Posts Tagged ‘UCAV’

Robot Aircraft Refuel in the Air

February 20, 2009

The Air Force Research Lab has awarded a Boeing-led industry team a four-year, $49 million contract to continue work on the technology that will enable unmanned aerial vehicles to rendezvous autonomously with tanker aircraft and refuel, the company announced Feb. 5. These activities are Phase II of AFRL’s automated aerial refueling program. During Phase I, a Boeing-led team demonstrated that a single UAV could safely maneuver behind a tanker aircraft in refueling positions and conduct a breakaway maneuver. Under Phase II, the consortium, formally named the AAR integrator team, will coordinate flight tests that will include autonomous multi-ship operations and the actual delivery of fuel to a manned surrogate UAV. Boeing’s team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, plus General Electric Aviation, Rockwell Collins, and Sierra Nevada Corp. Phase II will be divided into two parts to mature components to allow boom and receptacle and potentially probe and drogue refuelings.
Read more about robots at war:Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

Pentagon Eyes Cut in MQ-9 Reaper UCAV Purchase

November 30, 2008
Aviation Calendar 2009

Aviation Calendar 2009

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Senior Pentagon officials are eyeing cuts to an Air Force-proposed increase of MQ-9 Reaper purchases by 34 aircraft, one-third the total buy, in fiscal year 2010, a decision DOD believes will not impact the service’s plans to stand up 50 combat air patrols over Iraq and Afghanistan by 2011, Inside the Air Force has learned.

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Coalition force Reaper unit deploys to Joint Base Balad

November 25, 2008

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A coalition force comprising experts from the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force deployed to Joint Base Balad (Iraq) recently to sustain operations for the world’s most lethal unmanned aircraft system.

An MQ-9 Reaper aircraft maintenance unit, attached to the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron, melds airframe maintenance expertise with satellite communications system technical capability and brings American and British Airmen together to accomplish the Reaper’s persistent strike mission, said Capt. Antonio Camacho, the Reaper AMU officer in charge.

“It’s a very unique program,” said Captain Camacho, whose unit is deployed from the 432nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. “Some people see our system as remote control, but it’s not.”

The Reaper AMU took over maintaining the UAS from General Atomics, which produces the Reaper for the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force. Battlespace Flight Services maintains MQ-1 Predators stationed at Joint Base Balad.

Reaper and Predator systems consist of four main components: the aircraft, the satellite uplink, the local ground control station and the remote ground control station at Creech AFB, said Royal Air Force Chief Technician Gary Smith, NCO in charge of the Reaper AMU.

“All that is one system, and all of the system has to work to enable the aircraft to take off,” said RAF Chief Technician Smith, a native of Lincoln, England, who is deployed from Creech. “Unlike an F-16 (Fighting Falcon) AMU, which will look after just the aircraft, we look after the whole system. We become system managers rather than aircraft managers: it’s a worldwide system, and all of those pieces have to work.”

The major differences between the Reaper and Predator systems lie in the airframe, said Captain Camacho, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Reaper flies faster and higher than the Predator and carries more than twice as much ordnance. However, the background systems that support the aircraft are the same. Staff Sgt. Kevin Wulf, a communications maintenance technician with the Reaper AMU, is responsible for those background systems.

“I work on everything outside of the aircraft: pilot and sensor operation, everything that controls the aircraft and all the equipment that commands it — both the line-of-sight antenna link and the satellite communications link,” said Sergeant Wulf, a native of Spokane, Wash.

UAS pilots and sensor operators use both commercial satellite systems and military satellites such as the Air Force’s Wideband Global SATCOM system to control Reapers and Predators, Sergeant Wulf said. Maintaining that link means overcoming environmental challenges.

“Being out in the desert, we get a lot of dust in the equipment, which can cause critical systems to fail,” he said.

Overall, however, the experience has proven helpful both for American Airmen and their British counterparts.

“Our engineers are embedded in the AMU,” said RAF Chief Technician Smith, who accepted a one-year extension of his tour at Creech so he could help the AMU deploy here. “There’s no difference — it’s not, ‘I’m Royal Air Force, he’s U.S. Air Force.’ We’re totally embedded in the unit. Because of that, we pass ideas to one another, and I think the unit’s far better for it.”

The sharing of ideas has improved maintenance operations in general, Captain Camacho said.

“It provides a different perspective,” he said. “It’s like going into a brand-new unit: you see everything differently.”

The blend of American and British Airmen has provided some unintended benefits as well, RAF Chief Technician Smith said.

“They watch our soccer, and we watch their American football,” he said. “And I’ve got them drinking tea. How many tea bags have we gone through since we’ve been here? Hundreds — we have to have a constant resupply of them. The cultural differences have melded together, and we’ve got a kind of unique culture within our unit because of the mixture.”

Don Branum 

Pentagon: No Plans to Shift Air Force Predator Drones to Army

October 24, 2008
Aviation Calendar 2009

Aviation Calendar 2009

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Defense Department and service officials this week quashed speculation that the Pentagon is poised to task the Air Force’s Predator unmanned drones exclusively to the Army and let the air service outfit its entire unmanned aerial fleet with next-generation Reapers, sources tell Inside the Pentagon.

“There is currently no plan in DOD to allocate the MQ-1[Predator] solely to the Army and the MQ-9 [Raptor] solely to the Air Force,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh said. “This is merely one of many potential options that could be considered in a future [Quadrennial Defense Review] and does not reflect current thinking or intent.” . . .

Kevin Meiners, assistant deputy under secretary of defense in the Pentagon’s intelligence shop, stoked speculation on the subject last week when he said he would not be surprised if Predator operations were handed to the Army and Reaper operations were given to the Air Force in the upcoming QDR.

Read more at Inside Defense (subscription required)

USAF Seeking UAV Pilots

October 12, 2008
Aviation Calendar 2009

Aviation Calendar 2009

Our military Aviation Calendar 2009 features 13 images of US and allied military aircraft in action. Buy the Aviation Calendar 2009 exclusively at the PatriArt Gallery for only $ 19.99. Worldwide delivery available.

 Air Force officers are currently being sought to volunteer for unmanned aircraft system operators. Applications are due to Air Force Personnel Center no later than Nov. 3.

The first ten officers selected will start UAS operator training in January 2009, and another ten will begin training in April 2009.

The UAS is a big part of the future of the Air Force, said Air Force officials. First-hand knowledge of its capabilities and operations will be critical to future combat effectiveness as well as future Air Force leadership. Pilots flying operational missions or working in the Predator Operations Center get a unique perspective on world events, typically while such events are in progress.

In order to volunteer, officers must complete the test of basic aviation skills (TBAS) by Oct. 31. Testing locations that administer the TBAS can be found on the Pilot Candidate Selection Method Web site (Common Access Card is required to access this site).

In addition to the TBAS, officers must meet the following requirements:

— Captains with 4-6 years total active federal commissioned service as of Jan. 5, 2009
— Pilots are not eligible for this program
— Combat System Officers, Panel Navigators, Electronic Warfare Officers, Weapons System
— Officers, and Air Battle Managers are eligible to compete if they are not currently in training, awaiting training, or previously eliminated from UPT
— Non-rated line officers are eligible
— Be less than 30 years old Jan. 5, 2009
— Air Force Officer Qualification Test minimum scores of pilot greater than twenty-five, combined pilot and navigator composites greater than fifty (if no AFOQT on file, complete the AFOQT by Oct. 31, 2008)
— Two years time on station by July 1, 2009
— No previous military pilot training experience

Volunteers meeting the criteria above and wanting to apply must complete the Aircrew Training Candidate Data Summery, Air Force Form 215, and electronically forward the completed form to Pipeline and Training Assignment Branch at specialflyingprogram@randolph.af.mil by 4 p.m. CST, Nov. 3, 2008. Group or squadron commanders (do not use a higher level) must provide their recommendations on the form. No other documentation will be accepted as part of the application process.

Interested officers that have questions about the application process, or the qualifications, can contact AFPC’s Pipeline and Training Assignment Branch at (210) 565-2330, DSN 665-2330.

More information about this program can be found on the AFPC “Ask” site by entering “UAS” in the search engine. Individuals can also contact the 24-hour Air Force Contact Center at (800) 616-3775.

P.D. Hughes

Virtual Reality Aims to Enhance UAV Ops

September 10, 2008

An Air Force Office of Scientific Research-managed team in Arlington (VA) is building a virtual reality environment for the battlespace initiative to maximize the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles. 

The team is applying advanced physical and eye-tracking systems and voice interfaces, said Dr. James Oliver, the Iowa State University lead researcher.

“Our goal is to provide role specific interfaces for a team and shared situational awareness using a large display,” Dr. Oliver said.

The team initially is trying to solve significant human interface issues arising from limitations affecting operators who control UAVs from the ground. They are also designing and testing the hardware, software and aeronautical systems to create immersive ground control stations based on virtual reality technology.

“We are using a virtual environment of the battleground as the primary interface context, with the variety of information sources available in a modern military engagement,” Dr. Oliver said. “We’re also developing and measuring the effectiveness of new human interface techniques, which will enable operators to effectively control multiple, semi-autonomous aircraft. Already, up to 230 persons can be interfaced to participate in the system simultaneously.”

The virtual reality environment uses a 3-D audiovisual stereoscopic facility, with six walls, 24 projectors, ultrasonic motion tracking, eight-channel audio and a graphics computer. The context has many benefits including large field of view and innovative information representation.

The virtual reality environment will enable participants to see the vehicles, the surrounding airspace and the terrain they are flying over as well as information from instruments, cameras, radar and weapons systems. This approach can solve the critical operational and training challenges that must be overcome to allow an operator to simultaneously monitor and control several UAVs at the same time.

“We are also exploring new ways to employ virtual reality to address the challenge of time lag that is characteristic of applications where machines are operated at a distance,” Dr. Oliver said.

Maria Callier

MQ-9 Reaper drops bomb on anti-Iraqi forces

August 23, 2008

An MQ-9 Reaper dropped a 500-pound bomb against an anti-Iraqi target Aug. 16 in one of the first weapons engagements for the unmanned aircraft system.

The Reaper began flying combat sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom July 18 and joined the MQ-1 Predator as another UAS patrolling the sky to protect coalition forces.
 
The successful airstrike, which destroyed a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, demonstrates the persistent strike capability that the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing provides commanders on the ground, said Brig. Gen. Brian T. Bishop, the 332nd AEW commander.

“We are here to integrate airpower into joint operations in Iraq, and ensuring we make the most of our unmanned-aerial-system capabilities is just one of many ways we do that,” General Bishop said. “With our ability to provide persistent stare and persistent strike, we provide a clear battlefield assessment and quick responses to commanders when they need it.”

During an overwatch mission over southeast Iraq, Reaper operators from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron at Joint Base Balad discovered a suspicious vehicle. The Airmen immediately relayed the information to personnel in a local ground unit, said Lt. Col. Micah Morgan, the 46th ERAS commander. After the suspicious vehicle was confirmed to be a VBIED — a variant of the No. 1 killer of Americans on the battlefield — a joint terminal attack controller cleared the Reaper to employ a GBU-12 laser-guided weapon against the vehicle.

“This was a great example of the Reaper’s unique capabilities,” Colonel Morgan said. “We searched for, found, fixed, targeted and destroyed a target with just one aircraft.”

Unmanned aircraft system aircrews’ fusion of the warfighting domains of air, space and cyberspace enables them uniquely to share critical information with JTACs and other command and control elements, ensuring that they hit the right target, Colonel Morgan said.

“We go to great lengths to avoid unnecessary damage, and the Reaper’s unique capabilities allow it to play a key role in our highly disciplined targeting process,” he said. 

The 46th ERAS flies both Reaper and Predators. Its aircrews directly control all Reaper operations in Iraq and provide launch and recovery for Predator operations. During UAS missions, they can communicate with critical partners worldwide using a mix of radio, telephone and secure Internet systems. 

Don Branum (AFPN)

One Dollar (!) Investment PRovides ComSec for Predator UAV

August 15, 2008

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The 2009 Aviation Calendar published by TEAMultimedia.com features 13 striking images of manned and unmanned military aircraft, from US Air Force and RAF fighter jets to unmanned combat air systems. The Aviation Calendar 2009 and its military planes from the US, Britain and France are available exclusively online through The PAtriArt Gallery.

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial system pilots at Ali AFB (Iraq) can now talk over a secure Internet phone line using their headsets thanks to one Airman’s ingenuity and one dollar.

Staff Sgt. Ray Stetler, the NCO in charge of base information and infrastructure for the 407th Expeditionary Communications Squadron at the base, received a 2 a.m. phone call that led him to make the modification, which grants pilots access to Voice Over Secure Internet Protocol.

The sergeant said the 407th ECS help desk thought he could fill the request because of his reputation for fixing things. After they called, he went out to the Predator site and contacted the person who called in the work request.

“All he told me was that (higher headquarters) wanted to be connected to the pilot for a mission the next day, and he called the communications squadron because he couldn’t think of anyone else to call,” said Sergeant Stetler, noting that he’d never worked with secure radios or VOSIP phones before that night.

After contemplating for a few minutes how he was going to make the modification, he went to work. With five hours, a soldering iron and two meters of cable — total cost, $1 — the NCO completed his impromptu invention.

“I terminated a network connection cable inside the headset coming from the wire harness and connected it to the conference call terminations on the circuit board inside a VOSIP phone,” said the 31-year-old from Phoenix.

Predator operators can plug the modified headset into the radio system and make a call to the Combined Air and Space Operations Center or anyone else using VOSIP, said the sergeant, who is deployed from the 31st Combat Communications Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

Previously, pilots used an instant messaging system to talk with higher headquarters. Using VOSIP to conduct a mission increased productivity by 50 percent, said Capt. Trey Teasley, a Predator pilot with Detachment 1, 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron here. Captain Teasley conducted one of the first missions with the modified headset.

“Now, we don’t need to get on our keyboard to type our request or take our eyes off the screen,” he said. “We can just talk (to the CAOC) to receive clearance authority to engage a target or get other updates instead.”

By using VOSIP, pilots can tap into the same resources that are available at their home units and the CAOC, said the captain, who is deployed from the 11th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.

“With the phone, (people at the CAOC) are able to call us and use all the (communications) capabilities available there to feed us real-time support through the headset,” Captain Teasley said.

Looking back, Sergeant Stetler said he just did what he could to close a trouble ticket, but now realizes his invention improved the way Predator pilots do business. It was his simple fix that caught the attention of Lt. Gen. Gary North, U.S. Air Forces Central and 9th Air Force commander.

“I never would have thought that a three-star general would know what I did, much less think so highly of it,” Sergeant Stetler said.

General North, who visited Ali Base in July, urged the 11-year Air Force veteran to share his creation with others. Upon the general’s recommendation, Sergeant Stetler immediately submitted his design to the Air Force’s Innovative Development through Employee Awareness Program. If the Air Force adopts his idea, Sergeant Stetler could receive an award of up to $10,000 — not a bad return for a $1 investment.

 

Francesca Popp

Behold, The Grim Reaper

August 1, 2008

The Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper flew its first operational mission in Iraq July 18, providing joint force commanders with an added weapon system against emerging targets.

The MQ-9 Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft system. In addition to its primary role as a persistent hunter-killer of targets, the Reaper also acts as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, employing sensors to provide real-time data to commanders and intelligence specialists at all levels.

To get the Reaper to the warfighter, the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group executes rapid acquisition, development, testing and sustainment of the Reaper weapons system to support current and future warfighter needs from cradle to grave. The 703rd AESG is part of the Aeronautical Systems Center. Both organizations are located at Wright-Patterson AFB.

“Several years ago, the Secretary of Defense directed the 703rd to deliver MQ-9 hunter-killer capabilities 18 months early, resulting in the first combat employment in Afghanistan in September 2007,” said Col. Christopher Coombs, commander of the 703rd AESG. “Working together with Air Combat Command and the prime contractor, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., all the stops were pulled out to surge the capability to the field.

“The MQ-9, without a doubt, is a force multiplier, and its suite of sensors and communications links provide airmen on the battlefield persistent awareness of their surroundings and a robust target prosecution capability,” Colonel Coombs continued.

“The Reaper has an electro-optical sensor and high resolution radar that can see targets through the clouds, and it can also carry a mix of 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles,” he said.

When asked how it feels to be involved with the Reaper program, Colonel Coombs said, “I think the Air Force Chief of Staff stated it best, ‘The Reaper is a significant evolution in capability for the Air Force. These aircraft have evolved from performing mainly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms to carrying out true hunter-killer missions.'” He said, “It is an honor to command the Air Force and contractor teams, providing this evolution in capability of Reapers to successfully execute GWOT missions, and without a doubt, this system adds to our arsenal and saves lives.”

Lt. Col. Micah Morgan is the commander of the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Attack Squadron, Balad Air Base, Iraq. He is dual-qualified in the Reaper and the Predator in all phases of flight. Colonel Morgan was involved with the Reaper’s first operational mission in Iraq. He commands the deployed Airmen who operate and maintain all the Predators and Reapers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The Air Force has an extremely disciplined targeting process and strict rules of engagement,” Colonel Morgan said. “These strict rules reduce collateral damage tremendously, and with our accurate on-board sensors, we ensure the target is destroyed and nothing else.”

“We are part of a complex kill chain, which involves real-time command and control of the lethal assets,” he said. “The Reaper has a great advantage over other aircraft. We have small, low yield weapons as well as 500-pound bombs.”

To choreograph a successful Reaper mission involves teamwork between pilot and sensor operator. Maj. Jon Chesser, an MQ-9 instructor pilot, describes the feeling he gets from “flying” the Reaper as much like the one he got flying an F-15E.

“Sounds funny, but [it’s] very true,” the major said. “I used to fly in the back seat of the F-15E as a weapons system operator, and [the feeling] is very similar. [With the Reaper], you get the same feeling of accomplishment after helping the guys out on the ground as you do in an airplane that you ‘fly in,’ and the fact that you’re not risking a pilot’s life in the process is an added bonus.”

According to Senior Master Sgt. Ralph Goodwater, superintendent of Reaper operations in Iraq, the sensor operator role is similar to a co-pilot/weapon systems officer.

“The sensor operator has the responsibility of assisting the pilot with take-offs, landings, air speeds, altitude, approach speeds, weapons employment and airspace deconfliction,” Sergeant Goodwater said. “The sensor operator must have a skilled level of airmanship to cross check all the functions that are required to fly safely in any airspace.”

When asked what the Reaper brings to the fight, Sergeant Goodwater said, “Fire power and persistence. The Reaper, because it’s unmanned, has the ability to loiter for extended periods of time and can deliver a combination of weapons if the target situation changes.”

As for the Reaper’s lethality, Colonel Morgan added, “If I were an insurgent fighting against the coalition, I’d quit.”

Laura McGowan