Tag Archives: drones

Regulations likely to drone on and on

During a US Army Black Hawk and DJI Phantom 4 UAV collision in September last year, the helicopter sustained damage to its main rotor blade, window frame and transmission deck while parts of the UAV were discovered lodged in its engine oil cooler.

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At the time an FAA temporary flight restriction was in place, in keeping with good practice which stipulates, ‘travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition, such as a wildfire or chemical spill; a security-related event…’

In this case a UN General Assembly meeting, with US President Trump in attendance, was being held in New York City.

Under other FAA restrictions all UAV flight is prohibited ‘from the ground up to 400ft’ and within five miles of an airport or helipad.

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So far, so good. Ostensibly laws are water tight. That is until state level compliance is considered.

New York is a particularly interesting test case as there is no state level regulations prohibiting UAV flight, despite the fact that several civil suits involving drone operators have been brought before the courts. ‘Reckless endangerment’ is often the charge sought by the prosecution when these cases are being debated.

New York City’s government website takes an unequivocal position, which reads, ‘If you see a drone being flown in the city, call 911.’

In contrast, the city’s department of parks and recreation website features the various locations where UAVs can be flown freely.

Allowances, it seems, cannot be made for those who wish to plead ignorance with respect to UAV ownership and responsible flying. The NTSB’s investigative report into the original September incident detailed several errors admitted to by the DJI Phantom 4 owner.

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A summary of the report states, ‘The drone operator was unaware of the collision until an NTSB investigator contacted him. The operator was also not aware of temporary flight restrictions that were in place at the time because of presidential travel and a UN general assembly session. He was flying recreationally and did not hold an FAA remote pilot certificate.’

Without more stringent regulations questions remain, even from this one incident where there were thankfully no injuries sustained by the Black Hawk aircrew or members of the public.

Who will pay for the damages caused to the helicopter? Will the US Army have to rethink how they organise and execute security centered missions when in close proximity to the civil population? Do thresholds of 400ft and upwards and five miles outside of an airport/helipad have to be similarly reassessed?

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The World according to Shephard: Week 46

Dizzying displays in Dubai

If you have struggled to keep pace with the news coming out of Dubai this week then check out Shephard’s full coverage of the air show here.

A commercial kick for UAS

The Zephyr UAS is to enter the commercial market at the end of 2018 as part of Airbus Ariel’s commercial services offering. The platform can be used for large area image gathering as well as a communications relay for companies looking for satellite capabilities but are unable to afford launch costs.

Another long range UAS originally developed for military applications, Insitu’s ScanEagle, has burst into the commercial market after securing a seven figure contract with Shell’s QGC business in Australia. The contract requires Insitu to collect, exploit and deliver data gathered by its ScanEagle during inspections of infrastructure and hardware.

Scan Eagle/Insitsu Frontiers shoot

However for a market experiencing exponential growth the question of how UAVs should be regulated and who is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of laws remains unresolved. At the Commercial UAV Show representatives from small and large companies voiced concerns about the extent of illegal and unregulated activity in the commercial drone industry.

The chiefs speak their minds

Concerns of a very different nature have been voiced by former defence chiefs in the UK as the government begins its latest national security capabilities review. Air Marshal Barry North warned the UK Defence Committee that assumptions made in the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs could leave the country exposed to significant military capability gaps. The ex-chiefs also argued that UK forces are twenty years out of date and are unprepared for modern warfare.

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Chinese influence abounds

The Ghana Navy has commissioned into service four Chinese made fast patrol boats that were donated by the Chinese government as part of a $7.5 million grant to equip the Ghana Armed Forces.

Meanwhile Chinese hardware has appeared in Rwanda with new photos revealing that the Army is operating Chinese-made Norinco SH3 122mm self-propelled howitzer. This makes Rwanda the first known foreign users of the SH3 which until now was not known to have been exported.

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Norinco will also be delivering the first batch of 34 VN1 IFVs to the Royal Thai Army next year. The VN1 will be Thailand’s second Chinese-sourced APC after the commissioning the Type 85 in1987.

China shows no signs of slowing its search for export markets for its military systems as Chinese companies have pursued extensive research and development to hone their radar and identification, friend and foe systems.

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US SOF hungry for new tech

The US Air Force is in search of technology to support future personnel recovery activities against a background of increasingly sophisticated operational environments. The requirements are focused on three major areas: locate/authenticate; support for isolated personnel and execute recovery.

Meanwhile the US DoD Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office is to hold an Advance Planning Briefing for Industry. The expected 500 attendees from government, industry and academia will be provided with a look at anticipated requirements that may be funded in FY19.

U.S. Special Forces Fast Rope On Target

 

The World According to Shephard: Week 44

NATO SOF prepare for battle

NATO special operations forces have taken part in an exercise across eastern Europe  involving scenarios loosely based on recent Russian incursions into Ukraine. The exercise was designed to enable NATO and non-NATO entity special forces to counter an invasion by an enemy force as well as ‘diversionary’ forces.

The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) hosted its ThunderDrone Prototype Rodeo, the culmination of the first in a series of rapid prototyping events that began in September. The results are expected to go beyond the physical drone with its mechanical features, autonomy, swarming and machine learning all being explored.

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Swarms of unmanned requirements

The Australian Army is also enhancing its aerial unmanned capabilities with the procurement of FLIR Systems’ PD-100 Black Hornet 2 nano-UAVs. The deal will increase the Army’s Black Hornet fleet to over 150 providing enough to equip every army combat team at the platoon and troop level with an organic reconnaissance capability.

The US Navy’s requirement for an unmanned Carrier-Based Aerial-Refuelling System has hit a bump in the road after Northrop Grumman withdrew from the MQ-25 Stingray programme following changes to the programme requirements. There is a risk that further changes could see other competitors to follow suit.

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Meanwhile in Israel the country’s first commercialised AUV, the HydroCamel II has completed over 250 hours of sea trials in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. According to the system’s developers at Ben-Gurion University, the AUV’s autonomy and manoeuvrability capabilities set it apart from its competitors.

Watching the ships roll in

Above sea the Ukrainian coast guard is bolstering its fleet by purchasing up to 25 new high-speed patrol boats. The acquisition is part of Ukraine’s strategy for maritime security at each seaport to be ensured by a squadron of boats including unmanned patrol boats, a patrol attack boat, a high-speed interceptor, a coast guard boat and a new trimaran.

However in the UK the Royal Navy found itself in hot water this week after the National Audit Office published its investigation into equipment cannibalisation in the navy. The report found that between April 2012 and March 2017 there was a 49% increase in the practice with 60% of instances occurring between 2016 and 2017.

Picture are, on the left RFA GOLD ROVER, and on her right HMS LANCASTER sailing together on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) duties.

In Poland it has emerged that the Polish Navy may be forced to decommission its only Kilo-class submarine, ORP Orzel after a fire broke out on the boat. The fire is believed to have begun while crew members were discharging the submarine’s batteries while moored in the north of the country.

The digital battlespace

Moving into the digital world where the defence industry may be on the brink of a revolution as blockchain service providers  report increasing levels of interest from the industry. While the exact nature and extent of the impact blockchain will have remains uncertain, it is clear that this technology is here to stay.

Meanwhile Thales is in the process of analysing logged data from the recent Formidable Shield ballistic missile defence exercise to see if modifications made to its SMART-L Multi Mission radar can further enhance the technology. During the exercise the radar was able to detect the missile from a distance of 1,500km.

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In the race to advance electronic warfare capabilities the US is expediting efforts to field technology into theatre that enables critical vehicle systems to remain functional in GPS-denied environments. GPS signals are increasingly vulnerable to jamming or spoofing by adversaries such as Russia who are actively deploying advanced EW capabilities.

 

The World According to Shephard: Week 42

Partnerships made and lost 

The Royal Navy’s Type 31 light frigate competition has moved to the next round as key players in the UK’s shipbuilding and design sector have begun picking partners for the maritime dance-off. Cammell Laird has partnered with BAE Systems to build its modified Omani Khareef-corvette design while other competitors for the Type 31 include Babcock and BMT.

However it’s not all plain sailing for the UK Ministry of Defence with a number of high level resignations and retirements in the last few months as the search for wide reaching cost savings takes its toll.

In particular, the battle against excessive profit margins and unnecessary charging by companies awarded with non-competitive defence contracts suffered a significant setback with the resignation of Marcine Waterman from the SSRO.

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How to solve a problem like UAVs

Following the collision between a UAV and a commercial aircraft, battle lines for a future conflict between the Canadian government and drone manufacturer DJI appear to have been drawn. So far the incident has led to the introduction of interim safety measures on drone flights while the debate surrounding the regulation of drones intensifies.

Meanwhile the Royal Aeronautical Society’s UAS conference in London was dominated by similar discussions on the need for effective regulation of the civil unmanned industry and the role legislators and industry should be playing.

Neil Thompson also waded into the debate as he asked if the UK has done enough to prevent the use of drones by terrorist and criminal organisations in surveillance and IED attacks. In particular he highlighted the increasing incidents of UAVs being used to convey contraband into prisons.

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‘The line between disorder and order lies in logistics’

Sun Tzu knew the value of logistics but it seems that the Canadian Navy has been late arriving at the same conclusion after being left without an at-sea supply ship following the retirement of the HMCS Protector in 2015 and HMCS Preserver in 2016. To fill this gap the newly launched Resolve-class naval support ship built by Davie Shipbuilding will be leased by the navy for at least the next five years.

Meanwhile in South Korea the largest US overseas base is nearing completion. Camp Humphreys is now 85% complete and represents the largest re-stationing project in US military history. The camp, expected to be completed in 2020, is located 65km south of Seoul, a safe distance from North Korean artillery.

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In Central America, Panama has ordered its second Twin Otter 400 twin engine light transport aircraft from Viking Air. The new aircraft, expected to be delivered to the Panamanian Naval Air Service (SENAN) in December this year, will be used to support SENAN’s humanitarian aid missions.

Finally, Patria has invested in life-cycle support services in Estonia through the acquisition of a majority share in Milrem, the country’s largest maintenance contractor. The move is part of Patria’s efforts to expand both its life cycle support services and its presence in northern European defence sectors.

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Civil helicopters take the lead in deliveries

Tim Martin, Shephard’s new rotary reporter has hit the ground running, covering a plethora of civil helicopter deliveries this week. Starting it off is Milestone Aviation Group’s delivery of an AW139, the fifth model leased by the company to Heligo this year.

Leonardo announced the sale of a pair of AW139s to Starspeed, a UK-based charter operator, while MD Helicopters delivered a new MD 600N to private aviation specialist Sapura Aero. The MD 600N had been configured with an upgraded FAA certified glass cockpit and supports three configurations for personnel transport, EMS and air ambulance.

In the defence helicopter world the Brazilian Navy is ready to arm its S-70B Sea Hawk aircraft following new weapons capability tests with the Mk46 Mod 5 torpedo. The use of the weapons on the Sea Hawk is one of the final steps in the navy’s programme to enhance its avionics systems from its predecessor the SH-3 Sea King.

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And this week Wendell Minnick and Gordon Arthur are in Seoul for ADEX 2017. You can find all the latest news from the show online

 

The world according to Shephard: Week 34

Taiwan shows off defence systems

This week Charles Au and Wendell Minnick have been exploring the wide range of defence systems on display at TADTE 2017 in Taipei. Charles’ eye was caught by NCSIST’s Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) designed to be used for airport and border security.

According to our report, the system is able to block or jam UAV control frequencies so as to disrupt threats in the air at ranges of up to 2km and interfere with GPS signals out to 10km.

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NCSIST doesn’t only have UAVs in its sights, as they were also exhibiting a point air defence system. The hard-kill weapon system was inspired by the Skyguard area defence system and is designed to eliminate fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, cruise missiles and anti-radiation missiles.

Charles also discusses the latest developments of Taiwan’s Sea Oryx missile system as the R&D phase of the project is about to be finalised while Wendell reveals details of Taiwan’s interest in the F-35.

2nd LAAD Conducts Stinger Live Fire Training Exercises

However, air defence systems are not a hot topic in Taiwan alone, as Latvia has sealed a deal to acquire a number of Stinger air defence systems from the Danish Armed Forces. Latvia expects to receive the missiles and launcher systems in the first half of 2018 when the deal is to be completed.

Unmanned market growth is costly for some 

As the demand for unmanned vehicles continues to expand, the number of platform demonstrations has risen with it. However, demonstrations come at a cost, as Beth Maundrill found out this week when she spoke with a senior campaign leader for autonomy at Qinetiq about ‘unusual and sometimes disruptive’ technologies.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force has indicated that its Hermes 900 UAV, known as Kochav, is now operational following crew and flight integration tests. The test series have seen the aircraft fly over 20 sorties and resulted in the simultaneous qualification of the platform’s squadron.

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Bringing things back to earth, it has emerged that the MoD has moved to secure the terrain for its forces in future areas of operations after awarding Harris with a contract for EOD robots. The £55.3 million ($70.6 million) contract will see a number of T7 multi-mission robotic systems produced for the armed forces in the coming years.

Helicopter fleets expand

But it’s not all about unmanned systems this week as it emerged that Boeing has been awarded a contract to deliver eight CH-47F Chinooks as part of a wider multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia. The heavy lift helicopters, which have proved popular with a variety of armed forces around the world, will be delivered to the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command.

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Turkey is also expanding its attack helicopter fleet and has now taken delivery of 23 of TAI’s T129 ATAK helicopters out of a total of 59. With 36 aircraft still to be received by Turkey’s armed forces, orders are anticipated to be delivered into 2020 at a rate of one aircraft per month.

A TAI spokesperson also informed Shephard that international interest in the aircraft is expected to transform into orders with prospects stretching into the Middle East and Asia.

US Navy makes the headlines again

It was a bruising week for the US Navy which in the wake of a collision involving the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker off the coast of Malaysia has resulted in the Commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet being relieved of his duties and an operational pause called across the Navy.

I look into the wider, geopolitical implications of the incident as it comes at a time of heightened tensions and competition between naval forces across the Pacific.

USS John S. McCain arrives at Changi Naval Base

Across the Atlantic, the UK MoD has awarded a contract for 20 additional flattops to be delivered by 31 January next year. The vessel will be smaller scale models of the 280m behemoths which are currently under construction and will be distributed among key Foreign Office sites.

The UK Border Force is also expanding its fleet with two additional coastal patrol vessels (CPV) expected to be operational by 2018. Once in service the six CPVs will join the Border Force’s four larger cutters and the Protector-class patrol vessel.

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Finally, across the Channel in Europe, the green light has been given for Germany and Norway to cooperate on future naval defence equipment, including the procurement of new submarines.

Terror drones

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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.

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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

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