officials have also alluded to a penetrating ISR system — making it possible that the service is working on a classified spyplane like the RQ-180 that could secretly replace high-altitude surveillance aircraft like the Global Hawk and U-2.
“The RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk was crucial to the ISR requirements of yesterday and today. However, this platform cannot compete in a contested environment. And tomorrow’s conflicts will be contested,” Air Force leaders, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown and Raymond, stated in written testimony to Congress in May 2021.
“Moving beyond this platform allows us to bring the ISR enterprise into the digital-age by using sensing grids and fielding advanced technology that includes penetrating ISR platforms,” the leaders stated in the testimony, adding that RQ-4 Block 30 divestment would allow the Air Force to repurpose funding needed for penetrating ISR capability. “Overall, intelligence collection will transition to a family of systems that includes non-traditional assets, sensors in all domains, commercial platforms, and a hybrid force of 5th- and 6th-generation capabilities.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
26 Jul 22. Four prototype uncrewed surface vessels participate in RIMPAC-22. Participating vessels include two Overlord and two Medium uncrewed surface vehicles. The US Navy has announced the participation of four prototype uncrewed surface vessels (USV) in the multinational exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. The four vessels are Ranger, Sea Hunter, Seahawk and Nomad. Nomad and Ranger are Overlord USVs while Sea Hunter and Seahawk are Medium USVs. Together these vehicles, operating both autonomously and by manned teams, will carry out a wide range of missions. The prototype vehicles will provide warfighting capabilities and extend the reach of manned assets while reducing the risks for warfighters. All four prototypes deployed in the exercise are operated and maintained by the Unmanned Maritime Systems Programme Office (PMS 406), within the Programme Executive Office (PEO) Unmanned and Small Combatants (USC).
However, the practical execution of these vessels will be handled by the personnel from Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, within Surface Development Squadron One.
US Navy captain and PMS 406 programme manager Scot Searles said: “The integration of autonomous USVs with manned combatants will give fleet commanders much-needed enhancements to maritime domain awareness, thereby increasing decision speed and lethality in surface warfare.”
During their participation in RIMPAC, the four prototypes will provide intelligence, carry payloads and gather data in a realistic environment, working side-by-side with other exercise participants.
This will allow the vehicles to determine how well they function with the larger fleet. The latest iteration of RIMPAC is being conducted in and around Hawaii and southern California from 29 June to 4 August. (Source: naval-technology.com)
18 Jul 22. South Korea’s ASWUUV conducts operational demonstration. South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has successfully conducted an “operational demonstration” of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (ASWUUV) off the coast of Tongyeong, South Korea.
“This Dual Operational Structure Will Be A Game Changer Which Alters The Paradigm Of Maritime Strategy Significantly,” Said Head Of The Republic Of Korea Navy (ROKN) Air And Unmanned Force Division, Colonel Park Gil-Yong. “We Will Continue Cooperating With The ADD And Other Related Organizations To Accelerate Development Of This Framework.”
The 6.5m long ASWUUV displaces 9 tons meaning it can be qualified as a large displacement UUV. It has been in development with Hanwha since as part of the ADD’s effort to develop “leading core technologies.” The system has a maximum cruising speed of 10 knots and can dive to 300 meters with an endurance of 30 days. In addition, it incorporates passive and active sonar, acoustic sensors, a communication unit and hydrogen fuel cells for extended operations.
The ADD plans on testing the autonomous operating system, miniature sonar, and hydrogen fuel cells of the ASWUUV in September.
Once in service, the ASWUUV will monitor and keep track of enemy submarines as well as tying down hostile submarines that enter its operational area. The ROKN has been pursuing the development of manned and unmanned naval systems as part of the “National Defense Revolution 4.0” plan of the Ministry of National Defense. The ROKN said that the ASWUUV is an integral element of this plan.
“Once the ASWUUV becomes operational, our submarine force will be able to expand its operations,” said a ROKN spokesperson. “Moreover, it will facilitate the creation of the ‘maritime manned-unmanned dual operational structure’, a goal which the Navy has focused on greatly.” (Source: Rumour Control)
22 Jul 22. Up, up and away: Airbus’ Zephyr drone breaks flight record high above Arizona. The solar-powered Zephyr drone beat its own record for time spent aloft as an uncrewed aircraft system, with 36 days completed so far, and counting, according to Army Futures Command.
AFC’s Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space Cross-Functional Team launched the aircraft on June 15 and it remains deployed some 70,000 feet over Arizona. The pilotless aircraft previously set the longevity record at about 26 days in 2018.
The first stratospheric UAS of its kind, Zephyr can fly continuously for months at a time, far above weather and conventional air traffic. It has a wingspan of just over 82 feet — longer than 2 school buses placed end-to-end, but weighs less than 166 pounds.
The test aims to assess the aircraft’s durability and energy storage capacity. Powered by solar energy, the Zephyr is considered a performance heavyweight in ultra-light aircraft. It can be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering, with a wide visual payload coverage of 20 by 30 kilometers (12.4-18.6 miles). The drone can also be equipped with radar, lidar and infrared technologies to expand its capabilities.
Michael Monteleone, the director of the APNT/Space CFT, said there has been significant progress in the development high-altitude platforms such as Zephyr in recent years.
“This experimentation allows us to build on that knowledge by demonstrating multiple payload types, fully exploring the military utility of stratospheric operations, and modernizing areas of deep sensing, long-range targeting and resilient communications,” he said in a statement. “Ultra-long endurance unmanned platforms have the potential to provide significant military capabilities and enhanced confidence as part of the Army’s diversified multi-layered architecture.”
As part of the test, the Zephyr completed its first venture into “international airspace” and over water, the statement said. It also marked the aircraft’s longest continuous flight using satellite communication controls.
A second Zephyr flight will launch in the coming weeks and travel over the Pacific Ocean. It will study the Zephyr’s ability to carry a payload designed by AFC over multiple combatant commands. (Source: Defense News)
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