Tag Archives: drone

Interesting Video of the Textron Scorpion cockpit in Manned-Unmanned Teaming Demonstration

As time plays tricks on the mind, not long ago it was a nothing more than a futuristic theme in a Hollywood movie. This is no longer the case. Today, “artificial intelligence empowered, war fighting drones” teamed with manned command and control are shaping up as the path forward.

The last few years have seen several manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) initiatives by the USAF and private industry. On Jul. 30, 2018 Textron Aviation Defense, LLC “leveled up” with their announcement that they had demonstrated MUM-T capability on the Scorpion Jet with Textron Systems’ “Synturian®” control and collaboration technology (official Textron Press release here).

MUM-T has been an emerging trend for several years and we are starting to see the progress. The assessment of “drones” as “Loyal Wingman” (Air Force Research Laboratory), and in several other roles are simply early indicators that in some form, this is going to happen. As reported in the July 2018 Mitchell Institute Policy Paper, “Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming: Taking Combat Airpower to the Next Level” the USAF has a “serious capacity gap when it comes to fulfilling mission requirements with its current inventory”.

The paper notes that “to defend its interests around the globe,” America needs “a robust and varied toolkit.” The paper addresses roles that could be filled by unmanned aircraft, bridging the capacity gap, logistics and much more. It’s an enlightening read that incidentally touches on another of Scorpion benefits demonstrated in this initiative, “the value of open missions systems for rapid integration of a variety of packages.”
Interesting video of the demonstration shows the Scorpion’s cockpit with display of the integration with Synturian. The demonstration utilized the Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) environment, with the Scorpion live in the air the unmanned aircraft systems in the virtual and the sensors on the unmanned aircraft systems in the constructive.

It all seems like heady stuff. MUM-T on a Scorpion with Synturian in an LVC environment. I like to keep it simple, I reflect on the first time I jumped into the AH-1Z Cobra Gunship my son was flying and we took to the sky wreaking havoc and destruction….. joined together over a digital network in Battlefield 2, the video game. In the diverse world of a military LVC, discerning the virtual from the real is no longer relevant. Treat everything as if it’s real.

After flying the capability demonstration, Textron Aviation Defense Senior Flight Test Pilot, Brett Pierson commented; “The tactical and operational ramifications of this new capability are enormous. Further extending Scorpion’s sensor suite and penetrating a weather layer to generate target coordinates; or creating a triangulated solution independently; or adding layers to a multi-spectral fused solution, deliver an entirely new set of tactical capabilities that have never been possible in a fighter-typed aircraft.”
The capability to extend the kill web through MUM-T is a desirable capability, particularly with new stand-off munitions like the Raytheon SDB-II. Such a combination certainly extends the mission set and capability of the Scorpion giving it the ability to execute ISR and attack missions at some distance into hostile space – from the relative safety of a more permissive airspace.

Textron extols a similar business model with the Scorpion as has been applied to the smartphone. In which case, the Synturian System and MUM-T capability looks like a compelling “App” in the Scorpion’s “App store.”

Synturian is a family of multi-domain control and collaboration technologies that empower situational awareness and informed action (Image credit: Textron)

Take A Look At This Unusual Drone Video Of Two Russian Su-57 Fighters In Flight

Two Su-57s flying in formation as seen from a drone.

An interesting video was shared online by the Russian “Zvezda ” TV channel. It shows, two Su-57 fighter aircraft flying in close formation and executing what appears to be a formation turn (rather than a “combat turn”) during the Russian “Aviadart 2018” drills.

According to TASS news agency, the two Russian fifth generation aircraft were piloted by test pilots of the Experimental Design Bureau named after P.O. Sukhoi Andrey Shendrik and Igor Kruglikov.

The short footage does not show anything new about the controversial and misunderstood Su-57 (formerly T-50), that has recently completed a short deployment to Syria, but it’s particularly interesting since it was filmed by a drone and provides a different point of observation.

As often explained here, the Su-57 is a stealth aircraft equipped with a front, side and rear AESA radar, as well as L Band radars. It features TVC (Thrust Vectoring Control), a top speed exceeding Mach 2 and supermaneuverability. It should be a multirole aircraft capable to carry a wide variety of weapons including air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles in large internal weapons bay, recently used to launch a new Kh-59MK2 cruise missile in a test.

Defining Asymmetrical Warfare: Extremists Use Retail Drones to Attack Russian Air Base in Syria

One Aircraft Heavily Damaged in Most Recent in String of Low-Cost Insurgent Drone Attacks.

It is the definition of asymmetrical warfare: a fast-moving, lightly armed insurgency fueled by a radical doctrine uses simple weapons to attack a larger, seemingly more capable occupying force.

Taking inspiration from the doctrines of T.E. Lawrence, Sun Tzu, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, extremists in Syria have increased pressure on Russian forces in the region with another simple, innovative attack that heavily damaged at least one Russian aircraft and likely more. Previous similar attacks in the region around January 4 were reported to have killed 2 Russian servicemen.

Recent photos surfacing on social media attributed to Russian military journalist Roman Saponkov show the tail of what appears to be a Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft damaged by an attack earlier this month.

Captured fixed-wing insurgent drone. (Photo: Russian Air Force)

A report that surfaced on January 6, 2018 from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that was shared in several media outlets including the BBC says that Russian forces shot down several “unmanned aircraft” near Hmeimim base near the north-western city of Latakia on Saturday in what appears to be the latest attack attempt by insurgents. In this week’s latest attack the Russians claim there was no damage to aircraft or personnel and their air defense systems were successful in intercepting the small, store-bought quadcopter drones usually used for cameras.

There has been a recent increase in attacks by improvised air-delivered weapons from remotely piloted aircraft on Russian installations in Syria. Additional insurgent attacks have been attributed to mortars. Some of the remotely piloted aircraft, in some instances commercial style quad-copter drones, have been modified to carry mortar rounds or grenades. Some grenade-bombs even used badminton shuttle cocks for improvised tail fin stabilizers. While this is not new, the frequency of the incidents and adaptability of the insurgents does seem to have increased.

According to some reports, recent attacks by insurgent drones damaged the tail of this Sukhoi Su-24 “Fencer”. Actually, initial reports stated that the cause of the damage was a mortar attack (Photo: Roman Saponkov)

This increase in insurgent attacks comes just after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian assets from Syria during a surprise visit to Hmeimim air base on December 11, 2017. Hmeimim air base is the primary launch facility for Russian tactical air operations in Syria’s Latakia province. The political move by Putin is reminiscent of the May 1, 2003 political gaff by then- U.S. President George W. Bush. President Bush made a media event out of landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and speaking in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”, acknowledging the progress of the U.S. in the Global War on Terror in Iraq. Although Bush never said the mission was accomplished in his remarks on the USS America, the event is historically regarded as premature to meaningful change in the ongoing Iraq conflict. Putin may face similar criticism if a meaningful victory in Syria does not happen soon.

The Russian success in intercepting improvised camera drones being adapted to carry weapons is at least partially attributable to what may be their most sophisticated air defense system, the Pantsir S-2 integrated missile and gun vehicle.

The Russian Pantsir S-2 gun and missile integrated anti-aircraft system. (Photo: via YouTube)

The Pantsir S-2, an advancement from the earlier Pantsir S-1, uses a combination of a high rate of fire anti-aircraft gun and surface to air missiles combined with advanced targeting radar to both detect aerial threats and target both the guns and the missiles on the Pantsir S-2.

Pantsir S-2 is armed with two 2A38M, 30mm automatic anti-aircraft guns derived from the GSh-30 twin-barrel 30mm aircraft-mounted cannon. The cannon system on the Pantsir S-2 has a very high rate of fire from 1,950 to 2,500 rounds per minute depending on the length of the burst. The 2A38M cannon can engage targets up to 2,000 meters, over 6,000 feet, altitude. More importantly in the context of the improvised insurgent threats, the 2A38M can engage targets down to zero altitude effectively, a problem older Soviet-era Russian anti-aircraft systems like the ZSU-34-4 faced since the guns could not depress below a certain elevation making it impossible to hit very low altitude targets in close proximity.

The Pantsir S-2 also carries the new highly capable 57E6-E guided surface to air missile. The missile uses a bi-caliber body in tandem, one stage in front of the next, with a separate booster stage then in-flight stage. The newest versions of the 57E6-E are reported to have range of up to 20-30 kilometers with and reported engagement ceiling of 10,000 meters (approx. 33,000 feet).

While the new Pantsir S-2 provides significant protection from what appears to be the entire threat envelope from enemy fixed wing aircraft to improvised quad-copter bombs the hallmark of the insurgent adversary is adaptability. While Russia appears to be emerging in the lead of the conflict in Syria as Putin announces their withdrawal, one has to wonder what shift in insurgent tactics will follow their drone attack campaign.

Chinese Stealth Goes Operational, Carrier Program and Export Initiatives Accelerate

China Has Emerged as a Preeminent Global Strategic Super Power: What Does It Mean?

During the past five years China’s defense programs have not accelerated, they have increased by multiples into segments the Chinese had not previously been involved in. The introduction of a developmental aircraft carrier program, the fielding of an operational stealth fighter, the deployment of the world’s longest range ICBM and several new state-sponsored defense programs including tactical aircraft and helicopters intended specifically for export sale signal a parallel emergence of China’s global defense doctrine along with their dominant economic influence.

But what are China’s strategic and tactical air capabilities and, more importantly, what can we theorize about their intentions not only in Asia, but around the world?

China’s new defense and aerospace initiatives are a strategic necessity to provide foundational security for their rising economic influence globally.

Two years ago, in 2015 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked China as the number one economic superpower in the world. That year China surpassed the United States based upon the purchasing power parity of GDP indicator (gross domestic product). The IMF reported that China produced 17% of the world gross domestic product in 2014 passing the U.S. GDP of 16%. China’s increased global influence has inspired low and middle income countries to emulate China’s approach. These Chinese allies now engage in partially state-sponsored rapid economic growth including the Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia as it emerges from a protracted drug war. India and Pakistan are now also aligned with China on several significant defense and economic initiatives.

While the subject of China’s emerging military is vast, there are several standout defense aerospace programs that provide an insight into China’s global motives.

China’s Operational Stealth Fighter: The J-20

China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter has just officially entered active service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF): “China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter has been officially commissioned into military service, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian told global media in a September 28, 2017 press release on the Xinhua.net and the official state defense media website.

Analysts suggest the J-20 is likely a medium-long range interceptor roughly analogous to the interceptor role of legacy aircraft like Russia’s older MiG-25 Foxbat, albeit much more sophisticated, and comparable to a Gen. 5 fighter.

There have also been comparisons to the U.S. F-22 Raptor, although the F-22 has emerged in combat in Syria as a precision strike low-observable aircraft in addition to its air superiority role. Western observers have suggested the primary low-observable capability of the J-20 is from the front of the aircraft, but perhaps not at other aspects, suggesting the J-20 is optimized for the interceptor role at least initially.

At different times, both in 2016 and 2017, there were unconfirmed reports that China may sell the J-20 to Pakistan in what would be the first-ever sale of a stealth air superiority specific Gen 5 aircraft in the export market (the multinational F-35 is described as a multirole Joint Strike Fighter, not exclusively as an air superiority interceptor like the J-20 or the U.S. F-22, which has not been exported outside the U.S.

Given this and more information about the J-20 it can be reasonably suggested that this aircraft is intended primarily for defense of Chinese air space and, if exported, some of its border allies. Sharing air defense with friendly border countries makes sense since China shares a border with a staggering 14 different countries. The U.S. only borders 2.

Flypast of the Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai (Imate credit: Alert5/Wiki)

China’s DF-41 ICBM: Global Strike Capability in World’s Longest Range ICBM.

Contrasting China’s regional defense initiative with its J-20 aircraft is the global nuclear strike capability of the Dongfeng-41 solid-fuel, portable launch platform Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The Dongfeng-41 or DF-41 is an impressive and menacing missile system. It has the longest range of any ICBM in the world, surpassing the U.S. LGM-30 Minuteman III by a significant margin. Various sources quote the U.S. LGM-30 as having an approximate strike range of nearly 8,000 miles. But the Chinese and external analysts suggest the range of the DF-41 exceeds 9,000 miles.

The DF-41 ICBM, developed beginning in late July, 2012, takes a page from Israeli ICBM development on their Jericho 3 ICBM by being so fast it is likely impossible to intercept. The DF-41 flies at Mach 25 or 19,000+ M.P.H. enabling it to strike nearly every target in the world in less than an hour.

Another advantage to the DF-41 ICBM system is its launch platform. As with many Russian systems, it is launched from a wheeled, mobile vehicle platform making its launchers difficult to track and target.

Finally, the DF-41 carries up to 12 large nuclear Multiple, Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads, increasing its effectiveness against multiple large, hardened targets and decreasing the ability to intercept it after re-entry into the atmosphere during its terminal attack phase.

By any measure the DF-41 ICBM with its stealthy, mobile launch platform, extremely long range, massive payload and very high speed position China as a preeminent global nuclear force with the attendant diplomatic might that capability wields.

China’s massive DF-41 ICBM has the longest range of any nuclear missile. (Photo: RT)

The Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon: China’s Joint Strike Fighter?

The Shenyang J-31 Falcon Eagle or Gyrfalcon (or “FC-31 fifth Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter”), is China’s second stealth fighter jet.

The first prototype of the aircraft performed its maiden flight on Oct 31, 2012, and made a public appearance on Nov. 12, 2014 at Zhuhai Airshow.

Gyrfalcon is China’s multirole, (claimed) low-observable tactical aircraft roughly analogous, in mission if not in capability, to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is intended for export to partner nations, it boasts a supposed low-observable configuration, is slated to be built in a naval/aircraft carrier (although not STOVL) and is claimed to be able to perform both the precision strike and air-to-air role.

The aircraft may have had some teething problems in early development.

The vertical stabilizer configuration was completely reworked from early versions that seemed to mimic the twin tails of an F-22. The J-31 has since been seen in its newest version with a swept-back twin tail.

The latest version of the J-31 was seen last year on December 26, 2016, during its first flight: it was significantly re-worked, heavier (three tons more) and at least 20-inches longer than the early prototypes according to most sources.

The latest J-31 variant appears to be a more completely developed tactical aircraft with an Infra-red search and track ball passive sensor (IRST ball).

The wings have been re-worked into a claimed lower radar cross-section shape and new engines have been installed that provide greater thrust to compensate for the additional weight. The new engines are also smokeless, a significant tactical necessity. There are also claimed improvements to its search and targeting radar. Chinese officials and media have hinted at some sensor-fusion capability to hand-off targets to other aircraft and perhaps weapons assets, as with the F-35s capability to direct weapons. Perhaps the most significant claimed future capability project for 2019 is re-engining the J-31 with indigenous WS-19 turbofan engines, providing supercruise capability without afterburner. The U.S. F-22 has supercruise but the F-35 does not.

Finally, the J-31 Gyrfalcon is a twin-engine aircraft to the F-35s single engine.

A new carrier-based variant of the developmental J-31 may be in the works. (Photo: O+Nil)

The Chinese Aircraft Carrier Program: From Buying Used to Building at Home.

That China has even embarked on an aircraft carrier program speaks volumes about their future role in global security. Aircraft carriers are about power projection. They operate beyond a country’s borders to secure its interests around the world. While the idea of having a U.S. aircraft carrier on station anywhere in the world is normal, the deployment of Russia’s only carrier in support of operations in Syria made headlines. When Chinese carriers visit India, Africa and South America the impact will be significant.

China is not new to an aircraft carrier development program. Their research into aircraft carriers dates back to at least 1985. In November of 2016 the Chinese declared their completely refitted 67,500 ton ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, a Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier built in Russia, as fully operational. It was re-commissioned the Liaoning (CV-16) type 001 aircraft carrier.

Most recently they have installed a new Z-8JH heavy rescue helicopter on board Liaoning expanding its role from power projection to humanitarian aid.

The Liaoning carries eight Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark multi-role tactical aircraft on board. They bear a strong resemblance to the Russian SU-27 aircraft family. Currently the J-15 launches using a ski-jump arrangement as with Russian and soon UK aircraft but at least one modified J-15 was photographed with a catapult bridle on its nose wheel for land-based testing of a new magnetic catapult system likely to be used on the next Chinese aircraft carrier, the yet-to-be-named CV-18, Type 002 aircraft carrier of entirely Chinese indigenous design to be built by the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

Chinese Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark aircraft on board the carrier Liaoning (CV-16). (Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese Gunships: A New Category for A New World Order.

On May 18, 2017 China’s new Z-19E attack helicopter built by the state-owned AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry factory made its first public flight. State news agency Xinhua said the Z-19E is built for both the domestic and export market.

The Z-19E is the first modern helicopter gunship for the Chinese. It features the usual gunship mix of helmet-sight cued cannon mounted in winglet pods, missiles and rockets.

The aircraft uses a covered Fenestron-style internal tail rotor borrowed from the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin helicopter. The cockpit is armored and the crew seats are energy-absorbing for enhanced survivability.

The Z-19E will likely be an affordable alternative for countries not shopping from the United States or Russia for an import attack helicopter solution. This likely includes several potential customers on the African continent as well as Asia and South America.

The Z-19E is a cost-effective attack helicopter solution for export. (Photo: Reuters)

Chinese RPA’s, Already an Export Success with New Models Coming.

China has already sold remotely piloted aircraft, RPAs, to Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Their newest RPA, the CH-5 CaiHong (Rainbow) flew for the first time this summer on July 14 in Hebei Province.

Jane’s Defense quoted Shi Wen, chief engineer of the CH series RPAs, as saying that the CH-5 outperforms all Chinese RPAs when it comes to endurance and payload. “The UAV is as good as the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper: a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind,” Wen claimed.

Also aiming for export buyers, China has boasted that the new CH-5 is “Less than half the cost” of the U.S. built General Atomics MQ-9 according to journalist Stephan Chin of the South China Morning Post. China claims the CH-5 can stay aloft for “up to two days” and is configured to carry up to 16 guided air-to-ground weapons.

Not for export is China’s secretive “Sharp Sword” stealth drone. The advanced jet-powered RPA is designed to carry a heavy weapons load of over two tons. It is 33-feet long with a wingspan of 44-feet.

The Sharp Sword has more than a passing resemblance to the U.S. X-47B drone and the British Taranis UAV. Initially, analysts suggest the Sharp Sword will be used in the reconnaissance role over dense air defense networks along with maritime surveillance. Follow-on versions will be configured as first-strike weapons against heavily defended targets for a “first day of war” scenario. As with the U.S. jet-powered stealth drones there is planning for a carrier launched version also.

The secretive Chinese Sharp Sword jet powered long range stealth drone is not for export. (Photo: Xinhua)

This is just a brief overview of some of China’s vast expansion in modern defense and aerospace projects for its domestic and newly expanding export market. Given China’s industrial capacity and new global economic dominance we are likely to see many more.

Has A Drone Interfered With Blue Angels Display At Seafair Airshow Over Lake Washington?

Several people have spotted a drone apparently too close to the U.S. Navy display team’s F/A-18 Hornets.

On Aug. 4, 2017, the Blue Angels took part in Seafair Airshow over Lake Washington.

Along with the usual stunning aerobatics, people who were watching the Blue Angels on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington noticed a drone seemingly flying dangerously close to the aircraft. Among them, there was John Redifer, a reader of The Aviationist, who also filmed the clip that you can see here below.

“I was watching the Blue Angels air show yesterday on Friday 8/4/17 on the Mercer Island side of the I-90 bridge over Lake Washington, when a drone appeared in the flight path before the Blue Angels flew by. The drone appeared to be within 50′ of the Blue Angels,” said Redifer in an email to The Aviationist.

“There were about 1,000 people on the bridge with me, including about 12 WSP officers who were there for crowd control. Some people commented on the drone, and WSP officers were pointing at it and appeared to comment on their radios about it.”

The drone remained in the area for about 5 – 10 minutes, maybe even more. For sure it was still there when Redifer left the bridge at the end of the Blue Angels show.

A drone like the one (barely visible) in the short clip below has been spotted in the neighborhood in the past; for this reason Redifer believes it might be a local.

“Also a friend of mine at another nearby location during the show heard about the drone on a public Blue Angels radio conversation of the pilots who mentioned seeing the drone. Not sure of the words used, but she said the pilots were aware of the drone.”

Therefore, based on the footage and the account provided by John Redifer, it looks like a drone was airborne in the vicinity of the Blue Angels display area over/near Mercer Island.

Although we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the drone was cleared to operate there, it seems quite unlikely (if not impossible, considered the risk of interfering with the manned aircraft) that someone got the permission to fly so close to the display area. Actually, the video does not help in determining the actual position of the remotely piloted aircraft, however, based on the witnesses accounts, it is safe to say it appears to be closer than one might expect in case of an airshow: in fact, drones or helicopters that film airshows operate from a significant distance, leveraging powerful onboard sensors to feed a live stream of the aircraft performing their aerobatic maneuvers while remaining well outside the display area.

If you were there and have seen the drone let us know in the comments section below or by sending us an email.

For instance, recent airshows in Italy were filmed from high altitude by an Italian Air Force Predator drone, under positive radio and radar contact with the relevant ATC agencies, maintaining a racetrack located kilometers away from the airshow area.

Incidentally, the video emerged in the same days the Pentagon has cleared U.S. military bases across the country to shoot down drones if those drones become a hazard to flight operations or a security risk and the U.S. Navy claimed an Iranian UAV had unsafe and unprofessional interaction with an F/A-18E about to land on USS Nimitz.

H/T to John Redifer for sending us the clip and details about the alleged near miss.

Salva