ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Maritime Unmanned Systems; NATO, Turkish, USAF Drones

August 19, 2021 at 4:04 pm Leave a comment

Sea-Air-Space 2021. UPDATED

Among the topics frequently discussed at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition August 2-4 were unmanned systems and the challenge of the Arctic. We start off with where those two topics intersect.

Droids and Drones in the Arctic.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice in the Chukchi Sea, in late December 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland – The U.S. Coast Guard is exploring the use of unmanned aerial, surface and undersea systems in the harsh and distant environs of the Arctic.

Captain Thom Remmers told a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition August 2 that unmanned underwater vehicles could “very easily and capably look for environmental spills” under the ice from passing tankers or oil drilling rigs.

The first big defense industry conference to return to an in-person format since the coronavirus pandemic shut down nearly all such events in 2020, Sea-Air-Space 2021 drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of exhibitors.

At his exhibit hall briefing, Remmers discussed the Coast Guard’s creation of an Unmanned Systems Cross-Functional Working Group to lead a service-wide effort to explore how unmanned systems could help the Coast Guard execute its mission. The Working Group was created on advice from the National Academies of Sciences for the Coast Guard to  “take a more strategic and accelerated approach to exploit the capabilities of existing and future unmanned systems.”

Remmers told SEAPOWER magazine the Coast Guard has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles on some icebreakers — like the Coast Guard Cutter Healy — to look for ice floes.  Unmanned systems could also provide “a long-range persistent MDA [maritime domain awareness] type of capability that we need up there,” Remmers added.

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Drones are Helpful, But Not Enough Up North.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Unmanned systems may be a solution for handling dirty, dull or dangerous tasks in the Arctic, but they’re no substitute for a U.S. flagged ship when it comes establishing presence in the Far North, according to a  key Coast Guard Arctic expert.

“Unmanned systems are a great tool but they don’t deliver presence,” according to Coast Guard Senior Arctic Advisor Shannon Jenkins. “Presence is a U.S. flagged [manned] sovereign vessel,” Jenkins told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo on April 3. “You can’t surge into the Arctic. You have to be up there,” he explained.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz has said repeatedly that “presence equals influence in the Arctic” to counter a resurgent Russia, and China — which styles itself a “near Arctic nation” — from ignoring the rules-based international order and modern maritime governance as they have done in other regions like the Black and South China seas.

Maritime domain awareness in the Arctic requires more than periodic exercises. It is important to understand how the environment is changing, Jenkins said, “So that we’re better prepared for when industry changes their operations up there, so we can be prepared to be up there and regulate, enforce and protect those operations as well as the U.S. citizens up there,” he said. Full story? Click here.

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Drone Delivery Tests.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is testing out a new unmanned cargo delivery platform that can transport small amounts of cargo between Navy ships, according to SEAPOWER.

(Photo courtesy of Skyways)

And a NAVAIR official at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo said he expects the concept to become a program of record soon. Tony Schmidt, director of rapid prototyping, experimentation and demonstration, said a NAVAIR team was able to take the Skyways unmanned aerial vehicle and demonstrate it aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford after just a few months. Schmidt said the Navy is highly interested in going beyond that test.

Schmidt said his team was initially approached by Military Sealift Command, which had discovered that about 80 percent of the parts they were transporting by helicopter weighed less than 10 pounds.

In July, the team took the UAV on a ship-to-ship mission from the destroyer USS Bainbridge  to the USNS Joshua Humphreys, a replenishment (refueling) oiler. In recent weeks, the team has been holding conversations with Navy officials and Schmidt said he is “pretty sure” supply by drone is going to get picked up as a program of record.

Some visitors may remember that the Navy released video last October (2020) showing electronics technicians piloting a quadcopter-style drone to deliver a small payload to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson.

The test was successful, with the drone dropping its package on the submarine’s hull and returning to operators aboard a nearby surface ship

While short in distance and small in size, the experimental resupply, which took place near the Hawaiian Islands,  demonstrated potential for future resupply without the need for ports or nearby ships, according to Navy Times.

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Another Dangerous Job.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The people who have to clear waterways of naval mines using minesweeper ships or human divers, have long championed unmanned systems as a way to “get the man out of the minefield.” Now the U.S. Navy has wrapped up initial operational test and evaluation of an unmanned surface vessel for countermine operations on Littoral Combat Ships. The Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) platform is expected to be ready for fielding on an LCS by the end of this summer, a Navy official told SEAPOWER.

Captain Godfrey Weekes, program manager for Littoral Combat Ship mission modules, told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo in early August that initial operational capability (IOC) for the platform is planned for the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year — which ends on September 30, 2021.

The UISS platform is designed for the LCS’s mine countermeasures mission package. It “consists of a mine countermeasures unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and a towed minesweeping payload for influence sweeping of magnetic, acoustic and magnetic/acoustic combination mine types,” according to the Navy.

The UISS’s Minehunt USV is currently in contractor verification testing. Low-rate initial production of that platform should begin sometime in late fiscal 2022, Weekes said.

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Navy Version of Global Hawk.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — On it’s first test flight, the systems functioned well on a MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with a signals intelligence capability, a Navy official said.

The first MQ-4C equipped with Integrated Functional Capability-Four (IFC-4) made its first flight on July 29, mainly to test the aerodynamic characteristics of the new configuration. The test team, while evaluating aspects — such as stability and control — also checked out the performance of the mission systems and sensors.

“The sensors and systems are performing better than expected,” Captain Dan Mackin, the Navy’s Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program manager, told the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space expo August 3.

The IFC-4 hardware and software configuration will enable the Triton to become an integral part of the Navy’s Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (MISR&T) transition plan. As such, it will eventually replace the Navy’s EP-3E Orion electronic reconnaissance aircraft beginning in the fall of 2023. The IFC-4 upgrade also includes the Minotaur mission system now used on the EP-3E. See the full story? Click here.

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ELSEWHERE.

Air Force Global Hawk Crash.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk crashed several miles away from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota on August 6, the Air Force announced. The unmanned aircraft went down in a rural field near Gilby, N.D., and no injuries were reported.T he cause of the crash or the drone’s condition have been identified yet by Air Force authorities.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk soars through the sky to record intelligence, surveillence and reconnaissance data in 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The latest crash marks the third time in the past 18 months that an Air Force drone has gone down, according to Air Force Magazine. Pilots deliberately crashed an MQ-9A Reaper in June 2020 after remotely piloted aircraft suffered a major fuel leak while flying over Africa. Another MQ-9 crashed that same month in Syracuse, New York, when its pilot mixed up the controls.

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NATO Seeks Arctic Underwater Robots.

NATO officials say more investment in autonomous platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data will be critical to understanding how a thawing Arctic Ocean will affect military operations, planning, and infrastructure in the High North.

According to Defense News, scientists from NATO’s Center for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) want to use autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to ensure they have continuous and sustained samples from the Arctic region. Investments in AI will be key to ensuring those systems remain in operation for long periods of time in the changing — but still austere conditions, said Catherine Warner, CMRE’s director.

“We have to improve the autonomy and the artificial intelligence of our systems,” Warner told an August 5 virtual roundtable with reporters. “We have to improve the intelligence, so that if there’s something wrong — just like with the Rover on Mars — if it knows that there’s something wrong with itself, that it can send the error codes back home so that we can try and fix it remotely,” she added.

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Turkish Sea-Going UAVs

Turkish drone-maker Baykar has released details about its newest armed drone, which designed to launch from ships packed with unmanned aircraft, Defense News reports.

“The Bayraktar TB-3, which is still in development, will be a larger and more capable model in the same family as the TB-2,” the company’s chief technology officer, Selcuk Bayraktar, said during an August 4 online presentation sponsored by Gebze Technology University.

Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drone on the runway in 2014. (Photo by Bayhaluk via wikipedia)

“When we began this project, no fixed-wing UAV could take off from LHD-class, short-runway ships,” he explained, using shorthand for unmanned aerial vehicles and landing helicopter dock naval vessels. “We believe that the TB-3, which can stay in the air for an extended period and is equipped with ammunition, will fill a gap in this field,” Bayraktar said.

The new TB-3 drones are slated to ride aboard Turkey’s future Landing Helicopter Dock Anadolu.

Entry filed under: Arctic, climate change, Coast Guard, HIGH NORTH, Homeland Security, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, Navy, Skills and Training, Technology, U.S. Navy, Unmanned Aircraft, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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