onsdag 25. juli 2018

UAV - Protector`s transatlantiske flyging kan ha vært banebrytende - AW&ST

Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) is hoping its next generation of Protector remotely piloted air vehicles will be able to fly as freely above the UK as the current generation of Reapers can over the Middle East war zones.
A ground-breaking July 10-11 transatlantic flight from Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, to the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford of 24 hr. and 2 min. saw General Atomics’ SkyGuardian/Certified Predator B—the platform expected to evolve into the Protector—prove it could mix it up with commercial airline traffic over the North Atlantic. Tactical use of airspace by regulators and air traffic controllers enabled the SkyGuardian to enter British airspace with tracts opening ahead of it and closing behind it.
Two crews, working 12-hr. shifts, monitored the SkyGuardian’s flight path through satellite control, another first for UK airspace, before giving the green light to touch down at Fairford using its auto-land capability.
  • General Atomics’ SkyGuardian forms the basis of the RAF’s Protector UAS
  • SkyGuardian’s Atlantic crossing was the first by a MALE unmanned platform
  • UK is purchasing 16 Protectors but has options through Foreign Military Sales for another 10
The RAF is the lead customer for the platform and is funded to purchase 16, with service entry expected in the early 2020s—officials are not being specific. However, the government’s National Security Capability Review, published in March suggested the aircraft would be “introduced by mid-2024.” Initial operating capability is planned for 2023. The UK has been heavily involved in the Protector’s development; RAF engineers have been embedded with General Atomics in San Diego for four years, working on the program to ensure it will meet the requirements of the UK’s Military Aviation Authority (MAA).
With that certification, it is hoped the platform will be able to operate in the UK with gradually increasing freedom.
“The game-changing element of this platform is that it is certifiable,” said Air Vice Marshal Julian Young, chief of materiel for fixed-wing aviation at the UK’s Defense Equipment & Support procurement agency, speaking at RAF Fairford.
“That’s not a given, we have got to work hard to certify it through the MAA, but that is what it is designed to do,” he explains.
The UK has 10 MQ-9 Reapers, which it purchased to meet an urgent operational requirement for operations in Afghanistan. Today, they are operating over Iraq and Syria, but none is ever likely to operate in UK airspace, although French and Italian Reapers have flown in their national airspaces.
Last year, a French Reaper supported security operations over Paris during the July 14 Bastille Day celebrations.

The SkyGuardian still had more than 16 hr. of fuel when it touched down at RAF Fairford from Grand Forks, North Dakota. Credit: Ted Carlson/General Atomics

The UK wants that freedom to maneuver with Protector, supporting emergency services at home and even self-deploying them overseas rather than airlifting them in a box like now.
The RAF and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are working to allow it, but documents published by the website Drone Wars in February have revealed the process has not been as smooth as RAF commanders might have liked. The CAA regulator still has to be convinced the technologies are sufficiently developed for unmanned and manned systems to operate together.
Evidence provided by General Atomics to a UK parliamentary defense committee says the Protectors will be fitted to accommodate its due-regard radar but not with it, “denying one of its key enabling capabilities, a sense-and-avoid system,” the company states.
The Protectors will have Traffic-Alert Collision Avoidance Systems and automatic dependent surveillance—broadcast “In/Out,” but without the radar “it will prove impossible for the RAF to realize the platforms full potential,” the written evidence states.
However, the RAF and General Atomics hope the flight helped to sway the regulators’ thinking.
“This flight is relatively routine; we are just landing in a different location,” said Jonny King, vice president of General Atomics in the UK.
Entry into service has been pushed to the right, although RAF officials point out this is not a reflection of the program or the platform. Part of the delay has been driven by an adjustment in RAF priorities, possibly financially driven as detailed by General Atomics in its statements to Parliament. The program also has been subjected to a “financial review,” and a “re-baselining,” according to data published by the defense ministry at the beginning of July. The RAF is mulling not only how to achieve a seamless transition to the Protector from the Reaper, but also to get the “most bang for their buck,” out of the existing Reaper fleet, RAF officers told Aviation Week.
The UK has invested £100 million ($131 million) in the program to enable UK-specific capabilities, more of which will be added over time as the RAF will be the design authority for the aircraft.
As well as adding UK weapons such as the Raytheon Paveway IV and MBDA Brimstone, the UK is installing Skynet X-band satellite communications and backup Inmarsat satcom systems. The UK also is including Leonardo’s SAGE Electronic Support Measures system to be fitted on each side of the ventral fin. Leonardo also sees possibilities for integrating its Misys directed-infrared countermeasure and BriteCloud active decoy. 

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