Tag Archives: drone

The World According to Shephard: Week 49

Pick of the week:

As Brexit negotiations rumble on in Brussels, Neil Thompson reported on the recent European Defence Industry Summit (EDIS). Designed to bring together speakers to discuss Europe’s security situation, European representatives were noticeably missing, with US-based Raytheon left to represent the European defence industry’s interests.

Obstacles to realising greater integration of European defence industries include funding, transparency with NATO and how to facilitate greater interoperability.

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The Clarence speaks

Despite the pomp and circumstance of the commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the future of UK shipbuilding is at a juncture. As HMS Queen Elizabeth enters service and construction on the Prince of Wales nears completion the challenge will be to maintain the skills developed throughout the programme. Another challenge, The Clarence argues, will be to retain the manpower and funds necessary to maintain and run the carriers.

Making a splash

The Royal Navy is not the only maritime force to welcome a new ship this week, the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency launched its fourth 600t Hingol-class maritime patrol vessel. The armed boat, which began construction in May 2016, will help patrol Pakistan’s EEZ, undertake maritime security and perform search and rescue missions.

Meanwhile Michal Jarocki reports from Warsaw on the renaissance of the Polish Navy as it celebrates its 99th anniversary with a commissioning ceremony for the ORP Ormoran (601) minehunter. The vessel is the first warship in over 20 years to be designed and built in Poland.

Poland

The Canadian Surface Combat project has not seen such successes this week after encountering its latest rough patch. The Canadian government publicly rejected proposals not submitted through the formal process. The announcement followed a Naval Group statement in which it proposed an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution based on the FREMM frigate design to the Canadian government.

Drones dominate wish lists

The Indian military’s desire for UAVs will be boosted with further RfPs as the country aims for integrated army, navy and air force purchases of MALE and HALE UAVs. This demand is likely to be met through new industry activity, after Dynamic Technologies signed a cooperation agreement with IAI for the production, assembly and support of mini-UAVs in India.

Meanwhile, Poland has become the latest buyer of WB Group’s Warmate loitering munition. The UAS has received considerable interest from customers across the world and has already been used in combat. The Polish order includes 100 loitering munitions with deliveries expected to being in the coming weeks.

Warmate c

Record rotary rates

Poland is not only in search of UAS, but is also perceived as a prime export market for Bell Helicopter’s AH-1ZViper. Bell is continuing its efforts to convince the Polish government that it will successfully execute the Polish military’s attack helicopter programme ‘Kruk’. Bell is also offering its UH-1Y Venom to fulfil the Polish Army’s requirement for a modern, multirole utility helicopter.

The AH-64E Apache Guardian is tipped to reach ‘historically high’ production figures of up to 100 aircraft a year by 2021. The projection is based on a ramping up of international orders which would see production rise from its current level of 70 platforms a year. Boeing expects to close a number of international sales within the next six months.

 

The World According to Shephard: Week 48

This week has demonstrated that the world of military simulation is very much alive and flourishing as the Shephard team has spent the week in Orlando bringing you all the latest news from the industry’s annual meet. You can find all of the coverage from I/ITSEC here.

Armed to the hilt

The US Air Force’s MQ-9 Reapers are to get an ammunition boost with the integration of small diameter bombs onto the platforms. General Atomics was awarded a $17.5 million contract to kit out the UAS with GBU-39Bs.

Meanwhile the H145M will begin live fire tests of Airbus Helicopter’s HForce weapon system loaded with Thales’ FZ275 laser guided rockets. The new live fire tests follow on from successful ballistic development testing of the system.

BREAKING: New Block 5 MQ-9 debuts in combat

‘The secret of war lies in the communications’

Napoleon’s tools of communication may have looked dramatically different from today’s but their importance on the battlefield has not changed. Last week saw Thales demonstrate its new family of Software Defined Radios, Synaps, which they believe represents the future of ‘collaborative combat’ for the modern connected military.

Australia has approved Project Land 200 Tranche 2 as the country pushes to digitalise its armed forces with a new battlefield command system for the army. The system will enable commanders to plan, monitor, direct and review operations in real time.

Thales

Shipbuilders back in business

The second of the Mexican Navy’s updated Oaxaca-class patrol vessels has been commissioned into its fleet. This comes at the end of a year that has seen the navy’s fleet expanded considerably with new patrol vessels as significant investments have been made in the country’s critical infrastructure and shipbuilding capability.

Meanwhile in Indonesia the shipbuilder PT Palindo Marine launched a 110m OPV designed for the country’s coast guard agency. Indonesia has been developing its indigenous shipbuilding expertise and is soon likely to see the navy’s seventh landing platform dock begin construction.

Indonesia_OPV_-_small

Saab Kockums has begun construction on parts of the hull for the Royal Swedish navy’s new A26 class submarine. Saab is also upgrading the RSN’s Gotland-class submarines with a new combat management system and other capabilities which will be carried across to the A26.

How to solve a problem like drones

The European Parliament and European Council reached an informal agreement this week to introduce union-wide rules on the civil use of unmanned systems. The design and manufacture of UVs will have to comply with EU basic requirements on safety, security and data protection.

Also in Europe, Endeavor Robotics has delivered 44 FirstLook UGVs to Germany as the company continues to enjoy a bumper year. The UGV, which can be dropped from 16ft onto hard surfaces without sustaining damage, is used by a wide range of civil, parapublic and military customers around the world and has won a number of large contracts with the US.

FirstLook

 

Drone regulation debacle drags on

‘Hurry up and get on with it’ was the message from one member of the European Parliament (MEP) to the European Commission as she spoke about drone regulation at a Royal Aeronautical Society conference last week.

In 2016 we reported on some of the squabbles over drone regulation in the EU Parliament. Since then some progress has been made but things just are not moving fast enough for some MEPs.

November 2016 saw MEPs back draft EU rules on drones and emerging risks, which would bring drones within the EU civil aviation framework for the first time among other directives.

Part of new EU rules to ensure safety and privacy

The draft rules would also empower the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to issue directives and recommendations to address risks that might arise from unlawful acts or from flight paths that cross regions that are the scene of armed conflict.

But since then progress has been slow.

The European parliamentarian said her message to the European Commission is ‘you need to get a move on…we do need a bit of action I would suggest’.

She also suggested that some regulation should be looked at on a case by case basis. ‘Rather than strict rules that would regulate the industry out of existence.’

One thing that is not helpful to the pursuit of drone regulation are negative press stories including the recent collision between an unmanned platform and small passenger plane over Québec City.

‘Those headlines are not helpful…we do not need the bad publicity,’ the MEP said.

As Europe tries to push forward on rules and regulation some nations are already forward looking. For instance the UK already has rules that are being implemented and is exploring measures to curtail the misuse of drones, including penalty fines.

The current rules and regulations from the European Union can be found here and we will continue to cover developments, if and when they happen.

Big floating runway attracts uninvited guests

As the UK awaits the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth at its new home in Portsmouth it was reported over the weekend that a hobbyist drone landed on the deck on the £3 billion vessel.

If it were not for the Royal Navy’s (RN) Merlin helicopters landing on its deck during sea trials this could have been an embarrassing first deck landing on the carrier.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it is investigating the incident which took place during sea trials.

But it raises the question about how secure the carrier is at present against small unmanned threats. Media reports contradicted themselves with some stating the system used was a DJI Phantom, while others said it was a Parrot Bebop.

The US military recently ordered personnel to cease using UAS from Chinese manufacturer DJI on account of possible security threats. In April the FAA restricted drone operations across 133 military facilities, addressing national security concerns regarding unauthorised used of UAVs.

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DJI’s Phantom 4 quadcopter, widely used by hobbyists.

Transferring this type of restriction to the maritime environment is likely to throw up issues but these examples highlight how the US is getting serious about commercial drones in the military environment and the threat they pose.

Also, as we recently discussed here on Quill, non-state actors are starting to seriously use unmanned vehicles with a range of payloads, predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions.

So is this a recipe for disaster for the RN’s newest and most expensive vessel?

Well of course the MoD will now be investigating the incident and is reviewing the security of the vessel.

Also it should be noted that the vessel is not fully operational yet and does not have its full crew on board. One would hope during operations the story would be somewhat different.

This is not the first incident of drones getting close to maritime assets. Earlier in August it was reported that an Iranian drone flew close to a USN F-18 as as it prepared to land on the nearby US carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Would it be out of the question for maritime adversaries to interfere with RN ships using small drones? All very hypothetical but not to be dismissed.

 

Terror drones

Wilayat Nineveh 2.jpg

A still taken from a video published by the pro-ISIS Amaq news outlet purportedly showcasing insurgent drone operations

It makes sense that unmanned technologies have migrated across the traditional battlefield and into use by a variety of non-state actors and terrorist organisations.

The ease of acquisition and use of such systems has presented organisations such as ISIS capabilities that not too long ago would have been unthinkable, both in terms of intelligence and surveillance gathering, but also increasingly in rudimentary strike roles.

One only has to look at the simple economic value in converting a simple drone that costs no more than a few hundred dollars into relatively stealthy weapon, to see why they can be viewed as a force multiplier by the non-state actor organisations.

Add to that the notion that a successful strike can damage or destroy equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the physical and psychological threats for the soldiers and operators on the ground, and a potent combination is created.

Judging by what we can see from promotional material published by ISIS after operations, a range of payloads are also being developed. These are predominantly ‘dumb’ munitions in the sense that they are unguided, but when dropped from a height of just a couple of hundred metres can still effect significant damage.

Insurgent conversations in the deep web of chat rooms and internet lounges point as well towards the ambition (or perhaps hope, as it is difficult to quantify written words with intent and ability) to deploy chemical and biological payloads.

The notion of a small quadrotor, unheard above the din of ground activities, effectively carrying or becoming a dirty bomb is one forces have to be aware of.

For more on this topic read  ‘In the Wrong Hands’ in the upcoming edition of Unmanned Vehicles where we explore the methods and digital efforts terrorists go to in order to cover their planning efforts.

How to name your drone

This writer enjoyed a nice bit of banter recently when having posted a story about the French Patroller UAV, a question was posed on social media asking why a more pugilistic nom de guerre was not chosen to boost potential exports.

It’s an interesting point and makes you wonder just what hidden meanings are being kept in the naming of an unmanned system.

Some go for the avian theme because, you know, UAVs fly and stuff. Some examples and in no particular order includes the ScanEagle, Desert Hawk, Heron and Global Hawk. China took this a step further with its Wing Loong family, translating into something like Pterodactyl. Apparently.

Abstracts are also well represented as well as names that infer protection, security, destruction and oblivion. Again, in an order chosen entirely by rolling a dice, we have the Reaper, the Shadow, Predator and one of the newest reported on last month at the Paris Air Show, Nightwarden.

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Watchkeeper is another rather banal three-syllaballed naming effort from those with no imagination.

Watchkeeper

British Army Watchkeeper

Let’s not forget the Guardian series either which between sea and sky looks to watch over as many domains as it sensorial fingers will allow. The UK meanwhile seems to have taken a decision to lean away from killer-drone PR and named the successor to its MQ-9 Reapers, inspirationally, as Protector.

Then you have the Triton which in a doff of the cap to ancient antiquity refers to the son of Poseidon (the mythical sea-God, not the MPA) as a messenger of the sea. Quite apt. The UK’s Taranis demonstrator aircraft also riffs off the deitic theme.

 

We can conclude this missive with the Net Ray. No, me either.

Net Ray

AR3 Net Ray

That’s not a Reaper, this is a Reaper

Those of us in the defence industry often get in a huff when the mainstream media fail to accurately identify military kit. Of course, we know the difference between an armoured personnel carrier, an infantry fighting vehicle and a main battle tank – though it appears to be a monumental challenge for those that don’t cover defence every day.

At best, it can lead to some embarrassing headlines and, at worst, just plain inaccurate reporting. That’s been covered here on the pages of Quill before not only by myself (see ‘Toothbrush-size gun’) and also by the boss, Mr Viper (see ‘That’s a load of tank’).

But it’s a never-ending quest to educate, especially when some news outlets get it so blatantly wrong. Take, for example, a widely-published story last week that stated that Daesh (Islamic State) had developed an armed drone capability similar to that of the US Air Force’s infamous MQ-9 Reaper. The Daily Mirror reported:

The weapon appears to be based on the deadly MQ-9 ‘predator’ aircraft which is used by the American military and manufactured by California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Before I’ve read the story, or even seen any photos – I know this isn’t even remotely possible.

First off, when fully-loaded with its high-tech weapons and secretive sensors, a Reaper weighs around 5 tons, which means it needs a runway at a dedicated air base to take off and land from. Despite being ‘unmanned’ it also requires a significant manpower contribution to fly, maintain, load with weapons, fill with fuel, operate sensors, analyse intel data etc.

In other words, only really a first-tier air force – like the USAF or RAF – can operate an advanced armed platform like the MQ-9. Daesh is not a first-tier air force. In fact, it has no air force at all.

isis-drone

Indeed, once you look at the photos/video of the ‘ISIS Reaper’ it becomes clear that it certainly is no Reaper.

In fact, it’s a hand-launched flying-wing UAV (probably weighing around 10-15kg), equipped with what look like rudimentary bombs on either wing. Now I’m not saying that it cannot be a deadly weapon, but its simplicity means that its battlefield utility is likely minimal.

There are already examples of Daesh utilising commercial drones, mainly quadcopters, as delivery vehicles for improvised explosive devices. There have even been some small-scale successes where groups of soldiers have been caught off-guard by a hovering quadcopter dropping a grenade from above.

The guidance system for the quadcopters has simply been gravity. But guiding ‘dumb’ bombs becomes much more difficult when you use fast-moving, fixed-wing aircraft such as the one seen above.

Before the advent of smart bombs guided by GPS or laser, dropping bombs and achieving the desired effect on target was as much an art as a skill, and always required a specialist ‘bombardier’ in the aircraft. As aerial bombers advanced, the addition of more capable bombsights increased accuracy further.

Something tells me the Daesh Reaper will lack any sophisticated bomb-aiming equipment, guided missiles, or even skilled pilots for that matter. To be truly deadly, UAVs require smart weapons such as the Hellfire or GBU-12 Paveway, both of which are on the MQ-9 Reaper.

RPA maintainers support Red Flag 16-3

The complexities involved in arming drones has meant only a handful of other countries have invested in developing the technology. That’s slowly changing, but mainly because China is establishing its own armed drone capability with smart weapon integration, which it seems happy to export to other countries around the world.

Nevertheless, I would not underestimate the Daesh UAV just yet. It might not have the capability to match an MQ-9 Reaper or Chinese Wing Loong, though it could replicate a new capability emerging in the defence space; the loitering armed ‘kamikaze’ drone.

For me, the new Daesh UAV has more similarities with equipment such as Aerovironment’s Switchblade UAV, which can provide full-motion video to troops on the ground but with a high-explosive warhead can, once it has identified a suitable target, be guided into the vehicle/building/person like a guided missile.

Once Daesh realise that releasing bombs from a UAV is a futile endeavor,  we could potentially see them adopt this kamikaze UAV concept of operations. That’s why many militaries, particularly those in Iraq, are investing in counter-UAV technologies and will have to continue to do so for the forseeable future.

Maybe the mainstream media can focus on this in the future, rather than making far-fetched comparisons that are blatantly wrong.

If you wish to read more on armed UAVs and also China’s emerging combat UAV capabilities, see the Feb/Mar edition of Unmanned Vehicles.

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