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15 Mar 23. Banshee welcomed into Royal Navy. The Royal Navy has taken delivery of new jet-powered Banshee drones capable of flying up to 400mph. The adoption of the powerful Banshee Jet 80+ is a significant step forward as the navy forges ahead with the use of remotely-piloted air systems (RPAS). Developed by defence company QinetiQ, the Banshee simulates threatening aircraft to help the Royal Navy stay at the cutting-edge of air defences. They were first trialled on the aircraft carrier HMS Prince Of Wales in 2021.
Now a new flight has been formed at 700X Naval Air Squadron (NAS), based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, to learn how to maintain and safely operate its own fleet of drones.
Lieutenant Commander Martin Howard, the commanding officer of 700X NAS, said: “We have already established the use of RPAS on Royal Navy ships on deployment, but the introduction of Banshee signals a revolutionary step forward in terms of technology.”
Originally developed for use as targets to simulate incoming missiles, Lt Cdr Howard said: “An important point to make is that we are not weaponising these systems. Instead this will be a vehicle that will allow the navy to test different types of sensors.
“The most important thing for me is that people are at the heart of this enterprise. In 700X NAS we are building the skills and knowledge of this technology which is key as we move forward.”
The Banshee drones are 10 by 8 feet (approx. 3m x 2.5m) in size and can fly in excess of 400mph with a range of more than 60 miles. They are propelled into the air using a large 60-foot pneumatic launcher. Using a ground station, the controller can operate the aircraft in various modes and potentially access onboard cameras or other sensors.
Once the flight is complete, the Banshee cuts its engine and deploys a parachute to gently float to the ground.
Lieutenant Tony Nairn was an air engineer and anti-submarine warfare helicopter aircrewman for 17 years before he commissioned as an officer. He is now the Royal Navy’s first Banshee flight commander.
He said: “One of the challenges of RPAS is the rate at which the technology develops. It’s therefore vital that we are able to change direction quickly, whilst maintaining core principles of operating safely. This is absolutely about adaptability and flexibility.”
He added that his team will learn first how to launch and fly the Banshee safely and then look at how it can be integrated into the same air space as other aircraft and operated at sea.
The commanding officer of RNAS Culdrose, Captain Stuart Urwin said: “700X NAS not only operates in-service uncrewed systems for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, it is also a pathfinder squadron, conducting experimentation of these air systems for defence.
“They are truly at the vanguard of our Future Maritime Aviation Force. It is enormously exciting to see the rapid progress they’re making. The squadron is a great team working at the forefront of naval aviation’s next big technological leap.”
The navy’s first test flights of Banshee is expected to be held at Predannack Airfield near RNAS Culdrose in the summer. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
13 Mar 23. Denmark seeks small drones able to operate in cold temperatures. The Danish Defence Ministry has issued a multimillion-dollar tender for several small drones intended for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and fire support operations.
The Tenders Electronic Daily, an online version of the Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union that details public procurement efforts on the continent, published last month a detailed contract notice for the purchase of NATO Class 1 small unmanned aerial systems as well as sustainment, support and training. This category of drones generally refers to tactical unit systems weighing more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds).
The main components of the order will consist of a minimum of three drones capable of vertically taking off and landing without the need for a separate system, such as launchers or parachutes. Each drone should feature a synthetic aperture radar and a primary sensor package. The order would also include two ground control stations and all necessary ground equipment.
During the assessment phase, the Defence Ministry will consider as the most important factors the specific drone category and the lowest temperature at which the system can operate and land. The value of the initial purchases are expected to be about $107 m, and the tender will close March 23.
Other outlined technical capabilities include:
- An on-station time — the ability to maintain an observation position — of at least 8 hours at a range of 90 kilometers (56 miles).
- The ability to take off at a temperature of minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).
- The ability to continue an in-flight mission, including landing, in conditions of minus 40 degrees Celsius.
- The ability to launch and land on ships.
- The ability to fit in two 10-foot International Organization for Standardization containers for storage.
The drones are intended primarily for national and international ISR missions. Additionally, the online documents stated that each drone is “to be operated from a total of two trucks with ISO containers, making it possible for operators to continually operate one UAV while moving the ground control station from which the drone is operated.”
The Danish military has wanted to increase its unmanned capabilities for several years, specifically to monitor Arctic regions. In 2020, Denmark announced its intention to procure drones, but that notice was terminated. A report from Tenders Electronic Daily shows the decision was made after the Defence Ministry noticed the planned acquisition did not take into account operational needs for the country’s defense.
Denmark previously experimented with several types of smaller drones, but has never possessed larger systems such as the MQ-9 Reaper. Platforms of that size tend to be more costly than smaller variants and require greater infrastructure to operate. As the country has territorial claims in areas around the Faroe Islands and the north of Greenland covering parts of the North Pole, there are few land-based structures from which large drones can land and launch; this could be why the country prefers vertical-takeoff-and-landing platforms.
In 2007, it acquired 12 Raven B small drones from AeroVironment, on which the country relied during operations in Afghanistan. In 2012, Denmark replaced them with Puma AE drones, also produced by the American company, but they were larger and can loiter for longer durations. The country currently does not possess armed variants. (Source: Defense News)
13 Mar 23. Australia re-forming squadron to operate Tritons. Australia has said that it will re-form a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron to operate the country’s MQ-4C Triton fleet, which is scheduled to be delivered from 2024.
An Australia Department of Defence (DoD) spokesperson told Janes that No 9 Squadron (9 SQN) is scheduled to “re-form later in 2023”. The announcement of the squadron’s re-formation was first made on 3 March by Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, during Australia’s recently concluded Avalon Airshow.
A full-scale mock-up of the Triton remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) displayed at the airshow had the emblem of the squadron, according to a DoD photograph. (Source: Janes)
16 Mar 23. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries unveils Whale USV. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) unveiled an unmanned surface vessel (USV) it has developed, named Whale, at DSEI Japan 2023 being held in Chiba from 15 to 17 March. According to company specifications, the Whale USV has a length of 8.8m, a beam of 3.05m, and weighs about 6 tons. The system is equipped with a folding mast. The Whale has a height of 6.35m when the mast is raised, and is 2.5m in height when the mast is retracted.
The Whale is powered by a diesel engine. The system is equipped with sensors and cameras for surveillance. MHI is also developing “remote control and autonomous navigation” features for the Whale, the company said. In addition, MHI is developing capabilities to enable the Whale USV to automatically launch and recover expendable mine disposal (EMD) systems as well as carry and launch smaller unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), the company added. (Source: Janes)
10 Mar 23. Israel’s ‘Black Snake’ armed drone squadron comes out of the shadows. Recently, Breaking Defense visited Squadron 161 at Palmachim Air Base in central Israel, the first time a media outlet was given access to the unit. The Elbit Systems made Hermes-450 is used by the Israeli Defense Forces. Pictured are members of the IDF’s Squadron 161. (IDF)
For 20 years, a gag order was issued by Israeli censors prohibiting local media from discussing the open secret that Israel has armed drones. That finally changed July 20 of last year, thanks in part to pressure from local industry who felt the inability to market their wares was costing them market share.
As a result, more information is coming to light about the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) units that are using armed drones. One such group is Squadron 161, known as “The Black Snake.” The unit operates the Elbit Systems Hermes-450 “Zik” drone, primarily in counter-terror missions over the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.
Recently, Breaking Defense visited Squadron 161 at Palmachim Air Base in central Israel, the first time a media outlet was given access to the unit. As a condition for access, the name of the officer who talked with Breaking Defense has been anonymized.
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Roughly 80 percent of the total number of the IAF flight hours are performed by UAVs, something Maj. M, deputy commander of the squadron, said shouldn’t be a surprise given how much the IDF has come to rely on unmanned systems.
“UAVs replace manned aircraft in more and more missions. The number goes up all the time,” she said. (One good example: the IAF has traditionally operated manned aircraft for maritime patrol missions, but is transferring the majority of that work to UAVs equipped with special payloads. However, that mission is performed by another unit using the IAI-made Heron 1.)
The type of operations Squadron 161 is running, which are often in dense, populated areas such as Gaza, require flexibility, Maj. M stressed. She noted that all missions are controlled from a two-man station in the base, with a mission commander and an operator seated side-by-side watching the data transmitted by the UAV.
“We receive missions from the high command, and it is allocated to platforms already over the designated area or to others that are in the air after a few minutes. We are on high alert and can launch a number of armed UAVs in minutes” she said.
There are two basic types of operations The Black Snake regularly runs. The first is persistent overwatch of an area identified as a hub of terrorist activity, keeping an eye out for targets that pop up and striking in such a situation, such as if a crew is heading out to prepare a rocket launch into Israel. The second is a pre-planned strike on a target that has been identified and detected by other sources.
“We are capable of the real-time sensor-to-shooter operations, and this is enabled by the accurate intelligence gathered by the UAVs payload combined with additional details that we receive from other sources” the major added. She would not detail what those sources are, but said broadly that “areas of interest” like Gaza and Lebanon are monitored by different types of sensors that can be classified as “staring” capabilities.
As the Hermes-450 is heavily operated over Gaza, the targets are in most cases not static — crews of Hamas preparing the launch of rockets into Israel and commanders riding motorcycles on their way to perform an attack against Israel. Given the density of Gaza, Squadron 161 requires almost real-time sensor-to-shooter sequences.
Maj. M added that in some missions the squadron’s UAVs are operated in conjunction with UAVs from other units. The IAF operates other types of armed UAVs, like the Elbit systems Hermes-900 and the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron-TP.
“Our squadron’s UAVs are flying over an area and collecting intelligence. When a target is detected and confirmed the mission commander approves the launch of the munitions,” she stressed. “There is a man in the loop all the time so that the mission can be aborted if there is a danger of hitting” innocents.
According to Elbit Systems, the Hermes-450 has a take-off weight of 550 kg and a payload capacity of 180 kg. The company claims a 17-hour endurance and altitudes of up to 18,000 feet. Israeli industry sources told Breaking Defense that in the coming years the IAF is set get an updated version of the Hermes-450, capable of carrying a heavier munitions load.
While the IAF refused to detail the different munitions used by its armed UAV squadrons, industry sources said that the variety of munitions that are designed for use on UAVs have increased to meet growing operational requirements.
Notably, the Hermes-450 is powered by a Wankel engine, an internal combustion engine that transforms pressure into rotating motion through a rotary design. The engine is very noisy, which means in the past targets have been able to hear the drone as it is approaching for a strike. As a result, the IAF played around with attaching mufflers to the engine to try and lower the noise level.
However, according to the deputy squadron commander, those mufflers affected the power generated by the UAV. Ultimately, the squadron decided they needed the UAV engine running at full capability and had to figure out how to work around the noise issue. Now, “This does not create an operational problem” she said without elaborating. While touring the hangars where the Hermes-450 are being maintained, Maj. M. said that the design of the UAV results in very simple maintenance.
“This allows us to use big numbers of them when needed.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Breaking Defense.com)
15 Mar 23. Animal Dynamics’ Stork Parafoil UAV Selected for Royal Navy’s UAS Heavy Lift Challenge -Phase 2. Animal Dynamics – a UK technology company specialising in autonomous heavy-lift uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) – has been selected to participate in the next phase of the Royal Navy’s Uncrewed Aerial Systems Heavy Lift Challenge (UASHLC) with its Stork STM parafoil UAV.
The Stork STM is an autonomous aerial logistics vehicle, capable of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations and carrying payloads weighing 135 kg over a 400 km distance (the equivalent of flying from Oxford to Paris). This payload capacity has been chosen as it is an optimum weight to resupply an eight-person section for a two-day period.
UASHLC Phase 2 is a joint effort between Defence Equipment & Support’s (DE&S) Future Capability Group and the Royal Navy’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer and 700X Naval Air Squadron. It aims to explore potential use cases for uncrewed technologies to deliver supplies and equipment intra-theatre (ship-to-ship) and inter-theatre (ship-to-shore and vice versa), which would free up crewed assets like helicopters to perform more specialist tasks.
Being able to carry a 135kg payload up to 400km means that Stork STM is unique in meeting the Royal Navy’s requirements for both intra- and inter-theatre resupply tasks.
Animal Dynamics successfully demonstrated the Stork STM’s ability to carry significant payloads over a large distance as part of a pre-selection flying competition that took place last year. Despite strong competition from a number of world-class UAV providers, the Stork STM scored very highly and was awarded a coveted place on the UASHLC.
The Stork STM will now continue to the next round of UASHLC testing, with flight trials planned to take place in Cornwall.
As part of UASHLC, Animal Dynamics will also be marinising the Stork STM by integrating secure satellite communications (SATCOM) that demonstrates the vehicle can be operated anywhere in the world. The Stork STM will also be fitted with a sonobuoy dispenser – showcasing that the UAV’s payload space can be used for a number of mission types – as well as go through additional wing development work that includes a retraction capability making it safe for deck operations.
The Stork STM’s ground-breaking parafoil design overcomes many of the challenges associated with heavy-lift multirotor and hybrid VTOL designs, which are often range limited due to the need for significant power during take-off and landing. And unlike traditional fixed-wing aircraft, the Stork STM can take-off and land in short distances on unprepared ground.
Adrian Thomas, CEO, Animal Dynamics, said: “We are very excited to have won a place in the UASHLC through our performance in the fly-offs against strong competition from established UAV and aerospace companies. Selection by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Royal Navy reflects the fantastic capabilities the Stork STM has to offer, and the strength and experience of the team in terms of engineering, flight ops and certification. We look forward to the next stage of flight trials when we can demonstrate the continuing performance and capability enhancements of the Stork STM and the clear path to commercialisation.”
Chris Roberts, Head of Engineering Operations, Animal Dynamics, said: “Our success in being selected for the next phase of the UASHLC has validated that our design concept can meet challenging customer requirements at a live demo. Our operations team relished the opportunity to conduct a live demo, during which the Stork STM performed fantastically, showing to the MoD the potential that our technology could play in naval resupply roles.” (Source: UAS VISION)
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