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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DARPA Alias project enters phase II; turning manned aircraft into drones

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a second contract modification for Phase 2 of its project to develop a system to add autonomous capabilities to existing aircraft.

The research agency gave Aurora Flight Sciences a $15.3 million modification for further development of its Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS, program which plans to allow for smaller flight crews by allowing the system to take over certain functions. With the modification, the total value of Aurora’s deal rises to $21.4 million.

Earlier this month, DARPA also gave Sikorsky Aircraft a $9.8 million modification, also for the program’s next phase.

During Phase I, Aurora, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin focused on developing easy-to-use human interfaces that would allow the system to help operate the aircraft without a lot of maintenance from the pilot.

Phase II of the program targets refining the overall system, reducing risk reduction, demonstrating that ALIAS can be installed quickly and flight demonstrations, according to the announcement of Aurora’s contract. The next phase also adds a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to the fixed-wing aircraft used in demonstrations.

Aurora’s work on Phase II is expected to be finished by December 2016

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National Guard Predator Drones Support Rim Fire Firefighters in Cali

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On August 28, 2013, an MQ-1 Predator drone took off from March Air Reserve Base in Southern California and headed north. The Predator’s mission was to provide aerial imagery to support almost 4,000 firefighters battling the Rim Fire, which by then had burned 160,000 acres and was only 20 percent contained. According to a report by the Forest Service, the Predator flew 150 hours in support of the firefighters, identifying the locations where the fire had spread and mapping the perimeter of the blaze. The Predator was operated by the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing of the California Air National Guard, one of dozen or so national guard units across the country that fly military-grade drones.

The Rim Fire was the first time that an Air National Guard Predator or Reaper drone had been used for a domestic mission. More recently, on July 29, California’s 163rd dispatched an MQ-9 Reaper drone to help find Ed Cavanaugh, a schoolteacher and outdoorsman who had gone missing in California’s El Dorado National Park. “This technology allows us to provide persistent coverage of the search area in support of our partner agencies,” Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, California’s Adjutant General, said in a statement. In the end, the Reaper did not help find the man.

A growing number of National Guard units from other states besides California are flying drones. In addition to the units that fly the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, many Army National Guard units are training to fly smaller tactical drones like the RQ-7 Shadow. “You can accomplish the mission of saving lives and then go to your 9-year-old’s soccer game,” Colonel Dana Hessheimer, commander of California’s 163rd, said in an interview with Grizzly. In recent years, the U.S. Air Force has come to rely on the Air National Guard units to staff Predator or Reaper surveillance missions over Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of these units are now wondering why these drones can’t be put to greater use at home.

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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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DARPA Gremlins: Exploring Drones launched / recovered from Airborne “aircraft carriers”

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The military has two types of long-range weapons systems: missiles that can be fired from great distances and are never seen again, and complex aircraft that remain in use for generations. What they have in common expense, whether they’re one-and-done munitions or aircraft that are costly to build and maintain.

The Pentagon’s lead research arm wants another alternative, looking to develop relatively cheap drones that can be launched from large aircraft or fighters, attack a target or conduct ISR, and then be retrieved in-flight.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has announced aprogram it’s calling Gremlins, looking to prove the feasibility of affordable unmanned systems that can be safely launched and recovered in the air, spreading the payload and airframe costs over as many as 20 uses instead of just one. In addition to reusability, DARPA hopes that the program could save money by making use of existing unmanned aircraft rather than designing new models.

Gremlins—named for the imaginary, mischievous creatures that boosted morale among British pilots in World War II—builds on an idea DARPA put forth in November, with a Request for Information on the idea of using large aircraft, such as C-130 transport or the B-52 bomber as “aircraft carriers” for small drones.

Under the Gremlins plan, groups of drones would be launched from large aircraft such as the C-130 or B-52, or from fighters or other smaller aircraft while those manned aircraft are outside the range of an adversary’s defenses. After the gremlins carry out their mission, a C-130 would round them up and take them back to base, where they could be set up for their next mission within 24 hours, DARPA said.

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