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AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Conference News - 13-15 August 2013

Change is afoot at the Unmanned Systems 2013 annual conference, with AUVSI moving its annual August event to May 12-15 next year (Orlando), with a general acknowledgement of the significant turndown in the funding outlook for UAS -- Pentagon UAS guru Dyke Weatherington says 50% -- due to both war retrograde and budget sequestration.  

Also new, at least to this attendee, and certainly in keeping with the negative attention that UAS have received from privacy advocates over the past year, was the presence of a handful of demonstrators outside the Convention Center and even one protester who unfurled a "Stop Killer Drones" banner during the Conference's opening keynote speech by Lt. General James Barclay, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Resources (G-8) before being escorted from the room.

Among Tuesday's news from the Conference: 

  • Attendance is up -- Brett Davis, AUVSI's Vice President of Communications and Publications tells DSJ that the Conference attendance -- both individuals and companies -- is up over last year's (Las Vegas) annual conference, "defying the headwinds facing defense."  (AUVSI subsequently confirmed that this year's conference attendance was greater than the 2011 event also held in Washington DC.)
  • Chinese display UAV in the U.S. -- Flight Global reports that Unmanned Systems 2013 marks the first time a Chinese unmanned air vehicle (UAV) is being exhibited in the United States.  The Hubei Ewatt SVU-200 rotary-wing UAV is the brainchild of Dennis Fetters, former owner of now-defunct Revolution Helicopters.  The SVU-200 is said to be capable of lifting a 200kg payload, either between the two fore and aft payload bays or as a sling load. Larger UAVs are in the works.
  • Air Force to release "RPA Vector" plan -- USAF Colonel Bill "Sweet" Tart, Director, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), told an audience that the Service intends to release an update to its highly-regarded 2009 UAS Flight Plan "in a month or two."  Defense News has more details here...

  • MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter passes operational milestone -- 

    Northrop Grumman reports that its MQ-8B Fire Scout surpassed 5,000 flight hours while providing critical surveillance cabilibities to field commanders in Afghanistan.  The company notes that "since deploying to Afghanistan in 2011, the system has provided real-time airborne surveillance and targeting supporting counter-IED, provided targeting support and delivered real-time video to military forces on the ground


  • Navy halts work on MQ-4C Sense-and-Avoid System -- 

    Breaking Defense reports that

     the Navy has stopped work on the "sense-and-avoid" system aboard the Service's new MQ-4C TRIDENT UAS.  

    Triton Program Manager, Navy Capt. Jim Hoke told reporters

     that ITT Exelis was "behind schedule" on the development and said that the Navy had "made a decision to pause on the capability right now."

  • FAA official confirms schedule for identifying UAS test sites -- 

    Mr. Jim Williams

    , Director of the Federal Aviation Adminstration's UAS Integration Office, told an audience that his office remains on track to announce by the end of the calendar year (2013) those communities selected as the six UAS test sites.  Deputy Secretary of Transporation John Porcari indicated that there has been great interest in this program, saying that 25 sites have been proposed by some 24 states.

  • Lockheed Martin flight tests new Fury UAV -- Flight Global reports that Lockheed Martin is flight-testing a new version of the Fury UAV that includes noise signature reductions and a sleeker aerodynamic profile to make it more operationally relevant.
  • Navy official asserts commitment to RQ-21A Integrator -- 

    Underscoring the U.S. Marine Corps' intent to purchase some 32 complete RQ-21A systems, U.S. Navy Captain Chris Corgnati, head of unmanned aircraft systems under the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6) 

    said that the Navy's own commitment to purchase the tactical UAS -- a commitment pushed off in last year's budget request, remains strong and will be reflected in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget request.
  • Northrop Grumman builds rental drones for USAF, DHS CBP training -- Breaking Defense reports that Northrop Grumman is offering Government customers basic training in operating its new SandShark UAS as a low-cost, fee-for-service alternative to much more costly training on the valuable MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAS.
  • Insitu demonstrates its Common Open-mission Management Command and Control (ICOMC2) GCS -- Boeing's Insitu briefed today on -- and demonstrated -- its proven ICOMC2 Ground Control Station (GCS).  The company explained that the system, refined and proven through more than 70,000 flight hours, is designed for expeditionary use and lets one operator manage mulitple UAVs.  "Its open-architecture system scales to operate with systems as small as a soldier-worn device up to interfacing with operational level C2 sysems that provide information on integrated displays from large screens."

14 August
  • Small UAS Rule -- Deputy Secretary of Transporation John Porcari said that the Department has worked hard to incorporate a great number of responses to this proposal and expressed confidence that the FAA will be out with this final rule soon.
  • Insitu seeks wider civil applications for ScanEagle -- Flight Global reports that Insitu, buoyed by the recent (19 July)  type certification approval to to support oil exploration activities off the coast of Alaska with its ScanEagle UAS, is looking to increase its provision of surveillance services to civilian customers.  
  • Army orders more Raven payloads -- Aerovironment announced that it had received the final tranche of funding under a $59.6 million contract to provide RQ-11B Raven UAS with miniature gimbaled payloads and spares. 
  • Recent aborted carrier deck landing of X-47D UCAS actually pretty cool -- Rear Admiral Mathias W. Winter, PEO Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, told conference attendees on Wednesday that the Navy’s experimental stealth drone, the X-47B, would have made a third carrier landing last month but the plane knew it was doing a test and decided to waive itself off.
  • Navy UAS Program Updates -- Admiral Winter provided the following program timeline updates:
    • RQ-21A STUAS -- Program testing of Insitu's Integrator is going well with the US Marine Corps as the lead Service.  He said that the Navy will be procuring the system independently as the Service goes into the outyear of the FYDP.  IOC is planned to occur by the end of FY14.
    • MQ-8C VTUAV Fire Scout -- Northrop Grumman delivered the first MQ-8C aircraft to the Navy on 19 July and the system is preparing for ground and flight testing. First flight is anticipated in October 2013 and the first deployment of the MQ-8C system will be in 2014.
    • MQ-4C Triton -- The Navy foresees a production decision in FY15 and Initial Operational Capability in FY17.
    • Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) -- the Navy is in the process of leveraging the X-47B UCAS lessons preparing and moving forward to a competitive draft soliciation to industry for the air vehicle segment in September 2013.  The goal is to release a final RFP in the Q2 of FY14 leading to a single industry award for an air vehicle prime in Q1 of FY15.  
  • UAS Joint Venture for India -- Dynamatic Technologies and AeroVironment announced that they have signed a teaming agreement that provides for the manufacture of UAVs in India, which will enable Dynamatic® and AeroVironment to work together on a number of business opportunities for potential customers including the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Dynamatic Technologies is a demonstrated leader in the Indian private sector for Aerospace and Defence products, having partnered with the Ministry of Defence and its associated agencies like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited on key projects including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI Fighter Bomber, the IJT-36 Intermediate Jet Trainer, and the Lakshya Pilotless Target Aircraft.

15 August
  • USMC nears RQ-21A operational test phase --The US Marine Corps expects to launch the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) activity for its Insitu RQ-21A Integrator small tactical UAS from late October 2013, with initial operational capability (IOC) "still tracking well for 2014", says PMA-263 programme manager Col Jim Rector.  Flight International notes further that testing already performed with the type at the Twentynine Palms site in California has demonstrated a flight endurance of up to 14 hours and the noise signature from the aircraft's 100cc heavy fuel engine is "as quiet as it gets in this class."
  • Impact of RPA on USAF operations -- USAF Colonel Bill "Sweet" Tart, Director, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), told an audience that in 2012 more USAF combat flight hours (nearly 300,000) were logged by unmanned systems (MQ-1, MQ-9, and RQ-4) than by manned aircraft.  Results included more than 21,000 Medium Altitude CAPS (Combat Air Patrols) and 919 raids supported.  Colonel Tart noted that key trends in the area include moving multiple ISR capabilities to smaller more highly integrated payloads, making payloads capable with (stealth) performance in contested environments.
  • Navy wants and needs in ISR payloads for UAS -- Michale Erk, Deputy PEO for Unmanned Aviation within the Naval Air Systems Command identified the key needs of his commuity as follows: open system architectures, standardized/common control stations, high definition capability, rapid integration (fly-fix-fly), safety considerations such as EMI, additional miniaturization, on-board processing, reduced bandwidth requirements, multi-INT sensors and sensor fusion.
  • USAF's RPA Vector Report -- USAF Colonel Tart made clear that the RPA Vector report still needs the approval of the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force approval, which he sees coming this fall.  As for the greatest challenge faced in developing the plan, he suggested that the USAF has striven "to get people to come out of the COIN fight mindset" and contemplate a broader range of future engagement.