DARPA wants to introduce a new class of MALE UAS that will be able to deploy from destroyer and frigate size vessels, such as the Independence Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-2),extending the Naval ISR and strike capabilities to deploy faster and farther, anywhere in the world. DARPA Artist concept
Unmanned vehicles are becoming essential part of modern warfare, but the military is seeking to gain new capabilities for such platforms, relieved from the operational restrictions bounding them to operating bases, involving complex issues of access rights and permission that usually hinder operations that are often handled covertly, at night and far away from the prowling eyes of the media.
In December 2012 Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy conducted deck handling trials of the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75). Trials were designed to demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to integrate smoothly with carrier operations. Photo: Northrop Grumman
The US Navy is already operating several types of UAVs, including the lightweight Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle, launched and retrieved from ships, and the FireScout helicopter-class drone capable of vertical takeoff and landing on board vessels equipped with flat decks. Both have already been used operationally in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Libya. Both systems proved valuable, but are lacking the endurance, payload capacity (or both), to effectively integrate with naval operations. For such missions the US Navy is considering new classes of unmanned systems, the potentially stealthy X-47B, soon to de tested on board an aircraft carrier represents one of the concepts, to be followed by the Reaper-size UCLASS – designed for medium-altitude and long endurance (MALE) recce and strike missions, operating from conventional (flat deck) aircraft carriers.
A third option is currently being evaluated under DARPA’s Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program, a complex designation named after the family of seabirds known for flight endurance, during their annual migration. With its TERN, DARPA wants to introduce a new type of UAS that will be able to deploy from destroyer and frigate size vessels, such as the Independence Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-2). With TERNs the LCS will be gain ISR and strike capabilities faster and almost anywhere in the world.
In December 2012 the X-47B embarked onboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman for taxi trials. It is on schedule to fly to the USS George HW Bush, with first landing expected in April or May 2013, becoming the first conventional UAV to land on an aircraft carrier.
Another Navy program currently known as Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) follows on the heels of the Northrop Grumman-led X-47B Unmanned Combat Air system demonstration program (UCAS-D) currently underway. UCLASS will take the carrier-deployed drone a step further, aiming to deploy a small unit of drones on board a carrier for testing by 2020. UCLASS is also expected to follow a tailless design, all potential competitors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics have discussed such designs in addressing the program since the Navy embarked on the concept in 2011. Relying on its reduced signature (stealth), autonomy and precision attack capability, UCLASS will extend the carrier air group capability, particularly in operations in denied areas, as well as enabling the Navy to launch recce missions and attacks against targets of interest from positions in the open sea, thus avoiding complex and lengthy preparations required with access permissions from neighboring countries, necessary for operations of land-based drones. The Navy has yet to define the specific requirements for this class of drones, is expected to publish a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the new drone sometime in 2013. According to Navy officials, UCLASS will be able to carry weapons already available on board aircraft carriers, which means payload capacity and weapons bay will have to be adjusted for large payloads.
Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System selected by the US Navy to demonstrate carrier operations of an unmanned aircraft. Photo: Northrop Grumman
The large footprint required for Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft and the limited range and endurance of helicopters restrict naval operations closer to shore or relying on shore-based assets for operations from land bases. Establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.
DARPA expects the TERN to be able to take off and recover automatically from ships, operating safely even at high sea condition up to sea state 5.
To help overcome these challenges and expand DoD options, the TERN program is seeking to combine the strengths of both land- and sea-based approaches to support airborne assets. TERN envisions using smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) fixed-wing unmanned aircraft (UAVs).
Providing small vessels such as the 2,800-ton Independence-class Littoral Combat (LCS) with MALE drones means a radical expansion of naval capabilities, as such drones will be able to can carry payload weight of about 600lb over a distance 600-900nm from its host vessel. The FireScout can also carry 600 lbs, but its endurance is limited to five hours. The larger Bell 407-based MQ-8C will extend the endurance to 11hr with a similar payload, still short in terms of MALE standards.
“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time,” said Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager. “About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”
LCS 2 Independence arriving at San Diego, escorted by USS Freedom (LCS1). Photo: General Dynamics.
DARPA will present its vision to industry on March 20, 2013 at a conference set for industry members interested in becoming involved in the program. DARPA expects the TERN to be able to take off and recover automatically from ships, operating safely even at high sea condition up to sea state 5. TERN will be designed to carry payloads up to 600 lbs, over 600-900 nautical miles. The launch and recovery system would have to fit Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS-2)-class ships and other surface combat vessels as feasible. The weapons to be carried by TERN-class drones are likely to be smaller, compared to the weapons to be carried by UCLASS.
Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager: “We’re trying to rethink how the ship, UAV and launch and recovery domains – which have traditionally worked in parallel – can synergistically collaborate to help achieve the vision of base-independent operations for maritime or overland missions”
One of the biggest challenges DARPA is seeking to solve is how to operate large aircraft from smaller ships, even in rough seas. Such aircraft should provide range, endurance and payload characteristics of land-based MALE drones, yet endure the maritime environment. Another challenge is support personnel. Land based drones are typically supported by flight operators, land operators, technical support teams and maintainers. When deployed at sea, drones require significant modifications to support the systems. Operating TERNs on small vessels will require minimal personnel for operations and maintenance. It will also be designed to occupy minimal space for storage. The concept of operation envisions deployment of TERNs on existing vessels such as the LCS-2 on-demand, with and minimal and reversible ship modifications for deployment. A TERN objective system operating from a single ship should be able to provide a persistent orbit at radius using not more than two airborne TERN vehicles.
DARPA plans to roll out 40 month TERN program in three phases, culminating in a full-scale launch and recovery demonstration. The TERN program has aggressive schedule and budgetary goals; demonstration approaches that leverage the re-use of existing hardware components and software components are highly encouraged. New technologies likely to be used include the use of precision relative navigation for approach and landing, high bandwidth air vehicle control, and energy addition and mitigation, supporting the launch and recovery phases.
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INSS Insight No. 409, Published March 4, 2013
By Asculai, Ephraim
The final week of February 2013 was marked by events that may have changed the perception of Iran’s nuclear program and the chances of finding a non-belligerent solution to this problem. First, the periodic IAEA report on the inspections in Iran was published, with some new details on Iran’s nuclear activities. A careful reading of the latest IAEA report reveals that Iran continues relentlessly to further the potential to break out and achieve a nuclear weapons capability quickly. Second, the 2-day talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan apparently included new concessions to and fewer demands of Iran. Third, an article by former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw published in the Telegraph recommended that the world recognize the situation and adopt a policy of “containment,” thereby accepting the inevitability of Iran becoming a de facto nuclear weapons state.
The world does not view the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a casus belli
Iran now has about 9,000 uranium enriching centrifuges of the older IR-1 type installed at its facility in Natanz. These centrifuges are enriching uranium hexafluoride to the level of 3.5 percent uranium-235, and so far more than eight tons of this material have been accumulated. Fordow, where some additional enrichment activities have taken place, is another source of concern. At this small well protected facility, installation of some additional 2700 gas centrifuges has neared completion. Of these, some 700 centrifuges were being used to enrich uranium to 19.75 percent, while the other centrifuges were apparently not yet operational. At both enrichment sites, Iran utilized part of the 3.5 percent inventory to produce 280 kilograms of 19.75 percent enriched uranium. 250 kilograms of this material are considered sufficient, through further enrichment to 90 percent, for the production of one core for a nuclear explosive device. Perhaps because of the psychological effect of this surplus, Iran removed some 111 kilograms to Isfahan for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
Water vapour, circled, is seen being emitted from forced air coolers at the Arak heavy water production plant earlier this month, showing that the facility is operational Photo: DigitalGlobe Inc/McKenzie Intelligence Ltd
Were Iran to use all of its 3.5 percent inventory, and were it to use all available centrifuges to further enrich this inventory to the 19.75 percent and then up to the military level of 90 percent, it could probably obtain the 25 kilograms of uranium metal for its first nuclear explosive core in less than six months, and subsequent cores in shorter time intervals, obtaining a total of 5-6 cores from the present 3.5 percent inventory. This time estimate will probably be accelerated, since Iran began installing a newer and more efficient type of centrifuge, and if Iran uses any of the 19.75 percent inventory it holds.
By the first quarter of 2014 Iran is expected to complete the construction of the 40 mW heavy water reactor in Arak. This reactor “going critical”, will cross the point of no return in the Iranian plutonium route
Working in parallel to the uranium enrichment route, Iran has advanced considerably in the development of the other route to nuclear weapons – the plutonium route. The construction of the 40 megawatt heavy water natural uranium reactor has progressed, and the Iranians reported to the IAEA that they expected to complete the construction of the reactor in the first quarter of 2014. Were the reactor to “go critical” at that point, this would in effect constitute the point of no return in the plutonium route, since a military attack on an operational reactor is considered to be out of bounds in international norms. Although it would still take some two years to have the nuclear fuel from this reactor ready for reprocessing, and some additional time until a plutonium core could be produced, it would still signal an alarming state of affairs. What piqued the world’s attention was the satellite photograph of steam coming out of the cooling system at the heavy water production plant at Arak. In fact, however, this plant has been operating for some years, and this was no extraordinary observation.
This was the setting for the Almaty talks between the P5+1 and Iran that were held on February 26-27, 2013. Although not all details of the P5+1 offer that was placed on the table are known, it is the first time that certain Security Council demands, e.g., the suspension of uranium enrichment activities, were ignored, and the parallel demand for the suspension of plutonium-related activities was apparently not even mentioned. This is a significant breakthrough for the Iranians, as the other side could gain but little time from the demand that the enrichment activities to the level of 19.75 percent be stopped and the inventory dispersed. From what remains unsaid it seems that Iran could continue to enrich uranium (to 3.5 percent) and continue with the construction of the Arak reactor. In return for an agreement, some sanctions would be eased.
It is difficult to imagine what the P5+1 expect to achieve with such an agreement, except for an optimistic proclamation that apparently “engagement” can work, and that this approach will be pursued further. The Iranian Foreign Minister even said that relationships between Iran and the US could improve considerably as a result of the “melting ice.” This would constitute a major victory for Iran while it proceeds with its nuclear program, since it has already proved that it can withstand the current sanctions. Iran would retain all its technical capabilities and the ability to further develop them, and any agreement would halt the imposition of new and advanced sanctions that could pressure Iran to heed the Security Council demands.
Against this backdrop and precisely at this time, the article by a former British Foreign Minister recommended the approach of “containment.” When reviewing the positions of the members of the P5+1, especially the views of the US, Russia, and China, one cannot but assess that no belligerent action against Iran will likely take place. The world (represented by these countries) does not view the proliferation of nuclear weapons as a casus belli. This is perfectly demonstrated by the advances made by North Korea in the development of nuclear weapons in both routes, with sanctions being the strongest action the world has been willing to take to ameliorate the situation. If one projects the present North Korean situation onto that concerning Iran, one cannot but reach the conclusion that containment is in the air, and that unless drastic action is taken, Iran will become a nuclear-capable state in the not too distant future.
INSS Insight No. 409, By Asculai, Ephraim
 Jack Straw, “Even if Iran gets the Bomb, it won’t be Worth Going to War,” The Telegraph, February 25, 2013: “Containment is a better response than conflict in dealing with a country we have long mishandled.”
Atlante UAS Takes off on its first flight, February 28, 2013
Atlante, an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by the European defense group Cassidian has made its first flight at Rozas airfield, near Lugo, Spain last week. Developing the Atlante UAS under a collaborative industrial participation with Spanish Centre for Industrial Technological Development (Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial – CDTI) acting as industry program manager. Cassidian is participating in the program as the driving force behind the industrial model, with three high-tech venture capital partners (Indra, GMV and Aries). More than 140 Spanish subcontractors and suppliers are also cooperating in the program, generating more than 500 skilled jobs.
Atlante is designed for the tactical UAS mission, but is also adapted for civil and homeland security applications, including surveillance over urban and rural areas, search and rescue, monitoring natural disaster areas and forest fires, etc.
Atlante, designed to address the tactical UAS mission profile is also capable of carrying out civil and homeland security applications, including surveillance over urban and rural areas, search and rescue, monitoring natural disaster areas and forest fires, etc. At its weight category it is designed to operate from prepared runways or being launched from catapults. According to Cassidian, the fact that this air vehicle was designed according to the standards used for manned aircraft, gives it unique features in terms of airworthiness and certification that will allow it to operate in civil airspace. “We have the best team needed to ensure that Atlante is a success in the export market in the coming years” Pilar Albiac Murillo, COO of Cassidian and CEO of Cassidian Spain commented on the maiden flight.
Russia is considering deploying a permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea. Such a task force will be commanded by the Black Sea Fleet and could consist of up to 10 combat and auxiliary ships deployed on rgathered from three Russian fleets. The deployment of Russian warships in the Mediterranean had been a subject of planning for some time, to secure the country’s interests in the region. Russian warships have been deployed near Syria for the past six months. The vessels could rely on ports in Cyprus, Montenegro, Greece and Syria as resupply points.
The Soviet Union maintained the 5th Mediterranean Squadron in the Mediterranean Sea from 1967 until 1992. It was formed to counter the US Navy 6th Fleet during the Cold War, and consisted of 30-50 warships and auxiliary vessels at different times.