Drones with Laser Weapons are coming



How do you sell the drone of the future? Build a laser into the dang thing. General Atomics, whose iconic Predator and Reaper drones are probably the first thing that come to mind when someone thinks “drone,” is independently funding the integration of a 150-kilowatt laser weapon into its Avenger (or Predator-C) drone. The Avenger is the younger, jet-powered sibling to the iconic “War on Terror” drones, but it still hasn’t yet found its niche. Carrying afreakin’ laser may change that, and make it an attractive tool for the Pentagon.

It helps that the laser is particularly powerful. The American military is developing several laser weapons, like the Army’s truck-carried HEL MD, but that one was first tested with a 10kW laser, with plans to increase it to 50kW and then 100 kW. Last year the U.S. Navy actually deployed a laser weapon to the Persian Gulf, but the Laser Weapon System mounted on the USS Ponce is only 30kW. Power matters, though it’s not the only factor. For a laser to burn through a target, it needs both time and power. Ground- or ship-mounted lasers can afford to be a little weaker since, unlike fast-moving planes, it’s likely they can keep their beam on target longer.

The Avenger flies at up to 460 mph, so its more powerful 150kW laser is one way to ensure it destroys what it hits, whether it’s another drone or an incoming missile. Targeting computers help too.

Defense One notes that the company has its work cut out for it:

Bringing these two technologies together involves a lot more than strapping a laser cannon under the drone’s wings. Hitting a target with a laser mounted on a vibrating platform moving quickly through air laden with dust and water vapor is tougher than launching a Hellfire at a moving vehicle.

“Before you spend any money on a laser you better darn well show that you can acquire, ID, and track the objects of interest so that you could put a laser on them,” said [General Atomics Vice President for Mission Systems Michael] Perry. “You have to be able to compensate for aero-optic distortion.”

The company is currently testing their laser at White Sands in New Mexico. They hope to have a laser on a drone by 2017.

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GA-ASI building training school for drone operators


GRAND FORKS, N.D., Sept. 23 (UPI) — General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. says it is to open a training academy on Grand Forks Air Base in North Dakota for operators of its remotely piloted aircraft.

A 10-year lease for its site has been signed and ground breaking is expected soon, with operations beginning next year.

“The mission of the GA-ASI Training Academy is to increase the overall capacity for flight crew training on our aircraft systems,” said Linden P. Blue, GA-ASI chief executive officer. “The Training Academy will complement our customers’ organic training capabilities and fill the growing need across our RPA enterprise to address the pilot shortage.”

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General Atomics to Improve 19 Gray Eagles


General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, California, was awarded a $47,499,986 modification (P00033) to undefinitized contract W58RGZ-13-C-0109 for an improved Gray Eagle engineering change proposal applicable to 19 aircraft, four lots of ground support equipment and one lot of unique initial spares. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2018.  Fiscal 2015 other procurement funds in the amount of $23,274,993 were obligated at the time of the award. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

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NASA, General Atomics Complete Third Phase of Sense & Avoid testing


Evolving technologies necessary for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to safely avoid other aircraft while moving through the nation’s skies recently were put to the test using NASA’s remotely piloted Ikhana aircraft.

The Ikhana UAS soars over the Mojave Desert during a flight from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. NASA Photo/Carla Thomas
The Ikhana UAS soars over the Mojave Desert during a flight from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. NASA Photo/Carla Thomas
Equipped with a prototype system of Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) sensors working in concert with airborne and ground-based computers, Ikhana made 11 flights involving more than 200 scripted encounters with approaching aircraft.

Depending on the specific scenario, either Ikhana detected one or more approaching aircraft and sent an alert to its remote pilot to take action, or Ikhana itself took action on its own by flying a programmed maneuver to avoid a collision — an aviation first.

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


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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Taranis stealth drone may see final test flights later this year


Britain’s top secret stealth drone will complete its third and possibly final round of test flights later this year, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The £200 million Taranis programme, making the most advanced aircraft ever built by British engineers, will have achieved all its objectives if this year’s trials go well, officials said. No decision has been made on further tests.

The remotely-piloted drone, constructed by BAE Systems, is a “combat vehicle demonstrator” to test and develop technology for future generations of fighters and unmanned vehicles.

Though unarmed it is expected to provide the basis for future fleets of supersonic stealth drone bombers that can attack deep into enemy territory, while evading sophisticated defences.

Tests on the unmanned aircraft named after the Celtic god of thunder have included “simulated weapon release”.

Taranis has already completed two sets of test flights and officials have released film of it flying from but an unnamed location, believed to have been in Woomera, Australia.

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Vision for global Predator training centers opportunities revealed


CAE’s defence lead has revealed plans to replicate the unmanned air vehicle training that it offers to the US Air Force to more operators of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems family of Predator UAVs.

The company currently provides pilot training for the MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs to the USAF at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, but with more sales of the type – particularly in Europe – Gene Colabatistto, group president of defence and security, is hoping that more “centres of excellence” can be established worldwide.

“The strategy is that we want to be aligned with the Predator,” Colabatistto said during a media briefing at Holloman AFB, adding that there is an opportunity in every region – plus more in the USA – and that CAE has locations for these in mind.

Italy is the first operator nation to acquire its own simulator for its Predator fleet, suggesting that Rome could be pursuing an intention to establish itself as a centre for training in Europe.

France, Italy and the UK all carry out their pilot training at Holloman, while Dutch personnel are due to begin training next year.

“If we create a greater capability in Italy, for example, that’s less training here [at Holloman],” Colabatistto says. “If I could do more, I’d do more with Predator – I haven’t saturated this market yet.

“We anticipated growth, established an agreement with General Atomics, and developed a product line.”

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Italian Air Force showcases Hammerhead UAS at Rivolto airshow


The P.1HH HammerHead UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), that the ItAF has already procured (three UAS systems, consisting of six aircraft and three ground stations and complete with ISR configuration, that will be delivered early next year), was also in static display sporting the markings and code of 28° Gruppo (Squadron) belonging to 32° Stormo from Amendola, the ItAF’s UAV unit.

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Opportunity; Army Gray Eagle’s data link capabilities upgrade


The Army has released a Request for Information looking to expand the data link capabilities of its Predator unmanned aircraft variant – the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.

The RFI seeks to provide “an outline for the potential revamp of Army’s Gray Eagle UAS data link equipment.” This spring, tests of manned-unmanned teaming using Apache helicopters and Gray Eagles showed the limitations of the Gray Eagle’s Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL), Breaking Defense reported. The TCDL communicates only over the Ku-band radio frequency, while other Army drones use other frequencies. Army officials said at the time they were planning a solicitation for a data link that can operate on multiple bands.

“The Army is interested in acquiring an overall system architect, and/or vendors that can provide subcomponents to include modems, antennas, front-end components, etc. Interested companies who believe they are capable of providing all or part of the information requested are invited to respond,” the RFI stated.

The Pentagon recently announced that it wants to increase the numberof unmanned aircraft sorties, or combat air patrols – one consisting of usually four aircraft and enable the force to rotate aircraft into the sky for constant 24/7 monitoring of a particular area – by 50 percent by 2019.  Since the Air Force’s personnel – which conduct the majority of global CAPs – are currently strained and pushed to their maximum limit, the CAP increases will rely on other branches such as the Army and Special Operations Command components as well as contractors.

While the Air Force and covert elements including the CIA have mostly been associated with the sorties flown in high-conflict areas, other commands have also contributed. Notably, the Army has operated its MQ-1C Gray Eagle, in Iraq. Recently one of these aircrafts was reported to have crashed in the Iraqi desert due to “technical complications caused by a loss of communications.”

The Army will fly as many as 16 sorties a day by 2019 – as opposed to the 60 the Air Force will continue to fly – with the Army flying half that by 2017.

The response date for the Army’s RFI is Oct 16, 2015.


NM Senator Senses Opportunity for NM Drone Pilot Training Jobs

Drone operators fly an MQ-9 Reaper training mission from a ground control station at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, in this U.S. Air Force handout photo taken October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Airman 1st Class Michael Shoemaker/USAF/Handout

Drone operators fly an MQ-9 Reaper training mission from a ground control station at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday expressing concern over the Pentagon’s plans to dramatically increase drone flights over the next four years amid a drone pilot shortfall.

“There is indeed a need for broadened surveillance and intelligence collection, but I remain very concerned that the anticipated growth is unsustainable without corresponding growth in recruitment, training, and retention,” he wrote in a Sept. 1 letter.

Heinrich is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and represents Holloman Air Force Base and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, which he said are the nation’s premier drone pilot training locations.
Last month, the Pentagon confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that it was planning to increase by 50 percent the number of daily drone flights to cover hotspots including Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, the South China Sea and North Africa.

Heinrich in his letter also urged the Pentagon to complete a report on how it will rectify drone pilot shortfalls.

The senator included language in the 2016 defense policy bill requiring the Air Force to submit a report on drone pilot manning policies and actions the Air Force will take to rectify personnel shortfalls, such as recruitment and retention bonuses, incentive pay, using enlisted personnel, and considerations for promotion.

He also noted in his letter that the Air Force was losing drone pilots faster than it could train new ones, and the force is already stretched thin.

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