Tag Archives: usaf

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.


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.


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.



The Global Hawk at 15

Flashback to 15 years ago and there is little chance that news coming from that time will be laden in anything other than the context of the 11 September attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

The event changed a number of things in the social, political and defence spheres, but it is to the latter that we nod our head: the first deployment of the Global Hawk UAV over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

To mark the occasion Northrop Grumman released a film detailing the birth of the platform, its early introduction into service, the uncertainty of whether it will actually work and the missions that helped to answer this question.

The Global Hawk landed at Al Dhafra airbase on 11 November, a date cemented in the Western World as the day the Great War ended in 1918, and would itself be caught up in one of the newest conflicts of the 21st Century just nine days later.

Commenting about the occasion Mick Jaggers, the programme lead for Global Hawk and a Northrop Grumman VP, said that the system ‘went to war’ soon after the attacks in 2001 and has since ‘never come home’.

Since then the platform has matured and is currently testing and integrating a range of new sensors and payloads, including the SYERS and MS-177.

Indeed, the addition of the MS-177 is what Northrop officials told this writer recently is one aspect of a wider programme of work to increase capability while driving down costs. Integration of the system into the Global Hawk is currently underway in a classified laboratory but officials did say that it would be tested in the field by the end of the year.

One way that the company is looking to keep operating costs down, while at the same time dealing with an 83% increase in flying hours, is through common and open architecture systems. One official said that they ‘couldn’t talk to the US Air Force [about systems] unless is was open architecture’.

Originally designed to support DARPA evaluation of HALE aircraft, the Global Hawk demonstrator first flew on 28 February, 1998.

In July this year the system surpassed 200,000 flight hours. The US Air Force’s Global Hawks logged 88% of those flight hours with the remaining flown by NASA, Germany’s full scale demonstrator and the US Navy’s broad area maritime surveillance aircraft systems.

For Jaggers the Global Hawk has come a long way from a drawing on a piece of paper in 1995.

‘The tragic events of 9/11 caused the system to be put in operation five years ahead of schedule and it took only a few missions 15 years ago for the value of Global Hawk to be realised.

‘The future is bright… The need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is ever increasing and Global Hawk delivers a persistent, long-range and cost-effective solution.’

The pilot: a fuzzy future?

In the seventies, the aviation technical press was full of stories about the unmanned aircraft and its future potential. Pilots were aghast. How can they fly aeroplanes without that all important man in the loop, they argued. Machines are all very well but decision making must be left to the human in the hot seat; after all, that person is a PILOT!

Even the most superficial study of commercial airline accidents shows that the majority of accidents are caused by human error. Logically, it therefore follows that if the human is removed, the accident rate will decline.

You won't win!

You won’t win!

In the nineties, after it was announced that commercial aircraft could be flown perfectly safely without a pilot, the public became a little concerned. To placate this concern it was agreed to still control the aircraft from the ground but put a pilot and a dog on each flight deck. The role of the dog was to bite the pilot if he tried to touch anything and the task of the pilot was to feed the dog.

Pilot sensitivity about unemployment continues and has been aggravated by the rise of the unmanned aerial vehicle. The UAV has been accepted nomenclature for ages but those poor, under threat and insecure pilots needed to emphasise that although unmanned, there was still a pilot in the loop hence, a platform name change to remotely piloted air system or RPAS.

Alas that security blanket has been largely removed as the USAF is now recruiting non-aviators to fly its UAVs. What, I hear you say, a person flying a UAV who hasn’t got thousands of hours on fixed wing aircraft – how can that be?

If it wasn’t already bad for the pilot fraternity, a recent trials report published in the Journal of Defense Management and authored by a team from Psibernetix Inc, the University of Cincinnati and the US Air Force Research Laboratory has shown that pilots flying against artificial intelligence-based adversaries in a combat mission simulator always came off second best.

It would appear that the fuzzy logic employed in Psibernetix’s ALPHA AI architecture is superior to the brains and experience of our fast-jet jocks. Is this really the beginning of the end of the pilot? Their future is certainly fuzzy.

Look mum, no hands.

Ukraine’s border-line helo fleet

Ukraine is clearly worried about the state of its military helicopter fleets.

Particularly as the military conflict in the breakaway east of the country has dramatically highlighted the poor tactics, obsolete aircraft and lack of modern self-protection aids of Ukrainian Army helicopters, with the loss of more than a dozen aircraft since the start of the conflict.

To bolster numbers, it has emerged that the Ukrainian government is considering setting up a facility to remanufacture old Bell UH-1 utility helicopters in-country to eventually ship out for military service in Eastern Ukraine.

A group of American investors is currently in discussions about the venture, with the Ministry of Defence reportedly seeking an initial production volume in the range of 50-70 aircraft annually.

It remains unclear where all these surplus UH-1s are going to be sourced from, although in an unrelated development last week, it emerged last week the US Air Force may have some spares sooner rather than later.


But so far, so credible. What’s harder to believe are comments by those involved in the project that there are also plans for the new joint venture to design a new multipurpose helicopters from scratch as well as a develop a high-speed design.

The lack of an established OEM in the ranks (Bell Helicopter was rumoured to be involved, but the company denies this, putting it down to a mistranslation somewhere along the way) must surely consign those ambitions to the wishful thinking pile.

The crisis in Eastern Ukraine has already given the helicopter procurement plans of several of its neighbours a fairly good shake-up, as I discovered at a conference in Prague in June.

With the main OEMs starting to more aggressively target Eastern European helicopter requirements, the possible creation of a production line throwing out 50-70 robust, multipurpose Hueys a year is an intriguing possibility.