Posts tagged ‘UAV’
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.
What Do Special Operators Want?
The big money defense budgets of the past decade have come to an end. And thanks to additional across-the-board cuts imposed by Congress, each of the armed services is being asked to find even more programs, platforms and procedures to cut.
So what do Special Operations Forces (SOF) – who depend in part on the other services’ capabilities – need to do their job in this austere funding environment?
Well the No. 3 commissioned officer at U.S. Special Operations Command cited some technology needs in a question-and-answer session at last week’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict Symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industry Association in Washington.
There’s always a need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies – especially for sensors that can see through foliage in places like Africa and South America, Air Force Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold, SOCOM’s vice commander, told industry representatives.
“Our focus is on high definition. That’s a game changer for us,” Heithold said, adding that “We’re in the business of man hunting – whether to kill someone or capture them – so the fidelity that we get from our sensors is very important.”
He said SOCOM was in the process of modifying its fixed wing and unmanned aircraft with updated signals intelligence capabilities. “I don’t think we have a gap there, but it’s a game you’ve got to be in all the time. You can’t fall behind,” Heithold said.
Major General Mark Clark, commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), said the command was “absolutely” looking at a Joint High Speed Vessel, for a MARSOC maritime platform — as long as it could accommodate MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft or helicopters; operate in the littoral environment and include SOF equipment modules “so you can put them on or take them off.”
Modularity for SOCOM aircraft was also important, said Richard Holcomb, civilian deputy to the commanding general of Army Special Operations Command. Modular ISR, strike and air drop packages for Special Ops aviation assets “are clearly the way of our vision [going] forward,” he said. Army experts are also exploring how to arm the Osprey tiltrotor. Another area needing future study is non-lethal capabilities like directed energy, Heithold said.
Undersea mobility is another crucial technology, Heithold added. While progress is being made with the Advanced Seal Delivery System, a mini undersea vessel to transport Navy SEALS from a submerged submarine to shore, he urged industry to come forward with any technology that might help. SOF’s stealthy capability, “our true magic,” Heithold called it, “is going to be our ability to infiltrate and ex-filtrate from the sea – under the sea.”
And, as we posted last week, Heithold said the Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit (TALOS) is the top acquisition priority. SOCOM commander, Admiral William McRaven, “is way focused on that,” said Heithold, noting that McRaven very much wants to protect “the first person through the door” during a raid or night action.
Updates with new information about EU contingent, planning, proposed use of surveillance drones.
Christian Vs. Muslim CAR
France is sending 400 more troops to former colony Central African Republic (CAR) as a wave of sectarian violence sweeps across the Texas-sized country.
The first task of European Union troops, who are also being committed to peacekeeping in the CAR, will be to create a safe haven area in the capital city, Bangui, the commander said Monday (February 17), Reuters reported.
Major General Philippe Ponties told a Brussels news conference that the EU force also plans to use surveillance drones in the CAR — provided EU governments are prepared to supply them. In previous United Nations peacekeeping missions to Africa, Irish and Belgian troops have used unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The U.N. last year authorized the purchase of two unmanned air vehicles for deployment with peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The surge in French troops will boost their number to about 2,000, according to the Voice of America. There are also about 5,000 troops from various nations belonging to the African Union. The United States has provided airlift support to bring some of those forces into the country. Last week, the European Union voted to send about 500 troops to bolster peacekeeping efforts in CAR, where thousands may have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled into neighboring Cameroon and Chad, creating an international refugee crisis, according to the United Nations.
French and African troops began a major operation last week to disarm local militias, known as the anti-balaka. The militias are accused of revenge attacks against Muslim neighborhoods in the capital Bangui and elsewhere around the country.
The chaos began last March when a largely Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka came down from the northern part of the CAR, overthrew the government, and began brutal attacks on the neighborhoods and villages of the majority Christian population, killing and looting as they went.
That sparked a backlash by the Christians who formed vigilante groups called anti-balaka (for anti-machete). The anti-balaka degenerated into revenge killers who looted and burned Muslim areas. Now some two thousand people are dead and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, have been driven out into the countryside or over the border.
Muslim Vs. Christian Nigeria
There have been renewed attacks and mass killings in two villages and a town in northeastern Nigeria, where the government has been battling an insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
Authorities and villagers say the group was responsible for an attack Saturday (February 15) on the village of Izghe, near the border with Cameroon, that left more than 100 slain – either shot or hacked to death, according to the BBC.
Boko Haram fighters attacked the town of Konduga earlier this month and killed 51 people, Reuters reported. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered extra troops into northeast Nigeria to try and crush the insurgents, who want to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim, but Boko Haram retreated into a remote area, bordering Cameroon, from where they have mounted numerous attacks, said Reuters.
And CNN reported that militants also attacked Doron Baga, a fishing village along Lake Chad. A survivor told CNN gunmen fired indiscriminately, stole foodstuff, fish and vehicles before setting fire to the village. A Nigerian official confirmed the attack but couldn’t give details, saying it occurred in an area under the jurisdiction of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF). Consisting of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, the MJTF was created in 1998 to battle weapons proliferation in the region but is now also battling the Boko Haram insurgency, CNN said.
Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden” in the north’s Hausa language, has killed hundreds of Christians and Muslims in the north since it launched its campaign of mass violence against the government in 2009. The U.S. State Department labeled Boko Haram a terrorist group last year. The continuing violence and the Army’s inability to eliminate Boko Haram as a threat poses a major political headache for Jonathan, who faces re-election next year, Reuters noted.
Nigeria is the most-populous nation in Africa and one of its biggest oil exporters.
Piracy at sea has dropped to its lowest level in six years – largely because of a decrease in incidents off the Horn of Africa, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
IMB’s annual global piracy report says there were 264 pirate attacks reported around the world in 2013, a 40 percent drop since Somali piracy peaked in 2011. Only 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012 and 237 in 2011.
Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the IMB, says “the single biggest reason” for the drop in worldwide piracy in 2013 “is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa.” IMB says Somali pirates were deterred by a combination of factors including patrols by international navies, building anti-pirate features into vessels, the use of private armed security teams and increased stability (a relative term here) brought by Somalia’s central government.
For more than two decades, Somalia has been considered a failed state with widespread lawless activity, warring factions and extreme poverty.
While the situation is improving on the East Coast of Africa, piracy has been on the rise of the West Coast of the continent. Nineteen percent of worldwide pirate attacks last year occurred off West Africa. In 2009 there were 48 actual or attempted attacks in the waters off West Africa. That rose to 62 in 2012 and dropped slightly to 52 last year.
In 2013, Nigerian pirates and armed robbers committed 31 of the region’s 51 attacks, taking 49 people hostage. Worldwide, more than 300 people were taken hostage. Nigerian pirates have ranged as far south as Gabon and as far west as Ivory Coast. They were linked to five of the region’s seven vessel hijackings. Just a few days after IMB issued its report in January, a Greek-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker was reported hijacked off the coast of Angola by pirates who allegedly stole a large part of the cargo. But the Angolan Navy disputes the crew’s story.
The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre has been monitoring world piracy since 1991.e
Uganda has reached an agreement with three international oil companies to develop the East African country’s petroleum resources.
After years of negotiations, officials in Kampala earlier this month (February 7), signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain’s Tullow Oil, France’s Total and China’s Cnoc. Gloria Sebikari, of the ministry’s petroleum department said the memorandum goes behind simply developing oil fields, the Voice of America reported. “The plan provides for use of petroleum for power generation, supply of crude oil to the refinery to be developed in Uganda, and then export of crude oil to an export pipeline or any other viable option to be developed by the oil companies,” Sebikari said, according to VoA.
Uganda, East Africa’s third-largest economy, discovered hydrocarbon deposits in the western part of the country in 2006. But commercial production has been delayed and is not expected to start until 2016 at the earliest. Analysts blame the delay on negotiations over the planned refinery, according to Reuters.
Uganda has agreed to build a pipeline that will run to neighboring Kenya’s planned Indian Ocean port at Lamu, which is expected to become an export terminal for crude oil from Uganda, Kenya and other regional states, Reuters said.
Uganda has sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-largest oil reserves, behind South Sudan, Angola and Nigeria with an estimated 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil, according to Oilprice.com. The oil and energy news website said East Africa has been identified as the next big oil and gas production area with more than four countries – including Kenya and Ethiopia – announcing oil and gas finds.
Helping First Responders
Robotic systems aren’t just for helping police pursue fleeing criminals or investigate suspicious packages.
From monitoring wildfires to patrolling busy harbors, industry, government and academia are exploring how unmanned vehicles can assist emergency responders on land, sea and air.
In addition to research at the University of Hawaii and Oklahoma State University, small companies in Florida and California to big ones in Massachusetts are modifying existing vehicles to aid search and rescue operations or creating new systems with sensors focused on looking for signs of trouble far from first responders.
To learn more about this re-purposing of technology first developed to assist the military, check out our article in the latest (February) issue of Unmanned Systems, the magazine of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (subscription required).
Way Up North
Over the last decade of war, we’ve gotten used to photos of troops launching an unmanned aircraft in the deserts of the Middle East or the arid landscape of Afghanistan. But here’s one being readied for launch in snowy Alaska.
These paratroopers –from Bravo Company, 425th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division — are preparing this RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for launch at Forward Operating Base Sparta on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.
The Shadow, manufactured by AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Maryland, can detect ground level temperature variations and can visually survey large stretches of territory, providing commanders with valuable battlefield information.
The troopers from Bravo Company were joined by soldiers assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team for a nine-day field training exercise almost 400 miles from their base at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, Alaska.
To see a photo slide show of this exercise, including closer views of the Shadows, click here.
Soldiers vs Vigilantes vs Drug Gangs
The Mexican government’s attempts to quell violence between vigilantes battling drug gangs in the southwesterrn state of Michoacan have turned deadly in a confrontation between the military and civilians.
There are contradictory reports on the number of casualties in the town of Antunez where soldiers were reported to have opened fire early Tuesday (January 14) on an unarmed crowd blocking the street. The Associated Press is reporting that its reporters saw the bodies two men said to have died in the incident. AP journalists said they also spoke with the family of a third man reportedly killed in the same incident.
The Los Angeles Times reported that 12 people were said to have died in the clash, according to the Mexican newspaper Reforma. The self-defense groups began organizing last year to protect local people from the drug gang known as the Knights Templar, who were extorting and otherwise terrorizing residents of Tierra Caliente, an important farming region west of Mexico City.
Local citizens said they had to arm themselves because federal troops failed to guarantee their security. On Monday (January 13) Mexico’s interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, urged the vigilantes to lay down their arms, the BBC reported.
The Knights Templar, who control much of the methamphetamine trade to the United States, say the vigilantes have sided with a rival gang, the New Generation cartel. But the self-defense groups fiercely deny that.
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Ecuador’s First Drone
Ecuador has developed its first domestically made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa revealed the country’s first drone on local television Saturday (January 11), according to the Russian television network, RT (Russia Today).
The drone, called the UAV-Gavilan (Spanish for hawk), cost half a million dollars, a significant savings for Ecuador — which, 2007 paid $20 million for six Israeli-made UAVs, according to the Associated Press.
The gasoline-powered, carbon fiber and wood UAV was designed by the Ecuadorian Air Force to help the country, which borders both the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, fight drug trafficking, Correa said. He added that the Gavilan tracked a ship loaded with drugs for six hours before authorities intercepted the vessel.
Its video cameras and sensors will help the Euadorian Air Force monitor the country’s borders and hard-to-reach areas, like the Amazon rainforest, as well as assisting investigations. Ecuador plans to produce four of the UAVs for itself and then sell others to interested countries in Latin America.
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FARC Ends Ceasefire
Colombia’s Marxist rebels announced Wednesday (January 15) that they were ending their unilateral holiday ceasefire with government forces.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — widely known by their Spanish acronym FARC –announced in Havana, Cuba, where it has been in peace negotiations with the government that it was ending the ceasefire it declared December 15, Reuters reported.
The rebels, who have battled the government in Bogota for five decades, accused government armed forces and police units of pursuing “aggressions and provocations.”s
theThe FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, declared a one-month ceasefire on December 15 and said in a statement issued on Wednesday, “we lived up to our word… despite permanent aggressions and provocations by the government’s armed forces and police units.”
While the FARC has repeatedly called for both sides to end hostilities, President Juan Manuel Santos has refused to agree. The rebels previously observed another unilateral cease-fire that lasted two months, the Associated Press reported.
The FARC has been fighting the government in a brutal guerrilla war that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in jungle and urban attacks. The revolt began as a peasant movement seeking land reform but in recent years the FARC — branded a terrorist organization by the United States — is reported to have aligned itself with Colombian drug cartels, obtaining much of its funding through narcotics sales. The FARC is the oldest active guerrilla army — estimated to number 8,000 — in the Western Hemisphere..