Homeland Security Through Innovations in Aerospace
|Remotely Piloted Industry News|
12/15/2006 The Microwave Systems unit of Northrop in California has awarded DRS Technologies a contract to produce lightweight EO/IR sensor systems for Class I unmanned aircraft in the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems program. DRS will provide emulators and prototype EO/IR systems. The sensors will provide imagery for ISR missions, target acquisition, early warning capabilitities and enhanced reconnaissance. Northrop is the lead integrator for the Army's Future Combat Systems Program.
12/14/2006 Future unmanned aircraft pilots of Europe - get out your long underewear! Robonic, a manufacturer of unmanned aircraft launching systems, intends to establish a European pilot training center for unmanned aircraft pilots above the Arctic Circle in the town of Kemjarvi, Finland. Robonic officials believe the idea is a worthy goal, citing the increasingly crowded skies over Europe, the unmanned aircraft industry's desire to maintain safe UAS operations, and the 6,880 square miles of sparsely populated test range operated by Robonic that includes a 1,400 meter runway. Additionally, Robonic believes that training unmanned aircraft pilots must become a primary objective of the unmanned aircraft industry in order to maintain aviation safety standards and to ensure that unmanned aircraft are only piloted by qualified pilots and operators. Currently, the Robonic Arctic Test UAV Flight Center (RATUFC) is capable of handling basic unmanned flight training services, but can expand to accommodate all areas of unmanned operations, including operator and payload specialist training. As the UAS industry continues to grow, Robonic anticipates that the center will train both military and civilian UAS pilots from all over Europe and the world. Additionally, by setting a precedent for an unmanned aircraft pilot training center that is common to an entire region, Robonic officials believe that manned aircraft pilot training centers may follow suit and set up similar centers that are common to a region.
12/13/2006 The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is developing an active multispectral chemical detection sensor for use on unmanned aircraft that will patrol U.S. ports. The sensor, called Bright Onyx, can detect chemical elements associated with weapons of mass destruction. Unmanned aircraft missions for the sensor will primarily be for Homeland Security, but AFRL officials also believe the sensor could be deployed to combat zones where chemical and biological weapons are considered as possible weapon threats. The use of the chemical detector could provide U.S. troops in the battlefield with a rapid alert to the release of chemical or biological weapons by enemy forces.
12/12/2006 Japan will develop a very small unmanned aircraft for surveillance and reconnaissance missions of enemy positions within Japanese territories. The aircraft will carry a small camera that can transmit pictures back to ground bases. Aircraft construction is of polystyrene foam. The aircraft has a wingspan of 24 inches and weighs a mere 14 ounces. Defense Agency officials of Japan note that the inspiration for the aircraft design was a paper airplane! Very interesting!!
12/09/2006 Britain announced it will launch a $245 million technology demonstrator program that will pave the way to deployment of unmanned combat aircraft by as early as 2020. The joint government/industry-funded program is scheduled to last for four years and will use an unmanned aircraft called "Taranis" to demonstrate what British officials believe are world-leading autonomous flight technologies. Notably, the program will only involve the British companies of BAE Systems (lead), Rolls Royce, QinetiQ, and Smiths Aerospace. British officials state a key objective of the program is to protect British jobs within the areas of avionics, propulsion, and mission system integration as well as protecting critical design and manufacturing capabilities within the same areas. Another key objective of the Taranis program is to provide an unmanned capability that will allow RAF military commanders to better determine the proper ratio of manned to unmanned assets. British officals are confident that the Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle program will allow the country to maintain its competitiveness with the United States and the world in engineering and technology.
12/07/2006 QinetiQ of Great Britain converted a BAC-1-11 into a surrogate unmanned aircraft as part of an unmanned flight test of UAV swarm technology. The two hour flight test, which took place in October, involved an operator onboard the BAC-1-11 that piloted the aircraft from a remote station within the aircraft - identical to flying an unmanned aircraft from a ground control station. (The aircraft did have a flight crew in the cockpit as a safety backup.) While piloting the BAC-1-11, the operator also flew three simulated unmanned aircraft, performing a simulated attack on a moving ground target. QinetiQ is investigating a conceptual system that can autonomously organize and control multiple unmanned aircraft from a mothership. The October flight test used agent-based reasoning software in an autonomy computer onboard the BAC-1-11 that allowed the three UAVs to self-organize at a tactical level, as well as operate and control communication, sensor, and weapon systems. QinetiQ believes it is the first company to perform such a flight test and is preparing a Tornado jet fighter with an integrated avionics package that will allow the aircraft's pilot to fly simulated and actual unmanned aircraft. The follow-on flight test with the Tornado aircraft will take place in 2007.
12/05/2006 Most unmanned aircraft systems produced in the United States today are made of composite materials. As unmanned aircraft systems gain credibility as service providers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants assurances that composite construction methods will yield airworthy aircraft. Toward that goal, the Center for Excellence for Composites and Advanced Materials (CECAM) at the Wichita State University is conducting a technology airworthy assessment of unmanned aircraft systems for the FAA in order to help develop standards for certification. The end result will provide regulatory requirements (airworthiness standards) that address safety oversight and operational requirements for unmanned aircraft systems. The FAA is tasked with integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS) and consequently must make sure that unmanned aircraft - in the same manner as manned aircraft - are certified as safe to fly. The decision to treat unmanned aircraft the same as manned aircraft with regard to airworthiness should provide assurance to the public that every step has been taken to ensure safe operation of unmanned aircraft. It is anticipated that certification of the pilots flying unmanned aircraft is not far behind.
12/02/2006 Italy will purchase twelve RQ-11A Raven's for its deployed army forces. The troops will use the small, unmanned Ravens for surveillance. The Raven is manufactured by AeroVironment of Simi Valley, California. The aircraft uses daylight and infrared television cameras to provide near-real-time streaming video to a ground control station. The Italian Army forces will receive the new aircraft in the first half of 2007.
11/29/2006 Small unmanned aircraft, even down to micro aircraft, are under investigation by the French Ministry of Defense. The agency is launching a 42-month study that will investigate application and employment of small unmanned aircraft in urban settings, as well as studying the autonomy, guidance and control of such aircraft. In order to accomplish the tasking, the MoD plans to use demonstrations of SUAVs for evaluation purposes. The French military is already using small, hand-launched UASs for reconnaissance.
11/24/2006 Under an Army Aviation and Missile Command Expedited Professional and Engineering Support Services competitive contract award, EDO of New York has won a five year contract worth up to $37 million. Under the contract, EDO will provide program support to the U.S. Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office that includes strategic planning, logistics planning, training and testing. The Army UAS Project Office is responsible for managing Army unmanned aircraft such as the Warrior (Predator variant), Hunter, Shadow and Raven, as well as Future Forces Class I, II, III and IV unmanned aircraft. EDO will receive $1.1 million in initial funding under the award.
11/22/2006 AAI's parent company, United Industrial, is selling one of its subsidiary companies, Detroit Stoker, to Bram Acquistion, for $22.4 million. AAI produces the Shadow and other unmanned aircraft for the U.S. military.
11/20/2006 The Indian Air Force (a different IAF) announced a $1 billion, five year program to develop an Aerospace Planning and Execution system that can digitally link various aircraft via satellite to ground stations, providing a network-centric capability to the force. Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd. of Bangalore will oversee and integrate contractors from India, the United States, Britain, Singapore, Israel and France to provide technology and assistance to the IAF. The networked aircraft will include unmanned aircraft, as well as fighters, helicopters and transports.
11/18/2006 Unmanned aerial refueling is gaining momentum in both the United States and Israel. Recently the Sierra Nevada Corporation successfully demonstrated autonomous refueling with an F-18. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is conducting software and GPS tests that would permit unmanned aircraft to accept fuel from manned tankers. The AFRL completed test flights in August between a manned KC-135 tanker and a modified Learjet that held a tankering formation position under the KC-135 for two circuits of an aerial refueling track. Now the Israeli Air Force is investigating unmanned aerial refueling that will include unmanned-to-unmanned capabilities. While a formal requirement for unmanned aerial refueling has not yet been released, IAF officials believe that the operational advantages of unmanned aerial refueling are obvious (endurance, availability) and that a formal requirement will probably be released sometime in 2007. The IAF indicated that Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) will probably take the lead in modifying or designing unmanned aerial tankers. The company has already completed similar tanker modifications to many other aircraft and is considered a leader in unmanned aircraft as well as aerial tanker conversions. IAI is currently developing a classified unmanned aircraft for the IAF called "Eitan", which means "Steadfast". The Eitan is a large unmanned aircraft, weighing approximately 8,000 pounds with an 1,800 kilogram payload capacity. The aircraft also carries an exceptionally large amount of fuel. Sources believe the Eitan aircraft may be adapted to an unmanned tanker role because of its fuel-carrying capabilities. But IAI officials are also investigating the conversion of a Gulfstream G550 into a tanker that could support aircraft and helicopters, including unmanned aircraft. Officials state that the converted G550 could service a 600 nautical mile radius and provide up to 40,000 pounds of fuel. Additionally, the G550 itself would be capable of inflight refueling so that once its "give" is complete, it could top off its own tanks from a large tanker and return to its outlying tanker station. If inflight refueling of unmanned aircraft is achieved in the near future, IAF officials believe that aircraft will be able to remain on station indefinitely.
11/16/2006 This year's Air Show China displayed an assortment of unmanned aircraft models from the China Aviation Industry Corporation, Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute and Guizhou Aircraft. The various models included high altitude, long endurance (HALE) aircraft down to simple pusher aircraft. One of the HALE aircraft appeared to be almost a direct copy of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk. Other aircraft on display were the Soar Dragon (another HALE design) and an unmanned combat air vehicle called Anjian (Dark Sword). The Guizhou company is also developing an unmanned aircraft know as the WZ-2000 UAV. Under development since 2000, the aircraft is about the size of a Predator, but uses a turbojet engine for propulsion instead of a propeller. Currently, endurance is a limiting factor for the aircraft. The Chinese companies are anxious to compete in the world-wide unmanned aircraft market.
11/14/2006 Italy's Alenia Aeronautica flew its Sky-X unmanned demonstrator aircraft in a full autonomous mode that included an automatic takeoff and landing. The test flight took place at the Swedish Vidsel air base and lasted approximately 30 minutes. Alenia officials note that additional flight tests are scheduled for the aircraft in November and December and that the flights will be conducted at Amendola Air Force Base in Italy.
11/12/2006 Aurora Flight Sciences announced that its GoldenEye 80 completed its first test flight on November 4, 2006. The flight lasted 30 seconds. GoldenEye 80 is an unmanned vertical takeoff ducted fan aircraft that can transition to horizontal flight using moveable wings. The aircraft, which could be likened to an Apollo lunar lander, is 65 inches in height and weighs approximately 150 pounds. The aircraft carries video and infrared cameras as well as a laser rangefinder/tracker/designator and is powered by a heavy-fuel engine. Aurora Flight Sciences is developing the GoldenEye 80 under the DARPA Organic Air Vehicle program. The aircraft is also being considered for use in the Army's Future Combat System program.
11/10/2006 The U.S. Navy, under direction from the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, will investigate, negotiate and fund the Army/Navy Aerial Common Sensor through 2011. Navy officials state that the program was revived based on the Joint Airborne Electronics Attack study and the fact that the Army/Navy Aerial Common sensor plays a major role in the Battlespace Awareness portfolio.
11/07/2006 Lockheed Martin has been selected by the FAA to develop a plan for introducing unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. The program will last five years and is intended to define current unmanned aircraft needs, forecast near-term airspace capacity demands and develop a strategy to integrate unmanned operations with manned operations. Additionally, the program must conform to FAA certification time lines.
11/05/2006 The U.S. Air Force is working on a program to develop forward deployment "gas stations" in foreign countries for its Global Hawks. The program is intended to extend the range of the aircraft through the Pacific theater when it eventually operates from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam in 2009. Three Global Hawks will enter service at Anderson in 2009 and 2010, with a complete squadron outfitted by 2014. The Air Force is talking with countries in the Pacific region about the possibilities of establishing such "gas and go" stations to supplement the operating capabilities of the Global Hawk. Global Hawks already can remain airborne for up to 28 hours at altitudes of 60,000 feet.
11/03/2006 India's Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) announced that it desires to partner with overseas companies to collaborate and possible produce unmanned aircraft. Hindustan Aeronautics has sent information to companies in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Italy, South Africa, Israel and France about developing a partnership so that a family of unmanned aircraft can be built that includes high- and medium-altitude aircraft (HALE/MALE), unmanned combat aircraft and short-range micro unmanned aircraft. The HALE/MALE aircraft would be capable of ISR and target acquisition as well as meteorological operations and communications/data relay. The aircraft must be all-weather capable and have a payload capacity of up to 500 kilograms, which may include carriage of guided weapons. Automatic takeoff and landing, low radar and acoustic signatures and night operations are also required. The unmanned combat aircraft will be developed for deep penetration missions and suppression of enemy air defenses. The UCAV will operate at a maximum speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour and have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers. The micro unmanned aircraft will be developed for over-the-hill reconnaissance, surveillance and law enforcement operations, have a range of up to 50 kilometers, a top speed of 150 kilometers per hour and an endurance as long as 120 minutes. Currently, Indian Defence Forces operate the Israeli-built Herons and Searcher-I and -II aircraft, as well as India-built Nishants and Lakshya aircraft. The IDF believes that their country will require at least 250 additional unmanned aircraft over the next ten years.
11/01/2006 The Israeli Air Force has shot down two of four Hizbollah unmanned aircraft launched at Israel over the summer. The Hizbollah unmanned aircraft were Iranian-built Ababils. Officials believe that at least two of the Ababils were carrying at least ten kilograms of explosives and that one may have been carrying up to fifty kilograms of explosives. One of the Ababils exploded shortly after takeoff and may have been the one carrying the 50 kilograms of explosives. Another got through into Israeli airspace, but then crashed south of the Lebanon border. The other two were shot down by Israeli Air Force F-16Cs armed with Python-5 dogfighting missiles. The F-16s engaged the Ababils at very low altitude, very close range and very low airspeed. The F-16 pilots stated they could actually see the small unmanned aircraft. They locked and fired their missiles, which immediately curved directly to the targets, blasting them from the sky in a matter of seconds. Wreckage from one of the Ababils was recovered revealing the 10 kilograms of explosives. Israeli officials believe the unmanned aircraft was headed to Tel Aviv and that the engagement thwarted a potentially deadly attack in the city. IAF officials stated that after the first two airspace penetrations by unmanned aircraft earlier this year, the IAF changed their fighter tactics to better adapt to UAV type threats. The new tactics worked much better, but officials cautioned that the IAF will continue to improve its tactics to ensure that no further airspace penetrations occur and guarantee shoot-downs.
10/30/2006 The U.S. Air Force will launch a study into the future use and mission of medium-altitude unmanned aircraft at the request of Air Force Chief of Staff General Moseley. Currently the General Atomics Predator almost exclusively handles mission segments at medium altitude, but General Moseley would like the service to investigate more closely the operational concept of unmanned aircraft operations above 3,000 feet. The study should more closely define the use of unmanned aircraft and is aimed at determining the future size and shape of the USAF unmanned aircraft force.
10/29/2006 The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) of Great Britain has notified the United States Congress of its intent to purchase two General Atomic's Predator B unmanned aircraft and a mobile ground station for $77 million. The decision is based on Britain's desire to enhance the surveillance capabilities of British forces operating in southern Afghanistan. British RAF personnel have worked with a U.S. Predator squadron in the past, learning the systems capabilities. The British purchase of the Predators would mark the first exclusive operation of an advanced unmanned aircraft system by Britain.
10/26/2006 BAE Systems announced that its Herti unmanned aircraft will take part in military excercises at the U.K. Royal Air Force Air Warfare Center. BAE and the RAFAWC UAV Battlelab will use the Herti unmanned aircraft to conduct increasingly more difficult missions to further define roles for unmanned aircraft.
10/23/2006 The Israeli Air Force (IAF) is exceptionally pleased with the performance of its unmanned aircraft during the Summer 2006 Lebanon War. During the conflict, the IAF used its Hermes 450S, Searcher-2 and Shoval (Heron-1) unmanned aircraft to play an extensive role in its Boost Phase Launch Intercept (BPLI) force, a tightly-linked network of manned and unmanned assets designed to search, locate and destroy mobile and medium-range missile launchers operated by Hizbollah. Officials agreed that their air operations against Hizbollah displayed an unprecedented use of an airborne network against buried and nearly undetectable targets. Swarming unmanned aircraft occupied the skies 24 hours a day and were used to immediately identify mobile missile launchers as soon as they appeared on a balcony or out from hiding. IAF officials admitted that in the first night of the war nearly a dozen medium-range mobile missile launchers were destroyed and that by the third night the BPLI force was operating even more efficiently, destroying over 100 missile launchers over the course of the 30-plus day war. The unmanned aircraft accumulated over 16,000 hours of flight time. Eighty percent of the missions were reconnaissance and aerial intelligence. It was the first large-scale use of unmanned aircraft for ISR and target identification and greatly assisted in directing and delivering smart munitions for the destruction of the highly mobile and well-hidden targets. Officials marveled at the incredible reduction in sensor-to-shooter times - sometimes less than 1 minute - and praised the manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft for providing such capable systems. Some IAF officials believe that the Summer 2006 Lebanon War marked a turning point in unmanned aircraft warfare, because the BPLI force was able to demonstrate a near-instantaneous ability to knock out small hidden targets as soon as they popped up. Not only was the capability to knock out targets an unprecedented first, but the capability to share huge volumes of information between manned or unmanned aircraft flying simultaneously over the battlefield was also an unprecedented first. Credit goes to Elbit Systems for its Hermes 450S and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) for its Searcher-2 and Heron-1 unmanned aircraft.
10/21/2006 The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded a $67 million contract to a team headed by Boeing to secure a portion of the U.S. - Mexico border in Arizona. The section of border is only 28 miles long, but has a lot of action. Under the contract, SBInet will build portable sensor- and camera-equipped towers along the border and integrate small, man-portable, unmanned aircraft to essentially construct a virtual fence of security. The contract is the first part of a three-year contract in Homeland Security's Secure Border Intitiative program, intended to secure the borders between the United States, Canada and Mexico with integrated technology.
10/18/2006 Unmanned aircraft may soon have another improvement to onboard sensor technology. Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology have created a microwave oscillator that is smaller and produces a clearer signal at single frequencies than previous oscillators. The researchers believe the microwave oscillator will have application to unmanned aircraft in high-resolution digital imaging radar. The improved oscillator is able produce the desired frequency while at the same time suppressing the random electronic noise that is typically generated from its own components. Researchers have built five prototypes of the microwave oscillators so far. Other applications may include telecommunications and homeland security applications where surveillance of radio traffic is used.
10/16/2006 Australia is using a Mariner unmanned aircraft demonstrator to conducts maritime surveillance flights along Australia's North West Shelf. The flights are actually test flights that will determine the maritime capabilities of an unmanned aircraft when operating in a joint integrated surveillance capacity with Aussie Armidale-class patrol boats. The flight tests began on September 1 and will include a modeling and simulation exercise in October 2006.
10/13/2006 The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and the Air Force Materiel Command's Battlefield Airmen Systems Program Office at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio are working together to procure a new unmanned aircraft for U.S. special forces. The new aircraft is called the Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle (BATMAV) and is small enough to fit inside a backpack. So far, Army forces use a hand-launched aircraft called the RQ-11 Raven for reconnaissance flights, but the Air Force wants an aircraft much smaller so that all of the equipment for the entire unmanned aircraft system can be carried by a single combat controller in the field. The aircraft would be used to relay video and target information to commanders for target prosecution by attack aircraft or artillery. The aircraft would then assess damage to the target and report that information also. Each BATMAV aircraft would be capable of flying preprogrammed waypoints and returning to its launch location. The Air Force intends to purchase over 300 of the systems over the next few years.
10/11/2006 The Sierra Nevada Corporation successfully used its Autonomous Airborne Refueling Demonstration (AARD) system to perform the first completely autonomous air-to-air refueling of an unmanned aircraft on August 30 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The test used a NASA F/A-18 Hornet integrated with GPS-based navigation and an optical tracker to place the refueling probe of the Hornet in the refueling basket of a 707-300 tanker aircraft. OCTEC provided the optical tracker for the system and Omega Aerial Refueling Services provided the tanker aircraft. The Hornet carried a safety pilot and flight test engineer to monitor the autonomous refueling operation as it took place. The successful test flight was the seventh flight of eight flights planned for the AARD program, scheduled to last for approximately 15 months. The AARD program is a joint effort between DARPA and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and is intended to develop the ability for unmanned aircraft to autonomously locate, join formation, refuel and disengage with airborne tanker aircraft.
10/07/2006 A hurdle that has continued to hamper the progress of unmanned aircraft flight in the National Airspace System (NAS) is the ability for unmanned aircraft to sense or see other aircraft and avoid collisions. Manned aircraft have a pilot onboard that can scan the area ahead, see another aircraft and take appropriate action to avoid a collision. Manned aircraft are also in communication with air traffic controllers - especially at higher altitudes - and are warned about traffic conflicts. But unmanned and remotely piloted aircraft do not have the same capability as manned aircraft, even if they are in communication with controllers and use real-time, forward-look video. While much progress is being made, forward-look video at this time still cannot replace a pilot's eyes and reflexes because the downlinked video does not always present a total pilot's view, is flawed by latency issues and can be disrupted by interference. Additionally, unmanned aircraft pilots would still be required to take evasive action (after alert from a controller), even when operating in the clouds. But a breakthrough may be on the horizon. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts believe that magnetism may hold the key to sense and avoid characteristics for unmanned aircraft. Birds, fish and insects use magnetic fields to help keep them from bumping into each other during flight or while swimming in a school. Scientists at MIT believe that if a magnetic field can be generated around the UAV, it may be used to mimic the same capabilities that nature provides to certain animals. Not only do scientists believe it is possible, but they believe the technology would also be much simpler because each aircraft would not need to have any information from a different aircraft, as many of the sense-and-avoid techniques have used so far. When a magnetic field is "disturbed", the disturbance generates the appropriate commands to the aircraft to avoid further "disturbances". In this way, larger numbers of unmanned aircraft could fly similar flight profiles - much like formation flights - and still avoid collisions with each other because each aircraft "thinks" for itself to avoid collisions while the autopilot continues to fly the flight path programmed. Sounds like a winner idea!
10/05/2006 Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology successfully flew an unmanned aircraft with a 22 foot wingspan on a hydrogen fuel cell using compressed hydrogen. The aircraft only flew four flights that each lasted up to about 1 minute at an altitude no greater than 10 feet above the ground using a proton exchange membrane fuel cell that can generate up to 500 watts of power. Electrical current is produced when the compressed hydrogen is mixed with oxygen and converted into water. Researchers are interested in such fuel cells because of their high power density, which equates to endurance for a small unmanned aircraft. The high power density and increased endurance could be used to provide slower, high flying unmanned aircraft that could operate as cost-effective replacements for satellites. Missions could include standard ISR, weather-tracking and border patrol. The hydrogen fuel cell UAV project is a joint project between the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory.
10/01/2006 Italy is working to refine its balance formulas for unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft. But Italian defense officials also disclosed that manned aircraft operations are a requirement for their country and will never be replaced by unmanned aircraft, especially for intricate strike operations such as the ones flown in Yugoslavia and Kosovo. However, officials add that they do intend to use unmanned aircraft for increasingly complex roles. Some of Italy's manned C-130J aircraft will be configured as tankers for slower moving aircraft such as helicopters and special forces aircraft - and eventually unmanned aircraft. Officials are also confident that their unmanned aircraft will someday be armed with weapons and also operated (flown) directly from the same C-130J aerial refueling aircraft, providing added capabilities for unmanned aircraft and increasing/extending their peristence.
09/29/2006 The United Kingdom is nearing a go-ahead for its full-scale unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) program. The UCAV program is based on the British government's Defense Industrial Strategy (December 2005) that outlines why such a program is necessary. The UCAV program is intended to maintain in-country aeronautical engineering and design capabilities that are necessary to support future fixed-wing aircraft operations, as well as provide a means to make informed decisions on a manned/unmanned aircraft ratio for the UCAV force mix. In addition to unmanned strike operations, the UCAV program will explore low-observable aircraft in strategic, long endurance ISR roles. BAE Systems initiated most of the classified work on the program with the introduction of the Raven and Corax sub-scale demonstrator aircraft. But as the UCAV program receives its go-ahead, aircraft built under the program will all be full-scale. Additionally, while the program was once open to outside technology, U.K. officials now maintain that they may keep all of the UCAV work in-country. Other companies involved in the program thus far include Qinetiq (defense technology), Rolls Royce (engines) and Smiths (avionics and control systems). The UCAV program will also investigate stealthy engine design and low-observable applications of antennas, apertures and access doors. A go-ahead decision on the British UCAV program will be made as soon as funding issues are resolved between the government and industry.
09/26/2006 The Pentagon is deciding whether imagery from satellites is comparable to imagery from a U-2 spyplane. The U-2's are slated for retirement as Block 20 Global Hawks are readied to take their place. But the Block 20 Global Hawks won't be ready for a few more years, and officials are deciding if imagery from orbiting satellites could be used as an acceptable replacement for high-fidelity imagery collected from the earth's atmosphere. Officials are not sure if satellites can provide the proper look angles - not to mention the element of suprise - that a spyplane can provide. If satellite imagery is acceptable, the U-2s could be phased out early to save money and the satellite imagery used as an interim measure. But the move to eliminate the U-2 might be a gamble if satellite imagery does not measure up, as the service would be left without a U-2 or a Global Hawk until the Block 20 Global Hawks arrive.
09/24/2006 Canada is looking to purchase more Sperwer unmanned tactical aircraft to support its operations in Afghanistan. The announcement comes from Sagam officials who believe the aircraft will enter Canada's inventory within the next few months. While the exact configuration of the aircraft is not known, Sagem officials believe that the aircraft could be delivered in either of its current configurations that include the basic "A" version and the high-capacity "B" version. Earlier this year Canada purchased ten Sperwers from Denmark at a cost of $6.8 million to supplement the eleven aircraft it already was using in Afghanistan.
09/22/2006 Elbit Systems of Israel has formed an agreement with Poland's Bumar and RADWAR Scientific Industrial Center of Professional Electronics to build unmanned aircraft in Poland. Specifically, the Hermes 450, Skylark I and Skylark II will be built. The cooperative agreement allows the unmanned aircraft to be produced in Poland under license to Elbit. Bumar officials state that the aircraft will be used by the Polish Army, police, border police and fire brigade.
09/20/2006 U.S. Air Force Predators have been given the nod by the Federal Aviation Administration to fulfill disaster relief operations in the future, when necessary. Initially, the Air Force wanted to deploy Predators in the Louisiana and Mississippi areas following Hurricate Katrina, but the FAA disallowed the operation, citing safety issues. The Air Force then proposed a new agreement with the FAA inwhich the FAA and USAF would cooperate to set aside airspace for the remotely piloted aircraft to fly in. Other aircraft operating in that area would give right-of-way to the Predator. The FAA liked the idea and gave approval for the operation. The Air Force currently has four MQ-1 Predator aircraft containerized at Creech Air Force Base and ready to deploy at a moment's notice. The aircraft would deploy aboard a C-17 and operate from a designated airfield up to 150 miles from the disaster site. Pilots would fly the aircraft during its mission from Nellis AFB, but the takeoff and landing phases would be flown by pilots at the forward airfield. Operating four Predators will permit 24 hour-a-day coverage of an area. Air Force officials state that for disaster relief missions, the aircraft fall under the 1st Air Force chain of command.
09/18/2006 In a move adverse to the continuing use of remotely piloted aircraft, the Israeli Air Force has stated that it will curb its use of unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft in order to sustain the operation of its manned aircraft fleet in greater numbers and for a longer period of time. The move is based on current assessments of battle operations in the theater which, military officials say, indicate that manned aircraft are less reliant on a network for functionality and consequently are able to be reconstituted more quickly than their unmanned counterparts. Officials also state that unmanned aircraft and the sophisticated computer/electronic network that operate them are very susceptible to electronic attack such as an airborne nuclear detonation. Such a detonation would render the aircraft near useless. Total reliance on either manned or unmanned assets is a mistake. So IAF officials are restructuring their future forces to maximize the effectiveness of each type of asset and grow their forces in numbers that are proportionally correct. The IAF began using the Heron (built by Israeli Aircraft Industries) in July 2006 for operation. The aircraft has already conducted strikes on Hizbollah and infrastructure targets in Lebanon. Israeli aerospace officials state that Israel will field an unmanned aircraft purposely designed to carry missiles within 18 months.
09/16/2006 BAE Systems has announced it will purchase Massachusetts-based National Sensor Systems (NSS) for $8.7 million. BAE officials state that the purchase will allow their company to expand its role in communications, electronic warfare and airborne sensors.
09/14/2006 BAE Systems was awarded $47 million from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to develop a surveillance and targeting system that can rapidly identify battlefield threats and enhance the decision-making capabilities of intelligence analysts. The new system, called the Global Net-Centric Surveillance and Targeting System, is based on the web and interfaces through a secure computer network. The system uses complex algorithms to process and fuze real-time sensor data together once the data is collected, resulting in faster processing times and reduced workload for analysts. The system may become operational in approximately 15 months.
09/12/2006 Northrop Grumman has validated the new, larger wing design for its Global Hawk with completion of load testing. The new wing withstood 132% of the anticipated load before failing during the final tests, which was 7% greater than the anticipated failure load of 125%. Vought Aircraft builds the new Block 20 wings for the Global Hawk, subcontracted under Northrop Grumman. The wing was increased in size so that the Global Hawk could carry more payload - a requirement driven by the Air Force that ultimately led to a cost overrun on the program. The Air Force admitted that their accelerated fielding strategy caused the overrun in cost and awarded Northrop an additional $5.87 million to remedy the situation. The Global Hawk is in high demand for combat intelligence-gathering missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Load tests are continuing on the fuselage of the aircraft and will culminate in a destructive test of the fuselage similar to the wing load test later this year.
09/08/2006 University of Florida undergraduate student Daniel Grant was awarded the AIAA/Calspan Best Student Paper Award for his paper titled Flight Dynamics of a Morphing Aircraft Utilizing Independent Multiple-Joint Wing Sweep. The paper explores the design and analysis of micro air vehicles (MAVs) that utilize jointed wing structures similar to the bone structure of a seagull. Flight testing and computational analysis was performed that demonstrated an asymmetric morphing configuration capable of maximizing sensor pointing even in high crosswind situations. Mr. Grant will receive his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in December 2006.
09/05/2006 British research firm QinetiQ has completed an 18 hour test flight of its Zephyr unmanned aircraft at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The lightweight electric-powered aircraft uses rechargeable batteries and a solar array to maintain flight, charging the batteries during the day and using the batteries at night. During the 18-hour flight, the Zephyr climbed on solar power and reached a maximum altitude of 36,000 feet. Two other Zephyr aircraft were used in the flight testing and demonstrated various payload capabilities that included communications relay and EO/IR sensors. The goal of the Zephyr program is to operate for months at a time at altitudes in excess of 50,000 feet.
08/24/2006 The Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) will hold its annual Unmanned Systems North America conference at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida from 29-31 August 2006. This year's show promises to be the largest ever. Our news updates will stop for a period of about 7 days during this time. See you all there!
08/23/2006 Composite Engineering of Sacramento, California has been awarded a $15 million contract from the Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB in Florida to build 38 Air Force Subscale Aerial Targets (AFSAT). The work is scheduled for completion by February 2008.
08/22/2006 AAI recently received two valuable contracts from the U.S. Army. The first is an $87 million contract to provide nine Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TUAS). Each system includes four advanced RQ-7B Shadow 200 aircraft, two One System Ground Control Stations, and associated components and support equipment. Deliveries begin in April 2007 and extend through March 2008. The second contract is for $65.6 million and includes contractor logistics support for the Shadow.
08/21/2006 The Aerosonde company of Australia recently set an unofficial endurance record for unmanned aircraft by flying its Aerosonde MK4 for 38 hours and 48 minutes. The flight was conducted from the Aerosonde test facility in Victoria. Company officials pointed to modifications of the EFI engine, aircraft weight reductions and aerodynamic efficiency improvements as the prime reasons that the aircraft was able to fly for so long. The improvements are available to all MK4 aircraft already. Aerosonde officials state an in-house endurance goal of 48 hours for the aircraft.
08/20/2006 Ice Management Systems of Temecula, California has received a contract from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. of San Diego, California to provide in-flight ice protection systems for the U.S. Army's Warrior Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) unmanned aircraft program. The contract amount was not disclosed. Ice Management Systems has licensed the Electro-Expulsive De-icing System (EEDS) technology from NASA and states that the highly effective, light-weight, low-power system is available to the both the unmanned and manned aircraft industries.
08/19/2006 NextGen Aeronautics has developed a morphing wing design that recently was fitted to an MFX-1 unmanned aircraft. The aircraft was flown with the new wing at the Camp Roberts flight test range in California. The wing can change area, chord, sweep and aspect ratio in order to improve efficiencies in high-speed and low-speed flight regimes. In the flight test, the wing area changed a total of 40%, sweep was altered between 15 degrees and 35 degrees, and the span was changed by 30%. NextGen Aeronautics plans to flight test a larger, improved morphing wing design in January 2007.
08/18/2006 The Air National Guard is beginning to transition to unmanned aircraft and leadership within the organization has already identified some areas of concern for its mission along the U.S./Mexico border. It turns out that certain civil liberties statutes prevent the Air Guard from collecting information on individuals by using military intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment (such as a Predator). But if a civilian agency requests the surveillance, the operation is legal. Guard units must train on the aircraft first, but there are plans already underway to make the training flights dual-purpose by carrying out border patrol missions while conducting training. The ANG intends to purchase Predator A models for now, in order to save cost while leadership further defines the unmanned mission.
08/17/2006 Australia has indicated that it will decide by the summer of 2007 whether it will cooperate with the U.S. Navy on the requirements for an unmanned, high-altitude surveillance aircraft as part of the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program. The Australian government had already decided to formally discuss potential cooperative agreements with the Pentagon. Australian officials believe that a long-endurance, high-altitude unmanned aircraft could support their coastal surveillance missions currently flown by the manned AP-3C aircraft. The support would reduce the number of missions flown by the AP-3C, thereby extending the service life the aging aircraft's airframe to 2015-2018.
08/16/2006 The U.S. Air Force has received a total of six Global Hawks so far and is now looking to maximize its fleet with possible sharing agreements with other countries. The idea, proposed by Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Japan, is to develop a pool of Global Hawk aircraft and base the aircraft in the Pacific region at Anderson AFB in Guam. Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Japan would become "member" nations and could use the aircraft when required. The countries could also provide additional aircraft as their budgets permit, thus improving the size and capabilities of the Global Hawk pool. The idea is similar to NATO's common E-3 AWACS fleet.
08/15/2006 The U.S. Navy is conducting tests of the Guardian Griffin unmanned aircraft, a powered paraglider built by engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia. The demonstrator aircraft is fitted with cameras, a laser designator and a simulated machine gun, making it an armed paraglider. Engineers state that the aircraft may be launched at sea or from the ground, and even hint at an airborne launch from a mothership - possibly a C-130. Stability is the number one design feature, which allows operators to focus on sensor and weapon systems. Navy officials believe the aircraft could be used to support convoy-escort and port security operations.
08/14/2006 The Australian government announced that the Royal Australian Navy will test the operation of an unmanned aircraft in conjunction with an Armidale-class patrol boat off the northwestern coast of Australia in September. The test will determine if an unmanned aircraft can operate with patrol boats and provide a surveillance capability to Navy personnel. Also participating in the test is the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organization, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Army and the Joint Offshore Protection Command. General Atomics is providing the unmanned aircraft in the form of either a Predator B or Mariner. Australian officials believe the test will help define enhancements to security of the North West Shelf region. Current security threats in the region include illegal fishing and drug- and people-smuggling.
08/13/2006 The operation and acquisition of unmanned aircraft in Iraq is being reviewed by both U.S. and British militaries after operational experiences highlighted both positive and negative areas of interest with the aircraft. Frequency spectrum issues continue to be a major problem source to operations, as the numerous types of aircraft, operating on various frequencies, exacerbates an already-full spectrum. Add to that the NATO and European militaries, and the problem is further compounded. The British Army operation of its Phoenix UAV was essentially shut down due to frequency interference problems on the command and control frequency of the aircraft. A total of ten mission aborts of the Phoenix UAV took place over a period of twelve months due to loss of command link. Once frequency interference causes the loss of command link, the Phoenix UAV immediately enters a recovery mode. While the actual interference problems were fully investigated, British forces were never able to accurately identify the interference source. One suspected source included a synthetic aperture radar being operated by friendly aircraft.
Fuel issues are also playing a role, as most aircraft still are using gasoline instead of diesel fuel. In one occurrence, the Army's Shadow unmanned aircraft encountered engine problems because it was using fuel obtained from Iraq stations. The fuel was intended for automobiles and in addition to being dirty, lacked consistency in octane levels. The problem was temporarily solved by using only aviation octane gasoline for the aircraft. The long-term solution is to convert to diesel fuel.
Other areas of interest that are helping to improve acquisition and operation of unmanned aircraft systems include payload capability improvements, defining operational equipment requirements based on hours flown, and tactical planning requirements.
08/12/2006 Vought Aircraft Industries, designer and manufacturer of the larger, improved wing for Northrop's Global Hawk, recently completed the down-bending load limit tests for the Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft. The test flexed the wing downward to 150% of the planned limit. The up-bending tests will take place in September 2006, followed by ultrasonic testing and complete failure testing.
08/11/2006 The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency recently approved the sale of Shadow unmanned aircraft systems to Poland. The sale, valued at approximately $73 million, will include eight aircraft with EO sensors, plus support equipment. The Shadow unmanned aircraft is built by the AAI Corporation.
08/10/2006 The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced the purchase of two Predator B unmanned aircraft for the Customs and Border Protection unit. The General Atomics-built aircraft will conduct surveillance flights along the U.S./Mexico border to supplement the efforts of Border Patrol agents. The purchase also included five EC-120 light-observation helicopters built by American Eurocopter.
08/09/2006 As the U.S. Air Force concludes a review of its Long-Range Strike (LRS) needs, manufacturers in the field are trying to decide what capabilities will be required once the review is complete. Unmanned aircraft are definite players, however an indication from USAF Chief of Staff General Moseley was that the requirement may field a manned version first, followed by an unmanned version. Unmanned systems are having "selling" trouble because of their cost. Originally thought to be low-cost solutions, the unmanned aircraft are so far perceived as being expensive. Consequently, large developers such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop, Boeing are investigating both manned and unmanned solutions for LRS. The LRS review has designated 2018 for initial operational capability of either a new or modified platform. Capabilities considerations for LRS include manned, unmanned, subsonic and supersonic aircraft. Aircraft and/or programs under investigation by various developers include the B-2, the X-45, the X-47, the newly released Polecat demonstrator and a modified version of the F-22.
08/08/2006 The British Defense Ministry has issued an urgent operational requirement (UOR) for persistent surveillance capabilities and possibly air-to-surface strike capabilities for its operations in Afghanistan that some officials believe is aimed at acquisition of the General Atomics Predator B unmanned aircraft. The British government has a force of approximately 3,500 troops in Afghanistan that is meeting exceptionally heavy resistance from Taliban supporters - possibly the impetus for such an acquisition. While the UOR seems to focus on performance attributes of the Predator B, the British Defense Ministry has also approached Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Thales for proposals. BAE Systems has its Herti UAV and Thales has its Watchkeeper UAV-based ISR program that uses the Hermes 450. Northrop has its Global Hawk, however it is unclear as to whether the UOR intended to use such an aircraft, except for a requirement to operate above 25,000 feet. The release of the UOR is the third time that the British Defense Ministry has attempted to procure an unmanned aicraft surveillance platform.
08/07/2006 The Pentagon is beginning work on its new unmanned system roadmap, scheduled for release in the summer or fall of 2007. The roadmap normally focuses on unmanned aircraft systems, but the latest version will now include information for unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned sea systems. The document is released every two years and the Pentagon hopes to release a collective version of the document that includes all types of unmanned systems by 2009. By building on the theory of unmanned systems as a whole, the Pentagon hopes to provide a clearer picture for the transition and development of a single type of control station that may be used to control any type of unmanned vehicle, whether it flies, submerges or drives on the ground.
08/06/2006 Northrop Grumman has received a $90 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to develop and integrate a new airborne surveillance radar on its Global Hawk. Working in conjunction with Raytheon, Northrop will develop and produce the radar under the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), which is an advanced air-to-surface/air-to-air radar that can provide long-range, high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images, as well as provide moving ground target tracking and air target tracking indications. The goal of the MP-RTIP program is to improve time-critical targeting, which includes combat target identification and target tracking. The Air Force contract provides for the complete integration of the new radar to the Global Hawk. Northrop recently began testing of the pod that will house the radar by flying the pod aboard the Proteus test aircraft. During the 3.5 hour flight test, the Proteus flew the pod to 47,000 feet at speeds up to 150 knots to test aerodynmanic effects on the pod. Northrop expects to fly the actual radar, integrated within the pod, on the Proteus aircraft later this year. Northrop, the prime contractor for MP-RTIP, predicts that the combination of the radar with the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft will achieve the goals of MP-RTIP and provide an airborne platform capable of persistent ground surveillance and accurate target location and identification.
08/05/2006 Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis has completed the first autonomous flight test of its Persistent Munition Technology Demonstrator (PMTD) at the Vandalia Municipal Airport in Illinois. The aircraft was developed by Boeing to demonstrate emerging technologies through incremental upgrades and flight demonstration phases. The PMTD is a canard-style, pusher aircraft with a fixed tricycle landing gear. The 60 pound aircraft has a twelve foot wingspan and is designed to loiter for long periods of time. In the autonomous flight test, the PMTD flew to fourteen preprogrammed waypoints and changed altitude and airspeeds at various times during the flight. Successful demonstration of autonomous flight capabilities was the first phase of the PMTD program. Future phases will focus on sensor integration, munition dispensing and possibly in-flight aerial refueling.
08/04/2006 Iran denies that it is supplying Hizbollah with weaponry, including unmanned aircraft. But intelligence officials have concluded that unmanned aircraft used by Hizbollah for reconnaissance and as weapons are the Iranian-built Mohajer 4 and Mohajer 2. The two types of unmanned aircraft are built in Iran and use Chinese and Russian technology. The Mohajer 4 has a surveillance range of 200 kilometers, a maximum ceiling of 18,000 feet and an endurance of the nearly 6 hours. Slightly smaller, the Mohajer 2 has a surveillance range of 50 kilometers, a maximum ceiling of 11,000 feet and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Mohajer 4 is used to carry high explosives as a sort of suicidal unmanned flying bomb.
08/03/2006 The U.S. Navy will release a request for proposals (RFP) for its Unmanned Combat Air System in August. The RFP will involve work for unmanned aircraft capabilities aboard an aircraft carrier and for aerial refueling. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are already involved in the development of the capabilities. The Northrop Grumman aircraft will undergo a critical design review during August.
08/02/2006 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars. Industry specialists believe that unmanned aircraft are evolving rapidly based on revolutionary new technology and will change dramatically in shape and size from the current proposed shapes of the Boeing X-45 or Northrop Grumman X-47. Driving the change in shape and size of unmanned aircraft is the technology of active electronically scanned array radars. The multi-function capability of the new radar technology - sensor, precision targeting and directed energy - is now combining with the ability to conform to the shape of an aircraft. As the radar becomes smaller and its shape is able to conform to the shape of an aircraft, the unmanned aircraft will become smaller and shaped more like missiles. The smaller size will make the unmanned aircraft harder to detect, thus permitting the UA to get much closer to a target. And getting close to a target is what allows the unmanned aircraft to employ its high-energy microwaves weapon technology - instead of using missiles or bombs.
07/31/2006 Qinetiq will begin work on subsystems of the Zephyr High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft - specifically the flight controls and power systems of the Zephyr aircraft - to improve endurance beyond just days to weeks and even months. Qinetiq will also develop new, ultralight payload sensors for the aircraft, as well as a desktop simulator for operator training. The Zephyr unmanned aircraft is a conventional twin-engine (electric motors/props) unmanned aircraft designed for economical and continuous high altitude operation. The aircraft incorporates solar cells and rechargeable batteries to operate at altitudes above 60,000 feet. During the day, batteries and solar power permit the aircraft to stay aloft. During the night, excess stored electricity from the day is used to keep the aircraft aloft in a slow descent, generally staying above 50,000 feet. Once solar power is again available, the aircraft climbs back above 60,000 feet. It is believed the process can continue indefinitely, as long as weather does not inhibit the flight. The Zephyr is conducting test flights at the White Sands Missile Test Range in New Mexico.
07/30/2006 Austrian company Diamond Aircraft - in conjunction with Rheinmetall Defense Electronics of Germany - is taking its manned, twin-engine DA42 aircraft and developing it into an unmanned - or more specifically, and "optionally-piloted" - surveillance aircraft known as the DA42 Multi-Purpose Platform (MPP). The aircraft will be offered either as a sensor platform, where clients would install their own sensor packages, or as a complete system that includes all sensors and is flight ready for ISR missions. In the piloted version, the DA42 can carry up to two pilots and a sensor operator. The DA42 has a maximum range of approximately 1,500 nautical miles with a maximum airspeed of 152 knots. Endurance is as high as 18 hours on station and is maximized when operating in the pilotless mode. The optionally piloted mode of operation was chosen for the DA42 MPP because of national airspace limitations currently in place for unmanned aircraft. By having an aircraft that can fly either with or without a pilot, Diamond Aircraft hopes to achieve an edge in the unmanned aircraft market because its DA42 MPP can operate unmanned, but can easily be ferried between operational areas without any restriction.
07/29/2006 Lockheed Martin has unveiled a completely new unmanned aircraft called the P-175 Polecat at the Farnborough International Airshow. The stealthy-looking flying-wing aircraft is a product of the famed Skunk Works department at Lockheed and is designed to prepare for the company to compete for next-generation ISR aircraft and the U.S. Air Force's future unmanned, long-range strike aircraft - possibly a multi-billion dollar program. Lockheed officials indicated that the Polecat has already flown and incorporates new production techniques and composite materials - including a parts count less than 200 - that reduce overall production costs. Of interest is the use of new composite materials and adhesives that use less heat during post-cure and also do not require the use of autoclaves during the cure process. The 9,000 pound aircraft is 98% composite, has a 90 foot wingspan and is designed to fly at altitudes of up to 65,000 feet, though it has not yet accomplished such a flight. The Polecat can carry up to 1,000 pounds of payload between its two Williams International FJ44-3E engines. Lockheed Martin developed the Polecat in less than 18 months at a cost of over $30 million company dollars.
07/28/2006 In June 2006, Boeing completed the first unmanned test flight of its "Little Bird" unmanned helicopter at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona. The 20-minute test flight included lift off, hover and an "armed" ISR mission that culminated in a landing within six inches of the intended recovery spot. The flight test marked the first time in a two year test program that the Little Bird helicopter flew without a safety pilot on board. Boeing's Little Bird program uses a modified MD-530F helicopter and is designed to validate the performance of an autonomous autopilot/flight control system that can be incorporated into any manned aircraft. The system includes a ground control station, sensor package and integrated weapons capabilities.
07/27/2006 Also, BAE Systems unveiled its HERTI unmanned aircraft to the public for the first time at the Farnborough International Airshow in July. The HERTI (High Endurance Rapid Technology Insertion) autonomous unmanned aircraft will be used for civilian and military applications and is the end result of a series of unmanned aircraft technology demonstrator programs that involved the Soarer, Kestrel, Raven (not the AeroVironment aircraft) and Corax. Company officials note that the HERTI is a designed to be a reusable asset for battlefield commanders rather than an expendable asset and emphasize the HERTI UAV as a complete system.
07/26/2006 Officials within the French navy are mulling over their plans for a future tactical, long-endurance unmanned aircraft. The future unmanned aircraft is intended for overwater use and may even carry weapons. However, navy planners are evaluating their capabilities for such an unmanned aircraft, especially its ability to interact with other unmanned assets and whether or not the aircraft or its components can fulfill similar roles in the French army, which could lead to a "single system" for both services. Consequently, the navy and army will begin a 12-18 month study that will evaluate commonality elements for unmanned systems between the two services. The type of aircraft is a major evaluation point, as the navy believes it will pursue rotary-type aircraft and the army so far could go either way, fixed-wing or rotary. (Navy officials believe that army operations should utilize rotary-wing aircraft also, based on the current urban warfare environment.) Automatic takeoff and landing capabilities are also required for the navy version because their rotary-wing operations will include takeoff and landings from navy ships. Payloads also play a role - the army payload requirement is significantly different than the navy payload requirement. Navy officials need a lightweight, compact surveillance radar for tactical operations, but may also carry anti-mine, data relay, bouys and target identification equipment. Finally, armament is being considered for the aircraft. Light cannons and antiship missiles are under consideration, as well as other types of missiles. French navy officials believe that as the details are worked out with each element of the unmanned system, they should be able to field a fully operational system by 2014 - the same time that France's FREMM multimission frigate will enter service. The FREMM frigate will use unmanned aircraft as a replacement for France's current Panther helicopters, which operate from frigates, carriers and command landing ships.
07/25/2006 EADS Defense & Security is consolidating a total of 2,500 employees from seven different business units around Paris to a single facility in Elancourt in order to increase the efficiency of their operation and lower costs. The move, which begins in November of 2006, will combine multiple divisions within EADS, including unmanned aircraft, homeland security, communications, defense electronics, test equipment and EADS's Netcos battlefield laboratory. EADS officials state the moves will be complete by March 2007.
07/24/2006 A Canadian satellite and information technology firm, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), plans to emphasize its defense business initiatives while expanding its operations in the United States. The company already receives a large part of its revenue from defense-related surveillance and intelligence systems. But company officials contend they can play an even larger role in the ever-expanding defense market by pursuing new contracts that parallel their current contracts. One specific desire that MDA announced is that they would like to form a teaming arrangement with Israel Aircraft Industries so that they can develop the Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS). The JUSTAS program is funded for approximately $420 million and will provide medium-altitude unmanned aircraft for the Canadian military.
07/24/2006 A Canadian satellite and information technology firm, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), plans to emphasize its defense business initiatives while expanding its operations in the United States. The company already receives a large part of its revenue from defense-related surveillance and intelligence systems. But company officials contend they can play an even larger role in the ever-expanding defense market by pursuing new contracts that parallel their current contracts. One specific desire that MDA announced is that they would like to form a teaming arrangement with Israel Aircraft Industries so that they can develop the Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS). The JUSTAS program is funded for approximately $420 million and will provide medium-altitude unmanned aircraft for the Canadian military.
07/23/2006 French aerospace company Safran lost roughly 10% of value in its shares after announcing a decrease in operating profit margin for 2006. The company states that the decline in profits is due mostly to sporadic problems with military contracts, including delays with its Sperwer tactical drone and its AASM smart bomb.
07/22/2006 Fort Benning, Georgia kicks off the 16th Annual International Aerial Robotics Competition today. The week-long competition is designed to spur new technology in aerial robotics by having competing college teams build unmanned aircraft for specific missions. Three levels of competition take place with varying degrees of difficulty, Level 3 being the most difficult. This year's competition will involve a total of twenty one teams from the United States, Canada and India. Sixteen teams will compete in the Level 1 competition, which requires the unmanned aircraft to autonomously fly a 3-kilometer course with waypoints. The Level 2 competition involves flying the same course, but also involves scanning 19 buildings, finding a designated symbol on one of the buildings and surveying all of the openings on that building. Level 3 competition includes all of the tasks from Level 1 and Level 2, but also adds the capability of searching inside the building as well. Only one team - the Georgia Institute of Technology - will compete in the Level 3 competition this year. The competition course is flown at Fort Benning's McKenna Urban Operations Complex.
07/20/2006 The Israeli Air Force is investigating ways to speed up the acquisition of new unmanned aircraft, including a new aircraft that capable of combat operations. The unmanned combat aircraft program is still classified, so specifics are not available. The IAF acquired the long-endurance Heron unmanned aircraft in 2005 and just recently began operations with the aircraft. The Heron is built by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).
07/18/2006 Canada is launching a major unmanned aircraft initiative known as the Joint Unmanned Surveillance, Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) worth approximately $420 million. The program calls for purchase of a fleet of medium and high-altitude unmanned aircraft, ground stations and support equipment that will be used for domestic and international operations. United States and Israeli firms are expected to aggressively go after the lucrative contract as the specific requirements for the unmanned aircraft are defined. Officials believe the contract will call for between 10 and 18 aircraft and the operations will cover Canadian domestic and international missions in the Arctic, along coastlines and in Afghanistan. General Atomics already has teamed with General Dynamics Canada (Ottawa) and intends to compete with its Predator B aircraft. Israel Aircraft Industries plans to offer its Eagle 1 and Eagle 2 unmanned aircraft. Canadian Forces are familiar with both the Predator and the Eagle unmanned aircraft, having used both aircraft in a variety of experimental missions. The Canadian Forces are currently using the Sperwer tactical unmanned aircraft and miniature unmanned aircraft for operations in Afghanistan and Kandahar respectively. The CF has not yet purchased unmanned aircraft such as the Predator or Eagle. The JUSTAS program schedule involves a development period of approximately eight years, with full operational capability by 2012.
07/16/2006 Israel has always prided itself on its advanced military, including its unmanned assets. But the recent ambush and attack by Hizbollah commandos on its northern and southern borders has some Israeli military and security experts worried that too much attention has been devoted to advanced military hardware and that not enough attention is being given to simple, soldier training and discipline. The Hizbollah attacks included the disabling of a sensor camera and penetration of a border fence. Military experts expressed concern that the military is relying on defense technology to provide a "100%" solution to terrorist attacks and stated that even with such advanced equipment, Israel had been attacked twice with fairly straightforward tactics in scenarios that have already been predicted. Officials want to re-establish basic training and discipline of the troops so that Israel can effectively defend its borders. The advanced technology should compliment and help the primary defense tool - soldiers - to perform their job.
07/13/2006 Today the U.S. Senate approved the 2007 budget for the Department of Homeland Security. The new funding is set at $32.8 billion - an increase of $1.5 billion from this years budget. The house had already approved the budget earlier, but at only $32.1 billion. Much of the funding will be used to enhance border security in the United States. Approximately $3.9 billion will be used for customs and immigration enforcement, while $6.7 billion will be used for border protection. The differences in funding between the Senate and House versions of the budget must be resolved before final approval of the budget is made.
07/11/2006 Thailand is now developing an unmanned aircraft called "Puskin" for military use. Researchers are currently deciding on a plan to build three prototype aircraft and two working aircraft. Funding will be supplied by the Defense Ministry's Office of Research and Development and the Thailand Research fund. The first prototype is slated to fly in 2006. Thai officials also admit that the new Puskin aircraft may be used by the Bureau of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation for rainmaking experiments.
07/10/2006 As the Farnborough air show approaches, the British Defense Ministry is trying to form a funding agreement with industry specialists for the British UCAV project. British officials are anxious to debut a UCAV demonstrator at the Farnborough air show, but the UCAV project has slowed due to negotiations with industry on each party's share of funding. BAE Systems is leading a team of companies that include Qinetiq, Rolls Royce and Smiths Aerospace for the UCAV technology demonstrator program (TDP) and has already submitted a proposal to the Defense Ministry. A go-ahead decision has not yet been received. The work conducted thus far by BAE uses technology from classified BAE Systems programs on low observable airframes and also includes technology derived from the Raven and Corax unmannned demonstrator aircraft. Qinetiq will work on development of autonomous operations for UCAVs and Rolls Royce is contributing propulsion development for UCAV, including investigations of signature management. And while the BAE-led team continues to work on the TDP, Britain is keeping the doors open to the United States with regard to technology information sharing on unmanned combat aircraft. BAE Systems is hopeful that their team will get an approval nod soon, but are also maintaining both the Raven and Corax unmanned demonstrator aircraft in ready-to-fly condition.
07/07/2006 The American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is requesting Congress to appropriate $90 million a year to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) so that they can purchase unmanned aircraft systems, beginning in Fiscal 2007. AIAA officials would also like to establish an unmanned aircraft "test area" in Alaska and Hawaii because they believe that the NOAA can use the unmanned aircraft not only for research programs, but also for National Airspace System integration investigations. Officials believe the Alaskan wilderness, combined with military bases, airfields and other operating areas, is an ideal place to test unmanned aircraft. The request also lists Hawaii's Pacific Missile Range Facility (Kauai) as a staging center for Pacific Rim missions. NOAA missions for unmanned aircraft could include homeland security, fire/flood monitoring, low and high altitude research and long-range storm observations. NOAA already uses unmanned aircraft for their research, including the General Atomics Altair, Aerosonde's Aerosonde and Advanced Ceramics Research's Silver Fox. NOAA researches like using the unmanned aircraft because they can provide continuous monitoring of exact GPS points in space of the upper atmosphere and can fly into dangerous storms without risking the lives of pilots. NOAA is currently working with NASA to further integrate unmanned aircraft technology into their programs and may eventually take an active role in unmanned aircraft system certification.
07/06/2006 The Pentagon will investigate possibilities of accelerating portions of the U.S. Army's Future Combat System (FCS) as the Army continues to review the entire program and its goals. FCS unmanned aircraft system programs that may get the nod for acceleration include a small ducted fan Class I aircraft under development by Honeywell and the Fire Scout Class IV rotorcraft under development by Northrop Grumman. Prototypes of both aircraft have flown, but improvement decisions (smaller size and noise reduction for the Honeywell aircraft and standardization and weaponization for the Northrop Grumman Fire Scout) are still being made for both aircraft. The FCS program also requires two other types of unmanned aircraft systems - a Class II and and Class III aircraft. Requirements for the two aircraft have not yet been made, but officials believe that the Army may indeed combine the requirement for two systems into a requirement for a single unmanned aircraft system that satisifies both Class II and III requirments. The move is based on a rather negative funding outlook and the fact that the Army is already operating a fairly large number of unmanned aircraft systems (such as the Shadow) that may be able to satisfy the requirement already. FCS officials are still deciding on whether to use a fixed-wing or rotarcraft version. A decision on the FCS Class II and Class III unmanned aircraft systems is due by the end of 2006. A recent cost analysis by the U.S. defense secretary's Cost Analysis Improvement Group pegged the over FCS program purchase and operating cost at over $300 billion. The FCS program is essentially a family of computer-linked weapons that includes sensors, advanced munitions, and eighteen manned and unmanned aircraft and ground vehicles
07/05/2006 The British Defense Ministry recently launched and completed its first instructional course for unmanned aircraft at Britain's Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS). The course, titled "Introduction to Unmanned Aerial Systems Trials and Evaluation" uses simulator work and classroom time to assist students with the use of the tools and approaches that are used in the test and evaluation processes for unmanned aircraft. The inaugural class was attended by fourteen representatives from the MoD and Qinetiq. Qinetiq is the owner of the Empire Test Pilots' School and will use the school to assist the MoD in the development of future unmanned aircraft systems in order to offset some of the problems that were encountered during the initial development of the Phoenix UAV.
07/04/2006 HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!! As we celebrate our 230th year of independence and freedom in the United States of America today, we should take time to remember the thousands of U.S. citizens from every corner of our country that provide us the luxury to enjoy our freedom as an independent nation. First and foremost, we should give thanks and say a prayer for our troops who tirelessly fight for our freedom every day all over the world. These individuals protect our rights - our right to freedom...our right to have a job...our right to free speech (even if to complain)...our right to fill up our gas-guzzling SUVs...our right to have a cookout with family and friends on July 4th, without fear of a terrorist attack. Our troops are out there right now - not celebrating like us - but serving our country as we enjoy the freedom they so valiantly protect. Second, we need to give thanks and remember the countless scientists, engineers, lab technicians, program managers and all of the people involved in the creation and development of the technology that provides our troops with the best equipment that money can buy to keep them safe and protected. These people work long hours to develop new technology - and they do it in the name of our independence and freedom. The technology they develop is worth every penny of defense spending and more. A beautiful example of their expertise lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center this afternoon at 2:38pm when Space Shuttle Discovery once again made its way skyward with the words United States of America emblazoned on its side. An exhilarating and awesome sight! Finally, we should give thanks to all of our government officials - from our Commander-in-Chief all the way down to our lowest civil servants. Amidst unparalleled media-bashing and complaining from "side-liners" and "armchair quarterbacks" that "know" they could do a better job - but won't volunteer to do so - our government officials deserve our complete support and gratitude for volunteering to serve our country in jobs that would make most of us run home to our mommies. Let's start putting our politics on hold - starting today - and support all of our government "volunteers" from the top down to the bottom. We all have a "Support Our Troops" magnet on the back of our family automobile. We can use today - Independence Day - to renew our understanding that "supporting" our troops means supporting not just the troops, but all of the people mentioned above. Let's renew our American spirit and truly live our support of these individuals - and the United States of America - every day! And as always...God Bless America!
07/03/2006 Proxy Aviation of Germantown, Maryland has brought onboard Chris Hamilton, the former CFO and senior vice president of Thales Communications. Mr. Hamilton will take roughly the same position at Proxy Aviation - executive vice president and chief financial officer. Proxy Aviation is currently developing autonomous, optionally-piloted unmanned aircraft that can operate as either manned or unmanned aircraft. The advantage of the optionally-piloted aircraft is that it may be flown in a "piloted" mode to its operational area, thereby avoiding National Airspace System restrictions for unmanned aircraft that are currently in place.
07/02/2006 Hunt Valley, Maryland-based AAI Corporation, which manufactures the Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft, has purchased Aerosonde and Aerosonde North America for $6.5 million. The Aerosonde company is based in Victoria, Australia and produces the Aerosonde unmanned aircraft, which gained fame when it crossed the Atlantic a few years ago. The transaction was a stock purchase deal with contingencies that may increase the purchase price, depending on whether Aerosonde can achieve certain specified milestones. AAI Corporation is a subsidiary of United Industrial, which is based in New York.
07/01/2006 Lockheed Martin and the Air Force Research Laboratory have launched and test flown a missile known as the low-cost autonomous attack system (LOCAAS) at the Eglin AFB in Florida. Similarly, Netfires, LLC and the Army test flew their loitering attack missile (LAM) at Eglin. Both missiles used a very small turbojet engine developed by Technical Directions, Inc. of Ortonville, Michigan. The turbojet engine, called the TDI-J45, is only 6 inches long, 4.5 inches in diameter and comes complete with an electrical power system. In the LOCAAS test, the missile flew over 40 nautical miles in 15 minutes after being dropped from a KingAir 200. During its flight, the LOCAAS validated a windmill start of its jet engine and also detected three stationary targets. In the flight test of the LAM, the missile validated a rapid start to maximum airspeed. (All of these great toys! Is it Christmas yet?)
06/29/2006 At the newly established Artic UAV Test Flight Center in Kemijarvi, Finland, Sagem began flight tests of its newly modified Sperwer B unmanned aircraft. The Sperwer B is an extended range version of the original tactical Sperwer and can carry twice the payload of the original. The Sperwer B also improved its endurance to 10 hours from 6 hours. While the tests provide data on flight performance, the tests are mainly directed at performance of the catapault system that is used to launch the Sperwer B. The same catapault is used to launch the Sperwer A, but the higher gross takeoff weight of the Sperwer B required further launch testing. The pnuematic catapault is supplied by Robonic Ltd., the same company that established the artic flight test center for unmanned aircraft. The Sperwer B is scheduled to enter operational service in 2007 once testing is completed.
06/28/2006 At a recent International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting in Montreal, the topic was the integration of unmanned aircraft in civil airspace. The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) voiced their views that unmanned aircraft need to be held to at least the same, if not a higher standard, than their manned counterparts. IAOPA reasoning is that the integration of unmanned aircraft into the civil airspace will create significant safety risks that can only be offset with strict(er) operational and certification standards for unmanned aircraft. Doing so will provide a safe integration path for unmanned aircraft. A notable item that IAOPA feels should be included in all unmanned aircraft is "see-and-avoid" technology. However, IAOPA officials do not want to hamper current manned aircraft with similar requirements because they feel that most manned aircraft - at least 100,000 - do not have adequate electrical systems to support such technology. The comments would seem to be controversial at the least, because there are numerous small companies around the world providing "see-and-avoid" technology to manned aircraft already, in an attempt to make manned aviation even safer. The Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) has been incorporated on aircraft because it has been proven that the device works and makes aviation safer. It seems prudent to require a proven safety device - for all aircraft - if safety is really the number one mission of aviation.
06/27/2006 In Europe, air traffic control experts have concluded that unless they find better, more efficient methods of controlling the increasing number of aircraft - including unmanned aircraft - in the crowded skies of Europe, air traffic gridlock will be the end result by 2010. At a recent conference of European air traffic controllers, members cited a very fast-growing number of aircraft using the European airspace system. NATO is utilizing long-distance unmanned aircraft and military and civilian use of unmanned aircraft is also rapidly expanding. Officials are in agreement that military and civilian unmanned aircraft will revolutionize the air traffic system over the next few decades, but are wrestling with the solutions of how best to integrate the pilotless aircraft with manned aircraft in the same airspace. Problematic is the fact that European countries are not working together toward a common approach to the problem. Each country seems to be launching its own ideas on how to work out the problem. Germany divides unmanned aircraft into three categories which determine an aircraft's ability to transit civil-controlled airspace. An official pointed out that Italy was writing its own rules, and that there really is no cooperation between Europe and the United States when it comes to commonality of airspace regulation. Eurocontrol, the pan-European air safety and navigation organization, cited such large growth in European air traffic that the current ground-based air traffic control system would not be able to handle the safety or capacity of the projected growth even over the next few years. Statistics show that Eurocontrol handled 9.2 million civil flights in 2005 and that Europe's air traffic is growing by approximately four percent a year. In comparison, the United States air traffic controllers handled 17 million civil flights in 2005 - but the 36 nations of Europe occupy an area only one third the size of the continental United States.
06/26/2006 SaaB recently released information on an unmanned helicopter that is the first of a family of unmanned aircraft that SaaB plans to build. The new unmanned rotary-wing aircraft is called the Skeldar V-150 and is based on a concept that was developed by Cybaero of Linkoping, Sweden. The Skeldar V-150 flew its first flight in March 2006 and Saab officials state that the new unmanned rotorcraft is under consideration for ship trials by the Swedish navy. The rotorcraft can fulfill targeting and surveillance missions and will probably be used in homeland security, defense and/or civil operations. The V-150 weighs 150 kilograms, has an endurance of approximately 5 hours and can carry a payload of up to 30 kilograms.
06/25/2006 Robonic, a company based in Finland, manufactures ground support systems and launching equipment for unmanned aircraft in the 10 to 1,000 kilogram weight range. But in addition to making unmanned aircraft support equipment, the company has announced it will establish an artic test-flight center for unmanned aircraft in Finnish Lapland near the Arctic Circle. The Arctic UAV Test Flight Center will be based at the Kemijarvi airport and will include support capabilities to launch UAVs from a runway or catapault. (We believe the new Arctic UAV Test Flight Center will also provide another feature - a cold-weather survival opportunity for UAV flight crews!)
06/24/2006 Thales is indicating that it is interested in expanding its German defense base and may form agreements with Rheinmetall of Germany in land system markets. Thales also disclosed that it has added a considerable number of programs to its aerospace and defense portfolio by forming new collaborative agreements with Diehl. The new agreements focus on land system integration, weapon systems and unmanned aircraft.
06/23/2006 EADS officials believe that their company's defense and security revenues will continue to improve as demand for high-tech military systems, such as unmanned aircraft and UAV radars, continue to expand and grow. The company states that they are also confident that Europe will eventually commit to develop a long-endurance surveillance aircraft to fulfill urgently-needed capabilities for armies and that they are encouraged by the recent signing of a U.S.-German memorandum of understanding concerning Northrop's Global Hawk. The memorandum essentially paves the way to a German purchase of EADS' EuroHawk, which is a modified Global Hawk. EADS is hopeful that Germany will purchase five or six of the aircraft in the last half of 2006. Meanwhile, EADS would also like to see cooperation with other companies in unmanned aircraft programs and offer that possibilities may eventually exist with Thales.
06/22/2006 As unmanned aircraft continue to progress in development, unmanned aircraft programs continue to be players in the forefront of decision-making for major companies. Recently, Airbus Germany announced it will head up a team that will investigate methods to reduce the development time of major programs, including unmanned aircraft programs. The effort is aimed at placing advanced unmanned aircraft technology into service quicker, thereby lowering costs and enhancing profitability.
06/21/2006 In just a small tidbit of news, General Atomics takes another pat on the back for its proven Predator unmanned aircraft. In the hunt for Zarqawi, U.S. officials disclosed that at the time the Delta Force B Squadron infiltrated the area where Zarqawi was hiding out, a Predator circled overhead providing its customary intelligence. Yet another knotch on the joystick for unmanned aircraft.
06/20/2006 Despite cost overruns of billions of dollars on Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk program, the Pentagon has recently approved continued Air Force purchases of the aircraft, though at a lower rate than previously arranged. Until the Block 20 and Block 30 aircraft complete their initial operational tests and evaluations, the Air Force will now only receive five Global Hawks per year instead of six per year. The Pentagon approval to change the purchase quantities of the aircraft actually provides for continued production of the aircraft. Once a program exceeds its costs by over 25%, Pentagon approval is required in order for the program to continue. Northrop officials believe the cost overruns were caused by changes to the Pentagon's cost accounting system, in addition to challenges surrounding the design of the new wings required for the larger version of the Global Hawk. The new, lower purchase rate will extend production of Global Hawks to 2015.
06/19/2006 Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora Flight Sciences will get the nod from Bell Helicopter Textron to build the airframe of its EagleEye unmanned tiltrotor aircraft. Officials at Aurora Flight Science stated that the deal is a major contract for the company and is comparible to its Global Hawk contract with Northrop Grumman, where Aurora Flight Sciences builds the fuselage, wings and tail for the Global Hawk. The Bell Helicopter contract for the EagleEye falls under the Coast Guard's acquisition program for ships and aircraft. EagleEye is scheduled to fly in 2008 and the company plans to deliver 45 aircraft and 33 ground control stations to Lockheed Martin, the co-manager (with Northrop Grumman) of the Coast Guard aircraft acquisition program.
06/18/2006 With the help of some "vintage" unmanned aircraft, British BAE Systems will gather a $25.1 million Air Force contract to supply the Air Force with twenty QF-4 aerial target drones. The U.S. unit of BAE, based in Mojave, California, will convert twenty moth-balled F-4 Phantoms into radio-controlled aerial targets by July of 2008 at their facility in Mojave. The QF-4 drones provide the U.S. Air Force with full-size fighter aircraft that are used to train Air Force fighter pilots in air-to-air combat maneuvers, including live weapons launches. BAE is providing the QF-4 drones to the Air Force under an exclusive contract that is not scheduled for completion until 2013. The award is the second of five options exercised under the agreement. After the F-4 Phantoms are modified into QF-4s, the aircraft are then flight-tested and delivered to Tyndall AFB in Florida where they are operated in test ranges to help develop new weapons.
06/17/2006 A team of U.S. bio-defense companies, in conjunction with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Navy's Third Fleet and the U.S. Pacific Command will work under the leadership of Boeing to modify the company's Insitu-based ScanEagle unmanned aircraft so that the aircraft can search for biological warfare agents. Under an $8.2 million Phase 1 contract for Advanced Technology Demonstration, the teaming arrangement will work to develop a remote sensor system that is capable of determining the extent of battle damage and its collateral effects. The new remote sensor will use new technology to detect, locate, track and collect biological warfare agents. Once the sensor system is developed, the team will integrate the new technology into the ScanEagle unmanned aircraft so that the sensor may be deployed as an airborne asset. Funding for the program came from the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
06/16/2006 Australia's Defense Science and Technology Organization, which oversees the country's Capability and Technology Demonstration programs, has indicated that it will spend just over $19 million to fund new technologies that include unmanned aircraft. As part of the funding, the DSTO will investigate a real-time vision system for unmanned aircraft that will be able to track small, mobile targets. Another unmanned program involves the use of remotely controlled bomb disposal robots.
06/15/2006 The U.S. Department of Defense, in conjunction with the intelligence community, is conducting a review of some of their major reconnaissance and intelligence gathering programs. The focus is to increase cooperation between the DoD and intelligence community by examining space and airborne assets and determining which asset may be better suited to serve both organizations. Officials conducting the study have concluded that long-endurance unmanned aircraft may prove advantageous in certain situations where manned aircraft and satellites have limitations. Satellites are expensive, require specialized launch equipment and are limited to specific, very predictable, flyover times. Manned aircraft are limited in endurance by the pilot and crew, preventing their ability to stare at a target for extended periods of time. A single long-endurance unmanned aircraft, however, can orbit over a target area and stare for over 24 hours. Flyovers can be scheduled in a completely unpredictable fashion. Adding additional unmanned aircraft to the same orbit pattern permits non-stop stare capabilities. Officials stated that the developing use of unmanned aircraft for such roles is relatively new and that much of the Pentagon's push for unmanned aircraft technology is due to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
06/14/2006 As NATO continues to expand its operations in Afghanistan, Italy may be adding more Predator unmanned aircraft to the frey, as well as helicopters, special forces teams and more troops. The country now plans to send either one or two Predators to Herat in western Afghanistan, along with special forces personnel. Italy is currently using three Predator aircraft in Iraq and one in Italy, though the Predator crews in Iraq were recently dealt a blow when one of their Predators developed engine trouble and crash-landed. The additional Predators, helicopters and troops are Italy's response to a request from NATO for additional contributions to help support its role in Afghanistan through the summer of 2006.
06/13/2006 The U.S. Defense Department is holding Israel's feet in the fire over sales of technology to China, particularly Israel's sale to China of an unmanned aircraft system (known as Harpy) in 2001 and for providing maintenance for the parts of the system in 2003 and 2004. The DoD admits that Israel is working to overcome some oversight issues that allowed the sale of the UAS to China, but they still are pushing Israel to reorganize within the defense ministry and to create legislation (in the Israeli parliament) that would further decrease the chance of such oversights. In 2005, Israel began to reduce the amount of military assistance it provides to China. The Israeli sales to China originally caused the Pentagon to temporarily deny Israel access to technology information in the U.S., but with Israel's continued progress, the Pentagon has now lifted those restrictions.
06/11/2006 Headwall Photonics of Fitchburg, Massachusetts claim development of the first imaging sensor designed exclusively for unmanned aircraft. The sensor, called the Micro-Hyperspec, is an imaging sensor that offers very low stray light qualities, very high signal-to-noise capabilities and is designed to meet military-specific requirements for performance, size and weight.
06/10/2006 As the U.S. Army continues to plan the development of Warrior unmanned aircraft, the General Accounting Office (GAO) wants more assurances that the development plan will mitigate risks and not go the path of previous technologies that resulted in delays and cost over-runs. Under the Army development plan, Warriors would begin production now in order to provide immediate warfighting needs by 2008, with additional capabilities added to the aircraft as they are developed. However, with Warrior's similarity to the Predator, congressional advocates of jointness are somewhat frustrated by the fact that the Air Force and Army cannot use the exact same aircraft. But officials also believe that the Army's stated mission requirements for Warrior are legitimate. The GAO feels that the "develop-as-you-go" technique could result in delays and cost over-runs, based on other programs that were developed in the same manner and cited four specific technologies of the program that are critical to its success - the heavy fuel engine, automatic takeoff and landing, internal Ethernet control ability and a multirole tactical common datalink (TCDL). The internal Ethernet control ability and the multirole tactical common datalink are considered immature technologies, neither of which have been used on an unmanned aircraft. Even the Army considers the TCDL technology integration a moderate risk and plans to use an analog C-band data link as a backup. The Army is responding the GAO with plans to reduce risk and design the unmanned aircraft to make it more adaptable to new technologies. Both Army and GAO officials agree that at least ninety percent of the engineering drawings for the Warrior design should be complete before the Army procures long-lead parts. The Warrior is essentially a beefed-up Predator, capable of carrying more weapons and sturdier avionics, as well as operating on heavy fuel. A significant difference between the Predator and the Warrior is that the Warrior will be flown and operated by soldiers in theater.
06/09/2006 Military planners in Australia are pinning their future network-centric warfighting hopes on unmanned aircraft, even to the point that unmanned aircraft may undercut purchases of the Joint Strike Fighter. While automation, sensor cross-cueing, response time, stealth and other fine-points of a new unmanned design are debated, top Aussie military planners are positive that they want to build unmanned aircraft that compliment, rather than operate in isolation from, manned aircraft - particularly the new Joint Strike Fighter and AP-3 patrol aircraft. While budget is always an issue, the RAAF is searching for essentially two types of unmanned aircraft - a high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) aircraft and a tactical unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV) - both of which can interoperate with the named manned aircraft and each other. The planners desire completely new designs that are tailored to fit the operation inwhich they will participate. For instance, the UCAV design would be built so that it can keep up with other tactical manned aircraft and penetrate heavily defended areas, using its stealth qualities to get close to targets for increased intelligence gathering and precision weapons delivery. The HALE design would be built to compliment the Wedgetail and AP-3 patrol aircraft, moving quickly between different points, collecting various types of intelligence and providing ground surveillance of very large areas. Of notable interest is that Australian military planners do not believe that the Global Hawk and/or Predator aircraft can necessarily meet their goals and that competitor aircraft to the two U.S.-built aircraft could be the Heron from Israel Aircraft Industries and the EADS's Eagle.
06/08/2006 The Royal Air Force of Great Britain is again requesting additional funding from its government for the purchase of more Predator B unmanned aircraft. The Predators, if acquired, will support RAF operations in Afghanistant. The RAF has made similar requests in the past but has not yet been granted any funding requests for Predators.
06/07/2006 Citing rising costs, the U.S. Air Force is reducing the number of Northrop Grumman Global Hawks that it will purchase to only five aircraft. The Air Force initially planned for twenty of the cutting-edge aircraft. While the cost for the aircraft has risen over 20% since 2001, both Air Force and Northrop officials agree that the relatively new unmanned technology was pushed into service before it was completely ready (even before completing its initial technology demonstration phase), thus causing the cost increases. Officials believe that there were numerous uncertainties concerning requirements, technology, design and production of the aircraft as it initially entered service, but that ultimately the aircraft did an outstanding job of fulfilling the needs of the military and the Department of Defense. The Air Force is still very enthusiastic about using Global Hawks for intelligence missions and will continue to work in concert with Northrop to address and overcome the cost increases for the aircraft. In the meantime, the General Accounting Office recommends that full production of the aircraft be halted until all the technological "fixes" for the aircraft are addressed. Global Hawks have flown more than 6,000 combat hours and continue to serve the Air Force today.
06/06/2006 The U.S. Army's Future Combat System (FCS) will use Honeywell for the development and construction of the FCS Class I unmanned aircraft. The back-packable FCS Class I UAS, the smallest of the four UASs used by FCS, is slated for operation at the platoon level and will incorporate vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. The vertical mode will permit the aircraft to "hover and stare" at enemy positions or targets. The Honeywell design incorporates an autonomous flight control and navigation autopilot. The FCS Class I UAS contract could be worth as much as $61 million to Honeywell.
06/05/2006 Resurrecting a twenty-year-old experiment, Northrop Grumman has been given a go-ahead for another development attempt of an oblique flying wing (OFW) with a $10.3 million contract award from DARPA for the first phase of the program. Research will focus on the design and development of a tailless, supersonic expermental aircraft that can vary the sweep of the wing from a conventional flying wing to an oblique position that would much resemble a surfboard flying through the air. The concept permits greater fuel efficiency in all phases of flight, since the wing position can adjust to the most efficient position for the type of flight regime the aircraft needs, such as takeoff and landing or high-speed supersonic flight. The program may be eyeing unmanned aircraft applications, since the Pentagon is looking for an unmanned aircraft that can rapidly deploy to a target, then loiter for long hours overhead. The OFW is quite unstable, requiring massive amounts of computer input to stabilize the aircraft. But designers believe that those issues can be resolved with today's computing power and that the benefit will render an aircraft with exceptional aerodynamic flight performance and extreme fuel efficiency. The first phase, scheduled to last twenty months, will investigate aerodynamics, propulsion and controllability of the OFW concept, with special focus on risk reduction and technology maturation. If a second phase is awarded, the Northrop team will finalize the design and build an experimental prototype aircraft for flight test. Northrop officials believe the prototype aircraft could be flying by 2010.
06/04/2006 Northrop Grumman was awarded a $60 million contract for the advanced procurement of five RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aircraft that have expanded payload capabilities. The contract also includes long-lead parts, three launch/recovery elements and three mission control elements.
06/03/2006 Boeing will modify two of its ScanEagle unmanned aircraft with new sensors that are capable of detecting chemical and biological agents. The new detection capabilities will permit the ScanEagle to assess a potential target prior to attack by military forces to determine if the target has any chemical or biological agents present. In doing so, a determination can be made to reaccess attack in order to prevent dispersion of chemical or biological agents. The ScanEagle aircraft is currently being operated by Navy and Marine personnel. The contract award was for $8.2 million.
06/02/2006 Weight and volume. Two related specifications that aeronautical engineers continuously wrestle with during the development of an aircraft. Now, a breakthrough in engineering has been developed by Bental Industries of Israel. The company has developed a dual-purpose brushless generator/starter for unmanned aircraft engines. The unit initially acts as a starter for the engine. Then, once the engine starts, the unit senses the same and turns itself into a generator that produces electrical power to the aircraft. Because the unit uses a field effect instead of brushes to create electrical power, there aren't any parts to wear out - hence, the system's life cycle and reliability are dramatically increased. The generator/starter was developed in response to requests from unmanned aircraft manufacturers.
06/01/2006 In an effort to reduce the manufacturing costs of aircraft, the U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has conducted tests of composite wings with small surface defects and their relation to an aircraft's pressure gradient. The AFRL used a Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to study the effects of the surface defects on the laminar flow of air over the surface of the wing. In the tests, engineers varied the difference in the pressures from the leading edge of the wing to the trailing edge of the wing and determined that certain pressure differences, or gradients, were more favorable than others and actually would offset the negative effects of minor surface defects. The tests indicate that the negative affect of minor surface defects in composite structures can be offset with a properly set pressure gradient, thus permitting an increase in the "allowable" defects in the manufactured surface of the wing. The increase in allowable surface defects permits less restrictive manufacturing tolerances, which in turn reduces the cost of manufacturing and ultimately the cost of the aircraft.
06/01/2006 The German Defense Ministry and the U.S. Pentagon have agreed to ensure that Northrop's Global Hawk and its European brother, the Euro Hawk, will maintain interoperability. Germany is purchasing the Euro Hawk from EADS to provide missions involving signals intelligence as well as maritime surveillance. The Euro Hawk is essentially a Global Hawk, built by EADS under a cooperative manufacturing agreement with Northrop Grumman. German officials believe the Euro Hawk signals intelligence demonstrator contract could be completed and signed as early as this year and that a follow-on production contract will take place in 2010.
05/31/2006 Essentially an unmanned aircraft, the Loitering Attack Munition (LAM), developed by Lockheed Martin for the Army's Future Combat Systems program, has successfully completed the fourth of five test flights at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, demonstrating launch and transition to cruise. Sporting its new "square" fuselage, the LAM launched vertically from a container tube on the ground, using its rocket motor to propel it to altitude. During the ascent, the LAM unfolded its wings and executed a high-G maneuver (to prevent excess altiude during the launch sequence) and started the small internal turbojet that is used to sustain cruise flight. Once in cruise, the LAM established its own position fix using GPS and flew to an initial waypoint. Engineers were able to view the flight performance first-hand through the LAM's color television unit mounted in the nose. The FCS mission for the LAM is to loiter for up to thiry minutes while potential mobile targets are located, identified and eventually destroyed.
05/30/2006 The British Defense Ministry and Qinetiq will continue their quest to develop an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) by using a BAC 1-11 twin-engine regional jet as a "flying simulator" of a UCAV. The regional jet will be modified so that it can demonstrate unmanned technology for long-range strike aircraft and to investigate the operational capabilities of UCAVs, including direct relationships between command and control, autonomy and human input. So far, the BAC 1-11 has flown one proving flight earlier this year as a surrogate UCAV. The aircraft will undergo even more modifications to its systems throughout 2006 so that it can begin a test program sometime in 2007. The British UCAV effort is designed to develop and mature the key technologies that unmanned aircraft must use in order to complete missions, as well as investigate operational and cost issues. Britain's Royal Air Force believes that the development work will permit UCAVs to become part of its future combat air capability sometime around 2020.
05/29/2006 DARPA has unveiled its third Grand Challenge event. Slated for November 3, 2007, the new event is called the "Urban Challenge", inwhich competing unmanned ground vehicles will maneuver their way through a simulated military supply mission in an urban environment. The event includes a sixty mile course that must be completed in less than six hours. DARPA will provide prize money for the first three places, with first place set at $2 million, second place set at $500,000 and third place $250,000.
05/28/2006 Unmanned aircraft will undoubtedly play a large role with U.S. Homeland Security as the Secure Border Initiative is released to industry. The program is expected to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for technology that will secure U.S. borders in a post-9/11 environment. The Department of Homeland Security is allocated $100 million for 2007 and industry officials believe the funding will do nothing but improve year after year. One of the main technologies that should evolve is the continued use of unmanned aircraft to patrol borders between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Roughly, there is about 6,000 miles of U.S. border between Canada and Mexico to patrol. In addition, U.S. ports and the coastal areas of the United States may also require airborne surviellance.
05/27/2006 India's Defense Ministry is investigating new ways to improve and place greater emphasis on land warfare, including low-level surveillance capabilities. The effort will involve closer coordination of Navy and Air Force assets and is directed at restructuring Indian armed forces so that they are better adapted to future warfare challenges. In the surveillance area, India is purchasing unmanned aircraft from Israel in order to provide better surveillance of its border to Pakistan, where it faces continuing low-intensity conflicts. The goal for India's Defense Ministry is to coordinate its military assets and provide the necessary funding to equip soldiers with cutting-edge technology so that they are precision-strike capable. Defense officials indicated that long-term conventional threats from China as well as the low-intensity conflicts with Pakistan are the reasons for embracing a joint doctrine that emphasizes land warfare.
05/26/2006 The Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) aircraft program continues to receive attention from the Pentagon, even after suffering setbacks when the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army bowed out of the program. The Pentagon is investigating a new to ACS inwhich manned and unmanned missions are divided between the Air Force and Army. The Air Force would continue to maintain its control over manned aircraft assets and add one unmanned aircraft - the Global Hawk - to support manned operations. The Army would oversee all other unmanned aircraft, up to and including the Predator, providing battlefield commanders with long-endurance, multi-purpose intelligence and strike capabilities. Navy officials maintain they are still undecided about their participation level with ACS.
05/25/2006 Boeing's ScanEagle is working with the Brits. Recently, the unmanned aircraft operated from the HMS Sutherland, a British Type 23 frigate. During the tests, the ScanEagle launched from and recovered at the ship. With the help of a satellite link, the aircraft was able to provide real-time imaging to a command center, as well as the Sutherland and a Sea King helicopter. ScanEagle is rail-launched and recovers by flying directly into a rope that hangs vertically from a long pole. The rope slides down the leading edge of the wing and engages a clip, which locks the aircraft to the rope. ScanEagle was developed by Insitu, which is now a part of Boeing.
05/24/2006 The U.S. Army and Kaman Aerospace Corporation of Connecticut are working together on an unmanned initiative that will aid in the resupply of troops in the battlefield. Known as Broad-area Unmanned Responsive Resupply Operations, or "BURRO", the initiative is focusing on the use of unmanned helicopters for logistical support of troops in the battlefield. The specifics of BURRO include the ability for the helicopter to lift 6,000 pounds to an altitude of 20,000 feet. Kaman is developing the K-MAX helicopter in an unmanned version as the BURRO aircraft and recently completed an endurance flight of the aircraft that lasted over 12 hours. During the autonomous flight, the aircraft carried a safety pilot to make sure systems operated normally and the aircraft conformed to its programmed flight path. The lengthy unrefueled flight was made possible by the addition of an external fuel tank on the helicopter that contained 600 gallons of fuel. The K-MAX helicopter has already completed other test flights inwhich it delivered fuel, water - even 155mm ammunition to various locations. Kaman and the Army believe that the BURRO will someday provide battlefield commanders with an unmanned resupply option, thus eliminating combat risks to helicopter flight crews.
05/23/2006 Customs & Border Protection is in line to receive additional unmanned aircraft for border patrol operations. Recently the Bush administration requested nearly $2 billion from Congress to improve the border security of the United States. Over half of the $2 billion is targeted for the Department of Homeland Security, which allocated $95 million for the purchase of thirteen helicopters and two more unmanned aircraft.
05/22/2006 The April crash of the Customs & Border Protection's only Predator now has the House Appropriations Committee concerned about the future use of the unmanned aircraft for border protection. The Homeland Security Department's Fiscal 2007 funding allocated just over $10 million to the Predator program. Now the House Appropriations Committee has put a hold on nearly $7 million of the allocated $10 million until results of the crash investigation are completed. At the technology level of Predator operations, it is probable that Predator operations will be permitted to continue. But small unmanned aircraft operators take note. It is precisely this type of event - happening on a more frequent basis - involving public land or buildings - due to errors in judgement or equipment - that can prevent unmanned aircraft operations in the National Airspace System indefinitely. While official FARs for unmanned aircraft are not published yet, it is imperative that the increasing number of unmanned aircraft manufacturers and operators accept and attempt to comply with the current level of safety for manned aircraft by constructing and operating their aircraft to the same FAR standards of airworthiness and operations already in place for manned aircraft. In doing so, acceptance of unmanned aircraft operations by the public and the FAA will be more forthcoming, because ultimately it is the same two entities - the public and the FAA - that will determine whether or not unmanned aircraft will gain access to the National Airspace System.
05/21/2006 NASA's Fiscal Year 2007 budget request totaled $16.8 billion, but did not address any future funding of the Access 5 unmanned aircraft project. Access 5 is an entity comprised of NASA, the Department of Defense, the FAA and an industry consortium named UNITE that consists of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Aurora Flight Sciences and AeroVironment. Access 5 was developing file-and-fly operational rules for unmanned aircraft flight in the National Airspace System (NAS), specifically high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aircraft. NASA had previously dedicated $100 million of funding over five years to the Access 5 project. The loss of funding may very well conclude the Access 5 effort, unless alternate funding can be found. NASA officials cited prioritization of budget requirements as the reason for the cancellation of the funding.
05/20/2006 Global Microwave Systems of Carlsbad, California and Flying Cam of Belgium have flown an unmanned aircraft equipped with a GMS High-Definition Messenger Link to demonstrate that high-definition (HD) video can be carried aboard an unmanned aircraft and the information linked to the ground for dissemination. Flying Cam provided the unmanned aircraft for the demonstration. GMS officials will expand the capability of unmanned aircraft to HD UAV platforms. The high-resolution equipment permitted controllers to read a license plate on a moving vehicle from an altitude of 2,000 feet.
05/19/2006 The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Phantom Works and NASA are collectively investigating blended wing body aircraft designs, with the research focusing on structural, aerodynamic and operational advantages of the technology. The organizations have assembled two prototypes, designated X-48B, for wind tunnel and flight testing. Each prototype has a 21 foot wingspan and use multiple control surfaces on the wing for stability and control, thus replacing conventional tails. The first prototype has already started wind tunnel testing at NASA's Langley Research Center.
05/18/2006 EADS has achieved the first test flight of its Barracuda unmanned aircraft demonstrator at the San Javier air base in Spain. The twin-rudder Barracuda is powered by a single jet engine capable of over 1300 pounds of thrust. Officials noted that the aircraft will be fitted with EO/IR sensors, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), an emitter locator system and a laser designator for future test flights. The first test flight lasted 20 minutes.
05/17/2006 United Industrial Corp.'s (UIC) AAI Corporation has announced their award of an $87 million order from the Army for nine additional Shadow 200 Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TUAS). The nine systems include 36 advanced RQ-7B Shadow 200 aircraft, 18 One System ground control stations (GCSs) and associated components and support equipment. A Shadow TUAS system is made up of four unmanned aircraft systems. Delivery of the systems will begin in April 2007 and continue through March 2008. So far AAI has received production awards for a total of 64 Army Shadow systems, with a total of 256 production Shadow 200 UAS ordered since December 1999. Forty-three systems have been delivered, and with the new order, system deliveries now extend through March 2008. The Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft supports U.S. and allied operations in Iraq and has accrued over 17,000 sorties and 76,000 flight hours since deploying to Iraq in 2003.
05/16/2006 Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract worth $60.6 million for long-lead procurement of materials required for the low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the six RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, including three each of the the launch/recovery elements and mission control elements.
05/15/2006 Smaller unmanned aircraft may soon be carrying tactical missiles. The U.S. Navy's Naval Air Systems Command, DRS Technologies, and the Thiokol division of Alliant Techsystems have developed the world's smallest tactical "fire-and-forget" missile, aptly named "Spike". Only 25 inches long and 2.25 inches in diameter, the 5.3 pound missile is built from off-the-shelf parts and is designed to attack small, mobile targets such as automobiles or boats. The Spike missile recently completed a test firing at Naval Air Station China Lake in California, hitting a 2-meter target from a distance of about one kilometer. Officials working with the program are planning another test firing for July of 2006 and are working to increase the range of the missile to over 3 kilometers, or roughly two miles. In addition to launching the missile from unmanned aircraft, the project team is also investigating a shoulder-launched version of the missile. Program officials are targeting a cost goal of $5000 per missile.
05/14/2006 The U.S. Navy in conjunction with the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation have unveiled a new $10 million experimental surface vessel that may someday change the way U.S. Navy surface warfare is fought. Built by Knight & Carver, the ship is called the Stiletto and is designed to provide different warfare communities a chance to try out new technical devices in an operational environment, as well as investigate new ways to fight traditional battles. Not extremely large, the ship is 88 feet long and 40 feet wide, thus allowing it to sit high on the water with only a 24-inch draft and achieve speeds of 50 knots. The boxy size also provides over 2,000 feet of interior space intended to house, among other types of gear, unmanned aircraft. Unmanned aircraft will launch from a mini flight deck on the craft. The Stiletto will take to the high seas in May 2006 and operate in an exercise known as "Howler" to investigate shallow water mine clearance capabilities. The Howler exercise will use two unmanned aircraft to help locate underwater mines. One is the Manta UAV, carrying a small, hyper-spectral underwater sensor. The other is a Silver Fox UAV carrying an EO/IR video sensor. Navy officials hope that the Howler exercise will lead to increased use of the Stiletto for other experiments involving new technology. Already taking interest is the Special Operations Command, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, the Navy advanced concept technology demonstration programs, the naval medical community, and officials from Customs & Homeland Defense.
05/13/2006 The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee placed language in the 2007 defense authorization bill that urges the Secretary of Defense to prioritize the development of unmanned aircraft systems. As part of that prioritization, the U.S. Navy recently disclosed details of a massive and possible multibillion dollar contract for an unmanned aerial reconnaissance system that would require a large number of aircraft, including a sophisticated array of sensors, communication systems and ground control stations. The program, of course, is the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program that Navy officials state will cover five major areas of the world 24 hours a day. The Navy is expected to finalize requirements for BAMS through mid-2006 and issue requests for proposals to industry by January 2007. Navy officials hope to award a contract by September 2007. Some requirements of the BAMS program included aircraft capable of flying 2,000 miles, loitering for 24 hours, then flying 2,000 miles back to a home base. Sensor and communication requirements include the ability to survey large areas of open ocean and coastal areas and relay collected information to both ground and sea assetts stationed around the world. The BAMS aircraft could also serve as a communications relay. As development begins, the Navy hopes to see aircraft and sensors ready for testing some time in 2011 with a battle-ready system by 2013.
05/11/2006 The U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is working hard to do its job - that is, to keep all systems in the battlefield "joint" so that each branch of the military has the ability to access information from other services and provide its own input service-wide. In addition to inter-operability issues with blue-force tracking systems, JFCOM noted that unmanned aircraft systems of one service are not always able to communicate with other other services, leaving the collected data of the UAS inaccessible to all but the service the UAS was developed for. A JFCOM official noted that the additional funding required to "fix" non-joint systems could be reduced if systems were developed jointly from the beginning. As unmanned aircraft take on larger and more complicated weapon roles on the battlefield, it is imperative that the data provided by the UAS is available to all friendly forces and that the systems themselves can communicate effectively between services. Establishing better "jointness" with systems will help prevent future "blue-on-blue" engagement.
05/10/2006 NATO has issued a request for proposals to industry for the 30-month design and development phase of the Airborne Ground Surveillance (AGS) system. Objectives of the AGS program include the use of manned and unmanned aircraft as platforms for the system. Manned aircraft consiste of the Airbus A320 and unmanned aircraft the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk. The AGS program is served by an industrial team known as the Transatlantic Industrial Proposed Solution (TIPS), made up of EADS (Germany), Galileo Avionica (Italy), General Dynamics (Canada), Northrop Grumman (U.S.) and Thales (France). NATO officials recently disclosed that the TIPS team will soon be renamed to AGS Industries.
05/09/2006 In November 2005, Proxy Aviation of Germantown, Maryland demonstrated its SkyWatcher unmanned aircraft to the U.S. Air Force UAV Battlelab (UAVB) at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The SkyWatcher is actually more than an unmanned aircraft - the company refers to it as an "optionally-piloted" aircraft. The idea provides more flexibility for the unmanned portion of the system because it permits the aircraft to be flown by a pilot to the point where it will operate unmanned, thus avoiding some of the current pitfalls for the operation of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System. The SkyWatcher aircraft is slated to perform ISR missions and is the ISR component of Proxy's proposed "SkyForce" concept. SkyForce is a network-centric unmanned aircraft system designed to manage the cooperative flight of a constellation of up to 12 unmanned aircraft. The system utilizes multiple unmanned (optionally-piloted) aircraft with modular payload capabilities, a mission-management ground control station and remote/mobile user terminals, thus providing sensor control and viewing capabilities for multiple end-users. The demonstration flight for the UAVB was provided under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the UAVB and Proxy Aviation. FLIR Systems also joined the demonstration by providing its Star SAFIRE III sensor, carried in the quick-change, modular payload bay of the SkyWatcher aircraft.
05/08/2006 In its ongoing development of advanced infrared detectors, Sofradir announced that the company has developed the highest-definition 15-micron pitch infrared detector available. Called Jupiter, the new detector uses third-generation mercury-cadmium-telluride technology to provide a compact, low power consumption 1,280 x 1024 pixel display in TV format. Sofradir's best available detector prior to Jupiter was the Scorpio model, which provided a 640 x 512 pixel display.
05/08/2006 Naval Air Systems Command (NASC) has contracted BAE Systems, Information & Electronic Systems of Manassas, Virginia through May 2007 under a $5.5 million contract to support developing research activity for miniature sensors of radio frequencies. The work includes advanced concepts of the technology and BAE will also perform flight demonstrations of the prototype airborne sensors.
05/07/2006 Athena Technologies will provide its GuideStar flight control and navigation system and develop the flight controls for Lockheed Martin's new morphing unmanned aircraft, set for its first flight sometime during the summer of 2006. Lockheed's famous Skunkworks designed the new aircraft under DARPA's morphing aircraft structures program, which is researching wings that can "morph" into different shapes during flight so that the wing is efficient both at high and low speeds. Athena's GuideStar system is tailored to smaller, high-performance unmanned aircraft. The amount of the contract was not available.
05/06/2006 Even manned aviation can benefit from unmanned aircraft technology. Eclipse Aviation president Vern Raburn believes that unmanned aircraft technology will someday reduce pilot manning requirements for passenger-carrying aircraft because the technology being used today by unmanned aircraft can provide a "copilot-on-the-ground" for manned aircraft. Raburn offered the comments referencing concerns about single-pilot incapacitation with the company's Eclipse 500 small business jet. The six-place Eclipse 500 is designed to carry up to five passengers with only one pilot. Raburn believes that manned aviation could utilize back-up pilots at ground control stations to provide a source of additional safety in case the aircraft's single pilot becomes incapacitated during flight. Control of the aircraft could transfer to the back-up pilot on the ground, who would then safely land the aircraft. Officials agree that the technology is currently available and that it will probably happen someday - but assert that use of a "copilot-on-the-ground" is probably still a few years away.
05/05/2006 Advanced Ceramics Researchcompany of Tucscon, Arizona has provided its twin-boomed "Manta" unmanned aircraft to researchers at University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography for a study of pollution in clouds. The study will help scientists determine how pollution affects cloud formations and how the resultant cloud formation affects the dimming of sunlight on the surface of the earth. The pollution tests took place near the Maldive Islands off the southern coast of India and involved flying three of the aircraft in an altitude stack between 6,000 and 12,000 feet. During the collection of data, the three aircraft were required to fly in very tight circles (100 feet or less) while remaining in a perfectly stacked formation. The top altitude aircraft flew above a cloud and measured the sunlight reflected from the top of the cloud. The middle altitude aircraft flew the same pattern as the top aircraft, but in the cloud, measuring the cloud's response to pollutants. The bottom altitude aircraft flew the same pattern as the other two, but below the cloud, measuring light levels below the cloud to see how pollution above was blocking sunlight. The lower aircraft also counted pollution particles. Officials from Advanced Ceramics were pleased with the Manta's flight performance and stated that the aircraft were actually able to fly the test formations tighter than required. Researchers at the Scripps Institute were also pleased with the performance of the Manta in the test and believe that UAVs will someday be used to determine how humans pollute Mother Earth. Once again, unmanned aircraft are proving their usefulness for research as well as a variety of other missions.
05/04/2006 In an ongoing effort to rebuild the coastal region in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Katrina, Northrop Grumman recently opened its Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Mississippi. In addition to manufacturing portions of the RQ-4B Global Hawk, the new plant - which cost $13 million and has over 100,000 square feet of working area - will provide the manufacturing capabilities for Northrop's MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. Northrop provides over 18,000 industrial manufacturing jobs to the Gulf Coast region.
05/03/2006 Boeing is researching the ability to control unmanned aircraft from helicopters. In February the company successfully used a remote control station placed at the copilot station of an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter to control payloads and operate weapons on an unmanned aircraft that was several miles away from the controlling Longbow. During the test the Longbow helicopter remained on the ground while a controller sent command signals to a modified A/MH-6 Little Bird, known at Boeing as the Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) helicopter. The test demonstrated that controllers in the Longbow could perform a standard Hellfire missile firing sequence as well as control payloads in the ULB helicopter. The test took place at Boeing's test facility located in Mesa, Arizona.
05/02/2006 Through June 2006, Aerovironment, based in Monrovia, California, will continue testing of the SkyTote unmanned concept demonstrator for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The SkyTote aircraft is designed to takeoff and land vertically like a helicopter, yet fly horizontally like an airplane. Engineers at Aerovironment have developed various versions of SkyTote over the last few years, but plan for the aircraft to conduct bomb damage assessment missions and/or cargo missions when testing is complete. The company is developing the SkyTote program under the AFRL Air Vehicles Directorate using funding from Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR).
05/01/2006 Iran displayed a new unmanned aircraft during a "show of force" military parade in Tehran last month. Due to the aircraft's similarity with two other unmanned aircraft, military analysts believe the Iranian aircraft may perform anti-radiation missions. The new aircraft is known as Toufan and is very similar to unmanned aircraft built in Israel (Harpy) or South Africa (Lark). Essentially a flying Dorito-chip, the Toufan has four, rather large, blade antennas mounted vertically on the wing. The antennas, believed to operate in VHF or L-band frequencies, probably allow the aircraft to locate a threatening surface-to-air radar signal, then home on the signal until the aircraft terminates at the signal emitter with a warhead detonation. The aircraft may also include optical equipment. The Toufan aircraft incorporates a pusher engine/propeller combination for propulsion. Analysts believe the aircraft has been under development for several years.
04/30/2006 India is launching an aggressive $1 billion plan over the next three to five years that will use unmanned aircraft and satellites to network its corps level units to its individual platoons. Indian Army officials state that the network will multiply combat effectiveness by providing continuity between secure communications and sensor, weapon and decision support systems. Unmanned aircraft that will be incorporated into the plan include high and low altitude aircraft and aerostats. Payloads will include optical and sythetic imaging, SIGINT and communications devices. The $1 billion plan is only the beginning of the country's long-range planning for a network-centric Army force. In addition to carrying tactical payloads, the system will use unmanned aircraft (and satellites) as communication relays to provide beyond-line-of-sight tactical communications. Requirements for the plan are still being written and Indian Army officials state that the country will look to foriegn suppliers to build the system.
04/29/2006 U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Tim Heely, former A-7E Corsair pilot and now the program executive officer for strike and unmanned aviation at Naval Air Systems Command, is keeping the Navy focused on the future as well as the present. While concerned about the immediate present danger of locating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the senior Naval officer stresses the importance of addressing all threat aspects of present and future battle situations. While IEDs are a threat today, tomorrow's battlefield may very well provide an entirely different threat scenario. The failure to adequately address all possible threats of current and future battlefields would be a mistake. Our kudos to Admiral Heely for telling like it is and maintaining a big picture view in his position.
04/28/2006 Eighty-four year old pilot legend Scott Crossfield, the first pilot to fly an aircraft at the speed of Mach 2, was killed on April 19, 2006 when the Cessna 210A he was piloting crashed near Ludville, Georgia. Air Traffic Control officials lost radio contact and radar contact with Crossfield just prior to the crash are were unable to determine if there was a problem onboard the aircraft. The crash site was located the following day by the Georgia Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. No other persons were aboard the aircraft. Crossfield was best known for his flights in the X-15 experimental rocket-powered research aircraft, but he also flew many other "X"-planes, including the X-1, made famous by Chuck Yeager's first flight above the speed of sound. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
04/27/2006 April has been a "testing" month for unmanned aircraft. First, the Department of Homeland Security's Customs & Border Patrol unit lost it's recently purchased Predator in an early-morning crash along the U.S. - Mexico border. While the crash is still under investigation, preliminary reports indicate that the aircraft lost its communications link. Second, Boeing lost its second of two X-50A Dragonfly unmanned canard rotor/wing demonstrators in a crash at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, completely destroying the aircraft and putting the entire test program on hold. That crash is still under investigation and Boeing officials have not yet identified a cause for the crash. Finally, Bell Helicopter Textron lost its TR918 Eagle Eye unmanned tiltrotor technology demonstrator in a crash at its Wrangler, Texas UAV flight test facility after the engine failed during low speed flight at about 300 feet of altitude. The crash did not completely destroy the aircraft and Bell engineers are salvaging parts from the aircraft for replacement aircraft. The TR918 is the commercial version of the Eagle Eye and is slightly different than the TR916, which is the military version that will be used for the Coast Guard's Deepwater fleet modernization initiative.
04/26/2006 In the continuing effort to provide "joint" solutions to U.S. military services, the Pentagon has requested the Air Force and the Army to work toward a single solution for an unmanned aircraft. The two services already have an agreement to jointly develop a replacement for the Predator unmanned aircraft. But it seems neither service wants to give up on their idea of a what a suitable replacement would be. The Air Force is focusing on Predator A aircraft and eventually Predator B's, which are larger and can carry more payload. The Army, on the other hand, is focusing on the Warrior, a modified variation of the Predator that costs a bit more. Both top officials of each service seem a bit entrenched in their decision to stay with the aircraft that works best for their service. The Air Force is worried that if they begin to work with the Warrior aircraft, the production of Predator A aircraft may decline or stop. The Army desires a tactical unmanned aircraft versus a strategic aircraft - an aircraft that can provide quick strike capabilities in urban environments - and simply state that they have decided to purchase Warriors because neither the Predator A or B aircraft can be controlled by a division- or brigade-level battlefield commander. Warriors can carry up to 500 pounds of external payload and the operator (pilot) is right in the battle, next to the battlefield commander. Predator B aircraft can carry up to 3,000 pounds of weapons, but are controlled from stations far-removed from the battlefield. While both services have been given directions to come to an agreement, some feel that the real issue is not simply a decision on the type of aircraft to purchase, but rather a more pressing issue of which service is "traditionally" in control of aircraft in war-time environments. The Air Force contends it should be in control of airborne assets, including unmanned. The Army contends that they need to be able to make decisions in the battlefield without having to "get permission" from headquarters. Whatever the outcome, there is one entity involved in the whole situation that could not be happier - General Atomics.
04/25/2006 Pentagon officials are reviewing what they think may have been a hasty decision regarding the retirement of the U-2 spyplane. In December 2005, a decision was made to retire the remaining U-2 aircraft in favor of replacing them with Northrop Grumman Global Hawk aircraft. The decision supposedly would have saved the Air Force approximately $1 billion. But top Air Force officials now believe the decision may have been pre-mature and have decided to keep at least some of the U-2s operational for the near future, providing for a more stable transition to the unmanned aircraft. Northrop officials believe the Global Hawk is solidly providing the same mission capabilities of the U-2, in addition to carrying even more advanced ISR payloads, such as the Advanced Signals Intelligence Platform (ASIP) pod. ASIP can can collect high- and low-band signals and the high-band portion has already flown onboard the Global Hawk. Additionally, Northrop feels the Global Hawk reduces costs while providing the same mission capabilities. However, while the Global Hawk is generally accepted as a replacement for the U-2, some Washington officials feel that the aircraft's performance has not adequately addressed certain areas of intelligence gathering, such as finding and identifying low flying aircraft at night with it's synthetic aperture radar. Global Hawk has proven its ability to conduct long endurance surveillance missions, most recently with three Southern Command demonstration flights. Air Force officials are certainly happy with the performance capabilities of the Global Hawk, but also contend that the U-2 can still provide a long-look radar capability that is useful to combatant commanders, thereby justifying a decision to keep the U-2 operational for a while longer. From a cost standpoint, the cost of a single Global Hawk aircraft is definitely increasing. Initially, each Global Hawk cost approximately $60 million. But GAO officials now estimate that each aircraft cost approximately $82 million - or $130 million when development costs are included. However, the Global Hawk does provide a return on investment. The aircraft can remain on station for over 24 hours on a mission - a capability that would require three U-2 aircraft. Additionally, Northrop officials contend that capability requirements are continuously added to Global Hawk, which also drives up costs. But the added capabilities have provided a profitable return on investment by reducing the number of aircraft required to perform a mission from two to only one. Add the fact that the pilot of the aircraft is not placed in any danger during the mission and it would seem that the Global Hawk costs are completely justified. But for the time being, the venerable U-2 will still provide service to the military - and an incredible seat for a pilot to literally sit on top of the world.
04/24/2006 Unmanned aircraft are helping the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force define new air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon requirements. The services are investigating requirements for the future weapons, which are similar to unmanned aircraft with warheads. The weapons are maneuverable, have loitering capabilities and may even combine air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting capabilities. One such weapon under development is called the Multi-Purpose Loitering Missile (MPLM). The weapon is under development by Raytheon and the company recently conducted a test of the airframe at the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) in China Lake. Raytheon is still defining requirements for such a weapon, but from an operational standpoint, believe the weapon will be ship-launched and able to loiter for up to 6 hours in a holding pattern, waiting for pop-up targets of opportunity. Once a target becomes available, forward controllers could direct the weapon to the target through GPS or by providing target coordinates to the weapon. Time from target pop-up to target strike would be roughly 7 to 8 minutes. The weapon would carry a warhead similar to the Hellfire missile warhead and cost no more than $150,000 per weapon.
04/24/2006 The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force are working to sort out a complicated issue that both services need to address - that of airborne electronic jamming and the platforms that will employ the technology. The mission of tactical jamming is critical to both services in combat. The aircraft that fly the missions are also deemed critical. Currently, top Air Force and Navy officials are trying to decide on the most suitable aircraft to deploy airborne jamming technology. Originally, the Air Force intended to use the B-52H for its canceled Stand-Off Jammer (SOJ) program. The Navy continues to pursue the EA-18G Growler (a modified F-18) as its platform. But both services seem to concur that unmanned aircraft in the form of a UCAV or variation, have equal applicability to carry electronic warfare to the battlefield.
04/23/2006 Having just recently received its first Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, the U.S. Navy may soon send the aircraft to the Middle East to conduct maritime surveillance missions in the area. The aircraft, designated N-1 for the Navy, would conduct the surveillance in the Persian Gulf area to help reduce the threat of asymmetric maritime attacks against U.S. and coalition ships operating in the area.
04/22/2006 With an eye on improving engine technology for unmanned aircraft (and rotorcraft), the U.S. Army intends to spend $1.3 million to improve compressor technology on a 6,000 shaft-horsepower class turboshaft engine as part of their Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine program. The funding will cover development efforts through 2010 with the goal of providing cost-effective, fuel-efficient and high-performance turbine engines for unmanned aircraft and rotorcraft.
04/21/2006 On another front for improvements for unmanned aircraft, the U.S. Army is also investigating improvements to radars. In one effort, the Army requesting industry to help define the requirements for a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with ground-moving, target-tracking capabilities. The SAR sensor is intended for use on smaller unmanned aircraft which restricts its weight to 150 pounds and power consumption to 1.5 kilowatts. The Army would like the sensor to be able to spot a human at a distance of 15 kilometers, thus providing the possibility of detecting IEDs.
In another effort, the Army would like to see an improved radar for Predator-B aircraft that has the ability to see through foliage - and even the ground. Known as the Tactical Reconnaissance and Counterconcealment-Enabled Radar program, the development effort will include three systems developed and assembled over a 30 month period that can provide near-real-time intelligence and imaging capabilities with on-ground processing.
04/20/2006 The Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International's (AUVSI) Emerald Coast Chapter of Sandestin, Florida has announced MAV 2006, the 2nd Annual U.S.-European Competition and Workshop for unmanned micro air vehicles. The event will take place from October 30 to November 02, 2006 at the Eglin AFB in Florida and is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Armament Center. The competition is designed to identify and develop state-of-the-art technologies that are necessary to enhance the performance of today's unmanned micro air vehicles. Information for this event and others may be accessed from this website by clicking "NEWS & EVENTS" and "INDUSTRY EVENTS" and locating the appropriate event link.
04/19/2006 The aerospace industry has anticipated the use of unmanned aircraft as the next century of aviation. It appears the Federal Aviation Administration is moving forward with plans to include unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System. In a recent meeting, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey recognized that the NAS is filling up rapidly with aircraft, and that the increasing number of commercial aircraft includes unmanned aircraft. The head of the FAA further stated that the number of applications for airworthiness certificates for non-government unmanned aircraft will continue to increase. While the news is great for the unmanned aircraft industry, it is not without its critics. General aviation pilots are fearful that the increased use of unmanned aircraft for security purposes will cause an increase in Temporary Flight Restriction airspace (such as along the southern border in Arizona where the Department of Homeland Security flies its Predator B unmanned aircraft), thus reducing the available airspace for general aviation. However, the executive director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association (AOPA) believes that unmanned aircraft should be integrated into the NAS (instead of issuing TFRs) because the integration will essentially force the development of the "see-and-avoid" technology that is required for unmanned aircraft to safely avoid manned aircraft. Unmanned see-and-avoid technology is viewed by many industry specialists as a major hurdle for the integration of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System.
04/18/2006 Northrop Grumman and the Office of Naval Research combined talents to successfully demonstrate Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) Tactical UAV Communications Relay using a Northrop RQ-8A Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft. In the demonstration, the Fire Scout served as an airborne relay node that extended communication ranges, thus allowing battlefield commanders the ability to share uninterrupted real-time video, voice and data information with mobile ground troops. The Fire Scout also served as an airborne extension of the Marine Corps Command and Control On-the-Move Network Digital Over-the-Horizon Relay system. The flight demonstration took place at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and also marked the Fire Scout's 200th flight.
04/17/2006 University scientists in conjunction with aerospace giant Boeing recently demonstrated new software flight control technology that will someday improve the autonomous operation of unmanned aircraft systems. The software technology was developed under a DARPA-sponsored program called Software Enabled Control, or SEC. The recent technology demonstration involved the autonomous, software-controlled flight of an unmanned Renegade rotorcraft through a course of known and pop-up threats. During the test, the unmanned Renegade flew routes at low level to avoid detection and autonomously avoided the known threats and pop-up threats. The new software also enabled the aircraft to determine safe landing zones during its flight.
04/16/2006 Test Squadron VX-20 of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland recently received its first RQ-4A Global Hawk (designator N-1) unmanned reconnaissance aircraft from Northrop Grumman. The Navy intends to use N-1 in its Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration program for maritime reconnaissance, but VX-20 will begin using N-1 right away in the April 2006 Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment where it will demonstrate persistent high-altitude, long-endurance maritime intelligence gathering, operating from NAS Patuxent River.
04/15/2006 While tax-time in the United States can be a headache at times, it is always comforting to know that a portion of the taxes we pay to Uncle Sam every year are used to defend our freedoms here in the United States. Those "freedoms" include the freedoms to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Every person's pursuit of happiness is different. It may include working, playing or even doing nothing at all. But the freedom to choose what defines your happiness - and to pursue that choice without worry or fear of retribution - is a freedom worth paying for. Every day our nation's elected officials and men and women in uniform tirelessly work to provide that freedom to every citizen of the United States - sometimes so that we can "freely" complain about the elected officials, the system, or the taxes we must pay. But it is the taxes we pay that continue to support our country and pay our elected officials and service personnel - who, in turn, protect our "freedom to complain". So this year, take a moment to thank your elected officials and service members - and be happy knowing that the taxes you pay are worth every cent.
04/14/2006 On April 6, 2006, the United States Senate confirmed Gordon England as the U.S. deputy defense secretary. The former Secretary of the Navy, England will now serve under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The confirmation of England was delayed for a time amid some opposition from Senator Snowe of Maine because she was unhappy about some of England's shipbuilding plans while he was Secretary of the Navy. Senator Snowe felt that some of his (England's) decisions at that time would have negatively impacted future shipbuilding at Maine's Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. However, Senator Snowe's concerns were eventually addressed by Senator John Warner of Virginia and the confirmation of England approved.
04/13/2006 EADS Defense Electronics of Ulm, Germany launched production of a state-of-the-art datalink system for the German Kleinfluggerat Zielortung (KZO) unmanned aircraft system. New technology used in the datalink includes new signal processing methods combined with frequency-hopping and utilization of very narrow beamwidth antennas on both the Ground Control Station and aircraft. Due to their narrow beamwidth, the antennas must be automatically aligned to each other. However, the benefit is that the antennas are less susceptible to jamming. The new datalink system includes the ground terminal and the airborne terminal carried by the KZO aircraft.
04/12/2006 Engineers from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom are working on a 6.2 million pound project known as Flapless Air Vehicle Integrated Industrial Research, or "FLAVIIR". The program recently touted a test flight of a radio-controlled model airplane that incorporated technology to investigate flight without wing flaps. FLAVIIR is investigating the use of fluidic thrust vectoring and air jets to serve as replacements for wing flaps. Fluidic thrust vectoring uses secondary air flow to change the direction of primary thrust. The program is scheduled to continue over the next five years with the intent to develop new technologies for unmanned aircraft and provide a flying FLAVIIR demonstrator aircraft by 2009. Additionally, engineers at the University of Leicester are working on software improvements that will someday "replace" pilots in aircraft. Funding for the FLAVIIR program is provided by BAE Systems and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
04/11/2006 Qinetiq is developing a new, lightweight, high-performance antenna that combines a wide beam-width with high gain, thus allowing the antenna to receive very weak signals. What kind of weak signals? The kind that are sent from the small Boeing ScanEagle's low-visibility transmitters. Because the size of the ScanEagle aircraft limits its transmission power, the new experimental receiver antenna is being developed so that helicopters can receive imagery transmissions from the ScanEagle at ranges that are useful in combat operations. The antenna, mounted on the outside of the helicopter, successfully completed flight tests with the ScanEagle in March 2006. Qinetiq is developing the antenna as part of the $5.25 million Joint Unmanned Air Vehicle Experimentation (JUEP) maritime program.
04/10/2006 With potential use onboard unmanned aircraft, the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has teamed with Honeywell to develop a micro gas analyzer that mates a gas chromatograph (GC) with a mass spectrometer (MS). The entire device is no larger than a cell phone and scientists hope that the device will be able to detect trace amounts of a nerve gas stimulant known as dimethyl methylphosphonate. The GC-MS sensor is currently being tested for use by troops to detect low-level chemical threats, but it is certainly conceivable to see the device adapted to unmanned aircraft for wide area chemical detection. The new technology development is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
04/09/2006 The United States Air Force has not specifically defined a requirement for a new bomber, but some specifications are becoming more apparent, even though they may not yet be possible. The challenging future requirements may call for an aircraft that has "all-encompassing" capabilities, including the speed of an SR-71, the payload of a B-52 and the stealthiness of the B-2. But even better is the requirement for the aircraft to be unmanned, or at least "optionally-piloted". Air Force officials would also like to see variable-cycle engines, which provide maximum thrust at takeoff but switch to high-bypass engines at altitude for maximum efficiency. The fuel efficiency of the variable-cycle engines would provide the range and endurance requirements for the aircraft, which officials believe should be in excess of 2000 nautical miles and between 15 and 20 hours of flight time. While the eventual release of such requirements are certainly challenging, Air Force officials believe that they can have such an aircraft available within the next 10 to 15 years.
04/08/2006 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is investigating an interesting new technique for morphing airframes. The technique involves the use of rechargeable batteries and a unique feature that the batteries have - that of expanding or contracting as they are charged, discharged and recharged. Scientists believe that the feature may be useful for changing the shape of aircraft wings so that the aircraft can be more efficient during different phases of flight. Additionally, the morphing structure could be automated, based on the energy use and expansion/contraction of the battery during various phases of flight. So far, scientists have demonstrated battery-based actuators that can push or pull with large forces and hope to demonstrate a morphing helicopter blade later this year using the new technology. The theory may lead to more energy-efficient airframes and efficient aircraft component designs.
04/07/2006 With a potential setback to Lockheed Martin and F-35 sales, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) may opt to use unmanned combat aircraft for 30% of their anticipated purchase of one hundred F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Australian officials are contemplating a purchase of only 70 F-35 and purchasing 30 unmanned combat aircraft to round out their future one hundred aircraft fleet. The Australian officials believe that their future fighter and strike aircraft fleet can incorporate unmanned combat aircraft that operate in conjuntion with manned fighter aircraft. The decision has Lockheed Martin officials contemplating an unmanned version of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in order to offset the potential loss of sales. Drawings and concept studies have already been completed and officials believe that an unmanned version of the F-35 JSF - if unit costs could stay in the $10-15 million range - could be an excellent "wingman" to the manned version of its JSF. Lockheed is not alone in its idea though. Both France and Britain are developing stealthy unmanned aircraft which will undoubtedly be competitive with the Lockheed version, providing the RAAF more than a few choices.
04/06/2006 India will soon select a replacement air defense missile for its aging Russian S-125 (SA-GOA) surface to air system. Among competitors for India's new surface to air missile defense system is Rafael with its short range Spyder missile and MBDA with its vertical launch Mica missile. Both missiles were originally designed as air to air missiles and both systems can guide by either radar or infrared imaging. Why is it important for unmanned aircraft? Because the missile tests utilized small unmanned aircraft as targets, providing of course another "utility" purpose for unmanned aircraft. In one of the engagement tests, the unmanned aircraft was flying at an altitude of only 100 feet. In another, the unmanned aircraft flew at 5000 feet. While unmanned drones have been used as targets for years, it may be interesting to think about the various types of unmanned aircraft being developed, as well as their flight regimes and missions. As unmanned aircraft become more useful to military forces around the world and their missions become more diverse, the aircraft will also become more valuable as targets to opposition forces. Consequently, new methods of "containing" unmanned aircraft as a threat may develop simply because of their rather unique flight regime and flight characteristics. The result may affect missile guidance envelopes and the resultant testing of those missiles may increase the use of unmanned aircraft as specialty target drones. The missile threat to unmanned aircraft may, in turn, create missile defense tactics for unmanned aircraft. Chaff, flares???
04/05/2006 Defence R&D Canada recently collaborated with other agencies and companies in a synthetic environment-based engineering experiment known as Joint Simulation, Modeling, Acquisition, Requirements, Training and Support II (JSMARTS II) (whew!) that used an unmanned aircraft as part of the experiment. The scenario for the experiment involved locating a dirty bomb in a downtown area of a major city and the unmanned aircraft was used to help support the search for the bomb by linking to patrol cars on the ground equipped with radiation sensors. The evolving scenario was viewable on large, three-dimensional screens as JSMARTS created the simulation environment and the experiment concluded with the location of the bomb. The JSMARTS II can create simulation environments more rapidly than other large-scale simulations because it replays scenarios instead of creating new scenarios from scratch. The JSMARTS II experiment took place in Ottawa, Canada in January 2006.
04/04/2006 DARPA has awarded Northrop Grumman a $10.3 million contract to study the development possibilities of a supersonic oblique flying wing. The 20-month program will involve preliminary design, testing and risk reduction of the oblique wing concept, inwhich the wing pivots at the center (right wing forward) as the speed increases so that the aircraft becomes more efficient. The goal of the technology demonstration program is to produce a flying demonstrator by 2011 that can fulfill supersonic, long range, long endurance, rapid deployment mission requirements. The contract comes on the heels of the recent separation of the Air Force and Navy in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program.
04/03/2006 In August 2005, while Israel may have withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, the country still controls much of the maritime activity in the area using remotely controlled sensors and robotic boats. Additionally, the Israel Navy plans to use unmanned aircraft for maritime patrol of the coastal areas. Currently the service uses the Westwind Seascan aircraft (manned) to patrol the area, but Israeli officials state that the service hopes to eventually replace the Seascan with unmanned aircraft. Israel is currently eyeing IAI's Heron-1 unmanned aircraft system as the replacement, with the aircraft carrying the EL/M-2022A multimode radar, manufactured by Elta, but feel the aircraft may only address close-in surveillance capabilities.
04/02/2006 For Fiscal 2006, the Pentagon will use approximately ten advanced concept and joint capability technology demonstrations to focus their efforts on developing better ways to coordinate and utilize the extraordinary amounts of information being supplied by sensors in the battlefield. Developing and using small unmanned aircraft systems are among the many goals the Pentagon has for Fiscal 2006.
04/01/2006 Proxy Aviation of Germantown, Maryland has named retired USAF Major General Robert Chedister as Vice President of Operations. Chidester was formerly the program executive officer for weapons/commander of the Air Armament Center, Air Force Material Command at Eglin AFB in Florida. The move comes shortly after Proxy Aviation named Thomas Corcoran to the board of directors as chairman. Proxy Aviation is developing an optionally-piloted unmanned aircraft system using the Velocity experimental aircraft.
03/31/2006 The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has awarded Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) a $50 million contract to provide the force with its Heron unmanned aircraft system, in addition to long-term maintenance for the aircraft. The Heron system, also known as Machatz 1, has an endurance of over 40 hours and can fly as high as 30,000 feet. The all-weather aircraft is capable of automatic launch and recovery and can carry a variety of sensors, including synthetic aperture radar, maritime patrol radar, COMINT and ELINT. IAF officials state that the newly-purchased system will serve as a force multiplier for their forces.
03/30/2006 The Australian Ground Forces operating in the southern Al Muthanna province of Iraq will soon receive Elbit System's Skylark mini-UAV system to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The miniature unmanned aircraft system was selected for rapid deployment by the Australian Defense Ministry so that Australian troops deployed in the area could receive real-time information about terrain and activities taking place in their area, thus permitting a more rapid response to identified threats. The Skylark unmanned aircraft system is carried in two backpacks and operated with only two personnel. Aircraft use an electric motor, weigh only 4.5 kilograms and can stay aloft for approximately 90 minutes, providing a 10 kilometer range to operators. Payload includes gimballed cameras (interchangeable) suitable for day or night operations. Each Skylark system includes three aircraft and a Ground Control Station. Officials of the Australian Defense Ministry state that unmanned aircraft are an important part of the modern battlefield and that they are committed to supporting Australian Defense Forces (ADF) with cutting-edge technology. The Elbit Skylark system is also used by the Israeli Defense Forces Ground Forces Command to support their operations.
03/29/2006 Late in 2005, General Atomics and its Predator unmanned aircraft began prowling the southern U.S. border in conjunction with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) organization. The Predator B system is based at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona and is providing long-endurance surveillance and communications relay to support the CBP's Arizona Control Initiative (ABCI). General Atomics personnel work closely with CBP Border Agents to fly and operate the unmanned aircraft system from a Ground Control Station in response to a comprehensive, multi-year plan known as the Secure Border Initiative, or SBI. The SBI was developed by the Department of Homeland Security in order to secure American borders and reduce illegal immigration by increasing the number of Border Patrol agents and increasing the use of unmanned aircraft systems. In a supportive response to the plan, President Bush flew to Arizona in November 2005 to promote his administration's plan for tighter security along the southern border. The President explained that 1,900 new Border Patrol agents have been hired since 2001 and that 1,000 more will be hired under a bill recently signed. The program will continue to exploit the new technology of unmanned aircraft in order to provide Border Patrol agents with more effective tools to get their job done. The CBP Commissioner stated that unmanned aircraft greatly expand an individual agent's search area and permit the agent to react more rapidly and more accurately to illegal immigration. Recent legislation approved by the Bush administration provided over $139 million in additional funding to upgrade technology used for CBP, including, of course, unmanned aircraft. CBP officials admit that a second unmanned aircraft system will be purchased in 2006 and that the system will deploy in the Tucson area.
03/28/2006 During hearings on the U.S. Navy 2007 Budget Request, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, questioned the breakup of the J-UCAS program into separate Air Force and Navy programs and queried Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen whether there should be a single "element" within the Pentagon to control the development of unmanned aircraft. The congressman's concern was that program development was being duplicated, as well as funding for the development and that it was wasting defense appropriations. Navy officials defended the splitting of the J-UCAS program and the current approach the Pentagon is using, citing that unmanned aircraft are an emerging technology and that the multiple programs spur competition and develop ideas more quickly. The CNO added, however, that the Navy would do everything in its power to share technology with the Air Force and to reduce redundant program offices and overhead expenses wherever possible. The Senate Appropriations Committee felt that support for funding of unmanned aircraft programs is being lost because of too much redundancy within the Pentagon.
03/27/2006 The British Defense Ministry has selected Qinetiq as a preferred bidder for its Combined Aerial Target System requirement. The requirment calls for providing subsonic target drones for air-to-surface and air-to-air missile systems. Qinetiq offered the Meggit Banshee and Voodoo drones, as well as the Galileo Avionica Mirach 100/5 drone, for the bid. The Combat Aerial Target System program is a 20-year program valued by the Defense Ministry at an estimated $1.31 billion.
03/26/2006 In March, Northrop Grumman successfully demonstrated its "Killer Bee" unmanned aircraft at the UAV Battlelab at Creech AFB in Nevada. The aircraft is essentially a flying wing with droop-tips. The Killer Bee program is a scalable aircraft concept that is under development for service-wide, multi-purpose missions. The aircraft demonstrated at Creech AFB had a 9 foot wingspan and used an EO/IR sensor to exploit its precision targeting and streaming video capabilities. Northrop believes the Killer Bee family of unmanned aircraft will provide surveillance and force protection missions.
03/25/2006 Qinetiq of Britain is flying a relatively new unmanned aircraft called the Zephyr. Zephyr is a high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft. The 39 foot wingspan aircraft is very light-weight, weighing just under 60 pounds, and uses two electric motors for power. Power is derived from solar cells arranged on the wings and lithium batteries contained within the airframe. The aircraft flew in December 2005 and has already achieved a 6.5 hour flight at altitudes up to 27,000 feet. But officials state that the aircraft is designed to fly at altitudes between 50,000 and 100,000 feet and will remain aloft for up to three months at a time. Company officials are targeting both commercial and military roles for the aircraft. Commercial roles include remote sensing and high-altitude atmospheric research, while military roles include EO/IR sensors for ISR missions and line-of-sight communications relay. The December flights took place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and Qinetiq officials state that further flight testing of the aircraft will continue through 2007.
03/24/2006 With the breakup of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System, military officials are focusing on unmanned long range strike and reconnaissance aircraft. Boeing X-45 and the Northrop X-47 may disappear from the radar as the programs become more classified. Additionally, Lockheed Martin may be entering the fray with a cousin to its cancelled "Darkstar" program, as well as General Atomics with a jet-powered variation of its Predator. Defense officials are also very interested in obtaining an aircraft suitable for deployment from an aircraft carrier and one capable of aerial refueling, admitting that funds left over from the J-UCAS program will be used to continue research in those two areas.
03/22/2006 Northrop Grumman recently reported that its third Global Hawk airframe, AV3, had acheived the most combat hours (4,200) of any unmanned aircraft. Now General Atomics is stating that three of the company's Predator aircraft each have over 4,300 combat hours and that Predators have accumulated over 130,000 combat hours. While the two companies may wrestle with who is in the lead for combat hours, our hat is off to both companies for placing unmanned aircraft in the defense and commercial limelight, proving that the aircraft are a valuable assett, and igniting a future for all unmanned aircraft manufacturers. Thanks gents!
03/21/2006 France has its first civilian unmanned aircraft flight test facility. The facility recently received authorization to conduct acceptance tests on unmanned aircraft and will also train unmanned aircraft pilots, using two Sperwer aircraft. The new facility was provided by Sagem's Defense and Security Division and is located in Montlucon, France - the same location of Sagem's Sperwer assembly facility.
03/20/2006 The 2006 Black Engineer of the Year Award was awarded to Mr. David Blanding, a senior engineer with Boeing Phantom Works of Huntington Beach, California. Blanding helped develop electric actuators for advanced unmanned aircraft systems, as well as commercial aircraft and space vehicles and is an industry expert on electric and hydraulic actuator subsystems.
03/19/2006 Proxy Aviation Systems of Germantown, Maryland has named Thomas Corcoran as chairman of the board of directors. In addition to being a senior advisor for The Carlyle Group, Mr. Corcoran is president of Corcoran Enterprises, a management consulting firm. Proxy Aviation is developing an optionally-piloted unmanned aircraft system using the Velocity experimental aircraft.
03/18/2006 L-3 Communications has achieved a first for unmanned aircraft systems. Using a Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) developed by the company, L-3 used the device to remotely control a Hunter unmanned aircraft from an airborne Apache helicopter. Under an agreement with the U.S. Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate, the company helped integrate and test both aircraft with the TCDL as part of the Hunter Standoff Killer Team Advanced Concept Technology Development program. The event is the first time an unmanned aircraft has been controlled from a U.S. Army Aviation helicopter.
03/17/2006 U.S. Defense Department officials are pushing for more payload and more power on future unmanned aircraft. Officials are contemplating an older, stealthy unmanned aircraft design similar to a B-2 that featured two engines, a 125 foot wingspan, service ceiling above 70,000 feet and a weapons payload capacity of up to 20,000 pounds. The aircraft design was rejected over ten years ago in favor of the Global Hawk. Military officials are now taking a closer look at the design because they believe the aircraft would be capable of launching and recovering from airbases located in the United States - on missions anywhere in the world - without the need for refueling. For comparison, the latest version of the Global Hawk has similar flight performance, but the aircraft is not considered stealthy and only has a payload capacity of 3,000 pounds.
03/16/2006 EADS appears to be tracking perfectly to its goal of $12 billion in defense revenues over the next couple of years, but company officials assert that they also would like to see the company become a major player in the unmanned aircraft market, adding that the company is struggling to achieve its unmanned aircraft goals. EADS is the prime contractor on the EuroMale, a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft which, to date, has not found a European partner. EADS is also the prime contractor on the SIDM drone, an interim surveillance aircraft. Company officials would like to see Spain join the EuroMale program. The addition would provide funding on top of the 100 million euros that EADS has already pumped into EuroMale.
03/15/2006 Unmanned aircraft continue to make headway in the world aerospace market. In a recent survey of the world's top 60 defense programs, the USAF Global Hawk program ranked 50th with a total expenditure estimated at $6.57 billion. The total includes funding for 51 aircraft, which are currently in production and delivery phases by prime contractor Northrop Grumman. Smiles from Northrop personnel must be coast-to-coast.
03/14/2006 In an effort to increase the integration of Air National Guard and Reserve personnel into unmanned aircraft operations, the USAF Warfare Center at Nellis AFB in Nevada recently named a reservist to command the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, which flies the unmanned Predator aircraft. Reserve Lt. Colonel John Breeden will assume command of the squadron, which is one of three active duty squadrons flying the currently flying the Predator. The wing will graduate over 200 new aircrew over the next two fiscal years, adding to the sixty reserve and guard personnel currently participating in Predator operations.
03/13/2006 The United States market for unmanned aircraft is the world's largest at approximately 50% and is expected to continue to grow, providing a $13.6 billion market through 2014. Analysts believe that the U.S. could even add another 5-10% of market share over the next ten years due to the increasing demand for the remotely piloted aircraft to replace and compliment missions for manned aircraft. The U.S. dominance of the unmanned aircraft market is attributed in part to Northrop's Global Hawk, which over the next ten years will add $3.5 billion in value to the unmanned aircraft market. Countries other than the United States also have a thirst for unmanned aircraft, but have a harder time funding the purchases. France and the United Kingdom are leading players in Europe and are expected to expand their UAS fleets dramatically over the next ten years. Analysts believe that over 9,000 unmanned aircraft will be purchased by countries all over the world in the next decade and that the increased popularity and growing market for unmanned aircraft is due in large part to the increased focus and intensity of the global war on terrorism.
03/12/2006 Qinetiq of Britain will conduct an unmanned aircraft system demonstration on behalf of the Welsh Development Agency at Parc Aberporth in Wales. The UAS demonstration program will last for three months and is designed to exploit the abilities of unmanned aircraft for government and commercial missions ranging from coastal patrol, pipeline surveillance, flood monitoring, traffic management and crop dusting. The demonstrations will center on three weight classes of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft - 10 kilogram, 20 kilogram and >20 kilogram. Qinetiq hopes that the demonstration will increase interest in future unmanned aircraft applications.
03/11/2006 Aerosonde Pty Limited of Australia has launched a new version of its Aerosonde Mk3 unmanned aircraft. The new aircraft, designated Aerosonde Mk 3.2, utilizes pre-preg carbon fiber for construction of the wing, fuselage and tail and autoclave procedures for increased rigidity of the structure. Additionally, the company incorporated production and other material changes in order to reduce the parts count of the aircraft and increase production rates. Aerosonde has developed the new changes in conjunction with composite specialist company LSM Advanced Composites Pty Ltd, based in Toowoomba, Queensland. LSM will manufacture the future Aerosonde airframe. The newly-modified Aerosonde Mk 3.2 boasts easier maintenance, better landing performance and improved aerodynamics. The new aircraft also incorporate an improved structure that will permit catapult launches. Aerosonde has manufactured over 100 of the aircraft thus far and the aircraft have been used in civilian and military operations all over the world, performing surveillance, civil science, defense and meteorology missions.
03/10/2006 In its "wish list" for programs not included in the service's 2007 budget request, the U.S. Air Force is asking Congress for an additional $5.6 billion to fund what they feel are necessary programs. The wish list funding is in addition to the $105.9 billion the Air Force has requested for 2007 and $13 billion in supplemental funding the Air Force requires for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq during 2006. Unmanned aircraft programs make up a portion of the wish list $5.6 billion, including $38 million for aerial targets and $80 million for eight MQ-1 Predator aircraft and two ground control stations (GCSs).
03/09/2006 Canadian Forces appear to be working out previous problems they had with the Sperwer unmanned aircraft, which the force uses for operations in Afghanistan. The French-built Sperwer had numerous crashes during its deployment to Afghanistan causing Canadian military officials to investigate a UAS leasing plan for a replacement unmanned aircraft system. Upon investigating a one-year UAS leasing plan, Canada determined that if it were put into place, the contractor providing the aircraft would also provide the personnel to fly and operate the system. Not only was the leasing plan too expensive ($15 million), but there were legal liability issues surrounding the deployment of civilian UAS operators in a combat zone. Additionally, military officials were concerned that they would not have access to a qualified airfield inwhich to operate the aircraft and that deployment of the aircraft would not be in time for the upcoming Kandahar mission. At the same time, Canadian Forces were operating the Sperwers that they did have - with increasing success. So the Canadian Air Force decided to continue to use the Sperwer aircraft, now spending $15 million Canadian dollars to purchase five additional Sperwer UASs from Oerlikon, the Canadian prime contractor for Sagem, Paris. The five new Sperwer systems will be used in the Kandahar mission. Oerlikon is also negotiating with the Danish government to acquire its "unwanted" Sperwer systems so that they can be used as training aircraft for the Candadian Forces. Denmark recently decided to sell all of its Sperwer systems citing ongoing difficulties with operation of the Sperwers and an inability to resolve technical problems with the aircraft. If Oerlikon is successful in acquiring the Denmark Sperwers, the company will provide the additional aircraft to the Canadian Forces in Canada to train new unmanned aircraft crews. Currently, almost all of the Canadian Sperwer fleet is deployed to Afghanistan, leaving few assetts available to train new UAS crews. Canada's use of the Sperwer UAS began in 2003 with a purchase of six systems that were used in the country's initial deployment to Afghanistan. Four of the original six Sperwer aircraft remain - two were lost due to crashes. But military officials are confident that the improving trend with the Sperwer will continue and that the aircraft will be a success in the upcoming Kandahar mission.
03/08/2006 Northrop Grumman has reason to be proud of its Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. In February, Global Hawk Air Vehicle 3 (AV3) landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California as the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft with the most combat hours. AV3 was originally built as a prototype, but with losses of follow-on aircraft (AV4 & AV5), AV3 was placed into combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan while replacement Global Hawk aircraft were being manufactured and readied for operation. In its final deployment, AV3 logged between eight and twelve missions per month with each mission lasting approximately 24 hours. The final deployment was 21 months long. Total combat time for AV3 was 4,200 hours spread over 200 missions. The AV3 aircraft was also the first Global Hawk to carry a signals intelligence (SIGINT) sensor package, one of five new capabilities added to the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system. Northrop will retire the aircraft after performing stress inspections of its airframe for flight-life predictions and eventually would like to place the aircraft in a museum.
03/07/2006 Unmanned aircraft topped the 2007 unfunded requirement wish list for the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) with a request for $13.4 million for persistent Predator operations and intelligence. Further down on the list but an unmanned aircraft request none-the-less, SOCOM is requesting $1.7 million for a Joint Threat Warning System - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for research and development. SOCOM's total 2007 funding request for unfunded items was over $300 million.
03/06/2006 Singapore Technologies Aerospace is developing a follow-on unmanned aircraft to its Skyblade II - a tactical unmanned aircraft called the Skyblade IV. The Skyblade IV launches with a rail system and officials state that the aircraft will have a flight endurance of over 6 hours. The company's Skyblade II aircraft is currently performing acceptance tests with the Singapore military and the company is also developing an unmanned vertical takeoff/landing aircraft called the Fantail.
03/05/2006 The U.S. Navy will continue to work with Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin on a concept development effort known as the Persistent Unmanned Maritime Airborne Surveillance (PUMAS) program. Through most of 2006 Northrop and Lockheed will work to determine unmanned system concepts for maritime ISR and also determine what the risks and cost are for such a project. A criteria for the PUMAS program is the the unmanned aircraft would need to operate in conjunction with manned ISR aircraft.
03/04/2006 In the post-QDR split of the joint Air Force/Navy J-UCAS program, the U.S. Navy has roughly $1.8 billion of funding available to develop a Navy UCAS demonstrator aircraft for aircraft carrier suitability. According to Navy officials, the Navy will make modifications to current contracts that it has with Northrop Grumman and Boeing, fashioning a competition between the two companies through 2006. By 2007, the service hopes to compete the two companies for a UCAS technology demonstrator operational assessment contract, providing actual aircraft ready for carrier operations testing by 2011. Carrier operations testing will include shipboard operations, including launch and recovery operations. Separately, the Navy plans to replace P-3 Orion ISR missions with unmanned aircraft ISR missions via the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program. Navy officials state the BAMS program will be a fully open competition over the next two or three years and add that they expect the General Atomics Predator and Northrop Grumman Global Hawk to be main players in the BAMS competition.
03/03/2006 Under a research and development program of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) the Taser Company has developed a new "wireless" version of its Taser unit. The new Taser unit is known as the eXtended Range Electro-Muscular Projectile, or Taser XREP. The XREP is actually a round fired from a 12-gauge shotgun at an attacker that accomplishes the same non-lethal electro-muscular disruptive effect, but does so at distances up to 30 meters without the typical tether wires associated with the hand-held Taser. Taser successfully demonstrated the new device to military officials to complete the research and development program. One can only guess how the technology could be applied to unmanned aircraft.
03/02/2006 The Georgia Institute of Technology has recently created a new technology capable of detecting trace amounts of chemical or biological contaminants in a matter of seconds. Current detection capabilities for trace amounts of such contaminants require up to 24 hours for detection. The new technology utilizes reusable hydrogel microlenses that incorporate an antibody-antigen binding process. Antibodies on the lenses are set up to detect a certain antigen. When the antigen contacts the antibody, the two bind, causing the hydrogel microlens to swell, thus becoming less dense. By projecting an image through the lense, the change in the image is viewable when the lense swells, providing an immediate indication of contamination. The rapid detection capability would greatly improve response to chemical or biological attacks and may provide an additional mission for unmanned aircraft in the future.
03/01/2006 Recently Britain's BAE Systems released information that it is working on low observable unmanned aircraft technology through its Raven unmanned aircraft. (Not to be confused with the Raven unmanned aircraft of AeroVironment in Simi Valley, California) The BAE Raven, an unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator, is a jet-powered, flying wing with a blended fuselage and retractable tricycle landing gear that first flew on December 17, 2003 at the Woomera flight test range in Australia. The test aircraft (two have been built) are made of carbon fiber and do not have vertical flying surfaces, which reduces their radar cross-section. The BAE Raven aircraft are designed to explore aerodynamically unstable autonomous flight regimes using a duplex digital flight control system and are a follow-on to an earlier BAE unmanned demonstrator aircraft known as the Kestrel. BAE is exploring the use of modularity in the development of the Raven and other unmanned aircraft by using common tooling for formation of airframe parts and common flight control systems. The carbon fiber fuselage of the Raven is produced by BAE's Samlesbury facility in England - the same manufacturing facility that produces carbon fiber components of the F-35. BAE developed the Raven under wraps as part of the British UCAV program, which is Britain's initiative in next-generation, long-range, deep strike unmanned aircraft. The Raven demonstrator is intended to provide the British government and industry a broader understanding of relevant unmanned aircraft technologies and should also provide a basis for future development of full-scale unmanned combat demonstrator aircraft.
02/28/2006 The U.S. Air Force is developing improved networking technology that will allow aircraft (including unmanned) to automatically communicate and disseminate tactical information with ground control stations in order to reduce the workload of ground station operators and keep them better informed of tactical threats. The technologies under development are known as Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting, or NCCT and Tactical Targeting Network Technology, or TTNT. Both technologies provide machines with the ability to compare digital sensor and targeting information between themselves and then present the product of the information collected to a GCS operator as an accurate target location with an identity. The NCCT technology improves the accuracy of a target location by automatically merging data from multiple sensors and using dissimilarities to produce more accurate locations. The TTNT technology completes the networking improvement by providing the actual link for airborne tactical communications networks. TTNT creates a wideband, 100 nautical mile LOS link that forms a self-configuring, encrypted Internet between airborne aircraft that is capable of passing two megabits of information per second. The TTNT technology will take the form of a digital module that can be inserted into existing Link 16 datalinks. Both NCCT and TTNT technologies were successfully demonstrated in 2004 at the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX 04) held at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and more recently at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in California. Rockwell Collins is manufacturing the prototypes of both technologies and performing the equipment tests with over $60 million in funding through DARPA. Future development of TTNT will include adaptation of the technology to make it compliant with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).
02/27/2006 Italy's military planners are poised to cut the country's participation in national and multinational exercises by nearly 50% due to cuts in the Italian defense budgets. The reduction in participation in exercises has some military planners concerned about their country's training and deployment capabilities, as well as in-country procurement abilities. The defense budget cuts affect a wide variety of programs that encompass the Italian Navy, Air Force and Army. However, one program - a new one - appears to have received adequate funding. That program is for upgrades to Predator unmanned aircraft. Italy has slated approximately 9 million euros to upgrade Italian Predators with synthetic aperture radars (SAR). Italian Predator aircraft are already supporting operations in Iraq and recently used satellite navigation of the aircraft for the first time.
02/26/2006 Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft may be gearing up for additional missions in the Pacific. U.S. Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) are beginning to coordinate with Asia-Pacific countries to use six Global Hawks to process anti-piracy and counterterrorism missions in the Pacific regions, including the Straits of Malacca. The coordination effort will develop a coalition between PACAF and the nations of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and involves various versions of investment in the operations such as landing rights, cash, ownership of a sensor or command and control facilities. A PACAF official stated that the effort will help provide the nations, as well as the U.S., with critical intelligence information and support and that the effort is designed to provide a level of comfort to the region regarding unmanned intelligence overflights. A Global Hawk has already provided a surveillance demonstration flight over the region while returning to the United States from Iraq. The aircraft flew from the Edinburg base in Australia to Singapore and Japan, then back to Australia and eventually the United States. With a consensus of the nations, the reconnaissance flights could begin sometime in 2009.
02/25/2006 Sagem has been awarded an $891,000 contract by the European Defense Agency (EDA) to study sense-and-avoid technology on unmanned aircraft. The sense-and-avoid technology is an integral part of unmanned aircraft and their future access to civil airspace. The study will last for 18 months and will help determine the equipment requirements that will permit unmanned aircraft systems to fly safely over inhabited areas, as well as determining a process for integrating unmanned aircraft into air traffic management systems.
02/24/2006 BAE Systems is joining the unmanned aircraft systems market with the introduction of its High Endurance Rapid Technology Insertion (HERTI) aircraft. The HERTI 1A unmanned aircraft is a tail-dragger, V-tail, pusher aircraft that sports a 12.6 meter wingspan, utilizes a BMW engine, can remain aloft over 25 hours and can operate from prepared surfaces or grass runways. The aircraft has a ceiling of 20,000 feet and a range of approximately 1000 kilometers and carries a 145 kilogram payload. Current payload is an image collection and exploitation (ICE) payload that uses optical sensors. The ICE system will also undergo testing in the near future with infrared sensors and a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). BAE completed the first fully autonomous flight of the HERTI 1A in August of 2005 in United Kingdom airspace and plans to increase the current number of test aircraft from four to ten by the end of 2006. The company is also planning a modification to the aircraft to improve performance that replaces the BMW engine with a Rotax engine and will also experiment with a rail launch system. BAE believes the aircraft is a low-cost alternative to other autonomous unmanned aircraft and hopes to market the HERTI to commercial and military surveillance customers by the end of 2006.
02/23/2006 The Pentagon has requested $65 billion in additional emergency supplemental defense funds for the 2006 defense budget. The original 2006 budget was for $441.5 billion. The emergency supplemental funds will be used for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and are in addition to $50 billion of supplemental funding that was already approved in December 2005. Included in the $65 billion request is $400 million for the Air Force, a portion of which is slated for the purchase of new Predator unmanned aircraft.
02/22/2006 In an ongoing effort to improve equipment in the field, the U.S. Army announced that it has increased the number of tactical unmanned aircraft systems in Afghanistan and Iraq from two systems to 155 systems. The improvements come amid a variety of other new equipment, including body armor, modernized missile warning systems for helicopters, improved self-protection gear for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft and over 23,000 new devices that will help counter the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat in the region.
02/21/2006 AeroVironment of Simi Valley, California has snagged a $9.7 million contract from the United States Marine Corps for an additional 303 DragonEye unmanned aircraft. The fixed-price contract award also includes ground equipment for the small twin-engine electric aircraft.
02/20/2006 Northrop Grumman began flight tests of its new, extended-range Hunter II unmanned aircraft. The original Hunter aircraft was modified with an extended wing to carry more fuel and the engine was modified to increase efficiency. With the modifications, the Hunter II aircraft was able to increase its endurance by over 10 hours, permitting the aircraft to stay aloft for 21 hours. Northrop displayed the Hunter II last year at AUVSI's annual exhibit, Unmanned Systems North America 2005.
02/19/2006 BAE Systems recently began a series of flight tests in Fort Benning, Georgia of its vertical takeoff unmanned aircraft that is designed to carry the WolfPack SIGINT payload. The BAE Systems aircraft is a relatively small, ducted-fan-in-a-can that can carry a 22 pound payload (the WolfPack payload) airborne for about 60 minutes. In the flight test, the test aircraft carried the payload at speeds of up to 30 knots over a 1.1 kilometer course and was able to detect a mock threat. BAE demonstrated the aircraft to the U.S. Army and DAPRPA. The WolfPack payload is designed to operate as a network of multiple units and can automatically monitor and jam enemy communications.
02/18/2006 More information on the French Neuron program. The demonstrator aircraft is a flying wing-type aircraft that is 10 meters long and has a 12 meter, low-observable, composite wing. The aircraft weighs approxmately 6 metric tons, is powered by an Adour jet engine and will be capable of Mach .8 speeds. The aircraft will have two internal weapons bays and carry data relays along with a (possible) all-weather sensor. Dassault (France) will lead the program as project manager and furnish the flight control system as well as take care of final assembly of the aircraft. Saab (Sweden) will assist Dassault with the fuselage design, fuel system, avionics and flight testing of the aircraft. EADS CASA (Spain) will produce the wing, Ground Control Station and data link. Thales (Britain) will work with the command and control interface of the aircraft and data relay. Hellenic Aerospace (Greece) will produce the rear fuselage and nozzle. Alenia Aeronautica (Italy) will participate in flight testing as well as provide the electrical and airspeed systems and firing/ejection system. Ruag (Switzerland) will provide a weapon launcher and wind testing. Belgium may become a player in the area of radio frequency satellite data-relay equipment. The Neuron UCAV project is currently funded at $482 million.
02/17/2006 The Pentagon's proposed Fiscal 2007 budget combined with the Quadrennial Defense Review is shaping the future requirements for a Long Range Strike (LRS) program for the Air Force because the QDR is placing LRS, unmanned aircraft, tankers and ISR at the top of the list as far as future strategies are concerned. The Air Force would like to see a 50% improvement of its current LRS capabilities - basically the B-1, the B-2 and the B-52 - and a five-fold increase in the penetrating component of its LRS capabilities. The service is calling for the new, land-based LRS penetrator to be fielded by 2018, with improvements taking place all the way to 2025. Of interesting note - 45% of the LRS force will take the form of unmanned aircraft. The J-UCAS project is lending technology capabilities to the LRS project, as is current use of Predators and Global Hawks. The new LRS technology will combine stealth with the surveillance, endurance and attack capabilities of current unmanned aircraft. Officials close to the program feel that LRS could evolve in one or both of a couple of ways. One method would produce an unmanned aircraft with a limited payload but long endurance that uses a level of stealth to help accomplish its mission. The other method would produce a very stealthy, high-speed (Mach 2+) manned aircraft that can carry a heavy payload deep into enemy territory against heavily defended targets. The manned version would also be capable of hitting a minimum of 100 individual targets and able to carry nuclear weapons - another reason for crewmembers. Industry officials believe that the LRS requirement may lead to the addition of perhaps 50 or more unmanned strike aircraft with precision weapon capabilities to the Air Force inventory. The LRS initiative appears to be a dominant program over the next couple of decades, which once again places unmanned aircraft in the forefront of U.S. defense technology.
02/16/2006 Northrop Grumman's RQ-4A Global Hawk has received a military airworthiness certification, which follows an FAA certification of the unmanned aircraft system for specific operations in the National Airspace System (NAS) in 2005. Grumman officials stated that the Air Force checked over 500 technical items before signing off on the airworthiness certification. The process of achieving airworthiness certifications for airframes is one of the steps related to achieving routine unmanned aircraft flight in the NAS.
02/15/2006 The U.S. Air Force is scaling back on some of its satellite plans, based on budgeting requirements. The service will place more emphasis on ISR from unmanned aircraft, such as Predators and Global Hawks, because they are less costly and easier to obtain. Service officials commented that the Air Force is asking for $2.6 billion to increase the flight operations of two of its unmanned aircraft because the unmanned systems are replacing the flying formerly accomplished by U-2 aircraft. Not to diminish any of the success of the U-2, but officials believe the Global Hawk is more capable because the aircraft is adaptable to a wider array of sensors while performing its high flight missions across the globe. The Pentagon is studying the transition of the Global Hawk into the role of the U-2 and hopes to complete their study by May 1 of this year. The U-2 is expected to retire in 2011. The 2007 budgeting requests for the Global Hawk increased by $84 million to a total of $752 million, while the 2007 budgeting request for the Predator increased by $131 million to a total of $349 million. Did we happen to mention that unmanned aircraft are here to stay??
02/14/2006 The Defense Department's 2007 Research and Development Budget Request looks good to the Air Force. The $2 billion request includes plans for development of long-range strike capabilities that would include any combination of manned or unmanned aircraft. The budget request is not specific to any one category, so the recent termination of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program could be resumed if it indeed can be placed into the Air Force long-range strike program. The U.S. Navy is also seeking approximately $240 million for development of unmanned combat aircraft prototypes.
02/13/2006 The French Defense Ministry is discussing funding possibilities with Sagem Defense Security and Thales for a feasibility study on the ability of the Sperwer B unmanned aircraft to carry tactical weapons, thereby making it an armed tactical drone instead of a reconnaissance drone. If approved, the feasibility study would determine which types of weapons could be mounted on the aircraft and its ability to successfully deploy those weapons. The Sperwer aircraft has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq with some success.
02/12/2006 The Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA) has signed a $484 million contract agreement with Dassault Aviation to build an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) demonstator for the French-led Neuron UCAV project. Dassault will be the prime contractor for the project that includes five partner countries of Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Belgium is a tentative addition to the project. The Neuron program is scheduling to accomplish its first flights of the demonstrator aircraft in 2011 and actual in-flight release of laser-guided weapons by 2012.
02/11/2006 The U.S. Marine Corps has wisked into service a new piece of hardware that allows Marines operating in urban environments to access video of their area taken from unmanned aircraft. The unit is called Video Storage Wide Area Network (VSWAN) and is built by DataPath Communications Solutions of Duluth, Georgia. The VSWAN terminals allow information that was once distributed only on a wing or divisional level to become available to individual platoons. The terminals are carried in ruggedized transport cases about the size of a suitcase and can be unpacked and operational in less than an hour. Currently, the units are used when troops stop moving for at least a few hours. The VSWAN terminal recieves data via satellite from the ground control station of the unmanned aircraft. Currently there are approximately ten VSWAN terminals operational in Iraq and the service hopes to deploy more, newly modified terminals over the next few months. The new terminals will either be built right into a ground vehicle or towed behind a Marine ground vehicle. The VSWAN deployment was in response to a 2004 troop request for better access to intelligence that included video feeds from unmanned aircraft.
02/10/2006 On the heels of the first flight of its TR918 Eagle Eye, Bell Helicopter Textron is committing to future development of the vertical unmanned aircraft system for commercial operations. The company is researching future commercial and military needs for such an aircraft and officials conclude that the commercial industry for unmanned aircraft - more specifically vertical unmanned aircraft systems - is very bright. A Bell official stated that commercial roles for their EagleEye could include resupply missions, border patrol and surveillance of nuclear facilities, electrical power grids and oil pipelines. Bell also feels that military missions will evolve that utilize rotorcraft for troop resupply missions - so the company is forging ahead with plans to develop a method to convert existing helicopters into unmanned helicopters as a cost-effective way to adapt aircraft to a wide range of unmanned aircraft missions. The company hopes to see its TR916 EagleEye (the forerunner of the TR918) operating with the United States Coast Guard by 2011 as part of the Coast Guard's Deepwater fleet modernization program and its TR918 begin filling commercial and military roles for a variety of missions. Meanwhile, Bell is working with the FAA to develop policies and procedures for unmanned aircraft so that the new unmanned form of flight may gain access to national airspace. Bell believes that its TR918 was the first unmanned aircraft to gain access to the National Airspace System when the FAA permitted Bell to have access to a section of airspace for EagleEye flight testing near Graford, Texas. Bell officials state that the company will continue to develop similar policies with the FAA that their work will eventually become the blueprint for future unmanned aircraft flight rules and procedures.
02/08/2006 As the Winter Olympics get underway in Turin, Italy, the Italian Air Force will stand ready to provide air defense for the winter games. Italian Air Force officials commented that in order to establish a comprehensive air defense network for the games, they would deploy a command and control unit to Turin as well as a mobile radar system. Human spotters will also be utilized to help locate, track and identify any slow-flying aircraft, since those aircraft are much more difficult to spot with standard radar. Additionally, the country's F-16 fighters will be on alert in order to intercept any potential targets. Italy will also use its MB-339CD trainers and HH-3F helicopters for local area defense capabilities, including armed capabilities. Officials believe that existing threat capabilities could include large, hijacked commercial aircraft all the way down to small, unmanned aircraft used for ordnance delivery. Officials believe that threat activity would be at its highest during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic event, but that their assetts would remain flexible throughout the games to protect the athletes and spectators.
02/07/2006 Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks division recently completed a flight test of a new airship, designated the P-791, that may be a forerunner of future unmanned airships. The airship, an in-house research project for Lockheed Skunkworks, is much like a standard Goodyear blimp, except that it has three sections - sort of like merging three blimps together in a side-by-side fashion. The airship is also not a true airship, but a hybrid airship. True airships derive all of their lift from the helium gas contained inside the envelope, while a hybrid airship is actually heavier-than-air and gains its final amount of lift from forward airspeed and an airfoil shaped envelope. Lockheed completed the five minute flight test of its hybrid airship at its Palmdale, California facility with the airship flying at speeds of approximately 20 knots. The P-791 has four shrouded propellers for forward airspeed and manuevering and also utilizes four air cushions for landing gear. The air cushions allow the aircraft to manuever as a hovercraft would while on the ground. While testing of unmanned airships and hybrid airships continue, issues that must be overcome for hybrid airships include sensitivity to wind while on the ground and in the air and ground manueverability. Currently, the P-791 demonstrator is limited to "hangar" flights if the wind is above 5 knots.
02/06/2006 EADS Military Air Systems announced that its unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator known as Barracuda should complete its first test flights now sometime in the middle of 2006. The Barracuda, a low-observable airframe, was origninally scheduled to fly in 2005. The aircraft is part of an EADS' research and development effort to investigate unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned combat aircraft. Aircraft specifics include a lifting-body fuselage with wing extensions, V-tail, cooled exhaust and a top-mounted engine intake that is slightly aft of the nose, thus shielding the engine blades from snoopy surface-to-air radar. The company hopes to begin operational research flights with the aircraft sometime in 2008 and combat flight tests sometime in 2010. EADS is a member of the French Neuron UCAV program.
02/05/2006 Britain announced it will begin a substantial increase in its forces deployed in Afghanistan. In addition to manpower, helicopter (eight AH1 Apaches, six Chinooks and four Lynx) and aircraft (four C-130 Hercules), Britain will add a battery of Desert Hawk unmanned aircraft. The Desert Hawk is a small, hand-launched, electric unmanned aircraft that is made of styrofoam. The aircraft carries a small fixed camera for imagery and can remain airborne for approximately 60 minutes. British officials state that the deployment of additional forces will last for the next three years.
02/04/2006 Bell Helicopter Textron recently conducted the first test flight of its new unmanned tiltrotor aircraft called the TR918 EagleEye. Much like the V-22 Osprey, the EagleEye is a much smaller version designed for operations aboard ships in the Navy and the Coast Guard. The flight tests were conducted at the company's flight facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The tiltrotor flew for approximately nine minutes and validated transitional flight as well as hover and yaw manuevers. Complete forward flight was not attempted, but Bell officials indicate that future test flights will explore complete transition to high speed forward flight and flights with payloads.
02/03/2006 While a variety of unmanned aircraft systems continue to find more operational missions throughout all branches of the U.S. military, the increasing number of aircraft flying in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan pose a significant problem to each other and to their manned counterparts occupying the same airspace. The agency in charge of deconflicting all of the aircraft is the Air Force Combined Air Operations Center operating in Al Udeid, Qatar. The agency publishes a daily airspace control order, or ACO, for the U.S. Central Command's Iraq/Afghanistan theater of operations. In addition to providing the daily air tasking for aircraft operating in theater, the ACO indicates each type of aircraft and its intended route to top level officials at Central Command. The increased number of small, hand-launched unmanned aircraft flying at low altitude makes deconfliction with manned aircraft more difficult. Officials indicate there have already been collisions between unmanned aircraft and also collisions between unmanned aircraft and manned helicopters - in addition to numerous near misses. The ACO attempts to deconflict all aircraft through altitude separation and Restricted Operating Zones (ROZ). Battlefield leaders alert their battalion and brigade leaders about upcoming unmanned aircraft flight ops and the word gets passed to the Air Operations Center for publishing in the ACO. But not all flights are communicated, especially last minute flights caused by battlefield operations. And it is those unmanned aircraft flights that the Air Operations Center is working on to develop methods for last-minute deconfliction. Currently, the services operate over 1,000 unmanned aircraft in theater, with the small, hand-launched variety such as the Raven and the DragonEye making up the vast majority of those systems. While there has not been any injuries associated with any of the mid-air collisions thus far, military officials worry that the potential for a major collision is too great. Consequently, both the Air Force and Army are working to develop a system - hopefully automated - that will provide a better level of safety between all aircraft operating in theater airspace.
02/02/2006 General Atomics of San Diego, California has completed yet another sale of its Predator unmanned aircraft. The company recently sold five more MQ-9 Predator B aircraft to the U.S. Air Force for $41 million. The MQ-9 aircraft will operate in strike and reconnaissance roles and carry the Hellfire missile. All five aircraft will be delivered to the Air Force over the next 24 months.
02/01/2006 The German Ministry of Defense is prioritizing defense spending for 2006 and making informal recommendations to the German defense budget committee on certain key defense programs it would like funded. The total defense budget for 2006 appears to be approximately 6 billion Euros. One of the key technologies included in the recommendations is the EuroHawk unmanned aircraft, which is essentially a modified Global Hawk. The MoD would like to procure six EuroHawk unmanned aircraft at a total cost of 650 million Euros. The MoD is making the informal recommendations to expedite approval when the German defense spending budget is approved.
01/31/2006 Members of the European Defense Agency (EDA) met in January to prioritize defense capabilities thru 2006. In addition to software-defined radio capabilities, strategic lift and air refueling, unmanned aircraft reconnaissance was named a key technology that needed further development as the European nations develop their military operations. The EDA would like to organize an unmanned aircraft demonstration in order to promote continued joint research and development efforts of unmanned aircraft technologies throughout the 24 nations that are members of the EDA. Currently, several European nations are developing unmanned aircraft technologies. The goal of the the EDA is to encourage member-nations to band together and combine their resources in order to hasten the development of defense technologies. An example of such a coordinated effort took place in January, when the United Kingdom and France agreed to work together on the development of lightweight radars for use on small unmanned aircraft. Additionally, the EDA has contracted studies for line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) data links on long-endurance unmanned aircraft.
01/30/2006 The Danish Air Force and Army will no longer operate the CU-161 Kestrel unmanned aircraft after the Denmark Ministry of Defense issued a cancellation of the program, known as Taarnfalken. Denmark cancelled the program citing malfunctions of the aircraft, lack of proper training and lack of performance in demanding environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The CU-161 unmanned aircraft is basically a Sperwer, developed by Sagem. The aircraft can cruise for up to five hours at altitudes of 16,000 feet and broadcast real-time video to remote stations up to 150 kilometers away. Denmark purchased the Taarnfalken systems from Sagem in 1998 for $55 million, but has spent upwards of $80 million so far for the aircraft. Lack of spare parts and high operating costs prompted an investigation into the performance of the program, which ultimately resulted in the cancellation. Denmark will attempt to sell all ten of the aircraft and hopes that Canada may purchase them as spare parts to the Sperwers they currently operate. Sagem offered to provide upgraded aircraft to the Danes, but was turned down because they could not guarantee fully operational aircraft in 2006.
01/29/2006 The J-UCAS program continues to evolve. What was at first an unmanned combat/figher aircraft program, J-UCAS changed into an unmanned aircraft with longer range and greater payload capacity, capable of electronic warfare missions. The DARPA-led program brought Boeing and Northrop Grumman together in the program with the X-45 and X-47 respectively, the latter having carrier capabilities. The Air Force is now pushing for even greater range and payload capabilities in order to accomplish advanced strike missions. The Navy wants carrier-based unmanned aircraft competition. So the J-UCAS program may now separate into two programs to address both missions. Both services will brief defense officials next month on their desires, which should help define the future of J-UCAS.
01/28/2006 The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) features great emphasis on unmanned aircraft for future military spending. Specific items include establishing a special operations unmanned aircraft squadron in the Air Force and doubling unmanned aircraft coverage capacity through accelerated acquisition of Northrop Grumman Global Hawks and General Atomics Predator aircraft. The QDR also calls for establishing persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities combined with the ability to find hidden weapons - signaling even more applications for unmanned aircraft. The review provides for some changes to the current Joint Unmanned Combat Aircraft System (J-UCAS) program, calling for a restructure of the program to develop an unmanned aircraft capable of aircraft carrier operations and aerial refueling.
01/27/2006 In a move that hopefully will hold some potential for unmanned aircraft, the Pentagon has created a dedicated office within the Department of Defense to deal with improvised explosive devices. The new office will be known as the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and will be run by a retired Army general. The JIEDDO is the formalized version of a former Pentagon provisional entity that was tasked to coordinate defense efforts against IEDs.
01/26/2006 It appears that Spain will soon join the French-led Neuron program, providing approximately $35 million to the unmanned combat drone program over a five year period starting in 2007, once its funding is approved. The six-nation European Neuron program also includes Greece, Italy, France, Sweden and Switzerland.
01/25/2006 The U.S. Navy was pleased with test flights of two RQ-8A FireScout unmanned helicopters. The two aircraft launched from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland and flew to an amphibious assault ship, the USS Nashville, completing nine autonomous landings aboard the ship. The aircraft utilized an automatic recovery system designed with commonality in mind to unmanned aircraft. The tests are part of the development program of the FireScout inwhich the Navy will use the unmanned rotorcraft to operate in conjunction with manned helicopters from the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and DD(X) destroyers. The two RQ-8As that conducted the flight tests are essentially prototype versions of the upcoming MQ-8B FireScout, which is being manufactured by the Schweizer Aircraft Company located in Northrop's Moss Point Unmanned Systems Center in Mississippi. The first MQ-8B airframe of twelve aircraft has already been delivered to Northrop. The Navy is scheduled to receive four FireScouts and the Army the remaining eight. Both services will use the FireScout for ISR missions, but the aircraft has also test-fired 2.75 inch rockets. Consequently, strike missions are also intended roles for the aircraft. The new MQ-8Bs will begin shipboard tests sometime in 2007 and the aircraft is scheduled for operational service with the fleet in 2008.
01/24/2006 It now appears that the Navy/Air Force Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program will lose its funding due to budget cuts under the Quadrennial Defense Review. The cuts appear related to the protection of funding for the F-22 and F-35. Officials believe that the J-UCAS eventually would compete with the F-35, but because the (unmanned) technology is still a long way off and the Navy and Air Force really did not have a mission for J-UCAS yet, it was better to maintain the funding for the F-35 and F-22 while continuing to rely on the already-proven Predator and Global Hawk for unmanned intelligence gathering. The Predator aircraft even provide support in strike roles with the integration of the Hellfire missiles. Notwithstanding, unmanned aircraft are still heavily supported for future funding and integration into a seamless, network-centric military force.
01/22/2006 Australia's Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) launched a transformation of Australia's airborne ISR capabilities that will eventually evolve the country's three military services into a complete network-enabled force. The selection of unmanned aircraft played a large role in the transformation effort. Definitive selections include Israel's Elbit Systems' Skylark unmanned aircraft and a larger tactical UAS based on IAI's I-View TUAV. The Skylark will deploy with the Australian Army's Mutthana Task Group in Iraq and Australian Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan. The Skylark is a small, hand-launched unmanned aircraft that can fly for approximately 90 minutes with a range of 10 kilometers. The aircraft weighs approximately 4 kilograms and can carry a day/night color CCD camera or FLIR camera. Flight control is through a ruggedized laptop computer and the aircraft lands by using a deep-stall recovery. The larger tactical UAS that is based on the IAI I-View falls under a $147 million contracted teaming arrangement between Boeing Australia and IAI Malat - that will equip the Australian Army. The I-View is a rather unorthodox "pusher" aircraft with a tricycle landing gear that incorporates a boom-mounted horizontal stabilizer with anhedral-slant vertical fins above the propeller. Another decision by the DMO will involve Australia's Coastwatch contract, currently contracted to a subsidiary of Britain's Cobham group known as Surveillance Australia. Coastwatch is responsible for patrolling the 37,000 kilometers of Australia's coastline and over 15 million square kilometers of Australia's maritime economic exclusion zone. Surveillance Australia has performed the Coastwatch service for the last 12 years using manned aircraft - but as the contract is up for grabs in 2007, other companies are now challenging for the service. Surveillance Australia plans to answer the challengers by offering the General Atomics Mariner UAS, a modified Predator B for use in maritime roles. The use of an unmanned aircraft system to provide the Coastwatch service is two-fold. The Mariner UAS should help Surveillance Australia reduce costs in the performance of Coastwatch. And as part of the seamless connectivity between services, Surveillance Australia will also make the Mariner available to the Royal Australian Air Force in order to supplement the AP-3C Orion aircraft that will steadily be phased out over the next ten years. The scheduled phase-out of the Orions is part of Australia's Project Air 7000 that also calls for the acquisition of a maritime unmanned aircraft system. By offering the Mariner, Surveillance Australia hopes to place itself in a prime position to maintain the Coastwatch contract for Australia.
01/20/2006 The United States continues to be the top developer of unmanned aircraft systems and spending on the new-generation aircraft continues to escalate at a rapid rate. The Pentagon and U.S. military are the primary drivers of the increased requirements, but on the horizon are commercial requirements that analysts predict will dwarf military requirements. Currently, industry analysts predict that the unmanned aircraft market will exceed $7 billion by 2010 and $13 billion by 2014. In addition to the extraordinary spending for unmanned aircraft, analysts also add that funding for research and development of the aircraft will be in the billions of dollars and that military spending for unmanned combat aircraft would create yet another area for additional spending. Plus, Pentagon and DoD spending for unmanned aircraft is projected to rise over the next 20 years, possibly reaching over $3 billion a year by 2008. Undoubtedly, unmanned aircraft are leading the way into the next century of aviation.
01/18/2006 The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is utilizing a project known as SensorCraft to develop new UHF and X-band antenna solutions for unmanned and manned aircraft. Typically, antennas for the various avionics systems of an aircraft are added to the airframe, almost as an afterthought, in order to permit the operation of a particular system. The add-on antennas add weight, drag and complexity to the airframe in addition to consuming power. But engineers working on the AFRL SensorCraft program are investigating conformal antennas that are a perfect combination of form and function. A conformal antenna combines the performance of the antenna with the structure of the aircraft, thereby eliminating protruding antennas. The technology could revolutionize ISR in the battlefield by enabling multiband, multimode detection for unmanned aircraft. The technology is not without hurdles though. The typical X-band antenna requires a very rigid, flat aperture in order to form a perfect beam. Conformal antennas would require the beam-forming surface to be curved according to the aircraft's airframe. Algorithms must be developed to accommodate the curved surface and refocus the beam correctly. Further compounding the problem is the fact that the aircraft structure flexes during flight. The same algorithms that correct for the curved surface must also correct for the "flex" of the surface. But scientists believe the problem can be solved and continue to work at creating new conformal antennas that will someday revolutionize aircraft, both on and off the battlefield.
01/17/2006 Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems and Mission Systems division is developing a new electronic sensor called the High Band System Production Configuration Unit (HBSPCU) for use on the company's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft that will greatly improve military electronic signal collection capabilities. The new sensor is capable of detecting and identifying the electronic signals emitted from devices such as radar and communications radios from altitudes as high as 60,000 feet. Northrop officials state that the HBSPCU will be integrated with the Air Force Distributed Common Ground Stations, which are essentially collection stations for airborne intelligence gathering assetts. The HBSPCU is also a subsystem of the Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP) that will deploy sometime in 2008. Recently, Northrop successfully completed the first in a series of flight tests of the HBSPCU sensor onboard an Air Force Global Hawk.
01/16/2006 The Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program continues to wrangle with the Pentagon and budget constraint issues. In November 2005, the program was under discussion in the Senate over a cut in funding, but the budgeting issues have yet to be resolved. According to Boeing officials, the J-UCAS program is still on track despite the questions that remain on funding.
01/15/2006 Northrop Grumman announced that its Global Hawk unmanned aircraft has surpassed 5,000 hours of combat flight hours in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Operational in combat missions since 2001, the Air Force Global Hawks have flown over 230 ISR missions, providing intelligence to military forces from altitudes above 60,000. An official added that one Global Hawk has single-handedly flown over 150 missions. Flights now last up to 35 hours. The Global Hawk aircraft are manufactured by Northrop's Integrated Systems located in El Segundo, California.
01/14/2006 National Airspace System (NAS) issues are being ironed out within the FAA to pave the way for unmanned aircraft operations in airspace over the United States. However, while the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS is paramount, the process is still frustrating to the U.S. Air Force. Conversions of Air National Guard units from manned to unmanned aircraft ran into a snag earlier in 2005 when the Air Force found out that most of the states (Arizona, California, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas) where the Air Guard units are do not have the necessary restricted airspace available near the base that would permit unmanned flight operations. But California may have a chance to operate the new technology. Recently assigned Predators, the 163rd Air Refueling Wing at March Air Force Base in California should soon begin flight operations of the unmanned aircraft in restricted airspace near the base. The flight missions will be flown by Air Force pilots and intelligence specialists from Ground Control Stations at March AFB. Other Air Guard bases may either have to create new restricted airspace near their base or wait for resolution of National Airspace System issues by the FAA.
01/12/2006 Not necessarily pertinent to unmanned aircraft, but worthy of a point, India's Comptroller and Auditor General has determined that roughly forty percent of heavy vehicles, weapons and ammunition produced by India is defective and/or unserviceable. An audit report specifically cited the Russian T-72 tank (produced in India under license), the "Rifle-X" (produced by India's Rifle Factory in Ichapur), and India-produced ammunition. While the defective equipment is in a land far away from the United States, the point may be that continued "globalization" of our U.S. defense industry could eventually lead the United States down a similar path. Our own U.S. defense industry has always been and still is the best in the world because the United States spends millions of dollars to make it the best. Let's keep it that way - by spending our defense dollars - and all dollars - on Made-in-America materials and products. Not only does "Made-in-America" provide jobs to Americans - it provides security to the United States and maintains the United States armed forces as the best in the world. With world events as they are today, our country simply cannot afford to do any less.
01/11/2006 M-Ship Company and Knight & Carver of San Diego, California have partnered their talents on a project of the Office of Force Transformation that launched in December 2005. The project is a new high-speed boat that is designed to support U.S. Special Operations Command. The carbon-fiber boat, called Stiletto, uses a unique hull technology known as "M-hull". M-hull is a five-point hull that creates four "tunnels" that lift the boat up and permit speeds of 50 knots. What does the Stiletto have to do with unmanned aircraft? The craft incorporates a launch and recovery deck for small unmanned aircraft in order to support SOC missions.
01/09/2006 The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA) may use unmanned aircraft to support its operations in the United States if a suitable partner is available and there is a demand for the service. The NGIA does not plan to purchase its own unmanned aircraft, but rather is interested in working with sources that already operate unmanned aircraft. NGIA officials state that the agency already utilizes unmanned aircraft for some of its missions overseas, but that current National Airspace System rules (FARs) prevent the use of unmanned aircraft here in the United States. Agency officials assert that as U.S. NAS issues are resolved, the NGIA will use unmanned aircraft to support their operations here in the United States - specifically disaster relief/emergency operations - as long as they can find a suitable unmanned aircraft partner for the operations.
01/08/2006 Raytheon of Waltham, Massachusetts has named former Chief of Naval Operations, USN Admiral (retired) Vern Clark to its board of directors. In similar fashion, the Goodrich Corporation of Charlotte, North Carolina has named former Air Force Chief of Staff, USAF General (retired) John Jumper to its board of directors.
01/06/2006 Canada is sending aprroximately 2,000 Canadian Army troops to the Kandahar area of Afghanistan in February 2006. Canadian officials believe the mission is fairly dangerous compared to their past combat operations in Kabul and have stated that they will make sure that the troops are well-equipped and prepared prior to deployment. In order to meet the equipment and preparedness goals, the Defence Minister of Canada has set aside additional funding for the deployment which includes funding for - what else? Additional unmanned aircraft. The unmanned aircraft are a part of Canada's ISTAR program.
01/04/2006 The Air Force is finding out that Predator pilots that fly missions in Iraq from bases in the United States may be faced with some new and different psychological stresses. Typically, Predator aircraft are launched in Iraq by aircrews stationed in Iraq - but the actual flying of missions takes place right here in the United States by Air Force pilots stationed in Nevada. The unique part of the situation is that the pilots that fly the Predators from Nevada are not actually "deployed", but rather living at home with their families when not on duty. A typical may involve kissing their wife good-bye in the morning, driving to work, flying a combat Predator mission for a few hours, then coming home. The Air Force is realizing now that the continuous transformation from a "home environment" to a "battlefield environment" and back to a "home environment" on a daily basis is fairly stressful to the pilots, aircrew and their families. And Air Force officials want to figure out how to fix the situation. In a given day, a pilot might launch a Hellfire missile and kill Iraqui insurgents - and then go home to play with his children. Additional stresses include all the stresses of family life at home - caring for the family, paying bills, fixing cars, yardwork, etc. that a deployed pilot does not have to contend with when deployed away from home. Combined with the intense tempo of Predator operations - 24/7/365 with no days off - Air Force officials are finding out that morale among the Predator pilots and aircrew is at an all-time low. Additionally, the psychological stress to the pilots and aircrew is working its way into their homes and families, causing more problems in their personal lives such as separation and divorce. Air Force officials believe the morale and stress issues are at nearly a crisis level and that eventually the problems will affect staffing of the billets. However, on a positive note - while the emotional stress of combat is tough for families to deal with at home, the wives of Predator pilots are still happy about one thing - they know that if their husband gets shot down during his Predator mission, he'll still be home for dinner.
01/03/2006 Lockheed Martin completed tests of a new version of its Loitering Attack Missile, or LAM, at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The new version features a square-body airframe to give the fuselage more volume so that it can carry more fuel, in addition to larger fins and wings. The recent tests of the LAM were boost tests of the new airframe and Lockheed officials were pleased with the results. The LAM will eventually utilize both a rocket motor for launch and a turbojet motor for sustained loitering operations. Designed to be launched from a container on the ground, the LAM will boost to altitude and then loiter for up to 30 minutes over a target area, using a Laser Detection and Ranging seeker to locate, identify and then destroy mobile targets. The LAM, its Container Launch Unit and the Non-Line-of-Sight-Launch System are being developed by a teaming arrangement between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon known as NetFires, LLC.
01/02/2006 In a recent development that may relate directly to unmanned aircraft, Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force completed flight tests of an airborne communications relay and information server that is based on Internet protocol. Known as the Battlefield Airborne Communicatins Node (BACN), the system was carried aloft in a NASA WB-57 from MCAS Mirimar in San Diego, California in December 2005 and tested radio communications between airborne and ground systems. The BACN system extends the range of typical line-of-sight radios, linking them with ISR systems and relaying information to other surface units or airborne units. The system can also relay information through satellites to command centers around the world. BACN will eventually provide a high-altitude airborne network that will provide commanders with a complete operational picture, permitting them to direct aircraft and troops, as well as allowing troops in the field to share vital battlefield information. Now let's see...Northrop Grumman. BACN. High altitude network. Northrop Grumman. Global Hawk. Hmmm....
12/30/2005 In early December 2005, Britain released its Defense Industrial Strategy (DIS) that outlines the country's working relationship with the United States and Europe as well as the U.K. defense industry over the next few decades. Contained in the report is the fact that the Brits intend to launch an unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator in 2006 and that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be the country's last manned fighter aircraft. Similar to the Pentagon's Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2005, the DIS defines where Britain will place funding in future defense and, more importantly, intends to help retain BAE Systems as the country's primary defense manufacturer. BAE had recently disclosed that it was concerned about its profitibility within the U.K. because most of its focus was shifting to the ever-increasing U.S. defense market. The new DIS addresses BAE's concerns with a British strategy in defense spending that definitely places BAE at the top of the heap as a defense manufacturer. Additionally, some British officials are concerned that the globalization of the defense market will cause Britain to lose valuable, basic industrial skills that are essential to the country's long-term survival as a valuable provider of defense products. They cite the U.S. F-35 JSF program as an example of how British skills could erode. They feel the JSF program tends to lead Britain into a "dependent" position regarding support and training roles and contend that they would rather see their country in a more "independent" role, with in-country maintenance and training facilities. The DIS addresses some of these issues and further defines a focus on unmanned combat aircraft and the country's desire to target UCAV programs for funding so that aerospace engineering talent and design capabilities can be sustained. Incidental in the report, the DIS discloses information on a previously classified BAE Systems low-observable aircraft project that would relate to UCAV possibilities. Known as Corax, the fully autonomous, single engine, jet-powered flying wing completed flight testing in Australian ranges during 2004. The aircraft was designed to investigate development of a strategic unmanned aircraft system that could accommodate strike or reconnaissance missions and may lend elements of its technology to a Defense Ministry ISR concept program known as Dabinett. The good news for unmanned aircraft systems is that the DIS report paints a bright future for unmanned combat aircrat and signals that UCAVs will likely become a critical element of Britain's future offensive air capability, operating right alongside the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
12/29/2005 Sofradir, a small company located in the French Alps, manufactures infrared sensors. With a total of 300 employees, the company is now working hard to expand its role in the United States military market by teaming with American companies. Sofradir views the explosive growth of the unmanned aircraft market as an emerging marketplace for its products and wants to increase its market share in the exclusive infrared detector market traditionally dominated by Raytheon. Sofradir officials believe their products offer better performance at a lower cost and, with the correct U.S. partner, will increase their sales to the U.S. which currently make up about 10% of their total sales. Sofradir had sales of over $106 million in 2005 and finances its own research and development.
12/28/2005 Sweden's Saab and FMV, which make up Sweden's Defense Materiel Administration, have finally been given a go-ahead by the Swedish legislature for full participation in the European Neuron UCAV program. The decision will allow Saab and FMV to use technology gleaned from the Gripen program to improve the design of the Neuron demonstrator aircraft and also allows the Swedish Armed Forces to develop a UCAV demonstrator through FMV. Saab started negotiating a stake in Neuron in 2003 and is interested in building a major portion of the Neuron airframe. So far, the Dassault-led Neuron partnership program includes Hellenic Aerospace Industries (Greece), Alenia (Italy), EADS CASA (Spain), EADS & Dassault (France) and now Saab & FMV of Sweden. The Neuron UCAV program is designed to investigate and explore future unmanned aircraft technologies that are capable of penetrating enemy airspace and attacking ground targets under remotely piloted or autonomous guidance. Dassault expects the Neuron demonstrator aircraft to fly by 2010.
12/27/2005 The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School has a couple of students that may have created a solution for unmanned aerial refueling operations. The two students, both Captains in the Air Force, recently completed a series of test flights of their unmanned aerial refueling system. One student designed a control system for a Learjet that operated (manned) as a surrogate unmanned aircraft while the other student designed a program that compared the GPS positions between the Learjet and a twin-engine C-12 that pretended to be the tanker aircraft (also in a manned configuration). The program recorded flight data and the position of the C-12 and then transmitted the information to the Learjet. The control system on the Learjet interpreted the information and then created control inputs that controlled the relative position of the Learjet to the C-12. The C-12 flew a standard racetrack tanker course and the Learjet maintained a pretend "refueling" position to within 1.3 feet, even during 30 degree angle of bank turns. In later test flights, test pilots in the Learjet and C-12 allowed the aircraft to fly for over an hour in a "hands-off" mode. Unmanned aerial refueling is a breakthrough technology that would enhance unmanned aircraft operations dramatically while reducing military dependency on air bases located in-theater.
12/22/2005 The Federal Aviation Administration has formed the first program office for unmanned aircraft in its Office of Aviation Safety amid growing concerns of just "who" can fly an "unmanned" aircraft. On a sarcastic note, why is anyone worried about "who" can fly an "unmanned" aircraft? Or do they mean "remotely piloted" aircraft? While the industry continues to bludgeon ahead with the use of the word "unmanned" to describe these new-generation aircraft, the word simply does not work. If the aircraft is indeed "unmanned", then it does not need a pilot and, hence, there is no need to form an FAA office to determine the qualifications necessary for "the person that manipulates the flight path of the aircraft" - or as we say at GT Aeronautics - the "pilot". But the fact is that these aircraft do require a pilot to safely fly in the National Airspace system and, because of that fact, there is a need to determine the qualifications of the person in control of the aircraft - the pilot. This also implies that the aircraft should be called "remotely piloted aircraft" in order to satisfy FAA safety requirements and public concerns. The folks down below are going to feel much more comfortable knowing that "somebody is flying that thing!" The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency wants to use Predator aircraft to map the United States. The Air Force wants their Air National Guard units to use Predators or Global Hawks. Industry wants to use remotely piloted aircraft in the National Airspace System for all sorts of commercial missions. All of these aircraft require a pilot to plan the flight and control the track of the aircraft while it is airborne - in addition to determining whether the aircraft is safe for flight. The FAA holds the keys to NAS access and does not discriminate - an airframe is an airframe - whether piloted onboard or from the ground. The airframe traveling through the air poses the same threat to other aircraft or people on the ground. And the person in control of that aircraft needs to have the appropriate aeronautical knowledge and credentialing to conduct the flight safely. There's no getting around it - pilots fly aircraft - whether from the cockpit or from a ground control station - and they need to be licensed appropriately by the FAA to perform that task. Accountability for the inevitable crash or negative event is the issue at stake. There's no getting around it - remotely piloted aircraft need a pilot - someone "accountable" - in order to gain access to the National Airspace System. If industry continues to use the term "unmanned" to describe these aircraft, they might just as well say "un-piloted" - but everyone knows that simply is not true.
12/21/2005 A GAO report recently revealed that unmanned aircraft operations by the United States are still hampered by bandwidth issues, interoperability problems and weather. The report states that the Department of Defense has not created (but needs to create) detailed interoperability standards for unmanned aircraft systems that include standards for aircraft, payloads and ground control stations. Meanwhile, the DoD continues to recognize the positive impact unmanned aircraft provide to military operations and is increasing funding for the remotely piloted aircraft.
12/20/2005 Northrop Grumman's MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter completed a critical design review with the U.S. Navy that covered the aircraft's design, comm and data links, avionics, payloads and launch/recovery operations, both on land and aboard ship. The successful review moves the Fire Scout closer to full-scale production at Northrop's new facility in Moss Point, Mississippi. Company officials state that the first airframe will arrive in 2006 and ground and flight testing of the aircraft will be completed in 2006. In addition to the Navy, the U.S. Army is also planning to use the Fire Scout for its Future Combat System program. Representatives from both services participated in the review with Northrop's Fire Scout team.
12/19/2005 France's Delegation Generale pour l'Armament (DGA) recently awarded French shipyard DCN a $4.2 million contract to study the operation of unmanned aircraft from naval warships. Partnering with DGA is the Sagem Defense Security Division and the French government research agency ONERA.
12/18/2005 The French armaments agency DGA also recently awarded a $152 million contract to Sagem's Defense and Security Division, Thales, and Giat Industries to study a cooperative fighting system that uses unmanned aircraft. The project is known as BOA and will study a network-centric battle environment that integrates unmanned aircraft with helicopters, weapons and future soldier systems. The seven year contract provides for a joint, regiment-level exercise/demonstration that will use Leclerc tanks, VBCI fighting vehicles, Tiger helicopters, the Felin future soldier system, communications/information systems - and of course, unmanned aircraft. The exercise is planned for 2007 and France is now indicating that they would like to invite other countries to participate.
12/17/2005 Boeing announced that its A160 Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft completed its first test flight with a new engine. The aircraft used a six-cylinder engine made by Subaru to complete a 30 minute flight. Boeing states that the Hummingbird is designed for flight times in excess of 24 hours at altitudes up to 30,000 feet, giving it a range of over 2,500 nautical miles. The Hummingbird is able to achieve these exceptional performance numbers by adjusting the rotor system RPM based on airspeed, altitude and gross weight. Boeing hopes to see the Hummingbird fill ISTAR roles, precision resupply and communications relay. Test flights for the aircraft are taking place at an airfield near Victorville, California.
12/16/2005 Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk continues to make strides in achievement for unmanned aircraft. U.S. Central Command should receive two Global Hawks by the end of December 2005 to support their operations in Iraq. CENTCOM has used a Global Hawk over the last year to conduct missions, but the aircraft was a test/demo aircraft and not expected to fulfill more than 200 missions. The two new Global Hawks should provide the necessary operational relief in the area to satisfy the pace of operations. Meanwhile, the intense requirements for Global Hawk imagery in Iraq has caused delays in an operational demonstration of the aircraft to U.S. Southern Command scheduled for 2005. But officials indicate that as new Global Hawk aircraft start rolling off the assembly line, the operational requirements for the aircraft will be met more easily and the Southern Command demonstration will soon take place.
12/14/2005 Boeing Phantom Works and DARPA are developing an unmanned canard/rotorwing demonstrator aircraft (CRW) known as the X-50A Dragonfly that is intended to combine the virtues of vertical takeoff and landing with the efficiencies of fixed-wing speed and range. The Dragonfly aircraft weighs 1460 pounds and uses a Williams F112 turbofan for power. The very stubby, low-aspect-ratio rotor is 12 feet in diameter and incorporates tip jets to turn it. The tip jets are powered with air that is ducted from the jet engine when being used for vertical flight and hover. The jet engine thrust is shifted aft when the Dragonfly transitions to forward fixed-wing flight mode. During hover, the canard wing is pivoted vertical and gradually returns to horizontal in the transition to forward flight. The stubby rotor eventually comes to a stop and performs as the wing of the Dragonfly when the aircraft is in complete forward flight. Boeing believes the technology will increase the range and speed of vertical takeoff aircraft. The program suffered a setback in early 2004 when the first prototype of the X-50 crashed during a hovering test. Engineers decided the crash was caused by cross-coupling of controls and implemented software changes to fix the problem. On December 2, the second prototype of the X-50A completed a four-minute hover test to an altitude of about 20 feet at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. Officials were pleased with the test and felt the cross-coupling issues were resolved with the software change. Boeing and DARPA are planning a total of eleven test flights that will eventually demonstrate a vertical takeoff, transition to full forward flight and back to hover, followed by a vertical landing. The company believes the test flights will conclude in early 2006.
12/13/2005 Bell Helicopter Textron's unmanned Eagle Eye tiltrotor has received airworthiness certification for experimental testing from the FAA. The certification will permit Bell to begin flight testing of the aircraft next year at its XworX research and development facility in Arlington, Texas. Bell officials anticipate the first flight of the Eagle Eye will take place in January 2006. The flight tests will start in a vertical-only helicopter mode and gradually expand to the full forward flight mode. The Eagle Eye, now officially designated the TR918, is slated for operational use in the U.S. Coast Guard by 2011. Bell officials hope to deliver the first three prototypes to the service in 2007 and 2008, with production version deliveries beginning in 2009. The Coast Guard has so far ordered 45 aircraft and 33 ground control stations. More recently, Evergreen International indicated that it may purchase up to three Eagle Eyes for missions not disclosed. Bell officials hope the Eagle Eye will eventually fill commercial roles in homeland security and pipeline patrol as national airspace issues are resolved.
12/12/2005 To further endorse its plan to develop unmanned aircraft in-country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces displayed two unmanned aircraft - the APID 55 and the Al-Sber - at the Dubai Air Show. UAE officials stated that the APID 55 is intended for homeland security reconnaissance missions by coast guard and border patrol forces and the Al-Sber will be used by the Army, Air Force and Special Operations Forces for surveillance and targeting. Both aircraft carry advanced EO/IR payloads developed by FLIR Systems, have vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and will land-deploy in a specially designed Humvee. Five APID 55 and nine Al-Sber prototypes have been produced by the UAE Air Force UAV Research and Technolgy Center in conjuntion with other foreign companies. Both aircraft have been extensively flight tested and the UAE plans to market both aircraft internationally. UAE officials cited a denied request for ten Predator unmanned aircraft as the reason for the ambitious, in-country development of unmanned aircraft.
12/11/2005 As unmanned aircraft become integral to defense forces worldwide, the ability to defend against unmanned aircraft is also becoming an area of interest. German companies Diehl BGT and EADS-LFK are combining their talents with Bayern Chemie to develop next-generation missile technology capable of intercepting unmanned and manned aircraft, including cruise missiles. The companies recently test fired a missile called the LFK NG at a test range in Meppen, Germany. The missile was not an operational version, but utilized a dual-pulse rocket motor for power. Operational versions of the LFK NG would carry an imaging infrared seeker and a penetrator warhead to complete the intercept/shootdown mission. The German military is conducting a technology assessment through 2008 in order to determine capabilities for its future air defense system. Requirements include the ability to engage airborne targets at distances up to 10 kilometers.
12/10/2005 Creech Air Force Base in Nevada is set to receive new Predator MQ-1 aircrew training systems by 2007 under a $7.3 million contract awarded to the Link Simulation and Training division of L-3 Communications by the United States Air Force. Under the contract, Link will build seven Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS) production units and three brief/debrief systems. The PMATS units model the Predator and all of its associated sensors and weapons, as well as providing simulated urban environments and adverse weather conditions. Link already received a $3 million contract from the Air Force in June to support Predator aircrew training.
12/09/2005 Advanced Target Systems (ATS) of the United Arab Emirates is flight testing a new unmanned aircraft called the Yabhon-R. The aircraft utilizes a Rotax 912 engine in a pusher configuration to carry a payload of up to 110 pounds for 30 hours. The double-delta wing aircraft is over sixteen feet long and has a wingspan of 21 feet. ATS is developing a family of unmanned aircraft that also includes a smaller aircraft known as Slash that has an endurance of approximately 40 minutes.
12/08/2005 Rheinmetall Defense Electronics of Germany has delivered the first of a new unmanned aircraft to German armed forces. Known as the Kleinfluggerat Zielortung, or KZO, the aircraft sports a wingspan of just over 12 feet and can remain aloft for over three hours. The aircraft sensors are capable of spotting stationary and moving targets and can relay the information to a ground control station in real time. Rheinmetall will deliver six systems to the German Army. Each system consists of two ground control stations and ten aircraft. Rheinmetall partnered with Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, Alabama on the project (2004) and the two companies plan to market the new KZO UAS worldwide.
12/07/2005 In addition to manned platforms, the United Arab Emirates is planning an expansion of its unmanned aircraft platforms. Currently the UAE is using the Camcopter S-100 for surveillance missions, but intends to grow its unmanned aircraft fleet with locally-built systems. UAE officials stated that they are also working on agreements with European and U.S. suppliers for a medium altitude unmanned aircraft system. The push to grow the unmanned aircraft fleet is intended to provide greater ISR coverage of regions of the Middle East.
12/06/2005 The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's Chemistry and Tactical Electronic Warfare Division and Protonex Technology have combined their development efforts to demonstrate a fuel cell-powered unmanned aircraft. Protonex developed a fuel cell stack that uses compressed hydrogen, which allowed NRL to build a 100 watt fuel cell system. The unmanned aircraft, called Spider-Lion, weighed 5.6 pounds and flew for over three hours, consuming about 15 grams of hydrogen during the flight. The fuel cell technology may someday be used to power smaller military platforms.
12/05/2005 Up unitl now, the Canadian Air Force has used the Sperwer unmanned aircraft for military surveillance operations in Afghanistan. The initial six Canadian Sperwer aircraft that were purchased performed adequately, but struggled with the extreme temperature and weather conditions near Kabul. Canada lost several of the aircraft in crashes and officials confirm that the condition of at least two aircraft are beyond repair due to crashes. Now the Canadian Air Force has announced a $420 million plan to purchase and field new generation medium and high altitude unmanned aircraft by 2010. The development phase to full capability for the contract is expected to take approximately eight years and Canada plans to use the new unmanned aircraft for missions overseas as well as surveillance of Canadian coastlines. Meanwhile, to fill current needs, the country intends to purchase additional Sperwer aircraft and also mini-unmanned aircraft. Approximately $15 million has been set aside for five additional Sperwers to be delivered by 2006 and over $10 million will be used for a competitive bid purchase of ten mini unmanned aircraft systems, also by 2006. The Canadian Army plans to equip and train mini-UAV troop units with the aircraft, deploying them to Afghanistan in the second half of 2006. Officials stated that the Sperwer and its sensors are among the best in the world, but that future requirements are making the aircraft obsolete. The Canadian Air Force will continue to operate the Sperwer as it is replaced with the newer aircraft.
12/04/2005 At the Dubai Air Show, Poland announced that it intends to procure tactical unmanned aircraft. Polish officials stated that they would like to use a system that is already operational and indicated that possible selections include Northrop Grumman's Hunter and AAI's Shadow 200.
12/03/2005 The Pentagon last week stated that additional Global Hawk, Predator and other unmanned aircraft system purchases by the Defense Department may be on hold until manpower issues with the aircraft are resolved and the FAA decides how to handle airspace issues for the unmanned aircraft. Currently, all of the Air Force personnel that operate unmanned aircraft are involved with operations of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and recruiting for new positions is, so far, inadequate to fill the number of new positions. Additionally, the recent placement of Air National Guard and Reserve unmanned aircraft bases in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, New York and North Dakota has caused interesting airspace issues. Possibly an oversight - but the new bases lack the restricted airspace for operation of the unmanned aircraft.
12/02/2005 Saab of Sweden recently began flight testing of the new aircraft prototype of its FILUR program. FILUR stands for Flying Low Observable Unmanned Research. (Okay, I don't get it either) The aircraft looks much like a small version of Boeing's X-45 and flew for about 10 minutes at a flight test center in Sweden. Saab officials did not release details of the October flight or that it even took place until this past week. The focus of the program is to research infrared signature reduction and radar cross-sections of unmanned aircraft. Saab states that the aircraft that performed the flight test is only a demonstrator and is not intended to become an operational unmanned aircraft. The information gathered in the FILUR research will be helpful to the French-led Neuron project, inwhich Sweden is a participant. Recently, the French voiced concerns over Swedish participation in the Neuron project, due to internal delays with Swedish government funding of Saab as a member/participant in the project. However, a recent Swedish government review of the Neuron project determined that Neuron is the right choice for their country. Saab officials anticipate that the positive review of the Neuron project will expedite Sweden's share of funding to Neuron and are hopeful that it (funding) will be completed by the end of 2005.
12/01/2005 General Atomic's Predator chalked up another first during the month of November by being the first unmanned aircraft to fly in front of spectators at an airshow. The event was the Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis Air Force Base. Spectators were treated to simulated missile attacks with live explosions, in addition to low passes down the flight line. The air show also set up large jumbotron displays so that spectators could view real-time imagery of themselves as the Predator flew by. The imagery was also simulcast on the worldwide web. The Predator aircraft was flown by Air Force pilots stationed at nearby Creech Air Force Base, the recently established home of the unmanned aircraft Center of Excellence.
11/30/2005 The future of unmanned aircraft may be relatively bright compared to other major aerospace aircraft programs. The aerospace industry is predicting that the defense budget for major airframe programs will remain steady for the next couple of years, followed by a decline of about 2-3 percent per year thereafter. However, the budget for lower cost unmanned aircraft is expected to prosper and continue to increase over the same period. Experts say that one of the reasons for the increase in budgets for the lower cost unmanned aircraft is the changing battlefield and the need for in-close intelligence gathering versus standoff capabilities. The higher cost of large, advanced, standoff-type aircraft is putting pressure on the Pentagon budget committees to find lower cost solutions in the UAS arena, such as smaller unmanned aircraft that can gather the same information by orbiting close to the battlefield. Analysts state that the search for lower cost aircraft solutions will undoubtedly drive technology - especially electronics - smaller and smaller so that they will fit on the smaller unmanned aircraft. The best news is that the use of smaller unmanned aircraft operating close to the battlefield means that unmanned aircraft systems are becoming a standard tool - or weapon - of the most basic of our military forces and will probably be used in greater numbers as a result. Fire up the production lines!
11/29/2005 United States Navy Vice Admiral (ret) Arthur K. Cebrowski, the father of today's network-centric warfare transformation, passed away on 12 November after succumbing to a long battle with cancer. The decorated admiral was a carrier fighter pilot that flew over 150 combat missions in Vietnam and commanded the aircraft carrier USS Midway during Desert Storm. Cebrowski attended the Naval Post Graduate School and earned a masters degree in computer science management. Late in his career, Cebrowski presided over the Naval War College where his concept of network-centric warfare began to take shape. After retiring from the Navy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appointed Cebrowski as the first director of force transformation for the U.S. Defense Department where Cebrowski took the concept of network-centric warfare and converted it into the force structure the Department of Defense uses today. Cebrowski was 63 years old.
11/28/2005 The Defense Science and Technology Agency of Singapore announced that it intends to purchase two miniature unmanned aircraft systems by April of 2006. The government agency also added that it hopes to option for another twenty-five systems by 2008, with two systems added by August of 2006, another three systems by December of 2006, and the remainder thereafter.
11/27/2005 Russian aerospace companies are continuing to develop unmanned aircraft technologies, despite lack of orders from their government. Two of Russia's largest companies, Aviation Holding Company Sukhoi and Russian Aircraft Building Company MiG, signed agreements with EADS in the last 18 months for development of unmanned technology. Sukhoi produces the "Zond" family of UASs. Another Russian company, Irkut, is developing a range of unmanned aircraft after working an agreement with Israel's Aeronautics Defense Systems, the producer of the Aerostar unmanned aircraft. Irkut will build six different types of unmanned aircraft that can operate automatically or by ground controller. The aircraft are all single engine aircraft, with airspeeds ranging between 60 and 100 mph and maximum altitudes ranging between 300 and 11,500 feet, depending on gross weight. The aircraft will carry digital cameras capable of detecting a human being at nearly 3 miles, in addition to laser mapping systems. Aircraft costs range between $60,000 and $5 million. So far, Irkut has funded the entire development phase of the aircraft with its own funds. The company plans to explore unmanned combat aircraft in conjunction with an agreement signed with Italy's Aeromacchi. In the Russian rotorcraft arena, Russian helicopter maker Moscow Mil Helicopter Plant intends to build its first prototype of an unmanned helicopter by 2006, based on the light Mi-34 utility helicopter. The unmanned version should have a range of about 125 miles at an operating altitude of about 10,000 feet. The company estimates the cost per aircraft between $350,000 and $500,000. All of the Russian companies are hopeful for unmanned aircraft to make a broader impact in their country, which will help alleviate some of the rules with regard to their use in Russian airspace.
11/26/2005 EADS and Northrop Grumman will sell Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to the German military. The Global Hawks will become "EuroHawks" under the formally established EuroHawk joint venture. Germany intends to purchase the Global Hawk aircraft for military use and will equip the aircraft with SIGINT systems sometime next year.
11/26/2005 On another note, EADS has been on top of their game from a financial standpoint so far this fiscal year. But in a late-year twist, two of the company's unmanned aircraft programs may cause the aerospace giant to take a hit of more than 100 million euros before the close of the fourth quarter. The two programs causing the financial loss are the Eagle-1 UAV program and the EuroMALE program. Both programs are medium-altitude unmanned aircraft programs, with the latter being a long-endurance follow-on aircraft to the Eagle-1 program. The charges stem from delays in receiving a "go-ahead" for the programs. Revenue at EADS is up 9% this year to 23.5 billion euros.
11/25/2005 The United Arab Emirates Air Force is beginning a drive to develop its own unmanned aircraft systems internally using the Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company (GAMCO) for the development work. The move to in-house work is an effort to relieve dependency on foreign companies for unmanned aircraft. Over the last three years, UAE Air Force officials have worked with GAMCO on the development of unmanned aircraft for numerous missions, including surveillance and target practice drones, but have only recently decided to develop a local, in-house unmanned aircraft program. The new program will include small unmanned aircraft, as well as tactical and rotory unmanned aircraft. Currently UAE officials would like to concentrate their efforts on unmanned aircraft that provide ISR to the battlefield. The decision to develop unmanned aircraft systems internally has its proponents and critics. Proponents of the idea laud the fact that the UAE would not be dependent on foreign technology, that spare parts would cease to be a problem and that the development and research work would take place in-country, providing jobs. Critics argue that the idea is premature and too ambitious and costly because viable systems already exist and are available for purchase. The GAMCO company of Abu Dhabi already builds unmanned surveillance aircraft (GRS aircraft) and target drones (GRD aircraft) and has embarked on other advanced unmanned aircraft programs that include the GRV100 and the GRD600. The GRV100 is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft capable of 350 knots of forward airspeed and the GRD600 is a modular aircraft that can be powered by a jet or rotory engine in a pusher or tractor mode, depending on client requirements. While UAE officials seem to prefer using GAMCO for development of unmanned aircraft, they still have not ruled out foreign aircraft platforms. However, officials add that if a foreign platform is selected, it will become part of a local program. The GAMCO company is a joint business venture between Gulf Air and the government of Abu Dhabi.
11/24/2005 EADS and Italy's Galileo Avionica recently began flight testing of a new tactical, unmanned, high-speed, reconnaissance aircraft at the Biscarrosse missile test center in France. The aircraft, called the Carapas, will carry EO/IR and electronic intelligence detection sensors and is being developed for the French military. While capable of high speed flight, the Carapas is also capable of low speed flight. Low speed flight allows the aircraft to collect intelligence better and is an advantage that current French UAVs, such as the CL-289, do not allow. The company will continue flight testing of the new Carapas through the end of 2005.
11/23/2005 Northrop Grumman has received $60 million from the U.S. Air Force to begin work on the next five RQ-4B Global Hawk aircraft. The contract permits Northrop to begin work on the actual airframe, in addition to procuring parts for the improved integrated sensor suites, a mission control element and a launch and recovery element. Northrop officials indicate that work will begin on the hardware for the five new aircraft in late 2005 and that assembly of the aircraft will begin sometime in 2006. The company is already manufacturing five RQ-4B Global Hawk aircraft from previous contracts at it's manufacturing plant in Palmdale. The RQ-4B Global Hawk is the advanced version of the unmanned aircraft, sporting a larger wing and 1,000 pound increase in payload capacity.
11/22/2005 Micron Technology produced some of the world's smallest cameras sensors and the technology is slowly working its way onto unmanned aircraft. The company produces Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductors (CMOS) imaging devices that comprise the basis for cell phone cameras. But the light and cost-effective imaging devices are rapidly becoming the imaging solutions for hand-launched and/or man-portable unmanned aircraft. The small sensors consume very little power and, as a consequence, are finding their way into a very broad range of military applications and new technology. Small unmanned aircraft are a perfect match and defense researchers are also investigating uses for the small cameras on mortar rounds so that mortar crews can obtain instant feedback from the rounds they fire at enemy positions.
11/21/2005 Northrop Grumman engineers working at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory have demonstrated a new system that allows a soldier in the battlefield to request high level reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) information from unmanned aircraft. The system, called Heterogenous Urban RSTA Team, or HURT, receives the request from the soldier and then automatically decides which unmanned aircraft will be used to fulfill the request. In the demonstration, the HURT system controlled four unmanned aircraft, providing streaming video from the aircraft to handheld units the soldiers had in the field. Soldiers could use the handheld units to make requests for video (even simultaneous requests) of a particular area and receive it because the HURT system would assign the appropriate aircraft to handle each request. The system is designed to optimize utilization of airborne assets.
11/20/2005 Engineers are trying to find solutions to a nagging problem with the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. Earlier this year, Global Hawk aircraft suffered two different engine failures while flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet. In each instance, the aircraft glided safely to an "unscheduled landing" at an airfield. Engineers for the AE 3007H engine have already applied a software update to the engine for high altitude flight that they say has helped, but believe the problem is associated with the thin air at high altitude, fuel flow and disturbances to the air as it enters the inlet of the engine. No flight restrictions have been issued for the aircraft and officials indicate that they will continue to work on the problem for a permanent solution.
11/19/2005 Officials from the U.S. Air Force recently led a futuristic wargame that included over forty military officers and research/consultant experts as participants. The exercise focused on the type of wargame scenarios that might take place 20 years from now using capabilities and equipment that may not yet be available. Its purpose was to allow the participants to determine future U.S. and adversary defense capabilities and identify weaknesses. One area identified that is of present and future concern was unmanned aircraft systems and the increasing demand for their use in defense roles. Officials stated that the increasing demand for unmanned aircraft by each branch of the military will continue to create integration problems for the aircraft because of airspace and frequency spectrum issues and added that operational solutions to these problems need to be addressed right away in order to avoid "a real disaster" in the future. Other areas of concern identified in the exercise included network integration, tactics, and the need for more rapid development of non-lethal and non-kinetic weapons.
11/18/2005 The upcoming Dubai 2005 International Aerospace Exhibition has added a third hall and two additional pavilions in order to accommodate increased demand for exhibit space, including a strong demand for unmanned aircraft. The exhibit hall and additional pavilions were constructed at the Airport Expo Dubai and will house unmanned aircraft and training and simulation exhibitors. The Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Company of Abu Dhabi plans to display several its UAV prototypes that are being developed for the United Arab Emirates Air Force. Organizers of the Dubai event expect a 20% increase in exhibitors from the show two years ago - over 700 exhibitors from over 46 countries. The Dubai Aerospace Exhibition is scheduled to take place from 20-24 November this year.
11/17/2005 Lockheed Martin and an advanced concept subdivision of Rolls-Royce known as Liberty Works may soon unveil a stealthy, long-endurance unmanned aircraft. The two companies have been cooperating on the project. Liberty Works is working on multiple defense fronts, including high electrical output engines and stealthy low- and high-speed propulsion systems. Focus in all of their research is concentrated on cost-effective and expendable solutions. Liberty Works is receiving a large portion of company revenue for it's research work on the project.
11/16/2005 Thales is the prime contractor on Britain's Watchkeeper unmanned reconnaissance aircraft program and is poised to receive upwards of 700 million pounds for the program. The company recently received 317 million pounds for development and procurement of the airframe and ground control station. Thales will contract UAV Tactical Systems to perform the work, part of Thale's joint venture with Elbit Systems of Israel. The Watchkeeper program already decided to use Elbit's Hermes 450 as the basis for the aircraft, with the new aircraft known as Watchkeeper 450s. Initially, Elbit will manufacture the aircraft in Israel and then later transfer the production to England. The British army hopes to have the Watchkeeper aircraft in service by 2010.
11/14/2005 The Israeli Air Force (IAF) is considering unmanned combat aircraft as an alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) manned aircraft, but only as a worst-case scenario. The move is at least partially based on the U.S. removal of Israel from the JSF program based on Israeli defense trade with China. Some Israelis favor the leap to UCAVs, but Israeli Air Force officials favor a slower, more pragmatic approach to the implementation of unmanned aircraft and state that a radical move to unmanned aircraft as a replacement to JSF would be a hasty decision based on emotion rather than responsible decision-making. Officials state that the exclusive use of unmanned aircraft could reduce costs and provide some advantages, but that under the current situation the move would also circumvent diplomacy between Israel and the United States regarding Israeli involvement in the JSF aircraft. Additionally, IAF officials are not certain that they have identified all of the possible negative issues that could evolve with exclusive operation of unmanned combat aircraft. The IAF is currently conducting studies of the cost effectiveness of unmanned aircraft versus manned aircraft with emphasis on pilot training, aircraft systems and physiological limitations, but generally believe that their first priority should be to mend relations with the United States and make the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter their next-generation fighter before embarking on an exclusive path to unmanned combat aircraft.
11/12/2005 The European Defense Agency (EDA) plans to investigate two technologies that are vital stepping-stones to unmanned aircraft development and is providing $1.8 million in order to develop the technologies. The two technologies include sense-and-avoid systems and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communications links and are intended for use on medium and high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft used in-theater. European officials believe that sense-and-avoid systems are critical to unmanned aircraft operation within Europe because the European airspace system is so complex and compact. Additionally, the ability to operate and control unmanned aircraft beyond line-of-sight is considered a vital technology. European officials hope that the successful development of the two technologies will help lead Europe to a single, commonly-funded unmanned aircraft production program so that European countries can avoid duplication of unmanned technologies. Current European unmanned aircraft programs include the German EuroHawk, the French EuroMALE and the British Watchkeeper. EDA officials also contend that a common unmanned aircraft program will allow Europe to compete more effectively with U.S. unmanned aircraft programs.
11/11/2005 NATO Five Power alliance members of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and France met recently to discuss the mixed-platform solution of NATO's Airborne Ground Surveillance (AGS) system and how the program should proceed. Officials fear that unless the AGS program is modified, the high cost of the multi-billion dollar AGS program may eventually cause its demise. The proposed AGS system combines manned and unmanned aircraft technologies with radars to effect airborne ground surveillance. The manned aircraft in the proposal is the Airbus A320 while the unmanned aircraft is Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk. NATO officials are concerned that the high cost of the manned aircraft portion of the program is a problem and are proposing that the program continue, but only with the development of the unmanned aircraft portion in order to reduce and control costs. NATO officials from Germany, France and the U.S. endorse modifications to the program to permit its survival, citing that the modifications and subsequent reductions in cost will provide a better overall solution, especially for smaller NATO countries. Industry officials working on the program believe that AGS can meet NATO cost constraints and are optimistic that the program will continue.
11/10/2005 The U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program is eyeing unmanned aircraft technology from Israel that could help the development efforts of the extensive Army program. However, Israeli participation in FCS may be limited due to the country's defense trade involvement with Beijing, China. U.S. officials are not pleased with Israel's decision to provide defense technology with China and, in addition to canceling Israel's involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter program, curtailed Israel's involvement in the FCS program until the defense trade issues with China are resolved. Israel is considered a leader in unmanned aircraft technology and officials close to the FCS program indicate that their interest is in Israel's Digital Army Program - a technology that links all combat units on a secure command-and-control network. The decision to disallow Israeli technology-sharing in the FCS program may slow the program's development - but then again, the decision may also spur the development of U.S. technology and "Made in America" products.
11/09/2005 Turkey's procurement office is looking for ways to fill its military jet trainer and unmanned aircraft requirements. In response, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) of Sacheon, South Korea is proposing a partnership with Turkey's government and local Turkish defense industries in order to promote cooperation and sharing of aviation and space technology programs. KAI would like to share the expertise it gained in the development of its T-50 Golden Eagle (a supersonic jet trainer), military satellites and unmanned aircraft. KAI contends that their proposal would provide Turkey with unlimited technology transfer and that with the partnership, Turkey would be better-positioned for internal development of aviation programs.
11/08/2005 Air Force officials are lauding the use of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. military, citing that there are now over 1,000 unmanned aircraft performing missions as complex as search and rescue support, forward air control and tactical battle coordination - in addition to the more simple intelligence-gathering missions. But officials also expressed that the "positives" of unmanned aircraft come with some "negatives" - the increasing numbers of unmanned aircraft are causing the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan to become so crowded that officials fear an accident that may result in reduced effectiveness of the unmanned assetts or, worse, the loss of personnel in a midair collision with manned aircraft. Industry continues to work on sense-and-avoid equipment so that unmanned aircraft can autonomously avoid such collisions. The technology is deemed critical for commercial operations in the National Airspace System as well - FAA officials cite the see/sense-and-avoid issue as a main component of the introduction of unmanned aircraft into the U.S. National Airspace System.
11/07/2005 Look for unmanned aircraft to begin much greater participation in Air Force Red Flag operations. Air Force officials indicate that the continuing evolution of Red Flag will definitely include more unmanned aircraft operations in order to provide more realistic combat training to Air Force pilots. Air Force officials contend that the unmanned aircraft are essential for training because they provide realistic, time-sensitive targeting and are useful tools for reflecting dynamic air combat operations and new threats. Considered valuable participants, unmanned Predators and Global Hawk aircraft currently take part in Red Flag, but on a limited basis. Current combat-tasking of the limited numbers of unmanned aircraft is the reason for their restricted participation. The Red Flag operation takes place two to five times a year at a 15,000 square mile flight range in Nevada. Up to 100 aircraft participate in a typical Red Flag training operation.
11/04/2005 The Pentagon's Fiscal 2006 Budget request contains some good and bad news for unmanned aircraft. Bad news and good news respectively for J-UCAS - the Senate is proposing a $200 million cut to the $350 million J-UCAS funding request while House appropriators are in favor of funding the request. J-UCAS officials at Northrop Grumman believe the proposed cuts by the Senate will be overturned. Meanwhile, good news for General Atomics and its Predator - the House wants to increase funding of the Predator program, adding four aircraft to the Pentagon's request for nine aircraft and increasing Predator procurement by six aircraft. The Senate was in favor of funding the request for the original nine aircraft. And some more bad news - the House would like to cut procurement of Northrop's Global Hawk from the Pentagon's request of five aircraft to just three. Congressional appropriators will meet in the coming weeks to iron out the details of the budget. The Fiscal 2006 Budget is due in Congress by February of 2006.
11/01/2005 The Air Force Research Laboratory recently conducted tests of an unmanned helicopter capable of delivering pesticides to areas on the ground. The flights tests were intended to demonstrate the ability of unmanned aircraft to apply pesticides to a hostile area in order to protect troops from insects and/or disease - and ultimately, hostile fire. Currently, the Air Force uses C-130s to conduct such missions, flying at low altitude and, of course, susceptible to enemy fire. But officials believe that the small unmanned helicopter - with a very small footprint - will be able to operate in hostile areas more effectively than manned aircraft because personnel are not at risk and the small size provides a more difficult target to hit for the enemy. A drawback is payload capacity. The prototype of the unmanned helicopter flew the experimental missions at Tyndal Air Force Base in Florida.
10/29/2005 NATO is working its airborne ground surveillance equipment, called the Alliance Ground Surveillance project and recently completed a $26.5 million study designed to coordinate the development of the total system with the radar that will be incorporated into the system. The project will utilize both Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and Airbus 321 aircraft that carry a modular synthetic aperture radar. Companies involved in the project include EADS, Galileo Avionica, General Dynamics Canada, Northrop Grumman and Thales. As coordination of industrial efforts concludes, the companies will begin development of actual hardware with the hopes of fielding operational aircraft sometime after 2010.
10/28/2005 The U.S. Army continues to pursue insurgent and terrorist wireless communication networks as their number one target - and stealthly, unmanned aircraft are at least part of the technological leaders in their efforts. Officials believe that terrorists are readily adapting their low-technology networks (i.e. cell phones and other communications devices that are linked to improvised explosive devices) in order to defeat more advanced distributed networked weapon systems. Officials contend that they must use networks to defeat networks and that their goals include extensive use of network and electromagnetic attack systems that will undoubtedly be deployed on unmanned aircraft and other manned aircraft, including the F-22 and F-35. The stealthy unmanned aircraft are able to carry sensors much closer to enemy operations and are able to pinpoint the location of wireless signals in order to process them for targeting. Additionally, new generation sensor equipment will be able to infiltrate networks and in some cases actually take control of the network, thereby exploiting the network to the advantage of our forces. Officials believe that in the war on terror, the "network" battle is evolving as more important than the "conventional weapons" battle because, in most cases, it is more effective to eliminate enemy command-and-control nodes than it is to eliminate their weapons. And unmanned aircraft are a perfect way to exploit enemy networks because the terrorists don't have the ability to exploit the killing of U.S. military personnel - they only have the satisfaction of attempting to eliminate relatively worthless remotely piloted aircraft that just keep coming and coming. Our simple message to the terrorists of the world - you'll run out of ammo and people long before we run out of remotely piloted sky-spies! Enjoy!!
10/27/2005 The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA) is expressing some concern over possible defense cuts based on the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) with the hopes of maintaining critical intelligence technologies. Officials at the intelligence office are convinced that U.S. intelligence efforts in the war on terrorism could be diminished if any of three intelligence-gathering platforms receive cuts in funding. The three platforms are Space-Based Radar (SBR), the E-10 multi-sensor intelligence-gathering aircraft and the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. Officials contend that the Global Hawk is indispensable because it can provide a "persistent stare" versus the "snapshot" that satellites can provide. Additionally, the Global Hawk can perform its missions at considerable cost savings as compared to the E-10 manned aircraft - although the E-10 will provide more advanced technology as the design continues to iterate. The important points to note are that unmanned aircraft are considered "indispensable" to U.S. intelligence and that they provide a unique capability at a substantially lower cost.
10/26/2005 After the J-UCAS program received a $1.1 billion budget cut last year, Northrop Grumman will now receive further funding for its X-47 unmanned combat aircraft (J-UCAS) program due to changes recently made by the Pentagon to the program. With $56 million of potential funding available, the changes will permit Northrop to build a third X-47 aircraft even though the program was slated for only two aircraft. The change also includes funding for demonstrations of aircraft carrier landings and inflight aerial refueling. Depending on upcoming Navy and Air Force requirements, Northrop officials will eventually decide whether the company will build an X-47C, a larger version of the current X-47 demonstrator.
10/25/2005 The U.S. Air Force Academy, Hydrogen Components, Inc. and Ball Aerospace & Technologies are combining their talents to find better ways to make more efficient fuel cells that will some day allow electric unmanned aircraft to longer, quieter and without the weight of today's heavy batteries. Air Force Academy cadets are working with personnel from Hydrogen Components in order to develop the chemistry and hardware associated with hydrogen generators. The teaming has created working prototypes of fuel cells that use hydrogen, lithium and aluminum, but the team is trying to obtain three times the performance of its current hydrogen generator by using materials with higher hydrogen content. Ball Aerospace & Technologies is developing the actual fuel cell technology. Together, the team hopes to create highly efficient fuel cells that are increasingly desireable for future electric unmanned aircraft.
10/24/2005 Britain is continuing to investigate unmanned combat aircraft, potential propulsion sources and aircraft missions. An engine under consideration for the British UCAV is Rolls Royce's EJ200 turbofan, an engine that currently powers the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. British defense officials also indicate that the UCAV they intend to develop and produce may be near the size of a Hawk advanced trainer aircraft and that mission requirements will include penetration of heavily defended airspace in order to engage air defense systems. The theoretical British UCAV will carry conventional weapons as well as the new high power microwave (HPM) weapons, should be long-endurance and may utilize low-observable (LO) technology.
10/23/2005 Italy continues to press its government for more Predator unmanned aircraft amid potential defense budget cuts from the Italian government. In a $48 million deal, the Italian Air Force purchased five Predators (one has crashed in a training mishap) and a ground control station from General Atomics in December 2004 and are currently flying three of the aircraft to patrol their zones in the skies over southern Iraq. As use of the aircraft intensifies, Italian Air Force officials have indicated that they would like more Predators - at least two - and another ground control station. The additional aircraft and ground control station would provide backup and permit training of Predator pilots and sensor operators. Currently, the single ground control station is deployed for operations in Iraq and its deployed status prevents the Italian Air Force from conducting any new training. The looming budget cuts, however, may cause any additional Predator purchases to slide all the way to 2007. But even if the purchases are put on hold, Italian Air Force officials are emphatic that Predators are the first order of business in their effort to achieve netcentric capabilities. Italian Predators operating in Iraq have thus far logged over 100 missions and at least 650 hours of flight time with daily missions lasting between 4 and 12 hours.
10/22/2005 The Pentagon recently completed a demonstration using several unmanned aircraft that will help soldiers in the battlefield get immediate imagery of areas they cannot see from their position on the ground. The demonstration provided hand-held computers to personnel on the ground and used two Raven unmanned aircraft, a Pioneer unmanned aircraft and a DARPA Max unmanned helicopter to provide real-time images to the hand-held computers. The unique part of the demonstration was the use of a new, $11.6 million heterogeneous urban reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition team (HURT) that coordinated the unmanned aircraft imaging systems. Ground personnel only needed to place a cursor over a subject they needed an image of and the HURT system would figure out which aircraft could provide the best picture. HURT continuously prioritized the imaging requests in order to maintain broad area surveillance and then prompted the correct aircraft operator to send the live image feed. Northrop Grumman ran the HURT program for DARPA and the demonstration took place in September near Victorville, California. The HURT system will not require modifications to unmanned aircraft and is designed to control multiple aircraft.
10/21/2005 The DARPA Grand Challenge has a winner! On October 8, 2005, "Stanley", the unmanned ground vehicle of Stanford University's Stanford Racing Team, successfully completed the rugged 132 mile off-road course of the Grand Challenge in six hours and fifty-three minutes to bring home the $2 million first prize to the team. Twenty two other contestants entered the race and five completed the course this year. In 2004, not a single entrant completed the course. "Stanley" is a heavily modified, drive-by-wire, diesel-powered Volkswagen Touareg R5. The vehicle carries seven Pentium M computers, stereo cameras, a monocular vision system, a radar system and four laser rangefinders to successfully navigate waypoints autonomously. The win by the Stanford team comes only in the second year of the Grand Challenge. The DARPA Grand Challenge was created in order to advance autonomous vehicle technology. It appears they have!
10/20/2005 Air Force officials are taking a hard look at the requirements needed to fly unmanned aircraft and making changes to their flight training programs. Initial reaction was that "piloting skills" were not needed for the task of flying an unmanned aircraft. The service felt that an option was to train intelligence officers to fly the aircraft, thereby taking advantage of their intelligence skills and the immediate feedback of intel that unmanned aircraft can provide. The idea also helped solve the Air Force's pilot shortage problem. The trouble has been that the flight skills and situational awareness that are necessary to fly an airplane are not inherent skills for an intelligence officer. Compounding the effect is the fact that trained Predator pilots find themselves flying combat missions within 48 hours of completing training. Air Force officials believe that the lack of situational awareness on behalf of a non-pilot-type is a problem that needs to be corrected. And it appears the only way to correct it is to increase the amount of flight training - which the Air Force already accomplishes with all of its "manned" aircraft pilots. With the steady increase in unmanned aircraft within the military services (Air Force officials believe that at least half of the aircraft participating in Red Flag will be unmanned in ten years), the Air Force may turn towards a dedicated unmanned aircraft pilot pipeline, inwhich unmanned aircraft pilots would remain for their entire career. Not only that, but the unmanned aircraft pipeline itself would undoubtedly split into intelligence, strike and ISR categories, further defining the job title of unmanned aircraft pilots. The ability to fill the rapidly rising pilot requirements are placing a strain on the single Predator pilot training unit in Nevada. So far, there are only about 150 Predator pilots and sensor operators. Future military requirements indicate that within five years there will be over 1,000 pilots for Predators, with multiple flight training squadrons within the United States. Air Force officials though, are quick to add that unmanned aircraft are already being used for non-military applications also - such as forest firefighting - and that the additional flight requirements will only add to pilot position training requirements.
10/19/2005 Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk is operating in Iraq with a SIGINT payload that is capable of intercepting communications of insurgents in the country. The payload is tailored to the frequencies that insurgents typically use, but is rather crude compared to the exotic, high-speed, frequency-hopping capability in work for production versions of the aircraft. Military officials in each of the services are very interested in the SIGINT technologies and would like to find a way to combine future SIGINT requirements into a single platform so that they can save money. Meanwhile, the Pentagon appears to be favoring unmanned versions of signals intelligence platforms as they question the need for manned versions. Once again, it certainly appears that unmanned aircraft technology has qualified place in future defense technology.
10/18/2005 A full-scale model of Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) recently began "stealth" testing. A key point of interest in the tests involve an S-shaped, inner exhaust module designed to 1) cool the exhaust before it leaves the aircraft and 2) help prevent radar return signals reflected by the engine. The interesting new exhaust technology, designed and built by Pratt & Whitney, is a modification of a design utilized on the B-2 bomber. The stealth testing took place at a Lockheed Martin facility in southern California.
10/17/2005 As Congress reviews the defense budget for 2006, the Senate Armed Services Committee is confident that the future of unmanned aircraft technology will fair very well in U.S. national defense. At the same time, the committee expressed concerns over the rising cost of unmanned aircraft as compared to manned aircraft and other technologies and wants the Air Force to keep their eye on costs relative to the various types of technology.
10/16/2005 As the demand for unmanned aircraft in the U.S. military continues to grow, so does the demand for unmanned aircraft pilots. In fact, the number of unmanned aircraft is growing faster than the military's ability to train pilots. The problem has caused U.S. Air Force officials to investigate whether a single pilot is capable of flying multiple unmanned aircraft from a single ground control station. At Creech AFB in Indian Springs, Nevada, the concept was successfully demonstrated using Predator pilots. In the test, a single Predator pilot was able to operate two Predators simultaneously from a ground control station. Shortly thereafter, two more Predators were added to the pilots workload, bringing the total to four aircraft. The pilot would use a single Predator to engage a target while the other three aircraft orbited autonomously. Sensor operators continued to receive and use the data collected by all four aircraft. Air Force officials have also concluded that it is not necessary to train every Predator pilot in takeoffs and landings, since the only pilots that actually perform those tasks must be stationed with the aircraft at its forward location. Most of the actual operational mission flight hours of Predators are logged by pilots flying the aircraft from within the United States. Since they are not located with the aircraft, they never perform takeoffs or landings. Armed with that knowledge, the Air Force will be able to reduce the training time for pilots, thereby increasing the number of pilots.
10/14/2005 An Aerosonde unmanned aircraft was launched by NOAA and NASA on September 16 from NASA Goddard's flight facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, marking the first time an unmanned aircraft flew through a tropical storm - in this case, tropical storm Ophelia. The Aerosonde was equipped with the same payload as a droposonde - a 2.2 pound payload that measures wind speed, pressure, temperature and humidity. The aircraft also carried an infrared sensor that could measure surface temperatures. NASA flew the Aerosonde for over 7 hours at 2,500 feet and 1,500 feet where the aircraft fed the data it gathered to the National Hurricane Center. The event could set the stage for unmanned aircraft to perform similar routine weather missions, including penetration of hurricanes. NOAA officials indicated that they would like to one day have the Aerosonde unmanned aircraft fly into the eye of a hurricane at an altitude of 500 feet. The Aerosonde unmanned aircraft has a 9.5 foot wingspan, weighs 28 pounds and is made by the Aerosonde Pty Ltd. company of Australia.
10/12/2005 Pentagon officials are indicating that there is considerable development work being done in the area of micro unmanned aircraft. The continuing improvements in microcircuits and nano-technology is finally allowing actual field development of very small unmanned aircraft. Projects under development may include aircraft that are actually powered and controlled by broadband radio frequency energy that is beamed to the aircraft in a microwave beam. The Pentagon was recently briefed by DARPA on no less than fifteen micro unmanned aircraft and officials indicated that at least five of the aircraft were already flying. Next-generation MAVs will probably integrate equipment such as digital receivers, exciters and transceivers directly into the antenna structure of the aircraft and development of microcircuits that can convert radio frequencies into light and mechanical energy - known as RF-photonics - may lead to micro aircraft that use an RF signal to drive the MAV's propulsion unit. The technology should allow aircraft to become smaller in addition to carrying larger, more capable payloads.
10/09/2005 EMS Technologies was awarded a subcontract by the U.S. Department of Defense to provide ground operators of unmanned aircraft with terminals that provide instant video capabilities. The two-way, satellite-interactive terminals by EMS will be distributed to more than a dozen unmanned aircraft ground stations in southeast Asia and will provide U.S. intelligence personnel with video feeds of surveillance data taken by the unmanned aircraft operators. The EMS units will become operational later this year.
10/07/2005 The French arms procurement agency Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA) has stated that French defense authorities have agreed to provide up to 50% of the financial backing of a Ka-band satellite called Athena that will be used for low-security, broadband communication links with troops and unmanned aircraft. France has given unmanned aircraft a high priority in development and is interested in providing high-speed data and video access through a dedicated satellite to its forces deployed in Afghanistan, Africa and South America in order to alleviate the bandwith burden on current and future military communications satellites. The Athena satellite could transmit to a 1-meter terminal antenna capable of providing two megabits per second of throughput. The Athena satellite, including insurance and a Soyez launch, could be placed into operation for approximately 155 million euros.
10/06/2005 At the 2005 International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF), Turkey's procurement office and Turkey's government-owned Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) announced they will pursue the development and manufacture of unmanned aircraft (and jet trainers) for the Turkish military. The unmanned aircraft program will develop long-endurance (24 hours), long-range (200 kilometers) and medium-altitude (30,000 feet) aircraft that are entirely "national", i.e. all components, including the payloads, optical sensors and ground control stations are built in country. Flight tests for the new unmanned aircraft are scheduled for 2008 with delivery of the first aircraft in 2009.
10/05/2005 European defense manufacturers are continuing expand development of stealthy aircraft and are placing a greater emphasis on stealthy unmanned aircraft. A German unit operating under EADS is currently building a classified stealth unmanned aircraft called Barrakuda, one of many unmanned projects within the company. Also on the agenda are demonstration programs of an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned combat aircraft. EADS still calls them UAVs, or in this case, a URAV and a UCAV - but hopefully will someday acknowledge that these unmanned aircraft are not "vehicles" but simply "aircraft". (The big advantage for us is that we won't have keep using the outdated term "UAV" when we mean "UA") At any rate, the URAV program will take place from now until 2010 and EADS anticipates the UCAV program will produce and operational aircraft in the 2020-2025 time range. The EADS unmanned reconnaissance aircraft program is directly related to future navy and air force tactical reconnaissance requirements. Germany anticipates replacement of its Tornado fighter aircraft's tactical recce system and a fast, unmanned drone called the Cl-289. The payloads for the URAV project are not yet determined, but the aircraft is incorporating modularity so that a variety of payloads can be easily swapped out. The stealth technology of the programs is deemed very critical and EADS researchers are confident that the radar signature for their unmanned aircraft projects can be reduced to less than .0001 square meters - mostly because unmanned aircraft do not have a canopy - of which the interface to the fuselage on manned aircraft causes the largest increases in radar signatures.
In addition to reducing the radar signature of aircraft, EADS also has plans to embark on a project that will reduce the "optical" visibility of aircraft. Researchers believe that most aircraft appear too dark to an observer and want to devise a way to "tune" the aircraft's appearance to its background - essentially, create an adjustable camouflage. The EADS engineers are trying to adapt flat screen television technology to the skin of an aircraft - thereby creating an optical surface with adjustable brightness that can be adapted to the current sky conditions so that the aircraft blends more effectively with its surroundings. The continuing advances in flat screen technology with lower weight and lower power requirements is the main reason the technology may now be adaptable to aircraft. EADS is planning a demonstration of the "tunable" optical signature in the near future.
10/04/2005 Recently the Federal Aviation Administration awarded the first unmanned aircraft experimental airworthiness certificate to General Atomics for its Altair aircraft. The FAA now anticipates a fairly large surge of requests for certification from other unmanned aircraft manufacturers. The certification of the Altair will allow General Atomics to fly the aircraft - with some limitations - in the National Airspace System for research and development.
10/03/2005 DARPA's 2nd Grand Challenge is poised to begin on October 8 with more than 40 entries. The event begins with qualification at the California Speedway in Fontana, California. DARPA will pick 20 finalists for the event. The Grand Challenge requires the unmanned ground vehicle finalists to navigate more than 150 miles of rugged, open desert terrain, beginning and ending in the town of Primm, Nevada. The course, charted with GPS coordinates on a CD-ROM, is not revealed to contestants until just hours before the event begins. The contestant whose vehicle correctly completes the course in the least amount of time is the winner. The prize this year is $2 million - double the $1 million from last year. If there is no winner this year, the prize will double to $4 million for 2006. DARPA hopes that the event will spur technology in unmanned ground vehicles and robotics so that the Pentagon can achieve their goal of having one third of all military ground vehicles "unmanned" by 2015.
10/02/2005 The 2006 Defense Spending Bill was approved on September 28 by the Senate Appropriations Committee for $440.2 billion. Changes to the bill included a cut of $200 million from the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program. The J-UCAS program was originally funded at $272 million, so the $200 million cut would only leave $72 million for the program - undoubtedly a significant blow to the program if the spending bill passes.
10/01/2005 Not necessarily related to unmanned aviation, but... on September 30, Marine Corps General Peter Pace became the first Marine to be named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Pace was the vice chairman for the last two years and prior to that was the commander of U.S. Southern Command. Labeled a "brilliant thinker and inspiring leader" by President George Bush, Pace will replace Air Force General Richard Myers as the top military advisor to the president and defense secretary. GT Aeronautics would like to extend our congratulations to General Pace - its always good to have a Marine around when it comes to defense.
09/30/2005 The U.S. Air Force is planning on growing the capabilities of its Global Hawk and Predator aircraft fleets. Currently the Air Force is building infrastructure that will permit an increase in the number of missions that the Global Hawk and Predator aircraft will fly. The Air Force currently operates about 60 Predator aircraft and officials claim that the Air Force would take as many Predators as they can get their hands on if funding would permit it. The Predator is flying approximately 8 orbits a day in support of Central Command operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but officials want to grow that number to 12 orbits a day by the end of 2005. The increased orbits will permit growth in the aircraft's capabilities. Currently the Predator aircraft operate remotely from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada but will soon transition permanently to Creech Air Force Base, a newly designated base (formerly Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Airfield) that resides in the working areas north of Las Vegas. Creech AFB is also the newly designated home of the Unmanned Aircraft Center of Excellence. Air Force officials stated that Creech AFB will experience huge growth over the next few years as it becomes the operational centroid for Predator flight operations.
09/28/2005 A recent human factors issue that has surfaced in unmanned aircraft flight operations involves the pilots and sensor operators. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Predator operations were flown in what is known as a "split operation". In other words, a crew of personnel stationed in Iraq perform the launch and recovery of the Predator, but the main mission is flown by Predator pilots based in the United States. And while split operations permits nearly four times the productivity from aircrews, the problem is that the pilots that fly the missions from the U.S. are feeling the pressure of combat operations - yet still are required to perform the "peacetime" duties - such as writing administrative reports and conducting training - from their "non-forward" squadron assignment. The increased workload results in very little time off for the aircrews and a strained morale that causes a constant loss of adequately trained personnel within the squadrons. The continuous loss of personnel compounds the squadron manning formulas because the squadron cannot ever keep enough aircrew personnel available in order to create a reduction in the workload. Air Force officials are working hard to address the manning issues but are also confident that the increased flight performance of the new Predator MQ-9B aircraft will help reduce the manpower requirements of a typical Predator squadron because the MQ-9 is more automated - hence, less manpower-intensive. Improvements to the MQ-9 Predator B aircraft include transmission of live video directly to troops on the ground through Remotely Operated Video Receivers (ROVERs), which alleviates aircrew from some of the workload of disseminating imagery data. The MQ-9's also carry an improved Hellfire-P missile that does not require a direct boresight at the target in order to fire it. The off-boresight capability means that the weapon can look sideways to a target and still launch within parameters. The new MQ-9s will sport multiple aircraft control capabilities, allowing one pilot to fly up to four aircraft. The benefit is that 3 of the 4 MQ-9s being flown are flying autonomously instead of having a pilot actively flying each of the aircraft. (Still... flying 4 aircraft at a time still seems like an addition to the pilot workload, not a reduction!) Finally, the latest MQ-9s will carry improved SIGINT payloads that are designed to minimize the burden of operation on aircrews. Air Force officials contend that the Predator B improvements, coupled with a decision to treat the aircrews as if they are in forward combat squadrons, will help alleviate the manning issues in Predator squadrons. But officials believe that unmanned pilot and sensor operator career tracks must be developed within the Air Force in order to provide an adequate, long-term solution to the manning problem.
09/27/2005 The UAV (UAS) Center for Excellence (COE) at Creech AFB in Nevada is developing gameplans for the large increases in unmanned aircraft that will occur over the next 10-20 years. Unmanned aircraft will become a staple of the Air Force and other services and the COE is working on the developing criteria that will shape the size and types of future unmanned aircraft. Several problems facing the COE involve aircrew issues, squadron sizes, dissimilar aircraft types and a rapidly expanding unmanned aircraft force that requires organization and training. As unmanned aircraft operations continue to evolve, commanders are finding out that aircrews can become severely over-worked even when flying for only a few hours. And as the fleet of unmanned aircraft expands, the many differences between aircraft begins to play a role, complicating standardization and piloting qualifications. The same issues apply to organizing assets and setting up training for aircrews. Add to the mix the continuous adaptation of unmanned aircraft to new missions, the ever-changing weaponry/sensor payloads and rapidly advancing electronic technology - and the complexity of defining a gameplan for unmanned aircraft becomes even harder. COE officials are confident that they can develop the unmanned aircraft force into a fluid, network-centric asset that provides capabilities to all branches of the military and are pleased that there is one organization set up to coordinate service-wide use of unmanned aircraft.
09/26/2005 In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, unmanned aircraft stood ready for use to help with rescue and reconnaissance operations. Predator aircraft and the more recent Silver Fox aircraft were ready to fly and help - along with other hand-launched aircraft from various manufacturers. But while the unmanned aircraft manufacturers and operators were ready, the FAA and the Pentagon took a different view and disallowed any unmanned aircraft flights in the area. The FAA cited the large number of manned helicopters operating in the area at low altitude, stating that unmanned aircraft operations would pose a significant safety hazard to the manned helicopter operations. The Pentagon was even more direct - they simply stated that there was no valid requirement for unmanned aircraft operations. While the decision had the unmanned aircraft manufacturers and supposed "operators" upset, the decision was correct. Unmanned aircraft still do not have adequate see-and-avoid equipment and many unmanned aircraft operators and pilots simply do not understand basic flight rules, the FARs, the national airspace issues surrounding operation of an aircraft or the risks associated with unmanned aircraft operations and manned aircraft operations in the same airspace. The decision by the Pentagon and FAA seemed obvious - to prevent an accident caused by the reckless, "cowboy" operation of an unmanned aircraft. An unmanned aircraft accident would set the whole UAS industry backwards more than a few years and ruin many hard years of work by unmanned advocates to gain access to the National Airspace System. Disaster areas are not a place to "demonstrate" unmanned aircraft systems.
09/25/2005 Dassault Aviation, leader of the European Neuron unmanned aircraft program, has indicated that Belgium will partner into the program by the end of 2005. The addition will be the seventh country to join Neuron. Other countries participating in the Neuron program include Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
09/24/2005 The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is developing an expendable unmanned electric helicopter called SPIDER that is capable of automatic takeoffs and landings. The small helicopter may be flown completely autonomously and can carry a 4 pound payload at speeds up to 50 miles per hour for 30 minutes. In order to obtain the autonomous flight performance, researchers at NRL used autopilot algorithms that were derived from a neural adaptive flight controller system. The name "SPIDER" stands for Scientific Payload Insertion Device Electric Rotor.
09/23/2005 In an effort to organize forces on an international basis, the U.S. Air Force is laying plans to station its future fleet of Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft at bases throughout the Pacific theatre. Plans include Guam, Australia, Japan, Singapore and even South Korea.
09/22/2005 Tadiran Spectralink of Holon, Israel has developed a new device that soldiers can wear in the field in order to disseminate imagery from unmanned aircraft quickly and efficiently. The device, called a Video Receiver and Monitor for Battlefield Operations (V-RAMBO) is a small, wristwatch-like device that has a 3" LCD display coupled to a receiver unit that is about the size of a wallet. A soldier wears the device on his wrist and, when activated, the unit can display real-time images or video from an unmanned aircraft at 30 frames per second. V-RAMBO was created because Israeli battlefield commanders wanted to get vital UAS information to their troops quickly. Prior to V-RAMBO, imagery from unmanned aircraft was sent to a command unit and then dispersed to troops - a procedure that could take 10 - 12 minutes. But with V-RAMBO, the sensor-to-shooter loop can be reduced to a matter of seconds. Tadiran officials admitted that the unit has already been used in Iraq by U.S. forces and that Israeli law enforcement personnel have used the unit effectively in the civilian operations, including a bomb scare and evacuation event. NASA is also investigating uses for the device and has used V-RAMBO to help forest fire-fighting crews in California pinpoint wildfire hotspots and help determine the path of the fire so that tanker aircraft can be more effective in their water/retardent drops. Tadiran is well known for the development of the communications systems of the Pioneer unmanned aircraft.
09/21/2005 Russian companies are beginning to embark on new unmanned aircraft development projects with more vigor due to an increase in the state's oil revenues through 2005. The Russian defense ministry is responsible for directing funds. The Kamov company, who builds the Ka-37 and Ka-137, is working with rotory wing unmanned aircraft. Recent developments include a small unmanned rotorcraft with contrarotating blades. The aircraft was displayed at the Moscow air show this year and was fitted with sensors and weapons. Yakolev is discussing collaboration agreements with Aermacchi of Italy on unmanned combat aircraft and Sukhoi is looking into high altitude surveillance aircraft that are related to its "Zond" family of unmanned aircraft. The Kvand company is collaborating with the Indela Laboratory of Belarussia on a brand new fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of vertical takeoffs and landings and is designed for reconnaissance and electronic jamming missions. The aircraft, wispy in design, features over a 10 foot wingspan, is nearly 11 feet long and includes a day/night EO/IR sensor payload. The company claims the new aircraft will have a range of over 500 nautical miles and will fly by the end of 2005.
09/19/2005 Sensors Unlimited of Princeton, New Jersey has agreed to a $60 million cash acquisition by Goodrich of Charlotte, North Carolina. Sensors Unlimited pioneered short wave infrared (SWIR) technology and has over 50 employees and operates a 39,000 square foot facility that produces infrared cameras and SWIR focal plane arrays. The company will become a part of Goodrich's Optical and Space Systems division if the acquisition deal is approved by the company boards and U.S. regulatory agencies. The companies anticipate such approval and finalization of the deal in last quarter of 2005.
09/18/2005 Pyramid Vision of Princeton, New Jersey announced the launch of "TerraSight", a video exploitation system that can turn aerial reconnaissance imagery into accurate intelligence for the military. TerraSight is a system that overlays video with metadata so that the information can be shared across multiple organizations and used to make rapid, actionable decisions. The company believes that TerraSight will be highly useful when applied to aerial surveillance video from unmanned aircraft because the system allows operators to find, identify, track, target and engage threats, in addition to allowing collaboration and decision-making within the tactical chain of command.
09/16/2005 The U.S. Air Force estimated that it received nearly 70% of the requests it made (regarding the Air Force) to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), but that it did not fare so well when it came to requests on behalf of the Air National Guard. Plans for the Air National Guard bases and personnel evolved from the Air Force's Future Total Force plan, inwhich airmen are placed into new emerging missions of command-and-control and Predator unmanned aircraft operations. BRAC only approved 34 out of 72 Air Force requests on behalf of the Air National Guard. But one request that was approved will result in the Grand Forks Air Base of North Dakota replacing its KC-135 tanker aircraft with Predator unmanned aircraft. The changeover is due to take place in 2010. Another BRAC decision involves the Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. BRAC decided to keep the base open, but the base is losing its F-16 aircraft. So far, the Air Force has not decided what to replace the F-16s with, but Predator unmanned aircraft are a possibility. The Air Force has already decided to establish 15 Predator squadrons, but Cannon was not on the original list. Proponents feel the base could easily support the Predator, but others feel that the base is so far away from a city or airport that it makes it an unlikely prospect for an Air Guard Reserve Unit. One thing is for sure - the unmanned aircraft industry can't help but be pleased that unmanned aircraft are playing such a large and important role in the future of the U.S. Air Force and that unmanned aircraft play an equal role with manned aircraft.
09/13/2005 Last December the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) established a program management office for unmanned aircraft so that they could manage their inventory of unmanned aircraft and plan for the development of new unmanned aircraft and systems. SOCOM has determined that small, hand-launched unmanned aircraft that are ISR-capable are one of their best tools in the field. So far, SOCOM is using the Pointer and Raven unmanned aircraft for communication links and to conduct tactical ISR and wants to buy more of the hand-launched UAs. Both aircraft are manufactured by AeroVironment of Simi Valley, California. In addition to Raven and Pointer UAs, SOCOM is focusing on the Army's Rucksack Portable Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (RPUAV), a small UA that fits in a typical rucksack and is capable of the same basic ISR missions as the Raven or Pointer. Officials state that they have an approved RPUAV purchase of 300 systems at three aircraft per system. And while the Pointer, Raven and the new RPUAV launch and recover over land, SOCOM is also purchasing a heavier UA named Neptune that will recover in the water. Built by DRS Unmanned Technologies of Mineral Wells, Texas, the Neptune has a wingspan of 7 feet, is over 6 feet long and weighs 80 pounds. Sporting a 15 horsepower reciprocating engine, the aircraft is typically launched from small, high-speed boats - such as those used by the Navy SEALS - and recovers on the water by parachute or landing on skids. The entire aircraft is waterproofed and can be disassembled into three parts and stored in a transport case that doubles as the aircraft's pnuematic launcher. Other unmanned aircraft that SOCOM has purchased or is purchasing include BAI Aerosystem's TERN, Navmar Applied Science's MAKO and Frontier System's MAVERICK. SOCOM is continuing to investigate all classes of unmanned aircraft in order to provide layered capabilities and support for Special Operation Forces fighting the global war on terrorism.
09/12/2005 In yet another example of the usefulness of and the need for additional unmanned aircraft for U.S. military forces, the Pentagon Office of Force Transformation recently concluded studies of our current military action in Iraq to help make determinations about what our forces do right and what they do wrong. The studies, specifically a study concerning a battle in Iraq that took place in April 2003 at a bridge on the Euphrates River, concluded that even though U.S. ground forces had excellent communication with aerial assets, the need for additional surveillance of enemy positions through the use of unmanned aircraft is a definite requirement. The study determined that the advance of U.S. ground forces in Iraq was so quick that the intelligence required for their advance could not keep up - which nearly caused the attack on the bridge to result in disaster for our own troops. Because intelligence did not keep up with the advance, U.S. forces failed to detect a large concentration of Iraqi troops and tanks - over 8,000 Iraqi troops and 70 tanks/armored personnel carriers - hidden with simple camouflage in a network of bunkers and trenches. When the U.S. attack on the bridge began, our troops were suprised and nearly overwhelmed by the punishing counterattack of the Iraqi troops. The OFT concluded that part of the problem was that only one Predator unmanned aircraft was in the area at the time and that the use of the aircraft was reserved for the Air Force. A Hunter unmanned aircraft was also available, but limited by tasking of hundreds of square miles of surveillance area. The limited number of unmanned aircraft with ISR sensors available made it difficult for U.S. forces to ascertain the number of Iraqi troops and assets hidden nearby the bridge. Consequently, the study indicates the continuing need for frontline ISR assets so that ground forces have an accurate picture of the developing battlefield and enemy positions. Unmanned aircraft play a very significant role for our troops and it is clear that their military use is being defined more accurately as the OFT analyzes the good and bad of U.S. battlefield tactics.
09/10/2005 SAIC of San Diego, California has filed with federal regulators to raise up to $1.73 billion through an intitial public offering of stock. The employee-owned company provides engineering, scientific, systems integration and technical services to government agencies and the U.S. military in order to promote intelligence, national security and homeland defense. SAIC is involved in the development of unmanned aircraft and will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "SAI".
09/09/2005 Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems has introduced the BQM-74F, the latest version of its aerial target drone for the U.S. Navy. The "F" version of the drone has a 70% increase in endurance over the "E" model and is 15% faster. The increased speed and endurance capabilities allow the BQM-74F to fly twice as far as the "E" version and will allow the Navy to more realistically simulate modern aerial threats.
09/08/2005 Northrop's Viper Strike, a 44 pound laser-guided precision munition, has been adapted to GPS satellite navigation technology. The adaptation gives the Viper Strike weapon greater precision and better stand-off range than its original semi-active laser seeker. After release, the Viper Strike weapon sprouts four wings and tail fins and glides nearly horizontal to a pre-determined GPS target location. Once it reaches the location, the weapon goes into a vertical dive where its laser seeker completes final updates to its target trajectory. Viper Strike originally was dropped from unmanned aircraft and may continue to use UAs for deployment. But a recent development for the weapon will investigate its carriage and release from AC-130 gunships. In August, Northrop was awarded a first-phase, $22 million contract from Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) to develop and test the weapon with AC-130s. If Viper Strike successfully completes the first phase development program, AFSOC will award Northrop a follow-on $26 million contract for a second phase of testing and evaluation of the weapon. The test program of Viper Strike is designed to enhance the weapons loadout of the AC-130 and provide the aircraft with a more accurate weapon than its current 105mm and 40mm cannons.
09/07/2005 Alenia Aeronautica's Sky-X technology demonstrator is a single-engine, unmanned aircraft with a 19 foot wingspan and a takeoff weight of about 2,600 pounds. The aircraft has a top speed of about 430 knots and can cruise at altitudes above 30,000 feet. Earlier this year, Alenia test flew its Sky-X unmanned aircraft for the first time in a Swedish test range (Vidsel). The company had hoped to continue flight testing of the unmanned aircraft from a new Italian Air Force test range, named Salto di Quirra, being built on the island of Sardinia. The range contains 120 square kilometers of "over-land" airspace and has access to approximately 11,000 square nautical miles of "over-water" airspace. But the test range's runway is not yet complete and Italian Air Force officials now anticipate the completion date of the runway sometime in the latter half of 2006. Italy already has five other test ranges being created for unmanned aircraft flights, however the five ranges being created are only available to proven aircraft, not prototype aircraft such as the Sky-X. The glitch is causing Alenia to look outside of Italy for flight test ranges for its Sky-X, although company officials are continuing discussions with Italian aviation authorities in order to use the ranges within Italy. In August Alenia signed an agreement with Yakolev to use Russian ranges for unmanned aircraft flight testing and is also investigating test ranges in South Africa. With the relatively dense populations in European countries, the ability for European countries to find airspace for flight testing of unmanned aircraft is a difficult task. But so far, Italy is leading the way with their efforts to establish the five working areas for flight testing, in addition to the new area over Sardinia.
09/06/2005 Global Aerial Surveillance of Las Vegas, Nevada will begin joint work with an undisclosed company that produces laser systems in order to develop collision avoidance systems for manned and unmanned aircraft. Global Aerial Surveillance develops unmanned aircraft for commercial and military applications and believes the collision avoidance system, once developed, will be the first of its kind on an unmanned aircraft designed for commercial production. Implementation goals include using the collision avoidance system on unmanned aircraft used for homeland security, law enforcement and commercial purposes. Company officials believe there will be a high demand for the system as the government and military continue to deploy more unmanned aircraft in airspace in the United States and abroad.
09/05/2005 General Atomics of San Diego, California has established a new first for unmanned aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded the company the first unmanned aircraft experimental certificate for flight operations of its Altair unmanned aircraft. The event signifies the beginning of acceptance of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system by the FAA and a step toward airworthiness certifications for unmanned aircraft. The Altair that was designated by the FAA carries the tail number N8172V.
09/04/2005 Britain's Watchkeeper Surveillance System program debuted the first flight of its Hermes 450 unmanned aircraft system in U.K. airspace this week in Wale's ParcAberporth. The flight marks the beginning of the development of the unmanned aircraft element of the $1.3 billion Watchkeeper program.
09/03/2005 As the Pentagon continues to push very hard on development of non-kinetic weapons, the technology breakthroughs will cause an increase in the demand and use of unmanned aircraft because of the very nature of the weapon. Non-kinetic weapons (weapons that don't go "boom") at this stage of their development fall mostly into the category of Directed Energy/High Power Microwave weapons. Most recently entering the playing field is the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. All of these weapons use electronic energy in the form of large, electronic pulses that is directed at an enemy position with the intent of disrupting or rendering useless any electronic equipment that may be in use, specifically computers and communication devices. An inherent problem with the technology is that the energy required to do the damage is so high that it may be physically damaging to a human being and the damage it causes to enemy equipment is the same damage it can inflict to electronic equipment onboard the aircraft that is carrying the weapon, unless that equipment is properly shielded. Additionally, the very mission itself is dangerous, because to fly to an area close enough to the enemy for the weapon to be effective places the pilot in a very hostile environment. Use of unmanned aircraft as non-kinetic weapon platforms have distinct advantages. By removing the pilot from the aircraft, electronic shielding of the human being is not necessary and the danger of combat risk and physiological weapons effects to the human pilot is negated. With the pilot removed and combat risk negated, the aircraft can carry the weapon closer to the enemy position, which plays a role in reducing the amount of power necessary for the weapon to perform its mission and increases its directional effectiveness. All of these risk reductions and weapon performance advantages add up to increased payload capabilities and flight performance for unmanned aircraft, permitting increased range and manueverability - which is why the use of unmanned aircraft for combat weapons platforms will continue to increase. However, some hurdles still exist for unmanned aircraft. Use of a non-kinetic weapon can still wreak havoc with the electronic components of the unmanned aircraft and engineers are working very hard to figure out ways to protect the aircraft's autopilot and command and control datalinks. The very decision to use the weapon can be disrupted by another aircraft already using a similar weapon. Directed energy weapons are, so far, not discrimanatory in their targets - anything in the way is fair game. So it will become important for friendly aircraft to coordinate their missions carefully to avoid blue-on-blue engagements. But industry predictions are that the vast majority of these issues will be resolved by 2010 and that unmanned aircraft will be operating in harmony with manned aircraft thereafter. Unmanned aircraft won't replace manned aircraft, but it appears they will take on some of the most dangerous roles currently flown by manned aircraft.
09/01/2005 The Pentagon has confirmed that Department of Defense officials are studying a new air-breathing, penetrating unmanned reconnaissance aircraft system designed for high-altitude and long-endurance missions. Officials close to the program indicate that the new unmanned aircraft will emerge from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, a long-time design department of high tech aircraft. Approximately five years ago, Lockheed unveiled an unmanned aircraft program named DarkStar that was part of a DARPA project. The aircraft was basically a high-apsect flying wing with a small center section for payload, fuel and engine. DarkStar was terminated amid funding and technical problems and money from the project was then channeled to Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk. But now, it appears that the new stealthy design that is the talk of DARPA is a revival of portions of the DarkStar project. The new design is said to incorporate stealth design such as F-117 capabilities, in addition to being designed to perform ISR missions with advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and employing kinetic and non-kinetic weapons. The new AESA radars are important parts of the project because of their capabilities. AESA radars have the potential to be upgraded into weapons as well as being a sensor - and the sensor/weapon combination is a useful tool for defense because it combines the sensor capability with a weapon that can jam or disrupt enemy computer and communications systems - saving valuable payload weight for the aircraft. The electronic jamming that the AESA radar could perform permits electronic attack of an enemy with their knowledge and would allow U.S. operators to take control of enemy networks or perform intelligence gathering. Lockheed is expected to announce funding arrangements with the Air Force and the details of the new UAS project by early 2006.
08/31/2005 At the 7th International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS 2005) that took place in Moscow earlier this month, unmanned aircraft once again played a role in deals and mergers. With the latest modified MIG 29 Fulcrum flying overhead, EADS of Europe signed two agreements that set a new standard for Russia - a 50 milliion Euro deal with Irkut to purchase ten percent of the company and an agreement with MIG to develop unmanned aircraft. Also, for the first time ever, Irkut of Russia displayed a number of its new civilian unmanned aircraft.
08/30/2005 Pentagon officials recently provided a roadmap for unmanned aircraft procurement (UAS Roadmap 2005) to military officials in order to provide direction and vision to the DoD desires for unmanned aircraft. The Roadmap provides military officials with information that the unmanned aircraft procurement schedule of the future will be different than the normal procurement process and will not provide the type of long-term, large-scale purchases (2,000 - 3,000 aircraft) of unmanned systems that are usually necessary in order to ensure enough development funds are available for manned aircraft systems. The Roadmap indicates that the DoD will develop smaller quatities of "mission-specific" aircraft over shorter periods of time - the benefit being that the aircraft system can be developed and deployed more rapidly. Cited as the number one goal for development is the Boeing/Northrop/DARPA Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) project. Officials believe that J-UCAS should replace manned versions of combat aircraft by 2010 and that unmanned combat aircraft will perform nearly all of the high-risk, penetrating air combat missions that are now performed by the F-16, F-15, F18 and F117 by 2020.
08/29/2005 The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has selected General Atomic's Predator B remotely piloted aircraft to help patrol the border between the United States and Mexico. The $14.1 million contract includes delivery of a Predator B aircraft, a ground control station (GCS), launch and recovery systems, radar systems and engineering and logistical support. Border Patrol will station the aircraft in Arizona and patrol the U.S. border with Mexico between Yuma, Arizona and El Paso, Texas. Flight operations of the aircraft will be conducted by employees of General Atomics with Border Patrol officials overseeing the entire operation. The addition of the Predator is part of the Phase II portion of the Arizona Border Control Initiative, which began as a result of increasing problems with border security in the state of Arizona. Arizona Senator John McCain has been a vocal advocate of the use of unmanned aircraft for Border Patrol operations and has appealed to the Department of Homeland Security for just such an addition. Illegal border crossings and crime along the borders in the Arizona and New Mexico areas have increased so quickly that state officials of both states declared states of emergency in some counties along their respective borders. The Predator will collect and provide information to agents on the ground about border incursions in an effort to help Border Patrol personnel to quickly locate and prevent illegal border crossings.
08/28/2005 With Vought's delivery of the new, larger wing and V-tail stabilizers for the Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman will complete assembly of the first "enhanced-capability" version of its RQ-4B Global Hawk. The aircraft is scheduled to begin flight testing in 2006 and will have a 50% increase in payload weight capabilities.
08/27/2005 Vought Aircraft is building the new, enhanced wing for the RQ-4B Global Hawk and recently load-tested the wing to 100 percent of its limit load. Vought was contracted to build the new wing and is responsible for the design development, fabrication, assembly and structural testing of the wing. The company is schedule to build seven production wings for now, with options for more. The new wing, the largest ever delivered from Vought's Dallas-based facility, is 130.9 feet long and weighs 4,000 pounds.
08/26/2005 An Ohio State University engineering department has developed a new sensor that can detect objects based on how brightly they reflect natural radiation. The technology may have use in the ability to detect concealed weapons or to help pilots see better through rain and fog. The new sensor is being patented by the school and the developmental work was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.
08/25/2005 AAI of Hunt Valley, Maryland has been awarded a $129 million contract from the U.S. Army to provide the service with 12 Shadow Tactical unmanned aircraft systems. The twelve systems will be delivered over the next 18 months and include 48 RQ-7B aircraft, 24 Ground Control Stations, support equipment and associated components.
08/24/2005 Sensors Unlimited of Princeton, New Jersey is offering a new micro camera for payload use in miniature unmanned aircraft and other robotic systems. The camera, called the SU320US-1.7RT InGaAs NIR Snapshot Microcamera weighs less than 70 grams and captures 320x256 pixel images in the shortwave IR waveband and can capture images from pulsed laser and moving events. The camera has a 12-bit digital data interface, is CameraLink compatible and adapts to most commercially available video and digital frame grabber boards. It operates at room temperature and consumes less than 1.2 watts of power.
08/23/2005 The Federal Aviation Administration's Administrator, Marion Blakey, recently discussed the FAA proposal for $33 million in its Fiscal 2006 request. In the discussion, she mentioned the challenges facing the FAA for the coming year. Among those challenges, incorporating unmanned aircraft to the National Airspace System and international airspace system was of noteworthy mention. Blakey and her staff have established a permanent working group within the Washington, D.C. headquarters to deal with unmanned aircraft issues. The group is comprised of operations and maintenance inspectors, systems safety engineers, certification and maintenance specialists, accident investigation and air traffic experts and other legal and rule-making professionals. The group will investigate how to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.
08/22/2005 Boeing is providing some feedback to the public over a new Hollywood film called Stealth. In the movie, an unmanned combat aircraft takes on a personality of its own, making its own decisions, rewiring itself after a lighting strike and generally disobeying all of the orders of the humans that "used to be" in control of the aircraft. Boeing is slightly worried that the public may think that unmanned aircraft are really capable of doing such things and want the make the public more aware of the fact that unmanned aircraft always have a human in the loop to make decisions - a machine cannot "perform" without input from a human. Therefore, a human is in control of the aircraft at all times. Therefore the public need not worry about "rogue" unmanned aircraft going on search and destroy missions all by themselves.
GT Aeronautics of Simi Valley, California applauded Boeing for finally catching on to what their company has known all along - that these are not "unmanned aircraft", but rather "remotely piloted" aircraft. For the general public that lives below the flight path of aircraft, the stigma over the use of the term "unmanned aircraft" is a reality. Their perception is that "nobody is in control" of an "unmanned aircraft" (it doesn't have a pilot!) and that the aircraft has a mind of its own. Unfortunately, it took a Hollywood movie to make the public's stigma a reality to Boeing. Boeing and the aerospace industry may have to do some explaining for awhile, but its not that hard. Just stop calling these aircraft "unmanned" and call them what we've known them to be all along - remotely piloted. Time will take care of the rest.
08/21/2005 The Indian Army is asking its Ministry of Defense for upgrades to its weapons and surveillance gear and of course unmanned aircraft are included in its modernization plan. The plan calls for the purchase of 10 Searcher Mark-1 unmanned aircraft to provide an increase in surveillance capabilities. The Army has already purchased 5 Searcher Mark-2 unmanned aircraft and over the next five years would like to add 35 HALE unmanned aircraft from Israel and 40 Nishant unmanned aircraft.
08/20/2005 The U.S. Defense Department is keeping their eye on political and technology developments in North Korea, China and Iran and because of those developments, are getting more serious about using unmanned aircraft in reconnaissance roles. Specifically, the department is investigating long-range, high-altitude unmanned stealth aircraft and have funded studies of such unmanned aircraft for the air defense environment. The studies include investigating unmanned aircraft that can change missions and/or the spectrum of observations during a flight. The technology is known as "dynamic capabilities" and has long been of interest to the DoD.
08/19/2005 Pentagon officials in Washington are stating that the Defense Department will be "challenged" with the integration of unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft in the same airspace, especially in high-tempo flight operation areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. Those two areas saw the first widespread use of unmanned aircraft working in close quarters with manned aircraft and there were some lessons to be learned. So far, there have been two relatively close calls with mid-airs between unmanned and manned aircraft. Officials point out that their concerns are being addressed directly by the recent establishment of the UAV Center for Excellence at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The UAV Center of Excellence is responsible for developing operational concepts and procedures for unmanned aircraft to avoid such problems in the future.
08/18/2005 Northrop Grumman successfully flew the maiden flight of the second RQ-4A Global Hawk Maritime Demonstrator. The flight launched from Northrop's production facility for the Global Hawk in Palmdale, California and after completing tests on the aircraft's airspeed, heading, altitude and communication links over a four hour flight, the aircraft was flown to Edwards Air Force Base nearby where it touched down and taxied to its ramp area. Two RQ-4A Global Hawk aircraft (designated N-1 and N-2) are being developed for the Navy's Maritime Demonstration program and will be based at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. The program will support fleet experiments and exercises over the next few years and will help the Navy decide on the unmanned aircraft capabilities necessary to patrol the open ocean and coastal areas.
08/17/2005 Geneva Aerospace and Vought Aircraft are combining talents and a DARPA contract to find out if unmanned aircraft can be adapted to takeoffs and landings from the water, specifically the open ocean. The companies will modify a Dakota unmanned aircraft by replacing the landing gear with floats. The Dakota unmanned aircraft has a 16 foot wingspan and weighs 200 pounds. The newly modified aircraft will be called the Kingfisher and is scheduled to make its first flight in October 2005. Geneva Aerospace is the maker of the FlightTEK flight computer for unmanned aircraft and will make modifications to the software for water operations. Vought will do the airframe modifications and also develop sensors capable of determining the sea state so that the aircraft's flight computer can modify the flight characteristics of the aircraft to permit autonomous takeoffs and landings on the water. The companies would like to see the Kingfisher evolve into the Kingfisher II Seaplane, a 9,500 pound amphibian aircraft with a 41 foot wingspan and powered by a turbofan jet engine.
08/16/2005 The Pentagon recently released a study on the F/A-18E/F, F/A-22 and JSF tactical combat aircraft programs to make determinations on how those manned aircraft stack up against unmanned aircraft like the J-UCAS. Analysts believe the report is the first time unmanned aircraft are being leveraged against manned aircraft, signifying that the era of unmanned aviation is very near. However, the analysts caution that the various aircraft programs are in very different stages of development and that the reports assumes that each aircraft system, whether manned or unmanned, will attain their performance goals and cost estimates. The manned systems are much more "proven" than the unmanned systems at this time. Also, achieving performance and cost goals plays a very large role in whether a program gets a go-ahead and many new systems have notoriously fallen well short of their advertised goals in those areas. The tactical aircraft study is part of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review and was ordered the same day that the Pentagon released its "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005-2030", which details the Defense Department's technology development and spending plan for unmanned aircraft systems.
08/15/2005 The Boeing X-45A J-UCAS Program recently received (at the Paris Air Show) the Flight International Aerospace Industry Award for 2005 in the category of Missiles and Military Aviation. The J-UCAS program includes the Navy, Air Force, DARPA and Boeing as members and the award was presented to Boeing for the many achievements in unmanned aviation the program has accomplished.
08/14/2005 L-3 Communications' Link Simulation and Training Division was picked by the U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Systems Command to develop air crew training systems for MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft systems. The new training systems replicate the pilot and sensor operator positions currently used in the Predator Ground Control Station and will allow Predator missions to be flown without ever having an aircraft leave the ground. (Notice also that we refer to the guy with his hands on the flight controls as a "pilot" and the guy "operating" the sensor as an "operator".) The company will build the first training simulator, known as a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS) by the end of 2006 and will upgrade the follow-on systems by 2007 so that they are compatible with Air Force exercise simulations known as Distributed Mission Operations. Link will develop the first PMAT system in its Arlington, Texas facility, but the rest will head toward their home at the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron, Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, Nevada.
08/13/2005 Boeing has flown its two X-45A unmanned combat aircraft demonstrators in a coordinated combat mission simulation from Edwards Air Force Base in California. The flights took place in a test range and the aircraft autonomously used their onboard computers to create the best mission profile in order to simultaneously attack ground-based radars and missile launchers. Among key important features of the flight were the abilities to determine the best route between fixed and pop-up surface to air defenses and prioritization of targets. Communication between the two aircraft allowed them to alternate their attacks on the intended targets autonomously, proving that unmanned aircraft can logically determine a course of action during a combat mission. The program will advance to the next step by building three X-45C aircraft. The new X-45C J-UCAS are larger and have greater range than the X-45A models. Flight testing of the X-45C will begin in 2007.
08/12/2005 DARPA will conduct open communications systems experiments during September of this year to investigate the suitability of Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) software radios for unmanned combat aircraft. Open communications systems are considered a key part of Network-Centric Operations because it will permit any system to communicate with another system even if the two systems "speak" different software languages.
08/11/2005 The European Commission (EC) has approved a number of research initiatives to investigate anti-terrorist technologies. The plan will identify which technologies are the most effective so that they may be given a "fast track" toward development. The decision to move forward more quickly on the research is due in part to the recent terrorist attacks in London, but the original plan was approved by the EC last year after terrorist bombed a train in Madrid, Spain. Not suprising, unmanned aircraft were among some of the key initiatives and Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica/Galileo Avionica will combine their strengths to investigate immediate and long-term unmanned aircraft technologies and see how unmanned aircraft can be used for European border patrol and surveillance. While funding for the intitiatives is still being decided, the EC expects annual funding to be about 250 million euros beginning in 2007.
08/10/2005 The U.S. Army has determined a winner for its Extended Range, Multi-Purpose (ERMP) unmanned aircraft system and General Atomics officials are the ones with smiles on their faces. Not only did the Army pick General Atomic's Warrior for their new unmanned aircraft, but they sweetened the deal by ordering more than twice the number of aircraft. The Warrior beat Northrop Grumman's Hunter II unmanned aircraft, a modified version of its original Hunter. General Atomics will look forward to nearly $1 billion of work for the award with the intitial contract for system development and demonstration worth around $214 million. The Army will purchase 11 Warrior systems from General Atomics. Each Warrior system includes 12 aircraft and 5 ground control stations. General Atomics states that the development of the Warrior system will take approximately four years and that the first Warrior system will be delivered in about 20 months. Army officials have set an in-service date of 2009 but hope that General Atomics will be able to accelerate deliveries ahead of schedule. The Warrior is a Predator-variant that is 90% compatible with the Predator. The Warrior can carry four Hellfire missiles, has larger wings, dual-redundant avionics and incorporates a diesel engine for military fuel compatibility. Northrop officials were disappointed about the Army ERMP decision but remain hopeful that the Department of Homeland Security will pick their Hunter II for border patrol operations. The Warrior is also competing for the DHS border patrol award.
08/09/2005 The U.S. Air Force will finally deploy two more RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to the United Arab Emirates. The aircraft were supposed to be delivered in the summer, but the Air Force stated the delivery would be delayed until the fall. The two additional aircraft will compliment the one demonstrator Global Hawk already on station and flying missions in the Middle East. In addition to relieving the strain on reconnaissance operations in the Middle East, the deployment of the two Global Hawks will put $21 million in the coffers of Northrop Grumman.
08/08/2005 Boeing's Frontier Systems, a company purchased by Boeing for its A-160 Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft, was recently awarded a $50 million contract to explore the flight and payload envelopes of its Hummingbird. The company will build a demonstrator A-160 as part of the project's contract award. Officials at Frontier feel the Hummingbird can match the flight and payload performance of other helicopters and even some fixed wing aircraft.
08/07/2005 The French defense research agency Onera and Sagem are embarking on a joint program that once again utilizes unmanned aircraft technology to replace manned aircraft technology. The two companies will use the Busard manned/unmanned aircraft to determine the operational abilities of unmanned aircraft in detecting and combating forest fires. The test aircraft will be fitted with Sagem's camera for a payload. The camera is capable of daytime and IR imaging and will transmit images back to a ground control station. The images will then directly overlay detailed contour maps, thus allowing operators to determine the exact location of the fire, access its damage and predict its future path. The Busard aircraft can fly manned or unmanned and has already been used for certification of civilian unmanned aircraft operations.
08/06/2005 In the continuing saga of the British Watchkeeper program, Thales has finally secured a $1.2 billion contract to develop a full scale, all-weather unmanned aircraft system (UAS) with ISTAR capabilities. Thales will develop and manufacture the system with a target date for service entry in 2010. The aircraft will feature 24-hour surveillance capabilities and is based on the Israeli Hermes 450, a long-endurance unmanned aircraft develeloped by Elbit. Thales will work directly with Elbit on the Watchkeeper program - with Elbit building and supporting the Watchkeeper aircraft for Thales. Britain's Ministry of Defense signed the contract with Thales on August 4, 2005.
08/05/2005 BAE Systems Advanced Technology Center is leading an unmanned aircraft technology demonstrator program (Flaviir) in conjunction with the U.K. Defense Ministry and at least nine universities. In addition to a broad range of research, the program is investigating flight control technologies for unmanned aircraft and unmanned combat aircraft that involve the use of flapless flow control. The testing will include thrust vectoring and circulation control in order to investigate flapless control approaches and BAE will use a small conventional unmanned aircraft for flight trials.
08/04/2005 Sagem recently completed flight testing of a modified Sperwer unmanned aircraft. The aircraft was modified according to requirements set by the Greek Army. The modifications and subsequent flight tests demonstrated the real-time transfer of command and control of the aircraft and its systems to another ground-based control station which now allows control of the aircraft from ground stations as far as 180 kilometers from the launch site of the aircraft. The flight tests also sought to demonstrate operations in rough terrain.
08/03/2005 NASA engineers have created an unmanned "eyeball" that will be used as an assistant to astronauts for the space shuttle and International Space Station. NASA named the miniature eyeball "Mini AERCam", which stands for Miniature Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera. The free-flying miniature assistant uses pressurized cold-gas (xenon) for manuevering and propulsion and carries battery-powered cameras that will help astronauts perform inspections of the exterior of the space station or shuttle. Evenutually, engineers would like to outfit the 10 pound, 7.5 inch sphere with laser sensors and possible chemical sensors. If a camera identified a missing tile, crack or hole, the laser sensor could measure the size and depth of the deformation so that astronauts could plan the repair work inside the shuttle instead of performing an Extra-Vehicluar Activity (EVA), or spacewalk. The chemical sensors could check for leaks on the exterior of the shuttle or International Space Station. the Mini AERCam had a big brother back in 1997 that actually flew in space. It deployed aboard the Columbia and spent over an hour in space manuevering around the Columbia. Engineers at NASA point out that the Mini AERCam is not a result of the investigation of the Columbia accident, but rather was an on-going program being developed for the International Space Station. The idea was to house a few of the vehicles in "hangars" connected to the outside of the ISS, so that crews aboard the ISS could inspect the exterior of their "space home" without donning spacesuits for an Extra-Vehicular Activity. With the Columbia mishap, it was a natural progression to use the little eyeball to perform inspections of the shuttle, even though the shuttles currently use Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), a 50 foot mechanical boom with cameras developed specifically as a result of the Columbia mishap. NASA believes the Mini AERCam will eventually evolve into "EVA squads" that will perform a myriad of tasks with astronauts, dramatically increasing their productivity when deployed in space.
08/02/2005 Much to the chagrin of deployed military personnel, the U.S. Air Force testing community is holding up delivery of Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to the Middle East for about 30 days in favor of continuing demonstrations of the aircraft. The move has military personnel stationed in the Middle East in a tizzy because the few numbers of intelligence collectors such as the Global Hawk make the aircraft a premium asset. The Global Hawk was due to arrive during the summer but will now arrive sometime in the fall.
08/01/2005 Engineers at the John Hopkin's University Applied Physics Laboratory are developing an unmanned High Altitude Reconnaissance Vehicle and enlisted the aid of university engineering students to provide a smaller, scale test model of the full-size airship they intend to develop. The students built a 17-foot, helium-filled airship that used four electric motors with propellers for steering and control and sported a sophisticated electronics suite to permit autonomous flight from computer guidance commands. The airship is also capable of manual steering through remote control and transmission of video images. Researchers plan to use the model airship as an aid to the design process of the full-size, near-space surveillance airship.
07/31/2005 Two Israeli companies are developing ballistic projectiles capable of transmitting live video to an operator. Rafael Armament Development Authority of Israel is developing a new, disposable, ballistic projectile called the Firefly that carries two daytime-only cameras. The Firefly is designed to be launched from a standard issue M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16 or other assault rifle to give soldiers a birds-eye look at enemy positions. When launched, the Firefly sprouts wings that prolong its 8-second flight while its cameras transmit continuous, live "look-down" video back to a soldier's personal pocket computer. Competing with Rafael is Israel Military Industries with its Reconnaissance Rifle Grenade or RRG. The RRG is part of the company's Multi-Purpose Rifle System and carries a simple day/night digital camera with a 600 meter visual range and has a digital map capable of providing full coordinates such as azimuth and elevation. Once fired, the RRG flies only for about 6 to 7 seconds, with the final 3 to 4 seconds providing actual "look-down" video. Both the Firefly and RRG measure approximately 3.8 cm in diameter and 17.5 cm in length. Some are calling the Firefly and RRG "micro UAVs", but others argue that since the projectiles are not "controlled" during their flight, they cannot be considered as unmanned aircraft. Company officials are not so much concerned about the designator of their products, but rather suggest the importance of their missions. The new technologies can provide the lowest link of battlefield soldiers with instant images of the enemy at a fraction of the cost of unmanned aircraft.
07/30/2005 Northrop Grumman has successfully armed its Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, recently firing test rockets from the rotorcraft. The test firings of two M66 2.75 inch unguided rockets took place at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. Northrop would like to demonstrate the strike capabilities of Fire Scout in addition to its ISR and combat rescue mission capabilities. The U.S. Navy would like to use the Fire Scout on its next-generation DD(X) destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships and other ships within the Navy and Coast Guard.
07/29/2005 Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Boeing have awarded contracts worth $3-5 million each to three companies for development of two classes of unmanned aircraft systems for the Army Future Combat System program. The companies include AAI Corporation of Hunt Valley, Maryland for its Shadow III unmanned aircraft, Piasecki Aircraft of Essington, Pennsylvania for its Air Scout and Air Guard unmanned aircraft, and Teledyne Brown of Los Angeles, California for its Prospector unmanned aircraft. The Shadow III, Air Guard and Prospector are competing for the FCS Class III UAS and the Air Scout is competing for the FCS Class II UAS.
07/28/2005 Expanded information on the two European Defense Agency (EDA) unmanned aircraft initiatives includes a solicitation of up to five bidders for each program. Each of the programs are funded slightly under $1 million and focus on sense-and-avoid technology and digital line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) command & control for long-endurance unmanned aircraft. The 18 month programs, open to international bidders, will use the results to find solutions for operation of unmanned aircraft in civil airspace and resolve air traffic management issues.
07/27/2005 The British Defense Ministry will forge ahead with its $1.4 billion Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft program, making a decision for an interim replacement aircraft by the end of 2005. In the running all along has been the Hermes 450, but officials also are considering the Predator B through the U.S. Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales program. The rapidly decreasing availability of the British Phoenix unmanned aircraft is driving the interim replacement UAS for Watchkeeper. British officials had hoped to field the interim replacement by 2006, but now believe Watchkeeper will not field until 2010.
07/26/2005 Officials at Saab are concerned over their government's failure to provide financing for their 25% stake in the European Neuron unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) project. Saab officials note that the Neuron project is critical to their unmanned aircraft future, but add that they expect the Swedish parliament to award the financing once they reconvene from their summer recess.
07/25/2005 The skies over Baghdad are pretty crowded these days with military and civilian aircraft, including unmanned aircraft. Military officials are working overtime to reduce the congestion of radio frequencies for the guidance, control and data downlink of information because the congestion is making it increasingly difficult to find "clear" radio frequencies to use. Additionally, the Iraqi government would like to regain control of its radio frequency spectrum for its own military and civilian use. U.S. officials are slowly moving operations out of the C-band spectrum to the tactical data link in an effort to reduce the congestion.
07/24/2005 The British Defense Ministry in conjunction with Thales is testing the Boeing ScanEagle unmanned aircraft as part of their Joint UAV Experimentation Program (JUEP). In a recent flight test, the "un"manned aircraft went for an "un"planned swim in a test range over the waters off the northwest coast of Scotland. The aircraft was being flown from a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate and, during the test, flew very close to the perimeter of the test range. Officials involved in the flight test decided to "abort" the mission (the big red button) versus having the aircraft fly out of the test range. While the ScanEagle has demonstrated its ability to swing around a rope, no details were released regarding its swimming abilities.
07/23/2005 Northrop Grumman's RQ-4B Global Hawk just received its first modified wing from Vought Aircraft Industries. Northrop engineers designed a new, elongated wing for the unmanned aircraft to increase the payload capacity of the aircraft from 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds. The prototype version of the new wing, approximately 15 feet longer than the original wing, underwent a battery of testing prior to the delivery of the actual wing to Grumman facilities in Palmdale, California. Testing included a static deflection test that subjected the wingtips to a stress deflection of 8 feet. Engineers were pleased with the results, noting that there were no abnormal delaminations of the all-composite wing or any sign of fuel leaks. Vought already has two more wings under construction with the next delivery slated for October 2005.
07/22/2005 In a demonstration of "jointness", the Pentagon has assigned an Army Brigadier General to the top position at the Air Force's newly established Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Center of Excellence at Creech AFB in Indian Springs, Nevada. Brigadier General Walter Davis will lead the organization on a mission to enhance the interoperability of unmanned aircraft within the services and develop joint operating concepts between services for unmanned aircraft.
07/21/2005 Northrop Grumman's RQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned rotorcraft has successfully completed a review by Navy officials that validated the aircraft's propulsion system, airframe and system designs. Later this year Northrop will integrate weapons to the aircraft (for U.S. Army applications) and validate the most recent upgrades to the aircraft. The RQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft is now fitted with a four-blade rotor (versus the three-blade rotor on the RQ-8A) that allows the aircraft to carry heavier payloads longer distances. The Navy would like to use the Fire Scout aboard its next-generation DD(X) destroyers, the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and other ships within the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
07/20/2005 The European Defense Agency (EDA) is beginning to solicit the unmanned aircraft industry for new technology in the operation of long endurance unmanned aircraft. The agency believes that "sense and avoid" equipment and digital data links (both line-of-sight and satellite) are critical technologies to the successful integration and operation of unmanned aircraft in civil airspace with manned aircraft.
07/19/2005 Philadelphia-based Dragonfly Pictures builds unmanned aircraft platforms and recently awarded a $325,000 contract to Metal Storm, an Australian company that develops electronic firearms. The contract will allow Metal Storm to integrate its electronic 40mm grenade launcher on an unmanned aircraft built by Dragonfly Pictures and conduct a series of live fire tests beginning in the 3rd quarter of 2005. Dragonfly Picture's unmanned aircraft, dubbed DP-4X, is an unmanned rotorcraft small enough to fit inside a Humvee. Company officials believe their DP-4X rotorcraft, when loaded with the grenade launcher, can help protect U.S. troops and convoys in Iraq from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket artillery and mortars.
07/18/2005 NATO Commanders have identified weak areas within the air component of NATO Response Force 5 (NRF-5), stating that the rapid response force needs more access to helicopters, transport aircraft and unmanned aircraft. The NRF-5 uses unmanned aircraft in the traditional roles of surveillance and reconnaissance, currently drawing on assets available from Britain, France and Belgium.
07/17/2005 DARPA recently awarded a $175 million contract to Boeing to continue development of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program and X-45C unmanned aircraft. In addition to an additional 18 months of flight tests for the X-45C, Boeing will use the contract to further development of the X-45C unmanned combat aircraft for autonomous air refueling. Boeing also proposed options to the J-UCAS program office, including an aircraft carrier-based demonstrator aircraft and more advanced ISR capabilities.
07/16/2005 Senator John McCain of Arizona is a supporter of unmanned aircraft technology. Recently, Senator McCain's legislative efforts created an amendment to a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that will permit the DHS to deploy unmanned aircraft along the southwestern border of the United States in order to combat the increasing problem of illegal immigration. McCain feels that the use of unmanned aircraft along the border will provide law enforcement and Border Patrol personnel with the "eyes" they need to cover the large areas they are tasked to protect. Also, the continuous monitoring of the border from the sky by unmanned aircraft should demonstrate to illegal border-crossers that the U.S. is serious about stopping illegal immigration. An important intricacy to the amendment by McCain is that funding provided in the appropriations bill may not be used for increases to ground technologies, but rather only for increasing the role of unmanned aircraft.
07/15/2005 The U.S. Air Force's 15th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada recently lost one of their Predator unmanned aircraft while it was operating on a mission in Southwest Asia. Pilots flying the aircraft from Nellis lost control of the aircraft when the communications link for command and control to the aircraft failed. The aircraft eventually ran out of fuel and crashed. An Air Force accident board is investigating the failure of the link and the crash of the aircraft.
07/14/2005 The U.S. Army is continuing to lead the way in expanding the role of unmanned aircraft. Currently the service uses unmanned aircraft in Iraq as ISR platforms - but commanders state that not only do they want to be able to see a target - they also want to be able to destroy it - using unmanned aircraft to perform the mission. Right now in Iraq the Army is using unmanned aircraft (Predators) to laser designate targets and guide Hellfire missiles launched from helicopters - a concept mission known as Hunter/Killer. The Army has used the Iraq campaign to develop requirements for its Extended Range/Multi Purpose (ERMP) UAV and the program is expected to field operational aircraft by 2008. The plan is to equip the ERMP UAV with modular payload capabilities that include up to four Hellfire missiles, EO/IR payloads, communications payloads and other weapon payloads. Operationally, the ERMP UAV will be able to operate from unprepared surfaces and perform automatic takeoffs and landings. The Army plans to create a new unmanned aircraft battalion for its modular divisions that include 24 ERMP unmanned aircraft. Competing for the ERMP UAV are Northrop Grumman's Hunter II and General Atomic's Warrior. The Hunter II is a modified version of the original Hunter and the Warrior is a modified version of a Predator. Final selection of the manufacturer for the Army's ERMP unmanned aircraft is expected sometime in mid 2005.
07/13/2005 Japan is stepping up the speed of its in-house unmanned aircraft development program by going outside of the country and announcing that Japan will, for now, procure either Global Hawks from Northrop Grumman or Predators from General Atomics versus building their own. The Japan Defense Agency (JDA) stated that the decision to procure operational unmanned aircraft systems was made in order to more rapidly fulfill Japanese reconnaissance needs and cited the continuous threats of military action by North Korea as the reason. The JDA has already spent more than $22 million researching unmanned aircraft since 2003, but even with that investment felt that the country could not build and operate their own unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in less than ten years. The JDA is sending representatives to the United States to evaluate each U.S. system so that a decision can be made by the end of July 2005. The Global Hawk is considered the favorite by the JDA.
07/12/2005 The Pentagon has changed the leadership of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program from DARPA to the U.S. Air Force. The decision, made in December 2004, will be effective this October, the beginning of Fiscal 2006. DARPA has led the J-UCAS program for the past two years amid both positive and negative feedback from the services and Pentagon officials. The DARPA-lead was intended to make sure that the two programs, Boeing's X-45 and Northrop's X-47, were centrally managed and protected from funding raids by the Air Force and Navy. But a decision by DARPA that awarded the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory the title of "integrator/broker" to the program has some officials upset, claiming that adding JHUAPL to the program is redundant, considering the available assetts of Boeing, Northrop Grumman, DARPA and the military services. Another problem facing the program involves the idea of creating a common operating architecture. As the program progressed, it was important for Boeing and Northrop to begin sharing some of their proprietary information - undoubtedly troubling to both companies. But starting in October, the Air Force will begin to direct the sticky details of the J-UCAS program in order to continue the program objectives. We'll all stay tuned...
07/11/2005 The United States Air Force is contracting General Atomics of San Diego, California to build Predator ground control stations for operations in Iraq. Currently, Predator operations in Iraq are limited because there are only six ground control stations available (at a base in the United States) to fly the Predator aircraft on combat missions. The new contract, valued at $30.8 million, will provide two ground control stations capable of multiple aircraft control and six additional "container" digital control stations. The USAF also awarded General Atomics an additional $72 million for the accelerated delivery of 17 Predator aircraft, including support equipment and spares.
07/11/2005 Diehl BGT Defense of Uberlingen, Germany and Schiebel of Vienna have signed a cooperative agreement in order to sell unmanned aircraft to the German Defense Ministry. The companies will provide the Camcopter S-100, an unmanned rotorcraft that carries an EO/IR sensor payload for flights up to six hours long.
07/10/2005 In the European Neuron project, Thales of Paris has been selected to develop the data link system for the UCAV. Thales will use a data link with high and low rates for the connection between the ground control station (GCS) and the Neuron unmanned aircraft. The company will comply with STANAG 7085 for the high rate connection, allowing secure transfer of command and control commands, radar images and video. The low rate connection will operate on an entirely different frequency band and, while providing a high level of data integrity, is not compliant with STANAG 7085, which is NATO's interoperable data link standard.
07/10/2005 The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are now using an unmanned aircraft to conduct experiments. Working in conjunction with General Atomics and NASA, the company is leasing a high-altitude Altair aircraft to sample air and observe the earth from 45,000 feet. The aircraft carries special sensors that include a Cirrus digital camera system, a gas chromatograph and ozone photometer (GC/OZ), and an ocean color sensor/passive microwave vertical sounder (OC/PMVS). While the prospects of an unmanned aircraft staying airborne for long periods of time are attractive to NOAA officials, the experiments have been hampered by the aircraft systems. Cold air at high altitude has caused failure of the the satellite data link that transmits data, in addition to completely freezing the pan/tilt/zoom camera, rendering it inoperative. The aircraft's generator also failed due to worn brushes. NOAA suspended flights after 36 hours of flight time in order to fix the systems. So far, NOAA and NASA have spent $1.6 million for the project, which is slated for a total of between 52 and 60 flight hours. With $1.3 million going to General Atomics for the lease of the aircraft, flight hour cost calculations currently are between $5,000 and $30,000 per hour, depending on who's doing the counting. The cost also includes installation of the instrumentation to the aircraft, which certainly drives up the cost of doing business.
07/10/2005 AeroVironment of Simi Valley, Callifornia is at it again with a new, long-endurance, unmanned development aircraft designed to use liquid hydrogen for fuel. Following the June 2003 demise of the Helios unmanned aircraft in Hawaii, AeroVironment decided to create a more robust, traditional aircraft (wings, stabilizer and rudder) instead of the delicate Helios flying wing. The new aircraft, called the Global Observer, is designed to remain airborne for 7 - 10 days using only hydrogen fuel cells for power and will not use solar cells. Takeoff weight will be approximately 10,000 pounds and the intended payload is up to 1,000 pounds. The aircraft will operate at altitudes above 60,000 feet. The company is already flying a 1/5 - 1/3 subscale demonstrator model of the aircraft which uses eight electric motors, four on each wing, driving propellers. The subscale demonstrator has a 50 foot wingspan, which indicates the full size Global Observer would have at least a 150 foot wingspan. But officials indicate that the aircraft is designed to operate from standard runways that are 150 feet wide, so acceptable wingspans can be a maximum of 250 feet. The liquid hydrogen fuel cell concept is less complicated than solar cells, but requires a large, heavy, bulky tank to contain the leak-prone, liquid hydrogen. AeroVironment feels they have overcome some of the obstacles to using liquid hydrogen with Global Observer and now desire a teaming arrangement with NASA to build the full-scale version of the Global Observer. NASA would like to see a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (HALE-UAV) flying for up to two weeks or more by 2009. Boeing is also a competitor on the NASA wish-list, developing a liquid hydrogen fueled Ultra LEAP HALE UAV for DARPA.
07/10/2005 EADS announced the company is developing an unmanned combat aircraft demonstrator, called Barrakuda, for the German Defense Ministry. Company officials state that the Barrakuda will help establish a base design for the European Neuron UCAV program, of which EADS CASA is a partner. The Barrakuda unmanned aircraft could fly as early as this year.
07/09/2005 BAE Systems North America of Rockville, Maryland and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems of El Segundo, California are teaming to develop new common software for ISR mission planning of manned and unmanned aircraft. The new software will be used for Global Hawk and Predator unmanned aircraft mission planning, as well as the E-3, E-8 and RC-135 manned aircraft.
07/09/2005 Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is in the process of developing a Multi-Purpose Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MPUAV) that can morph its wing into different shapes for different missions. The project is being funded by DARPA in order to explore development of an unmanned aircraft that can be launched from a Trident submarine. The aircraft would launch from the submarine's missile silo, fly its mission and then return to the area of the submarine where an unmanned submersible recovery vehicle would retrieve the aircraft and return it to the sub. Lockheed officials state that the wingspan of the aircraft would be between 15 and 20 feet with the wings extended, allowing the aircraft to loiter in a cruise mode at about .4 Mach. With the wings folded, the aircraft should achieve about .80 Mach. Lockheed has been working on the "morphing aircraft wing" idea which uses a sort of "memory membrane" that responds to electric pulses, allowing a wing to fold and change shape.
07/08/2005 The Paris Air Show was center stage for major defense contractor executives this year and they make no bones about it - unmanned aircraft are the future of warfare. Executives feel that the technology for unmanned aircraft is evolving at such a rapid rate that the combat environment will turn into a highly networked fleet of manned fighter jets supported by unmanned aircraft where the unmanned aircraft provide the weapon systems for the extremely dangerous portions of the missions and communications systems for a seamless view of the battle zone. All in all, unmanned aircraft will slowly replace fighter pilots flying the dangerous missions, leaving the fighter pilot to control the unmanned "wingman" aircraft as a part of his fighter aircraft "system". So from a fighter pilots perspective, it doesn't appear that the job of the fighter pilot will go away - it just appears that it will be a bit more complicated and a bit more standoff. The latter has always been an area explored as the defense industry creates weapons that travel farther and are more accurate. The only difference for the future fighter pilot is that the standoff distance will increase as unmanned aircraft carry the weapon to battle.
07/07/2005 Britain has created a new office to further the development of unmanned combat aircraft called the Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experiment), or SUAV(E). The office will use technology developments learned in the U.S.-led UCAV program in order to help Britain make decisions regarding the procurement of unmanned combat aircraft. Britain has been involved in the U.S. UCAV program since December 2004, but have voiced some concern over whether the United States will share technology and allow Britain to participate from an industrial standpoint. A competing program is the French-led Neuron UCAV program and the possibility exists for Britain to join that program instead of the U.S. program if they feel that they will be left behind regarding technology transfer. British officials indeed feel that the French would be very accommodating to the Brits in allowing them to join the six-nation Neuron program, but the final decision will lie with the British Ministry of Defense. Officials state that the U.S. UCAV program is undeniably the leader in unmanned combat aircraft technology, with two X-45 aircraft and the X-47 already flying. The French-led Neuron program has completed only a mock-up model of the Neuron UCAV technology demonstrator, unveiled by French President Jacques Chirac at the Paris airshow in June.
07/06/2005 Elbit Systems of Israel developed and built the twin-engine, Hermes 1500 unmanned aircraft as a payload demonstrator for Israeli military and intelligence sectors. The company now feels that the redundancy of the two engines gives the aircraft an edge over competitors for maritime roles and, consequently, are expanding the flight envelope of the aircraft in order to adapt it for maritime surveillance missions. Elbit is retrofitting the aircraft with external fuel tanks to increase its endurance by a full 10 hours, bringing the total endurance to 36 hours. The aircraft will operate at approximately 7,000 to 10,000 feet and use a variety of sensors to provide high-resolution imagery. Sensors considered include synthetic aperture radar (SAR), EO/IR sensors, electronic support systems and electronic equipment that can track ship radars.
07/05/2005 The Predator B may soon receive its first purchase order outside the United States. The British Defense Ministry would like to acquire an undisclosed number of Predator B aircraft by as early as mid-2006 to operate them with the Royal Air Force, once funding is secured. The aircraft will be flown as reconnaissance aircraft, but may also carry Hellfire missiles and dual-mode laser/GPS guided bombs. Officials indicate that the retirement of their PR-9 Canberra and Jaguar aircraft, plus low numbers (under 50) of Phoenix unmanned aircraft are at least partly responsible for the focus on Predator B purchases. British personnel already operate the Predator in Iraq and at Cheech Air Force Base (formerly Indian Springs) in Nevada.
07/03/2005 The home of the Predator unmanned aircraft, Indian Springs Auxiliary Airfield, just northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, has been renamed. The air base is now known as Creech Air Force Base, in recognition of General W.L. Creech. General Creech was instrumental in transforming the United States Air Force to its current state today.
07/02/2005 The U.S. Air Force will continue to expand its Predator unmanned aircraft operations to better serve the Pacific with potential new active duty Predator squadron bases forming in Okinowa or South Korea. The Air National Guard will carry out Homeland Security missions here in the United States through bases established in border states such as North Dakota, Arizona, Texas and New York. The newly formed units will monitor illegal immigration over U.S. borders and also reduce the mission burden on active duty UAS units.
07/01/2005 NATO is using a multi-national union of countries to develop a sophisticated airborne ground surveillance system. The countries, in the finalization of their structuring at this time, expect to begin designing and developing the system in 2006 and plan to use the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in their effort, with operational service slated for sometime around 2010.
06/30/2005 Northrop Grumman continues to make headway with its RQ-4B Global Hawk. The company recently was awarded $42.5 million in contract to complete the development of U.S. Air Force RQ-4B models. In addition, maritime versions of the RQ-4B are supplying the U.S. Navy in a demonstration program for maritime surveillance. Two RQ-4B Global Hawk aircraft will be used by the Navy in the program. The second aircraft recently completed its maiden flight from its Palmdale, California production facility to Edwards AFB. The flight lasted 4 hours and included system testing. Both aircraft will eventually be stationed at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, the main operating base for the U.S. Navy maritime demonstration. The intent is to have ground stations link the unmanned aircraft sensor information into the Navy's entire information network, allowing intelligence information to be passed to any ship in the Navy.
06/29/2005 Get out the grease gun and a new can of paint! The Boeing B-52H Stratofortress may have just been given another extension for service, and its for close air support and unmanned aircraft operations. Service officials believe the venerable B-52 is capable of a new mission - that of supporting close air support missions by launching unmanned aircraft that are controlled directly from the B-52. The new operation would require a 6th crewmember from the original 5 that operate a B-52. The new position would be responsible for flying the UAS, monitoring ground sensors and coordinating attack plans with other aircraft and ground forces. Officials envision small unmanned aircraft carried internally on rotating bomb racks in the aircraft's bomb bay. Additionally, the B-52s would carry a host of other weapons, including JDAMs, precision guided missiles and small diameter precision guided bombs. The incredible B-52 aircraft is a definetly a work horse and has consistently proved its adaptability to missions. From its age-old mission of Cold War penetration of Russian airspace and nuclear weapons delivery to it current development as a close air support weapon, it is obvious that the B-52 will be around for a long time. No computer-aided design or composite structures - just good old American engineers doing what they do best - keeping the United States at the forefront of military technology.
06/28/2005 Israel is becoming a major supplier of unmanned aircraft technology to the European Union. While the majority of Israeli sales are to East and South Asia, direct sales to Europe are increasing at a rapid rate and cooperative teaming arrangements are on the rise as well. A recent French-Israeli announcement for the Sperwer-B/Spike missile, the IAI-EADS production agreement on the Eagle-2 medium altitude, long endurance UAS and a recent agreement between Elbit and Turkey for the Heron UAV are all examples of Israel's push for European sales. Current European sales account for about 20% of Israel's exports. But Israeli officials believe that number will rise to more than 30% over the next two years.
06/27/2005 The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) has a long shopping list these days and unmanned aircraft are on it. The UAE is one part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which also includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. The Air Force contingents that make up the members of the GCC have over a billion dollars of potential purchases for military and commercial purposes. Unmanned aircraft are targeted for both peacetime and military operations, with ISR, border security and homeland security leading the way for UAS operations.
06/26/2005 At the Paris Air Show in France, Italy announced that it will shift its focus from helicopters to unmanned aircraft, jet trainers and border control solutions. Finnemecia will display its Sky-X unmanned aircraft, which recently performed its maiden flight. The aircraft is a technology demonstration aircraft and is not really intended for sales. However, Finnemeccia intends to push marketing of integrated solutions for protection of borders and Exclusive Economic Zones toward customers such as Romania and Libya, while also showing off its synthetic aperture radar satellite network, Cosmo Skymed.
06/25/2005 Israel upper echelon of military and security command chains asserted that air power that supports anti-terrorist operations along the Gaza Strip are directly responsible for reducing the number of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks that have killed innocent civilians since 2000. Among noted achievements, officials cited over 50,000 flight hours of ISR and targeted killing operations that included the use of unmanned aircraft since 2000. Of particular note, the total number of flight hours for unmanned aircraft was 30,000 - which means unmanned aircraft were relied upon more heavily than manned aircraft. Officials claimed that the unmanned aircraft were almost always available overhead and that the aircraft permitted superior levels of intelligence information, as well as joint command and control and precision strike capabilities. The unmanned aircraft strike fear in the minds of terrorists, who cannot predict when or where the aircraft will fly or what anti-terror capabilities they may have onboard. And thats the way we want it!
06/24/2005 In a cooperative effort with France, Onera, a French research agency, is developing the Busard aircraft for unmanned aircraft operations. The Busard is a light, motor-glider that is being adapted to unmanned aircraft operations by equipping it with data links, sensors, autopilot and advanced avionics. Currently, the aircraft is flown in a manned configuration until all testing is completed.
06/23/2005 Sagem Defense Security of France will attempt to lead European firms in unmanned combat aircraft by collaborating with Israel's Rafael and fitting a Sperwer B with two Spike-ER, long-range, precision-strike missiles. The Spike missile system is built by the Israeli government-owned, Rafael Armament Development Authority. The missile system is currently fitted to the aircraft, but flight testing and system validation are still necessary. The company is in talks with the French procurement office, Delegation Generale por l'Armament (DGA), to take over funding of the project, which is currently company funded. The missile carries advanced EO electronics and combines a daytime camera with an infrared seeker and a fiberoptic datalink. While the French-Israeli combination places the French in a leader position for unmanned combat aircraft, the combination may have political implications that could limit its sales, because the United Nations has denounced Israel for building the security wall around Palestine. French officials have not openly discussed the arrangement with Israel.
06/22/2005 BAE Systems is developing a new electronic warfare tool for Special Operations. Under DARPA development, the new weapon, called "Wolf", is a small "can", designed to be dropped from unmanned aircraft in a battlezone. The Wolf would then sit in enemy territory and monitor communications transmissions from 30Mhz to 20Ghz, jamming when necessary or pinpointing the location of the transmission to within 33 feet. The developmental Wolf measures just under 5 inches in diameter and 24 inches long. BAE would like to see the device achieve its intended size of 4 inches in diameter and 10 inches long. DARPA has also initiated work on a self-propelled, unmanned version, dubbed "Airwolf" that can take off vertically, transition to horizontal flight, then land vertically. The Airwolf is recoverable and able to fly to specific combat areas where the Wolf technology is needed, recharging its batteries during the flight. When dispersed in large numbers, the Wolf system (Wolf Pack) is a self-forming network that has the ability to adjust and redistribute workloads, even if one of the devices is compromised by the enemy. The Wolf Pack of devices automatically decide which device will be the "master", leaving the rest to be "slaves". The ultimate goal of DARPA is to use Wolf Pack to deny the enemy RF capabilities or make anyone who uses an RF device vulnerable to attack. Okay...so we'll stop talking on our cellphones while we drive!!
06/21/2005 While unmanned aircraft continue to evolve into new roles, one company is working on a new weapon that someday may be used to destroy unmanned aircraft, particularly those used in combat roles. Raytheon is developing a High Power Microwave (HPM) weapon called "Vigilant Eagle" that recently shot down a variety of shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles in a demonstration test. By effectively "frying" the electrical components of the missile, the weapon causes the missile to "go stupid" by losing track of its target. The technology is transferable to unmanned aircraft of course, since UASs are laden with computer components intended for guidance. Raytheon intends to use Vigilant Eagle as a protection device for major airports, guarding airliners from terrorist-type attacks that would use anti-aircraft missiles. Other roles include defense of military airfields. The weapon may also evolve as a payload for unmanned aircraft, where it would be used to defend against air defense missiles and storage facilities of WMD. Airlines have approached Raytheon already to use the new weapon to make sure all passenger cellphones are "turned off" prior to pushback. (Who says we don't have a sense of humor??)
06/21/2005 Raytheon also supports unmanned aircraft technology through a fleet of old (manned) Douglas A-3 Skywarriors. The aircraft operate within Raytheon's Flight Test Operations (FTO) based at the Van Nuys airport in southern California and are used to aid in the development of next generation sensors when actual flight conditions are required for testing. Currently, one of the A-3 aircraft is carrying a sensor package under development for the Global Hawk. An official of FTO states that the company not only conducts research for unmanned aircraft, but will eventually use unmanned aircraft to conduct the same research, replacing nearly half the fleet of manned aircraft with unmanned aircraft in three to five years.
06/20/2005 Britain's BAE Systems continues to work on a stealthy, low-observable unmanned combat aircraft (okay, "air vehicle" so we can use their "UCAV" acronym) for the British Ministry of Defense (MoD). The classified program, named "Nightjar", is funded by the British MoD and includes research in design, aerodynamics, and in-service performance as well as parallel research in engine requirements and stealth technology. Stealthy additions include internal weapons carriage and visual/infrared signature reduction. The program will work to ensure a solid technology base exists for low-observable UCAVs and to help give Britain an edge in U.S. UCAV development. Britain already participates in the U.S.-led Unmanned Combat Air Systems program but is non-committal on whether they will purchase a U.S.- or European-built UCAV.
06/19/2005 Honeywell's micro air vehicle (MAV) will compete for the Class I UAV in the U.S. Army's Future Combat System competition. The small (13 inch diameter) aircraft recently completed another test flight, this time flying untethered to designated waypoints and then landing. Honeywell envisions soldiers carrying a 13 pound version of the aircraft into battle where it can be flown for up to 45 minutes at speeds over 50 knots in ISR missions.
06/18/2005 General Atomics of San Diego, California is merging its Aeronautical Systems Division with its Reconnaissance Systems Division. The move is intended to allow better integration of sensor systems (such as SAR, GMTI and EO/IR cameras) to the Predator aircraft and to provide Predators fully configured with their ISR payloads off the production line.
06/17/2005 AC Propulsion flew its "SoLong" unmanned aircraft for 48 hours, 16 minutes on June 1-3, marking the first 2-day flight of an electric, solar-powered glider aircraft. The flight began shortly after 4:00pm on June 1 and continued through two nights until almost 4:30pm on June 3, charging its onboard batteries during the daylight hours. The flight was conducted at the Desert Center Airport in California. The 28-pound SoLong aircraft has a 15.6 foot wingspan. The aircraft uses thermal activity to help keep it airborne in daylight hours and uses the batteries to power the aircraft's motor during the night hours.
06/16/2005 Israel Aircraft Industries reported sales of $2.1 billion for 2004, a 10% gain from 2003. By the end of 2005, IAI expects a backlog of $6 billion after reporting $5.4 billion in 2004. The company is heavily involved in unmanned aircraft, including the Euro Male medium-altitude endurance UAS program and is continuing to pursue opportunities in Europe to expand its revenue.
06/15/2005 In an unplanned demonstration of superior airmanship, one of Northrop Grumman's Global Hawks flying a mission for the Air Force correctly identified an engine problem, causing the aircraft to automatically divert to a preplanned divert airfield in Afghanistan where it landed safely. A support crew was then flown to the airfield to fix the problem. Within 72 hours the aircraft was fixed by the support crew and re-launched by the flight crew stationed at Beale AFB in California. Officials are tight-lipped about the exact details of what went wrong, but undoubtedly are exhuberant that the aircraft successfully performed as planned and the emergency procedures were followed. The incident is yet another feather in the cap of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft - an aircraft that has already proved itself in the eyes of military commanders in the Middle East.
06/14/2005 GKN Aerospace, a partner company to Northrop Grumman, began the initial production of the forward fuselage section of Northrop's X-47B unmanned combat aircraft. The "B" version is a scaled up version of the X-47A. Northrop's X-47 is a demonstrator for the U.S. Joint Unmanned Combat Air System program and is intended for shipboard operations (from aircraft carriers) or land bases in a strike or surveillance capacity.
06/13/2005 Alenia Aeronautica has flown the maiden test flight of the Sky-X unmanned combat aircraft. The test flight took place at a military range in Sweden where the aircraft was piloted from a ground control station located approximately 2 miles from the lift-off point. Performance specifications of the Sky-X include a cruise speed of 300mph, an intended maximum speed of 500mph, and a maximum altitude of over 30,000 feet. The aircraft spans 19 feet, is 23 feet long and has a maximum takeoff weight of 2,640 lbs. Alenia will use the technology demonstrator aircraft for research in ISR and ground attack missions.
06/12/2005 General Atomics of San Diego, California indicated that the new Predator C, a jet-powered version of the Predator, should fly its maiden flight by the end of 2005. The Predator C will have a lower signature than its Predator A & B brothers and, as a consequence, should render the aircraft more survivable.
06/11/2005 The Israeli Air Force recently disclosed that unmanned aircraft will continue to play an ever-increasing role in the country's air force, eventually taking over about 50% of all air operations. Because of technological advances and the continuous adaptation of unmanned aircraft to missions, the IAF is learning how to deploy UASs more effectively in order to combat terrorism, in addition to finding weapons and targeting mobile rocket launchers. The trend toward increased use of UASs has caused IAF officials to believe that UASs will eventually operate in large numbers as a single unit, patroling the skies continuously. However, officials stated that while the increased use of unmanned aircraft may cause a reduction and/or shift in manned aircraft operations, manned aircraft will always play a primary role, even if used to support unmannned aircraft operations and that unmanned aircraft operations will never exceed 60% of IAF operations.
06/11/2005 In addition to the three operational Predator squadrons stationed at Nellis AFB and Indian Springs AFAF, the United States Air Force intends to purchase enough Predator unmanned aircraft to equip as many as 15 squadrons and will spend over $5.7 billion over the next five years to accomplish the task. The increased demand for ISR capabilities to combat terrorism and aircraft availability in Iraq and Afghanistan are driving the purchases. The initiative will establish Predator squadrons in Texas and Arizona, as well as a Predator Air National Guard squadron in New York. Air Force officials are also working on manpower and training issues that will improve the Predator's ability to support combat operations. Stepping up to the challenge, General Atomics will now use a new 160,000 sqare foot production facility located in the Sabre Springs Business Park to handle the composite manufacturing process for the aircraft, allowing final aircraft assembly and integration to take place at its Rancho Bernardo facility.
06/10/2005 Raytheon has developed and tested a mine detection device that uses an uncooled infrared sensor to detect mines that are buried underground. The detection depth was not disclosed, but the device will deploy to Iraq in the very near future. The mine detection device is light enough to be carried on unmanned aircraft and will undoubtedly work its way into the UAS fleet operating in Iraq.
06/09/2005 Alliant Techsystems is developing a high-power microwave (HPM) system that will deploy to Iraq in order to help protect troops from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The company tested the system last year at a testing area in Yuma, Arizona that was planted with mines. When activated, the HPM detonated 75% of the mines planted in the area. The ground-based system will be used along roads prior to personnel driving or walking along the route in order to clear the road of potential IEDs. The system is receiving support from the Air Force Research Laboratory - an indication that the system may eventually be used from aircraft.
06/08/2005 Russia's Moscow Mil Helicopter Plant has begun development of an unmanned helicopter. The unmanned helicopter is based on the MI-34 manned helicopter, a two or four seat light utility helicopter powered by a reciprocating engine. The company intends to transform the manned version into an unmanned version, with the unmanned version being used for day and night military reconnaissance missions and civilian monitoring. Payload would include an optical sensors and information sensors. The helicopter would operate at altitudes of 3,000 meters and would have endurance permitting a range of approximately 200 kilometers. Mil estimates the cost per aircraft between $350,000 and $500,000.
06/07/2005 DARPA continues to develop technology that will radically change the shape of a wing during flight, known as "morphing". The morphing technology is a step beyond traditional variable-geometry wings (such as the F-14 and F-111 swing-wings) and currently employs two methods that change wing geometry. One method involves a rigid, mechanical structure that allows the wing to unfold or fold and the other involves a shape-memory polymer (SMP) that, when activated, will unfold or fold the wing. Lockheed Martin and Hypercomp/NextGen are two companies involved in the Morphing Aircraft Structures (MAS) program and may soon conduct flight tests of unmanned aircraft equipped with the technology at NASA's Langley Research Center and Dryden Flight Research Center. In the first phase of the MAS program, Lockheed and Hypercomp built sub- and transonic wing structures that were capable of expanding in size by over 150%. Phase II development will concentrate on the shape memory polymer (SMP) that could conceivably increase wing area by as much as 300%. The unique SMP materials are rigid in their original molded "memory" form, but become elastic when activated by electricity, heat or high-frequency light. Exposure to the activator a second time returns the material to its original memory form. The technology could allow unmanned aircraft to have long loiter capabilities (with the wings extended) and much improved dash capabilities with the wings retracted or reduced in size. Additionally, the technology could enhance short field operations and maximize fuel efficiency. DARPA believes the morphing wing structure will help redefine the role of future tactical aircraft permitting both manned and unmanned aircraft to more effectively adapt to mission requirements and achieve enhanced multi-role capabilities.
06/06/2005 EADS CASA of Madrid, Spain and Hellenic Aerospace Industries of Athens, Greece have joined the Neuron unmanned combat aircraft project of Europe. The two companies signed contracts with France's Dassault Aviation, leader of the Neuron UCAV six-year project. The addition of Spain and Greece to the Neuron project bring the total number of countries involved in the project to six, including France, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.
06/05/2005 General Electric is focusing on future development of unmanned aircraft engine technology and is even devoting more of its own research money toward that development. Officials at GE feel that the unmanned aircraft engine market - specifically unmanned combat aircraft - is just beginning and that the development of new engines that provide higher thrust-to-weight, reduced IR signature and more electrical power will provide their company with stability in the emerging market of unmanned aircraft engine technology. But while the emerging unmanned aircraft engine market may provide the company new sources of income, officials were also concerned about the lack of quantity in any one type of unmanned aircraft. Each type of engine requires non-recurring engineering costs that, if there are not sufficient production quantities, cause a reduced bottom-line profit to the company. Officials do agree, however, that finding a way to anticipate military requirements and transfer commercially-developed technologies will help offset those costs and allow the company to maintain profitability.
06/04/2005 Britain's research laboratory, QinetiQ, has successfully demonstrated the first unmanned automatic landing of a short-takeoff, vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on a ship. Using a pilotless Harrier aircraft, engineers successfully demonstrated the automatic landing on a British Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the HMS Invincible. The successful landing was part of a risk reduction program for the STOVL version of the U.S.-led Joint Strike Fighter program. While the demonstration may have application for unmanned aircraft, the ability for the F-35 to perform vertical landings automatically is really intended to reduce the pilot workload after long or arduous missions and also permit vertical landing operations during night or inclement weather conditions. Britain is one of nine countries involved in the $200 billion JSF program, the largest contract in the history of the U.S. Defense Department.
06/03/2005 Italy provided positive praise for Predator operations in Iraq, stating the aircraft helped stabilize operations during the conflict. Italy recently purchased four Predators and may now add even more aircraft to that purchase due to available funding. Currently, the Italian Air Force has a special forces unit in Iraq that is undergoing training with a new Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) unit that provides direct, real-time dowloading of images from the Predator. The ROVER unit allows troops to obtain real-time images directly instead of waiting for intelligence centers to provide the information.
06/02/2005 Australia's defense budget was recently released and boosted allocations for new weapons, including unmanned aircraft. The budget provides approximately $46 million each year for a three year period for unmanned aircraft trials and provides money to field tactical unmanned aircraft for ground forces by 2009. The tactical UASs will be used by ground forces for surveillance and target acquisition roles and include a provision for maritime missions.
06/01/2005 Israel Aircraft Industries is developing a very large unmanned aircraft designed for very long endurance missions. The aircraft, still classified by IAI, is supposedly three times the size of a Heron unmanned aircraft with a wingspan of 26 meters. The takeoff weight will be approximately 8,000 pounds.
05/31/2005 The Israeli Air Force will acquire eight Heron unmanned aircraft, worth an estimated $60-80 million, to be used for long-endurance surveillance and targeting missions. The Heron is a twin-boom pusher-style aircraft that can remain airborne for up to 48 hours at altitudes of 25,000 feet. The aircraft can carry payloads of up to 250 kilograms and is slated to use existing Israeli long range EO/IR sensors, as well as a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) developed by Elta Electronics, a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). The purchase is the first UAS purchase in over a decade for the Israeli Air Force and also marks the first significant purchase of an IAI-built aircraft by its own country's air force.
05/30/2005 Unmanned aircraft may soon be tasked with another new mission - that of lasing targets for attack aircraft. Already tested with Predator aircraft, the idea of an unmanned aircraft working close air support with manned attack aircraft and providing the laser mark for guidance of laser-guided weapons would be yet another prededent-setting standard. The move would remove a pilot from a combat zone and allow the attack pilots to concentrate specifically on their mission. Currently, a stumbling block to the operation is the lack of direct communication between manned aircraft and Predator aircraft. Once the communication issues are solved, it should only be a matter of time before unmanned aircraft are utilized in this high-threat role.
05/29/2005 Unmanned aircraft have fundamentally changed the way wars are fought. With the advent of the Predator and Global Hawk and their ability to provide continuous intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), the gameplan for fighting wars - at least on a terrorist threat conflict - is now to use ISR as much as possible find insurgents and their weapons and only use the minimum amount of weapons to take out targets. Officials familiar with combat operations in Iraq estimate that explosive-type weapons are used in only 10% of operations today as opposed to 90% in combat operations last year. For air operations, the coordinating agency has become the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC). The CAOC is responsible for disseminating the huge amounts of intelligence that is now available and for coordinating the various air (and sometimes ground) assets in order to support ground troops. Much like a "big-board" room, the CAOC is lined with large video and information computer screens that track virtually all military assets in the conflict area. Unmanned aircraft live video feeds are popular and now essential to missions operations today. In fact, the live video provided by Predator aircraft has become so popular during strike operations that it is sometimes known as "Predator Porn" because of the fact that everyone in the CAOC stares at the screen. But the continuing demand/increase in the use of unmanned aircraf video has a drawback - that of the increased amount of bandwidth necessary to provide the video. Also competing for the bandwidth are communications and satellite imaging. Digitization is one solution to the bandwidth problem, but at the current rate of growth, it is only a matter of time before bandwidth becomes a severely limiting factor. However, because of unmanned aircraft and the services they provide, conflicts may now be fought using a much-reduced number of bombs - and that means less collateral damage and fatalities of non-combat personnel.
05/28/2005 As the Pentagon continues to address base closures and shifting requirements of the U.S. Armed Forces, Guard and Reserve units may see an increase in unmanned aircraft activity at various bases across the United States. A strategy being promoted by the Pentagon is to blend Guard and/or Reserve units with their active duty counterparts and equip them with more modern missions such as unmanned aircraft operations. An example of this action is already in place with the Reno Air National Guard. The Nevada unit supports the Predator operations (communications and intelligence analysis) for Indian Springs Auxiliary Field and Nellis AFB. The integration works very well and officials believe that the trend will continue. And while merging Guard and Reserve units with active military units may increase, the closure of some military bases, such as Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, have led some Congressman to argue for unmanned aircraft - specifically the Global Hawk - to be assigned to the base to support U.S. and Canadian border patrol operations. The moves toward the use of unmanned aircraft and the blending of reserve and active units are intended to save the U.S. Defense Department huge amounts of money.
05/27/2005 Now less than one month away, the U.S. Navy will host another demonstration of unmanned aircraft at the Webster Field Annex of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. The demonstration provides Washington officials and the aerospace industry a chance to see the latest results of unmanned aircraft technology and is one of the largest flight demonstrations of unmanned aircraft in the world.
05/26/2005 In the land down under, University of Sydney's Australian Center for Field Robotics has inked an agreement with the Defense Science & Technology Organization (DSTO) to form the Center of Expertise in Defense Autonomous and Uninhabited Vehicle Systems. The newly created center will focus its research and development efforts on the integration of air, ground and underwater unmanned systems, including multi-vehicle systems.
05/25/2005 Boeing recently completed testing of the Block 4 software in its X-45A unmanned aircraft. The Block 4 software is what permits the X-45A to attack targets and react autonomously to changing threats. The software test was performed during the 51st flight of the X-45A. Boeing will eventually begin flight testing of the X-45C - a larger version of the X-45A - in early 2007.
05/24/2005 The Canadian Air Force will begin a dramatic transformation of its assets over the next few years. One of the number one items in the transformation process is the acquisition and addition of unmanned aircraft to the Canadian Air Force inventory. Over the past few years, Canada has worked with the Altair (brother to the Predator), built by General Atomics of San Diego, California, the Eagle I, built by Israeli Aircraft Industry (IAI) of Israel, and the Sperwer built by Sagem of Paris, France. Initial indications are that if the unmanned aircraft acquired are large in size, the Canadian Air Force will probably control the acquisition. If the aircraft are smaller in size, the Air Force may not control acquisition, but simply be involved in the standardization efforts. In a move that appears to mimic the creation of the UAV Center for Excellence in the United States, Canada recently created a center of excellence called the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Center (DFAWC). The organization, set to become fully operational by 2008, will study the needs (regarding air power) of the Canadian Air Force and help organize assets accordingly.
05/23/2005 President Bush's Defense Authorization Request of $419.3 billion came out of Congress even larger, thanks to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees throwing in an extra $50 billion for operations in Iraq. Also noteworthy in the request was a $1.7 billion allocation for unmanned aircraft. The House voted to trim the UAS budget to $1.67 billion and the Senate voted to fatten the UAS budget to $1.8 billion. Unmanned aircraft are here to stay. Now all we have to do is get Congress to stop calling them "aerial vehicles"!
05/22/2005 As the Paris Air Show approaches, officials of the U.S. Air Force are getting ready to display a large cross section of U.S.-built aircraft. This year the display will include unmanned aircraft, including the Global Hawk and the Fire Scout, both built by Northrop Grumman.
05/20/2005 The U.S. Army will make a decision soon regarding its small reconnaissance air fleet when it chooses between Northrop Grumman and General Atomics for an unmanned aircraft. The unmanned aircraft must meet Army specifications that include diesel fuel, autonomy, ease of use, a 12 hour loiter capability and a 300 kilometer round trip. Sensor requirements include EO/IR payload and onboard weapons. General Atomics is offering a ruggedized version of its Predator, called Warrior, while Northrop Grumman is offering a modified version of its RQ-5 Hunter, called a Hunter II. The different strong points of both aircraft create a rather close competition. The Warrior uses a heavy fuel engine already (a good thing in the eyes of the Army), but still relies on manual piloting for takeoff and landing. The Hunter II is more autonomous and company officials feel the aircraft is definitely more cost-effective. The Army will announce a winner within a week or so.
05/19/2005 Boeing, in conjunction with DARPA, the Air Force and the Navy, recently completed a requirements review of its X-45C Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS). The successful joint review allows Boeing to continue the X-45C capability demonstrations. The program requires Boeing to build and demonstrate three X-45C unmanned aircraft, two mission control elements and a common operating system. Two X-45s recently completed formation flights at Edwards Air Force Base.
05/18/2005 Procerus Technologies of Vineyard, Utah has developed an autopilot for micro unmanned aircraft. Called the Kestrel 2.0, the autopilot weighs a scant 16.7 grams and includes all of the sensors and interfaces required for a fully functional unmanned aircraft. The tiny autopilot was developed for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
05/17/2005 The U.S. Army is trying to find ways to mitigate the risk of manned and unmanned aircraft collisions during military operations. In addition to three recent near misses between manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft in the skies over Iraq, a Kiowa Warrior helicopter collided with a Raven unmanned aircraft in November of 2004. While the accident caused little damage to the helicopter (the Raven was vaporized!), officials are concerned that the increased number of unmanned aircraft flying over Iraq may lead to more midair collisions and possible loss of life. The quick solution is to communicate the launch of an unmanned aircraft with central controllers so that both manned and unmanned aircraft can be vectored clear of each other. But officials are more in favor of displaying unmanned aircraft on Blue Force Tracking, a military system that displays all manned aircraft and ground vehicle assetts.
05/16/2005 Northrop Grumman is interested in pursuing a Pentagon RFP for next-generation, long-range strike aircraft and is offering an unmanned aircraft for the platform, in addition to a modified version of its F-23 fighter (manned) and a stealthy, high altitude flying wing (also manned). Noteworthy is the prospect of an unmanned aircraft competing against manned aircraft.
05/15/2005 Several German defense companies have formed a group called Open Community that is dedicated to the standardization of weapon operating systems, including systems for unmanned aircraft. The initial focus of the group is to get the Ministry of Defense and industry to launch demonstrations in order to prove that industry standards are a good thing. This effort would include establishing a roadmap to organize industry efforts toward standardization. In an initial test, industrial teams plan to modify weapons with standard operating links. Included in the test is a Kleinzielflug-Ortungsgerat unmanned aircraft, a Link 16 data link, a Wiesel-1 reconnaissance vehicle, an Iris-T short range air-to-air missile and an F124 frigate. The group hopes that the test will help define standards for a network that links all ISR sensors together, thereby improving situational awareness. The long-term goal of their mission is to reduce costs.
05/13/2005 The Japan Defense Agency has been working toward development of a turbofan-powered unmanned aircraft over the last few years, but recently began looking at U.S. manufactured aircraft. The decision of the JDA to compare their unmanned aircraft work with U.S. effort may lead to a shift of program development money from their in-house UAS to a U.S.-built UAS. Procurement funds for unmanned aircraft are expected to be a part of the JDA's budget for 2006.
05/12/2005 The Pentagon continues to work toward finding solutions to the ever-increasing threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and...unmanned aircraft appear to be a part of the solution. One plan in work is Northrop Grumman's RQ-8B Fire Scout - an unmanned helicopter slated to support Marine Corps ground troops in Iraq. The Fire Scout, when deployed, will carry an upgraded sensor suite called the Airborne Standoff Minefield Detection System (ASTAMIDS) that uses new detection capabilities. The payload includes EO/IR sensors and multi-spectral imaging so that it can detect recently buried and/or randomly scattered mines and camouflaged targets. The sensor weighs 75 pounds and can be carried on other aircraft as well.
Jamming equipment is also a viable payload for unmanned aircraft, as research is showing that many of the IEDs are detonated with remote triggering devices. Remote triggering devices in Iraq range from simple garage door openers and cell phones to more elaborate devices. However, each are susceptible to jamming and the Pentagon is pressing more budget and scientists into finding solutions.
05/10/2005 CI Systems of Westlake Village, California is offering a new testing device called a Compact Field Tester (CFT) that can test forward-looking infrared (FLIR) equipment in the field while the equipment is still attached to its unmanned aircraft platform. The testing device allows the operator to test FLIR systems on stored or deployed vehicles, selecting from four, predefined set points and five targets in order to meet required FLIR testing procedures. The CFT also works on rifle-mounted FLIRS and FLIR systems used for perimeter security.
05/09/2005 U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin and Aerosonde of Melbourne, Australia will put their heads together in a strategic alliance in order to provide unmanned aircraft systems for homeland security and international defense markets. The Aerosonde unmanned aircraft is a relatively small UAV that first became famous for a flight across the Atlantic. The Aerosonde company hopes to increase its visibility in the U.S. unmanned markets, while Lockheed is looking to capture a piece of the growing international demand for small UAVs. Lockheed is purchasing Aerosonde aircraft and together the two companies will build unmanned aircraft systems and provide customer demonstrations and trials.
05/08/2005 Two of Boeing's ScanEagle unmanned aircraft recently completed a joint, live-fire exercise at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Each aircraft carried autonomous control software developed under a DARPA program that allowed the aircraft to conduct ISR missions to track ground targets and give battlefield commanders accurate aiming points for strikes, in addition to providing battle damage assessment capabilities. The ScanEagle can fly as high as 16,000 feet and can relay streaming imagery at distances over 100 miles. The aircraft uses a rather unorthodox method of recovery - controlling pilots fly the aircraft head-on into a rope dangling from a long, 50 foot pole. When contact with the rope is made, the rope slides down the swept leading edge of the wing and catches a point at the tip, causing the aircraft to swing around the rope in circles until it makes contact with the ground. Hope they keep the forward look camera turned off during landing! The landing technique may allow Boeing to record a new first - the first pilot to get airsick while firmly stationed on the ground!
05/05/2005 B-2 bombers at a U.S. Air Force base in Guam will soon be joined by a new squadron of Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in the 2008-2009 timeframe. The Global Hawks assigned to the new squadron will carry maritime surveillance equipment. The new squadron's mission, among many, will be to monitor ships passing through key choke points of the shipping channels in the region in order to develop a more firm knowledge base of China's progress toward airborne early warning. U.S. officials are concerned with China's efforts and progress in the development of over-the-horizon reconnaissance aircraft, especially unmanned versions, that supposedly will be able to track ships and/or aircraft at distances as great as 1,000 miles from China's shoreline. China's military planners want the extended airborne early warning capabilities in order to monitor movements of the U.S. fleet, a capability they currently do not possess.
05/03/2005 Russia's Splav State Research and Production Association, Tula has developed an unmanned aircraft that can be launched by a Smerch multiple launch rocket system (MLRS). The UAV weighs 42 kilograms and uses an 800 kilogram rocket to fly to - and over - a target area for 30 minutes. The UAV flies at an altitude between 600 and 2,000 feet and can provide targeting data from over 50 miles away in about 4 minutes. The UAV carries a video camera and other sensors that provide images and coordinates with the multiple launch rocket system. The MLRS can then identify more precise taget locations. Other benefits of the new UAV inlude better mobility because the UAV does not need a special launcher like most other UAVs. Officials believe the UAV, in development for about five years, is most marketable to countries that already operate the Smerch MLRS and feel that sales to the Russian armed forces are not likely due to the financial constraints of the country's defense forces.
05/01/2005 Turkey's procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, has finally awarded a long-delayed UAV contract to Israeli Aircraft Industries and Elbit Systems. The $183 million contract is for three systems, including 10 aircraft, ground control stations and surveillance equipment. The long-awaited award caused some frustration with General Atomics. Competing in the contract with the Predator, officials from General Atomics felt the competition was unfair to U.S. firms because it required competitors to grant warranties for the payload, even though the rules of the competition required the payload to be manufactured by a local Turkish firm. General Atomics would not grant such a warranty and stated that U.S. firms could not really even make a proposal under the terms and conditions of the Turkish UAV contract because it is against U.S. rules and regulations. Interestingly enough, for the last 12 years, Turkey, a NATO ally, has operated the GNAT-750 and I-GNAT unmanned aircraft. Both are manufactured by General Atomics of San Diego, California.
04/30/2005 The European Defense Agency (EDA), a relatively new organization created about 10 months ago to identify and coordinate military capabilities within the European Union (EU), wants to steer European defense firms toward more efficient use of their defense budgets. In order to accomplish their mission, the EDA is asking the EU for permission to play an active role in acquisition for the EU. Their first acquisition? Unmanned aircraft. In an April 2005 meeting, the EDA's board authorized the agency to begin searching for a UAV technology demonstrator. The EDA will specify operational capabilities, sensor technology, and vehicle payload - and by the end of 2005 EU officials believe the EDA will organize UAV demonstration projects. Ultimately, the UAV demonstration projects could easily result in the beginning of competitive procedures for defense firms in the Europe Union. The fact that the EDA could issue competitions for acquisitions has some non-EU defense firms concerned, because they feel the EDA acquisitions will only use EU defense firms, essentially creating a closed defense market to foreign (i.e. non-EU) competitors. EDA officials believe that while there is deliberate attempt to create a closed defense market, the structure of the EDA's acquisition policies may actually produce a closed defense market.
04/28/2005 AC Propulsion recently flew an unmanned drone for over 24 hours at a dry lake bed in the southern California area. The aircraft looked essentially like a large, free-flight model aircraft (15'8" wingspan and 25 pounds) and used an electric motor for power. The electric motor was powered with an arrangement of solar cells on the wing and a lithium-ion battery. Control of the aircraft was through a ground control station and the aircraft provided telemetry and video during the flight. Company official announced it was the first flight of a solar-electric aircraft in excess of 24 hours. No information was provided on whether the aircraft thermaled during the flight or flew under engine power the entire time.
04/27/2005 Boeing recently was awarded a $14.5 million UAV contract by the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command. The contract is for a persistent surveillance unmanned aircraft that will provide airborne security to a Naval expeditionary strike group and an oil platform in the Persian Gulf. The deployment is in support of combat operations in Iraq.
04/26/2005 The Pentagon has decided to withhold a portion of funding on the Global Hawk development and procurement program due to cost over-runs. Air Force officials reported that the Global Hawk per-unit cost had risen by 18%, but attributed the over-run in cost to increased requirements for the aircraft's sensor suite, in addition to some problems in manufacturing of the new, larger RQ-4B. The original program ($6.6 billion) was for the development and purchase of 51 aircraft. The Pentagon decided to withhold additional funding on the program until the Air Force provides appropriate "fixes" for the cost over-runs.
04/25/2005 Northrop Grumman's newly modified E-Hunter UAV recently completed high-speed taxi and low-speed controllability tests during its first test flight. The "E" in E-Hunter stands for "endurance". The modified E-Hunters incorporate a longer wing center section and new tail section that allow the aircraft to fly at 20,000 feet for 30 hours.
04/22/2005 Hizbollah militants of Lebanon once again have successfully penetrated the northern border of Israel with an Iranian-built unmanned aircraft. The aircraft, called a Mohajer-4, flew south from a point in southern Lebanon over the border into Israeli airspace and circled at least four cities for approximately 9 minutes before flying back into Lebanon. The unmanned aircraft provided live video feed back to its controllers during the approximately 18-mile long flight. The flight frustrated Israeli air defense officials because they were unable to intercept the aircraft, even though the Israeli Air Force vectored fighters and combat helicopters to the intruding aircraft's position. Even worse, the Israel's sophisticated early warning network did not detect the aircraft - the first reports of the overflight came from local residents of the cities under the aircraft's flight path. Hizbollah officials state that they will continue to fly the drone into Israel as long as Israel continues to violate Lebanese airspace. The last time Lebanon flew the Mohajer-4 into Israel was November of 2004. Hizbollah officials estimated that Israel penetrated the Lebanon border over 80 times in one week. The unmanned aircraft flight may indicate that changes are in order for air defense networks if the networks are not capable of detecting the smaller unmanned aircraft.
04/21/2005 Aurora Flight Sciences announced their first delivery to Northrop Grumman of the new aft fuselage section of the RQ-4B Global Hawk. The RQ-4B is a slightly larger version of the original Global Hawk, capable of carrying a 3,000 pound payload.
04/20/2005 A joint military exercise called the European Challenge began yesterday, a drill involving 17 countries and approximately 4,000 troops. A noteworthy player in the fray is Germany, who, for the first time, will use the Eurofighter aircraft. On the unmanned front, the Luna reconnaissance drone will participate in the exercise.
04/17/2005 The French military procurement agency, DGA, plans to compete a project for an unmanned vertical takeoff and landing aircraft system. Intended specifications for the UAS include the ability to operate in both maritime and ground force environments, meeting the tactical UAS requirements of both forces. The pending request for proposal may peak the interest of Bell Helicopter Textron, providing an opportunity for the company to propose its Eagle Eye tiltrotor UAS. Other companies that may compete for the project include Boeing, EADS, Thales and Northrop Grumman.
04/16/2005 The German Army will purchase 115 Aladin unmanned aircraft for about $32 million in a move to bolster its battlefield surveillance capabilities. The Aladin UAV, built by EMT Ingenieurgesellschaft of Germany, is a relatively small UAV with a wingspan of approximately 1.5 meters. The aircraft is flown by a transportable, suitcase-sized Ground Control Station that basically contains a laptop and antenna system. The aircraft can remain airborne for about four hours and has limited range of about five kilometers. Prior to the purchase, the German Army flew the Aladin in Germany, Kosovo and Afghanistan. German Ministry of Defense officials feel the purchase will put the German Army a step closer toward achieving network-centric warfare, providing soldiers with real-time reconnaissance information and the chance to "look ahead" in battlefield situations. The purchase also plays an important role for the small, 20-employee company of EMT Ingenieurgesellschaft - Belgium, Pakistan and the Netherlands may now be interested in purchasing the aircraft.
04/15/2005 The U.S. Air Force's new, up-coming electronic attack mission is spurring continued development of a small, UAV-based jammer, called the Lightweight Modular Support Jammer. The Air Force would like to conduct flight testing of the upgraded jammer against real threats and has requested BAE Systems to perform the upgrade of the LMSJ in order to link it into an Advanced Threat Alert and Response digital receiver, in addition to studying options relating to a networked electronic attack battle management system. The flight tests are scheduled to take place at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
04/13/2005 DARPA recently completed flight tests of an incredibly small unmanned aircraft called the Wasp. The flight tests took place off the coast of Southern California during a naval excercise of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, with crews onboard the destroyer USS Higgins flying the aircraft. The Wasp, built by AeroVironment in Simi Valley, California, weighs only seven ounces, has a wingspan of 13 inches and carries forward and aft cameras that provide live video feedback to the operator. The aircraft can fly for approximately 100 minutes on lithium-ion batteries and flies a programmed route utilizing GPS waypoint navigation. The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group intends to use the Wasp for maritime interdiction and force protection during its next deployment.
04/11/2005 Northrop Grumman is trying to reign in the cost of its RQ-4B Global Hawk. Original cost estimates of $275 million have escalated by over $150 million, mostly due to design changes in the airframe, including the wing. The cost increase has caused the Pentagon to place a hold on almost $400 million in funding this year while the Air Force figures out a fix for the cost overun. The RQ-4B is a stretched version of the original RQ-4A Global Hawk airframe, with a fuselage that is 3 feet longer, an increased wingspan of 15 feet and a more powerful engine. The increase in size and power provides for a 3,000 pound payload capacity versus the RQ-4A's 2,000 pound capacity. The RQ-4B will also have more electrical power and will feature more advanced sensors, including a new radar built by Northrop Grumman and Raytheon designed to find moving targets on the ground. RQ-4A Global Hawks unit costs ran as high as $75 million per aircraft at one time, but have since been reduced to approximately $35 million. Northrop has delivered five out of seven RQ-4A's to the Air Force, with the final two nearing completion and delivery. The Navy is also slated to receive two RQ-4As this year for maritime demonstrations. The Global Hawk earned high praises by combat commanders during the post 9/11 environment and OEF.
04/08/2005 DARPA's Grand Challenge 2005, the 150 mile, winner-take-all, unmanned ground vehicle race in the Mojave Desert, is slated to run on October 8, 2005. This year's prize is $2 million dollars and DARPA reports they have almost 200 entries. As the race date nears, DARPA will pick approximately 20 finalists for the race. Entries this year range from high school teams to international corporate-sponsored teams. DARPA created the Grand Challenge in order to respond to a Defense Department mandate that at least one third of U.S. Army ground vehicles must be fully autonomous by 2015. By creating the Grand Challenge and a $2 million prize, DARPA is hoping that universities and industry will advance unmanned ground vehicle technologies quicker, thereby meeting the DoD mandate. The first Grand Challenge took place in 2004 and had a $1 million prize. The longest distance achieved that year on the 150 course was 7.4 miles by a team from Carnegie Mellon University.
04/05/2005 The U.S. Navy awarded Raytheon a $26 million contract through 2007 to build 22 turret units for a Multi-Spectral Targeting System that supports the Predator unmanned aircraft.
04/04/2005 SAIC's Vigilante UAV, a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAV, completed an in-flight live firing test of 2.75 inch unguided rockets at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. During the test, the Vigilante UAV system and payload were operated by air-to-air control from a UH-1N Huey helicopter flying nearby.
04/03/2005 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego, California was awarded a $68 million contract by the United States Air Force to develop and demonstrate its MQ-9 Hunter-Killer unmanned aircraft. General Atomics will add weapons carrying capabilities and targeting capabilities to four MQ-9s. The MQ-9 is a modified version of the company's Predator B turboprop UAV.
04/02/2005 Singapore Technologies Aerospace began work on an advanced version of its FanTail, a miniature unmanned aircraft. The 6.4 pound unmanned aircraft is modularly constructed of carbon fiber composite and uses commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) avionics hardware to achieve autonomous low altitude GPS waypoint navigation with 60 minutes of endurance. An aircraft system consists of 3 aircraft and a ground control station and sells for about $250,000.
04/01/2005 Boeing and the Insitu Group recently flew their ScanEagle unmanned aircraft with a new software technology that allowed the aircraft to complete a series of maneuvers and autonomously map its own route during the flight. The software technology is being developed under DARPA's Composition of Embedded Systems program and, when fully developed, will allow an unmanned aircraft to map its own flight path without operator input, fly to a specific area and locate fixed or moving ground targets, monitor weapon strikes and provide damage assessment.
03/31/2005 U.S. Navy officials are grappling with the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) aircraft program as they await a decision by the Pentagon that may allow the U.S. Air Force to become the executive agent for the Pentagon's unmanned aircraft force. BAMS was originally scheduled to be operational in 2008, but delays in the program have pushed the program to 2013. Additionally, the Navy is moving forward on a replacement for its P-3 Orion fleet with a plan to purchase 108 of Boeing's 737 Multi-Mission Maritime aircraft, now designated as the P-8A, by 2019. The Navy purchase of the P-8A is based on an intended purchase of 50 BAMS aircraft. The Navy is looking at both purchase decisions carefully with regard to mission applicability, since unmanned aircraft can accomplish a large part of their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations.
03/29/2005 SAIC and Boeing have released requests for proposals (RFPs) for the United States Army's Future Combat System Class II and Class III unmanned aircraft. The companies expect to award multiple contracts by August of this year. The contracts involve a two-year concept maturation phase followed by selection of finalists for the system design and development phase. Once the design and development phase is complete, the Army and Boeing will select the winning system design.
03/28/2005 The U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command and Warfighting Laboratory is beginning an industry search for a new Tier II unmanned aircraft platform that will support their current combat operations. Their goal is to provide low-level combat units with "round-the-clock, near-real-time intelligence in limited adverse weather" in order to conduct warfare against a concealed and distributed enemy. Specific requirements for the aircraft system include persistent surveillance 12 hours a day for 30 days or non-stop for 10 days, operational range of 27-50 nautical miles, modular payload capabilities (comm relay and SIGINT), autonomous takeoff and landing from unprepared urban environment, fully integrated payload and ground control systems, multi-spectral range-finder, see-and-avoid technology and the ability to transport the system on the MV-22 tiltrotor. If that's not enough, they also want the aircraft to be survivable - and they want it by the end of 2005. Okay...say please and we'll give you a sneak preview of the GT Aeronautics RQ-2 Outlaw - its everything the Marines want to have and more!!
03/27/2005 Sagem and Onera (a French aerospace research agency) will team on a new unmanned aircraft platform named Le Busard, or "Harrier". The Le Busard is a Stemme S10-VT powered glider that will be used to support the development of electronic systems for unmanned aircraft and special mission aircraft. The aircraft will carry two pods that will allow engineers and researchers to test new payloads that are designed to gather information from the air, ground and sea in natural or urban environments. Onera will operate the unmanned aircraft system under a five-year agreement.
03/26/2005 The Israel Air Force would like to upgrade its unmanned aircraft capabilities in an effort to shift more urban warfare responsibilities from Israeli ground forces. IAF officials believe that using unmanned aircraft and improved intelligence technologies can reduce or remove many of the hazards that ground forces face when they are engaged in urban warfare. During urban warfare, ground forces are exposed to ambushes, snipers and suicide attacks, while unmanned aircraft can accomplish the same intelligence gathering missions from the air, avoiding risk to personnel. The IAF would like future UAVs to be more stealthy - essentially quieter and harder to see - so that enemy forces would not even know a UAV is operating near their position. The improvements to UAV technology, in addition to increased networking capabilities for aircraft and ground command centers and better intelligence dissemination technologies, would permit the IAF to control ground operations more effectively and reduce risks. IAF officials believe that a key ingredient to effective air power in an urban environment is the UAV's ability to loiter for long periods of time. The long loiter time (up to 24 hours) allows the UAV to precisely track enemy movements and provide pinpoint targeting information. Manned aircraft can only remain on station for a few hours and it is during the changeover that enemy positions can be lost. By continuously monitoring an urban area of interest, emerging enemy positions can be detected, the enemy cannot move from a known position without being detected and the decision to attack can be made when the enemy's position provides the least collateral damage and/or risk to civilians. The Israel Air Force hopes to field the UAV and IT improvements as soon as possible but add that they must continuously adapt to an "adaptive enemy".
03/24/2005 EADS Military Aircraft is developing an unmanned combat/reconnaissance aircraft (UCAV/URAV) demonstrator that may fly before the end of 2005. EADS officials will not release any definitive information on the project because it is still classified, but do state that the aircraft is approximately the same size as Boeing's X-45A and will have internal weapon-carrying capabilities. If the project stays on schedule, the demonstrator will fly before the end of 2005, certification of the aircraft will take place through 2006 and operational research of the aircraft will begin in 2007. The project is jointly funded by EADS and the German government. Now if we can just get them to call it an "aircraft" instead of an "air vehicle"....
03/22/2005 The U.S. Air Force announced it will establish a "UAV Center for Excellence" at the Indian Springs Auxiliary Air Field in Indian Springs, Nevada. At the core of the UAV Center for Excellence is the UAV Battle Lab, which was formed not long ago as a way to provide rapid UAS technology improvements and combat capabilities to U.S. defense forces. The Air Force views the UAV Center of Excellence as another step toward achieving its goal of becoming the Pentagon's executive agent for all U.S. military unmanned aircraft. Operational goals of the new UAV COE include providing a common structure for UAS command-and-control systems, developing standards and common operating systems, providing training, improving theater interoperability among UAVs and coordinating UAS activity at the operational, tactical and strategic levels of combat. The other services within the U.S. are still wrestling with the idea of the Air Force being the executive agent of UAVs for the DoD. An Army official felt that a single coordinator for UAVs would help with the "joint connectivity" of all UAV operations within the DoD. But it seems that some service officials are concerned about budget issues and who would control each services' "concept of UAV operations". In other words, the other services may want to retain their own way of operating UASs because they feel that they have the best, first-hand knowledge of their own UAS operations. Notwithstanding, the Army, Navy and Marines are generally supportive of the concept of a single UAV executive agent. Air Force officials believe that the UAV COE would not dictate UAS operations, but rather explore the concepts of UAS employment and integration in order to provide recommendations about how best to utilize UAS assetts to achieve battlefield effects. U.S. military services currently operate more than 1,000 unmanned aircraft systems.
03/21/2005 Australia is offering contracts for two unmanned aircraft contracts worth a combined $880 million. The first contract, for the Australian Air Force and worth about $800 million, is for unmanned maritime patrol aircraft. The second contract, for the Australian Army and worth about $80 million, is for unmanned tactical aircraft. Stepping up to the plate for the unmanned maritime patrol aircraft, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Sector (San Diego, CA) announced it will partner with Saab Systems Australia, Tenix Defense Electronics Systems Division and L-3 Communications Integrated Systems (of Melbourne) to offer its RQ-4B Global Hawk as a contract solution. General Atomics will offer its Mariner UAV, a modified Predator B. For the tactical UAV contract, Elbit and ADI of Sydney have teamed to offer a modified Watchkeeper UAV, AAI is partnering with BAE Systems to offer the Shadow 200 UAV and IAI Malat (Israel) and Boeing Australia are joining efforts to offer IAI's "I-View" UAS.
03/17/2005 Britain's Defense Ministry recently agreed to have its Defense Science and Technology Laboratory work with the United States on the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program, providing $40 million in order to investigate the military benefits of unmanned combat aircraft systems for future coalition operations. The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory is part of Britain's Defense Evaluation and Research Agency. Britain had previously established its own UCAV research program with BAE Systems and Qinetiq the main providers. With the newly announced collaboration, information sharing from that research will undoubtedly take place between the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon. The J-UCAS program of the United States, scheduled for completion in 2009 and already underway, is led by DARPA with Boeing and Northrop Grumman the main players. Britain's decision to now work with the United States on J-UCAS may have a direct effect on their involvement with European UCAV research. France began a $400 million UCAV technology demonstrator program about two years ago that involves neighboring countries Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Greece. It is no secret that the European constituents desire Britain's participation in their unmanned combat aircraft programs. Britain states that it will keep its options open, but the recent announcement to collaborate with the U.S. J-UCAS program may be a pre-cursor to Britian's preference in UCAV research.
03/15/2005 As the U.S. Air Force continues to ply for a position as executive agent for the Pentagon's UAV force, the U.S. Army is expressing concerns that if the Air Force proposal is accepted, it may disturb the Army's plans to streamline its combat ground forces and develop next-generation Future Combat Systems. Army officials contend that the Army's ability to become lighter and more adaptable depends largely on unmanned aircraft technology. Specifically, Army officials point out priorities in their UAV requirements that include responsive and agile intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance architectures for Army modularity, support for FCS, coordination between the services and communications relays. Much of the problem centers around who is in control of an unmanned aircraft assett and who owns the UAV assett. The Army contends that the UAV's ISR must be directly under the control of the commander that needs it and that the Army needs dedicated unmanned aircraft assetts in order to meet FCS requirements. Air Force officials contend that they have always been the provider of ISR and that their UAV efforts thus far have been useful to all the services. The U.S. Navy also is playing a role in the discussions and in the past has had issues with Air Force control over UAVs. It certainly appears that one thing is certain - all of the services are grappling to keep unmanned aircraft in their future individual budgets.
03/14/2005 The U.S. Defense Department continues to review costs surrounding the Global Hawk program. Northrop's Global Hawk unmanned aircraft program continually receives requests for more capabilities, which translates into rising costs. The rising costs have the attention of the Pentagon as they wrestle with the budgets of the DoD and try to decide how to fund the future growth of the programs.
03/13/2005 The United States Government Accountability Office doesn't appear pleased with the Defense Department's management of unmanned aircraft technology. The GAO recently asserted that the DoD's leaders are not in a position to make sound decisions concerning unmanned aircraft requirements, nor are they able to establish funding priorities. While the GAO admits that the Joint UAV Planning Task Force has developed a UAV roadmap, it does not have the authority to implement its plans. Additionally, auditors were concerned that the DoD had created UAV requirements that were well beyond current UAV technologies.
03/12/2005 France's procurement agency, the DGA, has announced that it will hold a UAV conference and flight demonstration at its flight test center in Istres, France. The one-week event is designed to facilitate and promote new UAV technology efforts and will begin on May 30, 2005.
03/11/2005 BAE Systems will lead a research effort on autonomous systems. The research program was announced by the British Defense Ministry and is the fourth of its Defense Technology Centers.
03/10/2005 Northrop Grumman used the Proteus manned/unmanned aircraft (of Scaled Composites) earlier this year to conduct the first of a series of demonstration flight tests of weapons release. The aircraft demonstrated inflight release of a 500 pound Mk82 inert unguided bomb as part of an ongoing research effort by Northrop to address DoD requirements for the Medium Altitude/Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aircraft program. The Mk82 was mounted on a pylon on the main fuselage of the Proteus. The test also validated a pnuematic ejector system on the pylon to ensure the weapon separated properly from the aircraft. Northrop is using the tests to aid in the development of a new UAV called Model 395. Model 395 is one of Northrop's future UAV designs that may be used as an unmanned precision strike aircraft. As the series of tests continue, the Proteus will eventually drop up to 3,000 pounds of weapons from multiple ejector racks (MERS) mounted on the fuselage of the aircraft from altitudes as high as 50,000 feet. Weapons used in the tests may include the 250 pound small diameter bomb, the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) and the Paveway II laser-guided weapon. Model 395 will be able to carry up to 6,500 pounds of exterior payload. The test flights took place at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada and were in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force's UAV Battle Laboratory and the 98th Range Wing.
03/09/2005 Northrop Grumman is investigating a new area in unmanned reconnnaissance aircraft technology. Engineers are developing a new unmanned aircraft called a Killer Bee that is designed to fly 30 hours at 15,000 feet with a 7 pound payload or 8 hours with a 20 pound payload. The aircraft is a flying-wing with a 6.5 foot span and a 2.5 horsepower pusher reciprocating engine. A relatively high wing loading makes the aircraft tolerant of high crosswinds during launch. Payload plans for the aircraft include a 6 inch pan/tilt/zoom camera ball with EO/IR capabilities. Officials indicate that future payloads could incorporate two, 3 inch pan/tilt/zoom camera balls that can operate simultaneously in two directions. Deployment, launch and recovery can be accomplished with a Humvee, however, the aircraft is also designed for launch from other manned or unmanned aircraft and is self-stabilizing so that it does not need computers to maintain stable flight. Production aircraft will be built with only three composite pieces, drastically simplifying the manufacturing process. Northrop engineers feel the large volume of the aircraft can accommodate a wide variety of sensor payloads and would like to see the aircraft used for military missions. A prototype of the aircraft is scheduled for flight in the next few weeks.
03/08/2005 The U.S. Air Force is asking the Pentagon to allow it to be the Pentagon's "executive agent" for all unmanned aircraft systems. If the Pentagon concedes, the Air Force would be in charge of guiding the development of all unmanned aircraft for all of the military branches, as well as setting the requirements and standardizing the unmanned aircraft fleet. The move has officials within the Navy and Army concerned because it would mean the Air Force would have authority over unmanned technology growth in their branches, including investment decisions. Critics argue that giving the Air Force control over small, back-packable UASs is unrealistic. But proponents of the move argue that standardization of unmanned technology within the U.S. military forces would best be served by having one agency control the direction of unmanned aircraft growth. Commonality of unmanned aircraft systems between the service branches is a primary goal of the DoD, as well as setting airspace standards for the operation of unmanned aircraft with manned aircraft. Undoubtedly the decision to appoint the Air Force as executive agent will not be taken lightly as the service branch UAV managers continue to evolve the fast-growing unmanned aircraft industry within their respective branches.
03/07/2005 General Atomic's MQ-1 Predator has reached "initial operating capability" in the eyes of the U.S. Air Force. The MQ-1 Predator recently completed 11 different Air Force requirements ranging from training to aircraft availability in order to achieve the rating, even though it has been flying combat missions for years. The MQ-1 version of the Predator fires Hellfire missiles, versus the RQ-1 which is strictly reconnaissance.
03/06/2005 The emerging threat of nuclear weapons in Iran has the CIA back in business with unmanned aircraft. The agency is using I-Gnat and Predator aircraft that were in service early in the Afghanistan war to conduct surveillance missions over Iran. Information collected from the aircraft is then sent to Beale AFB in California (home to the Global Hawk) where it is processed and transmitted by secure line to the proper agencies. And while the Global Hawk is not a primary source for surveillance missions over Iran, the aircraft continues to receive multi-million dollar upgrades in systems and spare aircraft in order to better support efforts in the region. Additionally, a major Global Hawk operating base is being built in the United Arab Emirates for the same reason. The CIA stays relatively quiet on its search for Iranian nuclear facilities and delivery systems due to the "politically sensitive" nature of the operation. However, stories are appearing in Iranian newspapers about overflights of Iranian airspace by unidentified aircraft and Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps has issued orders to shoot down any suspicious aircraft that violates Iranian airspace.
03/05/2005 Arguing for the continued development of a new E-10A battle management and command and control aircraft, U.S. Air Force officials cited a Predator mission early in OEF inwhich the aircraft attempted to shoot down an Iraqi fighter aircraft. Because Predators are flown from the United States via satellite, officials argued that the time delay from the pilot's issuance of the fire command to the missile actually firing is what caused the missile to miss its target. In other words, the latency of communications caused a delay in the release of the missile from the Predator, resulting in a miss of the intended target. The Air Force is searching for ways to reduce the latency of communications in order to achieve better combat results and feel that the E-10A battle management and command and control aircraft can achieve their goals.
03/04/2005 Belgium has, at least for the first phase, decided not to participate in the once seven-nation (now six) consortium that planned to develop the Neuron unmanned combat aircraft system. Belgium cited a lack of necessary investment approvals for its withdrawal. The six remaining countries in the nearly $400 million program include France (leading the program), Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
03/03/2005 It may not be classified as an unmanned aircraft system, but Raytheon Missile System's Extended Range Guided Munition (ERGM) gets the job done when it comes to tactical "unmanned" solutions. The XM-71 ERGM is a rocket-assisted, GPS-guided artillery shell being developed for the U.S. Navy. Designed for use in 5-inch naval guns, the shell's rocket assist allows it to travel 60 miles (nearly four times further than current artillery shells) while being guided by GPS to its target. In a recent test firing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Raytheon fired test shells that acquired the GPS signal after firing, made corrections to their flight path during flight and hit target areas that were 40 nautical miles from the gun. Needless to say, Raytheon officials were pleased. If one can construe ERGM to be a UAS, then ERGM is definitely an expendable UAS.
03/02/2005 Northrop Grumman unmanned systems center in Moss Point, Mississippi will expand to include manufacturing of RQ-4 Global Hawk subassemblies, supplying approximately 100 new manufacturing jobs to the area. Northrop originally intended to build the Fire Scout at the facility.
03/01/2005 Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), India's leading unmanned aircraft systems laboratory, will partner with Israel's IAI to develop three new unmanned aircraft systems. The three aircraft are Rustam, Gagan and Pawan. Rustam is an 1,100 kg aircraft with an endurance of more than 24 hours. The aircraft can achieve a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet and has a range of about 300 kilometers. By using satellite links for data transmission, Rustam can increase its effective surveillance range to nearly 1,000 kilometers. The $100 million development program will begin in mid-2005 and Indian officials state that the aircraft will only be used by India's three military branches and not exported to other countries.
Gagan is an advanced version of India's Nishant UAS and is of slightly less range and performance than Rustam. Gagan will achieve a maximum altitude of 20,000 feet and a range of about 250 kilometers. The aircraft will carry a synthetic aperture radar and electro-optical sensors purchased from Israel, while ADE will develop its own electronic countermeasure systems. The $55 million program for Gagan is slated to develop four prototypes over a period of 42 months.
At 120 kilograms, Pawan is the smallest of the three aircraft, about the same size and performance as the Hermes 180. Pawan will have a range of 150 kilometers and an endurance of about 5 hours, using Israeli-built electro-optical sensors. India plans to purchase the engine from a source outside the country. The $33 million development program will build four prototypes over a period of two years.
02/28/2005 DARPA's Organic Air Vehicle II (OAV-II) program intends to develop and demonstrate (for the U.S. Army) a company-level ducted-fan unmanned aircraft for a variety of missions that include targeting for non-line-of-sight fire operations, maneuver force protection, pathfinding for unmanned and manned ground vehicles and complex environment reconnaissance and surveillance. Last year the OAV-II program awarded three contracts for the first phase of the program. Honeywell International's Defense and Space Electronics Systems of Albuquerque, New Mexico, BAE Systems Aircraft Controls, Inc. of Los Angeles, California and Aurora Flight Sciences, Inc. of Manassas, Virginia were each awarded contracts totaling about $9 million to develop prototypes for the program. The first phase will finish with a preliminary design review. DARPA will then select one or two of the contractors for the second phase and finally select a single contractor for the third and final phase.
02/26/2005 Telephonics of Farmingdale, New York has been contracted over the next 18 months to provide a modified version of its RDR-1700B radar for integration on the U.S. Coast Guard's HV-911 vertical takeoff unmanned aircraft. The radar is a lightweight imaging radar and will provide the HV-911 with see-and-avoid capabilities, in addition to search and rescue, weather avoidance and maritime surveillance capabilities. The designator of the modified version of the radar will be RDR-1700CG.
02/25/2005 Smiths Aerospace of Santa Ana, California will supply the landing gear for Northrop Grumman's X-47B unmanned aircraft. The X-47B is part of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program inwhich Boeing is also a player with its X-45. In the $150 million contract, Smiths Aerospace will provide a landing gear for the X-47B that is suitable for U.S. Navy aircraft carrier operations. The landing gear systems are scheduled for delivery in 2006. Under the J-UCAS program, Northrop will build three X-47B aircraft. Flight testing of the aircraft is scheduled for 2007.
02/23/2005 General Atomics of San Diego, California has announced that the company will expand into a new facility that has over 160,000 square feet of production space available. The move is due to rising demand for General Atomic's Predator unmanned aircraft.
02/20/2005 At the Aero India 2005 air show, Israel Aircraft Industries displayed some of its smaller unmanned aircraft that can be catapulted or hand-launched. Included in the display was the Bird 400 mini UAV and the Mosquito advanced micro UAV. IAI officials indicated that the Mosquito is ideally suited for urban warfare.
02/19/2005 Turkey is evaluating its short- and long-term UAV requirements. Turkish military authorities would like to meet the country's long-term UAV needs through their own national UAV program, with $30 million ear-marked for the program already. The program will involve "in-country" development of an unmanned aircraft system that includes a ground control station and three aircraft. The Turkish unmanned prototype would have flight characteristics similar to the Predator, flying at altitudes of 30,000 or more with flight endurance of approximately 24 hours. Turkey's defense procurement office recently awarded the development effort to Turkish Aircraft Industries. While Turkish officials anticipate handling long-term UAV requirements in-house, they feel their short-term UAV requirements (three systems and ten aircraft) must be met through purchase from a foriegn supplier. Contenders for Turkey's short-term UAV requirment include teaming arrangements between local Turkish prime contractors, Israeli Aircraft Industries and Elbit Systems. General Atomics also supplied offers in teaming arrangements with Turkish contractors.
02/18/2005 Included in the U.S. Air Force's overall $103 billion budget request for 2006 are unmanned aircraft funding requests of $125 million for nine Predator aircraft and $327 million for five Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
02/17/2005 A new unmanned aircraft concept known as a High-Altitude Reconnaissance Vehicle, or HARVe, may add a new dimension to UAS operations of the future. The design concept is based on vehicles that are actually high-altitude balloons operating at near-space altitudes of approximately 100,000 feet. The vehicles would carry the same type of sensors that unmanned aircraft carry today, except that the vehicle is capable of operating at altitude for weeks or even months at a time. In order to address the challenge of getting the vehicle through the problematic low-level and upper-level turbulence and winds of the earth's atmosphere, designers envision the vehicle as a small package that is carried aloft by a rocket, cruise missile or aircraft, then deployed and inflated. The HARVe would utilize solar panels and electric propulsion to keep itself on station. Scientists feel the cruise missile carrier of the HARVe vehicle would offer the greatest cost-effectiveness and flexibility. After being launched from an aircraft stationed safely out of a combat zone, the cruise missile carrier would fly a pre-programmed route into the combat zone in order to deploy the HARVe. Typical HARVe sensor payloads would provide persistent surveillance or communication relays to battlefield commanders in a target area. Developers of the HARVe and the near-space concept anticipate a possible demonstration platform of HARVe in as few as two to four years.
02/16/2005 Boeing's two X-45A UCAVs have completed additional flight testing inwhich the two vehicles simulated a joint attack on two, emitting surface-to-air missile sites. Through software, the two unmanned aircraft "talked" to each other and were able to determine which vehicle was in the best position to attack the emitting target. Both aircraft had an opportunity to carry out a simulated attack on one of two emitting SAM sites while flying in a loose, 25nm formation at over 300mph.
02/15/2005 The British Defense Ministry is pulling back on any future additional large-scale unmanned aircraft system programs (except for the Watchkeeper program) mainly due to budgetary concerns, regulatory/legal issues and concerns over what, if any, manpower efficiencies are generated through the use of unmanned aircraft. Budget and efficiency gains are always prominent players when establishing procurement funding for UAS programs. The regulatory issues involve airspace operational authority of unmanned aircraft and the legal issues involve armed UASs and the removal of humans from aerial warfare and rules of engagement. Based on all of these concerns, officials indicate that there probably will not be any major British UAS programs funded until after the year 2015. The announcement was undoubtedly disappointing to UAS industry manufacturers. Programs that may be reduced include the Joint UAV Experimentation Program (JUEP) and classified research and development of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV). But while the MoD may not be able to pursue large-scale UAV programs over the next few years, there is an indication of an emerging need for acquisition of a limited number of unmanned aircraft systems. The British currently still use the Canberra PR9 aircraft for reconnaissance, but may find a suitable unmanned successor to the aircraft through limited purchases of General Atomics' Predator B. The Brits are already testing a Predator as a possible replacement. If the Predator B is purchased as an interim replacement to the Canberra, the operational versions of the aircraft would be fitted with an EO/IR reconnaissance pod. In the meantime, British officials continue to pursue solutions to their concerns in order to determine a UAS procurement game-plan that will fulfill all of their needs.
02/15/2005 While the British Ministry of Defense scales back plans on future UAS procurement, they have also announced the successful completion of flight tests of a modified version of the Raptor reconnaissance pod, carried aloft onboard a Predator B unmanned aircraft. The Raptor reconnaissance pod was originally developed for use with the Tornado GR4 aircraft. But by modifying the pod (mainly reducing its weight), engineers were able to retrofit the pod onboard the Predator B unmanned aircraft and explore emerging Long-Range, Long-Endurance (LRLE) requirements for Britain's reconnaissance aircraft. Currently British reconnaissance operations are conducted by the Canberra PR9 aircraft. But with LRLE capabilities not expected until after 2010 and the PR9 scheduled for retirement in 2006 without a suitable replacement, Britian is considering using the modified Raptor reconnaissance pod coupled with a Predator B as the interim fix until LRLE technology is operational. The flight tests of the modified Raptor reconnaissance pod/Predator B combination were completed under the auspices of Britain's Joint UAV Experimentation Program.
02/14/2005 Based on information provided in the Pentagon's Fiscal 2006 budget plan, the U.S. Navy will hold off on the planned purchase of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned high altitude endurance aircraft system and, in the meantime, use funding for sensor development. The Navy intends to purchase four aircraft in 2011 or later. Other progams the Navy will continue to develop are the Fire Scout and Eagle Eye programs. Eagle Eye, not previously scheduled for procurement, will now begin procurement as a tactical UAS for the Marines with the program continuing through 2009.
02/13/2005 Northrop Grumman is using a prototype version of its Hunter II unmanned aircraft as a demonstrator for its new medium altitude, endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The Hunter II's original mission was medium-to-long-range ground surveillance and communications relay. The company announced the completion of the first phase of flight testing for the newly modified aircraft and intends to use the aircraft for a precision weapons platform in the future.
02/11/2005 U.S. Army pilots recently demonstrated a breakthrough in unmanned aviation by remotely piloting an unmanned rotorcraft from another helicopter while airborne. Not only did they fly the unmanned helicopter, the pilots fired four 2.75 inch rockets from the aircraft also. The goal of the Army is to use unmanned helicopters, flown from the manned helicopter, to clear a path ahead when in enemy territory. The expendable, unmanned helicopter will use its sensors and weapons to neutralize enemy forces along the flight path so that the manned helicopter can proceed. In the test, the unmanned helicopter was a Vigilante rotorcraft and the manned helicopter was a UH-1 Iroquois. The test took place in the Yuma, Arizona Proving Grounds. The rockets used are unguided and carried dummy warheads. In future tests, the Army would like to use a laser designator and a laser-guided Low-Cost Precision Kill weapon - though funding for the program is still underway.
02/10/2005 The U.S. Air Force, in an effort to increase the ability of unmanned aircraft to gather intelligence, is asking the aerospace industry for new ideas in the area of artificial intelligence, digital processing hardware and the software used in the application. The hope is to establish improved SIGINT collection and analysis. The three-year program could start this year and may be worth as much as $24 million.
02/09/2005 Officials from Honeywell announced that flight testing of their Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) has begun. The MAV is a very small unmanned aircraft (we'll get 'em to call it what it is someday!) that will carry cameras and chemical sensors when it becomes operational. Flight testing will continue through March. Upon completion, Honeywell will provide the U.S. Army with ten of the aircraft for evaluation and testing.
02/08/2005 Unmanned system industry experts and representatives convened in Washington, D.C. this week for AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2005. The 3-day conference covered land, air and sea unmanned systems, with focus on unmanned aircraft taking place on the second day of the conference. A wide array of speakers presented information to the audience about future unmanned aircraft operations, including presentations by each branch of the U.S. military and the U.S. Coast Guard (now a part of the Department of Homeland Security). Dyke Weatherington, the Department of Defense Deputy of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Planning Task Force, presented information on the DoD UAS Roadmap with special emphasis on defining the future roles of unmanned aircraft systems and four areas of interest that will get the most focus from the DoD in the future. Dr. Mike Francis, Director of DARPA's Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program, briefed the attendees of the continuing development efforts in the J-UCAS program and the ongoing effort to develop commonality of systems so that the operating systems of each UAS are compatible with each other. NTSB member Richard Healing discussed the entry of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System and the need for close coordination between industry, the FAA and other controlling agencies in order to avoid "post-accident, reactionary rule-making" for UASs versus pre-emptive rule-making. Other briefings included information on the Global Hawk, the Dragon Eye and artificial coordination between unmanned aircraft and unmanned ground/sea vehicles. The conference included exhibits from various companies and was very well attended.
02/07/2005 Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk will upgrade its Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS) by 2006, doubling the range of the aircraft's EO/IR cameras and increasing its Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) range by fifty percent. The ISS contains an electro-optical digital camera, an infrared camera and a synthetic aperture radar with a ground moving target indicator, providing near-real-time, high resolution, still-frame images of large geographical areas. Images are collected from altitudes as high as 65,000 feet. The SAR weighs 612 pounds (not for a small UAS) and the EO/IR system weighs 300 pounds. But the weight of the system carries a privilege - the ability to search a 40,000 square nautical mile area in 24 hours - or take 1,900 two-kilometer-square spot images in the same amount of time. All images/data can be downlinked simultaneously. And unlike satellites, the Global Hawk flyover is not predictable. Terrorists beware! We're watching!
02/05/2005 The U.S. Army has ordered yet another full-rate production contract for the Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft. The $71.9 million contract, the third for the AAI Corporation Shadow, will exercise options for eight more of the TUAV systems. A TUAV system consists of two ground control stations (GCS) and four aircraft, which means AAI will produce 32 new RQ-7B Shadows and 16 new ground control stations. Over the next 20 months, the new order also provides for spare parts and maintenance equipment. The Shadow is used by the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and its deployed operation in both areas is directly responsible for saving the lives of U.S. and Coalition soldiers.
02/04/2005 In post-election Iraq, Italy will maintain its troop presence, aided by four, newly-purchased Italian Predator unmanned aircraft. Italy trained Italian pilots to fly the Predator and will use the unmanned aircraft to enhance its military presence in Iraq.
02/03/2005 The 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base in California recently began flight testing of a new software program for the Global Hawk called Automatic Contigency Generation, or ACG. The new software simplifies Global Hawk mission planning by reviewing pilot change inputs to the flight plan and automatically recalculating a new route that takes into account abnormal situations, restricted airspace and other in-flight variables. Officials believe the new ACG software will cut mission planning time in half.
02/02/2005 The U.S. Air Force's first Global Hawk unmanned aircraft squadron received its first aircraft, an RQ-4A. The squadron, designated the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, is based at Beale AFB in northern California. The squadron is part of the Air Force's 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which is home to the U-2 aircraft. Beale AFB was also home to the world-class SR-71 Blackbird.
02/01/2005 India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) may get some help with UAS technology from Israel. Indian officials stated that Israel has volunteered to collaborate on UAS projects with India, including the Nishant, Searcher I, Searcher II and Heron unmanned aircraft. Since 1999, India has signed annual weapons and equipment contracts with Israel with values ranging between $250 million and $400 million. Imminent is a new contract for 50 Heron UASs worth $200 million by itself. Officials from both countries indicate that the continuing collaboration is a great step forward in their relationship and that it will allow India Defense Forces to maintain cutting-edge defense equipment.
01/29/2005 In a company-funded project, General Atomics has successfully flown its Predator with a heavy fuel engine (HFE) in order to meet the U.S. Army's "single fuel" service objective. The new engine provides more horsepower and increased fuel efficiency, allowing the Predator to fly above 25,000 feet. The HFE version of the Predator will be renamed "Warrior" and General Atomics will propose the Warrior in response to the U.S. Army's extended-range, multi-purpose (ERMP) UAS program. Other aircraft expected to compete include the Israeli-built Heron and Northrop Grumman's Hunter II.
01/28/2005 Operating in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps, Boeing's ScanEagle UAV has now logged over 1,000 hours of flight time. Two "Mobile Deployment Units" (MDU) of ScanEagle are operating in Iraq with the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to tactical commanders. An MDU consists of several aircraft, computers, communication data links and ground equipment. ScanEagle is launched by catapult and recovered by flying into a rope hanging from a 50 foot pole.
01/27/2005 Development and production approval for Great Britain's Watchkeeper program, scheduled for December 2004, has been delayed because the Ministry of Defense is concerned about inherent risk in the project. The $1.6 billion project was awarded to Thales UK in July 2004 and is a major portion of British Army's transformation into a network-centric operation, providing intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) from unmanned aircraft systems. MoD officials indicate the program's risk assessment phase was extended in order to better understand certain aspects of the program that have higher potential for problems, such as airworthiness, evaluation & acceptance approval and ground systems integration. The extended risk assessment phase is not expected to continue past the summer of 2005. The Watchkeeper program is now based on operation of the Israeli-built (Elbit Systems) Hermes 450 and 180 unmanned aircraft, though officials close to the program indicate that the Hermes 180 may be dropped because of operational mission requirements and changes in technology. The delay in Watchkeeper may force the British government to purchase an interim UAS as a gap-stop, since Watchkeeper was slated to be operational by mid-2006. Thales has submitted an unsolicited proposal for an interim UAS purchase. Interm UASs under consideration include the General Atomic's Predator and the EADS-built Eagle - both medium altitude, long endurance UASs.
01/26/2005 Northrop Grumman, under a DARPA contract worth $11.6 million, is developing new information technology that could be used in low-flying unmanned aircraft systems. We love acronyms - this is a good one - the technology is called Heterogeneous Urban Reconnaissance, surveillance and Target acquisition team...HURT for short. The new technology is designed to allow soldiers on the battlefield to have direct access to imaging from low-flying UASs, thus providing more timely and accurate information about enemy positions and movements. The contract may lead Northrop to develop an autonomous system that can coordinate the delivery of intelligence data from multiple sources, including unmanned aircraft...thereby putting the "hurt" on the enemy!
01/24/2005 The Dutch Air Force recently published a request for information regarding a Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV in an effort to place a vehicle into service by 2009. Responders to the RFI included General Atomics, Thales, Elbit and EADS. The Netherlands had previously indicated an intent to participate in the French-led EuroMALE program. The RFI has caused France to give the Netherlands a deadline of mid-2005 to decide if they want to participate in the EuroMALE program or go their own way. Dutch companies involved with business opportunities in the UAV requirement stated that they have revised their approach to establishing a MALE UAV capability in the Netherlands due to a change of course by the French. Dutch Ministry of Defense officials indicated that the original EuroMALE agreement was a bilateral agreement, but that it had changed to a multinational agreement. The change created a concern that the Dutch UAV industry would not be fully represented. Dutch MoD officials noted that they will pursue a dual-track approach to procuring a UAV system - either participating in the EuroMALE program or procuring an existing off-the-shelf system from another supplier.
01/23/2005 The U.S. Army continues to develop its UAV roadmap "on the fly", with its operational UAV fleet in Iraq providing direction for the strategic use of UAVs. Army officials admit that nailing down a doctrine for effective use of UAVs is a daunting task, citing an extremely great, maturing technology that is still in its infancy. The difficulty lies in trying to map an effective strategy with a technology that is advancing and changing at a rapid rate. Much of the Army's evaluation of UAV technology centers around procedures, techniques and tactics, as well as airspace management and manned/unmanned co-operations. Maintenance and training are also logistical challenges that need direction. Infrastructures must be developed along with the vehicles in order to support the complex systems during combat operations. The Army currently operates approximately 150 UAV systems and will operate over 200 systems by October of 2004.
01/22/2005 General Atomics of San Diego, California appears poised to release a new, jet-powered version of its Predator called Predator C. The new UAV is designed to compete with Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk, offering slightly lower performance at much lower costs. The Predator C is currently under construction and is expected to make its debut later this year. In an effort to scale down its own costs, Northrop Grumman is developing a scaled-down version of its own Global Hawk, in addition to building a new UAV that is based on Scaled Composites' Proteus UAV.
01/21/2005 Congress is pushing the U.S. Air Force to develop a new fleet of bombers by 2015 that will replace its current fleet of aged B-52s and B-1s...and even the B-2. Currently the Air Force operates 76 B-52s, 63 B-1s and 21 B-2s. While no formal specifics have been provided in the requirement, defense industry officials from Lockheed, Northrop and Boeing have provided a number of ideas, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, such as Boeing's X-45. Factors driving the new bomber plan include the ability to strike any spot on the earth within hours or even minutes. Consequently, it appears that there may be a desire to move to smaller, stealthy, strike-type bombers instead of the larger versions currently in use. Discussions are evolving around modifications to the F-22 that will increase its un-refueled range to 1,800 miles - rivaling the B-2s 2,200 mile range - thereby making the F-22 a viable strike-bomber. It is these discussions that could open the door for unmanned variants to the plan. Unmanned aerial vehicles do not require any environmental equipment and could conceivably equal the F-22 in payload and range if the Air Force does indeed decide to pursue smaller, stealthy bombers for their future bomber fleet. The Air Combat Command in Langley, Virginia is examining ideas and will analyze the options over the next few years.
01/20/2005 On the back-burner now until 2008 are procurement plans for large amphibious assault ships for Israeli Defence Forces. The assault ships are designed to carry helicopters, tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles and will someday provide a more strategic naval force to Israel. Potential contractors for the future program include Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
01/19/2005 If you think unmanned vehicles are not a serious defense threat to foreign militaries, consider the Indian Air Defense Competition. The Indian Air Force is competing a $325 million contract between two finalist firms for the Low Level Quick Reaction Missile program. The two firms involved in the end-game of the competition are Rafael from France and MBDA of Israel. The goal of the LLQRM program is to develop a missile that can quickly knock down aircraft, helicopters, precision-guided munitions and ...you guessed it...unmanned aerial vehicles.
01/18/2005 Honeywell is developing a Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) that soldiers in the field can carry on their back. The vehicle, operating much like a helicopter, has a 13 inch wingspan and is powered by a ducted propeller. Power is provided by a gasonline engine. Initial flight tests were recently completed and Honeywell officials are excited about the potential of their new autonomous surveillance MAV.
01/17/2005 Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk received a new upgrade called Advanced Information Architecture that provides battlefield soldiers with state-of-the-art imagery. With the new system, soldiers on the ground are equipped with an X-band line-of-sight antenna that is connected to a laptop or PDA through field radios. A soldier then has the ability to download stored images from the Global Hawk or request Global Hawk operators to photograph a particular area. Even more amazing, it is possible to select a certain area under observation and increase the magnification, "clicking down" in order to view images in great detail. Also provided in the new architecture are the lat/long coordinates of the viewed area, which allows the soldier to precisely target enemy positions, as well as identify the positions of friendly forces. The Air Force is pleased with the results of the new capabilities and has requested that the system be incorporated into all Global Hawks.
01/15/2005 Teledyne Technologies has aligned itself with Germany's "Rheinmetall Defense Electronics in order to once again develop unmanned aerial vehicles. Teledyne, in conjunction with its predecessor Ryan, pioneered unmanned aerial vehicles and built remotely piloted vehicles for over 40 years before being purchased by Northrop years ago. With the new alliance, Teledyne Technologies will now develop two new UAV systems. One is a multipurpose reconnaissance UAV known as the Prospector and will incorporate a high-precision targeting and navigation system. The other vehicle, known as Thunder, will carry onboard weapons and is designed to identify and engage targets. Both systems are derived from German counterparts - the Prospector from Germany's KZO system and the Thunder from the Taifun UAV. Rheinmetall is Germany's primary supplier of UAV systems to the German military forces.
01/11/2005 L-3 Communications once again is adding to its cadre of companies by purchasing a division of CMC Electronics that is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, for $172 million. CMC Electronics manufactures infrared products, specifically space vehicle electronics and products, infrared detectors, missile warning systems and imaging sensors. The new division of L-3 will be known as L-3 Communications Cincinnati Electronics Inc. and will provide IR sensors to CMC for its Enhanced Vision System. The move by L-3 is predicated on increased future demand for electro-optic and infrared sensors.
01/09/2005 Boeing's X-45A recently completed a 46 minute test flight at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, inwhich control of the vehicle was transferred after takeoff to a control station approximately 900 miles away at a Boeing facility in Seattle, Washington. The Seattle pilot controlled the X-45 for six minutes of the 46 minute flight, changing airspeed and altitude a few times before transferring control back to the X-45 pilot at Dryden. The flight marked the first beyond-line-of-sight control of the J-UCAS X-45A aircraft.
01/07/2005 The Pentagon recently indicated that the cost of UAVs needs to be contained in order to keep UAVs on the government "buy list" for military operations. Over the last few years, UAV sales have increased at a rapid rate - and so has the price of a UAV. Industry experts point out that UAV costs have increased mostly because military requirements for the vehicles (expecially in sensor payloads) have increased. Government officials agree, however they still are concerned that UAV costs will eventually outrun the usefulness of the hardware, once again rendering manned aircraft a better option. Currently, UAVs are hot items on most military "wish lists" and it does not appear that their usefulness will disappear anytime soon. U.S. military services today operate over 700 unmanned aerial vehicles and the Pentagon believes that the number of operational UAVs will quadruple by the year 2010.
01/06/2005 Under the guidance of CEO Frank Lanza, L-3 Communications, a major defense electronics and communications company, has acquired BAI Aerosystems, of Easton, Maryland. BAI manufactures UAV airframes, sensor payloads and control systems. The move adds BAI's Javelin, Tern and Exdrone UAV platforms to L-3's already growing UAV portfolio.
01/05/2005 Germany's Rheinmetall Defense Electronics and France's Sagem have joined forces with Bell Helicopter Textron of the United States to develop a new tactical vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VUAV). The vehicle is tailored after Bell's Eagle Eye VUAV and is intended for use with military forces in Europe. Sagem and Rheinmetall will provide C4I integration, data links, EO/IR sensor payloads, simulators and ground control stations. The U.S. version of the Eagle Eye is scheduled to make its initial flight(s) in the second quarter of 2005.
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