Tamir Eshel

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The Integrator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has recently completed a 24-hour flight, demonstrating the platform's expanded endurance and increased gross take-off weight. Integrator is providing the aerial platform for the US Marine Corps' RQ-21A Blackjack small tactical UAS.

An Insitu Integrater Block 2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) property of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2), is retrieved by a Sky Hook recovery system at Atlantic Field, N.C., April 1, 2014. VMU-2 conducted an early capability flight to train Marines with the new UAV system. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis

An Insitu Integrater Block 2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) property of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2), is retrieved by a Sky Hook recovery system at Atlantic Field, N.C., April 1, 2014. VMU-2 conducted an early capability flight to train Marines with the new UAV system. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis

Insitu announced today its Integrator unmanned aircraft has successfully completed a 24-hour flight, demonstrating the platform’s expanded endurance and increased gross take-off weight with payload on board. The flight was one of several planned milestones demonstrating the platform’s increasing payload capacity and endurance, supporting future missions. The Integrator provides the basis for the US Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack, developed by Insitu under the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps program of record.

With a 40 pound (18 kg) payload capability, the aircraft’s six payload spaces can be customized with cameras, communication capabilities and other payloads to suit different operational needs. Developed as a modular, flexible platform the Integrator has significant growth potential. “We designed Integrator with growth in mind; high fuel capacity, large dedicated payload volumes and an aerodynamically and structurally efficient airframe have all been carefully implemented to allow the platform to change and adjust to our customers’ priorities.” Insitu’s Chief Engineer Peter Kunz explained. “Increasing the Integrator’s gross take-off weight opens up more opportunities for us to integrate heavier payloads while maintaining long endurance for a multi-mission platform” Senior Vice President Insitu Programs Ryan Hartman added.

Payload bays

Payload bays

The Integrator can operate at an altitude of 19,500 ft and maximum horizontal speed of 90+ knots (cruising speed is 55 kt). At the max takeoff weight of 135 lb (61.2 kg) the Integrator can currently carry a maximum payload of 40 lbs (18 kg). The empty (dry) weight is 80 lb (34 kg).

The Integrator’s payload spaces include the nose bay housing a multi-sensor turret plus additional payload capacity of up to 15 pounds. Another payload space is available at the platform’s Center of Gravity (CG), accommodating payloads of up to 35 pounds. The wing and winglets can also accommodate sensors and other systems, each carrying two and three pounds respectively. Each wing also has a hardpoint carrying up to 15 pounds. Each of those six payload spaces is provided with power and Ethernet connections.

An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo by  Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

Following ten days of aerial and naval attacks on terror targets in the Gaza strip, and continuous rocket fire against Israeli towns and villages by Palestinian terror groups from Gaza, Israel is increasing the pressure on Hamas in Gaza launching a ground operation within the Gaza Strip. The forces moved on 22:00 Israel Time (20:00 GMT)

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Heavy combat engineering equipment heading an Israeli column of armored infantry fighting vehicles assembled to move accros the border into Gaza.

The operation came after 10 days of intense fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas, in which Israel hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel.

The IDF has already called in 40,000 reservist soldiers and has increased its regular forces along the border with Gaza, with three elite infantry brigades, some are mounted on armored infantry fighting vehicles, along with Merkava main battle tanks. The forces are closely supported by artillery and heavy combat engineering units, that provide fire and mobility support for the troops. The Israeli government has approved calling 18,000 additional reservists to sustain the operation, if required.

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This second phase of operation ‘Protective Edge’ is led by the IDF’s Southern Command. It employs close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support. This effort is closely supported by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) and other intelligence organizations.” the official announcement said.

According to IDF Spokesperson, the objective as defined by the Israeli government is “to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continues indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

The campaign followed several days of preparations, in which the IDF instructed civilians to move out of certain areas north and north east of Gaza city, where the IDF identified extensive rockets launches over the past 10 days. Other areas of concern are in the eastern and southern border between Gaza and Israel, where Hamas has dug tunnels to circumvent and infiltrate and strike into Israel, creating an underground bypass the border fence and security measures Israel has constructed along the border fence. The IDF has warned Palestinian civilians in Rafah and Khan Yunis in the southern and central areas of the Gaza Strip.

Ground offensive: the first night

Since beginning of the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge July 17, five terror tunnels have been exposed by the IDF and are now under comprehensive investigation. Later today IDF spokesperson announced that the Givati Brigade operating in the Gaza Strip have thus far uncovered 13 tunnels exits that were used to smuggle weaponry and to execute terror attacks. The announcement did not specify the location where those tunnels were found.

Initial indication from the military activities overnight indicate relatively light Palestinian resistance, in line with IDF expectations. According to military reports 14 terrorists were killed in exchanges of fire. The Palestinians reported 17 killed. One Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper, and five additional soldiers were wounded, mostly from mortar fire. An anti-tank missile hit an IDF heavy bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip, causing damage but no injuries were reported. Overall, IDF forces reportedly targeted 103 terror targets, exposed and destroyed about 20 concealed rocket launchers and struck nine tunnels.

Since the beginning of the of the ground phase of the operation, about 50 rockets were fired at Israel, 25 of which hit Israel and another 20 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Analysts have assessed the Israeli operation will be limited, since the Netanyahu government was reluctant to embark on the operation and on the land campaign since the beginning. However, a rolling campaign in Gaza could gather momentum as it unfolds, and could have unexpected results, depending on the Israeli actions and Palestinian response. Through the first ten days of the operation the Palestinians have used much of their ‘strategic effects’, firing rockets over 150 kilometers (doubling the range they have reached in previous campaigns). They also attempted to strike from the sea, and on land, through attack tunnels, both foiled by Israeli dominance in intelligence, persistent surveillance and employment of precision effects.

Hamas also employed its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Two were shot down by Israeli air-defense Patriot surface-to-air missile units. One was shot down on Tuesday, over the Mediterranean Sea near Ashdod and another shot down today, south of Ashkelon. The Palestinians also attempted to hit Israeli vehicles using anti-tank missiles.

Despite the Palestinian efforts to inflict casualties and havoc in Israel, the Israelis were prepared and were not surprised by any of these operations. Iron Dome demonstrated impressive success rates, effectively protecting Israel’s population centers from the rocket attacks, providing the civilians a sense of security despite the firing of more than 1,500 rockets from Gaza. It also bought time for the preparation for careful, measured execution of the aerial campaign, and of the planning and rehearsal of the ground offensive. Even the potentially ‘strategic’ strikes, launched through terror tunnels and underwater, were effectively repelled by the IDF, that proved its high level of prepardness and effective ‘terrain dominance’ capability, even at times of hightened operational tempo.

The underworld beneath Gaza

Hamas has invested immense efforts in digging, equipping and maintaining many tunnels dug under the border with Israel and in the area connecting the Palestinian and Egyptian areas of Rafah, those tunnels have provided the ‘military lifeline’ of the sieged Gaza strip, enabling the militant in the sieged Gaza strip to bring in military support smuggled through the loosly controlled Sinai desert. In recent weeks the Egyptian military has closed or destroyed most, if not all of those tunnels, leaving the militants in Gaza without a dependable military support.

According to Israel’s intelligence, terror tunnels are spread throughout the Gaza Strip, forming an ‘underworld’ beneath the populated areas. The majority of those tunnels are constructed and utilized by Hamas. The tunnel network is highly developed and continuously preserved interconnecting launch sites, rocket maintenance and command and control positions. Offensive tunnels are complex and advanced, crossing the border from Gaza to Israel, with an agenda to enable terrorists to infiltrate into Israel. Such tunnels, with openings within Israeli territory are intended to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israelis, attacks on military and civilian communities as well as infiltration into Israel, as part of covert terror activity.

What’s next?

The Israeli ground campaign could have several goals – at present the limited goal – to ‘clean’ the area along the fence and deal with those tunnels – is endorsed by the official speakers, but that may be only the first step. A deeper move, few kilometers into the Gaza strip, could aim to take over the main rocket launch areas, destroying underground rocket launchers, stockpiles, support facilities and command and control sites. Such activities have already taken place in some areas, a naval commando team operating north of Gaza was spotted by the enemy at such a site earlier this week. Four commandos were wounded in that operation.

Another more comprehensive option, one the Hamas is fearing the most, is a deeper thrust into the city of Gaza, and the other regional centers in the south and center – in an effort to defeat the command structure of Hamas, hiding underground in locations shielded by civil facilities (hospitals etc) that Israel cannot attack from the air. In January 2009 during operation Cast Lead, Israel avoided to enter the city of Gaza, and opted to stop its forces few hundreds of meters from these objectives.

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A UN map of the Gaza Strip. Subscribe to see the detailed map.

Amidst operation ‘Protective Edge’, and under barrages of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel is deploying the 8th Iron Dome battery, a step that will extend the nation’s defense against those rockets.

RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system

RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system firing during Operation Pillar of defense in 2012.

Seven Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Missiles (C-RAM) systems are currently deployed throughout Israel, and have sofar provided an impressive success rate, intercepting over 120 rockets that would have hit populated areas. According to the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), the system’s success rate is nearing 90 percent.

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The new battery that was completed ahead of schedule has been integrated from modular systems collected from other programs, including training assets and the first David’s Sling Weapon System, currently undergoing developmental testing. A week later the Air Force inducted the ninth Iron Dome battery, as Rafael has accelerated the delivery of the unit, months ahead of schedule.

In addition to the new system, the Iron Dome prime contractor RAFAEL and the Israel Air Force active defense wing have implemented many changes in the operational Iron Dome systems, considerably extending their operational performance.

These extended capabilities addressed evolving, longer range threats and large salvos, as characterised by variants of the 300mm rockets from Syrian, Iranian and local production, that have entered service with Hamas in Gaza. The David’s Sling and Iron Dome share several common components, such as the radar and some battle management modules, which can be configured to support either system by software changes.

The EL/M-2284 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David's Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. Photo: IMOD

The EL/M-2084 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David’s Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. The larger radar also provides enhanced coverage. Photo: IMOD

During operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 Hamas tried to challenge the Iron Dome with massive rocket barrages, of 16 and 20 rockets. Back then Iron Dome has met these challenges successfully, but the Israel MOD decided to preempt future shortages by increase the production rate of the Tamir interceptor missiles, doubling the production line capacity of Tamir missiles. In addition, continued US funding is calling RAFAEL to source at least half of the missile’s in the USA, with Raytheon becoming the lead for these US sourcing operations. (More details below)

rockets_map725Through the first four days of the current conflict Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in Gaza have fired over 490 rockets. This time they shifted to larger numbers of long-range rockets, as well as more massive salvos, some counting up to 50 rockets fired in quick succession. Iron Dome has successfully intercepted massive salvos of 122mm GRAD rockets, as well as salvos of Fajr 3, M75 and R160 rockets, the later are M302 fired at ranges of 160 km.

Iron dome criticized

Meanwhile, new reports in the USA again criticized Iron Dome as “Failing at Crucial Task” to destroy the warheads of incoming rocket targeted by the interceptor. According to the MIT Technology Review , Richard Lloyd, a weapons expert and consultant who is a past Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, says that because these interceptions had almost certainly not detonated the rockets’ warheads, the system is essentially failing.

Ted Postol, MIT physicist and missile-defense expert added his own critics, saying “Instead of smoothly rising to meet their targets, the interceptors were making sharp turns and engaging from the side or behind” Those problems appear to be continuing in the current conflict, Postol added.

While the two experts are widely quoted by the media, their comments about the system’s performance are countless, at least, by the clear cut results demonstrated by Iron Dome. Not only by the high intercept ratio (which can be argued, lacking clear numbers related to which rockets were actually engaged), but also by the low casualties count on the Israeli side, which clearly indicates better exchange ratio than in the Lead Cast and 2nd Lebanon War conflicts, where similar rockets were extensively used against population centers throughout Israel. With over 800 rockets fired, 635 ‘crossed the border’, 149 of the rockets were intercepted in the past five days.

Another aspect of the system’s overwhelming success is that it is too good. “Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.” Bloomberg’s Peter Coy reported from Jerusalem. 

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The first two Lavi advanced trainer M-346 produced for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi have been delivered yesterday to the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in the Negev Desert.

Two M-346 Lavi advanced trainers leave for their flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The first two M-346 Lavi advanced trainers (103 and 102) leave Venegono Superiore, Italy for their flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The first two Lavi advanced trainer M-346 produced for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi have been delivered yesterday to the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in the Negev Desert. These aircraft will gradually replace the TA-4s currently operated by the IAF. The delivery took place at the southern base located within the range of Hamas rockets, fired daily at the town of Beersheba. On their route from Venegono Superiore, Italy the two jet trainers flew over the Mediterranean sea and passed through the crowded Israeli airspace, risking Palestinian rockets and Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ interceptors fired against the Palestinian rockets.

We appreciating the Italian commitment to deliver the aircraft on time, despite the difficult conditions imposed by ‘Operation Protective Edge’, it shows we have true partners in Italy

The second M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainer takes off from Venegono Superiore on its flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The second M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainer takes off from Venegono Superiore on its flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

“This is a beginning of a strategic shift, these aircraft will become the instrumental platform training the pilots that will be defending our nation in the future” Hatzerim base commander, Col. Tal Kalman said. “We appreciating the Italian commitment to deliver the aircraft on time, despite the difficult conditions imposed by ‘Operation Protective Edge’, it shows we have true partners in Italy”.

In less than two years, has signed the contract, performed the roll-out of the first aircraft last March and delivered the first two M-346s, on time with the programme. A result which marks the excellent team job achieved in strict collaboration with Alenia Aermacchi’s industrial counterparts, TOR and Honeywell”, the company declared.

Meanwhile Alenia Aermacchi’s site of Venegono (near Milan) continues the production activities: in addition to the two aircraft delivered, other 6 M-346s for the IAF are completing final assembly whereas 5 others are in the process of structural part assembly. All 30 aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2016.

In July 2012, Alenia Aermacchi, a Finmeccanica company, was awarded a contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defence (IMOD) to supply 30 M-346 advanced jet trainer aircraft and to include ground based training systems in collaboration with other Israeli and International companies.

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The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza escalated today to new levels, with each sides launching over hundred attacks at the other. For the first time, a Hamas naval commando team manage to reach land north of Gaza but eliminated soon after without reaching its target.

The Palestinians launched today more than 160 rockets, mostly at civilian targets, at ranges far beyond the 75km achieved in the 2012 Pillar of Defense – the last cycle of violence between the two sides. The Israeli side launched about 200 attacks at terrorist targets in Gaza as part of the operation code named “Defensive Edge”. The Israel Air Force, Navy vessels and army tanks pounded terrorist operatives and commanders, rocket sites, ammunition stockpiles and attack tunnels throughout the Gaza strip. In addition, according to the IAF sources, at least three targets struck were identified as ‘air defense assets’, (probably Man portable air defense systems – MANPADS).

While Israel have shown signs of restraints in escalating the conflict, at least at the initial phase, In addition to 122mm ‘GRAD’ rockets and the 300mm M75 and Fajr 3 rockets, Hamas has introduced a new rocket designated R160. Israeli inspection of the remains of the rocket determines it was a Syrian made 302mm rocket, capable of maximum range of 160 km, 40 such rockets were found on the KLOS-C cargo vessel seized by the Israel Navy in March 2014. On that attack on the city of Hadera, on Israel’s coastal plain, the rocket flew over 125 km but hit an empty parking lot causing no damage.

Iron dome returns to action

The Israeli Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (C-RAM) system demonstrated again its unique capability to defeat rocket attacks, discriminately intercepting only those rockets that posed a risk to population centers. In the past 24 hours (July 8th) 117 rockets struck Israel and an additional 29 were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israel has already deployed seven Iron Dome formations, each comprising radar, battle management and several fire units, comprising multiple stacks containing several Tamir guided interceptors. Sofar Iron Dome has demonstrated an impressive capability to intercept salvos of 16 rockets. In an attempt to saturate the Iron Dome, Hamas has fielded multiple rocket launchers mounting 40 rockets.

Hamas commando raid failed

The Palestinians also tried to strike Israeli targets using strike teams attempting to penetrate into Israel through underground (tunnels) and the sea. This video, showing clips taken from surveillance cameras monitoring the area, show the operation as it was seen from the Israeli side today at 20:30 local time.

The first part shows what looks like a team of Palestinian naval commando emerging from the sea, possibly after conducting a diving ingress from their naval base in the city of Gaza. The team rapidly moved toward the nearby Israeli military base. Israeli surveillance units covering the area quickly grouped counterfire employing precision weapons blocking the enemy movement, pinning the enemy down.

At first they returned fire but after a while realized their desperate situation, engaged by IAF Apache attack helicopters, ground troops arriving at the scene and naval gun boats (the engagement as seen from the gunboat’s sight monitoring the remotely controlled gun sight is shown in the video above). The incident was finished after few minutes leaving the four Palestinians dead and one Israeli soldier wounded.

Earlier today a commander of a Palestinian Naval Commando unit Muhammad Sa’aban was killed when his car was targeted by Israeli missiles as he and two assistants were travelling in Gaza.

Secondary explosions raise smoke pillars erupting from a Palestinian attack tunnel hit by the Israel Air & Space Force air strike. Photo: IDF Spokesman

Secondary explosions raise smoke pillars erupting from a Palestinian attack tunnel hit by the Israel Air & Space Force air strike. Photo: IDF Spokesman

Preemptive attack prevents tunnel strike

Yesterday the Israel Air Force targeted a Hamas tunnel. According to the IDF the strike prevented an ‘imminent terror threat to Israeli citizens’. The tunnel was one of several ‘attack tunnels’ the Hamas has built under the border. These tunnels that extend from Gaza into Israel, would enable covert movement from Gaza into Israel and back, enabling the Hamas to execute surprise attacks against the IDF, or launch terror strikes against villages near the order. The strike triggered explosives the Palestinians were carrying through the tunnel, causing a massive blast that killed seven Hamas operatives. The terrorists likely planned to use the explosives to carry out an attack against Israel. Another attack using a tunnel was reported today, at the southern tip of the Gaza strip. This second tunnel strike was not confirmed.

Israel Aerospace Industries has unveiled its BirdEye 650D mini unmanned air system, the third variant of the BirdEye 650 mini-UAV. The new version extends the systems' mission endurance from two and three hours to 24

BirdEye 650D showing the flying wing design. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

BirdEye 650D showing the flying wing design. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

Israel Aerospace Industries has unveiled its BirdEye 650D mini unmanned air vehicle (UAV) at the recent IDAS-BMD symposium in Tel Aviv. The new version is a third variant of the BirdEye 650 mini-UAV. The 650D is extending the platform’s mission endurance from two and three hours to 24. Previous versions required committing two or three UAVs to achieve a 24 hour cycle.

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The BirdEye 650D is powered by a front-mounted piston engine. The model on display does not show the planned position for the payload, which should be located between the engine cowling and parachute bay at the rear. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

The BirdEye platform was launched with the BirdEye 400 electrically powered variant, carrying 1.2 kg (2.6lb) typically carrying the 1 kg (2.2lb) MicroPOP stabilized EO payload. This variant was later enhanced into the BirdEye 650, a 11 kg (24lb) drone doubling endurance to two hours with the same MicroPOP payload. A longer endurance version was later introduced, stretching the mission to 3.5 hours, taking advantage of lighter payloads and larger power pack. The BirdEye 650 have also been tested carrying fuel cells, on missions of up to six hours. Regardless of power source, electrical propulsion is not powerful enough to sustain long missions with the payload class required by tactical users, IAI sources indicated.

These specifications typically require endurance of 20-24 hours and payload weight class of 5-6 kg. While IAI’s MiniPOP is slightly heavier for this application, lighter payloads conforming with this class are the multi-sensor TASE 350, comprising an IR and HD camera weighing 3.5 kg (7.25lb) from UTC or the Israeli T-Stamp, a 2.8 kg stabilized payload carrying a cooled IR and TV camera from Controp.

Electrical propulsion is far from meeting such goals. To meet this goal with a compact platform, IAI engineers scaled up the BirdEye 650 platform, adding a small combustion engine, and fuel tank sustaining 20-24 hours (depending on the payload used). The BirdEye supports such mission endurance with a starter-alternator sustaining the charged battery supporting the avionics, datalink and payload on the extended mission. In this configuration the BirdEye 650D has a longer fuselage and larger wing span, enabling maximum take-off weight of 30kg (66lb). The new model has an operational radius of over 50km (27nm).

The new version is launched from a catapult and retrieved by parachute and airbag. As performed by other BirdEye models, the 650D also uses a belly placed parachute that, when retrieved, flips the drone on its back, protecting the payload from ground impact. This flipped landing method eliminates the need for retractable turret. This mini-UAV will also be configured to operate from naval vessels, using a catapult launch systems and several, optional at-sea retrieval systems.

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The Birdeye family of mini-UAVs showing (from top to bottom) the BirdEye 650D, BirdEye 650 and BirdEye 400. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

A team of scientists in academia, research groups and industry are working with the US Army Research Lab to create nano-robots that promis to shape the battlefield for future warfighting

ARL scientists want to equip Kumar's miniature quad rotor with a staring spherical camera. Built like an eye of a fly, the two camera will be able to stare over the upper and lower hemispheres of the platform, covering the full sphere. Photo: ARL

ARL scientists want to equip Kumar’s miniature quad rotor with a staring spherical camera. Built like an eye of a fly, the two hemispheres will be able to stare over the upper and lower hemispheres of the platform, covering the full sphere. This wide-field sensing based on the neurophysiology of insects, will enable navigation and obstacle avoidance on micro aerial robots Photo: ARL

Dr. Joseph Conroy checks the vehicle operation of the ARL micro-quadrotor, a platform for testing integrated sensing and processing on size constrained robotic systems. (ARL Photo by Doug Lafon)

Dr. Joseph Conroy checks the vehicle operation of the ARL micro-quadrotor, a platform for testing integrated sensing and processing on size constrained robotic systems. (ARL Photo by Doug Lafon)

Robots and structures on this size and scale can access difficult to reach areas, for search and rescue or reconnaissance behind closed doors

The US Army Research laboratory (ARL) is studying micro-robots for use in future military applications, from covert monitoring and surveillance of suspected enemy targets to sensors assisting soldiers and leaders in situational assessment. For the more distant future, ARL scientists believe that teams of miniature ground and aerial robots may be able to enter the high-risk zones and conduct a coordinated search, communicating with one another, and ultimately conveying critical information to Soldiers who are far removed from harm’s way.

Technologies studied under Developed ARL’s Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) offer such potential capabilities under a collaborative technology alliance between ARL, the R&D community, industry and academia.

Prof. Vijay Kumar, of the School of Engineering University of Pennsylvania. A pioneer in quadrotor robotics, Kumar is currently assigned to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he serves as the assistant director for robotics and cyber physical systems.

Prof. Vijay Kumar,of the School of Engineering University of Pennsylvania. A pioneer in quadrotor robotics, Kumar is currently assigned to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he serves as the assistant director for robotics and cyber physical systems.

“Since the program was awarded [in 2008], I am gratified at what has come out of MAST CTA.” ARL’s chief scientist Dr. Joseph Mait said. One of the programs was spun by Prof. Vijay Kumar of the University of Pennsylvania that produces a miniature quad-rotors made to fit in the palm of a hand and insect scaled platforms.

“This device has a large percent of the capabilities that we have wanted.” Mait added, “That is a true sign of progress and the types of innovation that we supported through the MAST CTA. Within ARL itself, it has established us now as an organization capable of delivering autonomous platforms that are as large as a passenger vehicle but also as small as something that can be carried around with two arms then also carried in a single hand.”

Researchers are currently working with the micro-quadrotor as a platform for testing integrated sensing and processing on size-constrained robotic systems. The system is currently able to fly using a manual pilot control or within a test environment that utilizes an external visual tracking system, such as a Vicon system. The next step will add autonomy to such systems. “We have people capable of developing autonomy at all of those scales, which opens up doors and greater creativity at how all these platforms can be used by teams of Soldiers of various sizes from a company down to a squad.” Mait concluded.

“We are creating autonomous flying robots that are able to navigate in complex, three-dimensional environments with or without GPS with applications to search and rescue, first response and precision farming.” Kumar tells about the latest research projects on Kumarrobotics. “The robots are quadrotors with onboard sensors and processors customized for state estimation, control and planning. We rely on a range of sensors that can include an IMU, cameras, a laser range scanner, an altimeter and a GPS sensor. His smallest robot has a mass of 20 grams and is capable of navigating at 6 m/s in indoor environments.

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ARL has demonstrated independently controlled large-displacement three-jointed insect inspired legs for future mm-scale robotic systems using microelectromechanical system (MEMS) fabrication techniques.

Dr. Ronald Polcawich performs high-resolution imaging and testing of a millimeter-scale robotic leg structure. The roughly 3-mm-long leg consists of segments of piezoelectric thin-film actuators and thin-film copper sections designed to mimic the kinetics of a leg with a "hip," "knee" and "ankle" joint sections. These "legs" have demonstrated the ability to move, lift (e.g., salt crystal in image), and resist impact into the silicon substrate. (Photo by Doug Lafon)

Dr. Ronald Polcawich performs high-resolution imaging and testing of a millimeter-scale robotic leg structure. The roughly 3-mm-long leg consists of segments of piezoelectric thin-film actuators and thin-film copper sections designed to mimic the kinetics of a leg with a “hip,” “knee” and “ankle” joint sections. These “legs” have demonstrated the ability to move, lift (e.g., salt crystal in image), and resist impact into the silicon substrate. (Photo by Doug Lafon)

In terms of insect scaled platforms, ARL researchers are developing and testing millimeter-scale robotic leg structures. According to Dr. Ronald Polcawich, team lead for Piezoelectric-Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems Technology at ARL, the leg structures consist of segments of piezoelectric thin-film actuators and thin-film copper sections that are designed to mimic the kinetics of a leg and have the ability to move, lift and resist impact.

The program seeks to enhance the tactical situational awareness of the dismounted Soldier, in urban and complex terrain, by autonomous, collaborative and multifunctional mobile microsystems

“It is envisioned that robots and structures on this size scale can provide a unique set of advantages and capabilities to the Soldier. Their inherent size makes them useful to access difficult to reach areas such as in rubble for search and rescue and behind closed doors for reconnaissance,” stated Polcawich.

“The MAST program seeks to enhance the tactical situational awareness of the dismounted Soldier in urban and complex terrain by enabling the autonomous operation of a collaborative ensemble of multifunctional mobile Microsystems,” said Dr. Brett Piekarski, chief of ARL’s Micro and Nano Materials and Devices Branch within the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate and Cooperative Agreement Manager of the MAST Collaborative Technology Alliance (CTA).

The structure and goals of the MAST CTA were developed by Dr. Tom Doligalski and Dr. Joseph Mait. Mait led the CTA when it was awarded in February 2008. The CTA is comprised of four research centers and numerous consortium members. The research centers include the Platform Integration Center, BAE Systems (Lead); Microsystem Mechanics Center, University of Maryland; Processing for Autonomous Operation Center, University of Pennsylvania; and Microelectronics Center, University of Michigan.

Other ARL MAST consortium members include the California Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University, University of California-Berkeley, University of New Mexico and the University of Pennsylvania. The research is funded by ARL into 2017.

The technical approach to meet the goals and objectives of the MAST CTA is to focus on the critical science and technology research areas as they pertain to small scale platforms including mobility, control and energetics; communication, navigation and coordination; sensing, perception, and processing.

In the areas of mobility, control and energetics, researchers are studying aeromechanics at small scales, body and appendage design at small scales, algorithms for complex navigation and small-scale platform propulsion and actuation.

In the area of communication, navigation and coordination, researchers are focusing on how to enable intelligent communication, networking and collaboration between micro autonomous robotic platforms. Under sensing, perception and processing, researchers are looking at low-power sensors for navigation, obstacle detection, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

An ARL demonstration of full range of motion and aerodynamic lift in fruit fly scaled microelectromechanical system (MEMS) fabricated wings. (Photo: ARL)

An ARL demonstration of full range of motion and aerodynamic lift in fruit fly scaled microelectromechanical system (MEMS) fabricated wings. (Photo: ARL)

Turkey was expected to announce the results of the long-awaited billion dollar long-range air and missile defense system tender yesterday. Instead, Ankara opted to delay its decision again, extending the deadline for the third time, expecting bids until August 30, 2104

Turkey’s Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM) was expected to make the final decision concerning the procurement of a multi-billion dollar long-range air and missile defense system tender, with European and Chinese firms in the running. Instead, Ankara opted to delay its decision again, extending the deadline for bids until August 30, Hürriyet Daily News reported. This is the third time Ankara has extended the deadline for revised offers.

Last September, the SSM executive committee chose China’s FD-2000 (HQ-9) long-range air and missile defense systems over Western competitors, including the Italian-French Eurosam’s SAMP/T Aster 30 systems. The Chinese manufacturer of the HQ-9 missile system, the state-run China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC), offered a $3.4 billion high technology transfer. Turkish government officials announced they preferred the Chinese offer due to its competitiveness and potential for co-production in Turkey. the Turkish Daily Sabah reports.

Facing unprecedented European and U.S. pressure to revert the selection Ankara has asked the competitors to ‘reconsider’ their bids. Since the announcement, the bidding deadline has been extended three times, and other bidding companies, Eurosam and Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, were given time to reconsider their bids until the end of June. As reported above, this target has now moved two month to the end of August.

Despite the international pressure, government officials announced that they preferred the Chinese offer due to its competitiveness and potential for co-production in Turkey. Sources in the defense industry stated that SSM Undersecretary Ismail Demir visited China last week and held talks with officials from the Defense Ministry and the Chinese manufacturer of the FD-2000 missile system, the state-run CPMIEC. According to sources, Turkish officials demanded further cooperation and technology transfer and underlined that current conditions concerning technology transfer are not sufficient for Turkey.

One of the main concerns for the Turkish planners are the integration of the new system with NATO’s evolving missile defense system. NATO insists the Chinese technology will not be compatible with the evolving ballistic-missile shield being built in Europe. There are also proliferation concerns, as the Chinese company has been on the U.S. State Department’s sanctions list since February 2013.

Turkish defense companies are also objecting to the selection of the Chinese option, fearing that their partnerships in certain fields would not be able to continue if Turkey buys missiles from China.

If Turkey decides not to continue with the Chinese company, Italian-French team Eurosam SAMP/T is in second place, and most likely Turkey will continue with the European firms.

Europe has focused on high level discussions to promote its offering. Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Paris, with Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz joining the delegation. French Leader Hollande and Prime Minister Erdoğan are believed to have discussed details about a potential missile deal and Eurosam’s offer during the bilateral talks. Antoine Bouiver, CEO of MBDA, a partner company of Eurosam, visited Turkey in March. During his visit, he said that Eurosam was ready to offer Turkey a coproduction in radar and other communication tools. His visit was followed by a delegation from Eurosam visiting Ankara in April for meetings with defense officials. According to sources, Eurosam updated its offer, lowered its price estimate to under $4 billion and increased the share of local contributions to the project.

The U.S. applied pressure on Ankara to block the Chinese offer but did not change its proposal to become more attractive. An industry source familiar with the program remarked that the U.S. company did not revise its offer and declined to offer the options of technology transfer or coproduction to Turkey.

The US Navy has tested radar absorbing carbon-fiber cloud generators on board ships, which could be used to protect naval vessels from attacks by radar-guided anti-ship and air-launched cruise missiles

USS Mustin (DDG 89), USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and USS Frank Cable (AS 40) test maritime obscurants held south of Guam to assess their tactical effectiveness for anti-ship missile defense. The systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions using Seventh Fleet units and assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can prevent a missile from detecting and striking its target as part of a layered defense. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Wilson)

USS Mustin (DDG 89), USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and USS Frank Cable (AS 40) test maritime obscurants held south of Guam to assess their tactical effectiveness for anti-ship missile defense. Note how the distribution of the cloud can be manipulated by the ship, under the same wind conditions, while the vessels maintain the same heading. (U.S. Navy photo, Timothy Wilson)

The US Navy has recently tested a new anti-ship missile countermeasure system using an obscurant generator prototype. The systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions using assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can prevent a missile from detecting and striking its target as part of a layered defense.

The Naval Warfare Development Command tested the maritime obscurant generator prototypes June 21-25 to assess their tactical effectiveness for anti-ship missile defense. The shipboard device generates carbon-fiber particles suspended in a cloud of smoke. These particles absorb and diffuse radar waves emanating from the seekers of incoming missiles, thus potentially obscuring the target from the missile’s seeker.

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During the ‘Pandarra Fog’ evaluation, the systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions using Seventh Fleet units and assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can prevent a missile from detecting and striking its target as part of a layered defense. Photo: US Navy, by Timothy Wilson.

“Pandarra Fog showed the value of quickly bringing together scientific and joint forces to tackle our hardest warfighting problems. This isn’t just smoke or chaff, this is high tech obscurant, which can be effective against an array of missile homing systems,” said Antonio Siordia, U.S. Seventh Fleet’s science adviser.

Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas Jr., commander U.S. Seventh Fleet, kicked off the “Pandarra Fog”, the multi-ship experiment in Guam. “Pandarra Fog is example of the quick-turn integrated technical and tactical development the Fleet is doing to master electromagnetic maneuver warfare and assure access of joint forces,” Thomas said.

The experiment demonstrated maritime obscurant generation can be a key enabler of offensive manoeuvre of the fleet despite the global proliferation of anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles.

Thoughtful obscurant employment will significantly reduce the risk to surface ships from missile strikes

“We are developing a layered approach using a full spectrum of active and passive capabilities to give us the advantage. It is not just about the technology, but also practicing how the fleet will employ these emerging capabilities,” said Capt. David Adams, who leads the Seventh Fleet Warfighting Initiatives Group. “A defense in depth approach has a lot of advantages. Not only do we know the smoke is effective, it adds a level of uncertainty and unpredictability to the equation,” said Adams.

Smoke screening is part of a multi-layered defense of surface vessels, which also includes active defense (air defense missiles), active decoys (jammers and RF decoys) chaff. The flares (seen in this photo) may be used for a last ditch defense, luring thermal seekers off target.

Smoke screening is part of a multi-layered defense of surface vessels, which also includes active defense (air defense missiles), active decoys (jammers and RF decoys) chaff. The flares (seen in this photo) may be used for a last ditch defense, luring thermal seekers off target.

In addition to having a significant level of effectiveness, the systems are relatively inexpensive when compared to other countermeasures and can be tactically employed through typical fleet maneuvers. The materials are environmentally friendly and sized to maximize operational effectiveness. “Our initial assessment is the testing was very successful in terms of tactical employment, usability and cost-effectiveness,” said Adams.

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The Japanese patrol boat Shiritaka (PG 829) fires a screen of flares on a naval display. On an operational deployment the flares create a screen of hot obscurant that can hide the vessel from incoming heat-seeking missiles.

The flight represents a first operational test of a "Reachback" concept for the Harfang, proving that the UAS piloting functions could be transferred from the cockpit in Niger, where the UAV took off from, to the cockpit in Cognac almost 5,000 km away, for the activation and control of the drone's sensors

The drones are operated on 15 hour missions, directly from Sicily via satellite link. Photo: EMA, Armée de l'Air

The drones are operated on 15 hour missions, directly from Sicily via satellite link. Photo: EMA, Armée de l’Air

A Harfang UAS belonging to the French Air Force (FAF) controlled by a crew from the French Military Flight Test Centre (Centre d’Expérience Aérienne Militaire), the UAS Squadron “Belfort” (ED 1/33) and the UAS detachment stationed in the Sahel-Sahara region has successfully undergone testing to prove that once it has taken off from its overseas deployment base it can be controlled from a cockpit located in France.

The flight represents a first for France and proves the “Reachback” concept.

With a flight time of around one hour, the experimental flight carried out under operational conditions proved that the UAS piloting functions could be transferred from the cockpit in Niger, where the UAV took off from, to the cockpit in Cognac almost 5,000 km away, and that the main sensor of the UAV could be activated.

This new capability enables an increased ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) capacity without leaving national territory, should it be required in the theatre of operations.

Operators at the Harfang ground control station in Sicily monitor the aircraft electro-optical and radar payloads over a satellite communications link. The data collected on the 15 hour mission provides live intelligence day and night.  Photo: EMA / armée de l'Air

Operators at the Harfang ground control station in Sicily monitor the aircraft electro-optical and radar payloads over a satellite communications link. The data collected on the 15 hour mission provides live intelligence day and night. Photo: EMA / armée de l’Air

The current Harfang fleet consists of four UAVs and three ground stations. Harfang (the French word for “arctic snowy owl”) is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS developed for the FAF. The French defence procurement agency DGA recently signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the upgrade of the FAF’s Harfang fleet, as well as for its on-condition maintenance until the end of 2017.

It is equipped with optronic sensors and radar, which ensure that missions can be carried out around the clock in all weather conditions. Thanks to its long endurance capability, the UAS is capable of transmitting data in real time to national and international joint command structures. The programme is led by Airbus Defence and Space in close cooperation with IAI, which developed and constructed the aerial platform as well as a number of subsystems.

The Harfang UAS has been successfully operated since November 2008 by the ED 1/33 Belfort of the FAF, which is stationed at the Cognac 709 air base in south-west France. For three years (2009-2012), Harfang was deployed in Afghanistan to support the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops.

Three Harfang (Heron I) drones undergoing maintenance. Note the parabolic antenna installed under the covered dome, used for a satellite downlink. The recent test also employed a satellite uplink, thus implementing full Reachback control. Photo: SIRPA

Three Harfang (Heron I) drones undergoing maintenance. Note the parabolic antenna installed under the covered dome, used for a satellite downlink. The recent test also employed a satellite uplink, thus implementing full Reachback control. Photo: SIRPA

The drone’s first combat deployment was at the US base in Bagram, where the Harfang system has performed 600 missions and clocked up around 5,000 flight hours. In 2011, Harfang was also deployed at the Sigonella base in Italy as part of the Harmattan operation conducted in Libya.

More recently, the Harfang UAS has been used in several French operations in the Sahel region in Africa, notably since January 2013 in Operation Serval in Mali. During its 15-month deployment at the Niamey base in Niger, Harfang clocked up more than 3,500 flight hours in 250 missions. In February 2014, Harfang passed the symbolic mark of 10,000 flight hours, which it clocked up in over 900 missions for the FAF.

Additionally, the Harfang system was granted military type certification in 2010 by the DGA. Thanks to this certification, the versatile system has since been used in regular operations over French national territory, for instance during FAF operator training in Cognac and for internal security purposes during major national events, such as the Bastille Day military parade, and international events, for example the G8 Summit, and, more recently, the D-Day anniversary ceremonies in Normandy.

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