Military grade robots may have swarmed into war theaters as a US “Army of the Grand Robotic”, but the ingenuity and charity of hobbyists still has a place on America’s front lines. In the 2000s front-line troops started using remote-controlled toys then US military made a big push to investigate and destroy suspected land mines using military-grade robots instead.
Americans are a tinkering lot by nature. The remote-controlled toy trucks that some troops were already using to nudge suspicious packages, are a classic example. They work even better with a weatherproof wireless camera on board, for looking under vehicles. Which is what software engineer Ernest Fessenden of Rochester, MN put together for his deployed brother, Chris, with the help of a local store called Everything Hobby…
Dassault’s Brazilian presentation lists the UAE as a country flying twin-engine fighters. Just one thing: that isn’t true yet, unless they order Dassault’s Rafale (or the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet) to replace their single-engine Mirage 2000-9s. Dassault had a team in the UAE trying to close the Rafale deal last weekend (Les Echos, in French).
WABEP (Wirksystem zur abstandsfähigen Bekämpfung von Einzel und Punktzielen) UAV double-teaming: Germany has run tests involving Rheinmetall’s KZO reconnaissance drone working with IAI’s Harop loitering kamikaze UAV. WABEP demonstrated data & imagery exchange between the UAV operators, and the ability to pass targeting information to the Harop.
Affordable acquisition? Lt. Gen. William Phillips, Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition Logistics and Technology), wants more upfront feedback from industry on likely costs, while Stuart Hazlett, Deputy Director, Program Acquisition and Strategic Sourcing, said competitive bids that receive a single answer will be resolicited for another 30 days. Meanwhile an audit by the DoD’s Inspector General shows overpricing by Sikorsky on Black Hawk spare parts (Bloomberg, DoD IG PDF).
Leon Panetta, who told NPR the budget was getting most his attention, will meet members of the Aerospace Industries Association’s next week to argue in favor of sustained budgets. Todd Harrison at the CSBA says the DoD budget could fall by 31% over the next decade in the most aggressive scenario (see his brief from last month).
In August 2011, Energy Focus, Inc. in Solon, OH received a $23.1 million firm-fixed-price contract to design and manufacture “energy efficient, solid state lighting for general illumination on Navy ships to upgrade all the legacy lighting systems with new energy efficient, solid state lighting as part of the Navy’s green initiative.” Work on this first delivery order will be performed in Solon, OH, and is expected to be completed by Dec 1/11, while $1.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was competitively awarded on a best-value basis, with 3 offers received by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, Ship System Engineering Station in Philadelphia, PA (N65540-11-D-0009).
The SSL program actually began when a submarine sonar technician, irritated by the constant buzz of his LED bunk lamp, asked if the Navy could find an LED replacement…
Northrop Grumman’s ASDS “Advanced SEAL Delivery System” aimed to build mini-subs as successors to the current SDV (SEAL/Swimmer Delivery Vehicle). It began with great promise. The SDVs, carried on US modified Benjamin Franklin Class [SSBN-640] special warfare submarines, as well as new Ohio Class SSGNs, were old – and cold. ASDS would offer a modern, dry alternative, with advanced sensors besides.
In the end, however, technical and reliability issues proved insuperable. The program spiraled out of control, with cost overruns of 400+%. In its place, a less ambitious SWCS replacement program is beginning to take shape, even as the private sector begins to step in with options of its own. This DID FOCUS article chronicles the ASDS program’s history, its designated successors, and emerging privately-funded alternatives.
In 1998, Boeing began a revolutionary development program: create an unmanned aircraft that was about the size of the USAF’s F-117 stealth fighter, with similar performance, better stealth, and better range. DARPA’s J-UCAS program launched Boeing’s X-45A and Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs), which went on to perform tests that included multiple UCAV flights, bomb drops, and other aviation firsts.
J-UCAS was effectively killed in 2006, though it went on to spawn the Navy’s UCAS-D competition. NGC’s X-47B Pegasus won, but the Pentagon’s back-and-forth over the USAF’s Next-Generation Bomber program gave Boeing an incentive to remain active. The bomber program will either create a big opening for UCAVs, or allow Boeing to lever any new advances in stealthy UCAV design for its bomber bid. Not so coincidentally, Boeing is using company funds to put its X-45C back on track, as the “Phantom Ray”.
Hon. Tony Clement, MP Bob Dechert, PW&C Pres. John Saabas
United Technologies subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Canada recently announced that it will invest more than $1 billion in research and development over the next 5 years to develop the next generation of high-performance aircraft engines. The investment includes a $300 million repayable contribution from the Government of Canada via Industry Canada’s Strategic Aerospace and Defense Initiative (SADI) program, which was recently used to help global simulations leader CAE.
Airtronic USA, Inc. in Elk Grove Village, IL recently announced a 5-year, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract from US Army TACOM Rock Island Arsenal, IL. The firm will produce up to 50,000 M203 and M203A2 40mm Grenade Launchers. The contract’s initial $4.55 million order is for 5,266 weapons, which implies that the total order could be worth around $43 million, if all options are exercised (W52H09-10-D-0173).
The front-loading M203 fits under the US military’s rifles, allowing troops to fire a single 40mm grenade, while keeping their rifle ready to fire in normal mode. This is in contrast to single shot “bullet trap” systems like the SIMON/GREM door breaching grenade, which are designed to fit over the barrel of the rifle – or to multiple-round, dedicated 40mm grenade launchers like the US military’s MSGL. Airtronic has been manufacturing the M203 family of 40mm Grenade Launchers (M203s, M203A1s, and M203A2s) since 2006, and says that it has delivered 24,700 launchers without a single field failure. Even so, the M203 is facing serious competition for service within the US military.
In April 2006, “WALRUS Hunted to Extinction By Congress, DARPA?” dealt with the cancellation of DARPA’s WALRUS ultra-heavy lift program. WALRUS aimed to develop an airship that could lift between 250-500 tons, offering capacity that rivaled ship-borne options, but offered the benefits of transport all the way to the front without requiring ports and related infrastructure.
Now a private consortium sees similar needs and trends in key civilian sectors. A Canadian/American partnership that includes Boeing has set itself the public goal of building the commercial equivalent of DARPA’s desired demonstrator…
The Mk15 Phalanx system was originally developed as a ship’s final hope against incoming missiles: a radar-guided 20mm gatling gun would would fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute, throwing up a last-ditch wall of lead. Phalanx has become a popular naval weapon that’s also effective against helicopters, UAVs, and even small boats. It has even migrated onto land, where its “Centurion” version can protect a 1.2 km square area against incoming mortars and rockets.
“The Centurion system has provided a near-term C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortars) solution for our deployed forces. But we know that our customers would like a larger defended footprint beyond the kinematics of a gunbased system. A missile is too expensive, so we are looking instead at a solution based on the adaptation of a robust but relatively lowpower, low beam-quality commercial laser… By using clever optics to focus the laser beam at range, we demonstrated that we could achieve sufficient energy on target to deflagrate a 60mm mortar round.”
The concept has promise – but it also has substantial obstacles to overcome before it can become militarily useful…
European missile manufacturer MBDA plans adjustments to its long-range Meteor active radar guided air-to-air missile, to make it capable of deployment on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The MBDA Meteor will compete for orders with Raytheon’s medium range AIM-120C AMRAAM active radar missile, though the Meteor possesses longer range and several additional technological advances.
This move expands the Meteor’s original designated market, which was the Dassault Rafale, EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen fighter systems. MBDA’s move is interesting for a number of reasons, ranging from the convergence of different fighter system design philosophies to what it implicitly says about their projections re: future fighter exports.