US correspondent Marty Kauchak files the following exclusive report on significant news and developments gained from delegates, exhibitors and others in the defence unmanned vehicle community.
Technical Session: Zephyr
The Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr is a High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) unmanned air vehicle that runs exclusively on solar power. Paul Brooks, the HAPS head of business development and sales unmanned at the company, said the unmanned air system provides affordable, persistent, and local satellite-like services. Zephyr additionally was said to endure like a satellite, focus like an aircraft and was cheaper than both of them.
The Zephyr baseline technology embodied in the latest model (7) is rapidly evolving into two new variants – S and T.
The UK MoD is buying three S platforms, the first procurement of operational Zephyr systems, “these are 112% better than the baseline. The S is 30% lighter than the Zephyr 7. The propulsion system is improved by 10% with no increase in mass,” Brooks said. SION Power Corporation is supplying the S’s LiS (lithium sulfur) batteries. John Kopera, the vice president of commercial operations at SION, was asked which other military UAS programs his company supports. He deftly responded, SION supports others “on occasion.” With propulsion and other system improvements, Zephyr S is planned to support year round operations in the challenging 40 deg. latitude domain.
Zephyr T will operate with a greater payload (20 kg (44 lbs.)) and have an approximate 2 times greater overall mass when compared to its S sibling. With respect to payload capabilities, Airbus Defence expects to highlight at its booth an onboard camera that will provide 15cm resolution imagery in real time.
The Zephyr’s expanding capabilities permit it meet military customers’ requirements for communications and surveillance, and for consideration to provide internet connectivity.
Panel Discussion: UAS Propulsion
“I’m bullish on hydrogen fuel cells,” for unmanned systems, Karen Swider-Lyons, PhD, a principal investigator at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), told the afternoon session. The Navy scientist pinned her support of this technology in large part on the rapid advancements in automotive fuel cells, in particular at Toyota and GM, and their crossover into the military sector.
Swider-Lyons went on to list the advantages of high power fuel cells which warrant their consideration for use in unmanned systems. Her short list included their higher energy than batteries and higher efficiency than engines.
One deliverable of NRL’s research activity in this space will be on exhibit at the command booth (2439) – a lightweight 1.5 to 3 kW fuel cell for unmanned system application.
Similarly, Michael Vick, PhD, also a principal investigator at NRL, described the Black Ghost 12 kW (16 horsepower) turboalternator project. Key components include a ceramic turbine and an added recuperator, constructed from high temperature ceramic able to tolerate 1000 deg. F. exhaust temperatures.
A US DoD Perspective
“The US DoD has a strategic message in unmanned systems,” Brian Hall, PhD, the deputy for the Joint Staff Robotics & Autonomous Systems Team, in the J-8 directorate on the Joint Staff, said at a non-technical session. The retired Air Force colonel noted recent technical advances, robotics autonomous system (RAS) expansion, and other developments are integral to the joint staff and “their role will expand” in joint missions.
Hall noted the activities across the US services are occurring to support not only the service’s responsibilities to train, equip and supply their units, but are being integrated to support joint requirements. In one instance the Army is completing its new RAS Strategy. In another case, the Navy’s Unmanned Warfare System Directorate (N99) on the chief of naval operations staff was established and is quickly consolidating policy oversight on the service’s unmanned systems throughout the operational domain.
The senior civilian on the Joint Staff then discussed the role of RASs in the Department’s Third Offset Strategy – which is designed to permit the US to reassert its technical superiority over near-peer competitors.
The international members of the presentation took particular interest in Hall’s brief overview of the recently concluded deliberations of the UN Convention on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. The convention is examining a number of issues in this autonomous domain including policy, law, ethics and technology. A specific topic in the last convention session was the monitoring of these advancements.
Hall concluded his presentation with a challenge to industry – that as suppliers, they should provide innovative solutions for RAS solutions.
Integrator and OEM Perspectives
When the conference floor opens tomorrow (Tuesday May 3) Textron Systems Unmanned Systems (booth 2029) will display the Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS), the Shadow M2 Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (TUAS) and several Remote Video Terminal (RVT) variants within our family of remote products, Textron Systems Unmanned Systems Senior Vice President and General Manager Bill Irby, said.
The expeditionary Aerosonde SUAS, which is designed for both land- or sea-based missions, has amassed more than 130,000 flight hours in climates ranging from desert heat to Arctic cold. “Equipped for simultaneous day-and-night full-motion video, communications relay and intelligence in a single flight, the Aerosonde SUAS delivers reliable, multi-mission performance in a class by itself,” the industry expert emphasised.
Textron Systems will also feature its Shadow M2, the next-generation variant of the proven Shadow 200 TUAS. Building upon a family of unmanned aircraft systems with nearly one million flight hours, the Shadow M2 adds new features for even greater mission capability and performance. Irby continued, “The aircraft accommodates higher-altitude flight and offers flexible payload configurations, allowing it to serve in similar mission capacities to much larger, more expensive systems.”
Textron Systems will further display several RVT variants, which are customizable for a variety of commercial and military applications. Irby continued, “The Textron Systems family of remote products is a modular, service-oriented architecture extensible to multiple hardware configurations,” he said and continued, “Tailored to customer requirements, many combinations of antenna, radio, display and software are available, while drop-in applications such as geospatial tools and databases can be integrated for additional capability and utility as needed. Included in this display will be the One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT), which is a US Army program of record that also supports the US Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.” Textron Systems is currently fielding its OSRVT-50. The OSRVT-50 variant is the first to incorporate bi-directional capability, allowing dismounted users to task the unmanned aircraft’s payload, and incorporates many enhancements for greater flexibility, functionality and ease of use.
Lockheed Martin is at XPONENTIAL with a burgeoning presence in the unmanned market space. According to Jay McConville, the director of business development for unmanned solutions at the company, “we offer a wide portfolio of unmanned systems in all domains and classes, as well as an integrated set of control technologies that support our platforms, as well as other company systems.” In addition to large strategic UAS, Lockheed Martin offers runway independent systems ranging from the Vector Hawk, a four-pound, multi-wing and maritime canister launched UAS through K-MAX, a 12,000lns (5,443kg) cargo UAS. McConville added, “Lockheed Martin’s systems meet varying mission requirements from land and maritime defense applications, support to firefighting, law enforcement and disaster relief and recovery, as well as long-range surveillance and reconnaissance. In addition to Vector Hawk and K-MAX, the Lockheed Martin portfolio includes the Desert Hawk and Extended Endurance Desert Hawk, Indago Quad Copter, Stalker, Stalker XE, Fury Long Range ISR System, Lighter than Air Vehicles and other systems with specific missions and functions.”
XPONENTIAL delegates visiting the Lockheed Martin booth (1261) will be able to gain insights about programs including unmanned cargo (in particular K-MAX) and 3-D Mapping Tools.
Attendees will also be able to view the debut of the latest version of the quick-deploying Indago as it flies daily at the flight demonstration area from 11:15-11:45AM. Further, Lockheed Martin is partnering with Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organisation, to bring lifesaving capabilities to first responders who need to locate special needs individuals (such as those with autism or Alzheimer’s disease) who have wandered from their homes. “The power of Project Lifesaver will be extended with the Indago UAS by expanding the search range from 1.5 miles (2.4km) to seven miles,” Ken Young, general manager, unmanned integrated technologies at Lockheed Martin, told MT. Delegates are further invited to attend the program session: “Integrating Project Lifesaver and the Indago UAS,” in room 275-276, 1:30-2 PM, Tuesday, May 3.
“What we’re bringing down is the M-ATV (MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle) that Oshkosh has built for deploying in Afghanistan,” and with that, our TerraMax UGV technology integrated onto the vehicle, John Bryant, the senior vice president for Defense Programs at Oshkosh Defense, told MT. The corporate executive then pointed out the M-ATV’s TerraMax-enabled capabilities permit it to support route clearance missions. The M-ATV will further represent some of the latest innovations and extended capacities that have been added to the vehicle – improved perception capabilities, mission-specific behaviours for route clearance, and others.
Oshkosh is working with the US Office of Naval Research to further develop the TerraMax technology into a system-of-systems capacity to respond to explosive hazard detection and defeat requirements. An unrelated business development effort will be a follow on to a technical capability demonstration at the US Army’s Fort Pickett (Virginia) in 2015. Bryant revealed “That is targeted to happen toward the end of fiscal year 2017.”
Further, Oshkosh is on contract through the National Advanced Mobility Consortium (NAMC) to work with TARDEC (United States Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center) and others for the next generation of the service’s autonomous ground resupply.
The Oshkosh team is present at booth #1663.
Airbus Defence & Space's Zephyr is a High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite UAS/UAV, running exclusively on solar power.The unmanned aircraft provides affordable, persistent, and local satellite-like services. ( Photo: Airbus)
The Textron Shadow M2 takes the Shadow class of UAS—which is the mainstay TUAS used by the US Army—and extends its capabilities into the mission sets of the strategic UAS category. (Photo: Textron)