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30 Nov 22. On Nov. 17, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) paired a company-owned MQ-20 Avenger® Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) with a Sabreliner, operated by Lockheed Martin and acting as a surrogate fighter, and two F-5 Advanced Tigers (AT) from Tactical Air Support configured with internal TacIRST sensors, to perform multi-platform infrared sensing. During this event, all aircraft performed coordinated maneuvers to sense relevant airborne targets in the infrared spectrum. The MQ-20 and Sabreliner were digitally connected over a Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) mesh network to share sensing observations. In addition to the live-flight aircraft, five digital twins of the MQ-20 were integrated to autonomously fly a Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) collaborative combat mission.
All live aircraft had operational next-generation Tactical Infrared Search and Track (TacIRST™) sensors during the test to provide Air-to-Air Moving Target Tracking. These live tracks were provided by Lockheed Martin’s TacIRST sensor and was processed on a General Dynamics Mission Systems’ EMC2 Multi-Function Processor (MFP), commonly referred to as “the Einstein Box.” Using this software-defined architecture, the flight demonstrated crewed and uncrewed teaming between the MQ-20s, Sabreliner and manned F-5 AT tactical fighters.
“This test flight has broken new ground for us,” said GA-ASI Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood. “It demonstrated effective collaboration between four established defense prime contractors flying with advanced sensing, crewed and uncrewed teaming, and advanced airborne high-performance computing to meet challenging air dominance scenarios. This is a clear demonstration of our rapidly maturing Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) mission system suite and moves us one step closer to providing this revolutionary capability to the warfighter.”
“Flying four platforms with TacIRST installed was a major milestone for Lockheed Martin,” stated Matthew Merluzzi, Sr. Program Manager at Lockheed Martin. “By leveraging open mission systems, our team has demonstrated that common platform integration is possible across a variety of vehicles bringing advanced capabilities to our warfighters quicker and more affordably.”
To accomplish the multi-company integration, the MQ-20 team used a government-furnished CODE autonomy engine and the government-standard Open Mission Systems (OMS) messaging protocol to enable communication between the autonomy core and TacIRST. In addition, GA-ASI used General Dynamics’ EMC2, an open architecture MFP with multi-level security infrastructure to run the autonomy architecture, demonstrating the ability to bring high-performance computing (HPC) resources to ACPs to perform quickly tailorable mission sets depending on the operational environment.
This is another in an ongoing series of autonomous flights performed using internal research and development (IRAD) funding to prove out important concepts for ACPs.
29 Nov 22. What’s ahead for USN unmanned underwater vehicle programs.
The U.S. Navy submarine community is eager to boost its use of unmanned underwater vessels in the coming years, with several big developments almost ready to hit the fleet.
Though submarine leaders were early adopters of UUV systems a decade ago, challenges — particularly the difficulty recovering unmanned vehicles back into submarines — have led to UUVs being more commonly associated with surface ship operations.
Now, as the Navy seeks to become a manned/unmanned hybrid fleet, submariners are looking to two key milestones: delivery of an Orca Extra Large UUV test vehicle, and the completion of modifications that will allow the Razorback Medium UUV to be deployed and recovered from a submarine’s torpedo tube.
“The XLUUV is critical because it makes up, in some cases, for the lack of submarines. … It gives you additional capacity because you have a limited number of [attack submarines],” Vice Adm. William Houston, the commander of Naval Submarine Forces, told reporters at the Naval Submarine League’s annual conference earlier this month.
The Orca will be launched from a pier and go on long-duration missions. The Navy has said little about the clandestine missions this unmanned diesel-electric submarine will conduct, other than to say its first mission will be laying mines.
As for the Razorback, the first iteration of the MUUV can only be launched and recovered from a dry deck shelter — a manpower-intensive attachment to an attack submarine the Navy has in limited quantity.
With the addition of software that lets the UUV return to the submarine via the torpedo tubes, “every SSN will have the ability to serve as a UUV mothership,” Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, said at the conference.
Moton said the Orca program has seen significant production delays, but he remains confident the Navy will learn from the initial prototypes being built now and then move into a program of record.
The Navy awarded contracts to Boeing for one test asset and five Orca prototypes, filling an urgent operational need for advanced mining the Pentagon identified in 2015.
The Navy identified the XLUUV concept as the solution in 2017, according to a Government Accountability Office report, and selected Boeing for the program in 2019. Boeing “originally planned to deliver the first vehicle by December 2020 and all five vehicles by the end of calendar year 2022,” according to the GAO report.
Moton attributed the delays in part to pandemic and post-pandemic challenges: production delays, shortages in parts and forgings, supply chain backups for key components like lithium ion batteries.
A Boeing spokesperson told Defense News “the Orca program is a development program involving groundbreaking technology.”
“There is no other commercially available XLUUV anywhere,” the spokesperson added. “Supply chain challenges combined with high quality requirements have affected timeline and schedule. The Navy has been informed and involved in the entire development program, including the analysis and thought process behind any delays.”
Despite the delays, Moton said Boeing is very close to achieving full integration on the test asset system, called XLE0, which will deliver to the Navy in early 2023. Boeing said it christened this vehicle in April and will relaunch it by the end of the year to allow for sea trials and delivery next year.
The test asset will reduce risk on the following five Orca prototypes, the last of which GAO says will now deliver in mid-2024.
Moton said he couldn’t discuss the timing of a program of record for Orca because that’s part of ongoing FY24 budget negotiations. But he said the test asset and five prototypes will give the Navy a good understanding of the XLUUV program’s anticipated cost and schedule.
Razorback and Viperfish MUUV
Two separate communities previously developed a medium-sized UUV: the submarine community’s Razorback, which proved to be less useful than anticipated due it being recoverable only with a dry deck shelter, and the explosive ordnance disposal community’s Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish, which EOD units have used in worldwide operations since it was first deployed to the Middle East in 2013.
Both systems now need to be updated, leading to a chance for two program offices to collaborate on a single MUUV design that can conduct two distinct missions.
Moton said Leidos and L3Harris Technologies were selected over the summer to build the new MUUV and have already completed an integrated baseline review. The program will soon execute a system requirements review and a system functional review.
For the EOD community, this new UUV will be able to operate in deeper waters and conduct longer-duration missions, meaning expeditionary mine countermeasures companies will be able to cover more ocean area faster.
For submariners, the ability to launch and recover from torpedo tubes is a gamechanger. Houston, the commander of the submarine force, called this launch and recovery capability “our biggest focus.”
Final demonstrations are coming up, he said, and “we think we will have something operational in the not-too-distant future.”
Rear Adm. Doug Perry, the Navy’s director of undersea warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff, said at the conference the attack submarine fleet has 200 torpedo tubes, and this development ensures every single one can be used to launch and recover MUUVs if needed.
Indeed, he said, it gives every attack submarine the ability to have an advanced scout, to touch the seafloor, to conduct third-party targeting, and to aid in communications and the development of a near-real-time common operating picture — a challenge due to both the physics of being underwater and the submarines not wanting to give away their location.
Mine and mine countermeasures UUVs
Meanwhile, the Navy has a number of programs in the works for small mine warfare and mine countermeasures UUVs.
The Lionfish program will replace the Mk 18 Mod 1 Swordfish UUV the EOD community has used for more than 20 years. Moton said HII was selected to replace the Swordfish following a novel process that paired the Defense Innovation Unit with fleet EOD units for a rigorous assessment of competing UUVs. Moton said he liked the way the process played out and hopes to replicate it for other upcoming unmanned programs.
The Navy is working on the next iteration of its Barracuda mine neutralizer, developed as part of the Littoral Combat Ship mission modules program. Raytheon Technologies’ original Barracuda included a tethered neutralizer connected to a communications system that remained at the surface of the water. Moton said the updated Barracuda will not be tethered, “making it, really, a mine-identifying and -neutralizing UUV.”
For offensive mining, Moton said the Navy is nearing the start of acquisition for a Medusa UUV, a system Perry called “a mined, expendable, unmanned submarine asset as a replacement for the submarine-launched mobile mine.”
He said the Navy heard industry responses to a request for information in late October, which the program office is evaluating to understand the potential costs and schedules associated with the service’s requirements for Medusa. (Source: Defense News)
29 Nov 22. Nigeria enlists drones for border security and crime fighting.
Tethered drones are making life easier for Nigerian law enforcement authorities responsible for border and homeland security as well as anti-crime and anti-terrorism operations.
The equipment comes from drone company Elistair, which supplied Orion tethered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Nigerian police force, a company statement said.
The UAVs were delivered and training given in Abuja at the beginning of the year and “tethered drones are now deployed daily”.
Using Orions, police successfully identified armed terrorist groups thanks to discrete observation and threat detection made possible by the UAVs over an area of several kilometres during 24-hour flights.
“Drones assist Police to monitor active crime scenes, co-ordinate response operations and provide aerial support to responding officers,” a Nigerian police spokesman said.
Deployable in minutes and easily transportable, the Orion allows operators to speedily create a discreet checkpoint with a minimal logistic footprint. The Orion can remain on station for 50 hours and thanks to its 100 metre long Kevlar tether, is immune to jamming. Its dual electro-optical/infrared sensor is suitable for day and night missions and has a detection range of 10 km. The UAV has a total takeoff weight of 10.5 kg and should the tether fail, can parachute safely to Earth.
Elistair opened an office in Ivory Coast’s Abidjan in April 2021 to increase its presence and proximity to West African customers. The company has supplied UAVs to more than 70 countries worldwide from its locations in Africa, France and the United States (US).
The Nigerian police have been expanding their UAV inventory, and recently received a small batch of Songar armed unmanned aerial vehicles from Turkey’s Asisguard, while larger UAVs are entering Nigerian military service.
Asisguard said the Songar deliveries were concluded on 15 September, but did not reveal further details. In May it was reported by Africa Intelligence that Nigeria had ordered ten Songars.
Unveiled in 2019, the Songar multicopter can be fitted with an assault rifle, 40mm grenade launcher or 81mm mortar. It can also be fitted with a day/night camera gimbal and laser range finder. An electronic sight and ballistic calculation module assists with weapon deployment and recoil management.
The Nigerian police are expected to use the Songar against armed gangs and bandits, which have recently caused havoc in several states. The Nigerian Police Force has also recently taken delivery of ALTI Transition UAVs from South Africa.
More recent UAV deliveries to Nigeria include at least four AR-500B shipborne unmanned helicopters from China. It is not yet clear if these will be used aboard Nigerian Navy vessels or from land bases. China is supplying several Wing Loong II, CH-4 and CH-3 aircraft to enhance the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as strike capabilities of the Nigerian Air Force.
Nigeria’s military is also getting Bayraktar TB2 UAVs from Turkey – it has been reported that Nigeria ordered six UAVs and two ground stations. Photos posted online in September showed several of the UAVs on the Baykar factory floor in Nigerian markings. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
29 Nov 22. Hensoldt demos Astus UAV to potential clients. Hensoldt South Africa is holding flight demonstrations of its Astus unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the Western Cape for potential customers, and showcasing the capabilities of the aircraft’s various sensor payloads.
Demonstration flights began on 24 November and continue this week at Saldanha on the Cape west coast. Two UAVs are flying, one fitted with an Epsilon 180 gimbal and the other with a Hensoldt XTP 30 training gimbal. The Epsilon 180 from Octopus ISR Systems weighs 5 kg and features a full HD electro-optical, mid-wave infrared, laser range finder and laser pointer (EO/MWIR/LRF/LP) payload.
During demonstration flights, the 30 x optical zoom camera was able to track a golf ball being played at a local golf course from 2.5 kilometres away, and could clearly reveal the name painted on the side of a ship 10.5 kilometres out to sea. The MWIR sensor has 15 x optical zoom while the laser range finder has a 20km measuring range.
Hensoldt South Africa and Threod Systems recently launched the new light-weight electro optical Argos-8 system, weighing less than 6 kg and offering day and night capabilities for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. This will be fitted to the Astus early next year.
Willie Malan, Manager Unmanned Systems at Hensoldt Optronics, emphasised that while the Astus is a capable platform, its key attribute is its sensor payload. Artificial intelligence and imaging technology have improved tremendously in recent years, and this is what Hensoldt is really highlighting with the Astus demonstration. Malan said the 8-inch gimbal’s auto tracker was able to detect moving targets – such as sheep walking through a field – and track vehicles moving through bush.
Various flight profiles are being flown around Saldanha, out to ranges of more than 100 kilometres, and altitudes of up to 16 000 feet (maximum communications range is 200 km). The aircraft is demonstrating its utility in roles from traffic monitoring to maritime surveillance, fisheries patrol, counter-poaching etc.
Numerous local and international potential customers are attending the demonstration, including several “serious prospective buyers.” Attendees are from both civil and military institutions, including non-governmental organisations and city councils. Other flight demonstrations will take place early next year.
Malan said that the Astus airframe is production ready, and basic gimbals integrated, but Hensoldt is working on adding more and different sensors to the airframe.
In addition to the customer demonstrations and payload development flights, the Astus deployment to Saldanha is also assessing the use of a logistical support container for spare parts supply in the field. Over the last few years of testing the Astus team deployed with a large staff component as part of initial development but for this mission the team was cut down to only the minimum five staff needed.
The Astus was first unveiled in September 2018, by Tellumat, and was subsequently acquired by Hensoldt South Africa along with some of Tellumat’s other business units. Key features of the medium-size, medium-range UAV are a 5.2-metre wingspan, 115 kg maximum take-off weight; eight hours flight time at 5 000 feet above sea level; and cruising speed of 55-60 knots. The aircraft can carry payloads up to 10 kg.
The modular and portable ground control station (GCS) can be networked to allow control of the Astus by more than one pilot and payload operator geographically separated across the mission area. It consists of an operator control unit (OCU) and ground data terminal (GDT) that offer flight and mission control management of the Astus. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
28 Nov 22. CSIR developing hydrogen-powered UAV. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is busy with the development of a hydrogen-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) using locally developed fuel cell technology to support efforts to decarbonise aviation in South Africa.
Kevin Jamison and Purusha Naidoo, systems engineers at the CSIR, in a presentation to the Aeronautical Society of South Africa at the beginning of November explained that the development of the UAV is in line with the Department of Science and Innovation’s Hydrogen Society Roadmap that aims to develop a sustainable and competitive hydrogen economy in South Africa by 2050.
South Africa has significant unrealised potential to generate low-cost green hydrogen (green hydrogen does not ultimately release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as it uses renewable energy from wind or solar to split water into hydrogen and oxygen). Rheinmetall Denel Munition, for example, in September launched its green hydrogen modular, self-sustaining, renewable de-centralised energy solution that uses solar power to split water.
The CSIR is developing the hydrogen-powered UAV between 2022 and 2026, as part of a roadmap that could lead to the development of fuel cells for hydrogen-powered general aviation aircraft (2026-2029), and hydrogen-power for regional airliners (2029-2034).
The project aims to develop, demonstrate and prove an integrated airborne hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system for UAVs, and license the fuel cell propulsion system to a local entity for qualification, industrialisation, and commercialization. The UAV, which is optimised for hydrogen propulsion, will also be licensed to a local entity for qualification, industrialisation and commercialization.
The UAV will be of a fixed wing, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) design, with multiple rotors for vertical flight. Although hydrogen fuel cells are initially more expensive than alternative energy sources like fossil fuels or batteries, they are quiet and are much more suitable for long endurance missions than batteries.
The aircraft will be aimed at both civil and military applications, including long endurance patrol, long range monitoring, and long range surveillance, with a reconfigurable payload bay capable of carrying up to 5kg.
Endurance is intended to be greater than ten hours and maximum operating altitude nearly 5 000 metres above sea level. The aircraft will be designed to operate in difficult conditions, including 60km/h winds, temperatures of more than 45 degrees Celsius, and 1-5mm/h of precipitation.
After initial electric (battery)-powered flight testing, the locally developed fuel cell will be integrated into the UAV and will undergo flight testing and demonstrations.
The CSIR is getting funding from the South African government’s Department of Science and Innovation and reports strong interest in the project, including from the military and local and international operators. Several local universities and companies have been in discussion with the CSIR to partner on the project.
The project will benefit from work done by Hydrogen SA, which has amongst others developed a portable on-site hydrogen generator that can produce 2.5kg of hydrogen a day. The system weights 850 kg. Hydrogen SA has also developed a storage vessel weighing 1.7 kg and able to store 4.7 litres of hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is under the spotlight this week as Infrastructure South Africa (ISA) hosts the inaugural South Africa Green Hydrogen Summit (SAGHS) in Cape Town, which runs from 28 to 30 November. The Summit showcases the country’s offering as a large-scale, low cost, world class green hydrogen production hub and total value chain investment destination.
South Africa is one of the founding members of the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance (AGHA) which seeks to promote continental green hydrogen cooperation.
The Summit builds on the opportunities identified during the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium South Africa (SIDSSA) of 2021. One of the highlights of the symposium was South Africa’s emergence as a potential global exporter of green energy with major investment support from Sasol and Anglo-American giving a boost to the country’s green hydrogen projects.
Green hydrogen was further identified as a “big frontier” in the Country Investment Strategy, indicating that it represents both current and future growth and investment potential for South Africa. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
25 Nov 22. First Milkor UAVs destined for South African use. Milkor’s 18.6 metre wingspan Milkor 380 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is the largest such aircraft to be developed in Africa and will enter production next year. As part of an agreement with the Department of Defence, the first aircraft produced will be used exclusively by South Africa.
The Milkor 380 will soon make its maiden flight, with production of the first five aircraft set to take place next year. The aircraft was first unveiled in 2018, and more recently took pride of place at the most recent Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition, where it was displayed with Al Tariq X-series precision guided munitions, Halcon Desert Sting DS-16 guided bombs, FZ602 laser-guided rocket launchers, and Airborne Technologies’ Self Contained Aerial Reconnaissance (SCAR) Pod.
“Following a successful presentation of the Milkor 380 at the African Aerospace and Defence Exhibition in September of this year, international recognition on the Milkor 380 and its capabilities has been garnered from countries across eastern Europe and Asia,” Milkor said. “During AAD, Milkor signed an MOU with the Department of Defence, Armscor and the South African Air Force illustrating their continued commitment to supply these systems and will manufacture five units during 2023 dedicated for South African use.”
With the company’s 10 000 square metre manufacturing facility in Cape Town, Milkor will further build on local defence capabilities and continue to avail the Milkor 380 to the South African government, the company added, as it is “fully committed to building the capabilities required by various branches in the South African government by making the Milkor 380 available for use in South Africa.”
“Developing such a sophisticated platform in South Africa is a significant achievement for the defence industry,” said Daniel du Plessis, Business Development Manager at Milkor. “Milkor has created an opportunity for the South African defence, security and intelligence sectors to source key equipment locally, eliminating the need to seek them elsewhere. It enables the South African government to reduce its reliance on foreign procurement and allows them to collaborate closely with local companies that can help build stronger defence and security capabilities, especially in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sector.”
Milkor said the Milkor 380 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV is the largest UAV to be manufactured in South Africa and on the African continent. It has an endurance of up to 35 hours of flight time and a payload capacity of 210 kg. “These features make the Milkor 380 ideal for integrating various sensors and performing surveillance operations and intelligence gathering missions across the South African border and within the military intelligence realm,” Milkor said, with UAVs able to combat issues like maritime crime, poaching, terrorism etc. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
24 Nov 22. US Army Tests Blood Delivery Drones. US Army drones are dropping packages of simulated blood over the Mojave Desert in an effort to find better ways to rush medical supplies to wounded troops as quickly as possible.
In recent months, soldiers at Fort Irwin, Calif., have practiced gathering the drone cargo after the supplies drift to the ground, attached to small, orange-and-white parachutes.
Lessons from two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, scenes from Ukraine and fears of future conflicts with countries such as China are driving the efforts, researchers told Stars and Stripes.
“The need is pretty clear: making sure that whole blood is accessible to forward medics,”
said Nathan Fisher, chief of medical robots and autonomous systems at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, at Fort Detrick, Md.
Fisher’s medical supply drone, known as Project Crimson, was what flew overhead and dropped off the fake blood at Fort Irwin during a training scenario for a mass-casualty situation.
The exercise ran from late September into November and included medical personnel from the U.S. and Australian armies.
The FVR-90 drone used by the Army can take off and land vertically, and carry up to 22 pounds of temperature-controlled whole blood to troops up to 250 miles away, a TATRC statement last year said.
“This drone supports medical field care when casualty evacuation isn’t an option,” Fisher said in the statement. “It can keep whole blood and other crucial items refrigerated in the autonomous portable refrigeration unit and take it to medics in the field with wounded warriors.”
One of the bitterest lessons learned from 20 years of American wars is the necessity of preventing blood loss on the battlefield quickly, said Air Force Col. Stacy Shackelford, a doctor and chief of the San Antonio-based Joint Trauma System.
The Afghanistan War and the Russia-Ukraine war in particular were on the minds of military medical officials this summer when they developed seven recommendations for improving the Defense Department’s blood supply program, Shackelford told Stars and Stripes.
One recommendation was research into blood delivery by drone, she said.
The U.S. had complete air superiority in Iraq and Afghanistan, and troops relied on the ability to quickly and safely fly the wounded to field hospitals for emergency care. But that might not be possible in future wars with countries that have anti-air missiles and fighter jets, Shackelford said.
“I think it’s going to come down to drone delivery of blood by some type of unmanned vehicle that can fly in and drop off more blood or more bullets, whatever is needed,”
Shackelford said, in a statement this summer.
Besides speedier delivery, supplying blood to the battlefield by drone has a cost advantage in comparison to using helicopters or training more medics to conduct transfusions under fire, officials said.
The time frame for turning UAVs into flying military blood banks is not all that distant, in the Army’s estimation.
It’s “really just around the corner,” researcher Adam Meledeo said, according to the statement. (Source: UAS VISION/Stars & Stripes)
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