USAF Retrofits Reapers with extended range/endurance kits

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The contractor for the famed MQ-9 Reaper has announced that it conducted successful test flights with retrofits designed to increase the unmanned aircraft’s endurance.

The retrofits for the Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper Extended Range (ER) Long Wing, as General Atomics calls it, include a 13-foot wingspan extension that takes the expanse of its wings to 79 feet, greater internal fuel capacity and hard points for carrying external stores. The improvements will increase the Reaper’s flight endurance from 27 hours to 40 hours, General Atomics said in a release. Other improvements include short-field takeoff and landing performance and spoilers on the wings to enable precision automatic landings.

“Predator B ER’s new 79-foot wing span not only boosts the RPA’s endurance and range, but also serves as proof-of-concept for the next-generation Predator B aircraft that will be designed for Type-Certification and airspace integration,” said Linden Blue, CEO of General Atomics. “The wing was designed to conform to STANAG 4671 [NATO Airworthiness Standard for RPA systems], and includes lightning and bird strike protection, non-destructive testing, and advanced composite and adhesive materials for extreme environments.”

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Pentagon shutters African drone base, moves aircraft to other hot spots

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The Pentagon has closed a drone base in Africa and moved the unmanned aircraft to other locations as it strains to cope with a surge in demand for drones from military commanders fighting the Islamic State and other militant groups.

The U.S. military has stopped flying unarmed Reaper drones from an airfield in Ethi­o­pia that had served as a key hub since 2011 for collecting surveillance on al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda affiliate in neighboring Somalia, U.S. officials said.

U.S. troops and contractors packed up the Reaper drones and dismantled their small base of operations in the southern city of Arba Minch in September. But the move was kept quiet until last weekend, when U.S. diplomats confirmed it in a report by an Ethio­pian news website.

U.S. officials were vague about why they decided to end the drone flights. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, said the United States and Ethi­o­pia “reached a mutual decision that our presence in Arba Minch is not required at this time.”

Katherine Diop, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital, added in an email that “it is important to know that our presence in Arba Minch was never meant to be permanent.” A spokesman for the Ethio­pian embassy in Washington did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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Newport News, VA and Tuscon, AZ Should Seek New Opportunities with USAF $3B Drone Expansion Plan

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The Air Force wants to vastly expand its drone program over the next five years by doubling the number of pilots and deploying them to bases around the country to give commanders better intelligence and more firepower.

Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — which stands to lose its biggest mission amid efforts to retire the A-10 ground-attack jet — is mentioned as a possible site for expanded drone operations.

Besides Davis-Monthan, those considered most likely sites for the program include Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento, California; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam near Honolulu; and Langley Air Force Base near Newport News, Virginia.

The $3 billion drone expansion plan, which must be approved by Congress, was unveiled Thursday after months of study that focused on a drone pilot force that commanders have described as overworked, undermanned and under appreciated.

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Air Force proposes $3-billion plan to vastly expand its drone program

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The Air Force wants to vastly expand its drone program over the next five years by doubling the number of pilots and deploying them to bases in California and elsewhere to give commanders better intelligence and more firepower.

The $3-billion plan, which must be approved by Congress, was unveiled Thursday after months of study that focused on a drone pilot force that commanders have described as overworked, undermanned and underappreciated.

The proposed expansion comes as the Pentagon has intensified airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. Pilots and crews who operate the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have struggled to meet a rising demand for aerial surveillance of war zones and other hot spots.

“Right now, 100% of the time, when a MQ-1 or MQ-9 crew goes in, all they do is combat,” said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, which oversees drone operations. “So we really have to build the capacity.”

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USAF buys more Block 30 GCS.. spinning up for increased Combat Air Patrols

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General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, has been awarded a $32,326,408 delivery order (0010) to previously awarded contract FA8620-15-G-4040 for Block 30 ground control station production undefinitized contract action effort.

Work will be performed at Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by June 30, 2018. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Fiscal 2015 aircraft procurement funds in the amount of $16,151,200 are being obligated at the time of award.

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Former Airmen, with PTSD, Denounce Drone Program.. Self Described Whistleblowers

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Former Air Force airmen are speaking out against America’s use of drone warfare, calling the military drone program “morally outrageous” and “one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

In interviews with NBC News, three former servicemen — who together have 15 years of military drone experience — decried the civilian cost of drone strikes and called on President Obama to “turn this around” before he leaves office.

“We were very callous about any real collateral damage,” said Michael Haas, 29, who worked as both a drone operator and instructor. “Whenever that possibility came up, most of the time it was a ‘guilt by association’ or sometimes we didn’t even consider other people that were on screen.”

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Air Force hires contracted drone pilots for combat patrols; critics “drone on” about legality

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The Air Force has hired civilian defense contractors to fly MQ-9 Reaper drones to help track suspected militants and other targets in global hot spots, a previously undisclosed expansion in the privatization of once-exclusively military functions.

For the first time, civilian pilots and crews now operate what the Air Force calls “combat air patrols,” daily round-the-clock flights above areas of military operations to provide video and collect other sensitive intelligence.

Contractors control two Reaper patrols a day, but the Air Force plans to expand that to 10 a day by 2019. Each patrol involves up to four drones.

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It’s Official, Improved Gray Eagle to Enter Production for US Army

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The Army has awarded a contract to General Atomics for full-rate production of 19 Improved Gray Eagle (IGE) unmanned aerial systems, the company has announced. The systems will be delivered by September 2018.

General Atomics also manufactures the highly acclaimed Predator and larger Reaper, both of which are operated by the Air Force.

According to General Atomics, “IGE is a next-generation advanced derivative of the Army’s mission-proven Gray Eagle UAS that has accumulated over 228,000 flight hours since 2008.” While the Gray Eagleand Improved Gray Eagle are very similar in terms of air speed, flights ceiling and payload, they differ in endurance. The IGE’s endurance capability is almost double that of the Gray Eagle—48 hours to 25 hours respectively—though the Army lists the Gray Eagle’s endurance at greater than 30 hours in its UAS Roadmap.

The Gray Eagle is weaponized, capable of carrying four Hellfire missiles. The IGE will deliver “improved, game-changing capabilities that will perform ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] collection and close air support of ground forces through longer persistence, a variety of sensor and weapons payloads, and extended range that affords the ability to operate from safe locations and transit into areas of conflict,” General Atomics said.

Since there are relatively few differences in software and operation, the IGE can be easily integrated with existing Gray Eagle units.

As the Defense Department seeks to increase the number of daily drone orbits, or combat air patrols, by  nearly 50 percent by 2019, DOD will be relying on the Army, Special Operations Command and, to a smaller degree, contractors to pick up the extra slack from the Air Force, which will operate 60 CAPs. By 2019, DOD wants 90 CAPS to address the gaps in aerial ISR with threats seeming to continue to proliferate.

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ScanEagles for Cameroon, Kenya and Pakistan

Foreign military sales fit nicely with AFRICOM shortfalls in Airborne ISR..

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Insitu has received three export contracts for its ScanEagle unmanned air vehicle that will see it deliver the system to Cameroon, Kenya and Pakistan.

Under the USA’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme, Cameroon and Kenya will receive one ScanEagle system each by September 2016, through deals worth $9.39 million and $9.86 million respectively, the US Department of Defense announced on 29 September.

The acquisitions for Cameroon and Kenya will include 50% of the work on each contract being carried out in-country, and will see the delivery of analogue medium wave infra-red ScanEagle UAVs, launch and recovery equipment, ground control stations, Insitu video exploitation systems and ground support equipment for the governments, says the contract notice

Insitu wins second drone award in two weeks.. USMC off and running with RQ-21A Blackjack

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Insitu Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing, has won a $6.9 million order to support the Navy’s RQ-21A unmanned aircraft system.

The RQ-21A Blackjack provides tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition data collection and dissemination capabilities, according to the NAVAIR website.

Under the contract, Insitu will provide technical studies, conceptual design modifications and engineering development.

Work will be performed in Hood River, Ore., Bingen, Wash., Boardman, Ore., Webster Field, Saint Inigoes, Md., and Patuxent River, Md., and is expected to wrap up in June 2017.

In late August, Insitu won an $8.8 million Navy contract to support the Blackjack at the Marine Corps air stations at Cherry Point, N.C., and Bingen, Wash.

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