Showing posts with label UAS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UAS. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Talking to Robots on the Flight Deck



You might ask yourself, "Who in the world is that yellow shirt signaling?" It is an unmanned system afterall, right? What is the point if the operator is that green shirted guy (not that kind of green shirt) right next to the yellow shirt. That was exactly the question on my mind last week when i first noted all the pictures and video put out by the US Navy as the X-47B was driving all over the flight deck of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).

Well, it turns out all that work is part of teaching the UCAS-D to read and understand the hand signals of the Yellow Shirt. Yes, that guy in the green on video is the human engaged pilot, but there is a learning process underway by which the unmanned aircraft is learning how to taxi around an aircraft carrier autonomously based on the hand signals of the yellow shirt.

Ready to watch the video again? Pretty cool IMO.

Watch very closely in this video (and check out others for more examples) and you will see how very deliberate the yellow shirt is with his signals, indeed he stays very steady and is being very deliberate with every motion. This is an example of yet one more in a long list of very interesting, intricate processes being developed as the Navy moves toward flying advanced computers without pilots strapped to jet engines off aircraft carriers.

As one pilot noted to me today, what this video is actually showing is a two way conversation on the flight deck.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

UAV Swarms Will Change Warfare Forever

Those who aren't convinced that UAS will change warfare permanently need to watch this video, posted yesterday:




Pardon the cliche, but this technology is truly transformational. For some interesting commentary on swarms, check out John Robb.

The naval applications are there, too. How could AEGIS, RAM, ESSM, CIWS, or any other envisioned air defense system defend against a lethal "suicide" drone swarm aimed at a ship, especially when they come in from all directions and mass before attack? Jamming might work to some degree, but there are countermeasures for countermeasures. What about swarming surface or undersea weapons? The fact that this technology was developed by a university, not by DARPA, NAVSEA, or a major defense contractor, demonstrates that open source systems such as these will soon be available to non-state actors, some of them with malevolent intent.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Monday, January 30, 2012

UK Libya Lessons Observed & Sea-based ISR

From Think Defense , a discussion of UK lessons from Libya and a detailed run down of some possible solutions to fill the gaps: two things the UK effort lacked was organic shipboard unmanned ISR and precision land attack. We've discussed the US shortages of those assets here and several times previously. As acquisition choices are made on platforms such as the F-35C versus say the Sea Avenger or other strike-capable ISR aircraft, it would be wise to heed these observations as well as our own recent combat experiences in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. We cannot kill what we can't find, and scouting in modern warfare -- IW and otherwise --is about finding discrete targets that are positioned in a way to exacerbate collateral damage and use our ROE against us. The global instantaneous news cycle permits little leeway from this truth. Targets hiding in plain sight in urban environments or among fishing fleets are now the norm as are those that do not otherwise seem as they appear (decoys and military units disguised as civilian platforms). High value targets in future asymmetric fights against state or non-state actors are as likely to be key individuals or civilian looking maritime collection platforms as they are tank divisions and enemy capital ships.

The way to overcome these challenges is through persistent stare intelligence -- and fast moving TACAIR just doesn't provide it. The foregoing isn't intended to come across as as an anti-CVN position. It is however, an indictment of the acquisition of new sea-based TACAIR for the mid-to-long term.

As we've noted before, these sorts of capabilities enable even smaller ships to participate in a larger fight by extending the range of sensors and an ability to engage what they find. As the author notes:

The need to extend the reach of surface vessels, I carefully avoid the use of the term major combatant because vessels lower down the flightiness ladder can equally benefit, with both ISTAR and attack capabilities is obvious.

We could still deliver improved land attack capabilities without an investment in maritime UAV’s because target identification and guidance can come from other ‘platforms’ but the availability of an organic UAV would greatly enhance the ability of a frigate or destroyer without requiring others or relying on a manned helicopter where it might be difficult to deploy.

The past decade of combat has created an insatiable demand for persistent ISR by our ground commanders. In a war at sea scenario, the demand for these platforms will be equal, if not greater due to the vast distances involved. We should err on the side of acquiring as many of these scouting platforms as we can afford, even if it means trade-offs such as buying fewer BMD platforms and more smaller, cheaper ships to house the UAVs, or eliminating other high ticket programs such as the F-35C.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

H/T Lee

Friday, December 30, 2011

More Sea Hippies and DIY UAVs

Bit of an update on the Sea Shepherds post. First, nix one high speed vessel from the fleet. Having a high speed intercept ship such as Brigitte Bardot or the former Ady Gil in the fleet makes a lot of operational sense, but running a 35 meter trimaran at speed in 6 meter seas, probably doesn’t so much.

Second, the post responses on this topic always amaze me. It is interesting how one non-governmental organization can be characterized in the comments by terms varying as widely as maritime eco-terrorist organization, vigilante group, hippies, and fishery enforcers.

Additionally, I’ve been corresponding with Jimmy Prouty, the creator of the Osprey UAS, who provided some corrections on my posted assumptions and additional information on his equipment. Some of the Osprey’s specs are competition sensitive and not readily available except to clients, but there are some interesting tidbits shown in the email excerpts below:



First, the Osprey is not at all modeled after the Scan Eagle. It is an optimized airframe with a high aspect ratio wing designed for maximum efficiency and range and it's similarity with the Scan Eagle is only that it has a long wing and round fuselage.


For the most part, all of our aircraft are designed as airframes that can be adapted to any number of uses. While videography and vertical photography are the most popular uses we also have them being employed in nuclear/biological/chemical detection system test that would detect those agent in the event of a spill/disaster.


We also do custom airframe development and are currently working on three new designs of various sizes and capabilities. The Osprey has proven to be a very capable airframe and has seen a great deal of use in various areas including the development of cooperative soaring where two aircraft search for thermal lift and communicate the conditions with each other. The Osprey’s design lets it turn off the motor and circle autonomously in lift, conserving the main battery and greatly extending its range. A good example of this in nature is the sand hill crane – it thermals up to high altitude and then glides off looking for its next thermal during its migration. [Ed note: I’m not sure if there are many thermals in the Southern Ocean, but this is certainly a useful capability for a STUAS]


We work with clients to get them the range that they desire as we did with the Sea Shepherd. Advancing technology in Power systems (batteries, motors, etc) is really letting is stretch our legs. Low cost, reliable autopilots such as the AttoPilot have matured and become extremely reliable to the point that we can duplicate flight paths within 1 square meter accuracy while still being able to reroute ourflightpath or call the plane home with the click of a mouse. EO payloads are also evolving rapidly and have a lot of great use.


Third, your assumption on the range of the video system are also off base. There are commercially available units that will provide excellent video reception well beyond the the 10km are reported in your article. There are several hobbyists that fly 25+ miles via video goggles and they don't have access to the higher end video equipment that can be deployed our airframes. The system can also provide geo referencing to give GPS location for any picture or video that is shot during the flight for later review which doesn't require a video downlink.


One of the biggest benefits of companies such as ours is that we can produce a high quality product for general use at a very affordable price with absolutely no cost to the taxpayer. The majority of the major UAS manufacturers rely on government funding (DARPA etc.) to develop their products and then turn around and sell them to the taxpayer at greatly inflated prices. We’ve proven that we (small business) can do it for a minimal investment, provide a high quality, safe product, and get the consumer exactly what they want.



Hangar 18 has an interesting concept and I wish them well in their effort to commercialize affordable, yet tactically useful UAVs. STUAS of all types, including rotary wing platforms capable of launching from a vessel as small as a CB-90, are rapidly improving in performance and capability and will soon proliferate throughout the world's navies (and non-state navies).

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

VTUAV Updates


In the past year or so, Navy Fire Scouts have been proving their value in Afghanistan, Libya, for counter-piracy, and other operations. The Navy recently announced the stand up of its first operational VTUAV squadron, HSM-35, in 2013. As the author notes, the Navy has taken a cautious approach to deploying UAVs. Better late than never, I suppose.

What is interesting is that the Fire Scouts are being incorporated into an existing rotary wing squadron, rather than getting their own squadron as the Air Force has done with their unmanned aircraft. The Navy has recently experimented with data links between manned helos and unmanned aircraft. Does it make sense to include UAVs in a helo squadron or should they be considered a capability distinct from manned aviation? I’ve heard arguments for both ways. What do y'all think?

Also of note, the Navy has decided to arm the MQ-8s with 70mm guided rockets. This capability is hugely important and will extend the anti-surface/ground attack capability of small surface combatants.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Navy UAS Round Up

A few interesting stories have run this week detailing the current and planned state of unmanned aviation in the Navy.

First, Halyburton completed her deployment which saw extensive combat operational testing of Firescout around the Horn of Africa and Libya: “MQ-8B operators pushed the unmanned helicopter to its operational limits, setting records for maximum altitude, range, and endurance. More than one thousand deployment flight hours were recorded, with 438 hours flown by Fire Scout.” (note, I take this to mean that the embarked SH-60s flew 562 plus hours, with the MQs making up less than half the total). Hopefully, the next FS deployment (and the other ongoing Afghanistan based det discussed in the story below) will help the Navy work maintenance and logistics kinks out of this system to increase readiness rates.

Here’s a very good overview of current UAV efforts including naval programs.

Finally, from the NY Times, an update on the super-expensive Global Hawk. In my opinion, the naval component of this program chases a mediocre capability with a lot of good money. Why does the navy need a land-based long range system that essentially mimics the USAF’s capabilities (other than a couple of sensors)? Without full motion video, the Global Hawk lacks the ability to support dynamic targeting at sea. Other sensors still lag in development. Instead, the Navy should rapidly acquire the Avenger (pictured above), based on the proven Predator series.

The Avenger’s ceiling and endurance is roughly equal to G-hawk; its' payload is greater, cost is significantly less; it’s smaller – and I’d guess stealthier, and moreover it will be armed (unlike GH), bringing the ability to find, fix, and finish with the same aircraft. Furthermore, a very robust C2 and dissemination architecture is already in place for MQ-1/MQ-9s. The best part about the Avenger system for the Navy is that it is being modified for deployment at sea. The closest the G-Hawk will ever get to a flight deck is 60,000 feet. Basing UAVs ashore (especially the armed variety) outside of active combat zones requires the USG to walk a diplomatic tightrope. In some cases, these machinations must happen for every single flight. The best way around this issue is to base these strike and ISR aircraft on US sovereign territory out at sea.

In the current austere fiscal environment, I’d love to understand why the Navy acquisition community thinks that buying 68 Global Hawks at $160 million or so per plane brings the combatant commanders a worthwhile ISR and strike capability while appropriately stewarding the US taxpayers' dollars. The Sea Avenger will compete with other platforms for the UCLASS program, but if several airframes could be purchased and deployed more rapidly (knowing General Atomics, they probably could) for combat testing, then that option should be considered, while saving the Navy $10 billion or so by cancelling G-Hawk.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drones, Not Helicopters Over Somalia

I was wrong and deserve to be criticized for not trusting my instincts, and also for relying on questionably sourced media reports. Helicopters over Somalia? Washington Post says it was drones.

The strike last week against senior members of al-Shabab comes amid growing concern within the U.S. government that some leaders of the Islamist group are collaborating more closely with al-Qaeda to strike targets beyond Somalia, the military official said.

The airstrike makes Somalia at least the sixth country where the United States is reportedly using drone aircraft to conduct lethal attacks, joining Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. And it comes as the CIA is expected to begin flying armed drones over Yemen in its hunt for al-Qaeda operatives.
Nice to see a major newspaper note we are now engaged in combat operations in six countries. The United States is now fighting two wars on the ground, Iraq and Afghanistan, and noteworthy the other four countries the United States is fighting drone wars in (Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia) all have very long coastlines.

It is my hope that when Admiral Greenert becomes CNO, he sets goals that inspire innovation. For example, set goals like launching a Reaper off the future USS America (LHA 6). It isn't hard to predict that airpower alone in the form of drones won't solve serious problems, meaning the serious problems will only fester until some point when a nation hosting CIA drones will kick you off their property.

If the drones fly from the sea, particularly if they fly off platforms where airpower isn't the only option like a LHA/LHD, we don't have to worry about those kind of problems.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fire Scout Scoring High Praise

I have been neutral on this system, but I'm now changing my position to positive.

Northrop Grumman Corp. announced on April 12 that its MQ-8B Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) marked a new single-day flight record of 18 hours.

U.S. Navy operators achieved the record using a single aircraft in a series of endurance flights Feb. 25 from the USS Halyburton (FFG 40). The composites-intensive Fire Scout is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to support anti-piracy missions while deployed on the ship for the Navy's 5th Fleet.
I'm ready for the Navy to give arm the bird up and see what it can do. It may be that the Navy is ready to do exactly that, because three MQ-8Bs are on their way to Afghanistan for a bit of real world trial by fire.

In the FY2012 defense budget, the Navy increased the number of MQ-8Bs being purchased over the FYDP from 31 to 57. In the field the system appears to be demonstrating that was a good decision.

Monday, March 7, 2011

USMC Unmanned Cargo Demo: Maritime Implications

The Marines’ urgent needs program for unmanned cargo delivery was initiated to reduce the number of convoys and the risk to ground forces from IEDs while speeding resupply to remote forward operating bases in Afghanistan. The Boeing A160 and Kaman K-Max were both contracted for an operational assessment, which if successful, could also provide a number of operational benefits for naval forces. Although K-Max has a higher payload weight, the Hummingbird’s max range, speed, and altitude provide a capability not resident in current Navy rotorcraft, manned or unmanned. Possible operational logistics benefits (ISR/strike potential notwithstanding) of a more permanent naval acquisition program for RW UAS include:

- A160 is faster, cheaper, and significantly longer range than the MH-60s performing VERTREP and other “ash and trash” missions, freeing up the Navy's manned RW force for higher value operations such as ASW, ASUW, AMCM, VBSS over-watch, and air assault.
- With a dwindling afloat logistics force, a det of one or more cargo UAVs greatly expands the reach of every logistics ship in the inventory and all ships with a flight deck. Although the current Afghanistan assessment is designed to work a daily throughput of 6,000 lbs of cargo for about a 50 mile radius, with a range of more than 2000 nm, theoretically one A160 could support afloat logistics runs over 3 million square miles of ocean/land. How many CASREPs have persisted for want of a single small circuit card or widget awaiting the next COD, rotator flight, or scheduled RAS?
- A capability of this sort is absolutely critical to distributed operations in the littorals. Unmanned UAS are ideal for supporting low visibility, long range resupply to remote teams of SOF or USMC personnel well ashore.
- RW UAVs can provide spare parts, dry goods, and ammunition resupply for LCS and green water platforms operating independently in remote areas.

Navy requirements folks should follow this demonstration closely and consider jumping on the RW cargo bandwagon.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

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