Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Artificially Intelligent Pilots

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) further advanced its Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) ecosystem by flying three unique missions with Artificially Intelligent (AI) pilots on an operationally relevant Open Mission System (OMS) software stack. A company-owned Avenger Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was paired with “digital twin” aircraft to autonomously conduct Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) multi-objective collaborative combat missions. The flights, which took place on December 14, 2022, from GA-ASI’s Desert Horizons flight operations facility in El Mirage, California, demonstrate the company’s commitment to maturing its CCA ecosystem for Autonomous Collaborative Platform (ACP) UAS using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). This provides a new and innovative tool for next-generation military platforms to make decisions under dynamic and uncertain real-world conditions.

Avenger
AI Flights Featuring Avenger Advance CCA Ecosystem

The flight used GA-ASI’s novel Reinforcement Learning (RL) architecture built using agile software development methodology and industry-standard tools such as Docker and Kubernetes to develop and validate three deep learning RL algorithms in an operationally relevant environment. RL agents demonstrated single, multi, and hierarchical agent behaviors. The single agent RL model successfully navigated the live plane while dynamically avoiding threats to accomplish its mission. Multi-agent RL models flew a live and virtual Avenger to collaboratively chase a target while avoiding threats. The hierarchical RL agent used sensor information to select courses of action based on its understanding of the world state. This demonstrated the AI pilot’s ability to successfully process and act on live real-time information independently of a human operator to make mission-critical decisions at the speed of relevance.

For the missions, real-time updates were made to flight paths based on fused sensor tracks provided by virtual Advanced Framework for Simulation, Integration, and Modeling (AFSIM) models, and RL agent missions were dynamically selected by operators while the plane was airborne, demonstrating live, effective human-machine teaming for autonomy. This live operational data describing AI pilot performance will be fed into GA-ASI’s rapid retraining process for analysis and used to refine future agent performance.

«The concepts demonstrated by these flights set the standard for operationally relevant mission systems capabilities on CCA platforms», said GA-ASI Senior Director of Advanced Programs Michael Atwood. «The combination of airborne high-performance computing, sensor fusion, human-machine teaming, and AI pilots making decisions at the speed of relevance shows how quickly GA-ASI’s capabilities are maturing as we move to operationalize autonomy for CCAs».

The team used a government-furnished Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy engine and the government-standard OMS messaging protocol to enable communication between the RL agents and the LVC system. Utilizing government standards such as OMS will make rapid integration of autonomy for CCAs possible.

In addition, GA-ASI used a General Dynamics Mission Systems’ EMC2 to run the autonomy architecture. EMC2 is an open architecture Multi-Function Processor with multi-level security infrastructure that is used to host the autonomy architecture, demonstrating the ability to bring high-performance computing resources to CCAs to perform quickly tailorable mission sets depending on the operational environment.

This is another in an ongoing series of autonomous flights performed using internal research and development funding to prove out important AI/ML concepts for UAS.

Multi-Domain Operations-ready

On November 10, 2022, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) flew the first production MQ-9A Reaper Multi-Domain Operations (M2DO)-ready variant of the U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper. This upgraded version of the MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft, also known as a the «-25», includes key features that will enable future integration and fielding of Open Mission Systems (OMS) as well as new sensors that will further expand the MQ-9A Reaper’s strategic reconnaissance capabilities.

M2DO MQ-9A Reaper
GA-ASI Flies First M2DO MQ-9A Aircraft

Features of the new «-25» include improved power distribution and redundancy, GPS improvements, radar altimeters, nose wheel steering, and Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor system improvements.

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Marine Corps will both receive these improved MQ-9A Reaper Block 5 «-25» M2DO-ready aircraft under current contracts; however, the total number of aircraft receiving these improvements has not been released.

«We’re excited to position the MQ-9A Reaper enterprise for new missions through these capabilities», said GA-ASI Vice President of USAF Programs Claudia Mowery. «Future funding could potentially expand these capabilities to the entire MQ-9A Reaper fleet».

Combat Air System

On behalf of the governments of France, Germany and Spain, the French General Directorate for Armament (DGA) has awarded to Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra, Eumet and their industrial partners the contract for the Demonstrator Phase 1B of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). This landmark contract, amounting to € 3.2 billion, will cover work on the FCAS demonstrator and its components for about three and a half years.

Future Combat Air System
Europe’s Future Combat Air System

Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra and Eumet welcome this major step forward that reflects the determination of France, Germany and Spain to develop a powerful, innovative and fully European weapon system to meet the operational needs of the countries’ armed forces.

This contract notification comes on the heels of the signature of the industrial agreements supporting the demonstrator Phase 1B by Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra and Eumet as prime contractors of the programme and by their industrial partners from the three nations. Discussions held over the last months have enabled the creation of a solid basis for cooperation between industry and the three governments.

This continues the successful Phase 1A demonstrators’ related Research and Technology (R&T) work and development activities, which enabled the identification of key technologies and the launch of the demonstrators’ developments. Paving the way for the development phase of the programme, this demonstration phase 1B will allow continuation of flying demonstrators and required cutting-edge technologies development and maturation as well as project architectures consolidation, with in-flight demonstrations targeted in the next phases by 2028-2029.

The programme is made up of a set of systems: New Generation Fighters teaming with Remote Carriers and connected through a Combat Cloud. In order to meet the ambitions and challenges of such a programme, an adapted and efficient industrial organisation has been set-up and built around technological pillars. Each pillar is under the leadership of an industrial champion acting as prime, working in close cooperation with its main partners and leveraging each nation’s aeronautical industrial ecosystems.

In addition to their prime role per pillar, Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra act as national coordinators to ensure the overall coherence of the demonstrators and the overall programme’s steering and work consolidation.

FCAS
On the way to the first flight

The industrial governance of the Phase 1B is organised per domain as follows:

  • Next Generation Weapons System (NGWS) Consistency, Demonstrations and Consolidation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • New Generation Fighter (NGF), with Dassault Aviation for France as prime contractor, and Airbus as main partner for Germany and Spain;
  • NGF Engine with the 50/50 Joint Venture Eumet – between Safran Aircraft Engines for France and MTU Aero Engines for Germany – as prime contractor and ITP Aero for Spain as main partner;
  • Unmanned systems, Remote Carrier (RC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, MBDA for France and Satnus for Spain as main partners;
  • Combat Cloud (CC) with Airbus for Germany as prime contractor, Thales for France and Indra Sistemas for Spain as main partners;
  • Simulation with Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Indra Sistemas as co-contracting partners;
  • Sensors with Indra Sistemas as prime for Spain, and Thales for France and FCMS for Germany as main partners;
  • Enhanced Low Observability (stealth) with Airbus as prime contractor for Spain, Dassault Aviation for France and Airbus for Germany as main partners;
  • Common Working Environment with Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Indra Sistemas and Eumet as co-contracting partners.

The industrial partners thank the three nations for their confidence and reiterate their firm commitment and total mobilisation to make this programme the armed wing of Europe’s strategic autonomy thanks to the reinforcement of the operational, technological and industrial sovereignty of its defence.

 

Falco Xplorer

Leonardo has successfully completed the first phase of flight testing for its Falco Xplorer drone. The system is now ready for the second phase of the campaign, which will lead to the certification of the largest uncrewed aircraft ever built by the company.

Falco Xplorer
Remotely Piloted Aircraft system for Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions

In the uncrewed sector, the company’s «Be Tomorrow 2030» plan lays out its aim to consolidate a leading position in Europe, with Leonardo owning the domain technology and expertise required to offer a complete uncrewed system including the platform, sensors, mission system and ground control station. Moreover, Leonardo continues to reinforce its position in this market through participation in a number of major international collaborative programmes.

The Falco Xplorer is the first Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE)-class uncrewed system to exclusively use European technology. It is designed to deliver persistent surveillance over wide areas of interest and can carry multiple sensors weighing up to a total 350 kg/772 lbs. The Xplorer is the latest entry in Leonardo’s Falco family of uncrewed systems, which also includes the Falco Evo. The tactical-class Evo is operated by a number of international customers and has accumulated thousands of flight hours around the world, including in civil airspace.

The recent flight testing and certification activities of the Falco Xplorer took place at the Trapani Birgi military airport in Sicily with the support of the Italian Air Force’s 37°Stormo wing. During the flight tests, 37°Stormo provided all essential airport services including air traffic assistance, fire prevention and flight safety. This ensured that the flight campaign was conducted in complete safety and in accordance with sector regulations. The Falco Xplorer performed all planned flights on schedule and completed a range of complex functional tests, confirming the maturity of the platform. The behaviour of the aircraft in a number of phases of the flight envelope was also validated.

Leonardo will now move forward with a second test campaign which will take place under the supervision of the Directorate for Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness (DAAA). This will certify the Falco Xplorer’s ‘fitness to fly’ according to NATO standard STANAG 4671 and involve a series of increasingly complex flights. The system’s most advanced capabilities will be validated, together with the military authority, including automatic take-off and landing and satellite communications for beyond-line-of-sight operations. The Xplorer’s sensor suite will also be assessed. Made entirely in-house, the baseline suite consists of the company’s LEOSS electro-optical turret, Gabbiano TS-80 UL multimode radar, an Automatic Identification System for the monitoring of maritime traffic and the SAGE electronic intelligence system. The Falco Xplorer utilises Leonardo’s flexible ATOS mission system, which has an open architecture to allow for the integration of additional sensors, including from third parties.

Certification will enable the Falco Xplorer to fly over populated areas, significantly expanding its scope and allowing it to operate in support of public safety and civil protection missions.

The Falco Xplorer is readily exportable. It is not subject to the restrictions of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and meets the criteria for Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) class II. It has been designed to deliver strategic surveillance capabilities for military and civilian customers and can be provided either as an integrated system or as a service, managed and operated by Leonardo.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Length 9 m/29.5 feet
Wingspan 18.5 m/60.7 feet
Height 3.8 m/12.5 feet
Maximum TakeOff Weight (MTOW) 1300 kg/2866 lbs.
Endurance >24 h
Maximum Payload >350 kg/>772 lbs.
Ceiling >9,144 m/30,000 feet
Link Range Radar Line-Of-Sight (RLOS) & Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) (SATCOM)
Sensors Gabbiano T80UL: Multimode Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) Radar Mapping, Ground Moving Target Indication, SAR up to 20’’
Electro-Optical (EO) turret: Visible/InfraRed (IR)/Laser Rangefinder; Laser Marker and LD (Laser Designator) upon request
Signals intelligence (SIGINT): Electronic intelligence (ELINT) or Communications intelligence (COMINT) suite
Automatic Identification System (AIS)

 

First Flight

Türkiye’s first indigenous unmanned fighter aircraft Bayraktar Kızılelma, developed by Baykar Technologies, has completed its test take-off in a video shared by Selçuk Bayraktar, the company’s chief technology officer.

Kızılelma
Baykar’s unmanned fighter aircraft completes first flight

«We couldn’t hold it on the ground any longer! Thank God», Bayraktar tweeted, sharing the Kızılelma’s departure from the runway and the moment of its rise.

The drone was showcased at Teknofest, Türkiye’s largest aerospace and technology festival, in the northern province of Samsun, attracting great attention despite ongoing design and development efforts.

Kızılelma, whose engine integration test was carried out on September 19, successfully completed taxi and ground driving tests with safety ties first on November 20. Then, the first test runs without safety ties were directed by Bayraktar.

On December 3, the maiden flight test was carried out, announced by Bayraktar on Twitter, tweeting, «We are holding it hard… Bayraktar Kızılelma swept its feet off the ground. Almost there, I hope».

Kızılelma is planned to make a difference on the battlefield, especially with its «landing and take-off capability on ships with short runways».

Developed considering short-runway ships such as the TCG Anadolu, Türkiye’s first LHD-class vessel, the fighter jet will play an important role in overseas missions thanks to this feature. It will have a low radar signature thanks to its design.

Kızılelma will be able to carry 1,500 kilograms/3,307 lbs. of payload (weapons and devices, etc.). Its flight range is 930 kilometers/558 miles/502 NM, while the operating altitude was declared as 10,668 meters/35,000 feet. It can operate in the air for five hours and has a maximum speed of 900 km/h/559 mph/486 knots.

It will be equipped with the locally made Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

The first flight of Kızılelma is expected to take place in 2023, according to Bayraktar.

The Turkish drones got worldwide fame amid the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War that broke out on September 27, 2020, between Armenia and Azerbaijan when Türkiye, a rising drone power in the international arena, supplied its ally Azerbaijan with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for use in the conflict and significantly contributed to Azerbaijan’s victory.

Kızılelma

The Turkish pioneering drone maker has announced its unmanned fighter jet had successfully completed ground tests, as the landmark project inches closer to performing its maiden flight in the coming days.

Kızılelma
Türkiye’s 1st unmanned fighter jet’s maiden flight due after ground tests

Named Kızılelma, the National Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle System (MIUS) completed its first runway run and autonomous taxiing test at an air base in northwestern Tekirdağ province, according to a video shared by its developer Baykar on Sunday.

The test was overseen by Baykar’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Selçuk Bayraktar.

The fast drone fighter jet Kızılelma is said to represent a significant expansion of capabilities for slow-moving reconnaissance and missile-carrying drones.

It will be capable of taking off from and landing on short-runway aircraft carriers, including Türkiye’s flagship-to-be amphibious assault ship TCG Anadolu (L-400), which is expected to enter service next month.

This feature is said to help extend Türkiye’s drone capabilities from land-based to naval operations.

The Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) type ship, TCG Anadolu (L-400) is said to be the first of its kind in the world as a vessel that allows the landing of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) on its dock.

The autonomously maneuvering Kızılelma will be capable of operating in tandem with piloted aircraft, and may carry air-to-air missiles, the company said.

The unmanned fighter jet is projected to conduct a multitude of military actions, such as strategic offensives, Close Air Support (CAS), missile offensives, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD).

Baykar last year signed a contract with Ivchenko-Progress, one of the leading Ukrainian manufacturers, for the procurement of engines for the MIUS. Ivchenko-Progress was projected to supply the AI-322F Turbofan engine for the jet under the agreement.

The aircraft is set to feature a high operational altitude and takeoff weight of 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds). It is envisaged to carry 1.5 tons of useful payload.

It is projected to be capable of flying for five hours and reaching speeds of up to 800 kph (500 mph or Mach 0.64).

Baykar is the company behind the drones that earned fame for their critical role in several conflicts. Its Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs have been credited with helping tip the balance of conflicts in Libya, Syria, Karabakh and lastly Ukraine.

The drones proved to be instrumental in the country’s defense against armor and anti-aircraft systems in the first few weeks of the Russian invasion.

The battle-proven TB2 is being sold to 24 countries including NATO member Poland, while the company signed deals with five countries for exports of its much larger sibling Akıncı, dubbed the most advanced and sophisticated drone built by Türkiye.

While the TB2 can lift off with up to 150 kilograms/331 lbs. of missiles or equipment, Akıncı, first delivered to Turkish armed forces last year, can fly much higher and take off with 10 times the weight.

It is also working on TB3, a short-runway-capable version of the TB2. The new drone is expected to finish its testing phase by the end of 2023, according to the company’s officials.

Last year, Baykar made up a fifth of Türkiye’s $3.2 billion in defense exports, according to data from the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM).

The expanding order book is expected to net around $1 billion in export revenues this year, Baykar CEO Haluk Bayraktar said last month, about 50% higher than last year’s $650 million, with a further 50% growth expected in 2023.

Valkyrie Block 2

Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., a leading National Security Solutions provider and industry-leading provider of high-performance, jet-powered unmanned aerial systems, announced today that it has recently completed a successful flight of its production XQ-58A Valkyrie aircraft for the Block 2 Valkyrie Maturation Program. The program team includes the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Yuma Proving Ground, and Kratos.

XQ-58A Valkyrie Block 2
Kratos, USAF Further Advance Capabilities in Successful XQ-58A Valkyrie Block 2 Flight Focused on Operational Aspects

The test flight performed at Yuma Proving Ground proved XQ-58A’s extended capabilities by flying longer, higher, at a heavier mission weight, and at a longer range than the platform has previously been approved for (based on prior government range limitations) and demonstrated. This flight was conducted with another of the Block 2 Valkyrie aircraft produced in the company-initiated 12-lot build and was the first flight for this tail number.

The flight was conducted with and demonstrated encrypted communications with redundant radios/communications («comms») packages for range and operational missions remote from government ranges. For the final test point, the aircraft navigated to the landing site in a simulated loss of communications scenario. It landed within the target zone, demonstrating key autonomous capability for the end of mission phase of flight and recovery of the aircraft without RF comms. This capability will help mitigate the possibility of enemy detection and tracking of RF comms emissions as the system returns to «base».

This flight test was a key milestone in Kratos’ support of AFRL’s Autonomous Collaborative Enabling Technologies (ACET) portfolio. ACET is focused on developing Autonomous Collaborative Platforms (ACP) such as Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). The advanced capabilities proven on this flight make the XQ-58 ready for future ACP experimentation.

Reapers to Poland

As part of a lease agreement, Poland will take delivery of MQ-9A Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI). The new agreement between GA-ASI and the Polish Ministry of Defence has a net value of $70.6 million.

MQ-9A Reaper
World-Leading RPA Capabilities Will Fortify Poland’s National Defense and Security

«GA-ASI’s support for Poland and the NATO alliance is steadfast as they confront the ongoing war in the region», said GA-ASI CEO Linden Blue. «We look forward to delivering our proven MQ-9A platform system to Poland to enhance the nation’s ability to conduct persistent airborne ISR and support its Defense Forces».

MQ-9A Reapers are operated by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. GA-ASI’s newer MQ-9B variant has been acquired by the UK and Belgium. The MQ-9B maritime surveillance configuration (SeaGuardian) recently began operations in support of the Japan Coast Guard.

MQ-9A Reaper has endurance of over 27 hours, speeds of 240 KTAS/276 mph/444.5 km/h and can operate up to 50,000 feet/15 240 m. It has a 3,850-pound (1,746-kilogram) payload capacity that includes 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of external stores. It provides a long-endurance, persistent surveillance capability with Full-Motion Video and Synthetic Aperture Radar/Moving Target Indicator/Maritime Radar. An extremely reliable aircraft, MQ-9A Block 5 is equipped with a fault-tolerant flight control system and triple redundant avionics system architecture. It is engineered to meet and exceed manned aircraft reliability standards.

Laser Communication

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) successfully completed an air-to-air laser communication link between GA-ASI’s Laser Airborne Communication (LAC) terminals integrated onto two company-owned King Air aircraft. Laser communication is desirable for military applications because of its Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) and anti-jam capability that can support much higher data rates than radio frequency systems.

Laser Airborne Communication
GA-ASI Demonstrates Air-to-Air Laser Communications

«This air-to-air demonstration was a major success and marks a critical milestone for GA-ASI’s Lasercom development team», said GA-ASI Vice President of Mission Payloads & Exploitation, Satish Krishnan. «The success of this flight will pave the way for more opportunities to demonstrate crosslinks from aircraft to other platforms, including unmanned aircraft, maritime vessels, and space systems».

The aircraft flew out of Montgomery Field in Kearney Mesa, California on September 26, 2022, and performed the test in segregated airspace near Yuma, Arizona During the flight test, the team maintained a link at 1.0 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and exchanged data, including real-time navigation, video, and voice data.

GA-ASI has developed a family of optical communication capabilities and will play an important role in transitioning these capabilities to users in a variety of domains, from air to sea. GA-ASI expects that laser communications will enable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) produced by the company to perform beyond-line-of-sight communications for airborne, maritime, and ground users who also use optical communications, as well as with future air-to-space optical communication applications. This capability can be applied as a podded solution to GA-ASI’s full line of unmanned aircraft, including MQ-9B SkyGuardian/SeaGuardian, MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle 25M.

Gray Eagle

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has launched its latest variant of the Gray Eagle line of Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Gray Eagle 25M. The GE-25M brings a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) to the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)-capable system to ensure incremental enhancements can be made at the speed of emerging threats.

Gray Eagle 25M
GE-25M Will Provide Critical Capabilities that Enable Multi-Domain Operations

The «M» in 25M stands for Modernized and incorporates open architecture aircraft and ground systems, advanced datalinks, and an upgraded propulsion system, significantly enhancing the ability to add new capabilities, provide resilience to electronic threats, and deliver expeditionary employment to austere locations.

«GE-25M incorporates MOSA across the aircraft and ground system architectures, which enables rapid integration of advanced payloads and communication equipment, along with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) capabilities», said GA-ASI Vice President of Army Programs Don Cattell. «This will reduce the sensor-to-shooter timelines, while simultaneously reducing the datalink bandwidth requirements in a contested environment, thus increasing range and resiliency».

The onboard ‘edge processing’ capability will maximize the utility of the Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance aircraft providing, in near real time, threat Detection, Identification, Location and Reporting (DILR) to the U.S. Army and Joint Force. Furthermore, the software components are being designed to be portable to other manned and unmanned aircraft systems the U.S. Army is developing, enhancing capability while reducing cost.

Multi-Intelligence sensors on the new UAS deliver actionable information, providing commanders with reach, overmatch, and combat options. GE-25M provides advanced teaming with Future Vertical Lift (FVL), Air-Launched Effects (ALE), and joint assets for Stand-Off Survivability with Stand-In Capability, facilitating convergence among cross-domain fires.

The new platform provides critical Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Target Acquisition (RSTA) capability to Division Commanders, and acts as a quarterback providing a persistent, key communication node in the aerial tier network.

Earlier this year, factory upgrades began on two U.S. Army Gray Eagle Extended Range UAS which will become the first 25M variants. These 25M aircraft are scheduled for flight test and qualification beginning in 2023. The GE-25M comes packaged with a next-generation SAR with long range sensing and navigation capability, and a menu of advanced sensors and payloads mission-tailorable options. The GE-25M is controlled from a laptop-based MOSA ground station, reducing material footprint while dramatically improving transportability, as well as enabling expeditionary operations.