Tag Archives: UAS

The World According to Shephard: Week 51

As 2017 draws to a close, everyone here at Shephard has been celebrating a record year and Beth Maundrill took a look at some of the highlights from the past 12 months.

Read of the week:

After the Korea Coast Guard (KCG) was forced to confront Chinese fishing boats early this week Gordon Arthur takes a look at the mounting tensions between the two nations. The incident saw KCG personnel fire 249 warning shots after a fleet of 44 Chinese boats was spotted operating within South Korea’s EEZ.

Unmanned intrigues

It has emerged that the Bangladesh Air Force is seeking to join the ranks of nations operating MALE UAVs after releasing an RfP for a system that would comprise three to four aircraft. The armed UAV’s maximum range will be 1,000km with a payload capacity of at least 120kg. Chinese and Turkish manufacturers are expected to be the primary bidders for the contract.

Boeing has released additional details relating to its MQ-25 unmanned refuelling tanker bid. According to Boeing the UAS is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The UK MoD is also looking to procure new UAS, as it seeks to enhance its ISR capabilities with 14 tethered UAS platforms. The contract is valued at £2 million and is expected to commence in March 2018 and run for two years.


Heli Highlights

This week Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor prototype successfully completed its first flight. The aircraft can be seen taking off and flying at a low altitude in a short video released by Bell. The data from the maiden flight will now be reviewed before the aircraft undergoes future tests.

In Kuwait an investigation has been ordered into a 41.1 billion deal to buy 30 military helicopters from France. An article in the French Marianne magazine sparked the investigation after reporting that a middleman had demanded tens of millions of euros from Airbus as a commission.


Building cyber ramparts

The proposed acquisition of Gemalto by Thales indicates efforts to increase its cyber security offering. Thales follows a host of high-profile defence primes that have already increased capability and added clients in the cyber security market through acquisitions.

Meanwhile Raytheon has developed an immersive cyber security training system that has been designed for individual and collaborative training as it has its eye on the US DoD’s Persistent Cyber Training Environment requirement.

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.


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.


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.


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


Law and insurance is cool!

Well now. Someone just had to pay attention to the afternoon, after details in The Queen’s Speech revealed some tasty bits on the need to integrate commercial/private UAS activities into everyday airspace and develop an insurance programme for autonomous cars/vehicles.

Interestingly, Unmanned Vehicles is delving into areas previously left untouched by many media outlets in tackling the topic of UAS insurance, which finds itself front and centre in the coming June-July edition. Commercial UAS operations meanwhile is a minefield of registration, requirements and the fabulously contradictory notion of there being too many and too few rules at the same time.

Keep an eye out for a hard copy at coming shows or be all tech-savvy and go with the digital version instead. I wont judge.

The text of the Modern Transport Bill states that Britain at the ‘forefront of the modern transport revolution’. Legislation to enable future development of the UK’s first commercial spaceport, new laws for autonomous cars, and ‘rules to bring safe commercial and personal drone flight for households and business a step closer’ are all mentioned.

Here it is, courtesy of http://www.gov.uk, in full.

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Cut red tape and put the right framework in place to allow innovation to flourish.
  • Create the conditions that drives innovation and puts the UK at the forefront of modern global transport developments as part of the country’s long term economic plan.
  • Maintain and extend the UK’s role as a world-leading transport manufacturing base.
  • Ensure new technology delivers better, safer journeys, while keeping Britain at the cutting edge of international transport technology.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Reducing congestion, which has been estimated to cost the UK economy £20 billion every year.
  • Modern transportation can make much more efficient use of our roads, railways and airspace, cutting congestions, speeding up journeys for people and goods and boosting the UK’s economy.
  • The UK exported 1.2 million cars last year. This Bill would put the UK at the forefront of autonomous and driverless vehicles ownership and use.
  • Setting the framework for the UK’s first spaceport and autonomous vehicles, paving the way for commercial spaceflight and drone operations in the UK and boosting our world-leading satellite industry.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Encouraging potential investors in autonomous vehicles, spaceplane operations and spaceports, creating highly skilled jobs and spurring innovation across the economy.
  • Legislation that will put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the autonomous vehicles industry, such as drones, and spaceplanes.
  • Ensuring appropriate insurance is available to support the use of autonomous and driverless vehicles. 18 May 2016
  • Improving protection for customers by updating ATOL, the UK’s financial protection scheme for holidays by clarifying the 1992 legislation that predates people booking their holidays on the internet. Devolution: Some of the Bill’s provisions would apply only to Great Britain, others to the United Kingdom. All aviation and maritime is reserved so applicable to all the UK, however, autonomous and driverless vehicles measures would apply to Great Britain only.

Key facts:

  • Trials of automated and driverless cars are currently taking place in Bristol, Greenwich, Milton Keynes and Coventry (The 4 Cities Driverless Car Trials), and we expect to see vehicles (cars and/ or pods) driving themselves later this year)
  • Since the launch of the Plug-In Car Grant in January 2011, there have been 60,755 eligible electric cars registered.
  • The Teals Group’s market study estimates that drone production will soar from current worldwide production of $4 billion annually to $414 billion, totalling $93 billion in the next ten years. With addition of military drone research spending this would rise to $123 billion over the decade.


What does everyone think about this then? Brave New World or Best Not Hope?




Eagles and infographs

Ever thought how handy it would be if someone could create nice infographic detailing how one should (and shouldn’t) operate a small UAS?

Same here. Well UK-based DroneBuilders have done just that with this helpful document that tells a good tale in what an operator can do with their technological familiar. Keep it in line of site for example, unless you have CAA approval, and drones weighing more than 20kg are banned from civilian airspace (except over Boscombe Down military base, but suspect that doesn’t apply to the likes of you or I).

And other things. Take for example the number of drones licensed for commercial use in January 2013 was 30, while in 2016 this has risen to at least 1,036.

Most interesting are the details in how police might attempt to make an arrest in a case of drone misuse. Peruse below at your leisure.


The eagle has landed

Better a chat with a copper however than getting a visit from the latest wheeze in combating the drone menace, as the Dutch national police look at training birds of prey to swoop in and bring those unmanned monsters down. I’m not kidding.

These poor consumer/hobbyist platforms can be seen below being ripped from the air, dragged beeping and wailing to a dark corner to be pecked to pieces.

Puts a whole new perspective on drone avianics.

Freedom, forms and the FAA


If you’re in the US and want to operate a small UAS weighing more than 250g outside you’ve got one month to register or else become eligible for a free three-year vacation from freedom and financial penalties of up to $250,000.

The gate slams shut on February 19 by which time all enthusiasts and commercial operators will have had to complete either an online form, or snail mail, depending on circumstances. The upper UAS weight limit for registration is 25kg.

As far as the rules go, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to 21 December 2015, must register no later than 19 February. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after 21 December 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors.

Think of all those newly-ordained UAS operators who either had a pretty generous family or treated themselves to a spiffy new bit of kit, wanting nothing more than to fly outside for a little while.

Sorry, there’s a form to be filled in first. A form I would have liked to demonstrate to all you QuillorCapturians, but it seems someone had different ideas about offering it up as content to viewers outside the US.

FAA registration.jpg

Anyway, take my word for it that registrants will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had this to say: ‘Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility.’

One wonders if enthusiasts of hobby-grade RC cars are considered drivers, or captains and commanders are being made from those looking to try out their little RC yacht on the local pond.

The argument is of course not as simplistic as that.

The FAA are dealing with a technology that can pass unhindered over boundaries that otherwise worked in a 2D environment. Hobbyist UAS are not bound by the same rules as their ‘UGV’ counterparts having to park their mini-Nascar on the side of the street while the SUV passes.

Those UAS whizzing about at low level, 10 metres say, are an obvious risk to the public, while the more advanced hobbyist platforms can get to heights that begin to interfere with manned aviation making final approaches (or take offs).

It’s more a case of taking the first tentative steps in making people accountable for how they choose to follow their hobby.

However, this will only catch people who have registered and subsequently misuse their UAS. Presumably such misuse will most likely have been accidental, or minor in nature, but perpetrators could face civil or criminal action as a result.

Rogue UAS operators who choose not to register can, therefore, stay clear of this accountability process, leaving authorities back to square one when it comes to determining proof of misuse or trespass into restricted areas.

So, the US and FAA have played their hand. The question now is how the rest of the world will also adapt to small UAS and the army of enthusiast aviators looking to take to the skies.

The Coming Disruption in UAS

The UAS market is on the cusp of a huge disruption which will see the rise of new innovative firms and almost certainly the demise of some currently established players. The root of this disruption: the opening of civil airspace to unmanned systems.

In the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) plans to have regulations in place for the safe integration of civil UAS into the U.S. National Airspace System by September 30 2015, a date which will mark the opening of a major new market for unmanned systems. Earlier this year Kaman, which produces the K-max unmanned helicopter, said it expects to see unmanned helicopters flying for commercial US customers within 5 years.

TKamax wiki commonshis poses a key question to stakeholders in the UAS community – governments, military and industry – how do they meet the challenge and reap the benefits of a major change in what is currently a stable sector.

The UAS sector is currently dominated by firms that operate in the defence and security sector. Military requirements have driven the development of UAS up to now and there has been a very limited commercial market as civilian airspace restrictions have prevented their use in most civil areas.

The firms at the forefront of UAS development are used to dealing with military requirements and timescales which involve significant engagement with the customer and can be developed over years, if not decades. They are often publically held and while they invest in R&D often have cumbersome structures in place to monitor investment, which can inhibit innovation.

There is also a focus on the big-ticket systems – tactical UAS such as Predator/Reaper, the UK’s Watchkeeper, the future unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV) that is the subject of UK-French co-operation, with billions of dollars and pounds invested in developing the capability.

However, there are a trends in the UAS space which are laying the foundations for change. The first is the increasing commoditisation of platform and components – particularly sensors and power plants. Linked to this is the increasing importance of the software that delivers the capability – whether it is path finding, sensor fusion or data analysis. The real ‘value-add’ in the UAS space right now is not hardware but software and it is the software side that will determine who is successful in the future UAS market.

This is crucial because once the civil airspace market opens up it will trigger an explosion of interest, investment and innovation in commercial UAS. The established players will suddenly be facing competition from a whole new generation of small, agile, software led companies vying for contracts to provide the brains for a new generation of civil UAS platforms.

This sudden increase in competition has the potential to result in a frenzy of rapid innovations and advances in key areas like sense and avoid, autonomy, data and sensor analysis.

These platforms may initially be small or micro-level platforms (glorified remote control vehicles), but the increase in demand that will come from the opening of the skies will inevitably lead to rapid progression in size and capability.

The risk for operators is that their expensive, bespoke military systems may rapidly be equalled or even exceeded by commercially available technology in all but the most expensive and advanced military systems, rendering all that valuable investment obsolete.

Rapid advances in commercial technology may drive down costs for defence UAS, but this also has a flip side. Reduced costs will lead to greater proliferation of UAS systems and technology to state and non-state actors, potentially presenting new threats to be countered in the military domain.

This new world is already starting to build. I recently spoke with Matt Parker, Precision Director of UAS Operations in the US (one of the largest, if not the largest, private sector operator of UAS in the world) who told me that he’s already seeing the emergence of a new type of competitor: small companies springing up trying to leverage off-the-shelf remote controlled aircraft technology with in-house developed or open source autopilots – and their approach is revealing.

“While we’ve been talking to government level customers, the DoD, SOCOM, they’ve been talking to tech investors and getting money to enter the market,” he says.

It may not just be the small tech start-up that disrupt – the lure of a new market will also entice major players from other sectors who may then end up competing in the military UAS as well as civilian markets.

While Parker says that these new entrants operate “at a different level” to Precision, the question he and other UAS manufacturers and operators will need to answer in the near future is: how long until that changes – and are they ready?

By Matthew Smith