Unmanned aerial vehicles | UAVs | Page 11 | World Defense

Unmanned aerial vehicles | UAVs

BATMAN

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Sixth generation fighters would be carrying swarms of drones and would guide /control them.
So most definitely drone is the next major war tool.
 

Zeeman

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I did not know that the Russians had shot down an American Reaper in Libya:


Record number of UAV shoot downs prompt new USAF tactics and countermeasure pod
After holding steady at a few instances per year, the number of suspected or confirmed downings of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) grew to 14 examples in 2019 and surged to 24 in the first six months of this year.

Highlighting a rising trend, episodes last year accounted for 61% of downings over the past five years, according to UAV crash data gathered by Drone Wars UK, an Oxford-based non-governmental organisation whose long-term goal is to realise an international ban on the use of armed drones, and supplemented with reporting by FlightGlobal. The crashes almost entirely appear over the Middle East, in particular active conflict zones in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
fint-7-7-20-uavs-lost-in-conflict-zones-2015-2019 (1) copy

The UAV crash data discussed here was sourced from official government accident reports, plus news articles and social media posts that featured pictures or videos of crashed aircraft. Because governments are reluctant to confirm successful downings, and since some combatants are eager to claim credit for crashes whatever their cause, the true number of UAVs brought down is difficult to know.
Nonetheless, there appears to be a clear trend. Increases in suspected or confirmed downings of UAVs coincide with the growing use of unmanned aircraft in the Middle East. The crashes also coincide with the proliferation of surface-to-air missiles in the region.
No air force can operate with impunity. “In Libya, Russian private military companies almost certainly downed a US unarmed, unmanned aircraft in November using a sophisticated Russian air-defence system,” said US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of US Africa Command, in written testimony to the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in March 2020.
MQ-9 Block 5 Shot from of aircraft - hi-res image

Source: US Air Force
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper
That UAV was a US Air Force (USAF) General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper. It was likely shot down by a Russian-made Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and gun battery, said USAF General Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces Africa, in February 2020.
During a Mitchell Institute press briefing on 29 June, Harrigian explained that the USAF had become too comfortable flying the MQ-9 over terrorists and insurgents that had no means to shoot it down: “Over time we developed some [tactics, techniques and procedures] that were probably a bit too predictable.”
In response, the service is changing the way it flies the MQ-9. Harrigian wants the UAV’s flight path to be more “unpredictable” and remote pilots better informed about where potential threats are located. That may mean being more selective about deployment, and better balancing the value of intelligence against the risk of collecting it.
The increase in the number of shoot-downs last year is already having an impact on the UAV manufacturing industry. General Atomics says it is developing the first self-protection pod purpose-built for its UAVs as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the US Special Operations Command. The countermeasure device would be compatible with the MQ-9 and the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, according to a source familiar with the effort.
“Upon completion of the initial prototype and aircraft compatibility testing, Special Operations Forces will evaluate the system’s efficacy in detecting and defeating various threats,” says General Atomics. “The self-protection pod is comprised of a full-complement of mature, fielded aircraft survivability equipment, which will provide full-spectrum protection for the aircraft.” Full-spectrum protection would include infrared countermeasures to confuse heat-seeking missiles or jamming to make it difficult for a missile to be radar guided to its target.
The development of a UAV countermeasures pod comes as the US Department of Defense is worried that its larger UAVs are vulnerable to integrated anti-aircraft defences fielded by China and Russia.
The USAF plans to make its last purchase of the MQ-9 in fiscal year 2020, according to its FY2021 budget request. In light of Iran’s shooting down a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk in June 2019, the service also wants to retire 21 of its 31 examples of that type, particularly older Block 20 and Block 30 variants.
And, the USAF on 3 June launched its search for a UAV to replace the MQ-9 starting in 2030.

NEW PLAYERS
For many years, UAVs capable of armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were predominately operated by three countries: the USA, Israel and the UK, says Drone Wars director Chris Cole. “But we think there are now at least 15 nations operating these systems,” he says.
In the Middle East, China and Turkey are two of the most prominent suppliers. The UAVs produced by these countries are significantly less expensive than those made in the USA. As such, operators of Chinese and Turkish-made aircraft seem more willing to use them assertively.
“Turkey has certainly become almost a superpower, using them not only within its own borders, but also in Syria, and in Libya, and in Iraq as well,” says Cole.
In fact, Turkish UAVs are increasingly showing up as burning heaps on different battlefields.
Data shows at least 14 Turkish-built unmanned aircraft have been brought down by hostile action since the beginning of 2020. A dozen of those Turkish UAVs shot down were the Baykar Bayraktar.
The most commonly used variant of the Bayraktar appears to be the TB2. Ankara has flown that UAV more than 200,000h since its introduction in 2014. And, manufacturer Baykar says it has delivered 110 examples of the TB2 to the Turkish armed forces.
Baykar Bayraktar TB2 c Baykar

Source: Baykar
Turkish-made Baykar Bayraktar TB2; 110 delivered since 2014
The TB2 has a payload of 150kg (331lb) and can carry up to four small laser-guided munitions under its wings. Flight endurance is up to 27h, and operational ceiling is 27,000ft.
However, the UAV is not out of the reach of the Russian-made Pantsir-S1, which is apparently to blame for many of the Bayraktar TB2 downings over Libya in 2020. In the Libyan civil war, Russian-backed mercenaries are operating several Pantsir-S1 systems in support of the Libyan National Army, while Turkey is using its armed UAVs to support the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
A Pantsir S-1 system can hit an aircraft at a maximum range of 10.8nm (20km) and altitude of 32,800ft, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Its pair of 30mm cannons can hit an aircraft 2.2nm away at an altitude of about 10,000ft.
Pantsir-S1

Source: Rosoboronexport
Pantsir-S1
It should be no problem for a Pantsir – or a number of other short-range air-defence systems – to hit a UAV, says Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. “Those drones are very slow, and easy to target once you see them,” he says.
In addition to the Bayraktar TB2s, nine Chinese-built UAVs, mostly Wing-Loong IIs made by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, are suspected or confirmed to have been shot down in Libya in 2020, according to the data. The United Arab Emirates had been operating Wing-Loong IIs in support of the GNA.
Similar scenarios are playing out in Syria and Yemen, where surface-to-air missiles supplied by Iran and Russia have claimed a significant number of downings.
With surface-to-air missiles claiming many UAVs, it is no surprise that they have increasingly drawn heavy fire, with reports claiming around two dozen Pantsir-S1 units destroyed recently by retaliatory airstrikes. But UAVs are vulnerable to many types of attacks, says Dan Gettinger, founder of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York. As an example, he cites the growing use of electronic warfare to bring down UAVs.
Ultimately, one lesson from the Middle East might be that UAVs should no longer be viewed as precious aircraft of an elite few. “I often think of Turkey as an example of what the next group of drone operating countries is going to look like. They’ve built their own industry and they rely on drones quite a lot,” Gettinger says. “I think the aggressive use of drones instead of manned aircraft in geopolitically sensitive and risky areas is probably what we’re going to see more of in future.”
Garrett Reim Garrett ReimGarrett Reim is a military aviation reporter based in Los Angeles. He reports on military aircraft manufacturers and operators in North and South America. Send him your confidential tips, press releases and story ideas via [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter via @garrettreim.
 

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Serbia Reveals Chinese Armed UAV Fleet
Tony Osborne July 06, 2020
ch92a.png
CH-92A
Credit: bulgarianmilitary.com

LONDON—The Serbian government has lifted the lid on its new armed unmanned air systems sourced from China, the first nation in the Balkans to acquire such a capability.
The Serbian military showed off three China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) CH-92As during a presentation for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on July 4.
Few details are known about the CH-92A. The distinctive fixed-wing unmanned air system uses a twin-boom pusher propeller configuration, analogous to the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 tactical unmanned air system.
Previous references to the CH-92, including on CASC’s own website, refers to a platform with a V-tail configuration.
The UAVs can be armed with a pair of laser-guided FT-8 missiles, which according to the Serbian ministry of defense have a range of 9 km. The range of the UAVs is up to 250 km, operating at altitudes of 16,000 ft. (5,000 m).
In all, six UAVs and 18 missiles have been delivered as part of a technology transfer deal with Beijing, paving the way for an indigenous platform, Pegaz (Pegasus), to be introduced into service. It will also be armed with Chinese weapons.
“We are learning, and we are taking over engineering technology which we have not fully finalized,” Vucic said in statements released by the Serbian defense ministry.
He said the missiles purchased had been proven during the conflict in Yemen, and while “not expensive” they were the “most powerful and deliver the hardest blow to your potential enemy.”
Serbia plans to use the UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties, as well as strike and artillery fire correction.
“This is becoming a modern way of warfare,” added Vucic. “In that respect we were unable, and we had no chance whatsoever to compete with more serious countries ... now we are starting,” Vucic said.
Media reports had previously suggested that Serbia might receive Wing Loong-model platforms produced by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group.
The deal is part of a tightening strategic partnership between Serbia and China that sees Belgrade also supporting Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road initiative.
Beijing has had limited success selling arms to Europe, although in the past it was the exclusive supplier of arms to socialist Albania during the Cold War.
China has had significant success more recently in selling its UAVs in Central Asia, as well as most notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in part because of U.S. reluctance to sell American-made systems to those countries.
Serbia’s rearming, most notably by Russia with deliveries of MiG-29s fighters and attack helicopters, could drive an arms race in the Balkans. Nearby Croatia, a member of NATO, has bolstered its armed forces by purchasing surplus U.S. Army Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters equipped with anti-tank missiles and is looking to buy a new fighter jet.

osborneanthony.jpg

Tony Osborne
Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.
 

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CH-5 Maritime Version

Wing span : 21m
Ceiling : 8,300m,
The standard CH-5 has a max endurance of 35 hrs, a top speed of 300 km/h, a max takeoff weight of 3,300 kg, and a payload weight of 480 kg.



8C385C6A-16FC-4262-ADE0-FF1E705FB75F.jpeg
CC7AED02-5068-4839-A238-7499068EAE09.jpeg
9CBAB9EE-2B4A-4D90-957F-05BBCF78899C.jpeg
 

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Four companies win contracts to build the Air Force’s Skyborg drone
By: Valerie Insinna

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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. (DoD)


WASHINGTON — Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Kratos will move forward in the Air Force program to build an AI-enabled drone wingman known as Skyborg.

Each company Thursday was awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract worth up to $400 million, but no seed money was immediately allocated as the firms will have to compete against each other for future orders.

Through the Skyborg program, the Air Force wants to field a family of unmanned aerial systems that use artificial intelligence to adapt to battlefield conditions. The Skyborg drone should be cheap enough where the loss of aircraft in combat could be sustained, yet survivable enough so that it could move into a high-end fight and function as a wingman to manned fighter jets.

“Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, who leads the Air Force’s program office for fighters and advanced aircraft. “We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”

Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper has said that Skyborg could eventually become smart enough that, like R2-D2 in the Star Wars films, it can autonomously present information and conduct tasks to help decrease fighter pilot workload. The system learns from prior experiences how best to support human pilots.

But in the near term, the Air Force wants to use the Skyborg program to integrate an autonomous air vehicle with open mission systems as a way to demonstrate that it can team with a manned fighter, the service said in a statement.

“Autonomy technologies in Skyborg’s portfolio will range from simple play-book algorithms to advanced team decision making and will include on-ramp opportunities for artificial intelligence technologies,” said Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, the Air Force Research Laboratory commander. “This effort will provide a foundational government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous, and open-architecture UAS.”
 

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U.S. Army awards contract to SRC for mobile counter-drone systemshttps://defence-blog.com/category/news

By Dylan Malyasov | Jul 24, 2020



On Thursday, the Department of Defense announced an agreement worth about $425,8 million with SRC Inc. for development, production, deployment and support of the Expeditionary-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (E-LIDS).

The E-LIDS is a mobile counter-drone system designed to protect troops against enemy-armed and intelligence gathering small Unmanned Aerial System’s operating at various speeds and altitudes.

Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of July 26, 2025, according to a press release issued by the Department of Defense.

No details on the system were disclosed, except that the new system will detect, track, identifies and defeats hostile small UAS.

The E-LIDS technology comprises proven, radar and electronic warfare systems, a camera for visual identification of targets and a user display to provide the warfighter with advanced situational awareness.

Once a UAS has been identified as hostile, the operator has the option of engaging with various low-cost, low-risk EW effects, like interrupting UAS communication links, causing the craft to return to its base station or perform an emergency landing.
 

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Boeing Aims ATS Program At UK's LANCA, May Move Faster
Bradley Perrett Tony Osborne July 27, 2020

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Boeing may accelerate development of its Airpower Teaming System (ATS) to begin deliveries before the middle of the decade, amid what it says is unexpectedly strong early interest in the loyal-wingman drone. The ATS is evidently the basis of the company’s offer for the UK’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) initiative.

The possibility of operating the ATS or a derivative from British aircraft carriers is raising the question of how the type is intended to be deployed, an issue that Boeing has declined to discuss in detail. Evidence points to one possibility for land operation being containerized dispersal by road, rocket-assisted launch from a rail, and recovery to a runway or road.

The first of three ATS prototypes will taxi soon, says the program chief, Shane Arnott, reiterating that the first flight is due this year.

Boeing is developing the ATS in Australia with support from the Royal Australian Air Force, for which the program is research work on manned-unmanned teaming. For Boeing, it is creating a product for the international market. The company unveiled the ATS in February 2019 and rolled out the first prototype in May 2020.

Arnott said in May that the first-production ATS could be completed around the middle of the decade or a little earlier. Speaking to reporters on July 16, he said the schedule had not changed. But he then referred to high interest in the product and added that the schedule might be advanced. “Everyone is trying to solve the same problem” of achieving mass—large numbers—in an air campaign, he says, adding that many military aviation services were reaching out to see if the ATS could solve the issue.

Kratos, builder of the conceptually similar XQ-58 Valkyrie drone, has also attracted interest from possible buyers apart from its primary customer, the U.S. Air Force.

For LANCA, Boeing Autonomous Systems is working with Marshall Aerospace and Cranfield University and submitted a proposal in the northern spring. The Boeing-led team was one of three chosen for Phase 1. One or two of those teams will be selected for Phase 2, called Mosquito, a £30-50 million ($38-64 million) initiative that will lead to the candidates producing flightworthy demonstrators for a UK-based flight-test program.

Since Arnott says LANCA is a key activity for the ATS program, it is clear that the Boeing proposal to Britain is based on the loyal wingman. “Safe to say that the problems being presented in Australia are similar to the problems being presented in the UK,” Arnott says. “LANCA and Mosquito have similar requirements [to Australia]: an affordable platform to be developed in one-fifth of the time.”

Australia has allowed Boeing to share ATS design materials with Britain. Arnott would not comment on the level of information released. Discussions with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and its Rapid Capabilities Office have extended to the Royal Navy, he says.
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The RAF envisions an aircraft derived from LANCA’s Mosquito phase being used on the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, alongside Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightnings, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said at the RAF’s Air and Space Conference during a webinar on July 15.

But how could the ATS operate at sea? Indeed, how is it supposed to operate on land?

Asked about the apparent reliance of the ATS on vulnerable airfields, Boeing autonomous aviation executive Jerad Hayes told Aviation Week in May: “We recognize the need for the system not to be bound by traditional runway operations to meet the rising-threat conops [concept of operations]. This is core to the ATS design to enable that flexibility of distributed operations to the customer.”

The landing gear for the ATS is clearly not designed for rough fields, so distributed operation implies dispersal by truck and rocket-assisted takeoff from a mobile rail launcher; less flexibly, it might also use straight stretches of road. Rail launch has been used by many aircraft types for decades, including the Valkyrie. Boeing has been careful not to show the rear of the ATS. One reason could be to hide stealth features there, but another could be to avoid disclosing provision for a takeoff rocket or two.

The Valkyrie lands by parachute, but since the ATS has landing gear, it must be intended to recover to an airfield or a road. The Boeing type has a considerable range, presumably ferry range, of 3,700 km (2,000 nm), so it may be able to reach a safe airfield well behind its launch point.

The aircraft’s length is 11.7 m (38 ft.). The wing is built of two pieces, upper and lower, that appear to be unbroken from tip to tip. Conceivably, the wing could be removed and placed on top of the fuselage. The result: a package that might go into a 40-ft. shipping container for storage, transportation and deceptive deployment, with many empty containers lying about to keep an enemy guessing.

Compact stowage, probably stacked, would be valuable on an aircraft carrier.

An ATS probably could not take off from a deck at a useful weight on only turbofan thrust (likely not much more than 3,000 lb.). But rail launch, or perhaps a rocket-assisted deck run, could be used.

At first sight, deck landing looks improbable. But it may not be impossible for a drone that could conceivably achieve a precision touchdown at a low sink rate acceptable to its landing gear. If the carrier moved at 20 kt. (10.3 m/sec. or 38 ft./sec.) and a returning drone, lightly constructed and just about empty of fuel, could approach at 100 kt., touchdown speed relative to the deck would be 41 m/sec. Deceleration at 5 m/sec.2 by brakes alone would bring it to a halt in 170 m. The British carriers are 280 m long.

Also, the UK Defense Ministry last year called on industry to devise means of arrested recovery for shipboard drones. A further option for the long-legged ATS would be landing at an airfield.

Other bidders in Phase 1 of LANCA are Team Blackdawn, a consortium of Callen-Lenz working with Bombardier Belfast and Northrop Grumman UK; and Team Avenger, led by Blue Bear Systems Research and several undisclosed partners.

Low cost is a key ATS project aim: Boeing believes the aircraft must be cheap enough to be attrited. To this end, the company is heavily automating the production process—using robots to build these robots, Arnott says. Payloads, in detachable and swappable noses, may cost more than the rest of the airframe, he adds, though this will be up to the customer.

Since several ATS aircraft could together form one large array, very cheap sensor payloads could outperform elaborate, costly systems fitted to single aircraft, Boeing points out, apparently referring to passive radio.

As part of ATS development, Boeing has demonstrated an end-to-end mission in which three small jet drones autonomously took off, assembled in formation, departed from formation and landed. The speeds were up to 200 kph (108 kt.). This showed that the mission system worked, says Emily Hughes, director of Boeing Phantom Works International.

The test was done at Tara, west of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Boeing intends to use a specialist drone test facility that Qinetiq is setting up at Cloncurry in outback Queensland.
 

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General Atomics unveils ‘ultra-long endurance’ replacement for MQ-9 Reaper

By Garrett Reim

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has unveiled a rendering of its next-generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike unmanned air vehicle (UAV) as a proposed replacement of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) MQ-9A Reaper.

The flying-wing aircraft is designed to have “ultra-long endurance”, General Atomics president David Alexander said on 14 September.

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Source: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Rendering of General Atomics’ next-generation UAV, a possible replacement for the USAF’s MQ-9A Reaper


“We’re embracing ultra-long endurance, to keep our next-generation ISR [and strike UAV] in the fight for longer periods than many ever imagined possible,” he says. The company’s proposed aircraft will have the “ability to stay engaged in the fight far longer than current-generation [UAVs]”, Alexander adds.

The USAF’s MQ-9A has an endurance of 27h, while the US Army’s MQ-1C Grey Eagle Extended Range can be flown for up to 42h.
“Our advancements in propulsion technology will give commanders a longer reach than ever before,” says Alexander of the new UAV. The company has not disclosed what sort of engine the aircraft would use.

The long, thin flying-wing design of the UAV also appears to have a high aspect, giving the aircraft a better lift-to-drag ratio, which would be helpful for efficiently flying for long periods of time.

The flying-wing design also is inherently stealthy, as the shape has fewer angles to reflect radar than a traditional tube-and-wing airframe. To further hide itself from radar, the UAV only has small slits for engine inlets which are set behind its leading edge. Jet turbine blades, with their many edges and twists, are highly reflective of radar, so concealing their features helps to reduce an aircraft’s radar cross section.

The General Atomics UAV unveiling comes after the USAF released a request for information in June calling for ideas to replace its MQ-9 starting in 2030. The service has become worried that the aircraft, which was designed for ISR and strike missions against terrorists and insurgents, is vulnerable to sophisticated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles that are fielded by China and Russia.

In addition to long-endurance and stealth, General Atomics says it wants its next-generation UAV to be a highly reliable node in the USAF’s battlefield network.

“We believe it is imperative that future unmanned systems are able to communicate, share information, and collaborate – together, and intuitively with their human counterparts – across systems and domains in record time,” says Alexander.

The company aims to rely on different forms of aircraft autonomy, including artificial intelligence programs, to reduce the manpower needed to fly the aircraft and speed up the pace at which ISR information is gathered, digested and passed along.

“Our focus on automation and autonomous capabilities stems from an understanding that the increased speed and intensity of future warfare requires a similarly agile and intelligent set of systems – not just to reduce manpower and enable operations with minimal personnel, but also to reduce the burden on the tactical data transport network in contested communications environments,” says Alexander. “Our next-generation ISR/Strike UAS will reshape the battlefield of tomorrow by compressing the ’observe, orient, decide, and act [OODA] loop’.”

To quickly and continuously upgrade the UAV with the latest technologies, such as new sensors or more advanced computer processors, the company says it will have an open systems architecture and modular design. The aircraft is also designed to be interoperable with equipment outside the USAF’s inventory, the firm says.
 

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Did the US Marine Corps give up on a big ship-based surveillance drone too soon?

By: David B. Larter  
23 Sept 2020
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Did the Marine Corps cut bait too soon on a ship-launched, long-range ISR drone? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been pursuing such a capability in its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node, or TERN surveillance drone. (DARPA)


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps both say they need expanded surveillance capabilities for a potential fight with China, but the Marines have cut bait on a big, ship-based system that some analysts say would make a big difference for both services.

The Chief of Naval Operations' air warfare lead said earlier this month that every carrier strike group commander needs more surveillance, and he wants to find a way to get more pure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones flying off the flight decks of Navy ships as soon as possible.

That aligns with the Marine Corps' goals of having more ISR and network connectivity resident in the amphibious ready group/Marine expeditionary unit construct, as it is in the carrier strike group with the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. But with the Marine Corps moving away from a large unmanned platform known as the “Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary,” it’s unclear if the Navy and Marine Corps will be able to find common ground on the way forward.

When asked if the Navy was moving toward more organic ISR on Navy flight decks, Air Warfare Director Rear Adm. Gregory Harris told the virtual audience at the annual Tailhook symposium that he was trying to find alignment with the Marine Corps’ need for a medium-altitude, long endurance drone system.

“Every strike group wants to know more and more and more about his battlespace,” Harris said. "As we look at future vertical lift and the Marine Corps looks at their MUX or Medium Altitude Long Endurance system, [we’re talking] about how we can find synergy between the Marine Corps and the Navy’s pieces of the MUX/MALE program and our future vertical life (unmanned portion) — we want to bring that as far left as we possibly can in terms of synergy between the Navy and Marine Corps.

“But I promise you there is not a strike group commander or fleet commander that can get enough ISR out there. And that aspect, from a distributed maritime operations standpoint, what we can bring from the strike group whether it comes off a carrier, a DDG or the future frigate or comes off Triton, that is fantastic.”

The Marines were examining a tilt-rotor drone that could take off from from a DDG or a big-deck amphibious ship, but Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder told USNI News in March that the Marines couldn’t get the kind of range and endurance they wanted from a tilt-rotor done while packing all the power and cooling it needed for high-end communications and early warning systems.

“What we discovered with the MUX program is that it’s going to require a family of systems. The initial requirement had a long list of very critical requirements, but when we did the analysis and tried to fit it inside one air vehicle,” they realized they had competing needs, Rudder told USNI.

“With a family of systems approach, my sense is we’re going to have an air vehicle that can do some of the requirements, some of the higher-end requirements, potentially from a land-based high-endurance vehicle, but we’re still going to maintain a shipboard capability, it just may not be as big as we originally configured.”

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The Marine Corps is working with industry to help inform needs for its large drone. The Bell V-247 “Vigilant” Tiltrotor Unmanned Aerial System is a potential competitor for the Corps' MUX requirement. (Courtesy/Bell Helicopter)

‘Suboptimal’
Analysts are divided on whether that’s the right idea. Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper and consultant with The FerryBridge Group, said the Marines gave up too early on the concept, and that it works against the Marine’s stated goal of becoming an arm of naval power.

“The Marine Corps wishes to go forward fast, and that is a land-based, medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV solution,” McGrath said. “I think it’s suboptimal. I think it is a blow to this whole concept of integrated American naval power.”

Packing all that capability into a land-based system tethers the capability to basing rights agreements. But another consideration is that capability will be at the mercy of the theater commander, which means the Marines may get less use out of them than they anticipate.

“I believe the Marines will find that those assets will be a lot more difficult to keep control of than they think they will be with respect to tasking once they are in theater.” McGrath said. "There will be customers for those ISR assets that will greatly exceed the tactical level of the requirement.

“I think the Marines are making a mistake not working closely with the Navy to come up with an organic, ship-based MALE solution. All this does is push the horizon for such a necessary component of the ISR-T grid for the Western Pacific even further into the future. And all for a suboptimal, short-term approach to trying to solve its problems, and I think they are going to find that it will not solve their problems.”

But the Marines are nothing if not aggressive, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger has clearly prioritized speed in his quest to reshape the service. Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and analyst with The Heritage Foundation thinks that’s the right approach.

“I think they have to go separate paths,” Wood said when asked about the Marines' embrace of land-based air. "I think the more you combine multi-service efforts into a single program, it gets bogged down by all the competing requirements.

“The expense goes up, the ability to deliver capability ends up being less than was originally hoped for. And then these competing, or even conflicting requirements clash and it mucks up the whole thing.”

Breaking the MUX program into multiple systems has the advantage of spreading out capabilities, and relying on platforms already in production will speed everything along, Wood said.

“I’m a huge advocate of prototyping and trying multiple paths, and that costs a bit of money to do that, but you end up with a variety of platforms, all with unique contributions to the overall capability set,” he said.

“The Navy has a habit of loading on additional requirements. They look for very robust, long-lifespan capabilities. And of course, the expense and complexity go up. Manufacturing time goes up. There is a delay in getting a capability in the fleet. I like the Marine Corps' aggressive posture: There is a sense of urgency.”
 

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German, French defense ministers push for Eurodrone progress

By: Sebastian Sprenger  
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Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo unveiled their first mock-up of the envisioned Eurodrone at the 2018 Berlin Air Show. (Sebastian Sprenger/Staff)

COLOGNE, Germany — The defense ministers of Germany and France have pushed for speedy progress in the Eurodrone program, urging member nations to initiate the aircraft’s development phase before the end of the year.

The high-level endorsement means a shot in the arm for a weapons program that has slipped under the radar since Airbus, Dassault and Leonardo unveiled a mock-up drone at the April 2018 Berlin Air Show.

While French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said she hopes to see the next phase begin by year’s end, her German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, expressed hope any outstanding issues, which mostly involve cost, could be resolved “in the next few weeks.”

The two leaders spoke at Manching, Germany, Airbus' hub for the Eurodrone project and a company site for another key European program, the Future Combat Air System.

The unmanned aircraft’s official name is “European MALE RPAS,” using acronyms for medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft system. The pan-European Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation manages it on behalf of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

The drone program sets out to field the first new unmanned aircraft certified to fully integrate into civilian airspace, though European authorities have not yet finalized the requisite regulatory framework. Company officials hope that key design features of the drone, such as a propulsion system of two engines — one as a fallback, if necessary — will be conducive to passing future safety checks.

That means the technology could cut into the business strategy of American competitor General Atomics. The company aims to be the first to sell its drones, complete with automatic collision-avoidance kit, to Europeans.

Officials at the German Defence Ministry did not immediately return a request for comment on how soon the government plans to present a financing and contract strategy to lawmakers — a prerequisite for letting the effort proceed.

It remains to be seen if the weapons-capable Eurodrone, whose primary mission is intelligence gathering, will get wrapped up in Germany’s debate on the ethical aspects of arming aerial and ground robots.

Another program, the Israeli-made Heron TP drone, is still awaiting decision by Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, on whether the government can proceed with installing weapons on the aircraft. The German military is using the drones to watch over deployed forces under a leasing agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries. They are operationally managed by Airbus.

It’s possible that the Heron TP armament decision will be presented to the Bundestag first, thus capping what a Defence Ministry official told Defense News will likely be a lengthy public meditation on drones and war.

But that sequence of approvals is not automatic, Airbus hopes.

Either way, time is of the essence for the Defence Ministry, with election years looming in Germany and France starting in 2021.

“It would be surprising if we had the Eurodrone first,” said Ulrike Franke, a London-based analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Because it would amount to a signal that the Heron TP decision had been needlessly stalled.”

Questions surrounding the program include whether it can provide enough utility beyond offerings already on the market, including American-made hardware, Franke said. Its success also depends on countries purchasing the future drone in sufficient quantities to get the envisioned benefits of greater European interoperability, she added.
 
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