DARPA Moves Forward with Fast, Light weight, Autonomy Program… Drones that fly like Birds

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the government agency that funds future technology — has awarded $3.4 million to two Cambridge groups to build speedy miniature drones that function as scouts for first responders.

Some day, the idea goes, tiny flying robots will zip into burning, crumbling buildings and scope out the space before firefighters and first-responders enter.
It’s all part of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy program that the agency announced in December last year.

In a request for proposals, DARPA compared the agility required of their machines to nature’s aerial champs: “Birds and flying insects maneuver easily at high speeds near obstacles. The FLA program asks the question ‘How can autonomous flying robotic systems achieve similar high-speed performance?’ ”

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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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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

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