Archive for March 25, 2021

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Navy, Marine Corps Unmanned Systems “Campaign”


Navy Department’s Unmanned “Grand Campaign”

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have released their campaign plan for unmanned systems across all domains, in order to make unmanned systems a trusted and integral part of warfighting.

Reconnaissance Marines assigned to the Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), launch an RQ-20 Puma aboard a combat rubber raiding craft May 24, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gary Jayne III)

The new plan, called the “Unmanned Campaign Framework,” argues that the Navy Department needs unmanned systems to maintain the U.S. military’s competitive advantage and “move toward a capability-centric proactive environment” that can “incorporate unmanned systems at the speed of technology, to provide maximum agility to the future force.”

The campaign plan focuses on eight functional areas: platforms and enablers; strategy, concepts and analysis; fleet capability, capacity, readiness and wholeness; research, development, testing and evaluation/science and technology; people, education and talent; logistics and infrastructure; policy, law and ethics; and communication and messaging.

The framework also has five goals: Advance manned-unmanned teaming effects within the full range of naval and joint operations; build a digital infrastructure that integrates and adopts unmanned capabilities at speed and scale; incentivize rapid incremental development and testing cycles for unmanned systems; disaggregate common problems, solve once, and scale solutions across platforms and domains; create a capability-centric approach for unmanned contributions (platforms, systems, subsystems) to the force.

The framework provides a strategy for integrating these systems to provide lethal, survivable, and scalable effects supporting the future maritime mission. The Navy and Marine Corps are developing detailed technology maturation and acquisition roadmaps within a separate classified plan of action and milestones. The objective is to innovate quickly to provide solutions for complex problems of current and future conflicts, the Seapower website reported.

The path forward requires a holistic approach to developing and deploying unmanned systems, ensuring individual technologies can operate within a broader architecture of networked warfighting systems, supported by the right people, policies, operational concepts, and other enablers.

According to the website, the sea services’ push for funding to test and field unmanned technology — particularly drone surface vessels — has faced significant resistance. The Navy wanted $2 billion to build 10 large unmanned surface vessels over the next five years, but later walked that back after lawmakers took steps to block the service from buying any of the ships in 2021 “until a certification regarding technology maturity has been submitted to Congress.”

The new campaign plan doesn’t include timelines or spending plans for specific platforms since it’s unclassified, but explains that unmanned systems will be essential in future fights. Marine Lieutenant General Eric Smith, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said every program referenced in the report has a specific timeline with goals to meet their objectives, said.

The 40-page plan was released March 16, two days before top Navy and Marine Corps leaders testified before Congress about where drone technology was going.

However, some lawmakers found the plan is short on details and measurable goals. “I was really disappointed with the lack of substance,” Representative Elaine Luria, said during the hearing. “I thought it was full of buzzwords and platitudes but really short on details,” the Virginia Democrat and former Naval officer said, Defense News reported.

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Navy’s Next Step.

During that March 18 hearing before the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, a senior admiral said fielding the Navy’s first carrier-based unmanned aircraft could indicate a much larger drone presence in the future carrier air wing — possibly including teaming up manned and unmanned aircraft.

The MQ-25A Stingray UAS now being tested by Boeing and the Navy is designed to be a tanker for aerial refueling of other carrier-based aircraft such as the F-35C Lightning II and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters.

MQ-25A Stingray (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

Vice Admiral James Kilby, the deputy chief of naval operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, told lawmakers “the MQ-25 has great promise for us,” Seapower reported. The initial plan is to introduce it into the air wing “where it can serve its role initially in tanking and limited ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]. But what we are focusing on is launching, landing, moving it around on the deck, bringing it up, taking it down to the hangar bay, how do we position those assets, how can we support the air wing,” Kilby testified.

“So, step one: get the fighters out of the business of refueling fighters and use the MQ-25 to do that, initially close aboard the carrier but eventually at range,” Kilby said. “But there is some payload capacity in that vehicle that we think has great promise for us. So, I think initially we would transition to ISR but in an air wing of the future view … we think we could get upwards of 40% of the aircraft in an air wing that are unmanned and then transition beyond that.”

The admiral pointed out that while there will be a control center on each aircraft carrier for unmanned aircraft, the Navy’s aspiration is for manned unmanned teaming in the future so that manned aircraft could control unmanned aircraft, Seapower noted.

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Drone Killer Testing.

The U.S. Air Force is testing whether lasers mounted on the dune buggies can be an effective counter-drone weapon.

The High Energy Laser Weapon System, or HELWS, uses directed energy to defeat incoming unmanned aerial systems — a threat that military leaders are increasingly concerned about, according to C4ISRNET. Small, highly mobile drones are difficult to hit with conventional weapons. That’s why the Air Force and others are looking at emerging technologies.

The Air Force Research Lab awarded Raytheon Technologies a $23.8 million contract back in 2019 for two of the HELWS prototypes. Another $13.1 million was added llater in 2019 for a third prototype.

High Energy Laser Weapon System, or HELW (Raytheon)

Currently mounted on a Polaris MRZR, the HELWS has been described since its first deployment in 2020, as looking like something from a Star Wars or Mad Max movie. The system’s laser beam has to be kept directly on the incoming drone for roughly five seconds while the intruder is within 3 kilometers (1.86 miles), Raytheon officials said. 

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Marines to Buy 18 ER Reaper Drones.

The Marine Corps plans to buy a total of 18 extended range variants of the MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle to operate in support of distributed maritime operations and expeditionary base operations, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the Seapower website

The Corps currently operates two MQ-9As in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

“We will procure 16 more for a total of 18,” said Lieutenant General Eric Smith, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on March 18. “That’s three [VMU] squadrons of six [each],” he added

The Reapers — built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems — have the Block 5-20 upgrades, which will be updated because of the system’s open architecture and will be able “to keep pace with or outpace the threat,” Smith said. He noted that the Reapers have on board “systems that give both inflight protection and protection from tampering.”

Smith said the Reapers could operate from a variety of locations, including the continental United States, Hawaii, Guam, or a partner nation.

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Gray Eagle Milestone

The family of Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) surpassed one million flight hours March 16 during U.S. Army flight operations, according to the big drone’s manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

The first flight of an early variant of the Gray Eagle occurred in March 2004. Since that first flight, General Atomics and the U.S. Army have fielded over 250 Gray Eagle-type aircraft — including the new Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) aircraft. Over 80 percent of the 1 million flight hours supported deployed operations with a better than 90 percent Mission Capable Rate, General Atomics said.

The GE-ER UAS is a 40-hour endurance aircraft with increased payload capacity, reliability and maintainability over the legacy MQ-1C Gray Eagle first fielded in 2009.

GE-ER is being further enhanced under The U.S. Army’s modernization program is enhancing the GE-ER to incorporate leading-edge technology for standoff survivability, while expanding the payload capabilities to include Air Launched Effects (ALEs) and long-range sensors for stand-in effects. The upgraded UAS will be powered by a new 200-horsepower Enhanced Heavy Fuel Engine and dual 7.5 kilowatt brushless generators to enable the growing capabilities needed by commanders in the future Multi-Domain Operations environment.


General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) (General Atomics photo)
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Schiebel Camcopter S-100

Austrian drone-maker Schiebel says it is the first Unmanned Air System (UAS) operator in Europe to receive the Light UAS Operator Certificate (LUC) for its Camcopter S-100 from Austrian aviation authorities. Under new European Union (EU) rules, Schiebel is the first UAS operator in Europe to successfully demonstrate and meet the requirements for the certification by its national aviation authority, Austro Control.

Schiebel was issued the LUC on February 25, 2021. It enables the company to self-authorise operations, within the defined scope and privileges, in civil airspace without applying for authorization from aviation authorities. Schiebel’s  operations include commercial drone flights, test flights as well as training flights for pilots. The LUC, which is also valid in the EU and EASA member states,  opens further opportunities to flying in civil airspace, the company said.

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Northrop Grumman MC-4C Triton.

Northrop Grumman Corp.’s business unit, Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., recently clinched a contract to support the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The deal was awarded by the Naval Air Systems Command, at Patuxent River, Maryland, according to the NASDQ website.


Under the $82 million contract, Northrop Grumman Systems will provide sustainment, engineering, logistics, test, mission control and operator training systems support for MQ-4C Triton high altitude, maritime surveillance drones. The contract estimated to be completed in March 2022 will serve the U.S. Navy and Australian army.

It also includes procurement of field service representatives and technical support to ensure that MQ-4C Tritons are mission-capable for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions supporting Triton’s early operational capability and initial operating capability, according to Defense Industry Daily.  Work will take place in Maryland and California and Florida.

March 25, 2021 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment


March 2021


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