9 avril 2020 | International, Aérospatial

Open source platforms, flexible airframes for new drones

Kelsey D. Atherton

Designing a drone body is about settling on the right compromise.

Multirotor drones excel at vertical lift and hover, while fixed wing drones are great at both distance and wide-open spaces. In February, Auterion Government Solutions and Quantum-Systems announced a two-pronged approach to the rotor- or fixed-wing drone market, with a pair of drones that use the same sensor packages and fuselage to operate as either the Scorpion Trirotor or the Vector fixed wing craft.

“As we started to develop our tactical UAS Platform, our plan was only to develop a VTOL fixed wing solution (like our Vector),” said Florian Siebel, managing director of Quantum-Systems. “During the development process we decided to build a Tri-Copter Platform as well, as a result of many discussions with law enforcement agencies and Search and Rescue Units.”

Adapting the fixed-wing fuselage to the tri-copter attachments means the drone can now operate in narrow spaces and harsh conditions. Scorpion, with the rotors, can fly for about 45 minutes, with a cruising speed of zero to 33 mph. Put the fixed wings back on for Vector, and the flight time is now two hours, with a cruising speed of 33 to 44 mph.

The parts snap into place without any need for special tooling, and Auterion recommends the drone for missions in rain or snow. Both platforms share a gimbal EO/IR with 10x optical zoom, 720p EO video, 480p IR video, laser illuminator, IR laser ranger. Common between modes is also a tactical mapping tool using a 21 megapixel Sony UMC R10C camera. For the scorpion, there's also the option of a gimbaled electro-optical camera with a 30x optical zoom.

Both drones are designed to fit in rucksacks that a person can carry one at a time. While many features are common across Vector and Scorpion, the plan is not to include both rotors or wings in the same kit. Once a team packs into the field with a drone on its back, that's the mode the drone can be used in.

Auterion intends to ship the drones by the fourth quarter of 2020, with preorders available.

Designing a drone body is about settling on the right compromise. Vector and Scorpion are built on top of open source code. This includes an operating system capable of programmable autopilot , as well as machine-vision collision prevention and obstacle detection and avoidance. Software for the ground station and cloud data management of the drone are also built on open source code. The Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit awarded Auterion a $2 million contract last year to work on the PX4 software to help drive compatibility standards in the drone industry.

As militaries across the world look to the enterprise sector for capable drones at smaller profile than existing military models, transparency in code and flexibility in airframe could become more widely adopted trends. In the meantime, there is Vector, and there is Scorpion.


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  • Harris and L3 CEOs talk merger, divestitures and why we all should have seen this coming

    15 octobre 2018 | International, Aérospatial, Naval, Terrestre, C4ISR, Sécurité

    Harris and L3 CEOs talk merger, divestitures and why we all should have seen this coming

    By: Jill Aitoro If you ask Chris Kubasik, CEO of L3 Technologies, the company's pending merger with Harris Corp. should not come as a surprise to anyone. Such a move made sense on paper for years, even if the timing was never quite right. Now it is: Both companies are on an upswing, and both companies are led by individuals with an inclination to get it done. The result will be a deal — the largest defense merger in history, if you look at market capitalization — to create the seventh largest defense prime in the world. Defense News spoke to Kubasik and Bill Brown, the CEO of Harris, to find out more about the newly rechristened L3 Harris Technologies. Chris, you called this an acquisition that many felt made sense. So what were the challenges to making it happen, and why is now the perfect time? Chris Kubasik: I think in reality, people thought for years that this combination made sense. It was due to Bill and I working hard that we actually got it done. I think that now is the perfect time because of the customer's needs and demands for innovation and solution. Like I said, with the upswing in both companies, and both companies being strong, I think that gives us the opportunity to put this together, generate the cash and the synergies and position us for long-term value creation for our shareholders. The challenges of all these acquisitions [are so often] culture and leadership. Here, the cultures are aligned. Bill and I are completely aligned. We've known each other for years. We have a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. We're going to jointly chair the integration committee to make sure we get the best of the best — best people, best processes, best system. I'm sure I've never been more excited in my career than I am today, so it's going to be a lot of fun. The stakeholders are all going to benefit. Bill, how much was the 2015 acquisition of Exelis a building block toward this deal? Not necessarily a merger with L3 specifically, but really big merger that would really transform the company? Did you see this coming? Bill Brown: I've been here for seven years, so we really started early on in developing a culture of operational excellence. I think that has been pretty well embedded within the company. We've made some good progress here. We've leveraged a lot of those tools, effectively integrating Exelis. We reached the cost savings targets we thought we would deliver and we delivered it a year early. So I think we built a little bit of a muscle on how to do an integration. I think this is a great potential combination for us. It does position us well within the defense industrial based hierarchy. We'll generate a lot of savings. But more importantly, the portfolio capabilities is going to allow us to do different things, to provide different capabilities to the war fighter and different things that are clearly laid out in the National Defense Strategy. So as I look at this, it's the right transaction. It's the right time. It's the right environment to do this. A lot of this comes down to the leaders of the organization, and Chris and I [are] completely aligned in what to do and how to create value. So much of this also involves combining and integrating in a smart and efficient way, so should we expect any more divestitures? I know L3 just did a couple recently. Any more to come? Brown: I think if you look at what L3 has done recently, and what we've done over the last five or six years, we both have taken a critical eye to the business portfolio we had. If there's assets we think that are better owned by somebody other than [ourselves], we take a dispassionate view of that. And we transition those assets to a different owner. I think Chris and I will take a look at that going forward. I think there will be [divestitures], given the diversity of the business mix we'll have together. It does create the optionality for additional portfolio shaping. Nothing to mention today, but something we'll be taking a close look at over the coming months and years. Okay, so the couple of years before the transition, in terms of leadership — should I figure that those two years are going to be spent really establishing the integrated company? Kubasik: Absolutely. The top two focuses of Bill and I and the team will be the integration, and continuing to execute on our existing programs and commitments. That is first and foremost. We're going to generate a lot of cash. It's going to take several hundred million dollars of investments to integrate these companies. Then the rest of the cash we're going to maintain a competitive dividend, consistent with what we've done. We're very similar in that regard. In the first year, we're going to use the excess cash to repurchase shares. So the likelihood of acquisition from those first two years are very low. As Bill said, we'll look at the portfolio. We've clearly spent a lot of time together, but the next few months we'll get into it more and more and see what makes sense. The way I sum it up is, the merger creates better benefits and growth opportunities than either company could have achieved alone. I know both companies are incredibly strong in terms of C4ISR and a lot of what you might call the future warfare capabilities. What kind of growth do you anticipate in that area? Brown: When I look at the next several years, you're hitting on the right spot. When you look at C4ISR, it's a broad category. When you look at the pieces underneath that, I think Chris and I, our companies, bring great capabilities [that are] complementary. When you think about what we do at Harris, we've got a very strong position in tactical radios — global leadership, U.S. leadership. A lot of it's ground, starting the movements to airborne tier, starting to provide systems. Chris's business is very strong in avionics. It's very strong in data links, very strong in satcom, very strong between the two of us in optical capability. When you look at all of that broad way of getting better ISR information, I think we bring the right capabilities to the fight. Kubasik: We'll be spending about 4% of our revenues on R&D, which I think is aggressive. And we talk about the customers, just to clarify — we have two sets. We have the usual industry partners, who I think will benefit from this combination, the same way that our end-user DoD customer will as well. Are there any programs that you both were competing on, where there's going to need to be some sort management to eliminate conflicts of interest? Brown: Very, very small. It's almost negligible in terms of where we compete head to head. Again, it's a very complimentary set of businesses, so we don't see that as being a big concern. What kind of layoffs are you all anticipating? Brown: We expect half a billion dollars of cost savings, and half of it is going to come from supply chain and facility rationalization — consolidating our mutual footprint. About half of that other half, so 25 percent, is split from corporate and segment overhead reduction in functional efficiencies, shared services — things that we've done and Chris is now driving at all three. But we're in a market today where the unemployment rate's very low. We both were out there hiring people, trying to hire talented engineers and scientists, get people through clearances. So fortunately, we're in an environment where we need more people, not fewer people. Okay, so you think it'll be relatively modest, getting rid of where there might be overlap? Brown: There's going to be some overlap. There'll be some movement of people, but we're not prepared to talk about any employment reduction today. But again, look, it's an environment today where we're looking for more people, especially in the STEM field. The decision to make Melbourne, Florida the headquarters — will that be permanent? Brown: Yeah, it'll be as soon as we close. It'll be the headquarters in Melbourne, and Chris is going to move to Melbourne. We have about 7,000 people in Brevard County. We've been there for 40 years, very deep, entrenched infrastructure. If you know the area, a lot of the defense players, aerospace defense players, are moving now to the Space Coast. It's a very vibrant community. Again, we've been there for a while. We're deeply embedded into the community with a lot of infrastructure at Harris, so that's what we decided to do. Bill, I was convinced you guys were going to move to Washington for a while, but you proved me wrong. Brown: You know, it's interesting. Look, that came up for us, when we did Exelis, but Chris and I've talked about this. It just doesn't make sense for both companies to move headquarters at the same time. That provides an additional risk in a deal. We thought we need to move to one place or the other. We both thought that Melbourne was a better place for the headquarters of the company. Chris, you get to move again. Kubasik: You know, it's been a couple of years, time to move. I'm getting used to it, so if things slow down this week, maybe one night at 10:00 I'll log onto a real estate website and try to be a first mover before the prices increase down there. [laughter] I know you said in the next couple years no acquisitions would be on the horizon, but do you anticipate even more areas of business that would meld with those that you already play well in? Brown: Look, I would say you started out the question the way I'd answer it, which is: it's too soon to determine that. I think the next couple of years will be about integrating the companies. It'll be about divesting. If we see opportunities for portfolio shaping, making sure that happens, so we stay focused on the business where strategically it makes sense for us to be in longer term. But I think Chris and I both have talked very publicly, individually as companies, about M&A is a part of our long-term growth strategy. So over time, we do anticipate, under Chris's leadership, that there'll be other M&As that will happen over time. But I think in the next couple of years, unless it's something exceptional, must have, we're going to stand down on M&A and really focus on integrating the portfolios that we have. Kubasik: Now the organic growth opportunities, and the beauty of having two leaders at the top, will allow us to focus on our customers, not only in D.C., but globally. And you know how much I love to travel internationally — we're going to have customers in over 100 countries. I still look at that in amazement. We'll be able to deepen those relationships. We both work in a lot of the same countries, but when you have a larger combined content, I think we'll be able to advance internationally maybe further, quicker than we would have individually. So I think one of my focus areas is going to be to help grow the business and meet with those customers around the globe. Chris I've spoken to you a couple of times on the big plans and aspirations to be a non-traditional six prime. You got there way faster than I thought you would. Kubasik: Oh, thank you, I'm an impatient person. I know you also said to me that you didn't envision, and I quote, “building multi-billion-dollar satellites, airplanes and ships.” Does that vision of what the company is, and will be, as a six prime remain intact with this merger? Kubasik: We don't really have any major platforms, [but] when I look at the different domains that we're going to be able to serve, whether it's air, space, land or sea or cyber, that's the exciting part. On the air side, as an example, on a combined basis we have some pretty exciting capabilities with avionics and electronic warfare, as an example. So we'll be able to be on the legacy programs, like the F-16 and F-18, which we already are, and we'll have more content on the next-gen platforms like an F-35. So if we go domain by domain, you see the ability to better connect the different platforms to focus on the secured communication. I think we're well positioned for the multi-domain, command and control and communication systems. I'm excited about the small satellite business that Harris had. I think that's great. You know about our UUVs, our UAVs. I think it's going to work well in conjunction with the industry prime. It'll be a collaborative, cooperative relationship. Brown: I think we're not a company that does or will do a lot of these big, major platforms that the big primes are doing today. The way we look at it, 72 percent of the combined business will be prime, meaning sales to and customers. I think that's an important point to make. Bill you've talked to me about space superiority. How key is space to the combined business? Brown: We have a pretty broad business in space in terms of space superiority. A lot of it, it's ground-based capabilities that provide offensive and defensive capabilities to that space architecture. We've developed a lot of exquisite systems and components that have now moved into end-to-end mission solutions for small satellites. We've got a lot of capabilities on our end, in optics. Chris's business, L3, is also strong in small optics, and they've got really good signal intelligence capabilities that I think can augment the things that we do with some of the space architecture. So I see that as helping us continue to broaden that set of mission solutions in the space domain, that I think we spent the last several decades, actually, developing. What does this merger mean to the top primes? Brown: We have at Harris a great relationship with all of the primes. [We] do a lot of work particularly with Boeing and Lockheed. We do quite a bit now with Raytheon as well, so I think we have great partnerships, and I think if anything [this] is going to be additive to that partnership. I think it'll be favorably received by those guys. Kubasik: I agree a 100 percent. I think they're going to be equally excited as the DoD customer for the same reasons. We'll have the money to innovate the R&D, maybe bundle some solutions. They'll also share over time in the affordability of this synergy. I think it's a win-win for the industry and the DoD customers. Bill, in two years you hand the CEO spot to Chris. I'm asking you to look at a couple years down the road, and I know you're remaining on the board, but any other big plans? Brown: Look, that's three and a half years down the road. If I look at six months between sign and close – that's a lifetime year, as you can imagine. I've been CEO here for seven years. That puts me 10 years at the company. I think with Chris, we'll put the company together on the right track. Look, I'll find something productive to do with my life at that point. https://www.defensenews.com/interviews/2018/10/15/harris-and-l3-ceos-talk-merger-divestitures-and-why-we-all-should-have-seen-this-coming

  • American exodus? 17,000 US defense suppliers may have left the defense sector

    14 décembre 2017 | International, Aérospatial, Naval, Terrestre, C4ISR, Sécurité

    American exodus? 17,000 US defense suppliers may have left the defense sector

    WASHINGTON — A large number of American companies supplying the U.S. military may have left the defense market, according to a study announced Thursday, raising alarm over the health and future of the defense industrial base. The Center for Strategic and International Studies study said the number of first-tier prime vendors declined by roughly 17,000 companies, or roughly 20 percent, between 2011 and 2015. The full study, due to be released in January, was authored by CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group Director Andrew Hunter, Deputy Director Gregory Sanders and Research Associate Rhys McCormick. It was sponsored by the Naval Postgraduate School and co-produced by the Aerospace Industries Association, which released an executive summary on Dec. 14, the day of its annual aerospace and defense luncheon in Washington. The authors, who used publicly available contract data, write that it's unclear — due to the limitations in the subcontract database —whether the companies have exited the industrial base entirely or still perform work at the lower tiers. “There is no doubt that a huge portion of the recent turbulence in the defense industrial base has taken place among subcontractors, who are less equipped to tolerate the defense marketplace's funding uncertainly and often onerous regulatory regime — yet it remains extremely difficult to determine the real impact of these conditions on subcontractors,” the authors conclude. Further details may yet be revealed by the Trump administration's ongoing review of the resiliency of the defense-industrial base. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' assessment is due to President Donald Trump by mid-April 2018. The CSIS summary links 2011 Budget Control Act caps, subsequent short-term budget agreements, and Congress' “unpredictable and inconsistent” appropriations process to the “lost suppliers, changes in competition and market structure, and other turmoil” it found. The years 2011-2015 are considered a period of defense drawdown and decline. The authors, rather than focus strictly on the total decline of defense contract obligations over the entire period, chose to chart the “whipsaw” effect that struck certain sectors of the industrial base amid the imposition of sequestration in 2013 and subsequent budget caps. Though the defense budget had been declining in the years leading up to the Budget Control Act, the implementation of an across-the-board sequestration budget cut in 2013 “marked a severe market shock that had a considerable impact on the defense industry,” the authors say. Compared to the pre-drawdown fiscal 2009-2010 period, the start of the drawdown in fiscal 2011-2012, average annual defense contract obligations dropped 5 percent. When sequestration was triggered in fiscal 2013, defense contract obligations dropped 15 percent from the previous year. Average annual defense contract obligations fell 23 percent during the so-called BCA decline period, fiscal 2013-2015. The Army, which has a checkered modernization history, bore the brunt of the decline. Average annual defense contracts dropped 18 percent at the start of the drawdown, then 35 percent during the BCA decline period. Missile defense contract obligations actually gained 7 percent at the start of the drawdown and then dropped only 3 percent under budget caps. During his presidency, Barack Obama reversed course from early cuts to missile defense to spur the development and deployment of missile defense systems in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson reacted to the internally circulated findings earlier this month, saying budget cuts are responsible for the industry being “more fragile and less flexible than I've seen it, and I've been in the industry many, many years.” “What we've seen in the industry, I'll give you an example at Lockheed Martin: At the outset of budget cuts we were about 126,000 employees; today we are at 97,000 employees,” Hewson said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California. “Our footprint has shrunk dramatically. We see some of our small and medium-sized business, some of the components that we need, there's one, maybe two suppliers in that field where there were many, many more before.” Budget cuts have squeezed the Defense Department to unduly prioritize low-cost contracts over innovation and investment. Cost “shootouts,” she said, are endangering the military's plans to grow in size and lethality. AIA Vice President for National Security Policy John Luddy said companies have coped through a variety of “healthy efficiencies,” such as mergers and acquisitions, consolidating facilities, exploring shared services, and offloading certain contracting activities. “Our companies have done an amazing job of managing the downturn, they've pulled all kinds of levels to make it work, they've shown the ingenuity of the American free market system,” Luddy said. “Nonetheless, the uncertainty of the budgeting process has become a huge challenge for us.” Army Secretary Mark Esper, formerly of Raytheon, warned lawmakers at a Senate hearing Dec. 7 that uneven funding is driving small suppliers — “an engine of innovation” — out of the defense sector. “If you're a small mom and pop shop out there, and I'm referring to my industry experience, it's hard for them to survive in the uncertain budgetary environment,” Esper said. “And we risk losing those folks who may over time decide that they're going to get out of the defense business and go elsewhere. So that's a big threat to our supply chains.” But the CSIS study found that small vendors either increased their share of platform portfolio contract obligations or held steady, while large and medium vendors were most harmed by the market shock from sequestration and the defense drawdown. https://www.defensenews.com/breaking-news/2017/12/14/american-exodus-17000-us-defense-suppliers-may-have-left-the-defense-sector/

  • QinetiQ wins US Army’s small ground robot competition

    15 mars 2019 | International, Terrestre

    QinetiQ wins US Army’s small ground robot competition

    By: Jen Judson WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has chosen Waltham, Massachusetts-based QinetiQ North America to produce its new small ground robot following a head-to-head competition with the company's Boston-based neighbor Endeavor Robotics. The serviced awarded a production contract for up to $152 million to QinetiQ on March 11 for its Common Robotic System—Individual or CRS-I program, which is its first small-sized — less than 25 pounds — ground robot program of record, according to an Army statement from Fort Benning, Georgia. Fort Benning is the birth place of the capability requirements for CRS-I. Ultimately, follow-on contracts and options could amount to roughly $400 million for roughly 3,000 robots. Full article: https://www.defensenews.com/land/2019/03/14/qinetiq-wins-armys-small-ground-robot-competition/

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