Tamir Eshel

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The Norwegian Army is testing Virtual Reality Goggles to enable soldiers to 'see-through' armor. While todays' tests use gadgets developed for gamers, rugged, military grade system could be matured in five years or less

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A Norwegian Army driver controls an M-113 through Oculus Rift Augmented Reality goggles. Photo Eirik Helland Urke, Teknisk Ukeblad

The Norwegian Army is evaluating the use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) Virtual Reality (VR) goggles in an ‘Augmented Reality’ (AR) application, enabling troops to look through the armor walls protecting their vehicles. In a recent test troops were able to drive an M-113 armoured personnel carrier using the Oculus Rift gaming-goggles, Tech Week (TU) military reporter Eirik Helland Urke reported from the Rena proving grounds, Norway.

The tested apparatus included a prototype of the Oculus Rift goggles coupled with specially developed cameras and image processing software delivered by the Hamar company. The panoramic images captured by the cameras covered the entire vehicle’s surrounding providing real-time situational awareness. Augmented Reality information overlay developed by another company – Augmenti, was also tested by the Army.

The Battle Lab believes the system can be operational in as little as five years.” Odden said that within two or three years such an application could ruggedize and mature for military qualification and get ready for within real traffic.

Together with the Oculus Rift goggles, the system allows the vehicle operator to navigate independently, without verbal commands from the vehicle commanders, enabling the driver to independently control the vehicle responding to the commander’s intent, rather than having to get constant ‘left’, ‘right’, stop’, fast forward’ driving instructions. Moreover, the driver could cover blind areas with the augmented reality display. This allowed the vehicle commander to focus more on the combat situation at hand. With the system, operators could monitor the vehicle surrounding, over 360 degree filed of view, while ‘buttoned up’ – maintaining armour protection with hatched closed.

Odden said that within two or three years such an application could be technically mature for military qualification and ruggedization, and make it ready for use in traffic. Photo: Eirik Helland Urke, TU.NO

Odden said that within two or three years such an application could be technically mature for military qualification and ruggedization, and make it ready for use in traffic. Photo: Eirik Helland Urke, TU.NO

“This concept shows great promise. [although] We found the goggles to lack the screen resolution to see well at a distance, [the goggles] can also cause a certain degree of dizziness for the vehicle operator, but overall we believe these issues can be improved fairly quickly” Major Ola Petter Odden, of the Army’s Combat Lab told TU. “The Battle Lab believes the system can be operational in as little as five years.” Odden said that within two or three years such an application could ruggedize and mature for military qualification and get ready for within real traffic.

Indeed, a more advanced version is already in the making. Oculus VR, the developer of the revolutionary goggles are currently preparing the launch of the development version of the second generation product – subbed DK2. Cash infusion by Facebook will also help the company bring its product to market faster and more affordably, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey said. This new version will feature free movement, more accurate position tracking and lower latency and low persistence display, improving longer use.

With augmented reality goggles that could resemble current night vision devices, the warfighter will be able to develop full situational understanding. In fact, night vision from fused thermal aid image intensifier sensors would also be a bonus!

Providing built-in line-of-sight integration with AR display, the Oculus Rift goggles enable the display to seamlessly follow the wearer’s head’s movements. For example, the driver wearing the goggles could look forward or sideways, ‘into turns’ – a task that regularly requires directions by the vehicle commander or from an external controller. Using the Oculus Rift goggles, the driver could view left or right, looking ‘through the vehicle’ while watching real-time views picked by the side mounted cameras. With the new goggle the driver has also demonstrated precision driving, parking at a narrow parking spot within centimetres of the guidelines, without guidance by the commander or ground directions.

Oculus Rift goggles are becoming a hot product primarily with gamers but since the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook, new applications are suggested for the technology, from simulation, to physical training, and virtual tourism. Military applications for VR and augmented reality are numerous, ranging from gaming-style dismounted battlefield training, to driving, as demonstrated by the Norwegian Army, to intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance analysis and remote control of drones, robots, diving vehicles and other sensors, where operators can precisely direct complex manipulators and other equipment from afar. The ability of augmented reality displays to show layers of information superimposed over real or synthetic view could also help warfighters and leaders in assessing complex combat situation, which nowadays addresses threats that are not limited to the visual sense.

Such threats could be enemy activity reported in real-time by unmanned aerial vehicles, locations of buried or hidden IEDs, sensed by chemical sniffers, invisible, odorless yet hazardous dispersant materials that could harm the forces, or lurking cyber threats, affecting their communications links, compromising classified information or simply drain the power from their backpack equipment. With augmented reality goggles that could resemble current night vision devices, warfighter will be able to receive indications about such threats in real time, superimposed over the real world picture they see. In fact, night vision from fused thermal aid image intensifier sensors could also be a bonus.

 

 

Following almost a year of delay, and gathering more confidence with drone operations from carriers, the US Navy is moving forward with Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) - the future carrier operated drones

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS-D) completes preparations for launching aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Theodore Roosevelt is the third carrier to test the tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft's ability to integrate with the carrier environment. The future UCLASS will be optimized to operate with the new Ford Class carrier (CVN-78) fitted with electrically rather the conventional steam powered catapult, enabling safe handling of lighter aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Heath Zeigler)

The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS-D) completes preparations for launching aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Theodore Roosevelt is the third carrier to test the tailless, unmanned autonomous aircraft’s ability to integrate with the carrier environment. The future UCLASS will be optimized to operate with the new Ford Class carrier (CVN-78) fitted with electrically rather the conventional steam powered catapult, enabling safe handling of lighter aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Heath Zeigler)

The four candidate designs considered for UCLASS depicted in this image published by the US Naval Institute (USNI)

The four candidate designs considered for UCLASS depicted in this image published by the US Naval Institute (USNI)

Future drone attacks could be more pervasive and less constrained by access permissions and host country support, once the US Navy goal to integrate unmanned systems capabilities on board its aircraft carriers is fulfilled. Current operations, conducted by the CIA and Air Force from land-based sites are constrained to the availability, permission and security provided by host nations, bases that should be located relatively close to the target and, hence, may compromise operational security and operator safety. New generations of drones to be operated by the US Navy from aircraft carriers could introduce a new capability, unbound by those restrictions.

Following a year-long delay the U.S. Navy released a draft request for proposal (RFP) for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft on April 17, 2014. The draft release was delayed due to disagreements within the Navy, about the technical specifications for the future unmanned aircraft. The final RFP is expected later this year. The new carrier-operated drone is scheduled to enter service in the early 2021.

Four prime contractors are participating in the competition – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. All four have already been contracted to carry out preliminary studies of a UCLASS type drone and are likely to submit their proposals for the final design. The current draft RFP calls bidders to submit proposals for design, development, assembly, delivery, testing and integration of the air vehicles segment of the UCLASS system. Other elements are likely to include sensors, datalinks, command and control systems.

The US Navy made history last year when the X-47B became the first unmanned air vehicle to launch off the CVN-77 George W. Bush aircraft carrier’s catapult and perform an arresting gear landing. In those cases the X-47B was alone on the carrier. Moving forward, the Navy plans to continue testing the unmanned drone operating as part of a carrier air group. These flights are scheduled to take place in the Atlantic Ocean this summer, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

UCLASS will be a key Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset for future carrier air groups, enabling each carrier of the CVN-78 Ford class to support two continuous ISR orbits at “tactically significant ranges” over uncontested airspace.

In preparation for these flights an X-47B carried out its first night flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The flights planned for this summer will be carefully scripted to measure and account for any variables. The Navy will initially focus on low-tempo operations but could sometime in 2015 intensify the tempo if there is funding and an available aircraft carrier. Aircraft carrier are normally operating on operational cycles of 12 hours each, and all future unmanned assets would be required to align to these operational tempo.

The UCLASS will benefit from lessons learned through these evaluations. According to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, NAVAIR’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, UCLASS will be a key Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset for future carrier air groups, enabling each carrier of the CVN-78 Ford class to support two continuous ISR orbits at “tactically significant ranges” over uncontested airspace. The aircraft would have some stealth capabilities to enable it to operate in ‘lightly contested’ areas.

The Navy has budgeted the UCLASS capability at a $150 million per orbit. Assuming that two air vehicles can cover one orbit (if that aircraft is capable of flying for 14 hours), that means the maximum price point for a UCLASS air vehicle is about $75 million, USNI said, quoting industry sources. According to preliminary specifications released in June 2013 the goal for UCLASS was to conduct two unrefueled orbits at 600 nautical miles (1,111 km) or one unrefueled orbit at 1,200 nautical miles (2,222 km).

UCLASS drones will also have moderate stealth characteristics and internal payload carrying capacity to conduct light strike missions to eliminate targets of opportunity. Additional roles for the UCLASS could also be aerial refueling, albeit, given their limited payload capacity, such missions could be relevant primarily for other UAS.

The original spec called for a minimum payload capacity of 3,000-pound (1,360 kg), to include electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) surveillance and signals intelligence capability similar to the current MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9B Reaper. The Navy would also like to have a modular radar payload to include synthetic aperture radar and moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) as well as maritime area search radar capability. In addition, the aircraft will be able to carry 1,000 lbs (454 kg) of external load, primarily weapons.

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush was the first aircraft carrier to successfully catapult launch an unmanned aircraft from its flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian Read Castillo)

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush was the first aircraft carrier to successfully catapult launch an unmanned aircraft from its flight deck. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian Read Castillo)

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator is towed into the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by Timothy Walter)

Part of the Demonstrator Unmanned Combat Air System - Demonstrator (UCAS-D) testing was to demonstrate how an unmanned aircraft can operate within the crowded and complex carrier environment. In this photo the Northrop Grumman X-47B is seen towed into the hangar bay on board the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) which was one of three carriers that participated in the evaluation. Key design parameters of the UCLASS program will be based on the lessons learned through the UCAS-D evaluations. (U.S. Navy photo by Timothy Walter)

Boeing and Raytheon companies are testing the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (APS-149 LSRS) on the Boeing P-8A. The Poseidon will carry the Advanced Airborne Sensor, an enhanced version of the APS-149. Photo: Russell Hill

Boeing and Raytheon companies are testing the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (APS-149 LSRS) on the Boeing P-8A. The Poseidon will carry the Advanced Airborne Sensor, an enhanced version of the APS-149. Photo: Russell Hill

Boeing and the US Navy began testing an Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) radar system for the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. A series of photos, taken by Russell Hill revealed earlier this week.

The radar, developed by the Raytheon company, is a follow-on to the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LRRS, APS-149 also built by Raytheon) currently operated with the P-3C Orion. The new radar is expected to be ready for deployment in 2016, as part of the P-8A Increment 2 upgrade. The P-3Cs currently flying the LRSR are operated by VP-46 out of NAS Whidbey Island in the Washington state. “We will be ready with intelligent technology when the Poseidon takes its place as the Navy’s ISR capability in the fleet,” Capt. Scott Anderson, LSRS and AAS program manager said in 2009.

Part of the P-3C operating with VP-46 out of NAS Whidbey Island, are configured to carry the APS-149 LSRS.

Part of the P-3C operating with VP-46 out of NAS Whidbey Island, are configured to carry the APS-149 LSRS.

The new radar fulfils several key missions for the maritime and littoral battlespace, providing wide area surveillance of land and sea areas, automatically detecting moving targets, spotting and alerting about human activities in designated areas. It can also deliver high resolution imagery of surface areas from long range, in day, night and under adverse weather conditions that would often prohibit the use of electro-optical imaging assets. The new radar can also provide high resolution “weapon grade” target location, enabling the rapid sensor-to-shooter engagement loops supporting guided, ‘networked’ weapons such as the Tomahawk, SLAM-ER, JASSM, SDB-2 and the future LRASM.

The AAS uses a double-sided Active, Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) technology to deliver both Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), an Inverse SAR mode, capable of automatically ‘profiling’ vessels from long distance. It also provides Moving Target Indication (MTI) functions, automatically detecting, classifying and tracking moving objects over a wide area. Unlike the APY-7 side-looking radar carried by the Air Forces’ E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), the LRSR and AAS are looking to port and starboard, covering almost a full hemisphere. Furthermore, SAR and GMTI modes are interleaved, offering better flexibility and utilisation of airborne sensors. In 2010 the US Air Force assessed several alternatives for the E-8 but determined it cannot afford fielding a new ISR platform under the current fiscal constraints. Considering the obsolete platform carrying the E-8 and given the superior capabilities demonstrated by LRSR and even betted features expected form the AAS, the Navy could fulfil part of the ISR missions currently reserved for the Joint STARS.

Boeing and the US Navy began testing an Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) radar system for the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. Photo: Russell Hill

Boeing and the US Navy began testing an Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) radar system for the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. Photo: Russell Hill

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion participating in the Valiant Shield 2010. The aircraft is equipped with a Raytheon AN/APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS). Note the difference between the longer, slanted box shaped LSRS and the box-shaped AAS carried under the Poseidon. US Navy Photo by Jeffrey Schultze.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion participating in the Valiant Shield 2010. The aircraft is equipped with a Raytheon AN/APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS). Note the difference between the longer, slanted box shaped LSRS and the box-shaped AAS carried under the Poseidon. US Navy Photo by Jeffrey Schultze.

MiG-29SMT is distinctive in its dorsal 'hump' containing an extra fuel tank, extending operational range to 1500 km.

MiG-29SMT is distinctive in its dorsal ‘hump’ containing an extra fuel tank, extending operational range to 1500 km. Photo: RAC MiG

The Russian Defense Ministry has signed a 17 Billion Rubbles ($473 million) contract with the United Aircraft Corp. (UAC) MiG corporation for the delivery of 16 MiG-29SMT fighters, the Novosti news agency reported. The MiG-29SMT is an upgraded variant of the MiG-29. It is operational with the Yemeni Air Force since the mid-2000s and with the Russian Air Force since 2008. In the past this model was also offered to India, Syria and Venezuela but failed to gain orders. More recently it was offered to Egypt.

Under the new order the 16 aircraft will be delivered over the next 3 years; the current order will help maintain the MiG-29 production line, expected to shift to the manufacturing of the MiG-35S. By that time, UAC is expecting the initial order for 100 MiG-35Ss from the Russian Air Force to be signed, with initial deliveries commencing after 2016. The contract also includes ground support and test equipment. The MiG-29SMT is an upgrade package developed for the MiG-29, bringing the avionics and weapons delivery capabilities of existing MiG-29 fighters (9.12 to 9.13 Build) to those of the more advanced MiG-29M (9.15 Build). These aircraft will help rebalance the heavy/light fighter fleet within the Russian Air Force, currently tipping toward the modernised heavy fighters (Su-34, MiG-31, Su-30), while the light fighter fleet is comprised of much older MiG-29s (about 220).

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MiG-29SMT carrying two RVV-AE air/air missiles and four KAB-500KR EO guided weapons underwing. Photo: RAC MiG

The Russian Air Force already operates 28 such aircraft, primarily on air superiority missions. Introduced in 2004 and built in 2006-2007, these aircraft were originally destined for Algeria but were refused by the customer claiming they didn’t meet the agreed quality standard. Eventually the aircraft were handed over to the Russian Air Force. The 16 currently on order will be new build, receiving the SMT upgrade during assembly.

As such, the new MiG-29SMT will be fitted with a multifunction, multimode Zhuk-ME radar with air/air and air/ground operating modes, uprated RD-33 ser.3 engines with afterburning thrust rated 8,300 kgf (81.4 kN) each. It will also get new avionics, a digital cockpit and improved navigation system. The cockpit of the MiG-29 SMT includes two new large-format multi-function display MFD-10-6 and implements the concept HOTAS. The aircraft is equipped for improved night attack capability, and secondary reconnaissance missions.

The aircraft has six underwing hardpoints and a ventral hardpoint carrying centreline pylon carrying up to five tons of payload. Its basic air/air load is comprised of R-73E, RVV-AE or R-27R1/R2 air/air missiles and expanded weapons fit that includes guided weapons such as the Kh-29T(TE) air-to-surface missiles (TV guided), Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles or KAB-500KR/L EO/Laser guided bombs. For maritime strike missions the aircraft can carry Kh-31A supersonic antiship missiles.

The MiG-29SMT carries an enlarged dorsal fuel tanks doubling the operational range of the ‘Fulcrum’ (to 836 nm / 1550 km). Having more fuel in the internal tanks would also clear more underwing hard points for weapon carrying. This modern is also fitted with aerial refuelling probe. To reduce radar reflection and improve survivability the MiG-29SMT is painted in special radar-absorbing paint.

According to the manufacturer, the modernisation introduced in the MiG-29SMT has ‘tripled’ its combat effectiveness and reduced operating costs by 40 percent.

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MiG-29SMT carrying two RVV-AE air/air missiles and four KAB-500KR EO guided weapons underwing. Photo: RAC MiG

The Israel Air Force received today the first of three new C-130J delivered to Israel by the US Government. Built by Lockheed Martin, the new aircraft is joining the 103 squadron (Elephants) operating C-130s from Nevatim IAFB. On its arrival to its new home the aircraft dubbed 'Samson' in Hebrew, was escorted by other squadron members, C-130H 'Karnaf', SIGINT Gulfstream G550 'Shavit' and Boeing 720 aerail refuelling aircraft 'Reem'.

The Israel Air Force received today the first of six new C-130J delivered to Israel by the US Government. Built by Lockheed Martin, the new aircraft tail-marked 661 is joining the 103 squadron, one of two units operating the C-130 from Nevatim. On its arrival to its new home the aircraft dubbed ‘Samson’ in Hebrew, was escorted by other members operating from the same base, the C-130H ‘Karnaf’, SIGINT Gulfstream G550 ‘Shavit’ and Boeing 720 aerial refuelling aircraft ‘Reem’. Photo: IDF

In a ceremony held today at the Nevatim Israel Air Force base, the new C-130J Super Hercules military aircraft landed in Israel. The new type is designated ‘Samson’ by the Israel Air and Space Force (IASF). This is the first ‘Samson’ C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to join the newly established ‘Samson’ squadron. Five more are scheduled to arrive in the coming years. The three currently being completed or under production will be delivered in July 2014 and over the course of 2015 and 2016. The goal is to provide the IASF with nine such aircraft, augmenting and later replacing the fleet of C-130H currently in service.

“we will be able to operate faster, in all weather conditions, in greater distance, in lower altitude and in maximum discretion”

The new C-130J Super Hercules has joined the 103 Squadron (Elephants) at the IAF base of Nevatim.  The squadron is already operating C-130Hs, part of which will also be upgraded by local contractors, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems. In the photo IAF Commander in Chief Maj. General Amir Eshel, Chief of staff Lt. General Benni Gantz and defense minister Lt. General (ret) Moshe Yaalon  are inspecting the new emblem on the tail of the Samson. Photo: IDF

The new C-130J Super Hercules has joined the 103 Squadron (Elephants) at the IAF base of Nevatim. The squadron is already operating C-130Hs, part of which will also be upgraded by local contractors, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems. In the photo IASF Commander in Chief Maj. General Amir Eshel, Chief of staff Lt. General Benni Gantz and defense minister Lt. General (ret) Moshe Yaalon are inspecting the new emblem on the tail of the Samson. Photo: IDF

The new transport aircraft enhances the IASF’s long-range transport and assault capabilities, with missions including airborne cargo delivery, transportation of paratroops and commandos, aerial refueling for helicopters and planes, electronic warfare, maritime patrol and special operations.

According to the Israel Defense Force (IDF) Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, The new aircraft gives the IDF extended operational flexibility and strengthens our long range capabilities, making us more accurate and powerful than ever. The progressive systems the “Samson” aircraft is equipped with will allow us to execute more complex operations than in the past – “we will be able to operate faster, in all weather conditions, in greater distance, in lower altitude and in maximum discretion.” Gantz said.

Over the past year, squadron members have trained in Italy and in the United States in order to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the aircraft and its capabilities. The new aircraft is joining the 103 Squadron already operating the C-130H from Nevatim.

The delivery of the first C-130J is a first milestone in the modernization of the Israel Air Force, Under the current plan the IASF is expecting deliveries of 30 Alenia Aermacchi M346 advanced trainers from Italy over the next two years, six US built Bell-Boeing V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft will be supplied in 2016 and F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters built by Lockheed Martin. The first of the 19 aircraft ordered is expected to arrive in Israel in 2017.

In the past week South Korea recovered two unidentified unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) believed to be North Korean spy drones that were not detected by the South’s radar surveillance network. Following this incident Seoul is likely to probe its aerial surveillance capabilities, particularly with counter-UAV performance in mind.

The drone that landed in the island of Baeknyeong is 1.83 meter long, has a wingspan of 3.2 meter wing span. The drone has a V-shaped (swallow) tail and it is powered by a piston engine, providing engine.

The drone that landed in the island of Baeknyeong is 1.83 meter long, has a wingspan of 3.2 meter wing span. The drone has a V-shaped (swallow) tail and it is powered by a piston engine, providing engine.

Alarmed by the incursions, Seoul stressed the urgent need to prepare more efficient countermeasures. According to Korean defense officials, the drones were on intelligence gathering missions but could be used on terror attack if adapted for such missions. The drones were likely on intelligence gathering missions, reflecting the intensive spying activities North Korea is directing at the South. In recent years the ‘Democratic’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) has invested significant efforts in the development of unmanned platforms, which include intelligence gathering and attack systems. Nevertheless, the level of sophistication demonstrated by the two captured drones is not as advanced as could be expected, as the two drones lack real-time communications or high resolution payloads expected from such platforms. The vulnerability of the South to North Korean drones was realized in 2010, during artillery barrages fired by the north, Back then, the North reconnoitered areas near Baeknyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands with a drone that flew undetected by radar and mostly invisible to the naked eye.

“The military is preparing measures to deal with unmanned aerial vehicles, including North Korea’s lightweight aircraft, to complement the air-defense operation system,” a source at the defense ministry in Seoul said. “The ministry will also consult with the related agencies to draw up measures to control civilian UAVs and the registration system,” he added. The presidential national security adviser Kim Jang-soo presided over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss how to beef up the country’s air defenses against such unmanned aircraft, sources said. The plan will call up measures to defend against such drones and other small aircraft that are hard to detect by radar and strengthen regulations on civilian drones. Following the North Korean drone incursions, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said it is pushing to resume a troubled blimp development project, which has been delayed over technical problems.

This mini-UAV was found in October 2013 on the east coast area of South Korea, near the town of Samcheok. (Photo: South Korean Defence Ministry)

DAPA will hold a meeting later this week to approve a plan to restart the surveillance airship project,” a DAPA official said. “Although front-line troops have spotted unmanned aerial vehicles believed to be sent by North Korea several times recently, the low-altitude radar recognizes them as birds,” an Army official said, commenting on the performance of existing TPS-830K low-level surveillance radar in service with the South Korean military. The military is considering purchasing advanced low-altitude surveillance radar to better monitor moving targets. The Demilitarized zone is located at a mountainous area north of the capital, which clutters the view of ground-based radars, particularly at low altitudes, where small drones are operating. The Air Force has placed Gap Filler radar systems with a range of about 100 km in the front, but even these are not fully covering the area. Seoul had also pushed to build a surveillance airship to better monitor the North Korean military near the western maritime border, after North Korea shelled a border island in November 2010, killing four people. The 24 billion won (US$21.9 million) project initially aimed at deployment from 2012, but has since been delayed as arms makers struggled to make an airship suitable for the rapidly changing weather conditions in the western sea. Seoul is also seeking to deploy GPS jamming systems that are likely to disrupt the navigation systems guiding the North Korean drones’ mission control systems. However, these systems could also risk civil aviation traffic and friendly drones, as demonstrated during a drone accident that killed an Austrian UAV technician in South Korea 2012.

The mini-drone that landed near Paju has a wingspan of 1.92 meters (6 ft 3 in), and a length of the 1.43 meters (4 ft 8in).

The mini-drone that landed near Paju has a wingspan of 1.92 meters (6 ft 3 in), and a length of the 1.43 meters (4 ft 8in).

The drone found on March 24 was a small ‘mini UAV’ class vehicle, it flew in a southward direction toward the capital Seoul, navigating by pre-set GPS waypoints. After flying over the city and taking images of the presidential office, the drone turned back toward north but crashed near the town of Paju, close to the DMZ. Throughout its flight it was not detected by the low-altitude surveillance radar, South Korean official admitted. When investigators probed the drones’ camera they were amazed to find pictures of military installations the residential quarters of Seoul’s presidential compound. According to ‘Alert 5′ blog, these drones are commercial off-the-shelf SKY-09P models made in China, by Taiyuan Navigation Technology. Based on the manufacturer’s data this mini-drone is launched by a catapult and retrieved by parachute. It can carry a payload of 3 kg on a 90 minute mission, controlled in flight over a distance of 30-40 km.  The company also offers a larger variant, SKY-19 that can fly for two hours and carry 5kg of payload.

The mini drones operated by North Korea over South Korea are the SKY 09 made in China by the Taiyuan Navigation Technology company. The models operated by North Korea was equipped with a muffler, to reduce the drone's acoustic signature. Photo: Taiyuan

The mini drones operated by North Korea over South Korea are the SKY 09 made in China by the Taiyuan Navigation Technology company. The models operated by North Korea was equipped with a muffler, to reduce the drone’s acoustic signature. Photo: Taiyuan

The Defense Ministry said Sunday that a wild-ginseng digger first found the drone in October of last year on a mountain in Samcheok, Gangwon Province, and reported it to the military authorities last Friday. It was of the same model found in Paju last month. Preliminary analysis also shows the computer components inside the drone contain chips and microprocessors released back in the early 1990s, but have long been obsolete. There were almost certainly many more that made the flight but made it back to the North safely. The true value of the intelligence is marginal. South Korean military personnel commented, given the poor imaging quality of the payload and lack of communications link, transferring images to the ground in real-time. However, the virtual blindness of South Korean surveillance against those drones render such systems a potential weapon application, if equipped for terror attacks.

While the drones are based on basic technology, both have demonstrated an alarming capability gap in detecting and engaging unmanned aerial systems, particularly small and miniature drones that often evade detection by radar or acoustic means. The drone found in Paju was not detected by radar despite the fact it loitered over Seoul’s presidential office and highway linking the capital and the Demilitarized zone. This drone contained long shots of Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential reception palace in Seoul, raising doubt about the safety and protection of the airspace of the South Korean capital. The drone found a week later in the island of Baengnyeong was larger, capable of flying at an altitude of 3 km with a maximum speed of 162 km per hour, carrying a mission payload of 20-25 kg. This drone was likely on post-mission surveillance, assessing South Korean units deployment following the artillery exchange in that area, in which North Korea fired 100 artillery rounds into the sea on the South Korean side of the maritime border, prompting Seoul to fire its own rounds back into northern waters. No one was injured in the exchange. This drone was reportedly detected by radar but the air defense did not engage it despite the fact it loitered over five different islands, watching military installations, including the 6th Marine Brigade stationed at the island in the midst of an artillery fire exchange between the north and south Korean armies. Pyongyang is not limiting the use of drones for reconnaissance and intelligence. The North Koreans reverse-engineered several models of the US made MQM-107D Streaker targeting drones they acquired form Syria, modified into an attack drone. The drones were displayed publicly for the first time in April 2012 on a military parade in Pyongyang. They were demonstrated in operation in 2013. Although the drone retrieved in Baengnyeong resembles that drone, the two platforms are different in size, propulsion, payload configuration and capacity. North Korea is also believed to have used other types of unmanned aerial vehicles, including drones whose design is based on China’s D-4 and R-3 Rey.

The North Koreans reverse-engineered several models of the US made MQM-107D Streaker targeting drones they acquired form Syria, modified into an attack drone. The drones were displayed publicly for the first time in April 2012 on a military parade in Pyongyang. They were demonstrated in operation in 2013.

The North Koreans reverse-engineered several models of the US made MQM-107D Streaker targeting drones they acquired form Syria, modified into an attack drone. The drones were displayed publicly for the first time in April 2012 on a military parade in Pyongyang. They were demonstrated in operation in 2013.

Improved RGP Designs are Challenge Bar Armor Manufacturers

Since their introduction in operational service in 1961 the Rocket Propelled Grenade Mk 7 (RPG-7) over nine million RPGs have been produced, and hundreds of thousands fired in combat in war zones around the world.

Although RPG-7s proved their battle effectiveness in every conflict since the 1970s, NATO and coalition forces were surprised and ill prepared when they first encountered RPGs in Iraq in 2004. At the time these weapons were used primarily against heavy armored fighting vehicles, while Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) were directed at the less protected or unprotected tactical vehicles.

RPG-7, launcher and rocket

RPG-7, launcher and rocket

Realizing the gravity of this evolving threat, coalition forces began to protect their armored vehicles with add-on armor solutions designed to defeat RPGs. Since the PG-7VL High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead penetrates over 500 mm of steel armor with its shaped charge hitting the target, the only affordable solution was to eliminate the threat from hitting its target. Reactive add-on armor was an effective countermeasure applied to the heavier armored vehicles. Less protected vehicles were encapsulated with bar-armor cages.

The bar-armor cage is preventing RPGs from detonating their shaped charge close to the vehicle’s armor, thus penetrating the armor and causing severe internal damage. The cages are assembled from steel or aluminum bars. Bars are spaced in a form that would ‘trap’ the incoming warhead.

The operating mechanism of bar armor is simple and effective. As the RPG flies through the cage the warhead is smashed between two bars, deforming the conductive layers that form the ogive (cone) holding the piezoelectric precursor and covering the explosive charge. As the external liner bends in, it would touch the inner liner, causing a short circuit that disrupts the explosive triggering chain.

This image depicts the classical bar armor RPG-7 defeat mechanism.

This image depicts the classical bar armor RPG-7 defeat mechanism.

The first-generation bar armor made of steel or aluminum were relatively heavy, weighing about 20-30 kg/square meter. Follow-on solutions that included counter-RPG net came in much lighter weight but suffered from the same lower efficiency with the same neutralization mechanism. Although the method provided reasonable protection, it did not provide conclusive results. In fact, it is likely that every second RPGs would ‘slip away’ and defeat the bar armor protection, either with full hollow charge penetration of the shaped charge, or while having a secondary explosion and piercing the platform hull (without forming the plasma jet). Such risk is especially evident on the less protected parts of the armored vehicles. Ceilings are often composed of thin armor and are rarely protected by bar armor cages or nets; the windshield and side windows are also vulnerable to secondary explosions.

Hence, this RPG protection is referred to as ‘statistical protection’, since the efficiency of the armor is not conclusive, but dependent on where and how each RPG will hit. Typical effectiveness of bar armor in defeating various RPG-7 warheads depends on the type of warhead (different manufacturers produce HEAT warhead diameters from 70 to 90mm). Hence, statistical protection ranges from 50 up to 70 percent for first and second generation.

In recent years, new types of bar armor, net protection systems and various hybrid systems were introduced and applied to most of the vehicles deployed in Afghanistan. More recently, French vehicles operating in Mali and elsewhere in Africa are also equipped with counter-RPG protection, with high level of performance, attributed to the latest, most advanced non-bar type solutions.

The reactive armor, first introduced by the Israeli army in the first Lebanon war in 1982 proved highly effective against RPGs and anti-tank missiles, driving the development of tandem warheads. The RPG-7 received such a warhead, designated PG-7VR in 1988. These warheads were first employed against US armor in Iraq in 2004.

Insurgents, becoming aware of the bar armor and its weaknesses, have employed several methods to defeat bar armor, among them rudimentary extensions of the impact sensor (piezoelectric trigger located at the tip of the round). These extensions would cause the fuse to activate before the ogive is smashed by the armor, thus activating the shaped charge ahead of the armor.

While passive RPG armor technology is improving, particularly by reducing weight and improving the theoretical statistical protection, more progress on the side of the RPGs would render the systems relying on the ‘smashing‘ totally ineffective.

In recent years, RPG manufacturers have also introduced enhancements to overcome common bar armor techniques and nets technology. “RPG manufacturers are applying protective layers at the base of the cone, thus avoiding potential short-circuits caused by deformation,” an armor expert told Defense-Update. Challenged by these improved RPGs, armor designers are now seeking to find alternative solutions by employing mechanisms that would guarantee the defeat of the warhead regardless of the type of RPG they are encountering.

According to our sources, since 2012 some RPG manufacturers have added a durable plastic sheet between the two conductive layers forming the ogive. This sheet prevents the two layers from short circuiting in case they are smashed, thus rendering the ogive operational even after it has hit a bar or passed through a net. The damaged RPG will continue flying and will hit the vehicle, initiating the shaped charge on contact. “In fact, as it will hit at an angle, the behind armor effect could be increased, as the spall is distributed at a larger lethal cone, hitting more of the vehicle occupants,” the expert warned. “We are going to see more and more of these in the battlefield.”

Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. “Your rights matter,” he says, “because you never know when you’re going to need them.” A system administrator at the US National Security Agency (NSA) until 2013, Snowden leaked thousands of classified NSA documents, sparking a global conversation about citizens’ rights to privacy on the Internet. He spoke with Chris Anderson on a recent TED interview.

Few days later, following Edward Snowden’s interview, NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett answers Anderson’s questions about the balance between security and protecting privacy. Ledgett is the deputy director of the agency, acting as the agency’s chief operating officer, responsible for guiding and directing studies, operations and policy.

Ledgett claims that Snowden has placed national security assets and human lives at risk, by disclosing capabilities to adversaries of the USA. The need for surveillance is ubiquitous and protected by law, Ledgett said, “we are on the same network” Ledgett said, “I am using the same email network that is the No 1 email service of choice for terrorists”. He justified the large scale surveillance operations the NSA is conducting, including the ‘Bullrun’ saying – “everyone does it” about surveillance by metadata, he said” metadata is the information that lets you find connections that others are trying to hide”. he added that the alternative to that will be gigantic content collection that will be more invasive to privacy. “If you are not connected to those valid intelligence targets you are of no interest for us”.

MBDA has successfully demonstrated the operation of Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone (DMB) missile from an MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), scoring nine direct hits against a range of targets including very high speed and manoeuvring vehicles. The main advantage of Brimstone is its dual-mode operating capability, combining millimetre guidance with semi-active laser targeting, enabling the operator to accurately designate a target, after the milimeter-wave seeker locks on the designated target the missile independently follows that target independent of further laser designation, through the engagement. The tests pave the way for the deployment of the weapon on Britain’s MQ-9 Reapers. Beyond their use with aerial platforms, Brimstones were also been tested on fast naval crafts, fired against speedboat simulating swarm attacks.

MQ-9 Reaper carrying six Dual-Mode Brimstone missiles. Photo: MBDA

MQ-9 Reaper carrying six Dual-Mode Brimstone missiles. Photo: MBDA

The trials began with captive carry of Avionics and Environmental Data Gathering Missiles, proving the successful integration of the two systems and gathering additional evidence to support future clearance activities. These were quickly followed by a series of live Operational Missile and inert Telemetry Missile firings. The firings were taken from realistic ‘middle of the envelope’ profiles; typically 20,000ft release altitude and 7km – 12km plan range, with the platform being remotely piloted in operationally representative beyond line of sight (SATCOM) conditions, with tracking and designation of targets being conducted in a mixture of manual-track and auto-track modes. Two of the more challenging scenarios were against trucks travelling at 70mph in a crossing target scenario.  At times, the targets were manually tracked by the REAPER crews, showing how the integrated Semi-Active Laser and Active MMW radar seeker works in tandem to ensure direct hits, even while operators are tracking and designating targets manually over satellite communications. “Every Operational and Telemetry missile performed as designed” MBDA announced, “Following the successful demonstration Brimstone can now provide more flexibility to Reaper operators, reducing collateral damage risk while retaining first pass, single shot lethality against high speed manoeuvring targets on land, at sea and in complex environments.”

brimstone_target_50mph700

A Brimstone missile hitting a target moving at a speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h). Photo: USAF Big Safari

The original Brimstone missile used a milimeter-wave seeker to defeat massive armor formations in ‘fire and forget’ engagements. Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR4 strike fighters were fitted to carry clusters of Brimstones, to kill multiple tanks in a simultaneous attack. DMSB, the new variant of the missile was optimised to engage asymmetric threats, by turning the fire-and-forget missile into high-precision weapon combining some ‘man in the loop’ capability, allowing the operator to designate the target for the missile, in case the MMW seeker couldn’t lock or was looking elsewhere. In an asymmetric engagement, ‘man in the loop’ function enables the operator to correct a missile that locks on the wrong target, divert the missile to an alternate target or order the missile to abort attack, hitting a pre-defined area, thus avoiding collateral damage. In addition to the dual-mode seeker capability, Brimstone fired from Tornado GR4 demonstrated the ability to engage, from a high off-boresight, targets travelling at up to 70mph. The targets were engaged from longer ranges, without the need to revert to straight and level flight, whilst operating in Close Air Support (CAS) role. These tests were carried out by the RAF in October 2013.

The use of MMW seeker enables the missile to effectively engage moving targets, a task that would require multiple Hellfire missiles. MBDA is employing a focussed, low fragmentation warhead optimised to defeat targets from Fast In-Shore Attack Craft Fast In-Shore Attack Crafts (FIAC) to fast moving armored or unarmored vehicles. In Libya, those characteristics reportedly made it one of the few weapons NATO commanders could use to hit enemy armored vehicles in urban areas.

MBDA is lobbying the USA to select the Dual Mode Brimstone missile to arm the Reaper drones operated by the US government, as an alternative to pursuing further investment in the Joint Air-Ground Missile (JAGM). This missile, developed by Lockheed Martin, was designed to replace Hellfires used by all US military services but is currently pursued only by the Army. It will also employ a dual-mode seeker combining the Hellfire laser seeker and Longbow MMW radar seekers in a similar way the utilised by the Brimstone.

brimstone_cutaway

MBDA is lobbying the USA to select the Dual Mode Brimstone missile to arm the Reaper drones operated by the US government, as an alternative to pursuing further investment in the Joint Air-Ground Missile (JAGM).

 

Karem Aircraft proposed a drone utilizing the company's proprietary Optimum Speed Tilt-Rotor (OSTR) technology to provide its VTOL X-Plane design unique advantages in speed, range and endurance.

Karem Aircraft proposed a drone utilizing the company’s proprietary Optimum Speed Tilt-Rotor (OSTR) technology to provide its VTOL X-Plane design unique advantages in speed, range and endurance.

 

DARPA has tasked four companies with designing new aircraft to revolutionise vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flight capabilities. The four are Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, The Boeing Company, Karem Aircraft, Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. The next major milestone for VTOL X-Plane is scheduled for late 2015, when the four performers are required to submit preliminary designs. At that point, DARPA plans to review the designs to decide which to build as a technology demonstrator, with the goal of performing flight tests in the 2017-18 timeframe. (Full story is available here)

For generations, new designs for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have remained unable to increase top speed without sacrificing range, efficiency or the ability to do useful work. DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to overcome these challenges through innovative cross-pollination between the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds, to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruise flight capabilities. In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 1 of VTOL X-Plane to the four companies.

Boeing has developed this concept UAS at its phantom works using advanced design methods. The X-Plane win will enable toe creation of large scale air vehicle of this type. Image: Boeing

Boeing has developed this concept UAS at its phantom works using advanced design methods. The X-Plane win will enable toe creation of large scale air vehicle of this type. Image: Boeing

“We were looking for different approaches to solve this extremely challenging problem, and we got them,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. “The proposals we’ve chosen aim to create new technologies and incorporate existing ones that VTOL designs so far have not succeeded in developing. We’re eager to see if the performers can integrate their ideas into designs that could potentially achieve the performance goals we’ve set.”

VTOL X-Plane seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 – 400 kt, raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent and Carry a useful load of at least 40 percent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds. Another goal will be to present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6.

All four winning companies proposed designs for unmanned vehicles, but the technologies that VTOL X-Plane intends to develop could apply equally well to manned aircraft. Another common element among the designs is that they all incorporate multipurpose technologies to varying degrees. Multipurpose technologies decrease the number of systems in a vehicle and its overall mechanical complexity. Multipurpose technologies also use space and weight more efficiently to improve performance and enable new and improved capabilities.

Sikorsky has also been selected for the VTOL X-Plane flyoff competition in 2015.

Sikorsky has also been selected for the VTOL X-Plane flyoff competition in 2015.

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