9 avril 2020 | International, Aérospatial

Could a commercial drone replace the MQ-9 Reaper? The Air Force is considering it.

By: Valerie Insinna

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is looking for a replacement to the stalwart MQ-9 Reaper and intends to explore options ranging from commercial drones built by emerging tech firms to high-end unmanned aircraft, the service's top acquisition official said Tuesday.

Will Roper, the Air Force's assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the service is working on a study that will inform the fiscal 2022 budget and lay out a path for replacing the MQ-9 Reaper made by General Atomics.

"The Reaper has been a great platform for us. Four million flight hours, just undeniable overmatch in a low-end uncontested fight, and it is certainly saving lives,” Roper told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing. “But as we look to the high end fight, we just can't take them into the battlefield. They are easily shot down.”

The MQ-9 Reaper and its precursor, the MQ-1 Predator, have been the Air Force's workhorse drones in the Middle East over the past two decades, providing both real-time video surveillance and the ability to strike targets. But looking forward, the Reaper is ill-suited to a war with Russia and China while at the same time seen by the Air Force as requiring too much money and manpower to sustain for continued operations in low-threat environments.

There likely won't be a single, one-size fits all solution for replacing the MQ-9, Roper said. The Air Force may need drones that “are more high-end, military-unique” systems, and “they'll likely be expensive,” he acknowledged. There may also be room for unmanned attritable aircraft, which are reusable but are cheap enough that they can be shot down in battle without incurring massive financial losses.

For lower-end missions, the Air Force sees promise in the emerging unmanned systems market, where new entrants have begun creating long-loiter drones for applications in agriculture, communications and the oil and gas sector.

“A lot of companies are targeting that market, not thinking about defense because we've been buying Reapers forever,” Roper said, who added that by buying from promising commercial drone makers, Air Force may be able to influence those companies to keep their supply chains out of China and to incorporate military-specific features — potentially even weapons.

“I think if we do the program right on the commercial side, we might be able to bring a new entrant into defense without making them a defense prime,” he said, adding that funding from the Air Force could help a commercial company move from making prototypes to building up a stable production line that could further be grown to manufacture drones on a more massive scale.

“Working with the Defense Department, you don't need the kind of production capacity that the globe does. So, we're a pretty good first stop,” he said.

However, the Air Force may face an uphill battle in getting Congress to support a plan to replace the Reaper. The service in its FY21 budget request has asked for 24 more MQ-9s before ending the programs of record — a move that would curtail the program from 363 to 337 Reapers.

The early shutdown of the line would have major financial implications for General Atomics, said Chris Pehrson, the company's vice president of strategic development, in a February interview with Air Force Magazine.

“We're actually going out about 22 months ahead of delivery and procuring the long-lead item parts, ... whether it's [satellite communication] equipment or engines ... to negotiate the best prices and get the best deals for the government,” Pehrson said. “Having the rug pulled out from under your feet at the last minute kind of disrupts all your supply chain investments that you're making.”

Top generals in the Middle East and Africa have also raised concerns about the demands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and privately helped stave off retirements of the MQ-9 by the Air Force in FY21. In its unfunded wish list, U.S. Central Command included additional contractor-flown MQ-9 hours as its number one priority, at a cost of $238 million.


Sur le même sujet

  • Build a fleet, not a constituency

    12 mai 2020 | International, Naval

    Build a fleet, not a constituency

    By: Bryan Clark and Timothy A. Walton The U.S. Navy's long-awaited award of a contract to design and build a new class of frigates has brought with it calls to dramatically expand the planned class of 20 ships to a fleet of 70 or more hulls. Like recent congressional efforts to build more of today's amphibious ships or destroyers, these recommendations risk putting the Navy on an unsustainable path and could fail to influence Chinese or Russian adversaries the U.S. fleet is intended to help deter. The Navy clearly needs guided-missile frigates. By bringing comparable capability with less capacity, frigates will provide a less expensive alternative to Arleigh Burke destroyers that are the mainstay of today's U.S. surface fleet. Freed of the requirement to conduct almost every surface combatant operation, destroyers would have more time to catch up on maintenance and training or be available to conduct missions demanding their greater missile capacity like Tomahawk missile strikes or ballistic missile defense. However, the frigate's size — less than a destroyer, more than a littoral combat ship or corvette — also limits its ability to support U.S. Navy wartime operations. Frigates like the Franco-Italian FREMM can conduct the full range of European navy operations such as local air defense, maritime security and anti-submarine warfare, or ASW. But the American FREMM variant will not have enough missile capacity for large or sustained attacks like those conducted by the U.S. Navy during the last several years in the Middle East, or like those that would be likely in a conflict with China. And although they could defend a nearby ship from air attack, the planned U.S. frigates could not carry enough longer-range surface-to-air interceptors to protect U.S. carrier and amphibious groups, or bases and population centers ashore. Proponents argue frigates' capacity limitations could be mitigated by buying more of them, better enabling distributed maritime operations and growing naval presence in underserved areas like the Caribbean and Arctic. In a post-COVID-19 employment environment, accelerating frigate construction could also create jobs by starting production at additional shipyards. Although they cost about $1 billion each to buy, the money to buy more frigates — at least initially — could be carried in the wave of post-pandemic economic recovery spending. But after a few years, that spigot will likely run dry, leaving the Navy to decide whether to continue spending about half the cost of a destroyer for a ship that has only a third as many missiles and cannot conduct several surface warfare missions. The more significant fiscal challenge with buying more frigates is owning them. Based on equivalent ships, each frigate is likely to cost about $60 million annually to operate, crew and maintain. That is only about 25 percent less than a destroyer. For the U.S. Navy, which is already suffering manning shortages and deferring maintenance, fielding a fleet of 70 frigates in addition to more than 90 cruisers and destroyers will likely be unsustainable. Instead of simply building more frigates to create jobs and grow the Navy, Department of Defense leaders should determine the overall number and mix of ships it needs and can afford within realistic budget constraints. The secretary of defense recently directed such an effort, which continues despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This commentary's authors are participating in the study. As recommended in a recent study, instead of buying more frigates to expand the fleet's capacity, the Navy would be better served by adding missile-equipped corvettes like those in European or Asian navies. These ships could carry as many missiles as the Navy's planned frigate but would not incorporate capabilities for area air defense or ASW. The smaller size and reduced capability of corvettes would reduce their sticker price to about one-third that of a frigate, and their sustainment cost to about a quarter that of destroyers. The lower price for corvettes would allow more of them to be built and deployed, where they could team with other surface forces to provide additional missile magazines that could be reloaded by rotating corvettes to rear areas. In peacetime, corvettes would enable the Navy to expand presence and maritime security to underserved regions and provide more appropriate platforms for training and cooperation. Frigates will still be needed, even with a new corvette joining the U.S. fleet. Frigates would replace destroyers in escort operations to protect civilian and noncombatant ships, like supply vessels. They would also conduct maritime security operations in places such as the Persian Gulf or South China Sea, where piracy, trafficking and paramilitary attacks occur. Most importantly, frigates would lead ASW operations, where their towed sonar systems could be more capable than the systems used by current destroyers. Although ASW is an important naval mission, buying more frigates than planned to expand the Navy's ASW capacity is unnecessary and counterproductive. The Navy could gain more ASW capacity at lower cost and with less risk to manned ships by complementing its planned 20 frigates with unmanned systems including fixed sonars like SOSUS, deployable sonar systems that sit on the ocean floor, unmanned surface vessels that tow sonars and trail submarines, and unmanned aircraft that can deploy and monitor sonobuoys or attack submarines to suppress their operations or sink them. The U.S. Navy is at the beginning of a period of dramatic change. New technologies for autonomy, sensing, weapons and networking are enabling new concepts for naval missions at the same time fiscal constraints and pressure from great power competitors are making traditional approaches to naval operations obsolete or unsustainable. The Navy's frigate award is a great start toward the future fleet, but the Navy needs to take advantage of this opportunity and assess the best mix of ships to field the capabilities it needs within the resources it is likely to have. Bryan Clark is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where Timothy A. Walton works as a fellow. https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/05/11/build-a-fleet-not-a-constituency/

  • Pentagon’s AI chief says data labeling is key to win race with China

    26 janvier 2023 | International, C4ISR

    Pentagon’s AI chief says data labeling is key to win race with China

    "If we're going to beat China, and we have to beat China in AI," CDAO Craig Martell said, "we have to find a way to label at scale."

  • Israel launches first-ever multitier missile defense test

    17 décembre 2020 | International, Aérospatial, Naval

    Israel launches first-ever multitier missile defense test

    JERUSALEM — The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency for the first time demonstrated a multilayered air defense system using the Iron Dome, David's Sling and Arrow weapon systems in a recent series of tests. “Using this approach, a variety of threats may be identified and intercepted via full coordination and interoperability between the systems,” Moshe Patel, the head of IMDO, said Monday. The organization falls under the purview of the Ministry of Defense, whose minster, Benny Gantz, praised the “development of a multilayered air defense system [that] secures us from threats near and far.” The Iron Dome system has been used against rockets and other threats for the last decade, and joint development with the U.S. has supported the Arrow and David's Sling programs. Israel delivered the first of two Iron Dome batteries to the U.S. Army earlier this year. The Israeli tests, which took place within the last few weeks but were announced Dec. 15, saw the systems deploy against cruise missile, UAV and ballistic missile targets. While Israel said the results of the tests will enable industry engineers to evaluate and upgrade the capabilities of the system, the wider context is that the announcement comes amid tension with Iran as well as improved relations between Israel and a number of Gulf states, according to experts. “U.S.-Israel cooperation on multilayered missile defense technologies continues to advance and is a critical factor in ensuring Israel can defend itself from a diverse array of threats posed by Iran and its proxies,” said Dan Shapiro, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Obama administration. Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the ability of Israel's Iron Dome system to hit guided munitions is significant, “particularly as Iran increasingly seeks to arm its terrorist proxies with weapons that [have] evasive qualities. Has Israel developed tech to counter Iran's lethal precision-guided munitions effort? It certainly seems so.” The changing geopolitical environment in the region — particularly improved Israeli relations with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in recent months — is important, according to Udi Evental, a colonel in Israel's reserve-duty service and a senior fellow with the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the higher-education institution IDC Herzliya. “The normalization process opens new opportunities both for Israel, Arab states in the Gulf and the U.S.,” Evental said. “Israel might be able to deploy sensors and other means closer to Iran in a way that could offer more and better interception opportunities. ... The U.S. could lead the command and control of such an architecture and integrate into it some American assets as well.” Dan Feferman, a former strategic planner with the Israel Defense Forces and a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, pointed out that “Iran spent a lot of money developing [its strike] capabilities. So [Israel] is testing [its weapons systems] out, and it is an attempt to show Iran and its proxies that [Israeli] capabilities will soon be neutralized and they might as well not bother trying.” In addition to challenging the effectiveness of Iran's regional strategy, the tests also serve as a model for how Israel's neighbors can enhance their own defenses against Iranian threats, according to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel. The tests, he explained, serve as “a source of deepened Israeli-Arab security coordination.” Gulf states could benefit from Israel's defense capabilities, especially in light of the drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabia's Aramco facility in September 2019. Israel's MoD said the drill was in the works for a year, indicating that the planning came after the attack in Abqaiq. Shapiro's colleague, Yoel Guzansky, added that recent reports noted one Gulf state is interested in buying air defense technology from Israel. He also described the Abqaiq attack as a motivator for the recent tests. “For years, cruise missiles were a problem that had to be addressed: Like drones, they fly at low altitudes.” Patel indicated that any cooperative program like David's Sling and Arrow must be approved by the U.S. to market and export to Gulf customers. But Israel has more independence when it comes to Iron Dome, despite Raytheon's involvement in the system's U.S.-based manufacturing. Although it's too early to assume much, he said, “there is a lot of advantage like sharing information and sensors in those countries because we have the same enemies and launchers and more — but it is too early. We begin to build our defense cooperation; this could be considered in the future.” Israel's MoD said the tests indicate the systems are capable of simultaneously intercepting threats. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is the prime contractor for the development of the David's Sling weapon system, in cooperation with the Raytheon. Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta Systems subsidiary developed the Multi-Mission Radar, and Elbit Systems developed the Golden Almond battle management system, both of which were involved in the tests. “When the different systems in the multilayered mechanism are combined, they may face a variety of simultaneous threats and defend the citizens of the state of Israel,” said retired Brig. Gen. Pini Yungman, executive vice president and head of Rafael's Air and Missile Defense Division. The tests were carried out at sea for safety reasons. The Iron Dome has been integrated with Israel's Navy in the form of the C-Dome, which is to be deployed with the service's new Sa'ar 6-class corvettes. Officials said David's Sling can also be used at sea. During the tests, Iron Dome was used to intercept cruise missiles — a new capability for a system that has historically been deployed against unguided rockets, drones and mortars. Israel has generally used Iron Dome against short-range threats around the Gaza Strip and Golan, while Arrow was used for the first time in 2017 and David's Sling for the first time in 2018 against threats from Syria. The Israel Defense Forces also integrated the multitiered system and sensors into a common air picture, tracking threats, sharing data and launching different interceptors with one command-and-control system for the first time. Combining multiple technologies using open architecture and sensors to create a kind of “glass battlefield” digital picture is a technology Rafael has been working on. This is also part of Israel's multiyear Momentum plan that foresees multilayered air defense as key to success in future wars against local adversaries and what Israel calls “third circle” threats like Iran. https://www.defensenews.com/training-sim/2020/12/16/israels-launches-first-ever-multitier-missile-defense-test/

Toutes les nouvelles