Posts filed under ‘Unmanned Systems’

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: First Afghan Drone; U.S. Navy Foreign Sales Plan; China Drones in Africa

Afghan Scan Eagle.

ScanEagle

The Afghan military could be flying its first unarmed surveillance drone as early as March, according to a U.S. commander in Kabul, Reuters reports.

The NATO-led military alliance will provide the remotely piloted Insitu ScanEagle aircraft, and will train Afghan soldiers to operate the system, said Major General Gordon Davis, commander of the unit that procures new equipment for the Afghans, Reuters said.

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Navy Plans Foreign Sales.

Insitu’s RQ-21 Blackjack drone, now being flown by the Marine Corps, is among the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) the U.S. Navy says it will offer for foreign sales.

Reporting from the Singapore Air Show, Defense News, says the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout, a small unmanned helicopter, and Northrop Grumman’s high flying MQ-4C Triton, a large-scale maritime surveillance aircraft, will be among the UAS available to foreign military customers.

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Nigerian Drones from China?

For African governments facing tight defense budgets and chronic security threats, Chinese military equipment has great appeal, particularly as it often comes as part of a broader package of trade and investment, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

Ten African nations have started buying equipment from China within the last 10 years, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Angola and Nigeria.

And armed drones may be among the military equipment Nigeria is buying. In January 2015, photos of an armed drone that had crashed in a field in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno found their way onto the Internet. A second crash was reported in June. The drone was identified as a CH-3, an armed version of earlier drones built by China Aerospace Science and Technology, a vast state-owned enterprise employing more than 170,000 people.

February 18, 2016 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Defending Against Small Drone Threat

Drone Killers.

Small drones, often commercially available, are a growing concern to military forces and security operations, according to a recent story in Aviation Week & Space Technology (subscription required).

The November 6 piece by David Eschel, writing from Tel Aviv (with some assistance from your 4GWAR Editor), notes that defense contractors and research institutes are rushing to offer technologies to counter the threat from little, inexpensive unmanned aircraft that are easy to make, simple to fly and hard to detect. Israel has become a leader in developing counter drone methods and systems — as small unmanned aircraft from Syria, Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere have tried to penetrate Israeli airspace.

U.S. companies like Lockheed Martin have developed non-kinetic ways to combat unmanned aerial system threats. ICARUS, Lockheed Martin’s counter drone system combines multi-spectral sensor technology with advanced cyber electromagnetic technology to detect, intercept and defeat small drones that can evade most standard radar systems.

Another, man-portable drone-jamming device developed has been developed by Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle. DroneDefender is designed to thwart intrusions into restricted areas by small off-the-shelf unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) often too small to spot on radar, like the quadcopter that crashed into a tree on the South Lawn of the White House last January.

The Battelle counter drone system weighs less than 10 pounds and can be mounted on any firearm equipped with a Picatinny rail for attaching accessories like a rifle scope. The device Battelle used in a demonstration video looks like an assault rifle with a radio antenna for a barrel and a Dustbuster (handheld vacuum cleaner) attached below.

Both ICARUS and DroneDefender debuted at this year’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) expo in Washington. DroneDefender uses and radio control frequency disruption technologies to stop unmanned UAVs in midair from a distance of 400 meters. Once an intruding drone is spotted, a guard equipped with the shoulder mounted device just has to aim, lock on and pull the trigger, launching the drone-capturing beam. The DroneDefender relies on visual identification rather than radar or video sensors Battelle said, to “make the man our detector and decision maker.”

Because of its portability, Battelle officials say DroneDefender provides instant threat mitigation by quickly disrupting the drone so no remote action, including detonation of an explosive device, can occur over sensitive areas.

Once it is neutralized in flight, the UAV will do one of three things depending on how it was programmed: drop to the ground; return to its operator or descend in a controlled manner. Since the disruption is not kinetic like a rifle or shotgun blast, it minimizes both drone damage and the risk to public safety – two capabilities long sought by police and security guards.

November 12, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

ARMY: Big Army Expo Opens This Week

Win in a Complex World.

Combat vehicles, communications and protective gear will all be on display at the AUSA 2015 conference and trade show. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

Combat vehicles, communications and protective gear will all be on display at the AUSA 2015 conference and trade show.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — All things Army — from ground combat vehicles, protective gear, unmanned vehicles, drones, sensors, small arms, strategy and tactics will be on display and under discussion at the Washington Convention Center this week as the Association of the U.S. Army holds its annual conference and exposition.

Among the speakers will be outgoing Army Secretary John McHugh and the new Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley. They will discuss the challenges facing today’s Army with the threat of more budget cuts and planned reductions in the size of the force.

Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology — she’s in charge of figuring out what the Army needs to buy or develop and whether and how much it will cost — is another anticipated speaker, as is General Dennis Via, commanding general of Army Materiel Command. Both of them will provide an update on Army modernization plans.

The theme of the conference is Winning in a Complex World and General David Perkins, commanding general of Army Training and Doctrine Command will discuss what that will take.

With conflicts, insurgencies and threats in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, East and West Africa as well as Asia, the U.S. military has said it will be increasingly leaning on partner nations and allies to help bear the burden of dealing with crises around the world.

And foreign militaries and defense contractors will have a big presence at the already huge expo. There will be 62 countries represented at the event, including eight international pavilions on the exhibit hall floor, according to retired Lieutenant General Roger Thompson, AUSA’s vice president for membership and meeting. Turkey will have the largest pavilion, he told the Defense News weekly military affairs broadcast Sunday.

Several U.S. contractors, including  Northrop Grumman and Oshkosh Defense, will be unveiling new ground vehicles. Northrop will be showing off its Hellhound prototype Light Reconnaissance Vehicle and Oshkosh Defense will unveil its MRAP 6-by-6 All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV). MRAP stands for mine resistant ambush protected, in other words an armored vehicle that can protect occupants from roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

October 12, 2015 at 12:22 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Robotic Transport/Supply Vehicles Deliver the Goods

By Land, Sea or Air.

The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter.
(Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

The military is exploring ways that unmanned systems, from helicopters to submarines, can be used to transport supplies in hostile or dangerous areas.

Last year, Lockheed Martin and Kaman’s unmanned K-MAX helicopter returned from nearly three years of transporting cargo for the Marine Corps in Afghanistan — the first unmanned helicopter to do so.

With their supply truck convoys frequent targets of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks, the Marines were looking for a safer alternative. K-MAX’s cargo transportation was able to take an estimated 900 trucks off the road and their drivers and escorts out of harm’s way.

But transporting supplies isn’t limited to unmanned aircraft. Manned ground vehicles–from small, rugged all-terrain vehicles to heavy cargo trucks are being converted into autonomously operating vehicles.

The same is true of the optionally manned Proteus, a dual mode underwater vehicle that can deliver special operations forces swimmers or their equipment and supplies to shore from a submerged submarine.

Battelle and Huntington Ingalls Industries' Proteus submersible is a dual mode underwater vehicle. The battery-powered 8,240-pound craft can transport up to 3,600 pounds of cargo autonomously from the dry deck shelter of a submarine to shore. (Photo courtesy Batelle)

Battelle and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Proteus submersible is a dual mode (manned/unmanned) underwater vehicle. The battery-powered 8,240-pound craft can transport up to 3,600 pounds of cargo autonomously from the dry deck shelter on a submarine to shore.
(Photo courtesy Battelle)

Originally developed by as a swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) for up to six Navy SEALS, Proteus, a massive 8,000-pound submersible, is now being leased by the Navy for testing as a dual mode vehicle that can operate as manned SDV or a cargo-carrying unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). “The idea of using it as an unmanned mule is very feasible,” says George Geoghegan, maritime systems manager for Battelle — which together with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries — owns and operates Proteus.

The almost 26-foot-long Proteus has 170 cubic feet of space in its cargo area and exterior side rails that can carry bulkier cargo, although the maximum total payload is limited to 1,100 pounds. Cargo will either have to be sealed in watertight packaging or be water resistant because the cabin is flooded when underway as part of its original mission: to allowing divers to enter and exit the vehicle while submerged. But that also means there’s more room for payload.

Powered by 20 lithium polymer batteries that weigh about 100 pounds each when underway, Proteus has a range of about 350 nautical miles at an energy-saving low speed of 3 knots, and a maximum speed of 9 knots fully-loaded, according to Geoghegan. Like an SDV, Proteus can be transported to a denied area in the dry deck shelter of a submarine. It can work at depths of 150 feet when manned, 200 feet unmanned.

Unmanned, the vessel can be pre-programmed to run underwater from point to point but it does not have obstacle avoidance capability. However, Geoghegan says that’s just another payload that can be added.

A Polaris xxxxxxx used in the GUSS autonomous squad vehicle study by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. (Photo courtesy of Polaris Defense)

A Polaris 6X6 used in the GUSS autonomous squad vehicle study by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.
(Photo courtesy of Polaris Defense)

Polaris Defense offers their entire line of rugged ground vehicles as capable of manned or unmanned operation. “We build our vehicles with the ability to be optionally unmanned. And it’s everything from tele-operated to fully unmanned,” said General Manager Rich Haddad, adding “we’re not an autonomy company. We’re agnostic about whose autonomy package goes on the vehicle.”

But the company has acquired a ground guidance software package called Primordial “that could easily morph into a mission planning type of capability. We are integrating that into our vehicle but it is not in itself an autonomy package,” Haddad said.

Polaris supplies a range of all terrain vehicles for elements of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Polaris supplied the ground vehicles that contestants were required to drive in DARPA’s Robotic Challenge to identify robots that could perform human tasks in disasters. And a Polaris 6×6 vehicle was converted by TORC Robotics into the autonomous and semi-autonomous Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) that is being studied by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab.

To read more on this topic, click here to see our story in Military Logistics Forum magazine’s September issue (pages 8-9).

October 6, 2015 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: UPDATE — Wallops Island Drone-port; Drone Business Report; Latin American UAS Market

UPDATES with link to Latin America drone market article in Unmanned Systems (see last item below)

Virginia Drone Port.

Courtesy Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Courtesy Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced today (August 6) that work will begin in the fall on a 3,000-foot runway for unmanned aircraft at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, on the state’s Eastern Shore, according to a Norfolk television report (WVEC).

Flight operations will begin in 2016, McAuliffe told a news conference at Old Dominion University, home of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority.

He also said an agreement has been reached to provide funding to complete the approximately $15 million in repairs to a launch pad damaged last year when a rocket exploded. The spaceport is one of only four facilities licensed by the federal government to launch rockets into orbit.

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The Drone Biz.

Aerial photography and land surveying are among the top uses of commercial unmanned aircraft technology that have been approved for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration, we learn from a report by the largest robotics industry group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

“Businesses across every industry sector have been waiting to use UAS for years and are excited to finally get this technology off the ground,” Brian Wynne, AUVSI’s president and CEO, said in statement.

The first 500 FAA exemptions to the current ban on commercial drone operations approved were examined by AUVSI and compiled in a report published just prior to the FAA’s announcement that the number of Section 333 exemptions it has granted hit 1,000 this week. For more details, see this article in the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald.

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Latin American Market.

Photo courtesy Aerialtronics.

Photo courtesy Aerialtronics.

Speaking of the drone business, your 4GWAR editor has a story on the Latin American market for unmanned aircraft in the August issue of Unmanned Systems, the AUVSI magazine.

“From Mexico’s Caribbean coast and the Amazon rainforest to the Argentine Pampas, unmanned aircraft are assessing hurricane damage, surveying timberland and monitoring crops and livestock for government agencies and big corporations.”

Now that August is over, you can see our entire story here.

August 7, 2015 at 12:34 am Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Think Tank Raises the Security Issue of Worldwide Drone Proliferation

A “Drone-Saturated World”.

Within a few years, military drones like this Air National Guard MQ1 Predator are expected to have plenty of company in the skies around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Paul Duquette)

Within a few years, military drones like this Air National Guard MQ1 Predator are expected to have plenty of company in the skies around the world.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Paul Duquette)

Industry is looking to use unmanned aircraft for a variety of commercial purposes — from monitoring crops and livestock to inspecting oil rigs and pipelines  — but a Washington think tank warns that the proliferation of drones poses a national security risk that government leaders must consider before the technology’s rapid development leaves them behind.

The Center for a New American Security this past week issued the first in a series of reports from its World of Proliferated Drones project, which recommends the U.S. government consider foreign policy and national security issues arising from “a drone saturated world” in the future.

The project, which plans a number of reports and war games “engaging international audiences” isn’t anti-drone. And it doesn’t raise the usual privacy or public safety arguments espoused by civil libertarians or pilots groups. Instead, it notes that thousands of drones are here now — mostly used by militaries around the world. But those numbers are going to skyrocket as the technology becomes available for more individuals, companies and industries.

“Over 90 countries and non-state actors operate drones today, including at least 30 that operate or are developing armed drones,” notes the 40-page report, A Technology Primer, adding” This global proliferation raises a number of challenging security issues.” For example: “Are states more willing to shoot down a spy drone since there is no one on board — and if they do, does that constitute an act of war?

"DJI Phantom 1 1530564a" by © Nevit Dilmen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DJI_Phantom_1_1530564a.jpg#/media/File:DJI_Phantom_1_1530564a.jpg

“DJI Phantom 1 1530564a” by © Nevit Dilmen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Small “hobbyist” drones, which can be purchased by anyone and flown without a license or formal training pose a small risk because of their limited payload and range capabilities although the recent incident of a small drone crash-landing on the White House grounds shows they are ubiquitous and hard to detect near even the most heavily-guarded site.

Of more concern are midsize military and commercial drones, which can fly farther, stay aloft longer and carry larger payloads. They are too complicated to operate and too expensive to acquire by most individuals or small groups but the report notes 87 countries from — military powers like the United States and China to small countries like Cyprus and Trinidad and Tobago — are operating  such systems — “and this number is likely to grow in the years to come.” And non-state entities like the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah have obtained midsize military-grade systems  already.

U.N. peacekeepers have deployed Falco Selex ES2 drones along the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo courtesy of Selex ES)

U.N. peacekeepers have deployed European-made Falco Selex ES2 drones in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(Photo courtesy of Selex ES)

Larger military drones that can carry bombs and missiles or highly sophisticated surveillance payloads are also proliferating but until they acquire stealth technology or electronic attack capabilities, the report says, they are vulnerable to advanced air defenses and manned fighter aircraft. So far, only U.S. drones have those capabilities but a number of countries including Russia, Israel, China, India, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Switzerland and Britain are working on their own stealth combat drones.

“Preventing the proliferation of armed drones is impossible — drones are hear to stay,” the CNAS report concludes. What that means for international security “is an open question,” it adds noting that the United States, which is the industry leader, “can help influence how drones are used and perceived by others.”

June 13, 2015 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: S. Korean Team Wins DARPA Robotic Challenge [UPDATE]

Why can’t a Robot be more like a Man?

South Korea's Team Kaist robot DRC-Hubo uses a tool to cut a hole in a wall during the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, June 5-6, 2015, in Pomona, Calif.  (DARPA photo)

South Korea’s Team KAIST robot, DRC-Hubo, uses a tool to cut a hole in a wall during the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, June 5-6, 2015, in Pomona, Calif.
(DARPA photo)

Updates with photos and more details.

A robotics team from South Korea has taken the top prize in a $3.5 million challenge conducted by the Defense Department’s think-outside-the-box research unit.

Team KAIST of Daejon, Republic of Korea, and its robot DRC-Hubo, took first place in the two-day competition that ended Saturday (June 6), as well as the top prize of $2 million.  Two American teams, from Florida and Pennsylvania took second and third place. More than 10,000 spectators turned out for the challenge at the former Los Angeles County Fairgrounds — now known as the Fairplex — in Pomona, California.

Sponsored by the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the DARPA Robotics Challenge brought 23 teams from six countries together for a two-day competition of robot systems capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. The idea, first promoted by DARPA in 2012, was a response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster the previous year following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Small, tracked robots were able to enter damaged nuclear facilities to monitor radioactivity and provide video of areas too dangerous for humans to enter. But those robots lacked the ability to shut down equipment, get around debris or climb stairs to upper levels in the facility.

Carnegie Mellon University's CHIMP robot (DARPA photo)

Carnegie Mellon University’s CHIMP robot opens a door.
(DARPA photo)

Your 4GWAR editor first wrote about the challenge for Unmanned Systems magazine in November 2012.

According to DARPA program manager and DRC organizer Gill Pratt, the challenge was designed to be extremely difficult. Participating teams had a very short time period to collaborate and develop the hardware, software, sensors, and human-machine control interfaces to enable their robots to complete a series of disaster response-related challenge tasks selected by DARPA. The tasks for each robot included: driving a vehicle alone for 100 meters; walking through rubble; tripping electrical circuit breakers; using a tool to cut a hole in a wall; turning valves and climbing stairs.

There were a dozen teams from the United States and 11 more from Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and China (Hong Kong).

South Korea's Team KAIST after winning the DARPA Robotics Challenge. DARPA photo)

South Korea’s Team KAIST claims their $2 Million prize after winning the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
(DARPA photo)

The winner, Team KAIST, is from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Their robot was called Hubo for humanoid robot. Coming in second, and winning a $1 million prize was Team IHMC Robotics of Pensacola, Florida. IHMC stands for the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition. Their robot was called Running Man. In third place, and earning a $500,000 prize was a team from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh — Team Tartan Rescue. Their robot was called CHIMP for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform.

All the competitors had to drive Polaris Industries’ limited edition DARPA Polaris Ranger XP900 and GEM electric vehicles for the the robot driving part of the DRC Finals.

Click on the photos to enlarge the image. To see more photos of the competition, click here.

To see videos of the DRC, including when Team KAIST won, click here.

June 11, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

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