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06 Oct 23. USMC XQ-58A Valkyrie Completes First Flight. The Marine Corps XQ-58A Valkyrie, a highly autonomous, low-cost tactical unmanned air vehicle successfully completed its first test flight October 3, 2023, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The Marine Corps partnered with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)), the Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) to facilitate the ongoing research, development, test and evaluation of the Marine Corps XQ-58A Valkyrie.
This joint collaboration was supported by the 40th Flight Test Squadron, 96th Test Wing and the NAWCAD. This flight marks a key milestone in the Marine Corps’ Penetrating Affordable Autonomous Collaborative Killer – Portfolio (PAACK-P) program. Future test flights inform Marine Corps XQ-58A Valkyrie requirements for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Unmanned Aerial System Expeditionary (MUX) Tactical Aircraft (TACAIR).
“This XQ-58A test flight and the data collected today not only help to inform future requirements for the Marine Corps,” said Scott Bey, a prototyping and experimentation portfolio manager at OUSD(R&E). “It fuels continued joint innovation and experimentation opportunities and demonstrates the agility that can be achieved through partnership.”
The aircraft performed as expected. The XQ-58A has a total of six planned test flights with objectives that include evaluating the platform’s ability to support a variety of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; the effectiveness of autonomous electronic support to crewed platforms; the potential for AI-enabled platforms to augment combat air patrols; and continuing to mature other manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capability objectives.
The Marine Corps received the first of two XQ-58A unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on March 14, 2023, to support platform prototyping and integration efforts for the PAACK-P program.
“The Marine Corps constantly seeks to modernize and enhance its capabilities in a rapidly evolving security environment,” said Lt. Col. Donald Kelly, Headquarters Marine Corps Aviation Cunningham Group and Advanced Development Team. “Testing the XQ-58 Valkyrie determines requirements for a highly autonomous, low-cost tactical UAS that compliments the need for agile, expeditionary and lethal capabilities in support of both the Marine Corps’ stand-in force operations in austere environments and the Joint Force.” (Source: https://www.defense-aerospace.com/USMC)
06 Oct 23. Australian tech companies team up to build high altitude drones. Li-S Energy, V-TOL Aerospace and Halocell have signed a three-way collaboration agreement to develop and test Australian-made Low & High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones.
The partners aim to leverage the innovations of each company in battery technology, aerial drone design and solar cell integration to build a drone capable of flying in the stratosphere at an altitude of up to 21 km for weeks at a time.
“We are bringing together three innovative Australian companies to build autonomous drones with wide-ranging capabilities,” said Dr Lee Finniear, Li-S Energy Chief Executive Officer.
“This allows us to not only demonstrate the benefits of Li-S Energy cells in practical high-altitude aircraft, but potentially build a new sovereign capability for the Australian aviation industry.”
The project will utilise lightweight lithium sulfur battery cells produced at Li-S Energy’s new $10 m production facility at Geelong, which is due to be operational before the end of the year.
“All three partners are at the cutting edge of their respective technologies, and the combination of all three offers some exciting opportunities to test the limits of what is currently possible,” said Mark Xavier, V-TOL Aerospace Managing Director.
“The V-TOL launch product, Pegasus I, will offer a small fixed-wing long-range platform to conduct hi-resolution surveys of linear infrastructure and broad acre farming. The larger Pegasus II aircraft will be developed to provide a low-cost high altitude multi-purpose capability.”
The third partner in the collaboration, Wagga-based Halocell, is focused on commercialising Perovskite Solar Cells (PSC) to maximise energy harvesting efficiency. The integration of these cells into the drone’s structure will allow the drone to harness solar energy during day flight, supplementing the battery and extending the aircraft’s range.
Modelling has predicted that the combination of the three technology platforms could deliver a drone with up to six times the flight time of current small-fixed wing drone aircraft. (Source: Google/https://www.australiandefence.com.au/)
05 Oct 23. Nato determines landmark autonomous sense-and-avoid standard. Meeting of the Nato Joint Capability Group for Unmanned Aircraft Systems driving commonality of operation and platform type across the alliance.
As uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) proliferate in military services, Nato is working to establish a common framework for the operation of such technologies and determining a new standard for ‘sense-and-avoid’ capabilities in autonomous platforms.
According to a UK Royal Air Force (RAF) release published on 4 October, the recently held Nato Joint Capability Group for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (JCGUAS) conducted its autumn meeting in London, at which the group finalised a new sense-and-avoid standard for remotely piloted air vehicles (RPAS).
Attending the JCGUAS conference was over 150 delegates representing air, land, maritime, procurement, technology, and operational experts within Nato alliance, as well as the presence of industry partners and, for the first time, the Republic of Korea.
The RAF release stated that the JCGUAS’ focus was on the “standardisation of [UAS] within the alliance, as well as incorporating new and emerging technologies, including autonomy and artificial intelligence”.
Delivering a Nato-wide standard for sense-and-avoid capabilities was described as “important” by Ross McKenzie, Nato International Staff-UAS Officer and part of the JCGUAS leadership.
Also present was RAF Wing Commander Richard Long, head of the Protector RG Mk1 International Cooperative Programme, which is comprised of nations that have procured, in the process of procuring, or actively considering the acquisition of the MQ-9B RPAS – known as Protector RG Mk1 in the UK.
The JCGUAS is the source of technical and operational UAS information for Nato and addresses UAS issues including acquisition design, employment, capability demonstration, identification of a common approach to airspace management, operator training and standards, and doctrine including tactics/operational procedures, stated the RAF.
Is the MQ-9 already the Nato standard?
The MQ-9B RPAS, developed by US defence prime General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), is the latest iteration of the MQ-series drones and draws heavy influence from its MQ-9A predecessor, which has been widely adopted by Nato members over the past two decades.
Among the most significant differences is the integration of a sense-and-avoid capability, which provides the host platform with the ability to operate in unsegregated airspace, effectively areas in which civilian and/or commercial traffic will pass through. Such airspace is by its nature a vastly more complex environment in which to navigate, with autonomous sense-and-avoid systems a necessity for an RPAS to be able to operate safely.
The UK has been among first nations to commit to the acquisition of the MQ-9B Protector, along with the United States, with other alliance members now confirmed, in the process of confirming, or else considering, the acquisition of the platform.
The MQ-9B, dubbed SkyGuardian by GA-ASI, is capable of the full spectrum of military operations, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, maritime and sub-surface strike, ground attack, airborne early warning, among others. The system has been designed to meet Nato STANAG 4671 standard, which is an airworthiness requirement intended to permit military UAS to operate in other Nato members’ airspace.
Current or future operators of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and/or its MQ-9A predecessor, include the US, UK, France, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain, as well as non-Nato countries such as Taiwan and the UAE.
Uniquely, Canada recently announced its intention to acquire hundreds of Hellfire missiles for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, a platform which is not in its inventory, offering a glimpse into a potential future acquisition. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
04 Oct 23. Skyports Drone Services, the global leader in drone deliveries, surveys and monitoring, has today announced its successful participation in phase two of the Royal Navy Uncrewed Aerial Systems Heavy Lift Challenge (UASHLC) with Pelican Cargo, a fully autonomous and 100% electric, heavy-payload aircraft made by Pyka, the California-based leader in industrial autonomous electric aircraft technology. During the challenge, the drone operator demonstrated Pelican Cargo’s heavy payload capacity and extended range capabilities to an audience of senior members of the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy at the UASHLC test site in Predannack, Cornwall.
Pyka’s Pelican Cargo aircraft, which was added to the Skyports Drone Services fleet in Q1 2023, is a revolution in uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) technology and is the world’s largest fully automated and 100% electric cargo aircraft. With a payload of up to 175kg, a range of up to 350km, and the ability to operate with minimal ground infrastructure, Pelican Cargo is designed to enhance on-demand delivery networks and enable reliable logistics in remote regions. The aircraft has joined Skyports Drone Services’ existing line-up of UAS solutions to complement and strengthen its heavy-payload autonomous electric flight capabilities.
Through its successful completion of the second phase of the UASHLC, Skyports Drone Services demonstrated Pelican Cargo’s operational facility for long range beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights and maritime missions, as well as its ability to safely transport medical supplies and equipment within a humanitarian aid context for the Royal Navy.
“Highly automated, heavy lift, BVLOS drone delivery operations are a gamechanger for hard-to-reach and remote places,” said Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services.
“Watching Pelican Cargo take off from UK soil for the first time was a huge milestone that marks an evolution in our UAS capabilities. Our work on the Royal Navy Heavy Lift Challenge will continue to push the boundaries of uncrewed aviation to find cutting-edge solutions that support humanitarian aid and logistics operations. We’re proud to be recognised as a leading drone operator and apply our extensive operational experience to push the adoption of sustainable drone logistics solutions.”
In the initial phase of the challenge, Skyports Drone Services worked with Pyka to customise Pelican Cargo for the Royal Navy’s unique selection requirements. The companies then completed ground demonstrations to secure their spot in phase two of the challenge, which gave them the opportunity to participate in live flight demonstrations at UASHLC’s Predannack test site.
“We are delighted to partner with Skyports Drone Services and proud to have deployed Pelican Cargo in the Royal Navy’s prestigious Heavy Lift Challenge,” said Michael Norcia, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pyka.
“Pelican Cargo is one of the most technologically advanced solutions on the market for large-scale autonomous electric air cargo transportation. This demonstration proved Pelican Cargo’s technological suitability for the Royal Navy’s needs, as set forth by the UASHLC.”
James Morris, Future Capability Group Maritime Head at MoD DE&S, said: “The purpose of Heavy Lift Capability has been to stimulate the market and accelerate platform technologies in the 100-200kg lift capability in order to de-risk future programmes of work within the Royal Navy and beyond. The UASHLC commercial approach has been key to enabling this acceleration, creating an eco-structure for industry to thrive within.”
Entry into the UASHLC and the completion of successful flight demonstrations with Pelican Cargo represents Skyports Drone Services’ further development of operational expertise, their promotion of industry advancement, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of drone services for logistics, monitoring and survey use-cases. Phase three of the UASHLC will begin in 2024, with the Royal Navy and MOD continuing to explore use cases for heavy lift uncrewed aircraft.
03 Oct 23. GA-ASI Delivers First Protector UAV to UK. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) has delivered the first MQ-9B Protector RG1 medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to the United Kingdom.
The first of a planned 16 Protector RG1 air vehicles was loaded onto an Antonov An-124 airlifter at the company’s Poway production facility in southern California on 29 September, ahead of its transatlantic crossing to Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington in England.
The Protector is the UK-specific variant of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian, which is also known as the SeaGuardian in its dedicated maritime fit. It is designed to provide a step change in unmanned operations for the RAF, given that it will be a sovereign capability that the UK fully owns, whereas the previous MQ-9A Reaper was an urgent operational requirement for Afghanistan that was largely controlled by the United States.
While the Protector fleet will be based at and operated from RAF Waddington, it will spend most of its time overseas in the same manner as the Reaper fleet. A future operational scenario could see the Protector ferry itself from RAF Waddington to a location in the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa, arriving in theatre to be met by a team that would arm and prep it for its mission.
Besides intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike, the RAF envisions a range of roles for the Protector that would include civil support in the UK and maritime awareness at home and abroad.
Operational flying by 13 and 31 squadrons (sqns) is scheduled to commence in 2025, with full operating capability scheduled for 2026. (Source: UAS VISION/Janes)
29 Sep 23. Anduril to hone Ghost drone autonomy under contract with USAF. The U.S. Air Force awarded defense technology firm Anduril Industries contracts totaling $8m to refine the autonomous capabilities on two drone aircraft.
Anduril will work to hone the autonomy on its helicopter-like Ghost reconnaissance, security and force protection uncrewed aircraft and the recently unveiled enhanced version dubbed Ghost-X under these contracts, the company said Friday.
Anduril spokeswoman Sofia Haft said that the Air Force will also buy some Ghost aircraft as part of this contract, but the company would not say how many. The contracts will also allow Anduril to further refine Ghost’s hardware, she said, and develop specific autonomous behaviors for the aircraft to perform.
The Ghost contract will be for 12 months, and the Ghost-X contract will be for 18 months, Haft said.
Ghost-X made its debut Sept. 12 at the DSEI defense conference in London. Anduril said at the time that Ghost-X’s upgrades will allow it to fly longer than its predecessor, or up to 75 minutes, and carry a payload of up to 20 pounds, which would be roughly twice as much weight as the original Ghost.
Anduril said Ghost-X was created using feedback from a range of customers who have flown the original Ghost for more than 1,000 hours in a variety of environments, including combat theaters.
One of those combat zones is Ukraine, Haft said, though the company would not say anything else about how Ghost has been used there citing security concerns.
Ghost-X’s upgrades will give it a modular carriage that is able to carry multiple payloads, and more resilience to operate in more challenging operational environments, Anduril said.
Ghost uses Anduril’s Lattice software to control its autonomous capabilities and fly largely on its own, the company said, allowing it to automate mission planning, manage its airspace, and conduct flight operations, lessening the burden on operators.
Anduril’s work with the Ghost drones under this contract will support the Air Force’s AFWERX innovation unit, which aims to help industry develop technologies that can help counter threats worldwide. AFWERX in fall 2022 launched a new program called Autonomy Prime to collaborate with defense firms to push autonomous technologies forward and try to turn them into official programs of record.
As the Air Force and Anduril work to further develop the Ghost aircraft, the company said airmen will modify government software, integrate it into Ghost’s open architecture autonomous programming, and then test how well it performs. Anduril said the open architecture structure would allow Ghost to be quickly modified to meet a commander’s needs and adjust to changes on the battlefield.
“The Ghost platform adapts to user needs with a flexible design that allows operators to integrate sensors, communications, navigation and other modular mission payloads,” Anduril said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/C4ISR & Networks)
25 Sep 23. China allegedly snags first international customer for CH-5 UAV. China appears to have secured its first international customer for its domestically developed Cai Hong 5 (CH-5, or Rainbow 5) medium-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to imagery circulating on Chinese-language social media websites.
These include an image with several unidentified officials standing in front of a large screen with the words “Closing Ceremony and “CH-5 Training Program” with the national flags of Iraq and China displayed prominently underneath. Another image showed what appeared to be a “Certificate of Completion” for “successful completion of the CH-5 UAV System Theoretical, Practical and Flight Training Courses” dated 23 September 2023 and endorsed by Poly Technologies, CHUAV Science & Technology Co Ltd, and the Military Attache Office of the Iraqi Embassy At China.
Poly Techologies is a subsidiary of the China Poly Group Corporation and is one of several state-owned defence export companies at the forefront of China’s efforts to expand defence sales around the world. The company is known to undertake both manufacturing of defence platforms and marketing the systems of other Chinese state-owned enterprises in the Middle East and Africa.
Meanwhile, CHUAV is a subsidiary of the state-owned defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Unlike Poly Technologies, CASC primarily specializes in advanced missile, rocket, and UAV development.
CHUAV first unveiled the strike-capable CH-5 at Airshow China 2016 in Zhuhai. According to company specifications, the CH-5 features a lightweight all-composite airframe that measures 11.3 metres long with a wingspan of 21 metres. The company claims it can carry a maximum payload of 1,200 kilogrammes and offers a stated flight endurance of over 40 hours. The company has specified an operating radius of 250 kilometres via line-of-sight control, although this can be extended to 2,000 kilometres when a SATCOM datalink is equipped.
Iraq is an existing customer of CHUAV products, namely the MALE-class CH-4 UAV first unveiled by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in October 2015. An undisclosed number of these systems are understood to be operated by the Iraqi Army Aviation Command (IAAC) and armed with Chinese-made AR-1 laser-guided missiles and FT-9 bombs.
Iraqi defence Minister Juma Enad Saadoun had also revealed on state news that the CH-4 UAVs had contributed significantly to operations against the Islamic State extremist group but were put in storage in 2017. He added that a contract was signed with the UAV manufacturer in 2021 to return these air vehicles to service.
It is not known how many CH-5 UAVs were acquired by Iraq, although the US-led coalition, the Multi-National Force-Iraq, noted in the past that it had observed over 10 CH-4 UAVs in Iraqi service. (Source: AMR)
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