Robots, Droids & Drones: Navy “Bullish” on Aerial Refueler Drone; Air Force Testing Ways to Use MQ-9 Drone.

April 29, 2021 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

DEFENSE.

CNO Bullish on Drones.

Unmanned systems — in the air and both on, and under the sea — will help maximize the U.S. Navy’s range across the Pacific Ocean in the future, according to the Navy’s top commander.

The MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aerial refueling vehicle, along with other unmanned aircraft, surface and under-sea vessels, will help maximize the U.S. Navy’s future range across the Pacific Ocean, according to Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations. The Navy plans to procure 72 Stingrays from Boeing. (Photo of Boeing)

Admiral Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, says the Navy’s “very bullish” about the MQ-25A Stingray, a carrier-based, aerial refueling drone. Once it’s integrated into carrier operations, Gilday told a think tank webinar April 27, the Boeing-built Stingray will extend aircraft carrier reach. In addition to being an unmanned fuel tanker,the Stingray can also provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance around the carrier strike group.

Gilday said he sees unmanned systems as a path to affordability and lethality in future defense budgets, which will likely be leaner in coming years. “Probably by the  mid-to-late 2030s, we think up to a third of the fleet could be unmanned, if everything goes right,” Gilday explained. “And for the air wing of the future, we think about the same, initially about 40 percent — potentially going to 60 percent — unmanned,” he added.

The Navy’s strategy in the Great Power competition with China calls for fielding highly mobile and distributed maritime operations across the Pacific. But during the question and answer session at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Gilday noted that with  ubiquitous satellite imagery, “it’s going to be difficult to hide” in the future. And that’s why unmanned vessels armed with directed energy weapons like high-energy lasers could become “really important” in force protection, Gilday said.

To see your 4GWAR editor’s story on this topic on the Seapower magazine website, click here.

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Naval Exercise (UxS IBP)

A number of unmanned systems were put to the test in the air and on and below the waters off the coast of California April 19-26 during Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP).

The Pacific Fleet exercise was designed to integrate manned and unmanned capabilities into operational scenarios to generate advantages in conflict. The week-long event involved surface, subsurface, and aerial unmanned assets, operating with littoral combat ships, guided-missile destroyers, guided-missile cruisers, submarines and helicopter squadrons.

It was the first large-scale unmanned systems (UxS) integrated battle problem (IBP) involving manned/unmanned teaming. One goal was  to develop a targeting solution for a planned missile shoot, which was accomplished. Participants successfully teamed air and surface, manned and unmanned capability, to put an SM-6 missile well over the horizon from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn to target, according to Seapower.

The manned/unmanned chain of events for the missile shoot was totally passive, [without] any active sensor. The target was detected by a combination of manned and unmanned platforms and a space system to locate and identify the target, track it with electronic support measures (ESM) bearings, and pass the information to the John Finn, which was able to shoot the SM-6 at range, well beyond line of sight.

Unmanned systems participating in the IBP included two medium-displacement unmanned surface vessels, Sea Hunter and its new sister ship, Seahawk; an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV); an MQ-9 Sea Guardian UAV; a Vanilla ultra-long-endurance UAV; the Office of Naval Research’s Super Swarm Project; and the Ocean Aero Triton-Class Dual-Modality Underwater and Surface Autonomous Vehicle.

In  the photo below, sailors attached to Unmanned Undersea Vehicles Squadron 1 monitor the launch and operation of an unmanned undersea vehicle at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport’s UUV Operations Center in Washington state as part of Battle Problem 21 on April 21. To see more photos of this part of UxS IBP, click here.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Victoria Foley)

Unmanned surface and air systems were used to prosecute a submarine-like target. This event included an MQ-9 SeaGuardian UAV dropping sonobuoys and up-linking data after a P-8 maritime patrol aircraft departed station.

According to MQ-9-manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the event demonstrated a number of actions for the first time including: successful Link connectivity with U.S. Navy surface ships and aircraft; cooperative anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, with the first successful high-altitude sonobuoy drop from an unmanned aircraft; Automatic Identification System (AIS) correlation with a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and a MH-60R Seahawk helicopte;r and long-range over-the-horizon targeting from drone to a U.S. Navy Destroyer.

In the photo below, an MQ-9 Sea Guardian unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft system flies over the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

*** *** ***

Marines Dropping their Blackjacks.

According to the Drive, the Marine Corps has announced it was retiring all of its RQ-21 Blackjack drones and is shifting attention to other unmanned platforms, including the MQ-9 Reaper and the V-Bat. (see related story below).

The Marines announced earlier this week that they had “initiated the divestment of all RQ-21 aircraft” in the first annual update on the Corps’ progress with the Force Design 2030 effort, publicly unveiled last year. The restructuring plan scaled back infantry and artillery units and eliminated tank battalions, in favor of a lighter, more nimble force with a renewed emphasis on expeditionary and distributed operations.

The Blackjack, built by Boeing’s Insitu, is a twin-boom, single-engine, small tactical unmanned aerial vehicle that carries modular payloads mostly for surveillance. It is pneumatically launched and is recovered using a skyhook arrestment system. A single Blackjack system includes five UAVs, two ground control stations, various payloads and a set of launch and recovery systems.

The fielding of the RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial system achieved full operational capability in 2019. All 21 systems for the Marine Corps and 10 for the Navy had been delivered to fleet and training units, by Fall 2020, according to Seapower.

*** *** ***

Navy Picks Martin UAV V-BAT

The Navy has selected Martin UAV’s V-BAT for a vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) prototyping and development effort to fulfill new technological requirements, the Plano, Texas company announced April 28.

V-Bat stationary (Courtesy Martin UAV)

Those requirements were driven by the changing nature of threats in austere operating environments.

Martin UAV was one of thirteen respondents to the Navy’s Mi2 Challenge and was later down selected with L3Harris Technologies to compete in a technology demonstration at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona. The competition sought maximum portability, self-sufficiency and modularity in UAS hardware and payload capabilities without the need for ancillary support equipment.

The BAT system offers vertical takeoff with a single-engine ducted fan, automatic transition to straight and level flight, easily commanded hovers and stares, interchangeable payloads, and an open architecture.

According to the company. the V-BAT is currently deployed in various areas in support of Defense Department activities including the U.S. Army’s Future Tactical UAS program as well as with a Marine Corps expeditionary unit, and with the U.S. Coast Guard.

*** *** ***

Air Force testing  MQ-9 Drone for New Mission.

The Air Force is testing ways to use the MQ-9 UAS in island-hopping missions, military.com reports.

Long used for the counter terrorism mission, the Air Force’s principal hunter-killer drone is finishing up a joint exercise (Agile Reaper) with the Navy and Marine Corps at Naval Air Station Point Mugu and San Clemente Island in California. The aim was to prepare crews to use fewer personnel and less equipment at forward-deployed locations as the MQ-9 takes on more maritime missions, officials said, according to the website.

Like the Marines, who are shifting from counter-terrorism, counter insurgency operations to prepare for possible conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region, the Air Force drone operators practiced enhanced maritime surveillance missions and moved toward close-air support strike, to back up Marines going ashore.

Read more here.

Entry filed under: Air and Missile Defense, Air Force, Aircraft, Asia-Pacific, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, Indo-Pacific region, Marine Corps, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Photos, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Technology, U.S. Navy, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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