DARPA’s New Battle Drone Makes Every Navy Ship an Aircraft Carrier

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new drone — and this one could turn every one of America’s 272 warships into a virtual aircraft carrier.

That’s the upshot of what seemed, at first glance, to be a really very modest contract awarded by the Pentagon to defense contractor Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC). On a slow day for contract awards in general (it was, after all, Christmas Eve), the Department of Defense announced it had granted Northrop Grumman $93.1 million in funding to “design, develop, and demonstrate enabling technologies and system attributes for a medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle and shipboard-capable launch and recovery system allowing operations from smaller ships.”

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MQ-9 Guardian Maritime Patrol Concept; Delivering Sonobuoys

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General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. has introduced a new sonobuoy capability for its MQ-9 Guardian maritime unmanned air vehicle which, alongside a number of other developing technologies, could make it a contender to help fill the UK’s maritime patrol gap.

A concept was presented at the Royal Navy’s maritime awareness conference at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall on 24 September, which showed a number of sonobuoys being released from a bay on the UAV.

While a requirement for a maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) acquisition has yet to be released from the UK government, the developments that General Atomics is incorporating into the MQ-9 suggests that it will look to offer a modified Guardian to complement a manned MPA that is expected to be procured.

The new sonobuoy capability has been developed alongside Ultra Electronics over two years, Jonny King, director for General Atomics’ UK division, says.

“What we’re really looking at is a Predator B carrying sonobuoys, controlling them, and sending sonobuoy information back to the ground station over a SATCOM link,” King says.

“The work has seen us put the system together in a lab and carry out ground testing and prove it end to end. We were ready to go flying in 2015, but the aircraft were diverted to more urgent work. So we will be flying this early in the new year to prove the system.”

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Joint High Speed Vessel Experimenting w/Scan Eagle & Puma Drones

Atlantic Ocean -- (August 7, 2015) This photograph taken by the RQ20A Aqua Puma unmanned aircraft system shows an aerial view of USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) underway during Southern Partnership Station Joint High Speed Vessel 2015 (SPS-JHSV 15). SPS-JHSV 15 is a U.S. Navy deployment focused on subject-matter expert exchanges with partner nation militaries and security forces. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Atlantic Ocean — (August 7, 2015) This photograph taken by the RQ20A Aqua Puma unmanned aircraft system shows an aerial view of USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) underway during Southern Partnership Station Joint High Speed Vessel 2015 (SPS-JHSV 15). SPS-JHSV 15 is a U.S. Navy deployment focused on subject-matter expert exchanges with partner nation militaries and security forces. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

As the Navy tries to figure out what to do with its growing fleet of Joint High Speed Vessels, a recent experiment showed the platform could serve as a staging base for unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Navy Warfare Development Command partnered with U.S. 4th Fleet and Military Sealift Command to put the Scan Eagle and Puma unmanned aerial systems on USNSSpearhead (JHSV-1) for two two-week periods this summer, with positive results.

Lt. Mark Bote, the experiment lead for the Joint High Speed Vessel 2015 Fleet Experimentation (FLEX) – conducted in conjunction with the Southern Partnership Station series of events – said the idea of the dual-UAV operations was to determine how Puma and Scan Eagle “could fit into potential adaptive force packages in the future and how to use the JHSV in a more diverse way.”

The Navy knows the JHSV – with its large mission bay, high speed and flight deck – could be used for more than its intended mission of intratheater lift. The Navy is now running experiments like this one to study which ideas for adaptive force packages would optimize the platform’s capabilities and combatant commanders’ needs.

As a whole, Bote said the 2015 FLEX agenda focused on several mission areas, including expeditionary mine countermeasures, JHSV as an afloat forward staging base, expanding JHSV’s maritime command and control, and JHSV as a counter-trafficking platform. TheSpearhead experiment with Puma and Scan Eagle helped inform both the AFSB and counter-trafficking portions.

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MQ-8C Fire Scout Demonstrates 11 Hour Endurance for Navy Mission Scenarios

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POINT MUGU, Calif. – Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Navy successfully demonstrated endurance capabilities with the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.

On a planned 10+ hour flight and range out to 150 nautical miles flight from Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu; the MQ-8C Fire Scout achieved 11 hours with over an hour of fuel in reserve.

The long range, long endurance flight was part of a series of capability based tests used by the Navy to validate their concept of operations and previously tested performance parameters. The Navy conducted the demonstration with support of Northrop Grumman engineers.

“Endurance flights provide a full evaluation of the MQ-8C Fire Scout systems,” said Capt. Jeff Dodge, program manager, Fire Scout, Naval Air Systems Command. “We can better understand the capability of the system and look at crew tasks and interactions in a controlled environment. This will allow us to adjust operational procedures to maximize the system’s effectiveness.”

This is a new flight record set for the MQ-8 Fire Scout; a system designed to provide persistent reconnaissance, situational awareness, and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

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U.S. Navy is also working on a drone that can fly and swim underwater


Always on the lookout for new and creative ways to gather information in hard to reach locations, the United States Naval Research Laboratory (USNRL) has quietly been developing a drone that can not only fly through the air, but also swim underwater.

Called “Flimmer”, the device has been under development for about two years, with research being spearheaded by Dan Edwards who works in the Vehicle Research and Tactical Electronic Warfare section within the USNRL. The Vehicle Research Section, according to the Navy, is “dedicated to advancing the state-of-the-art in unmanned systems technology.”

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Boeing planning drone that can transform into a submarine


Ambitious endeavor, Boeing recently submitted a patent for a new kind of drone capable of transforming into a submarine upon entering a body of water. Before you get too excited, do bear in mind Boeing’s amphibious drone may never actually see the light of day — like so many other outrageous patents — but even so, it’s still fun to speculate just how much fun it would be to pilot one of these.

According to the patent, which was discovered by the keen eye of YouTube user PatentYogi, Boeing’s land to sea drone requires the help of a host aircraft in order for it to successfully launch. After it’s propelled into the air by its host, the drone then navigates to either a predetermined or happened-upon location in an ocean, lake, or other body of water before diving to the surface. Once it breaches the water source, it then begins to dismantle its propellers and wings to allow it to move through the water more easily. Boeing intends for this to occur by outfitting the drone with exploding bolts or glue that dissolves when it comes in contact with salt water.

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Army Gray Eagle/Apache Team Supporting Minesweeping Operations in Arabian Gulf

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NORTHERN ARABIAN GULF – Three Soldiers from the 185th Theater Aviation Brigade boarded the USS Higgins Aug. 19, 2015, for an interoperability training mission named Spartan Kopis. Their mission involved integrating efforts between the crew members aboard the USS Higgins, the pilots of the AH-64 Apache aircraft and the operators of the MQ-1C Gray Eagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).

The Gray Eagle UAS provided live feeds to personnel ashore in the Tactical Operations Center, the pilots of the AH-64 Apache, and the personnel in the combat room aboard the USS Higgins. Flying between 7,000 and 10,000 feet, the primary function for the Gray Eagle UAS is to search ahead for other threats of watercraft while minesweeping boats clear sections of the Northern Arabian Gulf.

“The Army and the Navy have been given a great opportunity to enhance the overall value of the Army Gray Eagle asset,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brandon Murphy, the flight operations officer with Company F, 1st Aviation Regiment. “The Gray Eagle demonstrated its versatility by providing reconnaissance, security and target acquisition for the USS Higgins during an overwater mission.”

Tasked with leaving an enduring footprint in Southwest Asia, the Gray Eagle UAS units are continuously working with U.S. Navy Central Command for planning and executing interoperability missions. “This training allows the Navy to see what the Army can bring to the table,” said Lt. Dan Sledz, the weapons officer for the USS Higgins.

“The fusion of different branches of service is essential to an effective fighting force,” said Spc. Kenneth Poore, a geospatial imagery intelligence analyst with the 185th TAB. “Whether in a mountain range of Afghanistan or the waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf, being able to visually see the battlefield through full motion video and what is beyond line of sight is critical to any operational element,” said Poore.

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Triple growth ahead in UAV spending

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FAIRFAX, Va., Aug. 17 (UPI) — Spending on unmanned aerial vehicles for military and civilian use could triple to more than $120 billion over the next 10 years, a new study says.

The Teal Group, a new market analysis firm, estimates that UAV production worldwide will grow from $4 billion annually and will total $93 billion in the next 10 years.

Spending on military UAV research will add another $30 billion to that.

“The market for UAVs looks very strong, increasingly driven by new technologies such as the next generation of unmanned combat systems, and the development of new markets such as civil and consumer drones,” said Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study, titled World Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems, Market Profile and Forecast 2015.

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Pentagon planning 50 percent more drone flights in next 4 years

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After a brief lull, the military is doubling down on drones. A new report from The Wall Street Journal details the Pentagon’s new plan to increase daily drone flights by half, raising serious questions about the future of military drone strikes. The Pentagon currently directs 61 daily drone flights, almost all of which are used for remote surveillance. The expansion would give the Pentagon even more reconnaissance data, expanding capacity in new programs from the Army and special contractors.

Only a vanishingly small percentage of the flights involve actual strikes, but they’ll provide a crucial first step for strikes in new regions, which will require reconnaissance feeds for targeting and command support. Notably, many of the future reconnaissance efforts are intended to monitor operations in Ukraine and the South China Sea. Thus far, drone strikes have been largely confined to Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The new uptick in reconnaissance missions also won’t affect the CIA’s ongoing drone program, which has remained the most controversial, secretive, and deadly of the US’s drone operations.

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