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August 7, 2018 | International, Land

Stealthier Tanks Are On The Way


Several tech trends will make tomorrow's tanks harder to spot — and that may have strategic implications.

Truly game-changing technology does not develop in isolation. It results from the convergence of multiple trends and usually the combination of multiple technologies.

For example, today's social-media platforms did not arise from internet connectivity alone. Rather, they evolved iteratively over multiple generations of technological development, incorporating the miniaturization of digital cameras, the increase in portable computing power of smartphones, and advances in cellular connectivity.

In that context, a cluster of technological trends may be converging to produce a potentially transformative battlefield capability: “stealth tanks.” This concept is not new and there is no certainty that these new technological developments will fully scale or prove operationally effective. But as these technologies develop they hint at possibilities that warrant serious discussion about their potential application to armored vehicles, as well as their operational and politico-strategic implications.

By “stealth,” we do not mean invisibility. Rather, it is a collection of technologies designed to reduce an object's observable signature, thereby making detection more difficult. Even if temporary or incomplete, stealth provides a significant tactical advantage. Aircraft achieve stealth through a decreased radar cross section which incredibly complicates detection.

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  • One company wants to help herd US Army robots

    November 21, 2018 | International, Land

    One company wants to help herd US Army robots

    By: Jen Judson WASHINGTON — Endeavor Robotics has provided quick, off-the-shelf solutions to the U.S. Army for many years, but the Boston-based company is now gaining significant traction at a time when the service is looking to streamline its petting zoo of ground robots. By necessity, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army scrambled to buy unmanned ground vehicles that could provide a level of standoff between soldiers and the dangers faced on the battlefield. This resulted in the procurement of roughly 7,000 UGVs from Talons to PackBots to Dragon Runners. Endeavor, which launched as a private company in 2016 but previously existed as iRobot's defense and security business, supplied PackBots to the service as well as a few other small UGVs. It gained more traction in October 2017, when the company secured a to provide the service a platform it calls Centaur: a medium-sized robot (less than 164 pounds) to provide standoff capability to identify and neutralize explosive hazards. That served as the groundwork for what the company hopes will be major expansion in the Army, not only delivering an array of systems but supporting a strategy of interoperability. Future bots Now Endeavor is setting its sights on two other efforts underway that would transition the Army from its hodgepodge procurement strategy used during the wars in the Middle East to a common chassis for a small, medium and large UGV, all managed by one common controller. Each system is meant to have a high level of interoperability and plug-and-play capability as missions expand for ground robots and technology improves. The Army already whittled down the competition in April to provide a Common Robot System-Individual, or CRS-I — a man-packable robot that is less than 25 pounds and highly mobile, equipped with advanced sensors and mission modules for dismounted forces. The design will allow operators to quickly reconfigure for various missions in the field. Endeavor will compete against QinetiQ for a contract expected to be worth up to $400 million to build more than 3,000 robots. The contract award is anticipated in the first quarter of calendar year 2019. Endeavor's offering has been kept under wraps, literally and figuratively, with its CRS-I platform covered in a shroud inside of a case at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference. The Army's other major program — the Common Robotic System-Heavy or CRS-H — is a larger platform expected to weigh 500 to 1,000 pounds. The system will be expected to perform highly dexterous manipulation procedures to disarm vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices from a safe distance. Endeavor survived a first downselect in the CRS-H competition with plans to use its Kobra platform as the base, Tom Frost, Endeavor's president, told Defense News in a recent interview. There are now three competitors in the mix as of this summer. The program will have a series of demonstrations that will assist the Army in choosing a winner. The first demonstration is underway at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the second is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2019. Beyond the Army's current programs, Endeavor has been working to refine its technology through programs like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's effort to build a system-of-systems solution that can operate in subterranean environments. It's the only company among a list of participants in academia to secure a $1.5 million contract to participate in the DARPA challenge. The company's solution consists of the Kobra robot that will enter subterranean environments carrying radio repeaters — based on the company's small, throwable FirstLook robots — and drop them off along the way to continue connectivity as it travels deeper underground, according to Frost. The system will also carry a four-legged robot supplied from Ghost Robotics. The robot would deploy from Kobra to explore more difficult and rugged terrain, and a quadcopter will investigate vertical shafts and other hard to reach places, Frost described. “All robots will be linked by the same radio technology and all the data they gather will be assembled into one picture,” Frost said. The final winner of the challenge will win $2 million in 2021. An era of autonomy While robots have been around for years and “are really fantastic,” Frost said, “the way you really recognize the full potential of the ground robots is to make them autonomous.” The company has been working on capability for its robots to self-build maps of an area, travel autonomously, and report or tag noteworthy information along the way. All of Endeavor's systems have built-in algorithms, for instance, to detect a human or an explosive. “They don't require an operator to have their hand on the joystick the entire time,” Frost said. “Our systems have eliminated the joystick altogether” in favor of a touchpad with self-explanatory icons. Looking deeper into the future, Endeavor is positioning itself to participate in the Army's newest, and potentially largest ever, ground robotics modernization effort, the Robotic Combat Vehicle program, which is just beginning to take shape under Army Futures Command.

  • Boeing’s F-15EX jet makes its first flight

    February 3, 2021 | International, Aerospace

    Boeing’s F-15EX jet makes its first flight

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — Boeing's first F-15EX took to the skies for its inaugural flight on Feb. 2, a milestone that will allow the company to deliver the first two planes to the U.S. Air Force by the end of March. After a couple of hours of delays due to weather — which also held up plans to conduct a first flight on Feb. 1 — Boeing test pilot Matt “Phat” Giese took off from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri, at approximately 1:57 p.m. EST. The flight lasted approximately 90 minutes, and the plane performed as expected, Boeing said in a news release. “Today's successful flight proves the jet's safety and readiness to join our nation's fighter fleet,” said Prat Kumar, Boeing vice president and F-15 program manager. “Our workforce is excited to build a modern fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Our customer can feel confident in its decision to invest in this platform that is capable of incorporating the latest advanced battle management systems, sensors and weapons due to the jet's digital airframe design and open mission systems architecture.” The Air Force first added the F-15EX to its fiscal 2020 budget at the behest of the Defense Department's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, or CAPE. With the Air Force and Air National Guard's fleet of 1970s-era F-15C/D jets showing signs of age, the service needed to either conduct an expensive life extension or buy new planes to replace them. But with F-35 operations and sustainment costs still financially burdensome, CAPE officials argued that buying an upgraded version of the F-15E Strike Eagle — with new features developed primarily at the cost of foreign customers like Qatar and Saudi Arabia — would be a more cost-conscious option. The Air Force placed its first order for the F-15EX in July 2020, awarding a contract for the first lot of eight jets with a value not to exceed about $1.2 billion. The entire program has a ceiling value of $23 billion. The new jets come with a host of modern features, including Honeywell's ADCP-II mission computer, the Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System electronic warfare system made by BAE Systems, the Raytheon Technologies' AN/APG-82 radar, fly-by-wire flight controls, and a digital cockpit. The service expects to buy at least 144 F-15EX aircraft, but the contract includes options to allow the Air Force to purchase up to 200 jets. Congress first included funds in December to purchase eight F-15EXs through the fiscal 2020 spending bill, and lawmakers approved spending $1.2 billion to buy 12 F-15EXs in fiscal 2021. According to the Air Force's FY21 budget request, the service plans to buy another dozen planes in FY22, procuring 14 F-15EXs in FY23, and ramping up to 19 jets per year in both FY24 and FY25. Once delivered to the Air Force, the first two F-15EXs will go Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for testing, with the remaining six aircraft set to be delivered to the base in FY23.

  • The French Navy is getting antsy about tech upgrades in its fleet

    October 17, 2022 | International, Naval

    The French Navy is getting antsy about tech upgrades in its fleet

    Officials predict a new threat of high-intensity war, where battles may be fought underwater on the sea bed, in the air, in space, or on the surface.

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