The Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat air system
demonstrator (UCAS-D) made its first touch and go onboard the aircraft carrier
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on 17 May.
"This landing, rubber hitting deck, is extremely fulfilling
for the team and is the culmination of years of relative navigation
development," says Don Blottenberger, UCAS-D Deputy Program manager. "Now, we
are set to demonstrate the final pieces of the demonstration."
The Navy says the UCAS-D program plans to conduct
shore-based arrested landings of the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming
months before final carrier-based arrestments later in 2013.
Unmanned aircraft have been grabbing the headlines today. First, there is now a clearer picture available of what appears to be China's first stealth UAV--but little more than that is really known, everything else is pure speculation. However, one industry source says that to his very experienced eyes, the aircraft is a genuine advance in Chinese aerospace development--unlike the farce that is the Iranian toy that was presented last week.
Meanwhile, the US Navy launched a Northrop Grumman X-47B from the USS George H W Bush earlier today--our very own Zach Rosenberg was there. The Navy got Flightglobal a slot on the helicopter even though they initially told us there was no room. The launch looks like it was quite successful--take a look below.
However, the X-47B did not carry out an arrested landing upon returning to Pax River. That could be because the unmanned jet was having difficulty making even that first trap it did the week before where the Navy showed off a video of the aircraft snagging a wire. Sources told the DEW Line, at the time of the earlier trap, the aircraft now had a 10 percent field boarding rate... So hopefully, this isn't an indication of a major problem. The X-47B guys have had to redesign their tail hook a number of times now due to the same inaccurate Navy-supplied wire dynamics model that was partly responsible for the F-35C's woes.
Meanwhile, back in scenic Crystal City, Lockheed showed off this picture of their Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft mockup. Lockheed hopes to displace Northrop'sentrant--likely X-47B derived--for the Navy's UCLASS effort.The UCLASS program will actually take four separate designs to a preliminary design review before downselecting to one. The UCLASS, which is an operational successor to the X-47B demonstrator, will likely be smaller than the Northrop-built prototypes and will likely only have a light strike capability. Speaking of Lockheed--the company showed us a video of the F-35B performing a vertical take-off from last Friday, but paradoxically because of the Navy and Joint Program Office, are not allowed to release it--which sucks for you guys. Frankly, it's just bizarre--it's a big base with lots of people and when a large 40,000lbs fighter takes-off vertically and hovers, folks are going to take notice.
Iran unveiled on 9 May what it claims is a new stealthy unmanned combat aircraft called the Hamaseh. According to the official FARS state news agency, the Hamaseh--which means Epic in Farsi--can be used for both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions.
"This drone has been built by defense industry experts and is simultaneously capable of surveillance, reconnaissance and missile and rocket attacks," Iranian defense minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi tells Iranian state television. "This aircraft with its stealth quality can avoid detection by the enemy," he adds.
Iranian deputy defense minister for industrial and research affairs Mohammad Eslami says that the Hemaseh has improved capabilities compared to previous Iranian-built unmanned aircraft, according to FARS. It apparently flies at higher altitudes and has better endurance.
The Hamaseh bears similarities to Western unmanned aircraft like the Israeli-developed Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar and the US-built AAI Corporation RQ-7 Shadow. While the Hamaseh appears to be a viable design, the assertions that it is a stealth aircraft are patently ridiculous as the aircraft has none of requisite features found on a low observable platform.
Iran has made dubious assertions about developing technologically advanced combat aircraft before. Earlier in February, the country rolled-out the Qaher-313 "stealth fighter" with much fanfare, but Western analysts immediately ridiculed the aircraft for what it was--a subscale mock-up best used for domestic propaganda.
The US Air Force does not intend to keep the Block 30 Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk in service past the end of calendar year 2014 because the Lockheed Martin U-2 and other "classified platforms" can take-over its mission, senior service leaders told the US Congress on 17 April. However, service officials acknowledge that it will be hard to convince Congress to go along with the USAF's plans.
"We did not do that without carefully considering how we'd cover that mission with the U-2 and other classified platforms," says Lt Gen Charles Davis, military deputy for the office of the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisitions. Davis says that further discussions of those classified capabilities would have to be conducted behind closed doors. "There are systems out there that can do this in a variety of different ways," he says.
This is NOT the aircraft in question--this a Lockheed Skunk Works concept for a VTOL UAV.
The USAF would like to use money already appropriated for three additional Global Hawks to help buy back between three and five Lockheed F-35 production aircraft that the service expects it will have to cut later in fiscal year 2013, Davis says. The USAF also hopes to use part of the money to try restoring flying hours for portions of its operational combat aircraft fleet it was forced to ground in recent weeks.
Analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group says that among the classified platforms in question could potentially be a long-range stealth reconnaissance aircraft that has long been rumored to be flying in the Nevada desert. While it is hard to say for sure, it would make sense for such a platform to have low observable characteristics and have high altitude capability, he says. Given the lack of information, it is difficult to say if such a platform is manned or unmanned, however an unmanned aircraft would have far greater endurance. It could potentially be part of the USAF's long range strike family of systems--which includes a new bomber, cruise missile, electronic attack capabilities and hardware, Aboulafia says.
USAF intelligence chief, Lt Gen Larry James, speaking at an Air Force Association sponsored breakfast on 18 April, declined to comment on what classified platforms might compliment the U-2 to fulfill the Global Hawk's mission. But James did say that in the future the USAF hopes to gather and process intelligence data from "all sources" including satellites, manned and unmanned platforms among others for operations in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment.
For penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the USAF would rely on the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-35, James says. But those aircraft cannot yet download the data they gather to the intelligence analysts located at the service's distributed common ground stations. "That's a desire, we don't necessarily have the money to do that right now," James says. "But we're thinking about how do you go after that."
Lockheed Martin is revealing additional details about its submission for the US Navy's Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft programme saying it has already built a full-scale mock-up of the flying wing design.
"We have a full-scale mock-up," says Robert Ruszkowski, Lockheed's director of UCLASS programme development. "That's been a good engineering tool to look at fit checks."
For its concept, the company's Skunk Works design team has selected a flying wing configuration because it is particularly well suited for the missions that the UCLASS is expected to fly.
"There is nothing inherently unique about a flying wing, but we have a lot of experience with them," Ruszkowski says.
The flying wing's combination of aerodynamically efficiency, potential for very low signatures and structural simplicity make it ideal for an application like the UCLASS, he says. The design would allow the aircraft to be adapted to operate against a broad swath of threats ranging from permissive airspace to the anti-access/area denial environments. "We've got the right shape for that, we've got the right materials from the [Lockheed] F-35 that can be readily leveraged," Ruszkowski adds.
While the Lockheed UCLASS has the range and persistence to fly deep into enemy territory, it does not have the weapons payload of a true long-range strike platform like the old Grumman A-6 Intruder. "We think there is an element of the mission set that might be for long range operations, but it is truly not for large payloads at long ranges," Ruszkowski says. "Trying to keep the system affordable, this will not be anywhere near a replacement for an A-6 from a strike perspective."
Because flying wings are structurally simple, they are also easier to manufacture, which helps the design to be affordable. "There is not as much tooling associated with say a flying wing compared to a more conventional design," Ruszkowski says.
Lockheed also plans on reusing as much existing hardware as possible on its UCLASS design--that might even mean adapting equipment such as the aircraft's landing gear from another platform.
The company is also designing its UCLASS concept to have open architecture avionics not only so that existing computer hardware can be reused, but it would also allow the USN to modify the sensor payloads easily. "The navy has made it clear they would like to have the ability to put new sensors or new mission systems onboard UCLASS over time," Ruszkowski says. "Obviously open architecture facilitates that."
From what specifications the navy has released, it is apparent that the service is focusing in the interfaces for the various sensors and communications gear--which suggests an open architecture design will be required.
Lockheed has also worked hard to make sure one operator can "fly" multiple aircraft, Ruszkowski says. The operator would control the aircraft by exception, which means he or she would only directly intervene in the operation of a particular UCLASS air vehicle if something of particular significance were to be occurring. By and large, the Lockheed UCLASS is designed to operate as autonomously as practical given navy operational doctrines and rules of engagement, as well as air traffic management procedures.
Lockheed Martin is taking the wraps off its submission for
the US Navy's prospective unmanned carrier launched surveillance and strike
(UCLASS) aircraft at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington
According to Lockheed, the bat-wing stealth aircraft
formerly referred to as the Sea Ghost integrates proven technologies from
previous manned and unmanned developments.The company is stressing an open architecture design and the
"maximum reuse of hardware and
As such, Lockheed's UCLASS proposal bears a strong family
resemblance to the company's RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aircraft, which is being
flown by the US Air Force. Technologies from the F-35 programme have also been
integrated into the aircraft.
Lockheed says that its UCLASS submission would be adaptable
across the whole spectrum of military operations from counter-terrorism to
carrier-based strikes. "Enabling operations in any scenario - and in any
environment," the company says.
To operate into those disparate environments, the aircraft
will have "multi-spectral stealth, as well as emissions and bandwidth
management to defeat detection and enable mission success," Lockheed says.
The company also claims that its UCLASS design will reduce
manpower requirements because a single operator would be able to operate
multiple aircraft. In recent weeks the US Navy has announced its intention to
fund four companies to design new unmanned air vehicles for the UCLASS
programme. Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Lockheed Martin and
Northrop Grumman "have credible, existing, comprehensive UCLASS design
solutions, and associated production capabilities and facilities" to design
UAVs through the preliminary design review phase, the USN says.
The pre-solicitation, announced on 26 March, is the first
step towards securing funding for the carrier-based strike and surveillance
aircraft. A full solicitation is likely to go out "in the summer timeframe,"
says the navy.
The first UCLASS aircraft are planned for production
beginning in fiscal year 2016, following a likely down select to a single
Boeing is unveiling an updated version of its F/A-XX
sixth-generation fighter concept at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition
in Washington DC this week.
The tail-less twin-engine stealth fighter design comes in "manned
and unmanned options as possibilities per the US Navy," Boeing says. The design
features diverterless supersonic inlets reminiscent of those found on the
Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Boeing concept also features canards, which is somewhat
of a surprise because the motion of those forward mounted control surfaces is
generally assumed to compromise a stealth aircraft's frontal radar
cross-section. But the lack of vertical tail surfaces suggests the aircraft
would be optimized for all-aspect broadband stealth, which would be needed for
operations in the most challenging anti-access/area denial environments.
Also of note in the manned version of the company's F/A-XX
concept is the placement of the cockpit--rearward visibility appears to be
restricted without the aid of a sensor apparatus similar to the F-35's
distributed aperture system of six infrared cameras.
The Boeing F/A-XX concept is a response to a USN request for
information (RFI) from April 2012 soliciting data for a replacement for the
service's Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fleets in the 2030s.
The Super Hornet fleet is expected to start reaching the end of the jet's 9000h
useful lifespan during that time period.
"The intent of this research is to solicit Industry inputs
on candidate solutions for CVN [nuclear-powered aircraft carrier] based
aircraft to provide air supremacy with a multi-role strike capability in an
anti-access/area denied (A2AD) operational environment," the navy RFI had
stated. "Primary missions include, but are not limited to, air warfare (AW),
strike warfare (STW), surface warfare (SUW), and close air support (CAS)."
Navy leaders had said at the time that they expect any new
F/A-XX design to have greatly increased range and offer far superior kinematic
performance compared to existing tactical aircraft.
This piece is courtesy of my colleague Zach Rosenberg--our resident unmanned aircraft reporter.
North Korea has made its first public showing of a flying unmanned air vehicle (UAV), showing a series of pictures on state media that apparently depict a remotely-piloted vehicle during launch and flight.
The grainy pictures appear to show a North Korean copy of the MQM-107 Streaker target drone, evidently modified to contain explosives, making it a steerable cruise missile.
"Super precision drone planes lifted off to the sky," wrote state media outlet Korean Central News Agency. "After making long-range flight as planned, the planes headed toward 'enemy positions' and stormed the targets, destroying them with accuracy."
North Korean media is known for greatly exaggerating capabilities, if not lying outright.
The MQM-107, built by Beech Aircraft, was initially used as a target drone, simulating enemy aircraft during training and serving as live targets for testing new equipment.
Reports from South Korea in early 2012 suggested that North Korea had purchased several of the drones for reverse engineering, with the aim of building a weaponised version as a sort of maneuverable cruise missile.
North Korea has embarked on a capability upgrade in recent years, including developing both nuclear weaponry and missiles to carry them. Nations thought to be assisting North Korea in weapons development, particularly Iran, have developed an aerospace industry that has produced several new UAVs.
While those aircraft are not thought to be equal to Western variants, it is notable that UAV technology has not made its way to North Korea. Iran, amongst others, has been accused of providing technical expertise to North Korea with its missile and spaceflight programmes.
Yesterday, Andrew Mallow, Boeing Phantom Work's program manager for the Phantom Eye hydrogen-powered high altitude demonstrator and Brad Shaw, the project's chief engineer, held a press conference about their aircraft's recent second flight. While the second flight of a company-funded test vehicle isn't normally particularly noteworthy, in the case of the Phantom Eye, this was the aircraft's first successful landing. The unmanned aircraft had crash landed onto a dry lakebed at Edwards AFB, California, earlier on its first flight.
Here is a video of the event.
Mallow says that this time around, everything "worked perfectly" with the aircraft achieving 62 knots and 8000ft during the flight. The successful second flight is due to the efforts of Boeing engineers at Saint Louis, Missouri, who redesigned the aircraft's nose-gear and added other improvements. Many of those improvements are in the plane's software.
Mallow says he had hoped to fly the Phantom Eye again during the weekend, but the weather wasn't looking good. The USAF is clearing some time and range space for the project on Monday, but Mallow doesn't yet have a good idea of what the parameters are going to be for that flight.
The goal for the Phantom Eye is to eventually fly at 65,000ft and push the aircraft's endurance to four days--that's with a payload of 450lbs (but it's not carrying a "specific payload"). An operational version, which would be larger, could potentially fly for up to 10 days, Mallow says.
Mallow says there are interested "customer agencies" and international interest, but nothing concrete at the moment. In recent months, a number of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms--which were in vogue at the height of the Iran and Afghan wars--have been cancelled. In an era of declining budgets, other than as a one off science project, there are no clear indications as to what the future holds for Phantom Eye.
This Boeing briefing tells you everything you could possibly want to know about Phantom Eye.
The Pentagon is creating a new medal for military personnel who contribute to combat operations, but are physically removed from the fight. That's including the operators of unmanned aircraft like the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the creation of the medal on 13 February, 2013.
"I've always felt, having seen the great work that they do, day in and day out, that those who performed in an outstanding manner should be recognized.Unfortunately, medals that they otherwise might be eligible for simply did not recognize that kind of -- of contribution," Panetta says."And for that reason, recognizing these technological advances, I'm pleased to announce that I have formally approved the establishment of a new distinguished warfare medal.The medal provides distinct department-wide recognition for the extraordinary achievements that directly impact on combat operations, but that do not involve acts of valor or physical risk that combat entails."
With the creation of "the distinguished warfare medal the department now has that ability, and it will be reserved only for those who have met the highest standards," Panetta continues. "This award recognizes the reality of the kind of technological warfare that we are engaged in, in the 21st century."
Astonishingly, as reported by Gannett Government Media (aka Defense News, Army, Navy, Navy, Marine Corps and Military Times), the new medal is going to be placed above the Bronze Star with Valor device in the order of precedence--i.e. it ranks higher than that medal in prestige. For the flying services, the new medal ranks just below the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As my old colleague Andrew Tilghman reports: The order of precedence came as a surprise to Doug Sterner, a military medals expert and the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, the largest database of military medal recipients.
"It's got me puzzled," Sterner said in an interview Wednesday. "I understand the need to recognize the guys at the console who are doing some pretty important things. But to see it ranking above the Bronze Star [with] V?"
The announcement was met overwhelmingly with disdain by a number of military personnel I talked to, though most agree that unmanned aircraft operators do need to receive some kind of recognition--just not this.
This awesome video basically sums up the situation--though the US Air Force uses trailers for its crews. The US Navy hopes to build an actual building for its Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton operators.