Posts tagged ‘UAV’
HOT SPOTS: Nigeria.
Another bombing and more deaths in Nigeria where the government is battling radical Islamist militants. This time, the blast was at a market in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the anti-Western extremisty group blamed for dozens of bombings, killings and kidnappings across Nigeria in recent weeks.
At least 56 people were killed by the car bombing, according to the Associated Press, which noted that Maiduguri, [see map] a city of more than 1 million people, has suffered several attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where many were watching a football match on a big television screen.
But the violence has been widespread. On Sunday, suspected extremists sprayed gunfire on worshippers at four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings, killing at least 30 people, according to the AP. Last week, at least 42 people were killed in three blasts around the country, including 24 slain at the biggest shopping mall in Nigeria’s central capital Abuja.
President Goodluck Jonathan will be visiting Washington this summer to attend the United States-African Leaders Summit (August 5-6). On July 31 he will be speaking about his country’s turmoil at the National Press Club in Washington. Jonathan’s government has taken sharp criticism at home and abroad for its inability to stop the bombing attacks or rescue more than 200 high school girls kidnapped from a school in northeast Nigeria in April.
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A different kind of “summit” meeting is being held in Accra, Ghana where health ministers from 11 African countries are trying to “get a grip” on the worsening Ebola outbreak, the BBC reports.
So far, 763 people have been infected with the virus – and 468 of these have died. Most of the cases have been in Guinea where the outbreak started. But it has since spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The outbreak is the worst since the disease was identified in the 1970s, Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Voice of America. Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. It is spread through contact with the blood or other fluids of infected people.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients from authorities will be prosecuted. Sirleaf issued the warning on state radio Monday (July 1), expressing concern that some patients had been kept in homes and churches instead of receiving medical attention, al Jazeera America reported.
Sierra Leone issued a similar warning last week, saying some patients had discharged themselves from the hospital and gone into hiding. Health workers elsewhere in the region have encountered hostility and some have even been attacked.
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Drones Over the Congo
United Nations peacekeepers have begun flying unarmed, unmanned surveillance aircraft over the war-wracked eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Italian-made unmanned aircraft are the first acquired by the U.N. for peacekeeping missions but their presence is already posing questions about how the intelligence they collect will be used and who will get to see it, according to the New York Times. Another question is just how useful they will be in a country of distances far great than their 125 mile/200 kilometer flying range from their base in Goma [see map].
More and more, drones are flying over some of the toughest peacekeeping missions in the world, improving the United Nations’ intelligence-gathering capability, but also raising new issues about what to do with so much important data, the Times reported.
Not Quite Ploughshares.
“And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” – Book of Isaiah, Chapter 2, Verses 3-4.
The U.S. defense industry isn’t quite making ploughshares yet, but as U.S. defense spending has declined, the unmanned systems sector has been talking up the capabilities of its robots, ‘droids and drones to help find lost hikers, track fleeing crime suspects and assist firefighters in remote wilderness areas.
Long time unmanned aircraft makers like AeroVironment and Insitu held briefings at last month’s big robotics industry conference in Orlando, Florida, about how their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could assist police looking for evidence or firefighters battling wildfires. The shift to the commercial market was the talk of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) gathering in Orlando.
Wall Street and industry analysts say the U.S. defense market is flat and while manufacturers may be looking hopefully to the commercial market, business will be slow until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally decides how to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Air Space.
All this and more is covered in an Aviation Week article your 4GWAR editor co-authored with Mike Fabey in Washington and Christina Mackenzie in Paris. The story Saving Grace: Robotic systems target civil market as defense lags, is the June 16 Defense Technology Edition of Aviation Week.
ORLANDO, Florida – The big droids, drones and bots show sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is over after four days in Florida and here’s what your 4GWAR editor learned in the process. (Be sure to click on the photos to see a larger image)
First off, the organization is considering a name change. If we had a dollar for every person we had to explain what AUVSI stood for over the years – we’d be at least a thousandaire. At the opening session of the gathering Monday (May 12) AUVSI Board Chairman John Lademan said the decade-old organization was at least thinking about a name that would better reflect its diversity: manufacturers and operators of robots, unmanned aircraft, remotely operated ground vehicles and automous vehicles that move in and under the waves – not to mention the sensor makers, parts suppliers, maintenance, training and research organizations that are also members.
“We’re looking at rebranding. That’s not something we’re committed to yet, but it’s something we’re exploring,” Landeman said. No word yet on when some ideas might be floated.
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At that same session, the deputy head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Lieutenant General Kevin Mangum explained why the Army was teaming manned and unmanned systems – especially drones and helicopters – as it deals with reductions in force and funding.
Mangum said Army testing has shown Manned-Unmanned Teaming, known as MUM-T, can increase how long aircraft can conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions – without putting humans in harms way (standoff capability). MUM-T also increases lethality and survivability he said.
As an example, he told 4GWAR after speaking, the Army is pairing drones like the MQ-1 Gray Eagle with Apache attack helicopters to replace the OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopter, which is being phased out – largely for financial reasons.
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Lockheed Martin introduced a fire fighting variant of the six-wheeled autonomous ground vehicle it unveiled in 2006 to carry the bullets, batteries and other heavy loads that a squad of soldiers or Marines would otherwise have to hump over rugged country.
That unmanned ground vehicle — officially the Squad Mission Support System but also called Ox — has been tested in the field by the U.S. and British armies and is slated for another capability test in August. It be guided from a distance using satellite communications and then picked up and carried in a sling beneath an unmanned helicopter, Lockheed’s K-MAX.
But a bright red version of the OX, known as the Fire Ox, was on display on the exhibit floor at the Orange County Convention Center. It has a dual use nozzle for spraying water or firefighting foam, as well as a video camera and thermal imaging sensor so it can be sent on ahead of firefighters to assess danger.
Don Nimblett, Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems business development manager, said the domestic military market is flat right now, adding: “that’s one of the reasons [why] we’re looking into the commercial market.”
Lockheed had plenty of company when it comes to re-purposing systems originally designed for the defense sector. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) maker Insitu talked up the capabilities of its Scan Eagle small UAS in helping emergency managers in Australia get a handle on wildfires. The land and ship-launched Scan Eagle was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps and was widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And AeroVironment, another maker of small UAS brought in a North Dakota sherriff’s deputy – who also teaches the state’s school of aeronautics – to talk about how small unmanned fixed wing aircraft and helicopters have been used for police work by the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department.
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Nine small UAS took to the air over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Sunday (May 11) to demonstrate the many uses of smaller remotely controlled and autonomous aircraft.
But the FAA, which oversees air safety, kept a pretty short leash on the event, preventing most visitors from approaching the staging area for aircraft launching. Instead spectators had to watch the proceedings about 100 yards away from the aircraft, monitoring their progress in the sky with several large TV monitors.
That added to an undercurrent of grumbling throughout the conference about what is seen as the FAA’s slow pace in integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace with airliners, private planes and traffic helicopters. (More on this later)
ORLANDO, Florida – The biggest robotics trade show in the United States (maybe in the world) is underway at the massive Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Thousands of attendees from scores of countries are expected at the four-day event sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
But on Sunday (May 11) nine small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS) strutted their stuff in a hot, grassy field at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center about an hour’s drive away on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. The demonstration of how small drones can operate safely in a confined space was jointly sponsored by AUVSI and Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for the aerospace industry. Both groups also wanted to show that small unmanned aircraft – which are barred from being flown for commercial operations – can be useful and safe in a number of endeavors.
The demonstration included four research scenarios: crop health monitoring, searching for a lost or injured person, monitoring mock wildfire and disaster scenes. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for air safety and integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace in the near future, kept most spectators far back from the demo area and the tents and trailers housing the small drones. The crowd, which at times numbered in the hundreds, could watch both the unmanned aircraft and video being transmitted from the small aircraft on large TV screens.
The aircraft participating included a six-rotor mini helicopter – also called a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft (photo at left) operated by Florida-based Elevated Horizons. The company does aerial imaging, data collection and site surveys for a number of businesses – especially agriculture. Company executive Ty Rozier (pictured above) said one of their biggest customers was Dole’s fruit-growing operations in Costa Rica. “There are lots of local farmers who want to use our stuff but unfortunately you can’t do it” because of FAA restrictions.
Many unmanned systems makers these days are shifting products originally developed for the military toward the business and first responder markets. “We started in the military and we’ve moved into the commercial, industrial and public safety sector,” said Cameron Waite, North American sales directors for Aeryon Labs. The Canadian company flew its SkyRanger mini helicopter in the demonstration. The SkyRanger is a newer version of the Aeryon’s Scout quadcopter, which was the first UAS to fly from one of the six drone test sites designated by the FAA for developing ways to integrate UAS into the national airspace.
NOTE: Click on the photos to see an enlarged image.
Late last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected organizations in six states to begin testing ways to bring unmanned aircraft – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones – into the nation’s skies for commercial purposes.
Congress has directed the FAA – the government agency charged with keeping U.S. skies safe and orderly – to develop a comprehensive plan for safely integrating civil UAS into the national airspace system. Congress set a deadline of September 2015 for non-government UAS to begin flying in the same space as manned aircraft.
On Monday (May 5) the first UAS in the test program took off in Alaska. The two-and-a-half-pound Aeryon Scout quad copter – a four-rotor robot helicopter – rose to 200 feet, hovered for a few minutes and landed at the Large Animal Research Station of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. This summer researchers plan to use the tiny chopper to survey animals at the research station. The aim is to see how effective drones can be at conducting animal population surveys, according to the Alaska Dispatch news site.
The other UAS testing sites in Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and New York State are expected to begin test flights this week as well. Industry officials estimate unmanned aircraft could grow into an $85 billion business by 2023.
Currently the FAA strictly limits where non-military unmanned systems can fly. Law enforcement and federal government agencies like NASA are required to obtain FAA approval to fly in very limited areas. No commercial UAS operations are allowed, although the FAA’s authority is being challenged. Private citizens are allowed to fly small UAVs at low altitudes for recreation as long as the drones remain in sight and under the operator’s control.
Businesses ranging from real estate and photography to film-making and farming have all expressed interest in using unmanned aircraft. Law enforcement agencies, scientists and emergency management officials have cited numerous public uses for drones including search and rescue and non-intrusive environmental studies in remote areas.
But pilots and commercial aviation interests are concerned about how drones can maneuver safely in the airspace used by manned aircraft. And civil rights and privacy concerns have been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups about the use of drones by the police and commercial interests for surveillance and tracking.
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Commercial UAS use, as well as safety and civil rights issues will be among the topics discussed next week at a massive trade show and expo by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) – the droids, drones and robots industry.
AUVSI 2014 will showcase hundreds of unmanned systems for use in the air, on the ground and in space as well as on and under the sea. The increasing demand by the military for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gathering through all manner of unmanned systems, will also be a hot topic.
Your 4GWAR editor will be reporting all next week from the conference, which runs from May 12 to May 15 in Orlando, Florida. Space Florida will also hold a live, outdoor demonstration of air and ground systems and the Kennedy Space Center on the day before the conference opens, Sunday (May 11). We’ll be at that, too.
Last year’s conference, which drew thousands of attendees to the Walter Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, saw the debut of the SOLARA high altitude, solar-powered “atmospheric satellite” by Titan Aerospace — recently acquired by Google. Sample legislation was introduced by the Aerospace States Association for legislatures contemplating laws to ban, encourage or limit the use of unmanned aircraft; and the potential use of small unmanned aircraft by peacekeepers and international relief groups in natural and man-made disasters was discussed.
Last August when we encountered the folks at Titan Aerospace during the big annual droids, drones and robots exposition in Washington, we never dreamed the New Mexico-based start-up would be the subject to a bidding war between Internet giants.
But that’s what happened earlier this week (April 14), when Titan Aerospace announced it had been acquired by Google. There had been media speculation the company was being courted by Facebook. Titan Aerospace says its solar-power unmanned aircraft can fly for years and do the things a rocket-launched satellite can do — for a fraction of the cost. Among those tasks: serving as a high-flying (50,000 feet or more) communications relay and surveillance aircraft.
Your 4GWAR editor interviewed several Titan Aerospace executives and engineers for an Unmanned Systems magazine piece on unmanned craft driven by alternative power systems. Everyone connected with the small company based in the high desert of New Mexico seemed young and energetic — and thoroughly convinced of the merit of the SOLARA, the massive unmanned aircrfat they call an “atmospheric satellite.”
Launched by catapult, the SOLARA is expected to soar for as much as five years without landing — powered by thousands of solar cells embedded in composite material of the aircrfat’s wings and fuselage. Google says it wants to use the SOLARA and other technology to bring the Internet to under-served parts of the world.
Your 4GWAR editor is over at National Harbor, Maryland outside Washington, D.C. this week at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. We’re working for Seapower magazine this week, which has the daunting task of trying to cover every speech, panel discussion, corporate and service briefing for its daily show paper. You can see what we’ve been up to (unmanned aircraft today, missiles and rockets tomorrow) by clicking here or going to the Seapower website.
It’s a huge industry show with big name defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Atomics showing their offerings for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
And then there are presentations by several government entities like Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Office of Naval Research, the Marine Corps Systems Command, Military Sealift Command, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate.
The photos above and below – taken at the end of the day Monday – don’t do the show and the crowds justice. We understand attendance is up this year after all the fiscal uncertainty of last year’s congressional budget battles depressed attendance at many military trade shows.
One technology briefing by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division looked especially interesting. The folks from the Navy unit based at China Lake, California were slated to talk about Spike, a miniature missile launcher they have developed. But, unfortunately, the briefing was called off.
We learned some interesting things, prepping for the briefing. To date, according to a China Lake press release, about 26 advanced development test missiles have been built and tested at NAWCWD. But Spike is something else again. It was an in-house project, completely developed and funded by NAWCWD.
Measuring 25 inches and weighing less than six pounds, the miniature precision guided missile has been tested sucessfully against small boat targets. The mini missile was originally intended to provide a lightweight shoulder-fired weapon for use against soft and lightly-armored targets at close range (less than two miles) but the anti-small boat testing has planners wondering if Spike could be used to protect warships against swarming small boat attack, according to IHS Jane’s Navy International.
The mini missile has piqued the interest of the Marine Corps, Naval Special Warfare, special operations forces and the intelligence community, according to Navy Times. The Army’s Research and Development Command (ARDEC) is interested in using Spike the weapon as a counter unmanned air vehicle attack platform, according to the Naval Air Systems Command.
One benefit of the small weaponry, it can take out a few bad guys or a lightly armored vehicle with a reduced risk of collateral damage. We’ll be keeping an eye on this technology and its apparently many potential uses.
The Navy League expo ends Wednesday (April 9).
Eyes in the Sky Needed
The head of U.S. Africa Command said Thursday (March 6) that he is woefully short of intelligence-gathering assets like unmanned aircraft to monitor the vast, troubled stretches of North West Africa.
Gen. David Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only 11 percent of his command’s intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) needs were being met – but that was up from just 7 percent last year.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the panel, said he found those numbers “pretty troubling.” He noted that when violence broke out in South Sudan last December, ISR assets had to be pulled away from helping African and U.S. Special Operations troops track down the murderous renegade rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Headed by indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, the LRA has for decades murdered and plundered its way across Central Africa, kidnapping children to be used as soldiers or sex slaves.
There are two unmanned surveillance drones and about 100 U.S. Air Force personnel to operate and maintain them based in Niger to help French and African peacekeepers restore order after a military coup fueled a revolt by nomadic Tuaregs that morphed into a takeover by Islamic extremists. More drones reportedly fly out of the U.S. military’s one African base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti to monitor Sudan, Somalia and other flash points around the Horn of Africa.
Rodriquez told the Senate panel that the biggest intelligence gap he faced ranged from northern Mali to eastern Libya at the northern end of the continent. The Army general said he needed Joint STARS surveillance aircraft and remotely piloted air vehicles [drones] “to cover that vast range.”
At he start of the hearing, to explore the needs of AFRICOM and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, said ISR assets were “a particular area of focus” for the panel this year since the Pentagon decided to reduce its capacity for round-the-clock unmanned combat air patrols because of budget constraints.
In his written testimony for the hearing, Rodriguez said his command was “making significant progress” in expanding collaboration and information-sharing with African and European partners to reduce threats and increase stability in a region threatened by violent extremist organizations..
While AFRICOM can mitigate immediate threats and crises like violent extremist organizations like al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab in Somalia, long term solutions will hinge on development of “effective and democratic partner nation security institutions and professional [armed] forces that respect civil authority.
He noted that Africa will be “increasingly important to the United States in the future.” It is home to six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, a population estimated to double by 2050. “Nearly 80 percentr of United Nations peacekjeeping personnel worldwide are deployed in missions to Africa,” Rodriguez said. “Modest investments, in the right places, go a long way in Africa,” he added.
2015 Defense Budget
President Obama’s budget request for the 2015 Fiscal Year starting in October came out Tuesday (March 4) and your 4GWAR editor was very busy at the Pentagon yesterday picking up information and writing — for other people.
To see what we wrote about for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (the droids, drones and ‘bots people) click here:
Here at 4GWAR, we’ll be addressing the budget and what it means for counter terrorism efforts at the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies (including the Department of Homeland Security) on Monday.
Pentagon’s 2015 Budget: Dropping the First Shoe
Updates with Sen. Ayotte comments
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today (February 24) outlined the painful cuts to programs and reductions in the armed services imposed by Congressional budget cutters.
Under the Bi-Partisan Budget Act passed by Congress in December, defense spending is capped at roughly $496 billion for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 – forcing the Pentagon to come up with more than $75 billion in cuts over the two-year period, Hagel said.
He noted those cuts come on top of “the $37 billion cut we took last year and the Budget Control Act’s 10-year reductions of $487 billion.” If sequestration-level cuts remain the law for Fiscal Year 2016 and beyond, more cuts will have to be made, Pentagon officials said.
Starting in Fiscal 2015 [October 1, 2014-September 30, 2015], the Army will see a large reduction in size over five years – down to pre-World War II numbers, 440,000 to 450,000 – and the Navy can expect to see the number of cruisers and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) drop. The Air Force is dropping some of its tactical aircraft inventory, including its 40-year-old A-10 close air support jets and U-2 spy planes as cost savings measures.
But the Pentagon continues to see a need for increasing the size of Special Operations Forces. In the 2015 budget request to Congress, Defense Department leaders are choosing to reduce troop strength and force structure in all of the military services, “in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority” and to “protect critical capabilities like Special Operations Forces and cyber sources,” Hagel said.
The 2015 budget seeks to increase the number of personnel serving in Special Operations Command by 3,700 to 69,700, Hagel said, to protect “capabilities uniquely suited to the most likely missions of the future” counter terrorism and crisis response. That’s more than double the 33,000 SOF complement in 2001.
To protect “higher priorities” like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, new aerial refueling tanker and long range strike bomber programs in this era of fiscal austerity, the Air Force plans to eliminate the entire A-10 Thunderbolt fleet. Called the “Warthog” for its stubby appearance, punishment-taking air frame and lethal armament, the 1970s era A-10 is best known for effective close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Air Force can save $3.5 billion over five years by retiring the 300-plus A-10 fleet rather than upgrade it, said Hagel. The move would also speed up Air Force plans to replace the A-10s with the F-35 in the early 2020s.
Hagel said it was a tough decision to eliminate the beloved A-10. But he noted it was a “40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield.” The A-10, which can fly low and slow to provide covering fire for ground troops “cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses,” Hagel said. And the Pentagon believes the advent of precision munitions means there are more types of aircraft to provide effective close air support – a point A-10 advocates and several members of Congress dispute.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, was quick to criticize the move.
“The Pentagon’s decision to recommend the early retirement of the A-10 before a viable replacement achieves full operational capabability is a serious mistake based on poor analyses and bad assumptions,” said Ayotte, who has been battling Pentagon efforts to ground the Warthogs. “Instead of cutting its best and least expensive close air support aircraft in an attempt to save money, the Air Force could achieve similar savings elsewhere in its budget without putting our troops at increased risk,” she added.
In addition to the A-10, the Air Force also plans to retire the 50-year-old U-2 high altitude spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk system. But the Air Force is also slowing the growth of its unmanned aircraft inventory. “While effective against insurgents and terrorists,” UAVs “cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses,” Hagel said.
The actual budget numbers for each service and program – the other shoe, if you will – will drop next week (March 4) when the White House releases the president’s full budget request. And then the “fun” will begin when Congress weighs in.