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16 Nov 23. HAI nears first surveillance drone sale to Athens. A year after unveiling Greece’s first surveillance drone, manufacturer Hellenic Aerospace Industry said an order from the country’s ministry of defense is imminent, while the company’s combat model is still looking for takers. Executives unveiled the Archytas, intended for reconnaissance and surveillance missions, at the International Exhibition of Thessaloniki last year. The company told Defense News at the time that they expected the first pre-production Archytas model to be ready for a test flight in March 2024. The pace has since quickened, as the Greek Ministry of Defense appears eager to fast-track the development, HAI officials told Defense News at the Dubai Airshow here. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
16 Nov 23. Drones are here to stay. Although the military’s use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) goes back some 30 years, drones have recently shot up the priorities list.
The past ten years have seen military use cases for UAVs multiply from very specific mission profiles to… well, now there seems to be a drone for everything! Meanwhile, the strategic importance of drones in conflict has been demonstrated in the clearest terms, by both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global military drone market is expected to reach $14.4 bn this year and grow to $35.6 bn by 2030 (at a CAGR of 14.10%), spurred on by both the example of and the actual usage in, the Ukraine war. The diverse uses of UAVs, from Personal Reconnaissance Systems (PRS) able to help soldiers see around the next corner, through to Protector RG Mk1 long-range combat UAVs, capable of carrying 500 pounds of Paveway IV laser-guided bombs and Brimstone 3 ultra-high precision missiles.
Defence departments around the world now have UAVs on their shopping lists, and for a number of reasons. UAVs can be deployed to strengthen existing capabilities; they can be deployed to extend the reach of conventional forces, on land, in the air, on the sea, and underwater; they can be used to dramatically increase the amount of data available to command centres; and they can also be used as a lower cost alternative to airplanes, marine vessels and land vehicles. The usage and increased availability of military UAVs is also changing offensive and defensive strategies.
Increased demand, increased variety and continuing technological advances also mean that more countries are now developing the capacity to manufacturer UAVs at home, providing a boost to national defence industries. Turkish defence contractor Baykar unveiled its first military UAV in 2006 and now it’s $5 m Bayraktar TB2 drone has become a best seller in Africa, the Middl East and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi’s Edge Group has invested heavily in UAV development since its formation in 2019 and launched a wide range of UAVs at the Dubai Airshow this month.
Although it’s possible to manufacture basic drones on the cheap, it is the technological advances such as swarming, manned-unmanned teaming and autonomous operation, that ensure the UAVs place in future conflicts. (Source: Armada)
15 Nov 23. Loyal Wingmen Drones to Cost Quarter of an F-35.
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said his service is aiming for its future Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) drones that will fight alongside crewed aircraft to each cost as little as a quarter of the current price of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Kendall offered this and other details about the CCA program during a public event on November 13 at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think tank in Washington, D.C.
The CCA effort is centered on the acquisition of at least a thousand advanced uncrewed aircraft with high degrees of autonomy designed to work closely together with crewed combat jets. The program is part of the Air Force’s larger Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) modernization initiative that also includes the development of a new crewed sixth-generation combat jet, weapons, electronic warfare suites, sensors, battle management capabilities, engines, and other systems.
Kendall and other senior Air Force officials regularly describe these uncrewed aircraft as a critical component of how the service will conduct operations, especially in a high-end fight against an opponent like China, and achieve critical “affordable mass” in the future.
“If we go ahead buying just the NGAD platform and F-35s … and B-21s as … our combat aircraft, you can’t afford the Air Force. Those systems are all [in the] 100m dollar plus category, in some cases, way beyond that,” Kendall said today. “So, we’ve got to have something that will allow us to have massive, affordable prices. So, CCA is designed to do that.”
The other main takeaways regarding the CCA effort from Kendall’s chat with Stacie Pettyjohn, Senior Fellow and Director of CNAS’ Defense Program, and the subsequent question and answer session are as follows:
* The rough expected cost of a single CCA will be “on the order of a quarter or a third” of the current unit cost of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
* That being said, the Air Force is still in the “early stages” of establishing key definitions regarding what it wants from its CCAs and working out the “right balance” in terms of requirements.
* “We need something that has range and payload characteristics consistent with our operational concept.” This concept demands drones that can “either fly ahead of or accompany crewed fighters” and that have useful “range and payload capabilities” in line with that core requirement.
* Each CCA would not have “the full complement of systems that are on a fighter.”
* Some would carry weapons, some would carry other systems. “One of the things you can do with the CCA concept is select which systems … to carry, which sets of capabilities, you have a modular design.” This also means an enemy has to treat each one as armed, because it can be, whether it is or not.
* Highly prepared and long runway independence is also a potential goal, as we have highlighted before, with Kendall stating, “Being able to get away from the use of relatively long runways is a nice feature for us. It makes the aircraft much more survivable.”
* Industry has already provided “different competing concepts” for what a CCA might look like.
* The goal is to have started production of a “first increment” of CCAs within the next five years. The aim is to “field it [CCAs] as quickly as we can in reasonable quantities.”
* “They’re not expendables. They’re intended to be systems that you can accept losses of a fraction of them and not have a big operational impact.” This also means they need to be able to be “produced relatively quickly.”
* “We’re not going to take the length of time [with CCA] it takes to get a new, sophisticated crewed fighter.”
* The main planning figure for the size of the future CCA fleet is still 1,000 drones, but “I think it will very likely be more than that.”
* A key reason behind disclosing the 1,000-drone figure was to send a clear signal to industry that the Air Force is seriously invested in the CCA program. “We want you [industry] to invest in the technology and think about how you’re going to make a very efficiently produced product for us.”
* CCA also represents one of the “hedging investments” the Air Force is looking to make now to help provide sufficient operational capacity to prevail in any future high-end conflict against China, and do so cost-effectively.
* CCA continues to benefit from other adjacent projects, including autonomy developments using a force of modified, pilot-optional F-16s and other testing utilizing Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones. “We’re using some of the Ghost Bats, the MQ-28s, as experimental aircraft to get some operational experience teaming them with crewed aircraft.”
The Air Force views CCA as complementary to the Pentagon’s Replicator initiative that was announced earlier this year.
Kendall’s comments here about the projected costs and production goals for the CCA program, as well as how the Air Force hopes to maximize what it can get capability-wise within those constraints are notable. While the CCA drones still look set to be significantly cheaper than fifth or sixth-generation combat jets, what is being laid out here is not necessarily inexpensive even by U.S. military budget standards.
How the unit costs of the three existing variants of the F-35 are calculated has long been a subject of debate. For instance, as of January, Lockheed Martin pegged the price of the A variant the Air Force flies at $69.9m, according to Air & Space Forces Magazine, but that figure doesn’t include the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine. The U.S. military’s F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense One recently that the average unit price for examples of all three variants, including the engines, in the latest production lots is around $82.5m.
A quarter of that would be just under $20.6m. The bill for buying 1,000 CCAs with that unit cost would therefore be close to $20.6bn. As Kendall noted, this is still much cheaper than purchasing substantial numbers of crewed jets at close to $100m apiece, or substantially more. The Secretary of the Air Force has previously said that each NGAD jet, of which the service plans to buy 200, would cost “multiple hundreds of ms of dollars.”
In terms of CCA requirements, Kendall’s specific mention of wanting to get away from larger runways is interesting, but not surprising. The Air Force has made no secret of its concerns about the growing vulnerability of large, established bases and the need for more distributed operations, as well as new camouflage, concealment, and deception capabilities and tactics, as being essential for reducing those risks going forward. The War Zone has highlighted in the past how complete runway independence, or short takeoff and landing performance close to it, could be very valuable for the future CCAs to have in this context, and how it could also allow for additional operational flexibility.
It’s also worth pointing out that Kendall said that multiple MQ-28s are being used to support Air Force test efforts tied to the CCA program. It emerged in 2022 that the service had acquired at least one of these drones, which was originally developed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), but further details about that effort have been limited since then. A video the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) released earlier this year, seen below, heavily featured MQ-28s, including slickly edited clips depicting them flying alongside Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and other crewed aircraft. (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive
16 Nov 23. From the Tiny, to the Mighty. Not so long ago unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) capabilities were limited to remote, winged flight for reconnaissance, or to carry payloads.
They also required highly skilled pilots and operators. For example, the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, which entered service into the US Air Force in 1995, required a pilot, two sensor operators and often various other ground control personnel, up to a 550-staff control centre to operate a system of four MQ-1s. These days UAVs are often packed with cameras, sensors and smart technologies, and many can be piloted by a single person with no more skill required than is needed to use a smart phone.
The cluster of technologies around drone development has advanced to enable UAVs to fulfil more functions, become easier to operate and be produced in all sizes, from the tiny, to the mighty. Teledyne’s Black Hornet weighs less than 70 grams and can take off from its operator’s hand, while Alabama-based Aevum’s massive UAV for launching payloads into space, Ravn X, has a 18 meter (60ft.) wingspan and has a gross takeoff weight of 25,000 kilograms.
To illustrate the tiny, let’s take a look at the Black Hornet 4 Personal Reconnaissance System, unveiled at last month’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) conference. Developed by FLIR Systems, which was acquired by Teledyne in 2021, this nano-drone is designed primarily for dismounted soldiers and is affectionately referred to as “a spy plane that fits in your hand”. More than 20,000 Black Hornet PRS systems have been delivered so far to military and security forces in over 40 countries.
The nano-UAV can be used by soldiers in the field for situational understanding, to rapidly identify targets beyond visual line-of-sight and assess weapon effects in real-time. The Black Hornet 4 is equipped with a 12-megapixel daytime camera, a high-resolution thermal imager, both of which deliver crisp video and still images to the operator. Meanwhile, the drone has a flying time of more than 30 minutes, range greater than two kilometers, and can fly in 25-knot winds. The previous model has already been used successfully by the Ukrainian military for more than a year.
With a 20-meter (66 foot) wingspan and a maximum takeoff weight of 4,763 kg, the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper provides a great example of the mighty! Originally based on the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 is a multi-mission Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) first flown in 2001 and adopted by the US Air Force in 2007. The turboprop-powered MQ-9A has 34 hours of flying time, a top speed of 240 KTAS (about 444 kmph.), can operate up to 50,000 feet, and has a 1,746 kilogram (3,850 pound) payload capacity.
Recently, General Atomics has developed a Multi-Domain Operations (M2DO) variant of the Reaper compatible with open mission systems (i.e. non-proprietary), and improved angle of attack and enhanced reconnaissance capabilities.
However, it’s not all about size. One of the most significant areas of development is the ability of autonomous drones to swarm and to be used for manned-unmanned teaming. As more and more UAVs are designed with autonomy, the more we’ll see more sophisticated swarming and teaming functionality, and UAV capabilities elevated to a whole new level.
15 Nov 23. Ghana Navy to Recover Lost Zipline Drones. Ghana Navy has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Fly Zipline Ghana Limited, a drone delivery company to offer assistance in the recovery of their lost drones and supplies along the major river bodies in the country. The MoU further seeks to enhance collaborations in the area of capacity building and afford training opportunities between the two institutions.
The MoU was formalized with exchange of signatories between the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Rear Admiral Issah AdamYakubu and the General Manager Fly Zipline Ghana Limited, Mr Mawuli Atiemo at a brief ceremony held at the Naval Headquarters, Burma Camp, Accra on Wednesday 8 November 2023.
Rear Admiral Issah Adam Yakubu said the primary role of the Navy is to provide sea defence and maritime support, thus Fly Zipline Ghana’s request for help to recover lost drones was timely and within the capabilities of the Navy.
He stressed that plans were underway to form the Ghana Navy drone Squadron who will be responsible for operating its drones to assist in search and rescue operations. He said with the establishment of the drone squadron, recovery of drones which may be ditched particularly in riverine bodies will be easier to retrieve.
The CNS maintained that it was important to be technologically advanced in order to have access to web-based tracking system and with the collaboration onboard, analysis on info-graphics will become easier having to tap on Zipline Ghana’s expertise and capacity.
Mr Mawuli Atiemo on the other hand, was hopeful that with the signing of the MoU, the two institutions will have an enhanced partnership in sharing ideas which will be beneficial to the country at large.
He added that Fly Zipline Ghana is on a mission to develop the largest supply chain company, mentioning that the company currently runs as the largest autonomous delivery of drones across the world from its base in Ghana that delivers medical vaccines as well as emergency products like anti-snakes and rabies as well as blood.
Sometime April this year, a consensus was reached, where Ghana Navy granted Fly Zipline Ghana the access to its Maritime Operations Centre to its web-based monitoring platform to enable the Navy track and follow Zipline’s flight operations and respond swiftly should a drone ditch or a supply drop into any of the water bodies over which Zipline operates. (Source: UAS VISION/Ghana Navy)
14 Nov 23. AeroVironment’s JUMP 20 Group 3 UAS Demonstrates Modularity and Adaptability at Arcane Thunder 23 Multi-Domain Exercise.
AeroVironment, Inc. recently participated in the Arcane Thunder 23 (AT23) operational exercise in Europe, demonstrating the JUMP 20 Group 3 unmanned aircraft system’s (UAS) ability to support multi-domain operations. AT23 is part of the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence – Europe campaign to evaluate the progress of the service’s modernization efforts. The intent of this exercise is to validate and test the continuous integration of effects in various domains including air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.
During the operational exercise, AeroVironment, in collaboration with CACI and with support from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Multi-Domain Task Force (2nd MDTF), flew the JUMP 20 UAS with multiple Electronic Warfare (EW) payloads and delivered real-time data at the point of need. The exercise used industry technology, such as the JUMP 20, to enhance communication between sensors and shooters, enabling warfighters to efficiently coordinate lethal and non-lethal effects.
“AeroVironment’s role in AT23 showcases the adaptability of the JUMP 20 platform to meet the needs of the modern warfighter and outmatch adversaries in an ever-changing landscape,” said Shane Hastings, AeroVironment’s Vice President of Medium UAS. “We remain committed to continually integrating new technologies into the JUMP 20 platform to provide maximal advantage in both the maritime and land domains.”
During the exercise, which was held near Ustka, Poland, from August 28 – September 8, the JUMP 20 carried multiple imaging and EW payloads while employing an open system architecture that can quickly adapt and accommodate radios operating in different frequency bands. Flight operations included the use of an advanced seven-inch stabilized imaging system with continuous zoom and onboard video processing designed to provide superior day and night surveillance capability. Additional payloads included a high-performance wideband radio receiver that enables passive radio frequency (RF) aerial surveys of operational environments, real-time geolocation of signals, among other mission planning tasks. According to the U.S. Army, AT23 is an unprecedented multi-domain and multi-national exercise that is the result of the close partnership between U.S. Army Futures Command and U.S. Army Europe and Africa, combining new experimental technologies and formations while informing further capability requirements that will help deliver the Army of 2030 and beyond. (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
13 Nov 23. Bayraktar TB3 completes fifth flight test, unveils carrier deployment potential.
Manufacturer Baykar’s latest unmanned combat aerial vehicle showcased enhanced capabilities for aircraft carrier deployment.
Turkey’s Bayraktar TB3 unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) achieves a milestone with its fifth successful flight test, demonstrating capabilities in medium-altitude flight with landing gear retracted.
Equipped with a domestically developed engine, the TB3 is designed for deployment on aircraft carriers, offering reinforced landing gear, folding wings, and increased power. The recent test flight in the northwestern province of Tekirda? showcased a speed of 130 km/h during previous tests.
Selçuk Bayraktar, Baykar’s chief technology officer, confirmed the achievement on the social media platform X, “Bayraktar TB3 successfully completed its fifth flight test.”
Designed for deployment on ships like Turkey’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier, TCG Anadolu, the Bayraktar TB3 possesses reinforced landing gear, folding wings, and a more powerful engine compared to its predecessor, the Bayraktar TB2. The recent flight tests paved the way for the UCAV’s operational readiness on carriers, offering strategic advantages in maritime environments.
Publicly exhibited for the first time at Turkey’s premier technology and aerospace festival, Teknofest, the TB3 has garnered attention for its enhanced capabilities and potential for carrier-based operations. Selçuk Bayraktar announced plans to initiate tests for ship-based operations starting next year, further expanding the UCAV’s operational scope.
With a maximum takeoff weight of 1,450kg and a payload capacity of 280kg, the Bayraktar TB3 is nearly two times heavier than its predecessor. The UCAV is expected to have a range of 1,000 nautical miles, positioning it as an asset for defence applications.
Turkey has initiated to strengthen its domestic defence industry, aiming for 75% domestic involvement in defence procurement programmes by 2023. Despite uncertainties about achieving this goal, Turkey’s defence industry development is making notable strides. Successful platforms like the TB2 Bayraktar contribute to Turkey’s growing influence in the UAV market, attracting foreign buyers.
Baykar’s UAV development has positioned Turkey as a player in the global market. Since initiating unmanned aerial vehicle research and development studies in 2003, 83% of Baykar’s 83 revenues have come from exports. With export agreements for Bayraktar TB2 and Bayraktar AKINCI to numerous countries, Baykar’s impact on the global UAV landscape remains robust.
The Bayraktar TB-2 drones played a role in Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion following the donation of the drones by Baykar. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
13 Nov 23. Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) successfully completed the first flight of Australia’s multi-intelligence MQ-4C Triton uncrewed aircraft on Thursday, Nov. 9 at its Palmdale Aircraft Integration Center in California. The flight marks a major production milestone as Northrop Grumman progresses toward delivery of Australia’s first Triton in 2024.
* Built for the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force, the multi-intelligence MQ-4C Triton is the only uncrewed, high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft performing persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting.
* The first flight occurred at 11:56 a.m. PST with total flight time of approximately 6 hours and 24 minutes. Airworthiness evaluations, such as engine, flight control and fuel system checks, and basic aircraft handling tests were conducted.
* In September, the Australian government announced the addition of a fourth aircraft that will enhance the resilience of their fleet and provide superior surveillance capability to monitor and protect Australia’s maritime interests 24/7.
Christine Zeitz, chief executive and general manager Australia & New Zealand, Northrop Grumman: “We are leveraging our deep expertise in uncrewed high-altitude long endurance aircraft to enable Australia to establish a superior long range maritime surveillance capability to monitor and protect Australia’s maritime interests 24/7.”
Air Marshal Robert Chipman, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force: “Triton expands Australia’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability by providing reliable real-time intelligence and situational awareness. Persistent surveillance enables better planning, greatly enhancing joint military responses and operations.”
Details on Program:
The multi-intelligence MQ-4C Triton uncrewed aerial system achieved a declaration of initial operating capability (IOC) by the U.S. Navy on Aug. 3, 2023.
Australia’s role in the Triton cooperative program was critical to shaping its system requirements. Together, U.S. and Australian defense forces will be able to share data collected by their respective Tritons, a critical ability in one of the world’s most strategically important regions.
Australia’s security challenges run the spectrum of humanitarian and disaster relief to maritime monitoring of the vital sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific. With all four Australian Tritons currently under contract progressing as planned through their production schedules, the systems will have a vital role to play with sensors and communication nodes that can facilitate the transfer of data across warfighting domains and various mission needs.
Northrop Grumman is a leading global aerospace and defense technology company. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with the capabilities they need to connect and protect the world, and push the boundaries of human exploration across the universe. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our employees define possible every day.
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