“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.
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.
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)
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.”
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.
It’s called testing. Lord forgive them for not having every test go 100% perfectly every single time.
X-47B Fails Landing Attempt – Again
Unmanned Jet Was Trying To Repeat Last Week’s Success
WASHINGTON — The X-47B unmanned jet, which successfully landed twice last week on an aircraft carrier, was unable to repeat the feat Monday, U.S. Navy sources confirmed July 16.
The aircraft nailed its first two landing attempts July 10 on the USS George H. W. Bush, but a third landing that day was aborted when the aircraft’s systems detected a problem with an onboard computer. Following its programming, the aircraft then flew to a “divert” field at Wallops Island, Va., where it remains.
Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Northrop Grumman engineers were back on board the carrier Monday to try for a third successful “trap,” this time using the other of two X-47B aircraft.
But it didn’t happen. The aircraft developed technical issues while in flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., to the ship and officials decided to abort the attempt before the X-47B reached the vicinity of the carrier, steaming off the U.S. east coast.
Nevertheless, officials have termed the tests “successful” in that the program’s objectives of demonstrating unmanned flight on and off an aircraft carrier were achieved. And at least in the case of the July 10 waveoff, the system’s ability to detect and respond to a problem was validated, if unintentionally. But the fact is that four times the Navy attempted to land the aircraft on the ship, and only two attempts were successful.
Officials point out that the program’s requirements called only for one successful landing, although testers targeted three at-sea traps.
“Initial parameters for the test required three traps on board the carrier,” a Navy official said Tuesday. “However, after two successful traps and two wave-offs, the Navy is confident it has collected the data necessary to advance this program and develop the requirements for UCLASS.”
The Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike Program is the follow-on effort to develop an operational unmanned aircraft using technologies and lessons learned from the X-47. Navy officials hope to field a UCLASS aircraft by 2019.
Underscoring the effort’s importance, the July 10 event was attended by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, and more than two dozen media representatives. The secretary and CNO were effusive in their praise for the program and the technological achievement, and of the historic nature of the events. The successful landing received extensive national and international media coverage, as did the first catapult launch from the ship on May 14.
With the failure of the July 15 test, the program’s flying days are all but over. The aircraft used on Monday, numbered 501, remains at Pax River, and no further X-47B flying tests are scheduled after 502 flies from Wallops Island to Pax River.
Funding for the X-47B, under the Unmanned Combat Air System Aircraft Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) program, runs out at the end of September with the close of the fiscal year.
A statement was issued by NAVAIR late Tuesday afternoon about Monday’s incident, reproduced here in full:
“The Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) program successfully completed testing with the X-47B aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) July 15, culminating a decade of Navy unmanned integration efforts that show the Navy’s readiness to move forward with unmanned carrier aviation, says Rear Adm. Mat Winter, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons in Patuxent River, Md.
“On July 10, the X-47B completed the first-ever arrested landing of an unmanned aircraft aboard CVN 77. Shortly after the initial landing, the aircraft was launched off the ship using the carrier’s catapult and completed a second successful landing.
“ ‘We accomplished the vast majority of our carrier demonstration objectives during our 11 days at sea aboard CVN 77 in May,” said Capt Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager. “The final end-to-end test of the UCAS including multiple arrested landings, flight deck operations, steam catapults, to include hot refueling procedures, was accomplished on July 10 and the procedures, the X-47B aircraft and the entire carrier system passed with flying colors.’”
“During its final approach to the carrier on July 10, the X-47B aircraft, “Salty Dog 502”, self-detected a navigation computer anomaly that required the air vehicle to return to shore, where it landed at Wallops Island Air Field. The X-47B navigated to the facility and landed without incident. Salty Dog 502 is scheduled to fly back to Pax River later this week.
“Aircraft “Salty Dog 501″ was launched to the ship on July 15 to collect additional shipboard landing data. During the flight, the aircraft experienced a minor test instrumentation issue and returned to NAS Patuxent River, where it safely landed. There were no additional opportunities for testing aboard CVN 77, which returned to port today.
“ ‘Completing the first-ever arrested landing with an autonomous, unmanned aircraft is truly a revolutionary accomplishment for the U.S. Navy,” said Winter. “This demonstration has successfully matured the needed critical technologies for operations in the actual carrier environment and has set the stage for Naval Aviation to blaze the trail for relevant unmanned, carrier-based warfighting capabilities.’”
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.
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.