ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Ukraine Getting U.S. Drones; Russia Wants More from Iran

July 26, 2022 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

UKRAINE, RUSSIA DRONE NEEDS

Never in the history of warfare have drones been used as intensively as in Ukraine, where they often play an outsized role in who lives and dies, according to the Associated Press.  Both the Russians and Ukrainians depend heavily on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

But after months of fighting, the drone fleets of both sides are depleted, and they are racing to build or buy the kind of jamming-resistant, advanced drones that could offer a decisive edge, the AP reported July 14.

Ukraine Getting More Kamikaze Drones

The U.S. Defense Department says hundreds of one-way drones will be included in the latest security assistance package for Ukraine in its battle against Russia’s brutal invasion.

The Pentagon announced Friday (July 22, 2022) that an additional $270 million in Security Assistance for Ukraine will include as many as 580 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). It is the sixteenth drawdown of equipment from Defense Department inventories for Ukraine authorized by the Biden Administration since August 2021 — six months before Moscow’s unprovoked multi-front attack.

Back in April, the United States committed to sending 121 Phoenix Ghosts to Ukraine. Pentagon officials have not fully disclosed the capabilities of those drones, which were developed by the U.S. Air Force and produced by Aevex Aerospace, according to the Associated Press. Aevex describes itself as a leader in “full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions.” The drones have onboard cameras and can be used to attack targets, AP reported.

In April, then-Pentagon press spokesman John Kirby said the Phoenix Ghost had been in development before the February 24 Russian invasion. And in discussions with the Ukrainians about their requirements, “we believed that this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine.”

While primarily a UAS designed for tactical operations like attacking targets, Kirby said Phoenix Ghost ‘s cameras could be used for reconnaissance. But its principal focus is attack, said Kirby, adding “its purpose is akin to that of the Switchblade … which is basically a one-way drone and attack drone. And that’s essentially what this is designed to do.”

Artist’s rendering of AeroVironment Switchblade 600 loitering missile. (Image courtesy of AeroVironment)

Switchblade’s manufacturer, AeroVironmentc Inc.,, calls the little lethal UAV a loitering missile. Originally weighing less than six pounds, it could be carried in a soldier’s backpack and launched from a mortar-like tube. Once airborne, Switchblade sends back color video imagery and GPS coordinates which the operator can view on a hand-held ground controller.

What made Switchblade unique, 4GWAR noted back in 2011, is the ability to transition from a low-flying reconnaissance drone to small bomb with the flick of a switch by the soldier operating the ground controller. It can then be aimed at a nearby — but out of sight — target such as an un-armored vehicle.

Several improvements have been made to Switchblade since then. The larger (50-pounds) Switchblade 600, has greater capabilities for engaging larger, hardened targets with multi-purpose anti-armor ammunition at longer distances than the original Switchblade 300, your 4GWAR editor reported in SEAPOWER.

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Short on Drones, Russia Turns to Iran

Both sides in the war have made ample use of unmanned aircraft, both for missile attacks by armed drones and reconnaissance of enemy troop movements and potential artillery targets. However, many military analysts believe the Russians — who surprised  Western observers with their coordinated use of drones as artillery spotters to target Ukrainian tank and artillery formations in 2014  — may now be running low on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

On July 12, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Russia was seeking hundreds of UAVs, including weapons capable drones from Iran.

“Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July,” Sullivan told a White House briefing, adding “”It’s unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already.”

On July 16, the White House said Russian officials visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to view weapons-capable drones it is looking to acquire. The White House released the intelligence the same day President Joe Biden met  with leaders of six Arab Gulf countries, plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

The White House also released satellite imagery indicating Russian officials have twice visited Iran in recent weeks for a showcase of weapons-capable drones.

The satellite imagery showed Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones on display at Karshan Airfield on June 8 and July 5, while a Russian delegation transport plane was on the ground, the Associated Press reported.

Shahed 129 UAV seen during the Eqtedar 40 defense exhibition in Tehran. (Photo Fars Media Corporation via wikipedia)

Sullivan said in a statement that the administration has “information that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred UAVs.

“We assess an official Russian delegation recently received a showcase of Iranian attack-capable UAVs. We are releasing these images captured in June showing Iranian UAVs that the Russian government delegation saw that day,” Sullivan added. “This suggests ongoing Russian interest in acquiring Iranian attack-capable UAVs.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian rejected reports on exporting Iranian drones to Russia, calling them “baseless.”

The U.S. intelligence assessment was first reported by CNN.

Russia had previously turned to China for help in supporting its war in Ukraine, U.S. officials disclosed in March, according to the CNN report. As of late May, the US had seen no evidence that China had provided any military or economic support to Russia for the invasion, Sullivan told reporters at the time.

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China’s DJI Halts Drone Business in Russia and Ukraine.

China’s DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone maker, announced in late April that is was suspending all business activities in both Russia and Ukraine.

Since the start of the war, Ukraine has urged the company to take steps to stop its drones being used by Russia.

The Chinese firm said the decision was not a statement about any country, and its drones are not for military use, the BBC reported.

DJI is internally reassessing compliance requirements in various jurisdictions. Pending the current review, DJI will temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine. We are engaging with customers, partners and other stakeholders regarding the temporary suspension of business operations in the affected territories. — DJI Statement

China has sought to remain neutral on the conflict, calling for a peaceful solution, but it has yet to condemn the Russian invasion.

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IN OTHER DRONE NEWS …

Valkyrie Drones Complete Tests for Skyborg Program.

A pair of XQ-58 Valkyrie drones have completed a series of tests for the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program, to team unmanned and manned aircraft through an artificial intelligence-enabled autonomous system allowing fighter pilots and bomber crews to control unmanned wingmen.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)

Defense contractor Kratos, which manufactures the Valkyrie, announced the successful tests at the Farnborough International Air Show in Britain July 19, but offered no details on what those tests demonstrated or when they occurred, Air Force Magazine reports.

The XQ-58, meanwhile, has conducted a limited number of flight tests showcasing some of its capabilities including releasing another drone in flight and carrying technology allowing an F-35 Lightening II and an F-22 Raptor to share data in-flight.

It was the first public announcement of the Valkyrie flying for the Skyborg program. The drone was first developed as part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio and flew its first several tests before Kratos was selected in late 2020 as one of three companies to conduct Skyborg flights, according to the magazine.

“This is a program about autonomy,” Jeffrey Herro, a senior vice president in Kratos’ unmanned systems division, told Air Force Magazine in an interview at Farnborough. “Our aircraft was chosen to be the testbed for these autonomy tests. And so we’ve been flying various payloads in support of the government’s activities on Skyborg.”

Entry filed under: Aircraft, National Security and Defense, Technology, Ukraine, Ukraine invasion crisis, Unmanned Aircraft, Unmanned Systems, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (July 22, 2022) FRIDAY FOTO (July 29, 2022)

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