Tag Archives: UGV

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

 

The movers and shakers of DSEI 2017

With thousands of exhibitors and two enormous exhibition halls chock full of technology, DSEI never disappoints when it comes to seeing new and interesting defence kit. The show, held at the London ExCel centre every two years, is a key date in the calendar for the industry and is used as an opportunity to bring out the big guns – literally.

The show is billed as a tri-service event, showcasing equipment from the land, sea and air domains, although like its Parisian equivalent – Eurosatory – there is a skew towards land capabilities.

Nevertheless, the event utilises the ExCel’s location next to the Thames to bring in several warships and have them berthed up during the week. The highlight this year being the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll as well as LÉ Samuel Beckett from the Irish Naval Service.

Samuel Beckett

LÉ Samuel Beckett berthed next to the ExCel centre for DSEI 2017. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Mirroring an increase in focus by the UK government on naval capabilities, the DSEI event also had a strong maritime flavour to it this year. This was likely influenced by several key events before the show including the naming of the second Queen Elizabeth-class carrier HMS Prince of Wales, the release of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSbS) and contracts placed for the new Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

Ahead of the show, our roving reporter Beth Maundrill looked at how the NSbS was was aiming to overcome past mistakes in naval programmes that saw costs balloon and fleet sizes dwindle. Speaking at the event itself, Adm Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff said he wanted to see the Royal Navy be ‘even faster and more agile’ in how it exploits technology advancements.

Industry is also positioning itself for a future Type 31 contract, with several companies unveiling potential designs at DSEI. Babcock showcased its Arrowhead 120 design, which is likely to compete against BMT Group for the Type 31e contract. Both companies will also be eyeing the export market, something that is being pushed in the new NSbS.

Another new naval technology unveiled at the show was the MBDA Dragonfire, part of a research programme with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) that aims to explore the use of directed-energy weapons, better known as lasers, onboard vessels.

Dragon_laser.jpg

A scale model example of the new Dragonfire, developed for the UK MoD by a team from MBDA and Leonardo. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Back on terra firma, it was British Army vehicle programmes that were taking up a lot of the focus. The service is currently recapitalising its fleet with both new build vehicles and upgrades. We got a little more clarity on the long-running Mechanised Infantry Vehicle programme, with an acquisition strategy now planned for later this year that will determine whether it is competed or sole-sourced.

Many companies brought along their 8×8 offerings to tempt the British Army. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a defence show, German company Rheinmetall rocked up with a Boxer 8×8 painted in the colours of the Union Jack. Gimmick or serious marketing strategy?

Boxer British by birth (10).jpg

Bit of a gimmick or a serious effort to make moves in the UK? (Photo: Rheinmetall)

Officials also gave a little more information on the Warrior upgrade programme, with a full production contract expected next year that will give the army a fleet of modernised ‘Warrior 2’ platforms. A Warrior on display at the show was also sporting a new camouflage, known as the Barracuda Mobile Camouflage System, which Shephard discovered had been ordered in small units by the British Army, with a potentially larger order expected.

It was also announced that the British Army’s flagship acquisition, the Ajax, has now begun manned live-firing trials, which should wrap up in around five months in time for delivery to the army.

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An upgraded Warrior vehicle on display at Lockheed Martin’s stand at DSEI, sporting a new camouflage system. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

The UK defence secretary Michael Fallon also announced several contracts that aim to improve the capability of the British Army when it comes to protecting troops. These included a new EOD ground robot from Harris as well as a new £10 million initiative to study vehicle active protection systems, which is being led by Leonardo. The former programme, known as Icarus, could help the army develop technologies that effectively form a ‘shield’ around a vehicle to protect it against RPGs and anti-tank missiles.

Active protection systems are a significant topic of discussion at the moment, with several countries including China, Israel and Russia fielding some kind of capability. There is a worry among experts that the West will be left behind when it comes to utilising this kind of technology, with foreign APS-equipped vehicles potentially neutralising our current generation anti-tank capabilities.

Adding to this discourse, a BAE Systems CV90 was on display at the show that incorporated the IMI Systems Iron Fist APS technology – which will likely be fielded to the Dutch Army CV90 in the future.

AJW_1788

The IMI Systems Iron Fist active protection system on the turret of a CV9030 IFV at DSEI 2017. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

Unsurprisingly, the UK-based BAE Systems took centre stage at DSEI, showing a huge array of its technologies across all domains. These technologies included the latest generation of its Broadsword soldier technologies currently undergoing evaluation with several foreign armies, as well as a new ‘Tactical Hotspot’ concept that provides voice and data communications in the most austere environments.

The company has also turned its hand to unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) with its Ironclad concept, which could be used for medical evacuation missions on the battlefield.

Indeed, the growing importance of unmanned systems was once again evident at DSEI this year with several innovations being displayed. BAE Systems also demonstrated its P950 RIB in an unmanned configuration.

Elsewhere, Qinetiq demonstrated a new configuration for its Titan UGV (developed in cooperation with Milrem and its THeMIS). Rheinmetall Canada, fresh from unveiling its new UGV concept earlier this year, came to DSEI to show an armed configuration for its multi-mission ground vehicle. Several other armed UGVs were on display this year, including Milrem’s THeMIS, which integrated a new FN Herstal .50 cal machine gun.

Qinetiq Titan

Qinetiq’s Titan, which uses the THeMIS UGV from Estonian company Milrem, features several new integrations at this year’s DSEI. (Photo: Grant Turnbull)

That’s just a very tiny selection of what was making the headlines during the show, we have plenty more over at Shephard  for your reading and viewing pleasure.

The show was notable in that it had no real stand-out announcements or surprises, with a sense that many programmes and initiatives are continuing to tick over for the time being.

Many visitors will be optimistic about the market going forward, but the industry as a whole is still conscious of the uncertainty created by Brexit and the wider geostrategic environment.

HMMWV, the ultimate driverless car

HMMWV, Humvee or the Hummer, whatever you want to call it most people will recognise the famous four wheel drive vehicle.

First entering service in the mid-1980s there are now at least 230,000 HMMWVs in service both in and around 60 nations. It is not surprising that some users have sought to modify the vehicle which will turn it into an autonomous UGV.

That’s right, an unmanned HMMWV.

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) recently publicised its efforts to develop the unmanned capability, releasing a video of the unmanned HMMWV in July.

The IDF has been working with IAI on the technology and recently I spoke with the company about their roboticist technology which has been incorporated into the vehicle. You can read the full story here. 

But what’s the point?

Well, although it has not been confirmed by either the IDF or IAI, it seems likely that if you kept the remote weapon station on the vehicle with the aid of cameras and sensors the unmanned HMMWV could become the ultimate border patrol vehicle.

The video appears to show the IDF’s unmanned HMMWV with the Rafael Mini Typhoon weapon station.

However, Israel is not the only nation developing this technology. The US military is set to have a live demonstration of such a vehicle later on this month as the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning looks to develop this technology.

Watch this space as there is certainly more developments to come regarding the unmanned HMMWV.

Revolutionary Road: the path to greater autonomy

During a recent trip to Edinburgh, I had the pleasure of exploring several sights in that beautiful city, including the National Museum of Scotland. There, among the displays – which highlight the country’s contribution to advances in areas such as science, medicine and engineering – was a robot called Freddy.

Its simple name belies its revolutionary nature, since much of the technology written about in the current, and pretty much all issues of Shephard Media’s Unmanned Vehicles magazine can likely be traced back to Freddy.

This particular robot was developed in the 1970s by a talented team from Edinburgh University’s then Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception. It was given the task of assembling wooden toy components presented to it in a ‘jumbled heap’.

Freddy the robot

Using a robotic arm with grippers, a camera and a basic computer, Freddy was able to take the pieces and assemble a wooden toy car. Limited computing power at the time meant this process took around 16 hours to complete.

Nevertheless, this was an incredibly complex endeavour and some even believed it was impossible. But those pioneering developers proved the doubters wrong and led the way in artificial perception and its translation into intelligent, human-like responses through computer processing and complex algorithms.

Indeed, read through the current edition of UV UV Front Cover(Volume 22 Issue 2) and you will see a common theme: the pursuit of increased autonomy for unmanned platforms.

The basic concept remains the same as it did for Freddy over 40 years ago – a UV senses its surroundings and makes intelligent decisions about the task for which it has been designated (and even those for which it has not). Advances in sensors, computer processing and artificial intelligence means that, yes, the main idea is similar, but what is achievable is vastly different.

In the edition, writer Rory Jackson examines how UGV OEMs are continuing to insert autonomous functions into their vehicles, mirroring efforts within the commercial automotive world when it comes to the driverless car revolution.

Companies such as Oshkosh, Lockheed Martin and start-up Milrem have pursued a roadmap of greater autonomy to ease soldier burden and increase safety, while at the same time attempting to lower costs. I visited Milrem in Estonia recently to see first-hand how the company is expanding its workforce as it looks to advance autonomous capabilities for its THeMIS UGV.

Milrem THeMIS

In the air domain, UAVs are integrating more intelligent features, including technologies like sense and avoid, not only to ease integration into airspace occupied by manned aircraft and enable beyond-line-of-light operations – as Beth Stevenson details in her analysis of the current state of UAS regulation in the US – but also when it comes to controlling systems, or multiple systems (ie swarms), through a ground control station (GCS).

In this edition, Angus Batey runs through GCS and C2 technologies for UAVs and how there will be extra considerations for air forces as they bring capabilities such as stealth UAVs into service in the future.

RS20416_UK - Secrets Taking Flight

Much will depend on how an advanced stealth platform makes decisions by itself, rather than today’s UAV concept of operations that sees a reliance on external human commands sent via SATCOM. These signals would likely give away a stealth aircraft’s position to enemy air defences.

Another area where platform autonomy will be crucial is underwater. Much like contested airspace in a warzone, communication links to and from a deep-sea robot are inherently difficult. This means that the more decisions an AUV can make by itself, the better.

Heidi Vella explores this in more detail for UV with her take on the growing use of AUVs in the commercial world, and importantly, the challenges still present.

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The key to the adoption of autonomous vehicles will be quantitative evidence that investing in the technology, however expensive, will eventually bring down cost of operations, while also increasing safety and productivity.

So, as you read through our current issue of UV, remember that Freddy, the pioneering Scottish robot, and his legacy, lives on. For those of us who are following the developments in this exciting sector, it will be interesting to see which one of the technologies within this issue, and future editions of UV, will have such a revolutionary effect that we will also be talking about it in 40 years’ time.

The April/May edition of Unmanned Vehicles is out now, download a FREE copy through Shephard Media’s Android and Apple apps.

Killer bots or battlefield helpers?

The field of robotics is changing the way we live, revolutionising everything from industrial processes, driving and even cleaning our houses. Increasingly sophisticated technology and the advantages of using robots, including cost-savings and safety, has seen a boom in robotic technology in recent years.

Unsurprisingly, the military has also taken an interest in robotics. Like the autonomous ‘driverless car’ revolution currently taking place in the commercial world, the military is also looking at how unmanned vehicles can re-shape operations and how humans conduct warfare.

Of course the use of unmanned systems in the air is now well-established but the full utilisation of ‘drones’ in other domains – including ground robots for missions such as load-carrying or surveillance – is still some years off. That’s not to say academia and industry have not been investing in militarised ground robots, they have, but the world’s armies haven’t fully bought into the concept apart from use in very specialist roles.

So far, at least.

THEMIS armed

Estonian company Milrem has made significant strides in the UGV space (Photo: author)

That might be changing, as I set out in a recent in-depth analysis looking at industry’s efforts to develop and manufacture UGVsPresumably responding to emerging requirements from several armed forces it appears that industry is now stepping-up efforts in developing various types of ground robot, including those that integrate a weapon system.

The justification for weaponising a UGV, much like the reasoning for robotics in other sectors, is increasing safety and significantly increasing capabilities at a much lower cost. Companies in the US, Germany, Estonia and Ukraine have all funded projects that look at enhancing the firepower of a ground robot.

But fielding a weaponised system – such as missiles or machine guns – will once again raise concerns about a ‘Terminator’ scenario involving killer robots and the possibility that UGVs could autonomously kill other humans on the battlefield.

Ukrainian Fantom

Ukrainian company Spets Techno Export has developed an armed UGV concept (Photo: author)

That’s unlikely however mainly because the weapons are operated by a human via a control station, similar to how remote weapon stations on vehicles are currently used. There is also the strong belief, among western companies and militaries at least, that a human must always remain ‘in-the-loop’ when it comes to weapon engagements whether that is on a manned or unmanned platform.

Don’t expect that to change anytime soon, unless the operational scenario or mission truly requires it.

Whether you are for or against the armed UGV concept the fact is that you can expect to see much more of the technology in the next few years. How much the militaries of the world will embrace the nascent technology is still guesswork, but if recent exhibitions are anything to go by, then we’ll likely see more companies look to enter this market in the near future.

Presenting, the Mosquito Killer Robot (!!)

The Laser Movable Mosquito Killer Robot

Among the glistening military hardware at the MSPO arms fair in Kielce, Poland, what was the most impressive thing on display? I give you six words: ‘the Laser Movable Mosquito Killer Robot’.

Hidden among the vast array of armoured vehicles, air defence systems and air-launched weapons was this display by Chinese company LeiShen Intelligent, which literally screamed about its ‘Mosquito Killer Robot!!’

After a tip-off from a trusted contact, I went to hunt out the Shenzhen-based company, who were more than happy to chat about their product.

They’ve essentially taken their 2D LIDAR technology, commonly seen on home cleaning robots, integrated it on a small UGV and stuck a mosquito killing laser on the top.

A LeiShen Intelligent representative said while they had yet to make a sale, the company was pitching the idea to hospitals, schools or other public buildings in areas blighted by diseases such as malaria or zika.

In addition to the movable version, the system is available as a fixed installation.

Through an object recognition and tracking algorithm, the killer robot recognises a mosquito and ‘instantly’ lasers it. The company claims the laser is capable of killing an impressive ’30 to 40 mosquitoes in one second’, a fact I double-checked had not been mistranslated.

While the spokesperson was not able to name the actual laser used as part of the system, the company’s website lists several eye-safe laser products and the Mosquito Killer Robot apparently has ‘multi-protection for human beings’.

As well as being an impressive integration of several technologies, the aim of getting the systems in the hands of institutions such as hospitals is clearly an admirable one.

But as company literature reveals, in humanity’s fight against the mosquito, the Chinese have been playing the long game:

‘In the past thousands of years that are written in history, human’s [sic] fight against mosquitoes have never ended with our victory. But with the invention and later-application of these laser mosquito killer products, history is there to be changed. Diseases like malaria, dengue fever and zika that [are] caused by mosquito bites will get controlled a great deal.’

Poor blighter didn’t stand a chance

Remote-control Land Rovers on the front line

snatch panama

Writing and researching about the defence industry has been a new concept for me, but there are certainly many things that catch my eye as a lifelong petrol head.

The Land Rover Defender has to be one of the most awesome and capable vehicles ever built. Totally classless and modifiable, the vehicle has been used for everything from farm hand to royal carriage, 4×4 family wagon to mountain rescuer.

The Snatch-Vixen 4×4 is perhaps the most obvious relation to a UK road vehicle that you might see on the front line – but its role is changing. Their use during the early days of Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns saw the Snatch heavily criticised for its lack of adequate ballistic and IED protection for occupants.

Since then semi-autonomous versions have emerged in the form such vehicles as the MIRA MACE Guardsman and Sherpa, allowing personnel to one day take a step back from such dangers and conduct missions remotely.

However, the news this week is all about the MIRA Autonomous Control Equipment (MACE) route clearance system.

It is a bit of a mouthful for what is an exciting piece of kit – just look at the pictures complete with huge hydraulic attachments – although I can’t help wondering if it’s the final nail in the Defender’s coffin, just being used as expendable mine fodder.

Nevertheless it will be a welcome and totally justified move if it therefore saves lives by preventing the need for directly manned counter-IED operations.

The Snatch-based MIRA MACE is operable in both semi-autonomous and autonomous modes from a distance of up to 20km from its control station – a more heavily protected vehicle.

The well-loved civilian Defender will cease production from 2015, with a chunky replacement dubbed DC 100 on the cards. Whether it will continue to sustain such a huge variety of customers both civil and military, and whether it can possibly be capable of spawning such a wide range of useful (and frankly rather cool) applications, remains to be seen.

Simon Truscott

To read more about the MIRA MACE system, please click here.