Tag Archives: Predator B

Predator drones to be equipped with ADS-B system to fly cooperatively and safely in the U.S. airspace

Aircraft enthusiasts’ dream of tracking drones on FlightRadar24 or PlaneFinder as the fly in the U.S. airspace, may soon become a reality.

The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) like the Predator/Reaper/Gray Eagle series drones, on Aug. 10, 2012, off the Florida coast has successfully tested an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)-based surveillance system.

The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that such unmanned aircraft can fly cooperatively and safely in the National Airspace System (NAS), allowing Air Traffic Control (ATC) to know their location precisely, as mandated by the FAA that requires all aircraft flying above 10,000 feet or around major U.S. airports to be ADS-B equipped by 2020.

A Guardian drone (the maritime surveillance version of the Predator B) was equipped with a Reduced Size Transponder, designated AN/DPX-7, an IFF that interoperates with both military and civilian ATC surveillance systems and is ADS-B-capable.

During the tests, ADS-B IN-capable transponder detected other ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the vicinity and displayed the aircraft on a display within the Ground Control Station (GCS). Concurrently, Guardian’s ADS-B OUT transponder notified other aircraft and ATC of its location and velocity.

The U.S. airspace is quickly being filled with simultaneously flying drones. To such an extent, unmanned aircraft could soon become a nightmare for the ATC controllers.

The ADS-B will improve Predator B’s crew situational awareness making the drone capable to operate more freely and safely in domestic and international airspace in accordance with civilian air traffic and airspace rules and regulations.

Let’s hope so.

Image credit: General Atomics

Enhanced Predator drone can stay airborne for 42 hours

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) has designed field retrofitable capabilities–lengthened wings, wing-borne fuel pods, and new heavy-weight landing gear, capable to extend Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper’s already impressive endurance.

Following a recent Endurance Enhancement Study, GA-ASI proposes two different field installable kits that extend endurance without costly depot aircraft modifications:

  1. two underwing fuel pods to be added to the drone’s existing 66 ft wings, increasing endurance from 27 hours to 37 hours.
  2. new 88 ft wings to replace its current 66 ft wings and adding two fuel pods, increasing endurance from 27 hours to 42 hours for ISR-only.

Image credit: GA-ASI

Another modification announced earlier this year and available as field retrofit, is the new trailing arm design for the existing main landing gear on Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper that increases the aircraft’s landing weight capacity by 30 percent and its gross takeoff weight by approximately 12 percent, from 10,500 lb to 11,700 lb. This would allow ‘bots to return at their base with more fuel or heavier payloads. Similar performance metrics, including rejected takeoff loads, would be improved as well.

Italy is ready to use the new Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) drones in Libya to improve NATO ISR capabilities

On Jun. 28, 2011, the ItAF officially presented its first two of 6 Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper) during an interesting ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Media Tour at Amendola, Italy’s UAV Main Operating Base (MOB).

During its initial briefing, Col. Fabio Giunchi, Cdr of the 32° Stormo (Wing), the parent unit of the 28° Gruppo (Sqn) which flies the Italian drones, affirmed that Italy’s has already achieved an IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the Predator B and could employ it, if needed, in Libya, to strengthen the NATO ISR component by mid July.

According to Col. Giunchi, operating from Amendola, the UAS could reach Libya in 3 flying hours, with an “on station” time of about 12-14 hours.

The Italian new UAVs could soon be armed even if the final decision whether to equip the MQ-9 for instance with Hellfire missiles will have to be taken at political level. Joint commands have already agreed that, having the capability, the UAS (Unmmanned Aerial Systems) should carry weapons that “could help saving lives”, Giunchi says.

In the meanwhile, the Predator A+ have just logged more than 7.000 FH in theatre operating from Herat in missions lasting on average 8-9 hours. Two RQ-1 are currently in Afghanistan, while two are at Amendola airbase. Unfortunately, one of them crashed landed at 09.15Z on Jun. 27 on approach to Herat airbase.  Extent of damages to be evaluated.


A more detailed article about the Amendola Media Tour and about the Italian ISR component (Tornado and AMX comprised) will be soon published on this blog.

 

Even Predator UAVs face Information Security problems

A series of interesting articles, dealing with the interception of live video feeds broadcasted by the Predator UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan by the local insurgents, was published today on worldwide newspapers.

Evidence of the hack was found in the insurgent’s laptops that contained video files intercepted by the aircraft’s unencrypted downlink to the ground stations. Obviously, being a live video feed from the aircraft’s on-board camera, the insurgents could only “eavesdrop” the communication between the Predator and the ground station and could not take control of the drones or interfere in some way with their flight.

Nevertheless, being able to intercept the images gave the insurgents the advantage of determining which building, roads, tents etc were under surveillance before either the aircraft or the ground troops could intervene. One might think the hack was done using sophisticated tools but according to the information released so far, the insurgents used a commercial software, SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware, that can be purchased for as little as $25.95 on the Internet. The stolen video files show once again how the most advanced military technologies can lose their effectiveness because of very well known vulnerabilities, exploited with cheap off-the-shelf code.

Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, told the Wall Street Journal that some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously. But since the UAVs need to send their feeds over great distances they are subject to listening and exploitation: in other words, as we have already explained many times on this blog, Confidentiality (the attribute of Information representing the assurance that information is shared only among authorised persons) was compromised.

Since the U.S. government has known about the vulnerability since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, it is clear that the Pentagon assumed the risk of data being intercepted by local insurgents or enemies, unimportant. An effective countermeasure that could prevent anybody from intercepting the video feeds is obviously encryption. Someone wondered why there are plenty of systems to encrypt radio transmissions while there’s almost nothing to encrypt video feeds. Simple: because encrypting a hi-definition video streaming is much more demanding (in terms of computational needs, hence hardware equipments) than encrypting audio.

Therefore, fixing the security hole would have caused additional costs and delays (because of the time needed for procurement, testing, implementation etc). Even the MQ-9 Reaper (whose version order by the Italian Air Force is known as Predator B), whose cost is around 10 million USD each, despite being faster, better armed and more capable than the Predator, will be subject to the same problem…an issue that will have to be fixed as soon as possible since the aircraft is already operating in Afghanistan, Iraq and it is also involved in anti-piracy combat patrols in the Indian Ocean.