Category Archives: Drones

This photo of X-47B combat drone taking fuel from tanker proves we are one step closer to unmanned aerial refueling

X-47B has completed first contact with an aerial refueling hose.

On Apr. 16, “Salty Dog 502″, one of the two Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator (UCAS-D) aircraft of the X-47B program performed autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) test, plugging the in-flight refueling (IFR) probe into the hose of a Omega Air tanker off the coast of Maryland.

The AAR in set to be the last for the two X-47B stealth killer drone technology demonstrators (the other being “Salty Dog 501″): with the end of this testing phase the two unmanned aircraft will be retired and probably donated to a museum or stored at the “boneyard”, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

In fact the X-47B is “just” a technology demonstrator and, as such, it’s till quite different from the planned Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS).

In spite of calls to extend testing on the Northrop platforms, the costs to reconfigure the two X-47B in such a way to let them behave more like the Navy’s preferred option for UCLASS would be prohibitive.

Image credit: Northrop Grumman

 

nEUROn European Stealth combat drone has started operational tests in Italy

nEUROn stealth UCAV has started testing its advanced sensors in Italy.

The first example of the nEUROn UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), the full-scale technology demonstrator developed by France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, has started a new testing phase in Sardinia.

After its roll out at Istres airbase in France, on Jan. 20, 2012, following five years of design, development, and static testing, the stealth combat drone (with a loosely resemblance to the Northrop Grumman X-47B) embarked on a three-year test campaign aimed at exploring the whole flight envelope of the UCAV.

According to Dassault, the prime contractor of the European project, the first phase of tests in France included the opening of the weapons bay and evaluation of the EO (Electro Optical) sensor and datalink.

The second phase of testing focused on the assessment of the IR (Infra Red) and EM (Electromagnetic) signature of the aircraft in full stealth configuration, and was successfully completed at Istres in February 2015. Subsequently, the UCAV technology demonstrator was disassembled and moved, as planned, to Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, Italy, where it will undergo operational testing in the Perdasdefogu range, before moving to Visdel, Sweden, for weapons trials.

The photos in this article were taken at Decimomannu airbase by photographers Giampaolo Mallei and Roberto Zanda as the aircraft recovered from one of its first sorties in Italy.

nEUROn Deci 2

Image credit: Giampaolo Mallei and Roberto Zanda

H/T to Giuseppe Stilo for providing additional details.

 

Photo shows a U.S. Reaper drone carrying “Gorgon Stare” Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System pod in Afghanistan

Gorgon Stare is a pod-based sensor package used to track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.

Formerly known as the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System (WAAS), Gorgon Stare system is a sensor package carried by two pods, one with networking and communications payload, the other with Visible/IR Camera Arrays and Image Processing module. The package is used to identify and track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.

The U.S. Air Force has recently released a photo which shows an MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Afghanistan, marshalled before take off on Mar. 20.

The unmanned aerial system carries two seemingly identical pods (with EO/IR turrets) of the Gorgon Stare Increment 2, an updated version of the original ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) system that we first spotted on an image posted by the Air Force online September 2014.

Although little is known about the upgraded sensor package, it appears the Gorgon Stare 2 features 192 different cameras built into an EO sensor turret and a new IR sensor.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

U.S. drone crashed in Syria. Probably shot down by a Syrian SA-3 surface to air missile

An MQ-1 Predator crashed in Syria. According to Syria state media it was shot down by Syrian air defenses.

The U.S. lost contact with an unarmed MQ-1 Predator drone on Mar. 17.

Whilst Pentagon officials could not confirm whether the aircraft was shot down or crashed because of a failure, the Syrian SANA news agency reported that the unmanned aerial vehicle was shot down in the Latakia province by the Syrian air defenses.

Indeed, images of the wreckage of an aerial vehicle were later posted on social media: provided the photographs were really taken at the crash site, they show parts of the UAV (including a wheel of the landing gear) along with parts of what seems to be the body an S-125 Neva/Pechora (NATO reporting name SA-3 Goa) Soviet surface-to-air missile system: this may confirm the version of the Syrian State Media according to which the MQ-1, most probably operating out of Incirlik airbase, in Turkey, was shot down.

The event is interesting for several reasons:

1) it proves U.S. drones perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) missions in a region (on the western coast of Syria) currently not interested by the air strikes targeting the Islamic State. Monitoring jihadist activities in the area? Keeping an eye on the fightings between rebels and loyalist forces? Monitoring shipments that reach Syria via sea?

2) if the shot down is confirmed, it proves that Assad fires back and Syrian air defenses can pose a threat to manned and unmanned aircraft that operate inside the Syrian airspace.

3) the area where the drone was allegedly shot down is the same where a Turkish RF-4E jet was shot down by a coastal air defense battery.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

U.S. Air Force disclosed some details about gigantic Global Hawk unmanned aircraft operations against ISIS

RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft in BACN configuration is supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

The U.S. Air Force has not released much details about the U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft and its involvement in the air war on ISIS.

We just know that the gigantic UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is taking part to Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led operation against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq from an undisclosed location in southwest Asia that, based on photographs and other reports, should be Al Dhafra airbase in the UAE.

However, the Air Force has recently released a tidbit about its Global Hawk aircraft 2019 (or “A2019″), an RQ-4 Block 20 unmanned system which has recently surpassed the 10,000 flying hours. Interestingly, the milestone was achieved on Mar. 7, shortly after dawn, during a 30.5-hour mission over Syria or Iraq: almost a record considered that the record for the longest Block 20, held by the same A2019 aircraft, is 31.5 hours.

Hawk soars past 10,000 flying-hour milestone

Interestingly, “A2019″ was the first block 20 and first RQ-4B model to be deployed in the region on Oct. 16, 2010. It carries the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload, which replaces the imagery sensor package normally installed in the aircraft, and its role is to support ground ops by relaying communications between people and aircraft as well as enabling airstrikes on the Islamic State militants.

Three RQ-4B have been converted into EQ-4 and carry the BACN payload instead of the sensors fielded with imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors.

“It is primarily a data and communications bridging node. It can support multiple bridges simultaneously across multiple radio types. We like to call it ‘Wi-fi in the sky'” said Lt. Col. Anthony, launch and recovery element operations supervisor in a post on the Air Force website.

While EQ-4 performs its communication relay mission, manned and unmanned aircraft provide ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) support to Operation Inherent Resolve by gathering information about the security situation on the ground.

Although the article does not mention it, it would be interesting to know which ground or air assets, require to be interconnect with a BACN platform. Most probably, the F-22 or the B-1s, with other planes.

In fact, the U.S. armed forces use various datalink systems to exchange tactical information, and many are not capable of working together. For instance, a U.S. Air Force F-15 can use its Link-16 system to exchange targeting data with a U.S. Navy F/A-18E.  However, the Super Hornet could not exchange information with a USAF B-1 bombers.  The advanced F-22 can exchange information with other Raptors, but cannot exchange information on legacy datalinks such as Link-16.

Hence the need for a “flying gateway” as the EQ-4.

Hawk soars past 10,000 flying-hour milestone

Image credit: U.S. Air Force