An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush is the first aircraft carrier to successfully catapult launch an unmanned aircraft from its flight deck. (Photo: Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki)
The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) completed its first ever carrier-based catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) off the coast of Virginia May 14, 2013.
“Today we saw a small, but significant pixel in the future picture of our Navy as we begin integration of unmanned systems into arguably the most complex warfighting environment that exists today: the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” said Vice Adm. David Buss, commander, Naval Air Forces, the Navy’s “Air Boss”.
The unmanned aircraft launched from the deck of George H.W. Bush at 11:18 a.m. It executed several planned low approaches to the carrier and safely transited across the Chesapeake Bay to land at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after a 65-minute flight.
Buss called the launch a “watershed event” in naval aviation and said he expects that decades from now, a future “Air Boss” will have a picture of the X-47B launching from Bush behind his or her desk just as he has a picture of aviation pioneer Eugene Ely’s first-ever landing on the deck of a ship in 1911 behind his desk today.
“This ship and her crew continuously meet the challenges placed before them,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Brian E. Luther. “The successful launch of the X-47B is yet another first on USS George H.W. Bush. We were excited to host the experimental aircraft, and are proud to know we have played a part in a significant milestone in naval aviation.”
Completing another important first for the UCAS-D program, the team demonstrated the ability to precisely navigate the X-47B within the controlled airspace around an aircraft carrier at sea and seamlessly pass control of the air vehicle from a “mission operator” aboard the carrier to one located in the Mission Test Control Center at NAS Patuxent River for landing.
“The flight today demonstrated that the X-47B is capable of operation from a carrier, hand-off from one mission control station to another, flight through the national airspace, and recovery at another location without degradation in safety or precision,” said Matt Funk, lead test engineer for the Navy UCAS program.
Prior to the catapult launch on Tuesday, the UCAS test team also conducted deck-handling and ship-integration testing to demonstrate the capability to safely operate the X-47B in the dynamic, unforgiving environment of an aircraft carrier flight deck.
“This event is a testament to the teamwork, professionalism and expertise of everyone involved with X-47B program,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “Their work will positively impact future unmanned aviation development for years to come.”
Over the next few weeks, the X-47B aircraft will fly approaches to the ship multiple times and eventually land on the pitching flight deck, said Navy UCAS Program Manager Capt. Jaime Engdahl.
The UCAS team will conduct additional shore-based testing with the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming months before its final carrier-based arrested landing demonstration later this summer.
Three days after leaving the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush on the first catapult launch, the Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) returned to the carrier for a ‘touch and go’ landing trial, successfully testing the automatic landing system which integrates reference signals from the carrier deck and the drone’s avionics, conducting fully automatic approach and precision touchdown landing. On this landing test the drone touched down within the locations that would enable the tailhook to catch the arresting cables and slow the aircraft to a complete stop within the required parameters. After the test landing the aircraft returned to its shore-base at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. The aircraft is expected to conduct shore based arrested landings at Pax River in the coming months, before final carrier-based arrestments scheduled for later in 2013.
Capt. Jamie Engdahl, Program Manager for UAS program office at the U.S. Navy the X-47B will continue to demonstrate consistent, reliable and repeatable touch down on a moving carrier flight deck, “this precision relative navigation technology is key to ensuring future unmanned systems can operate off our aircraft carriers”.
Canada’s military wants its next unmanned aircraft system to be capable of dropping search-and-rescue supplies in the Arctic and in other areas as it looks to expand UAS roles into activities formerly conducted by manned platforms.
According to UAS Vision, Canada plans to spend between CAN $1 billion (US $998 million) and $1.5 billion on a new fleet of UAS.
Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, head of the Royal Canadian Air Force, explained “I would like to have a UAS that can carry some equipment, whether it is weapons or other equipment, to be able, when it is patrolling the Arctic, to carry a search-and-rescue package that I can drop any time I want or need to,” Blondin said. “For UAS, we are looking at the requirement to work from home to be able to do maritime patrol, to do a bit of what the Auroras are doing and be able to patrol the coast,” he added. Aurora maritime surveillance aircraft are a variant of the US Navy’s P-3 Orion. UASs are also going to need greater range and endurance for long patrols, and “be our eyes in the sky in the Arctic”, said Blondin.
The Air Force did not respond to questions about whether it would be willing to fund research and testing into adding equipment transport capability to UAS. But a National Defense Department source said the Air Force hopes industry will provide solutions to Canada’s project to purchase the UAS, known as the Canadian Forces Joint UAV Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS). Adding additional weight for every mission of an unmanned mission is unlikely as the extra weight will reduce the volume of fuel carried on board, dramatically reducing mission endurance, increasing system’s wear (due to excessive takeoff and landing) and increasing the risk of losing aircraft (caused often by takeoff or landing)
The Air Force’s quest for leading-edge UAS technology has raised some concerns. John McKay, the defense critic for the opposition Liberal Party in the House of Commons, said he is worried that adding such a capability would further delay JUSTAS, which has already fallen years behind schedule.
15 vessels from nine navies have gathered in Singapore for IMDEX ASIA 2013. Photo: IMDEX Asia
Changi Naval Base, Singapore: 15 warships from nine countries around the world, including the latest patrol vessels, frigates, corvettes and destroyers, sailed into Singapore for the Warships Display at IMDEX Asia 2013 this week. The US Navy’s first ever littoral combat ship, USS Freedom, in its maiden overseas deployment, was among the warships at Changi Naval Base.
Visit IAI at IMDEX 2013
The picture shows some of the visiting vessels cisiting IMDEX this year, including (in clockwise order): RSS Valiant (Victory Class corvette P91), RSS Bedok mine countermeasure boat (M105), RSS Formidable (F68) and RSS Tenacious (F71), both Formidable (La Fayette) Class frigates.
In the background, left is Ladroite, the French experimental OPV, with the Royal Thai Navy HTMS Rattanakosin (F441) to its right, the Shivalik class Frigate INS Satpura (F48) and Kora class Corvette (P62) INS Kirch, both from India. The Australian Armidale class Patrol Craft HMAS Bathurst is seen by the side of the USS Freedom, the first Littoral Combat Ship of the US Navy.
The Malaysian frigate KD Lekiu frigate (30), Indonesian KCR 40 class patrol craft KRI Kujang  and Diponegoro Class Corvette KRI Frans Kaisiepo  are closing this impressive line up at the Changi Naval Base in Singapore. Two vessels from Singapore are filling in for the two vessels that were scheduled to arrive from South Korea.
Defense-Update IMDEX ASIA 2013 VideoReport
Following is a collection of photos from the first day at IMDEX Asia
The new Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV) class program for Singapore comprises eight 1,200-tonne vessels. The program is being led by ST Marine as prime contractor. These boats will replace the country’s current Fearless-class patrol vessels.
Lockheed Martin is offering the Multi-mission Combatant (MMC), a stretched version of the current LCS.
Austal is offering a Trimaran design similar to the Independence Class 127 meter LCS, for a more compact 80 meter Multi-Role Vessel (MRV). This ship will be constructed of aluminum and have a deadweight of 400 tonnes. It will feature a flight deck of 290 m2 and hangar, supporting H-60 class helicopter. The maximum speed will be 26 knots, but when cruising at a speed of 12 knots the ship will be able to sustain missions of 28 days at ranges of 4,500 nm.
The Protector Unmanned Surface Vessel was the first USV used by the Singapore Navy.
RAFAEL displayed models of the Typhoon 30 and Typhoon MLS-NLOS.
Lockheed Martin displayed here a model of the proposed CJ-130SC designed to replace the Orion P-3C currently in service with many world navies. Note the surface attack missiles carried underwing and ASW torpedoes carried on the belly sides.