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.
Arcturus UAV (Booth 1509) has a number of product and programme developments in progress and on its near-term business horizon.
The Rohnert Park, California-based company recently announced it has an unspecified number of its T-20s (standard (catapult launch and belly landing) and Jump (vertical take-off and landing (VTOL)) in service with the Mexican Navy. The T-20s primarily support the service’s ISR missions. An unspecified Eastern European military also operates the company’s T-20 series UAVs.
The T-20 Jump, which made its debut at this conference can take-off vertically and transition to fixed-wing flight. Asked why his and other companies in the sector are pursuing the VTOL option for UASs in the military and security markets, Arcturus UAV CEO D’Milo Hallerberg explained, “There are no launch and recovery systems. You can take off from rooftops – these are runway independent and provide the operator with more capabilities and choices.”
The industry subject matter was then asked what sets the Arcturus UAV portfolio apart from its competition. “It starts with the engine. We have selected a commercial off-the-shelf, high production engine,” he said and added, “With this we outpace our competitors in payload capacity and endurance.”
The company will be competing its T-20 Jump for the upcoming US Special Operations Command MEUAS III (medium-endurance unmanned aircraft system) programme. A July 2016 contract award is expected. Insitu and Aersonde are also in competition for the down select.
The company also has in the design phase a larger VTOL which will have a higher payload and more endurance. Eric Folkestad, an application engineer at the company, noted Arcturus may have a test variant ready for debut perhaps as early as 2017 AUVSI.
Controp has a very focused and balanced, two-tier business strategy in place. In one instance the Hod Hasharon, Israel-based company is shrinking the size of its payloads to meet the emergence of quadrorotors and other innovative UAS designs entering service around the globe. At the same time the company is improving the resolution and other quality attributes of its deliverable imagery.
A review of several representative payloads provides insights on the company’s developments and production strategies. One can observe a decreasing diameter across the STAMP product portfolio. While the TR-Stamp Multi Sensor Miniature Stabilized Payload has an 8” (203mm) diameter, the T-Stamp Triple Sensor Small Stabilized Payload for Small UAVs and Small Aircraft has a 7”diameter and the new Micro-Stamp Multi sensor has a 3.3” diameter. Similarly the weights of these three products decrease – from the TR-Stamp at 6.3 kg (13.9 lbs.) to the Micro-Stamp’s 300 g weight.
The company’s commitment to improving resolution can be representatively viewed through Micro-Stamp. An unidentified company spokesperson at this conference called attention to the payload’s three gimbals – contributing to excellent mechanical stabilization at all pitch angles and other attributes. “Also notice the thermal imaging sensor has a digital zoom, which helps provide continuous optical zoom,” the spokesperson said. The subject matter expert also pointed out the Micro-Stamp has two fields of views (FOVs) – a 12.4 deg. narrow FOV and 36.1 deg. wide FOV, with the latter contributing to increased situational awareness. And finally the Micro-Stamp’s Day Sensor has a charge-coupled device equal or better than 450 TV lines for better resolution.
More than 2,000 STAMP family units are in service around the globe. Controp, the original equipment manufacturer for the STAMP product line, has assembled other unspecified Israeli companies on its industry team for subcomponents and other materiel.
The trend toward lighter weight products was also evident at the Velodyne LiDAR booth (325).
LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. LiDAR has been sued in the military and security communities for an expanding range of missions – including routine mapping and in the counter-IED fight.
Drew Lanphear, the regional sales director for Industrial Markets, explained the company’s new Puck Lite is an approximate 30% lighter weight version of the legacy VLP-16 Puck for applications that demand a lower weight to meet their requirements. “You are literally measuring the external environment at the speed of light,” he emphasized.
The Puck Lite, ideally embedded in lower-level flying aircraft (UASs for instance), has a range of about 100 m., and permits the 360 deg. capture of real-time, 3-D LiDAR data than includes distance and calibrated reflectivity measurements.
Retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Frank Kelley provided an overview for delegates at the morning’s special session about the Department of the Navy’s embryonic, but quickening, efforts to advance the integration of unmanned systems into the full spectrum of operations. The career aviator offered several caveats about the scope and breadth of the newly created office he is leading on the secretary of the navy’s staff at the Pentagon – the office of the deputy assistant secretary of the navy for unmanned systems. “The Department of the Navy includes both the Navy and Marines,” he reminded the delegates and added, “the Navy is the only service which operates in the five operational domains - space, air, surface, ground and subsurface.”
One of the immediate challenges Kelley is pursuing is to help overcome the obstacles on acquiring technology. To that end, he is expanding his outreach to industry, including the unmanned vehicle sector. “Industry is doing most of the investment in technology – it is a multiplier,” he added.
Another Trend on the “Watch” List
A very subtle trend was evident to this correspondent through this week continues an observation from last year’s AUSA and other service conferences in the US: the effort to elevate full motion video (FMV) to a higher plateau. While not prominent on the banners of exhibition hall booths, vendors are discussing how they can expand the FMV “toolkit” – integrating Google Earth data and other inputs into FMV footage for example. The intent is clear - how to give the battlefield commander and his or her intelligence counterparts a more complete picture of the operational domain. And aside from bolstering FMV with more data sources, there is the move afoot to improve the quality of the video itself – by moving to high definition FMV, for instance. The MT editorial team will be attentive to this development at upcoming exhibitions and other forums.