With all the focus on North Korea, it’s easy to forget about the Latin American LAAD 2013 exhibition. Chile has been a regional leader in the use of UAVs, including their 2011 purchase of long-endurance Hermes 900s. Now, they’re taking the next step, and joining a larger trend by adding a short-range “over the hill” mini-UAV to complement the long-endurance Hermes. The new winner is also an Israeli firm, but this time the order went to BlueBird Aero Systems in Kadima, Israel, for their SpyLite mini-UAS. Bluebird CEO Ronen Nadir says that SpyLite beat competing systems “in both performance and price level.”
General Atomics may make the USA’s Predator and Reaper drone fleets, but Battlespace Flight Services LLC in Arlington, VA has been a key provider of maintenance support for several years now, and their FY 2007 multi-year contract ended up being worth over $500 million. It actually applies to “predator MQ-1 aircraft and related systems”, which may include the Predator B (as it was known, now the MQ-9 Reaper). Both the MQ-1 and MQ-9 are explicitly within the scope of Battlespace’s 2012-2014 follow-on contract, which is worth up to $950 million.
Recent contracts appear to be the close-out and bridge to the new arrangements. Note that Battlespace is hiring, if you’ve been an MQ-1 or MQ-9 pilot or sensor operator. As for the contracts…
Quick question: what’s the biggest limiting factor in today’s aircraft? Answer: the pilot. Fortunately for pilots, they’re also an aircraft’s greatest advantage, which will keep them in the mix, and in the cockpit, for some time to come. Those limitations are bringing unmanned aircraft into the combat picture, however, especially when it comes to the greatest limitation a pilot places on an aircraft: aerial endurance. Remaining awake, active, and effective in a manned fighter aircraft for 72 hours straight is simply not within the realm of possibility. On the other hand, a UAV with that endurance level, flown by pilots on the ground or at sea who can hand the aircraft off to a colleague while they depart for a coffee, bathroom break, or sleep, could easily remain aloft that long. All it needs is an appropriate level of mechanical reliability – and, of course, the ability to take on fuel from an aerial tanker aircraft.
That simple concept has profound implications for the ways in which airpower might be used.
At the end of February 2012, the US Navy moved to diversify its sources of contracted UAV services. Boeing’s ScanEagle has performed that role since 2004, providing a complete turnkey service for the US Navy and Marines. ScanEagles were involved in some of Iraq’s fiercest fights, the SEAL operation that rescued the Maersk Alabama, and other operations ranging from concept tests to full combat. They’ve also been used by American allies as an outsourced service, with rent-a-UAV customers in Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Under the new umbrella agreement, which could issue up to $874 million in contracts over 5 years, the US Navy and its international partners will be able to choose between 2-3 vendors, each of whom offers a different platform.
Desk Iron Dome. Make it happen. Ash is going to be SO jealous!
If you throw pens at Leon Panetta’s desk, the small Iron Dome replica he received as a gift from Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak won’t shoot to intercept. Panetta hid his disappointment gracefully but he would not say whether the anti-rocket system (marketed at full size by Raytheon in the US) would end up on the FY14 budget request. Joint press conference transcript.
RQ-7 Shadow UAVs can be launched via runway or catapult, and land on runways. They’ve become the mainstay tactical-class battalion/ brigade level UAS for the US Army and US Marine Corps, and have also been exported to a number of countries. Italy and Sweden picked it, and Australia bought it under their JP129 program when their original choice didn’t perform.
The RQ-7B offers a longer wingspan and larger tail than the initial RQ-7A, and can carry a payload of 27.2 kg/ 60 pounds. This usually entails IAI Tamam POP-200/300 or L-3 Wescam 11SST surveillance turrets, but add-on kits can insert useful capabilities like laser targeting, the TCDL datalink, communication relays, or other sensors. The US Marines are even investigating weapon options. Meanwhile, that large UAV fleet needs support.
In November 2012, Battlespace Flight Services LLC in Arlington, VA received a maximum $950 million indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract for worldwide organizational level UAV maintenance support. Battlespace is the incumbent provider for the USAF’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, and this program supports USAF Air Combat Command, the Air National Guard, and other major command and combatant command customers.
Work will be performed in Newport News, VA until March 31/14, which seems to add up to a lot of maintenance if they hit their maximum over just 17 months. USAF Air Combat Command’s AMIC/PKCA in Newport News, VA manages the contract (FA4890-13-D-0001).
In August 2009, Polish Land Forces Commander Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak dropped a different kind of bomb by resigning, after accusing defense bureaucrats in Warsaw of “serious incompetence” that was partly responsible for the deaths of Polish soldiers. As one might predict, those comments touched off promises of major equipment purchases, along with a political firestorm.
The end of a senior officer’s career is no small sacrifice. If done voluntarily, it must be done with and for honor. Ideally, it should also end up spurring necessary changes. So, what has happened since?
The USA’s Future Combat Systems Class I UAV is intended for reconnaissance, security and target acquisition operations in nearly all terrain, including urban environments. Each system of 2 vertical take-off and landing air vehicles, a dismounted control device, and associated ground support equipment. They can be carried by selected platforms and dismounted soldiers, and possess autonomous flight, navigation, and recovery.
The larger Class II and Class III UAV development programs were canceled in favor of existing options: the RQ-7 Shadow, and MQ-1C SkyWarrior. The planned Class IV MQ-8B Fire Scout was canceled by the Army in 2009, though it will see naval use. Despite excellent field reports for mini-UAV competitors like the RQ-11 Raven, however, Honeywell’s hovering RQ-16 “T-Hawk” initially avoided the axe, found a niche, and made the list for the US Army’s early increment 1 Brigade Combat Team Modernization fielding. It has even seen limited exports – but the Class I program has been canceled.
The Viper Strike began life as the BAT – a canceled munition option for ground-fired ATACMS missiles. After USAF Predator UAVs armed with Hellfire missiles began to show promise in the Global War on Terror, however, US Army planners began to examine their options. Could they place a similar capability in the hands of Army ground commanders? In July 2002, these examinations led to the award of a 90-day contract to demonstrate the possibility of BAT deployment on a modified U.S. Army RQ-5 Hunter UAV.
Those tests went well, and Viper Strikes are currently carried by MQ-5B Hunter UAVs – see this video [MPG, 13.2 MB] of a Viper Strike in testing. The weapon’s small size (3 feet long, 44 pounds) and special advantages in urban fights, mountainous terrain, etc. give it a chance of spreading to other platforms. Special Operations Command has shown interest, but front-line deployment has been limited. Is the Viper Strike a case of “the right weapon at the right time”? Or a case of “caught betwixt and between”? That’s now an important question for Europe’s MBDA, who bought the weapon and manufacturing from Northrop Grumman.