Forget the MQ-8 Fire Scout! Here’s the QH-50 DASH, a true Cold War drone!

An unmanned helicopter of the type Drone-Anti-Submarine-Helicopter (DASH) during the NATO exercise Matchmaker III in the North Sea in March 1967. Photographer: Egon Steiner. Copyright: Egon Steiner/dpa/Corbis.

US Navy MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle completes first day of flying

131031-N-SW486-022 Point MUGU, Calif. (Oct. 31, 2013) An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu. The Navy’s newest variant of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter completed its first day of flying Oct. 31 with two flights reaching 500 feet altitude. The MQ-8C air vehicle upgrade will provide longer endurance, range and greater payload capability than the MQ-8B. Initial operating capability for the MQ-8C is planned for 2016, with the potential for an early deployment in 2014. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman/Released)

How long before China acquires blueprints for the X-47B?

“What R&D breakthroughs are required to give China a carrier-borne UCAV?” Seriously? Nicking the plans for the X-47B would do it. Certainly overcomes all the obstacles that the article claims need to be overcome. Has China suddenly developed an aversion to industrial espionage? Doubtful.

What R&D breakthroughs are required to give China a carrier-borne UCAV?

Military experts are currently speculating on whether China’s aircraft carrier may be equipped with unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV). This has not only increased public interest in these new “robot fighters”, but also led China’s military devotees to wonder whether China’s forthcoming self-developed aircraft carrier will similarly be equipped with shipborne UCAVs.

The technical threshold of the unmanned air vehicle is relatively low. A company that can manufacture sophisticated model aircraft has the technology to develop a UAV. However, the threshold of a UCAV is more than 10 times higher than that of a UAV. The combat capability of UCAV requires particular abilities in target identification and autonomous attack. Thus the requirements of the observing and targeting system (eyes), the control system (brain), and the communication system (mouth and ears) of a UCAV are very high. On the one hand, the UCAV should be able to detect the target that is to be attacked, while transmitting images to remote controllers; on the other hand, the UCAV should be able to receive remote directions based on human judgment, and then launch attacks or engage in combat under remote control.

Shipborne UAVs were not manufactured specifically for aircraft carriers. It is already the case that some advanced modern destroyers and surface vessels have been equipped with shipborne UAVs.

But the greater platform size of an aircraft carrier creates the opportunity for large-scale UAVs with combat and attack capabilities. However, this presents a technical difficulty – carrier-borne UCAVs need all the functions of ordinary UCAVs, but also require an independent capacity to take off from and land on aircraft carriers. The requirements of carrier-borne UCAVs include not only attack and combat capability, but also the delicate maneuvers of ‘intelligent’ aircraft.

Therefore the development of a carrier-borne UCAV involves extremely high research costs and a complex development process. If China intends to commission UCAVs similar to the US carrier-borne X-47B, five technical breakthroughs must be made.

The first is advanced aerodynamic design. It can be seen from the shape of the X-47B that these designs improve stealth, increase flight range, and respond to the demands of air attack and combat. The X-47B, the UK “Taranis”, and France’s “Neuron” all feature a recessed rear inlet and flying-V wings.

The second step is advanced flight control technology. This is the real technical challenge for the UCAV. The carrier-borne UCAV requires a full range of capabilities covering takeoff, cruise, combat, withdrawal, and landing. The demands on the electronic take-off and landing systems for the moving deck of an aircraft carrier are significantly higher than the requirements for a land-based airport.

A UCAV’s flight control equipment adjusts the craft in flight. This requires the flight control computer to implement planning and design according to a series of algorithms as quickly as possible after feedback, and update in response to environment changes detected by sensors.

Combat imposes high demands on the UCAV’s flight control system. Whether in aerial combat or an attack on an enemy target, both the UCAV itself and the target can be moving at high speeds. The flight control system must be able to control the aerial maneuvers of the UCAV in response to a dynamic battlefield environment.

Returning to and landing on the aircraft carrier are the steps with the highest accident rate for both manned and unmanned combat aircraft. Therefore, China’s shipborne UCAV will require not only advanced satellite navigation, but also a higher specification of flight control system to achieve a safe landing.

The third element is intelligent attack-defense integrated firing control. The U.S. military classifies UAVs in levels ranging from ACL-1 to ACL-10 (totally autonomous). A relatively complete firing control system begins at level ACL-4. The more advanced generation of shipborne UCAVs such as the X-47B are classified at level ACL-6, that is a UAV with the capacity to deal with sudden threats and targets in the form of multiple drones. At this level, the shipborne UCAV is required to have an autonomous attack-defense integrated firing control system with a significant degree of “intelligence”.

The fourth feature is a high thrust-weight ratio turbofan, achieved at low cost. The turbojet/turbofan engines used on American UCAVs are always derived from civil engines or manned military planes. For example, the X-47B uses the F100-220U turbofan engine derived from the F-100, originally developed for the F-16. The characteristics and combat environment for a UCAV require that its engine should have a low fuel consumption rate, a high thrust-weight ratio, low R&D and purchase costs, convenience for maintenance, and fitness for long-term storage.

The fifth element is information security. Communications between the UCAV and the remote controller are very likely to be targeted for disruption by the adversary. Thus the UCAV must use the most sophisticated network security technology, and error-free self-destruct programs.

Although the UCAV is an excellent weapon, the technical difficulties cannot be ignored. UCAV development experts throughout the world have racked their brains in search of solutions to the problems posed by intelligent flight and firing control systems, and the need to guarantee information transmission security.

In the development of a carrier-borne UCAV, we need to exercise patience. If China intents to research and develop such an aircraft, then high-tech combat attributes should perhaps be considered as a second phase. Functions such as early warning, investigation, and relay-guidance of UAV can be executed as a first priority.

Royal Navy signs £30m contract for Boeing ScanEagle reconnaissance drone

UK warships on operations will benefit from a surveillance craft capable of flying for 24 hours, under a £30m ($47m) contract to Boeing Defence UK Limited signed by the MOD.

ScanEagle UAV leaves its launcher. Crown Copyright 2013.

The ScanEagle will be launched from the deck of Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships by day or night to provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR).

ScanEagle UAV in flight. Crown Copyright 2013.

The ScanEagle is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by the Boeing subsidiary Insitu. In service with the US military since 2005, the ScanEagle is also operated by the Royal Navy, the Republic of Singapore Navy and the Canadian Army.

Crew: none on-board (unmanned aerial vehicle)
Length: 3.9 feet (1.19 meters) ()
Wingspan: 10.2 feet (3.1 meters) ()
Loaded weight: 39.7 lbs (18 kilograms) ()
Powerplant: 1 × 3W 2-stroke piston engine, 1.5 hp
Maximum speed: 55-80 mph
Endurance: 20 + hours
Service ceiling: 16,000 feet above ground level (4,876 meters)

VIDEO: Lockheed Martin Unmanned Systems (2013)

X-47B demonstrators will continue flying into FY 2014

Good decision. Don’t retire ’em… keep flying ’em.

US Navy hopes to fly X-47B demonstrators into 2014

The US Navy hopes to continue flying its two Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system demonstrators (UCAS-D). The service had earlier said that the prototypes would be retired after the type had demonstrated the ability to make carrier arrested recoveries onboard the USS George H W Bush: an achievement first made on 10 July.

“The two X-47B air vehicles will reside at [NAS Patuxent] River [Maryland] while the N-UCAS programme continues to assess potential opportunities for additional test operations at Pax River and at-sea,” the US Naval Air Systems Command says. “These efforts will focus on reducing risks for the follow-on unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike [UCLASS] programme and help the navy to better understand how to operate unmanned systems of this size in the areas of research and development.”

US Navy

Analyst Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute says that the USN will continue to fly the X-47B because many critics had charged that the service was prematurely retiring the two testbeds. “Navy leaders are responding to criticism and probably the likelihood that sequestration will seriously hinder and/or delay UCLASS,” she says.

The X-47B aircraft are now expected to continue flying into 2014.

Spanish Navy acquires first Skeldar V-200 UAV

The Spanish Navy has acquired its first Skeldar V-200 UAV from Swedish company Saab AB at a cost of €2.5 million.

La Armada española adquiere su primer UAV, un “Skeldar V-200” de SAAB, por 2,5 millones de euros

La Armada dispondrá por fin de su primer avión no tripulado embarcado. La Dirección de Abastecimiento y Transportes de la Armada ha anunciado la formalización del expediente 34/13, relativo a la adquisición de un sistema aéreo no tripulado embarcado, por el que, por un monto de 2,5 millones de euros, resulta adjudicataria, con fecha 26 de junio, la firma sueca SAAB AB. Si bien el BOE no especifica el modelo, fuentes de la Armada han confirmado que se trata del “Skeldar V-200”. La fecha de entrega, así como la posibilidad de incrementar el número de pedidos, se desconoce.

Diseñado sobre la base del fuselaje CybAero APID 55, el prototipo Skeldar 5 POC efectuó su primer vuelo en mayo de 2006, pasando a denominarse Skeldar V-200 en 2008. Con capacidad de despegue y toma vertical (VTOL), este helicóptero no tripulado posee un radio de misión de 15 km, una velocidad máxima de 130 km/h y autonomía de hasta cinco horas con una carga máxima útil de 40 kg. Sus dimensiones son de 1,3 m de alto por 1,2 metros de ancho. El diámetro del rotor es de 4,7 m.

El “Skeldar V-200”, programa que comenzó en 2004, se confirma como un modelo óptimo para realizar labores de control y vigilancia, económicamente en términos más rentables que los costes de este tipo de misiones desempeñadas por un helicóptero tripulado. La estación de control de la aeronave incluye un ordenador para coordinar y gestionar las misiones, además de las cargas que lleva incorporadas el avión. En cuanto al número de operadores que necesita, puede variar entre dos y cuatro.

Ya en 2010 la Armada española anunciaba la decisión de equiparse con UAVs embarcados. El objetivo principal era potenciar las posibilidades y facultades del contingente español desplazado en el Índico en el contexto de la “Operación Atalanta”. En un principio, y según confirmara el Jefe de la División de Planes del Estado Mayor de la Armada, José Antonio Ruesta, en declaraciones a los medios de comunicación hace ya tres años, se contaba con un presupuesto de hasta 8 millones de euros para dotarse con este tipo de sistemas. Visto lo visto, a día de hoy, la cantidad asignada se sitúa casi cuatro veces por debajo de lo entonces estipulado.

Entre los dispositivos que habrían presentado mayores posibilidades para hacerse con este contrato se apuntó al “Scan Eagle” de Boeing, prototipo que ya ha sido probado en circunstancias semejantes a las que se quiere destinar el “Skeldar V-200”. Otro de los pretendientes al contrato fue el “Camcopter S-100”, en un proyecto conjunto elaborado por la firma española SENER y la austriaca Schiebel.

MQ-4C Triton may fill UK operational gap following cancellation of Nimrod MRA4

The MQ-4C Triton may fill an operational gap faced by the Royal Navy following the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4.

Although I’d wager a Frobisher & Gleason raspberry-flavored ice lolly that the RAF claim the RPVs as “theirs” and shunt the RN to one side.

Northrop Grumman displays MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drone in the UK

The first MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drones were recently delivered to the US Navy. Photo: Northrop Grumman

After avoiding high profile, expensive events such as the Paris Airshow, Northrop Grumman opted to become one of the principal industry sponsors at the 19th annual Waddington International Air Show, being heldJuly 6-7 at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire in the UK. Defense-Update reports.

The company will display here a full scale model of the MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drone it is building for the US Navy. There are several reasons for the appearance of the Triton here – the US Navy is seeking overseas basing for this drone, and Northrop Grumman is looking for new international markets for the aircraft, the UK is likely to be one of these markets.

For the Brits, the maritime surveillance capability of Triton could fulfil a capability gap created after the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) were phased out in 2010 and development of a new generation MPA aircraft terminated under the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

In December 2012 Defence secretary Philip Hammond said the Libya campaign had shown Nato’s over reliance on the US, he added that using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would be cheaper and less risky than developing a manned maritime surveillance aircraft. “It may be that we will move straight to unmanned reconnaissance vehicles that can do the task at lower cost and much less risk to the crew.” Hammond told members of the Parliament’s joint committee on the national security strategy.

Triton is the most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft system ever designed for use across vast ocean areas and coastal regions. Triton is designed to fly surveillance missions of up to 24 hours duration and at altitudes of more than 10 miles, allowing coverage out to 2,000 nautical miles at a time.

US Navy X-47B video of carrier take off and landing trials

US Navy X-47B deck trials on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).

X-47B first aircraft carrier launch from deck of USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77).

X-47B first ever touch and go landing on USS George H.W. Bush.

X-47B first trap arrested landing NAS Pax River.