Posts filed under ‘Unmanned Systems’

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

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.”

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

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Navy Unmanned/Autonomy Competition; France Wants Switchblade

DEFENSE.

Navy Readying Unmanned/Autonomy Competition

The U.S. Navy plans an industry competition for a key contract related to its autonomy software development efforts,the  Breaking Defense reports, adding that the anticipated contract will secure a vital iole for the winning company in many of the Navy’s upcoming unmanned vehicle programs.

The Navy is developing “a myriad of unmanned vessels and needs to streamline the process of making sure each drone will be capable of working in conjunction with one another. To do this, the unmanned systems office, known internally in the Navy as PMS 406, has been spearheading several projects that collectively aim to unify different software delivered by any given company,” according to Breaking Defense’s Justin Katz.

The Sea Hunter medium displacement unmanned surface vessel launches from Naval Base Point Loma for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21) on April 20, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

The contract has been dubbed the Autonomy Baseline Manager, and the service’s unmanned systems program office expects to publish a solicitation for the role in the coming months, according to Navy spokesman Alan Baribeau. A five year-contract for the selected company is scheduled to be awarded in summer 2023.

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Large U.S. Navy Drones.

The U.S. Navy’s last deployed RQ-4A Global Hawk Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance – Demonstrator (BAMS-D) unmanned aerial vehicle, has returned from the Middle East, culminating a 13-year span of operations that began as a six-month experiment.

BAMS-D, which has been operational since 2009, (NORTHROP GRUMMAN photo)

According to Naval Air Systems Command, the RQ-4A returned to its home base, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, from the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility on June 17.

The Navy had deployed the RQ-4A to Southwest Asia since 2009 as a component of the BAMS-D program, SEAPOWER magazine reported. Five Block 10 RQ-4As were acquired from the U.S. Air Force and were based at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and operated in sequence over the years by detachments of Patrol Reconnaissance Wings 5, 2, and 11. The detachment kept at least one RQ-4A in the rotation to a base in the Persian Gulf region. One was lost in a mishap in Maryland in June 2012. Another was shot down June 19, 2019, in an unprovoked attack in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

BAMS-D provided more than 50% of maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in theater accruing over 42,500 flight hours in 2,069 overseas missions, the Navy said.

Meanwhile, the Navy has ordered two more MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles from Northrop Grumman.

The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, awarded Northrop Grumman Systems a $248.2 million contract modification to procure two MQ-4Cs as an addition to Lot 5 low-rate initial production. The contract modification follows two other contracts awarded in June to Northrop Grumman for the Triton program, SEAPOWER reported.

The MQ-4C’s IFC-4 is designed to bring an enhanced multi-mission sensor capability as part of the Navy’s Maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting transition plan. The Triton in the IFC-4 configuration is designed to complement the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and eventually will enable the Navy to retire its EP-3E Orion electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The initial operational capability for the Triton will be declared in 2023 when IFC-4-configured Tritons are deployed in enough quantity to field one complete orbit.

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Tax-Free Pay for Drone Operators?

U.S. service members who fly remotely piloted aircraft or operate their surveillance and targeting sensors don’t qualify for untaxed income because they largely wage war from installations in the continental U.S. rather than in combat zones like Iraq or Somalia.

But Senators Jacky Rosen of Nevada,  Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Representative Steven Horsford, also of Nevada want to fix that, according to Military Times. Legislation proposed by the trio would give military drone crews the same tax-free combat pay as deployed troops.

Drone crews would be eligible for untaxed income if they fly missions anywhere within a combat zone approved by the Pentagon, from the Sinai Peninsula to Kosovo to the Arabian Peninsula, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Their annual salaries, and how much they are taxed, vary by state and federal tax brackets, grade and training.

On top of their monthly income and housing and subsistence allowances, these troops already receive an untaxed flight stipend that is separate from combat pay. That monthly combat stipend would become available, tax-free, to the RPA community if the legislation is signed into law.

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INDUSTRY.

General Atomics’ Maritime Drone Tests for RIMPAC

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. completed a series of flight tests of an MQ-9B Sea Guardian unmanned aircraft system equipped with electronic intelligence, communications intelligence and Link 16 payloads in preparation for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercise.

GA-ASI_MQ-9B_SeaGuardian, (General Atomics photo)

The sensors were integrated onto GA-ASI’s maritime version of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian Unmanned Aircraft System, which will be featured at RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise involving more than 40 ships and 150 aircraft from 27 partner nations. The 2022 exercise will take place from late June to early August in Hawaii and Southern California.

The Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) payload on SeaGuardian is supplied by Sierra Nevada Corporation and the Communications Intelligence (COMINT) payload is made by L3Harris Technologies.

The MQ-9B line of unmanned air systems has advanced maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability, featuring a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities, and a High-Definition, Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras.

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France Wants U.S. Kamikaze Drone.

The French Army has started the process of quickly procuring American-made loitering munitions as part of a longer-term effort to field remotely operated weapon systems, Defense News reported from Paris.

The service is looking to add AeroVironment’s Switchblade to its inventory within the next six months, Colonel Arnaud Goujon, the Army’s chief of plans, told reporters at the Eurosatory defense expo, which was held last week outside Paris.

Launching a Switchblade UAV. (Photo courtesy of AeroVironment )

In a Tuesday email to Defense News, the French Armed Forces Ministry confirmed the country is in the process of launching a Foreign Military Sales request “for the acquisition of Switchblade remote-operated ammunition.”

The Pentagon in April announced plans to supply the Switchblade munition to Ukraine as part of military aid provided to the European country since Russian invaded it in late February.

June 23, 2022 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

PLANET A: Pentagon Seeks $3 Billion to Battle Climate Change; Marine Corps Base First to Reach Net Zero

PLANET A, because there’s no Plan B or Planet B

Climate change is reshaping the geostrategic, operational, and tactical environments with significant implications for U.S. national security and defense. Increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are exacerbating existing risks and creating new security challenges for U.S. interests.

— U.S. Defense Department Pentagon’s Climate 2021Risk Analysis

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RISKS and CHALLENGES

2023 Defense Budget

For the first time, the U.S. Defense Department budget request is committing $3.1 billion exclusively to dealing with climate change, including $2 billion for installation resiliency and adaptation and $247 million for operational energy and buying power.

“We have to be resilient to cyber threats, we have to be resilient to climate change,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told a March 28 livestreamed Pentagon press briefing on the budget request, SEAPOWER magazine reported at the time.

The $813 billion defense budget request included $773 billion for the Defense Department and more than $40 billion for defense-related activities at other agencies. Of the three vital national interests cited in the budget request, the last one is Building Enduring Advantages, which includes “modernizing the Joint Force to make its supporting systems more resilient and agile in the face of threats ranging from competitors to the effects of climate change.”

Investments in the $3.1 billion climate crisis request include: $2 billion for Installation Resiliency and Adaptation; $247 million for Operational Energy and Buying Power; $807 million for Science and Technology, and $28 million Contingency Preparedness.

There have been numerous examples in recent years of the need for installation resiliency and contingency preparedness due to severe weather, sea rise, wildfires and other environmental incidents.

 

Flooding Missouri River waters covered a large portion of the airfield at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in March 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sergeant Rachelle Blake)

Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska suffered disastrous flooding in 2019 that damaged a third of the base. Hurricane Michael caused billions of dollars in damage at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base in 2018. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in coastal North Carolina sustained billions more in damages to housing, information technology (IT) and sewage systems from another 2018 storm, Hurricane Florence.  Military bases like Guam in the Pacific are vulnerable to rising seas due to melting Arctic sea ice.

A Defense Department-funded report released in April indicated that increased natural disasters, high levels of rainfall and coastal erosion pose serious problems for the largest Marine Corps training facility on the East Coast, the iconic Parris Island recruit training depot in South Carolina, Military.com reported in late May. The growing effects of climate change has the Marines considering moving some of its bases, including Parris Island, to other locations.

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ALTERNATIVE FUEL and ENERGY

Marine Base, First to Hit Net Zero

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia is the first Defense Department installation to achieve Net Zero status.

Net Zero is defined as the production of as much electricity from renewable “green” energy sources as a facility consumes from its utility provider and is measured over the course of the year.

On average, MCLB Albany’s consumption peak is 4-6 megawatts of electricity in winter and 8-11 megawatts in the summer. The power consumption difference by season is why NET Zero is measured over the course of a year.

The base has two landfill gas generators that produce 4 megawatts. The biomass steam turbine generator located at the nearby Procter & Gamble plant generates 8.5 megawatts of energy with the steam generated from burning biomass.

The base also has 27 diesel backup generators that generate a total of 7 MW of power.

(right) listen at ceremony recognizing Marine Corps Logistics Albany, Georgia as the first Defense Department installation to meet the “Net Zero” energy-efficiency milestone. (Photo by Jonathan Wright, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany)

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment Meredith Berger and Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger (no relation) participated in a ceremony celebrating the accomplishment on May 24, 2022.

“From the shores of Tripoli, to the seawall at Inchon, Marines have shown leadership and taken decisive action in the face of every challenge,” Assistant Secretary Berger said. “It is only natural then that the Marines should lead the way here in Albany on energy resilience.”

“Warfighting is always first and most important,” said General Berger. “The more resilient a base is, which is where we project our power from, the better warfighting organization we’re going to be and the more lethal we’re going to be.”

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Pentagon’s fuel prices rose $3Billion in FY22

A senior Defense Department official says spiking fuel prices will cost the Pentagon $3 billion more than expected in fiscal 2022, and that will force the Pentagon to ask Congress for more money.

At an April 27 House Budget Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s $773 billion Fiscal Year 2023 defense budget request, Comptroller Mike McCord said fuel will cost $1.8 billion more than expected for the rest of the year.

Congress added $1.5 billion for increased fuel costs in the budget signed into law in March.

“Fuel is our most volatile and easily recognizable price increase when prices changed,” McCord told the Budget panel, Defense News reported. “Largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we estimate a bill of $1.8 billion for the rest of this year, so over $3 billion across the course of this fiscal year,” he said.

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ONR Global and Royal Air Force Conduct First Synthetic-Fueled Drone Flight

In February 2022, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global and Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) conducted the first-ever drone flight using synthetic kerosene.

Performed in partnership with British company C3 Biotechnologies Ltd, the initial trial created 15 liters (four gallons) of synthetic fuel in laboratory conditions. This allowed the four-meter, fixed-wing drone to complete a 20-minute test flight in South West England, providing valuable data indicating the fuel performs consistently to a high standard.

“The U.S. Navy is committed to finding innovative solutions to operational challenges, and the ability to manufacture this fuel without large infrastructure requirements would be groundbreaking for deployed forces,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Lorin C. Selby.

This technology provides a viable solution today and leverages the nascent bio-manufacturing industry to create sustainable, secure and environmentally friendly products resilient to commercial market forces and geopolitical uncertainty, according to the Naval Research Office.

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PLANET A is a new, occasional posting on climate change and the global impact it is having national security and the U.S. military. The name is derived from activists who warn that climate change is an urgent threat to the world because there is no Plan B to fix it — nor a Planet B to escape to.

June 12, 2022 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Rethinking the MQ-9 Reaper; Drone Attack on Iraqi PM

DEFENSE.

Reaper Madness

 

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at sunset at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, November 20, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Rio Rosado)

An aerospace analyst at a Washington area think tank has come up with a list of missions to keep the MQ-9 Reaper, a surveillance and attack drone, flying — even though the U.S. Air Force wants to retire the venerable unmanned aircraft.

The Air Force is feeling pressure from two directions. On the one hand, it needs to fund a lot of new aircraft like the B-21 long range strike bomber and the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker, to deal with the rising threat of great power competitors Russia and China.

On the other hand, the Air Force budget is already tight and expected to get tighter. So, to come up with some money to fund expensive modernization programs, Air Force planners consider retiring legacy aircraft they believe cannot survive in a high-end fight, like the General Atomics intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting drone.

But retired Air Force Major General Lawrence Stutzriem, of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, says the Reaper — sought for numerous assignments by U.S. combatant commands like AFRICOM and NORTHCOM, still has a lot it can do. Rather than send its entire 280-Reaper fleet to the boneyard by 2035, the Air Force should upgrade it for a list of new missions like air and missile defense, and communications relays, Stutzriem writes in a paper “Reimagining the MQ-9 Reaper.”

Some of those like maintaining maritime domain awareness in the Arctic, already pose a challenge for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, your 4GWAQR editor writes in an article for the SEAPOWER website.

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Drone Attack on Iraq Leader.

The committee investigating the November 7 attempt to kill Iraq’s prime minister, has released video footage of the incident, but has yet to identify the attackers.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi escaped the attack on his Baghdad home unhurt.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Three people believed to be associated with the attack were reportedly arrested, although details of the arrests and the suspects’ identities have not been disclosed, according to al Jazeera.

National security adviser Qasim al-Araji told a November 29 news conference that the committee has not accused any specific person or entity but called for collaboration among different parties to further the investigation.

The drone attack targeted al-Kadhimi’s house inside the fortified Green Zone and came at a politically sensitive time. A government is in the process of being formed following the parliamentary elections.

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INDUSTRY.

Egyptian Drones.

Two locally produced drones made their debut at the Egypt Defence Expo last week.

The Nut drone — named for the ancient Egyptian goddess of the sky, was co-produced by the Arab Organization for Industrialization and the Military Technical College. It can perform tactical reconnaissance missions during the day and night using electro-optical technology, according to Defense News.

The Nut has a maximum mission payload of 50 kilograms and an endurance of 10 hours.

Also on display was the EJune-30 SW drone. Made by Industrial Complex Engineering Robots in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Military Production, it is 8.9 meters long with a wingspan of 12 meters. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,400 kilograms, a maximum speed of 260 kph, an endurance of 24 hours, and a maximum operating altitude of 7,000 meters.

EDEX 2021 ran from November 29 to December 2 with pavilions from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, the United States and South Korea.

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AeroVironment DoD Contract.

The Puma 3 AE and Wasp AE systems combine hand-launch capabilities with a deep-stall landing for operations in confined areas on land or water. (Image: AeroVironment, Inc.)

Multi-domain robotic systems-maker AeroVironment announced December 1 it received a $4,151,320 firm-fixed-price U.S. Defense Department Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract award to provide Puma 3 AE and Wasp AE small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to an unidentified allied nation. The contract includes initial spares packages, training and support. Delivery is anticipated by September 2022.

December 2, 2021 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

ARCTIC NATION: B-2 Bombers in Iceland: Chinese Warships Near Alaska; MQ-9 tested Over Canadian Arctic

Stealth Bombers.

U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers have ended a two-and-a-half-weeks deployment in Iceland, operating from Keflavik Air Base, where they trained with U.S., British and Norwegian fighter jets. The first-of-its-kind deployment reflects the U.S. military’s increased focus on the High North, according to Business Insider.

Three B-2s from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri arrived at Keflavik on August 23 for a Bomber Task Force deployment. For the bombers that has meant more short-term deployments overseas or non-stop flights to and from distant regions for training.

Three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, arrive at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, August 23, 2021. The stealth bombers took part in their first ever forward operation out of Iceland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Hommel)

The B-2s trained with U.S. and British fighter jets over the North Sea in late August and early September. On September 8 they trained with Norwegian F-35s over the North Sea in an “advanced mission designed to test escort procedures, stand-off weapon employment and the suppression and destruction of air defenses,” according to the Air Force.

The bombers returned to Missouri on September 11, after conducting more than a dozen multinational missions.

In a September 20 statement, the Air Force said Keflavik Air Base had served as a new launch point for short-notice bomber task force missions to Europe.

In 2019, the B-2 completed a stop-and-go “hot pit” refueling at Keflavik, but “this is the first time the B-2 has operated continuously from Iceland,” Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Howard, the commander of the 110th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, said in a statement.

The U.S. military has invested millions of dollars to improve infrastructure at Keflavik, which was prominent in allied operations during the Cold War but faded in importance in subsequent years, according to the Stars and Stripes website.

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USCG Encounters Chinese Warships Near Alaska.

The People’s Republic of China is located more than a thousand miles from the Arctic but Beijing like to style itself a “Near Arctic Nation.”

Just how seriously China takes its interests at the top of the world came into focus in August w hen two U.S. Coast Guard cutters observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.

While the PLAN ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters, according to SEAPOWER. The PLAN task force included a guided-missile cruiser, a guided-missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel. The Chinese vessels conducted military and surveillance operations during their deployment to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

The encounter came during a deployment of the national security cutters, Bertholf and Kimball, to the Bering Sea and the Arctic region.

“Security in the Bering Sea and the Arctic is homeland security,” said Vice Admiral Michael McAllister, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “The U.S. Coast Guard is continuously present in this important region to uphold American interests and protect U.S. economic prosperity.”

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Big Drone Over Canada.

In a flight that originated from its Flight Test and Training Center (FTTC) near Grand Forks, North Dakota, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew a company-owned MQ-9A “Big Wing” configured unmanned aircraft system north through Canadian airspace past the 78th parallel, the company said September 10.

Long endurance drones like the MQ-9 have been unable to operate at extreme northern (and southern) latitudes, because many legacy SATCOM datalinks can become less reliable above the Arctic (or below the Antarctic) Circle – approximately 66 degrees north, SEAPOWER reported.

At those latitudes, the low-look angle to geostationary Ku-band satellites begins to compromise the link. GA-ASI has demonstrated a new capability for effective ISR operations by performing a loiter at 78.31° North, using Inmarsat’s L-band Airborne ISR Service (LAISR).

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ MQ-9A “Big Wing” Unmanned Aerial System flew in the hostile climate of the Canadian Arctic. (General Atomics photo)

The flight over Haig-Thomas Island, in the Canadian Arctic, demonstrated the UAS’s flexibility by operating at very high latitudes. The flight, which took off on Sept. 7 and returned to the FTTC on Sept. 8, was conducted with cooperation from the Federal Aviation Administration, Transport Canada and Nav Canada.

Covering 4,550 miles in 25.5 hours, it was one of the longest-range flights ever flown by a company MQ-9. The flight was performed under an FAA Special Airworthiness Certificate and a Transport Canada Special Flight Operations Certificate.

As global warming melts Arctic Ocean ice pack, leaving more open water for transit by Chinese and Russian ships, Washington is looking for new ways to keep an eye on the frigid region. One possibility: unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that keep watch from above, the Flight Global website observed.

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Nuclear submatine USS Toledo (SSN-769) in the Arctic Ocean 2020. (U.S. Navy Photo by MC1 Michael B. Zingaro)

ARCTIC NATION is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military and environmental developments in the Far North. The 2013 U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region described the United States as “an Arctic Nation with broad and fundamental interests” in the region. “Those interests include national security protecting the environment, responsibly managing resources, considering the needs of indigenous communities, support for scientific research, and strengthening international cooperation.”

September 23, 2021 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

BALTIC 2 BLACK: Black Sea Exercise Ends; Poland buying Abrams tanks; Norway-German submarine deal

From the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, Russia’s Neighbors Are Nervous

In recent years, Baltic and Nordic nations have been rattled by Russia’s antagonistic behavior. There have been numerous reports of Russia probing Nordic defenses, from an underwater vehicle  entering Swedish waters, to Russian bomber flights violating Swedish and Finnish airspace. Estonia was hit by a massive cyber attack, believed to be Russian in origin, in 2007. Concerns about a resurgent Russia have grown in the Black Sea region since Russia attacked neighboring Georgia in 2008, seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has supported Ukrainian separatists fighting a bloody hybrid war in eastern Ukraine since 2018.

While the United States and its allies have imposed sanctions on Russia, the U.S. military has been upping its presence in the Baltic and Black seas — as well as the Barrents Sea in the Arctic — to deter Russian belligerence.

Sea Breeze 21, “Who’s Provoking Whom?

Sounding like a script from a Cold War era newscast, the United States and its allies accuse Russia of dangerous aggressive behavior during a recent multinational training exercise in the contested waters of the Black Sea.

Noting that Russian aircraft overflew U.S. Navy ships at dangerously low altitudes during the recently ended Exercise Sea Breeze 21, Admiral Robert Burke said the Russians were creating a tactical risk that could morph into a strategic issue. “And that’s a big concern with this increasing aggressiveness,” Burke said, adding “We’re not going to flinch and we’re not going to take the bait.”

The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross sails in formation during Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in the Black Sea on July 9, 2021.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Damon Grosvenor))

Burke, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Africa, said the latest bad behavior underscores Moscow’s increasingly provocative actions in the air and at sea, SEAPOWER reported in an article by your 4GWAR editor.

Russia’s embassy in Washington called for the exercises to be cancelled, and the Russian defense ministry said it would react to protect its own national security, Al Jazeera reported on June 28, the day Sea Breeze 21 began.

Upping the ante, Russian warplanes later practiced bombing simulations of enemy ships in the Black Sea during the U.S.-Ukrainian exercises, as the friction grew following an earlier incident with a British warship.

For nearly a decade, a resurgent Russia has mounted a huge military buildup in the North Atlantic, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Arctic and the Black Sea. “They want to be in control of those waters, for their own exclusive use,” Burke said, adding “We can’t cede that to the Russians.”

When officials notified Russian authorities about their plans three weeks before Sea Breeze 21 began, Moscow reacted by closing off half of the western part of the Black Sea and announcing their own ship bombing exercise. “If it wasn’t so threatening, it would be laughable,” Burke told a live-streamed edition of the United States Navy Memorial’s SITREP speakers series July 20.

(Black Sea region map Norman Einstein via wikipedia)

Sea Breeze, a long-standing exercise in the Black Sea to enhance interoperability and capability among participating forces in the region, has grown from eight participants in 1997 to 32 this year. The 2021 exercise included 5,000 personnel, 30 ships and 40 aircraft supplied by 17 NATO members, U.S. allies like Australia, and partner nations like Sweden and Senegal.

The admiral praised U.S. and allied commanders for their restraint. “When a strike aircraft overflies a destroyer at 100 feet altitude, right over top, our COs are making a judgment call of whether that strike fighter is on an attack profile or not,” Burke said. “It could be argued that they’re baiting us into shooting first. We’re not going to do that first without provocation, but I’m also not going to ask my commanding officers to take the first shot on the chin,” he added without elaboration.

A Marine, assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment  2d Marine Division, cuts through barbed wire during Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in Oleshky Sands, Ukraine on July 2, 2021.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trey Fowler)

In June, Russia said one of its warships fired warning shots and an aircraft dropped bombs near Britain’s Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Defender, to force it away from territorial waters, claimed by Russia, near Crimea — which Moscow seized in 2014. Russia denounced the Defender’s maneuver as a provocation and warned that the next time it might fire to hit intruding warships, according to the Associated Press.

The Royal Navy insisted the Defender wasn’t fired upon on and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters when Russia sent its planes into the air and shots were heard during the showdown.

*** *** ***

Poland Buying M1 Abrams tanks

Poland’s defense minister announced July 14 that the NATO member will buy 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks from the United States, confirming previous reports of a planned acquistion, according to Defense News.

The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is an upgrade to the U.S. Army’s current main battle tank. The upgrade was designed to defeat or suppress enemy tanks, reconnaissance vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, anti-tank guns, guided missile launchers (ground and vehicle mounted), bunkers, dismounted infantry and helicopters.

A soldier provides ground guidance for an M1A2 SEP V2 Abrams Tank at Ware Range, Fort Benning, Georgia on July 20, 2021. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sergeant Austin Berner)

The announcement came just two months after Polish defense leaders said they were buying 24 armed drones from fellow NATO member Turkey.

The U.S. and allies in NATO have made reinforcing Poland and the nearby Baltic states a focal point since Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Since then, U.S. tanks from units rotating overseas have been a consistent presence in Poland, according to the Stars and Stripes website.

Baltic Region (Map: CIA World Factbook)

*** *** ***

Norwegian-German Submarine Deal.

The military procurement agencies of Germany and Norway have reached an industrial agreement to buy new, common submarines from Germany’s Thyssekrupp Marine Systems, the Norwegian government announced July 8, 2021.

The identical submarines will be delivered starting in 2029, with operational service expected to last into the 2060s. The agreement on industrial cooperation will help open up the German market to the Norwegian defense industry, according to the announcement. A ceremony in Kiel, Germany this Fall will include the unveiling of a model of the new, common of the 212CD class submarines.

Norway will order four submarines from Thyssenkrupp for 45 billion crowns ($5.3 billion), while Germany will purchase another two, the defense ministries of both countries, said, Reuters reported.

As part of the deal, Norway and Germany also agreed to buy missiles jointly, and to finance the development of a new type of naval strike missile from Norway’s Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace.

In 2017, Norway and Germany, both NATO members, agreed in principle to build the submarines as part of a closer cooperation of their navies.

July 29, 2021 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Counter Drone attacks in Iraq; Turkish UGV competition;

DEFENSE.

Drone Shot Down Near U.S. Embassy

An armed drone was shot down above the American embassy in Baghdad on July 5, just hours after a rocket attack on a base housing U.S. soldiers in the west of the country.

According to Agence France Presse reporters, U.S. defense systems fired rockets, taking down a drone laden with explosives.

The system was a counter-rocket, artillery and mortar system, known as C-RAM, said Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, a military spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. Footage shared online overnight showed the system’s familiar stream of red tracers and exploding rounds arcing over part of Baghdad., the Stars and Stripes website reported.

Soldiers with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery, from Fort Campbell, Ky., participate in a Counter — Rocket, Artillery and Mortar live-fire exercise, May 26, 2013, at Thompson Hill Range at Fort Sill, Okla. . (Photo: U.S. Army)

The systems can defend against unmanned aerial vehicles, but the cheap drones also can be flown to evade C-RAM fire. This has led to their adoption by Iran-backed militias that mount sporadic harassing attacks, sometimes with deadly effect, in an effort to oust U.S. forces deployed to Iraq to help battle the Islamic State group.

Since the start of the year, 47 attacks have targeted U.S. interests in the country, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.  Six of those attacks involved armed drones., according to AFP.

In April, a drone packed with explosives struck the coalition’s Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital. The next month, a drone packed with explosives hit the Ain Al-Asad airbase housing U.S. troops. On June 9, three explosives-laden drones targeted Baghdad airport, where US soldiers are also deployed. One was intercepted by the Iraqi army.

The attacks come as tension is on the rise between U.S. troops and Iran-backed fighters as Baghdad and Washington negotiate a timeline for foreign troop withdrawal from Iraq, according to the Associated Press. (via Stars and Stripes). Recently, the attacks have become more sophisticated, with militants using drones.

Late last month, U.S. warplanes hit facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups which the Pentagon said support drone strikes inside Iraq. Four Iraqi fighters were killed in the June 27 airstrikes, according to the AP.

“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a June 27 statement, reported by Military Times. “The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

*** *** ***

Turkey’s Military UGV Search

Four unmanned ground vehicles are competing to enter service with Turkey’s military under the force’s medium-class UGV project, Defense News reports.

Turkey’s largest defense company, Aselsan, is participating in the competition with its Aslan UGV, while Havelsan is pitching its Barkan; Best Group is offering its Fedai; and Elektroland Defence is proposing its Hancer. All four UGVs are fitted with Aselsan’s SARP remote-controlled weapon system. To see photos of the vehicles and see the full story, click here.

According to a statement released by Turkey’s top defense procurement official, the indigenously produced UGVs have reached the final phase of the competition. The finalists carried out firing tests with their 7.62mm guns, and the contest is scheduled to conclude next month.

“We are determined to show our experience and success in unmanned systems in the air vehicles as well in the naval and land vehicles. Our prototype racing activities, which we started within the framework of our Medium Class 1st Level Unmanned Ground Vehicle Project, carry on.” Demir tweeted June 27.

*** *** ***

More from Turkey

Turkey’s first indigenous unmanned combat surface vessel, the ULAQ, conducted its first live-fire trial during a massive naval exercise in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, that ended June 6.

The ULAQ, Turkey’s first combat unmanned surface vessel. (Courtesy Turkey)

The combat USV’s live-fire trial was not part of the training exercise, Denizkurdu, which involved 132 surface vessels, 10 submarines, 43 winged aircraft, 28 helicopters and 14 drones, Defense News reported.

Developed by Turkish defense companies Ares Shipyard and Meteksan Defence, ULAQ was launched in January and completed sea trials in April. During the live-fire trials, conducted as the last phase of acceptance tests for the Navy, it launched a laser-guided Cirit missile twice.  The first one involved telemetry, and the second used a real warhead hitting its target in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ULAQ was controlled from a mobile coastal control station and illuminated the target with a laser designator before firing.

*** *** ***

ENVIRONMENT

Saildrone is set to conduct an Arctic research mission — for the seventh consecutive year — with its autonomous unmanned surface vessels (USVs) powered by wind and sun, SEAPOWER magazine reports.

Saildrone’s arctic fleet ready to deploy in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (Courtesy Saildrone)

The company is conducting the missions with six of its smallest USV, the 23-foot-long Explorer. The six USVs are being launched from Dutch Harbor, a port in the Aleutian Islands. Four of the USVs will collect data in the Bering Sea and two others will collect data in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic Ocean.

The voyages are being conducted to collect atmospheric, oceanographic and bathymetric data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. The sensors on board the Saildrones will be collecting data on carbon dioxide dissolved in the water; bathymetry; climate and weather — including heat, radiation, carbon and atmospheric variables; wind speed and direction; and radiation and temperatures.

For maritime domain awareness, the Explorers also are fitted with 360-degree cameras that record visual information 24/7 using machine learning algorithms to spot anomalies, such as a passing vessel, imaging every five seconds.

*** *** ***

INDUSTRY

Autonomous Ground Effect Vessels

Flying Ship Technologies Corp. has signed a $100 million sales agreement with a European customer for the purchase of wing-in-ground-effect maritime vessels, according to the SEAPOWER website.

Flying Ship Technologies is developing autonomous ground effect vessels that fly just over the water, which the company says are: Ten times faster than boats, a quarter of the cost to maintain and operate compared to planes; provide tens of thousands of additional coastal access points, and are dramatically cleaner for the environment.

“These vessels will provide fast, low-cost delivery to a wide range of coastal locations around continental Europe and the surrounding islands. Flying Ships will improve the quality of life for consumers by enhancing existing trade routes and opening new routes to deliver fresh foods, medical supplies, and e-commerce, while being carbon-neutral and a fraction of the cost of air freight,” Flying Ship CEO Bill Peterson said in a July 8 statement.

July 8, 2021 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: Navy and Marine Corps Unmanned Vision; Mixed Manned, Unmanned Naval Exercise

DEFENSE.

Navy, Marines’ Unmanned Vision.

The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft, one of several unmanned systems Navy leaders say help extend the reach and capabilities of the fleet. (U.S. AIR FORCE photo by Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr).

The top commanders of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps say the increased deployment of unmanned air and maritime systems will help extend the reach and intelligence capabilities of the Fleet and the Force.

It could also sow uncertainty among peer competitors, like China and Russia, according to SEAPOWER magazine.

The Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday told a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing that in the future, the Navy will field the Fleet in a distributed manner. And that, he said, “will allow us to come at — let’s say China or Russia — at many vectors across many domains.” In other words, the increased number of ships — some with a crew and some being controlled remotely or running autonomously — would force adversaries to spread their resources and be on guard everywhere, all the time.

When the Navy and Marine Corps released their Unmanned Campaign Plan in March, some in Congress said it was light on details. At the June 14 Armed Services hearing, Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington) asked Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger to explain how unmanned systems will help them perform their mission.

With unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Berger said, the the Marines expect help with intelligence collection, logistics and and command and control, in short, he said the ability to move information laterally within Marine units and back to the Joint Force commander.

The Marines are transitioning to a mixed capability of long-range ship and ground-based unmanned aerial systems (UAS) including the MQ-9 Reaper, (see photo above). “This will significantly expand our ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities and will enable us to better support the Fleet and the joint force operational commander, including anti-submarine warfare.”

Gilday noted that the Navy had recently completed its largest unmanned exercise on the West Coast, with unmanned undersea, surface and air systems operating with manned surface ships. The Navy also had the first successful refueling of an F/A-18 Super Hornet from an MQ-25 drone. The Navy also saw the third voyage of more than 4,000-miles — from the Gulf Coast, through the Panama Canal to California — by an unmanned surface vessel operating autonomously 98 percent of the time.

To read the whole story, click here.

*** *** ***

After Action Report.

Speaking of that big West Coast exercise with both manned and unmanned vessels and aircraft, the Navy has concluded its after-action review, according to the Office of Naval Research.

Led by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21 (IBP21), was held from April 19-26 in San Diego, California.

During IBP21, numerous multi-domain unmanned platforms — including unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles (UAVs, USVs and UUVs) — were put into real-world, “blue-water” environments, working in sync with manned platforms in actual combat drills designed to support Pacific Fleet objectives in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Large-scale exercises such as IBP21 are critical for the Navy and Marine Corps to make the transition to a hybrid manned-unmanned force in the future,” the Chief of Naval Research, Rear Admiral Lorin Selby said. “These demonstrations ensure what works in theory will work in the fleet—in an environment that is messier, dirtier and wetter than a lab. They also allow us to get valuable feedback from the Sailors and Marines themselves,” he added.

The purpose of IBP21 was to explore a variety of questions about how unmanned systems can be incorporated into fleet operations. For example: How can unmanned and manned systems work together effectively in diverse warfighting scenarios? How can you integrate unmanned systems seamlessly into existing platforms? What is the best way to train Sailors and Marines to use such complex, evolving technologies?

So far, according to SEAPOWER, major takeaways from IBP21 include:

Unmanned systems are resilient, enable better beyond-line-of-sight targeting, and improve battlespace awareness and command and control.

They also provide significant advantages in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) and Targeting and Fires capabilities, without creating additional risks to the mission or warfighters. The result—more effective offensive and defensive postures.

*** *** ***

INDUSTRY

From General Atomics

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. completed initial flight tests of a new brushless generator system in May on a company-owned Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

The tests at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizonna, mark an important milestone towards upgrading the GE-ER fleet with generators that will significantly improve reliability and dramatically reduce platform sustainment costs. The new generator also provides electrical power to support expanding mission scenarios for the UAS.

The new generator performed aircraft ground and flight tests for over 44 hours testing up to maximum electrical power output across the full GE-ER flight envelope and at engine power levels from idle up to maximum rated thrust.

The brushless generator is designed as a drop-in replacement for the current alternator to help make the upgrade seamless for maintainers in the field. The brushless design eliminates scheduled depot service for brush replacement every 300 hours on the current alternator, reducing depot, shipping, and spare inventory costs. The new generator system can provide up to 14 kilowatts of power – more than a 50 percent increase over current system – and provide up to 10 kilowatts for sensors and payloads required for flight in a Multi-Domain Operations environment.

***

From Schiebel

Austrian drone manufactuer, Schiebel, says the Finnish Border Guard is once again operating its CAMCOPTER S-100 for icoast guard functions in the Baltic Sea.

The Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) service is offered by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
Based at a coast guard station in Hanko, Finland, the CAMCOPTER S-100 is carrying out Coast Guard functions, such as
maritime border surveillance, search and rescue, monitoring and surveillance, ship and port security, vessel traffic monitoring, environmental protection and response, ship casualty assistance — as well as accident and disaster response.

Information collected in the Baltic Sea from the on-board RPAS system is shared with multiple Member States, allowing for a common maritime picture and more comprehensive coordination. The operations will continue until end of July.

Two other CAMCOPTER S-100 operations for EMSA are being carried out in Estonia and Romania for maritime surveillance.

June 24, 2021 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

ROBOTS, DROIDS & DRONES: AeroVironment Moves East; First In-Flight Drone Refueling of Fighter Jet

Leaving California.

California-based drone and robotic system-maker AeroVironment, is moving its base — East to Arlington, Virginia.

Aerovironment, which manufactures the Puma, Raven and Wasp small, hand-launched  unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) for the U.S. and other militaries, announced the move June 15. AeroVironment also makes the loitering munition, Switchblade, also known as a kamikaze drone.

A Marine launches a Puma UAV by hand in Afghanistan. (Photo by Sergeant Bobby J. Yarbrough)

“The greater Washington D.C. area is where many of our key customers are located and expanding our presence in the region will further our access to decision makers, influencers and talent,” said Wahid Nawabi, AeroVironment’s president and CEO.

“Our recent acquisition of Progeny Systems ISG and our new Artificial Intelligence Innovation Center expand our footprint near the Beltway and build on our momentum as we continue to grow our portfolio and global scope. We look forward to growing our Washington, D.C., presence and continuing to serve our customers with solutions that help them proceed with certainty.”

*** *** ***

Making History.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made aviation history on June 4 with a successful air-to-air refueling of another aircraft. Boeing’s MQ-25 Demonstrator, T1, refueled a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter, a major step in the MQ-25A Stingray’s journey to become the Navy’s carrier-based aerial refueler, according to Seapower magazine.

The MQ-25 T1 test asset refuels the Navy F/A-18 during a flight June 4 at MidAmerica Airport in Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

Boeing’s T1 and the F/A-18F  were flown by a crew from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23. The two aircraft joined up and the MQ-25 passed a total of 325 gallons of fuel to the Super Hornet in two separate refueling events.

The MQ-25 carried a Cobham-built refueling store with a drogue refueling hose, the same type currently used in the fleet by Super Hornets. The Navy plans to use the MQ-25 in the refueling role to free more Super Hornets for the combat operations they were designed to perform.

*** *** ***

Testing Gremlins

The Defense Department, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and industry partners will hold the next demonstration of the drone swarming concept this fall, Military.com reports.

At an event hosted by Defense News, the deputy commander of Air Mobility Command, Lieutenant General Brian Robinson said revealed the next test for the program, known as Gremlins, will occur in the October to November timeframe.

In concert with Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos, Kratos Defense and DARPA, have been working on the project, in which controlled drones are dropped out of cargo planes — such as the C-130 Hercules — to swarm enemy defenses ahead of fighters, ships or ground vehicles.

For more on this topic, click here.

*** *** ***

Skyborg AI Test

Earlier this Spring, the U.S. Air Force flew an artificial intelligence (AI) system onboard a subsonic autonomous drone for the first time.

The Skyborg autonomy core system, or ACS, was loaded into a Kratos UTAP-22 “Mako” drone for a 130-minute flight test at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, on April 29, the Air Force announced. The Skyborg ACS conducted a basic flight and “responded to navigational commands while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering,” the May 5 news release stated.

Skyborg is one of three initiatives under the service’s Vanguard Program for rapid prototyping and development of new technologies it can leverage for multiple operations, according to the Military.com website. The goal is for drones loaded with the Skyborg network to fly alongside manned fighters, so the machine can learn how to maneuver and even train with the pilot.

Follow-on test events will include manned-unmanned teaming with the Skyborg ACS-controlled system, according to the Air Force. To read more, click here.

June 17, 2021 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

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

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.

*** *** ***

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.

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

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