Posts tagged ‘UAV’

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Armed Services Describe Their Needs and Funding Limitations

What They Want and Can Afford

VIPs watch a convoy of driverless trucks at the Autonomous Mobility Applique System demonstration from roof at the Urban Terrain training site at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo)

VIPs watch a convoy of driverless trucks at the Autonomous Mobility Applique System demonstration from roof at the Urban Terrain training site at Fort Hood, Texas.
(U.S. Army photo)

TYSON’S CORNER, Virginia – Money is tight while national security threats keep evolving, so the Defense Department plans to be careful about what robots, droids and drones it can buy in the future.

That was the overall message from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps leaders over three days this month at the Unmanned Systems 2014 Program Review, a government robotics conference hosted by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

Even though they expect funds for robots and drones to be limited, they say demand will grow for unmanned vehicles – especially ones that can get into small or unsafe spaces like tunnels or denied airspace — to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information for troops in the field.

All of the services are looking for unmanned systems that share common controllers and other hardware/software. And they want them interoperable so troops on the ground, in the air or at sea – no matter which service – will be able to communicate with all unmanned systems and coordinate their activities.

So here’s a look at some of the capabilities the armed services are looking for.

The Defense Department’s Joint Staff is developing a Joint Concept for Robotic and Autonomous Systems, expected in the summer of 2018, according to Army Col. Charles Bowery of the Joint Staff Robotic and Autonomous Systems Team (JRAST). He said the concept report targets the 2025-2030 time frame and will reflect improved ways for “developing, deploying and acquiring those technologies.” Chartered in 2014, the JRAST seeks to synchronize Robotic and Autonomous Systems development, acquisition, and employment across the Defense Department.


The Army is not buying any new UAS in the near future but it isn’t getting rid of any either. Army plans call for pairing the MQ- 1 Gray Eagle and smaller RQ-7 Shadow UAS with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to perform the scouting mission once performed by the OH-58 Kiowa manned scout helicopter, which is being retired.

“All of my portfolios are essentially looking at what is the amount of financing or money that is available to meet the requirements,” said Army Major General Robert Dyess, director of Force Development in the financial management (G-8) section of the Army Staff.

On ground vehicles, he told conference attendees, the Amy had just completed joint testing of the Autonomous Mobility Applique System which showed the ability to “essentially, I believe, turn any vehicle in the motor pool – at the commander’s assessment – into a vehicle that has either a semi-autonomous or autonomous type of capability.”


The Navy has only one program of record for unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), the Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System (AEODRS), a family of robotic systems ranging from a 35-pound robot that can be carried in a backpack to a vehicle-towed unit weighing about 750 pounds.

Tom Dee, deputy assistant of the Navy for Expeditionary Program and Logistics Management, said the Navy is looking for UGVs that not only replace humans in dangerous situations, but can be force enablers.

“We want to make them team mates with our squads, to be able to assist us, not just to replace us doing things that we’re concerned about doing” like bomb disposal, Dee said. .” He added that AEODRS would be built using open architecture and modular design that would allow the Navy to “plug and play” new developments in sensors, cameras or robotic arms onto a common platform.

Daniel Sternlicht, head of the Sensing Sciences Division at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, said the Navy is looking to improve sensor capabilities as it transitions from a time and manpower intensive method for detecting, identifying and neutralizing explosive mines in the shallows near shore to an unmanned, sensor-driven one.

Among the capabilities sought in this eventual shift is the ability to neutralize a target mine in a single pass or sortie by an unmanned underwater vehicle rather than multiple passes by manned aircraft or surface vessels, said Sternlicht.

The Office of Naval Research is developing a compact modular sensor package that can be mounted on an MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter and detect and classify targets in real time. The Compact Modular Sensor Suite could also speed up the process by eliminating the need for post-mission analysis by a manned aircraft.

November 14, 2014 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Pentagon’s New Mantra

Commonality, Interoperability, Affordability.

The Pentagon in 2008 (Photo by David B. Gleason via Wikipedia)

The Pentagon in 2008
(Photo by David B. Gleason via Wikipedia)

TYSONS CORNER, Virginia — For years, advocates of unmanned systems — robots, drones and autonomous vehicles — have repeated the mantra “dirty, dull and dangerous.”

In other words, unmanned systems can free humans from tasks that are inherently “dirty, dull or dangerous,” and in most cases do it faster, longer, safer and cheaper than people. Now, the mantra is “commonality, interoperability and affordability” — at least around the Pentagon — where the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all facing new demands and adversaries but with less money.

That’s been the take-away this week from the Unmanned Systems Program Review 2014, sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the leading trade group for all things robotic — civilian and military. Until recently, the three-day annual event, which ended today (November 6) has been a platform for the armed services and other government agencies like NOAA and DARPA, to explain what they are looking for in the way of unmanned ground, air on maritime vehicles. They also outline how their existing programs — like Navy counter mine warfare robots (see photo below) or reconnaissance drones for the Army — are doing and what changes in design or mission are likely in the future.

But as one speaker after another addressed the audience of manufacturers, academics and reporters outside Washington, they noted that defense budgets are tight and likely to get even tighter if Congress resumes across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration in Fiscal Year 2016.  “We don’t really know how much [money] we’re going to end up with,” said Tom Dee, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Expeditionary Program and Logistics Management. Uncertainty in funding really puts the squeeze on, driving Defense Department program managers to focus on what they can afford. And that includes programs where the aircraft fly and the submarines and boats sail without a human on board. Major General Robert Dyess, director of Force Development in the financial management (G-8) section of the Army Staff, called sequestration a “large black cloud.”

The budget restraints come at a time when America and its military are facing a widening array of threats and challenges from violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL in the Middle East and al Shabaab in Africa, criminal narcotics cartels based in Latin America but spreading to Africa and Europe, disease outbreaks like Ebola and natural disasters like Haiti’s earthquake or Japan’s tsunami. Military peers like Russia and China and near peers like Iran and North Korea pose additional concerns. Pentagon leaders have been saying for months that the U.S. military will have to do more with less and unmanned systems could be a way to drive down costs..

So the military in general, and unmanned systems program managers in particular, are looking for commonality in controls and other equipment. Dyess said the Army wants common controllers for unmanned ground vehicles and small unmanned aircraft systems like the Raven, Wasp and Puma, so they can work in unison.

The Defense Department’s Joint Staff Robotic and Autonomous Systems Team is trying to identify advanced applications for increased interoperability between manned and unmanned systems, according to Army Colonel Charles Bowery, the team’s officer in charge. “Interoperability is probably the most important thing we are doing now,” said Chris O’Donnell, Tactical Warfare Systems staff specialist for the Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Most speakers advised the conference that the Defense Department had little use for proprietary technology that makes it impossible to swap out failing parts or add new modular equipment like cameras or sensors to robotic equipment. “Open architecture is critical,” Captain Eric Wirstrom, Maritime Operation Director at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, said today. On the issue of affordability, he was emphatic in his advice to industry about selling unmanned underwater vehicles and the sensors they can carry: “I need it cheap.”

U.S. Navy sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) to survey the ocean floor during the International Mine Countermeasure Exercise . (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight/Released)

U.S. Navy sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) to survey the ocean floor during the International Mine Countermeasure Exercise . (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight/Released)

Your 4GWAR editor learned a lot about the future path or unmanned systems in the military over the three-day AUVSI event and we’ll be summing it up on Saturday. Please check back with us this weekend.

November 6, 2014 at 11:41 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: An Industry Just Bursting to Take Off

Commercializing Unmanned Aircraft.

Drones large and small on display at an AUVSI Expo in Washington. (Click on photo to enlarge) 4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle

Drones large and small on display at an AUVSI Expo in Washington.
(Click on photo to enlarge)
4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle

For more than a decade the world has become well acquainted with the capabilities unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provide in warfare, from “eyes in the sky” reconnaissance to delivery platforms for Hellfire missile strikes.

But the pent up demand for commercial unmanned aircraft in the United States is still waiting for federal regulators to ease rules banning most UAS from operating in the national airspace. Until they do, a predicted flood of new employment and business opportunities for UAS designers, manufacturers, instructors, mechanics, evaluators and operators will have to wait.

One business sector, the film and television industry, got some relief recently when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees air safety, gave permission to six production companies to fly UAS over movie sets – but under strict limits.

Meanwhile, unmanned aircraft – some tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand — are being sought for a variety of non-military activities: inspecting infrastructure in dangerous to reach places like suspension bridges and oil drilling platforms; monitoring the migrations of land and sea creatures; keeping an eye on crops and livestock; patrolling vast stretches of desert, forest and ocean; supplying video and still photography for the real estate, travel and motion picture industries and enhancing real time news coverage by television stations or Internet web sites.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the industry trade group for all things robotic including UAS, says unmanned aircraft could generate more than $82 billion in economic impact and 100,000 jobs in the United States in just the first decade after UAS are integrated into the national airspace.

But it may take more than a decade before drones are delivering pizzas because of two thorny issues: public concern over privacy and civil liberties; and government concerns about safety.

To read the rest of this story click here.

October 17, 2014 at 12:12 am Leave a comment

U.S. ARMY: Learning to Win in a Complex World [UPDATE]

AUSA: So Many Tanks, So Little Time.

One of the exhibit halls on the first day of AUSA 2014. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

One of the exhibit halls on the first day of AUSA 2014.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

UPDATES to clarify late night — sometimes clunky –writing, and add background and perspective.

The Association of the United States Army’s massive annual conference and exposition just ended. And while there were few, if any, tanks on display, enough trucks, and armored vehicles — including a vintage Volkswagen bus with a rooftop machine gun — were on view to satisfy any military gadget junkie

During its three-day run in Washington’s Convention Center there was much discussion at AUSA about where the U.S. Army is going — and how it’s going to get there–  in a world where a war, insurgency, terrorist attacks, disease outbreaks or natural disasters seem to be breaking out every day. Compounding the problem — thanks to budget cuts —  which Congress may reintroduce in a year or so — the Army is shrinking and disposing of war-worn equipment to stay within its budget.

But Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said those previous across-the-board budget cuts meant developing projects like the Ground Combat Vehicle had to be scrapped and there is little money to buy new vehicles, aircraft and weapons that will be needed to tackle future crises. They also said more budget cuts starting in Fiscal Year 2016 (October 1, 2015) will mean even less money for training and that will lower the Army’s readiness for the complex world it faces. Assistant Army Secretary Heid Shyu explained that congressional budget cutting through sequestration has drastically reduced research and development for new technologies that could help a smaller Army deal with multiple challenges.

We heard at least two generals and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, himself a former Army sergeant, say they didn’t want to see another Task Force Smith  as an example of what could happen if a major crisis breaks out after precipitous, post-war cuts to defense spending. Task Force Smith was a disastrous delaying action by an understrength, poorly equipped and makeshift Army battalion cobbled-together in Japan and rushed to Korea during the first days of the Korean War. The valiant but ineffective effort to stop the Communist advance in July 1950 came as a shock to U.S. leaders and the public just five years after America ended World War II with the largest, best-trained and best-equipped army in the world.

4GWAR Photo by John M. Doyle

4GWAR Photo by John M. Doyle

Despite the often grim forecasts about defense funding, thousands of military and civilian visitors turned out for AUSA 2014 to see hundreds of armored vehicles, unmanned aircraft, helicopters, small arms and body armor on display in the two floors of exhibits by industry and service organizations. Also on display: the latest sensors and video cameras, robots and communications equipment.

While the AUSA exhibit floor has often been used to unveil industry’s latest solutions to the Army’s problems — like coping with roadside bombs or lightening soldiers’ equipment loads — several big defense contractors this year trumpeted new contracts to upgrade, or extend the lifespan, of aging equipment like the Humvee or Stryker armored vehicle. In addition to pavilions for foreign exhibitors and products, there was also a homeland security pavilion that emphasized the links between defending America over here as well as over there.

In coming days we’ll be exploring some of the things we heard discussed at AUSA 14 including developments like the new Army Operating Concept of what it takes to win in a complex world. We’ll also be discussing the regionally aligned force concept and the Pacific Pathway initiative to facilitate America’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

One of the exhibit halls on the first day of AUSA 2014. (4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

One of the exhibit halls on the first day of AUSA 2014.
(4GWAR photo by John M. Doyle)

October 15, 2014 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Helicopters Without Pilots

Sky Spies.

Black Hornet micro helicopter (Photo courtesy: Prox Dynamics -- click on photo to enlarge)

Black Hornet micro helicopter
(Photo courtesy: Prox Dynamics — click on photo to enlarge)

The reductions in force and budget cutbacks have U.S. commanders increasingly turning to unmanned aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

But the low-intensity conflicts springing up around the world — in both urban settings and remote areas without finished airfields — have also increased the need for vertical take off and landing unmanned air vehicles (VTOL-UAVs) … ranging from the full-sized Northrop Grumman Fire Scout to tiny pocket-sized quad-copters like Prox Dynamics’ Black Hornet.

The Black Hornet unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has been tested by the U.S., U.K. and Norwegian militaries and has been used by the British Army since 2012 in Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces. And the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center has awarded Prox Dynamics a $2.5 million contract to develop a pocket-sized UAV for infantry and special operations troops.

Newer unmanned helicopters are being developed by companies from the British Isles to Colorado.

A Welsh company, Torquing Technologies, has begun rolling out its nano drone, Sparrow, and new communications technology for operating it. Sparrow has machine-to-machine communication technology allowing multiple Sparrows to communicate with each other and fly in swarms.

In Fort Collins, Colorado, Scion UAS is developing two VTOL aircraft, the full-sized optionally manned SA-400 Jackal, which has been acquired by the Naval Research Laboratory for testing, and the smaller SA-200 Weasel. Both aircraft are  designed to be payload agnostic, says Scion’s chairman and manager, Jim Sampson. “We try to build the generic pickup truck because every user has a different payload in mind for their mission and every mission is going to require a different suite of payloads,” he noted.

To read more, see your 4GWAR editor’s story in the September issue of Ground Combat and Tactical ISR magazine


October 11, 2014 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: When UAVs and Robots Talk

Linked In.

Lockheed Martin has experimented with cellular links, point-to-point radio, Wi-Fi and mesh networks to communicate with its Squad Mission Support System unmanned vehicle. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin has experimented with cellular links, point-to-point radio, Wi-Fi and mesh networks to communicate with its Squad Mission Support System unmanned vehicle.
(Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

An unmanned, autonomous helicopter has a rendezvous with an autonomous ground vehicle, picks up the vehicle — known as an SMSS (Squad Mission Support System), carries it in a sling to another location and deposits the SMSS safely on the ground so it  can continue its mission. All of this under the control of satellite communications.

In Britain, a tiny unmanned air vehicle  (UAV) with machine-to-machine communication capability is able to talk with duplicate nano UAVs and fly in swarms.

These are just two examples of how unmanned systems makers and suppliers are exploring ways to improve communications between unmanned vehicles and their operators.

This is from an article your 4GWAR editor wrote for the October issue of  Unmanned Systems  magazine (subscription required). Unmanned Systems is published by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the largest robotic and unmanned vehicle industry group.

Here’s a link to a May posting (4th item) we did about the SMSS from the AUVSI annual conference in Orlando, Florida.


October 1, 2014 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA Update 2: Al Shabaab Blitz; Ebola Crisis, Niger Drone Base, Rwanda Verdict, Bastille Day

Somalia Islamists Attacked.

Updates with al Shabaab leader’s death confirmed.

Islamist militants in Mogadishu, Somalia.(Photo copyright, Kate Holt, IRIN)

Islamist militants in Mogadishu, Somalia.(Photo copyright, Kate Holt, IRIN)

The U.S. military today (Friday, September 5) that the leader of the African Islamist extremist group, al Shabaab, was killed in the drone missile attack in Somalia earlier this week.

Witnesses said drones fired at least four missiles Monday (September 1) in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, destroying two al Shabaab vehicles, according to the Voice of America website. On Tuesday (September 2), the Defense Department disclosed that the head of al Shabaab was the target of the attack.

 “We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby announced today in a press statement that did not detail how Godane’s identity and death was cestablished. “Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al-Shabaab. The United States works in coordination with its friends, allies and partners to counter the regional and global threats posed by violent extremist organizations,” the published statement continued.

Previously, Kirby said U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions,” according to a transcript of Tuesday’s Pentagon press briefing.

It was the most aggressive U.S. military operation in nearly a year, coming as the President Barack Obama’s administration grapples with security crises in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, the Washington Post noted. Al Shabaab, which means “the youth,” in Arabic, is a jihadist movement affiliated with al Qaeda that started in Somalia “a chronically unstable country on the Horn of Africa,” and has grown into a regional terrorist group that has carried out attacks in Uganda and Kenya — including last year’s Nairobi shopping mall attack that left scores of dead and injured. Al Shabaab has also cooperated with another al Qaeda branch in Yemen, the Post added.

Al Jazeera reported that the jihadist group confirmed it had come under attack but would not Godane’s situation. The attack comes just a few days after African Union troops and Somali government forces launched a major offensive aimed at seizing key ports from al Shabaab and cutting off key sources of revenue, said Al Jazeera. The Associated Press reported that the air strikes killed six militants but it was not known at the time if Godane was among the dead.

*** *** ***

Widening Ebola Threat

Health workers treating Ebola patients in Africa. (World Health Organization photo by Christine Banluta)

Health workers treating Ebola patients in Africa. (World Health Organization photo by Christine Banluta)

The head of an international medical aid, group, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors without Borders), says the world is losing the battle to contain the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

Military teams should be sent to the region immediately if there is to be any hope of controlling the epidemic, MSF’s international president Dr. Joanne Liu told the United Nations Tuesday (September 2), painting a stark picture of health workers dying, patients left without care and infectious bodies lying in the streets, The Guardian website reports.

Although alarm bells have been ringing for six months, the response had been too little, too late and no amount of vaccinations and new drugs would be able to prevent the escalating disaster, Liu told U.N. officials, adding: “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.”

Ebola has spread to a fifth West African nation. Senegal’s health minister, Awa Marie Coll Seck has confirmed that country’s first Ebola case. On Friday (August 29), she said a young man from Guinea with the deadly disease had crossed into Senegal, where he was promptly put in isolation, according to Al Jazeera. Other countries reporting Ebola cases include: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

The current outbreak, which first appeared in Guinea, has killed more the 1,900 people across the region since March, according to the World Health Organization, the BBC reported. At least 3,000 people have been infected with the virus and the World Health Organization has warned the outbreak could grow and infect more than 20,000 people.

Meanwhile, fear and ignorance is blamed for the violent — and unhelpful reaction is some places in the region. In Liberia, one of the three hardest-hit nations, there have been clashes between soldiers and residents of quarantined slum area in the capital, Monrovia. In Nigeria, residents in some areas are protesting against the idea of building isolation units in their neighborhoods. The Voice of America reported  Friday (August 29) that people have taken to the streets in the northern city of Kaduna, protesting plans to convert sections of a local clinic into an Ebola treatment center. In many parts of Nigeria residents say they fear Ebola more than Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group that has killed thousands of people.

*** *** ***

2nd Niger Drone Base UPDATE

Map of Niger (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Niger
(CIA World Factbook)

After months of negotiations, the government of Niger in West Africa has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials, the Washington Post reports.

The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent, the military newspaper said.

The United States started drone surveillance flights out of Niamey, Niger’s capital, in early 2013 to support French forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Mali. Washington always intended to move the operation further north and now the details have been worked out to relocate the flights to a base in Agadez, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Niamey, said a U.S. defense official speaking on condition of anonymity, Defense News reported.

The U.S. Air Force also flies unmanned aircraft out of Chad to help locate hundreds of school girls kidnapped by the radical Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria.

*** *** ***

Rwanda Verdict

A South African court has found four of six suspects charged with trying to assassinate a former Rwandan Army general guilty of attempted murder. Two other men accused in the 2010 attack on Faustin Nyamwasa in Johannesburg, South Africa that left him wounded.

Nyamwasa fled Rwanda in 2010 after a dispute President Paul Kagame, al Jazeera reported. According to the an Al Jazeera reporter, Nyamwasa does not blame the four who were convicted, saying they were “used” by the Rwandan government. According to Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, the trial judge was convinced the murder attempt was politically motivated by people in Rwanda. Kagame denies involvement in the attack.

Police broke up another murder plot against the general in 2011 and early this year armed men attacked his Johannesburg house in a separate incident.

*** *** ***

Africa at Bastille Day UPDATE

African troops march in Bastille Day parade in Paris July 14. (Photo: SCH Sébastien Lelièvre/SIRPA Terre)

African troops march in Bastille Day parade in Paris July 14.
(Photo: SCH Sébastien Lelièvre/SIRPA Terre)

Troops from several African nations that served as peacekeepers during the French intervention in Mali were among the contingents July 14 during the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris. Among the troops in this photo, all wearing the blue United Nations beret are soldiers from Chad, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria.

(Click on the photo to enlarge. To see more photos of the 2014 Bastille Day military parade in Paris, click here.

September 3, 2014 at 11:51 pm 1 comment

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