Tag Archives: uav

If you don’t think Drone Swarms are THE Threat of the 2020s, you are Mistaken

In the recent five-week Nagorno-Karabakh war, between Azerbaijan– supported by Syrian mercenaries and Turkey — and the so-called Republic of Artsakh together with Armenia (who had the low-key support of Moscow), cheap drones proved absolutely decisive. The Azerbaijani relied heavily on Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 and Israeli Harop/Orbiter/SkyStryker kamikaze drones to strike at the Armenian/Artsakh forces.

Besides tanks and APCs, the Azerbaijan Department of Defense said that several Osa, Strela-10, and S-300 air defense systems were also destroyed by TB2s. Azerbaijan also reportedly modified its slowpoke 1950s-era Antonov An-2 Colt biplanes with remote-control systems, flying them to the front lines to draw out Armenian air defenses. In short, SEAD by UAV, showing these craft as the modern Wild Weasels.

The Bayraktar TB2, with a max takeoff weight of just 1,400-pounds, isn’t fast, pedaling around at just 120 knots, roughly the same speed as a Great War biplane. However, it can carry four laser-guided smart munitions, each capable of zapping a tank. (Photo via wiki commons)

In all, the former Soviet republic had less than 200 drones of all kinds on hand, but they proved the key to battle.

The really scary part is how plug-and-play the Turkish drones were, only fielded by the Azerbaijanis less than six months before the conflict. 

From a CSIS report on the conflict:

Azerbaijani drones provided significant advantages in ISR as well as long-range strike capabilities. They enabled Azerbaijani forces to find, fix, track, and kill targets with precise strikes far beyond the front lines. UAVs were operationally integrated with fires from manned aircraft and land-based artillery but also frequently used their own ordinance to destroy various high-value military assets. Open-source reporting suggests that drones contributed to disabling a huge number of Armenian tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery units, and air defenses. Their penetration of Nagorno-Karabakh’s deep rear also weakened Armenian supply lines and logistics, facilitating later Azerbaijani success in battle.

So for cheap, UAVs stand to flip the battlespace in favor of low power states.

For instance, Iran, which has both reverse-engineered downed U.S. drones and acquired other designs as needed, has shown off hundreds of indigenous craft of late.

All of this means that it is no surprise that DOD just released their official 36-page Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy.

Expect far more counter-drone jammers and active defenses on the battlefield of the future, or else it is going to be very one-sided.

Sending a lot of small UAVs to the WestPac

Saw the below pop up on the DoD’s contracts list. Apparently, there are lots of hungry hungry hippos looking to get ScanEagle UAVs in the Western Pacific. Good for watching that littoral on the cheap.

DOD:

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Washington, is awarded $47,930,791 for firm-fixed-price delivery order N0001919F2602 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-17-G-0001) for 34 ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles for the governments of Malaysia (12); Indonesia (8); Philippines (8); and Vietnam (6). In addition, this order provides for spare payloads, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training, technical services, and field service representatives. Work will be performed in Bingen, Washington (77 percent); and multiple shore and at sea locations in Malaysia (9 percent); Philippines (5 percent); Vietnam (5 percent); and Indonesia (4 percent), and is expected to be completed in March 2022. Foreign Military Sales funds in the amount of $47,930,791 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the fiscal year. This order combines purchases for the governments of Malaysia ($19,329,334; 40 percent); Philippines ($9,633,665; 20 percent); Vietnam ($9,770,120; 20 percent); and Indonesia ($9,197,672; 20 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales program. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

Of note, ScanEagles have been deployed from vessels as small as 65-feet oal, making even patrol craft capable of operating these interesting little UAVs as they can launch from a small catapult and be captured in-flight to be recovered in very little deck space.

In short, ScanEagle is essentially the WWII floatplane of the 2020s.

The Vought OS2U Kingfisher that appears here on the USS Missouri (BB-63) shakedown cruise was taken after an abandon ship drill in August 1944. (Click to embiggen)

Sure you have a drone, but does your drone have a drone?

Complete with lots of dramatic royalty free muzak, the above video from Lockheed-Martin is actually pretty interesting if you take the time to digest it.

It shows “Vector Hawk,” a small, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), on command from the little yellow submarine looking thing– “Marlin MK2” autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)– while a third vehicle, the “Submaran,” an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by Ocean Aero (the sailboat looking thing), provided surface reconnaissance and surveillance.

As noted by LM:

The four-pound Vector Hawk can fly for 70-plus minutes, at line-of-sight ranges up to 15 kilometers. Operators can recover and re-launch the Vector Hawk in a matter of minutes (including changing the system’s battery). Vector Hawk is built on an open architecture to enable rapid technology insertion and payload integration.

Marlin MK2 is a battery powered, fully autonomous underwater vehicle that is 10 feet long with a 250 pound payload capacity, 18-24 hour endurance, depth rating of 1000 feet and weighs approximately 2,000 pounds. Its open architecture design and modularity allow new mission packages to be quickly integrated into Marlin to meet emerging customer needs.

Coasties step up their UAV game

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), the Coast Guard’s third 418-foot Legend-Class National Security Cutter, just returned to Alameda following 98-day counter-smuggling patrol.

While underway she intercepted three suspected smuggling vessels carrying more than 3,600 pounds of cocaine, completed 150 drills associated with her biannual Tailored Ship’s Training Availability, made a port call at Golfito, Costa Rica to conduct some humanitarian efforts, and brought an additional five tons of blow back to port seized by other cutters for offload.

But she also made a little history by deploying with a ScanEagle sUAS. Stratton has used Scan Eagle in proof of concept tests previously (see the below image of the UAV being “trapped”) but this is the first actual deployment.

The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle is recovered on the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 13, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

From the USCG’s presser:

Stratton’s crew made history by being the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy fully equipped with a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) for an entire patrol. The sUAS had been previously used in drug interdiction as part of field testing but had not deployed aboard to a cutter for an entire patrol. The sUAS flew more than 35 sorties, accumulated over 260 flight hours and provided real-time surveillance and detection imagery during interdiction operations. This real-time imagery and persistent surveillance capability assisted Stratton’s embarked helicopter and law enforcement teams with the interdictions.

The print-a-drone aircraft carriers of the future?

HMS Mersey is not an impressive warship. The 261-foot River-class OPV is slow, armed with just three guns all under 20mm in caliber, and is tasked primarily with coast guard style missions. However, last week she pulled off something that could revolutionize how drones are used at sea in the next generation.

You see she launched a UAV that was made from 3D printed parts.

FIRST LAUNCH OF 3D PRINTED UMANED AERIAL VEHICLE - 21/7/15 Today, 21st July 2015, a 3D printed Umaned Aerial Vehicle was launched from a Royal Navy warship for the first time. HMS Mersey provided the perfect platform for the University of Southampton to test out their SULSA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Weighing 3kg and measuring 1.5m the airframe was created on a 3D printer using laser sintered nylon and catapulted off HMS Mersey into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth, before landing on Chesil Beach. The flight, which covered roughly 500 metres, lasted less than few minutes but demonstrated the potential use of small lightweight UAVs, which can be easily launched at sea, in a maritime environment. The aircraft carried a small video camera to record its flight and Southampton researchers monitored the flight from their UAV control van with its on-board video-cameras. Known as Project Triangle the capability demonstration was led by Southampton researchers, making use of the coastal patrol and fisheries protection ship. With a wingspan of nearly 1.5 metres, the UAV being trialled has a cruise speed of 50kts (58mph) but can fly almost silently. The aircraft is printed in four major parts and can be assembled without the use of any tools. MOD Crown Copyright

FIRST LAUNCH OF 3D PRINTED UMANED AERIAL VEHICLE – 21/7/15 Today, 21st July 2015, a 3D printed Umaned Aerial Vehicle was launched from a Royal Navy warship for the first time. HMS Mersey provided the perfect platform for the University of Southampton to test out their SULSA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Weighing 3kg and measuring 1.5m the airframe was created on a 3D printer using laser sintered nylon and catapulted off HMS Mersey into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth, before landing on Chesil Beach.The flight, which covered roughly 500 metres, lasted less than few minutes but demonstrated the potential use of small lightweight UAVs, which can be easily launched at sea, in a maritime environment. The aircraft carried a small video camera to record its flight and Southampton researchers monitored the flight from their UAV control van with its on-board video-cameras.Known as Project Triangle the capability demonstration was led by Southampton researchers, making use of the coastal patrol and fisheries protection ship.With a wingspan of nearly 1.5 metres, the UAV being trialled has a cruise speed of 50kts (58mph) but can fly almost silently.The aircraft is printed in four major parts and can be assembled without the use of any tools. MOD Crown Copyright

The 7-pound Sulsa with its 5-foot wingspan can make 100 knots and was assembled on the ship with its body and wings made via 3D desktop printer and a prepackaged battery, control electronics, propeller, and motor.

The Sulsa can be printed for just a few thousand dollars, says Jim Scanlan, a professor at Southampton who works on the craft design. He concedes that it can fly for only 40 minutes. But that could be enough for missions such as responding to reports of piracy, where being able to easily check out a vessel from a distance of 10 miles or so is valuable. “If they shoot at it, who cares? You send another one up,” says Scanlan.

He envisages ships putting out to sea carrying printed parts to make up to 50 drones as well as a 3-D printer and the powder feedstock needed to print spares or bespoke vehicles for different missions, which might require different sensors. However, work remains to be done to prove that printing planes at sea makes sense. Printing the parts for a Sulsa takes hours, and existing printers would need to be modified so they could stay level at sea.

More here

US Drone Aces on Burn Out List

With the number of UAV sorties increasing through the roof for the past several years (note, the last convoy out of Iraq was escorted out by as many as 13 armed UAVs on route recon overhead) the US Air Force is looking at overworking its small cadre of UAV pilots. While, yes, it is no doubt a bummer to drive from your house in the suburbs, fly a part of a MQ-9 Reaper sortie for 8-12 hours from your terminal at the base downtown where you drop it like its hot an Abdul and the Keydeffah gang 8000-miles away via datalink, then drive back home and be there in time to watch reruns of the Simpsons, they are still being used to death.

As witnessed from this article from NPR (don’t judge me) :

December 19, 2011

Around 1,100 Air Force pilots fly remotely piloted aircraft, or drones. These planes soar over Iraq or Afghanistan, but the pilots sit at military bases back in the United States.

A new Pentagon study shows that almost 30 percent of drone pilots surveyed suffer from what the military calls “burnout.” It’s the first time the military has tried to measure the psychological impact of waging a “remote-controlled war.”

The report, commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, shows that 29 percent of the drone pilots surveyed said they were burned out and suffered from high levels of fatigue. The Air Force doesn’t consider this a dangerous level of stress.

However, 17 percent of active duty drone pilots surveyed are thought to be “clinically distressed.” The Air Force says this means the pilots’ stress level has crossed a threshold where it’s now affecting the pilots’ work and family. A large majority of the pilots said they’re not getting any counseling for their stress.

Reasons For Pilot Stress

The Air Force cites several reasons for the elevated stress levels among drone pilots. First is the dual nature of this work: flying combat operations or running surveillance in a war zone, and then, after a shift, driving a few miles home in places like Nevada or New Mexico, where a whole different set of stressors await. The Air Force says switching back and forth between such different realities presents unique psychological challenges.

Second is the issue of demand. Drones have proven to be the key U.S. military tool in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. military officials say over the past decade, there has been constant demand for more pilots to fly these platforms. While training for drone pilots has increased, there are still not enough to meet demand, and pilots end up working longer than expected shifts, keeping these planes in the air 24 hours a day.

The particular nature of drone warfare is also a contributor to the higher stress levels. While the number is very small, officials who conducted the study said they did encounter a handful of pilots who suffered symptoms of PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder — directly linked to their experience running combat operations. Unlike traditional pilots flying manned aircraft in a war zone, the pilots operating remote drones often stare at the same piece of ground in Afghanistan or Iraq for days, sometimes months. They watch someone’s pattern of life, see people with their families, and then they can be ordered to shoot.

Col. Kent McDonald, who co-authored the report, says the Air Force tries to recruit people who are emotionally well-adjusted, “family people” with “good values.”

An ‘Existential Crisis’

“When they have to kill someone,” he says, “or where they are involved in missions and then they either kill them or watch them killed, it does cause them to rethink aspects of their life.”

McDonald describes it as an “existential crisis.”

 

Air Force officials say they are putting plans in motion to try to address some of the causes of the elevated stress levels in drone pilots. Right now, there are 57 drones flying in 57 different positions in the world at any given moment. That number surged this summer to 60, but the Air Force is going to cap the number at 57 for the next 12 months.

The cap is meant as a kind of “time out” to rethink how the drone pilots are being used. The service will use that time to re-evaluate shifts, train more drone crews to meet demand, and figure out ways to help pilots navigate between their professional and personal lives.

Farewell Spirit….1000+ days on Mars

RIP, Spirit: NASA to Cease Trying to Contact Its Silent Mars Rover
By Clay Dillow Posted 05.25.2011 at 10:47 am

We knew this day was coming, but it’s still never easy when days like today finally come: After more than a year of silence, NASA is ending its attempts to contact its Spirit rover, which has been dormant on the surface of Mars since its last communication with handlers on Earth since March 22, 2010.

http://www.popsci.com/technology/art…ent-mars-rover

The Birth of the RC Weapons

Cruise missiles, unmanned air vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, and other forms of remote control drones are all the rage today. Over the skies of Kandahar and Baghdad today fly remotely operated aircraft that carry smart weapons of their own, ready for use at a moments notice. In the Baltic Sea the German navy has for years used ‘troika’ drones, small radio controlled boats, to sweep minefields without putting sailors at risk. Your modern military thinkers believe that this will be the way of future combat arranged in graceful patterns for the coming century.

However what a lot of people fail to realize is that this space age 21st technology was actually produced in the 19th. In 1898 at Madison Square Garden the uber-genius Nikola Tesla (no relation to the 90’s neo-hair band of the same name) thrilled spectators with a remote controlled boat capable of becoming a warship with very little modification.

Tesla offered his design to the navy then without success— but today maybe they should pay his estate royalties?