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The first autonomous drone technology ‘detect and avoid’ goes to the British Army

LONDON, (BM) – The British Defense Ministry announced the conclusion of a contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) for the supply of the first batch of long-duration medium-altitude UAVs “Protector” RG Mk.1, learned BulgarianMilitary.

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The signing of the agreement was announced by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace during a virtual conference on aviation and space capabilities – 2020 Air and Space Power Conference.

The £ 64 million ($ 82 million) contract was signed following the successful completion of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. UAV development stage. The agreement provides for the supply of the first three UAVs, as well as three ground control stations and other ground support equipment.

The contract includes an option to supply 13 more UAVs and four ground control stations. As planned, the first Protector UAVs will be handed over for testing in 2021. Adoption is scheduled for mid-2024.

Developed by GA-ASI on the basis of the SkyQuard MQ-9B, the Protector RG Mk1 UAV will be the first UAV in the world certified for flights in civilian airspace thanks to the “detect and evade” technology. The devices will feature improved lightning protection and anti-icing system, which will allow them to be used in extreme weather conditions.

The Protector will receive improved data transmission channels, including X-band satellite communications, and will carry high-precision anti-tank missiles “Brimstone” British division MBDA and UAB laser-guided “Payway IV” manufactured by Raytheon UK (as stated, the UAV will be able to carry three light rockets “Brimstone” on each suspension node). That is, the “Protector” RG Mk1 will be able to carry much more payload than the UAV “Reaper”, which it will replace.

The new UAVs will replace the “Reaper” in service and will be used for information gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and target designation, destruction of high-speed moving and maneuvering targets (including high-speed ships) from the Waddington base.

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The ability to stay in the air for up to 40 hours will significantly expand the Air Force’s reconnaissance capabilities. The unit can also provide support to UK civilian agencies, for example, in search and rescue and disaster relief operations.

As reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, in December 2016, the UK Department of Defense signed an initial contract with GA-ASI worth 100 million pounds for the development of the Protector medium-altitude long-duration UAV in accordance with British requirements.

Under this agreement, an American company, based on existing experience with the UAV project “Certified Predator B” (Type-Certifiable Predator B – TCPB) / SkyGuardian, creates a modern apparatus for the supply of the British Air Force.

At the moment, the UK is acquiring 16 Protector UAVs, but announces plans to adopt up to 20 vehicles to replace the 10 existing Reaper. At the same time, in November 2016, the US State Department approved the potential supply of the United Kingdom under the Foreign Military Sales program with up to 26 Protector UAVs (16 with the option to supply 10 additional UAVs), related equipment and services.

Since the start of the program in 2016, the timing of its implementation has been repeatedly postponed, and the cost has increased. For example, it was originally expected that the project would cost £ 816 million ($ 1.072 billion), but according to a document sent in January 2020 by the Ministry of Defense to the parliamentary budget control committee, the cost of the program increased by 325 million. sterling ($ 427 million), including £ 187 million due to program delay.

Other reasons for the increase in value were cited as the depreciation of the pound against the dollar, which caused an increase of 50.8 million pounds, equipment with new detection equipment (an increase of 64 million pounds) and other factors (23 million pounds).

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Initially, the UK Department of Defense announced plans to begin delivering the Protector in 2018-2019, at the same time as the Riper UAV was decommissioned. An infographic published at the end of 2016 by the ministry indicated that the adoption of the UAV into service is scheduled for 2021. However, later these terms were also shifted.

In April, GA-ASI announced that the first British UAV Protector, designated BC04 / UK1, was already in the early stages of assembly. It will initially be used to test the platform and weapons before being handed over to the UK Department of Defense.

What “detect and acoid” authonpmus system is?

“UAVs must independently navigate through the air, akin to how people do in city traffic,” said Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Center for Flight Research at the University of Aviation, US.

Drones are already being used to deliver goods and other purposes. Further – more: flights in an urban environment, in a single airspace with manned aircraft and other drones.

All of this requires new “smart” systems that will allow drones to automatically avoid collisions. DAA technology is that same “magic wand” designed to prevent conflict situations in the air.

First flights

Let’s fast forward to the recent past. On June 12, 2018, NASA’s Ikhana UAV flew for the first time in US national airspace. Typically, such flights require that a special board follow the drone, ensuring flight safety.

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But in this case, the escort aircraft was not used, and the drone used its own DAA (Detect-and-Avoid System) collision avoidance system. A special FAA permit allowed remote pilots of the Ikhana UAV to fully rely on the operation of a special onboard complex.

During the test flight, a dangerous approach of the manned aircraft from the Ikhana UAV was intentionally performed. The DAA system successfully informed pilots and allowed for safe maneuver-evasion.

NASA’s Ikhana flight tests served as the basis for validation and validation of RTCA’s DO-365 and DO-366 technical standards for DAA, which were previously published by RTCA. This was the first large-scale test of the system on a large UAV.

Principle of operation

DAA functions can be divided into three groups: detection and tracking of surrounding aircraft for potential dangerous actions; direct identification of hazardous actions; prevention of dangerous and conflict situations and building a safe evasion route and performing an evasive maneuver.

“DAA is the” eyes “of both manned and unmanned aircraft. DAA and TCAS systems are now at different degrees of development. The TCAS small-sized collision avoidance system is well developed. Standards have already been formed for locators that allow you to see non-cooperative objects” the Russian scientist Fedor Borisov said

“This is the basis for building airborne DAA. Ground DAA is now being built on the basis of multi-position surveillance systems. If a program for constructing such surveillance zones is adopted and deployed, then DAA services can be integrated into it. In this case, it is possible to start introducing drones into the general air space. Naturally, under certain restrictions” also he said.

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System components

DAA consists of a number of subsystems that are responsible for separate functions: an airborne radar that allows you to see aircraft that are not equipped with transponders; second generation TCAS collision avoidance system compatible with civil aviation technologies; satellite automatic dependent surveillance-broadcasting, transponder and transmitter ADS-B (IN / OUT); systems for predicting and displaying conflicts (Conflict Prediction and Display System) for calculating evasion maneuvers.

A similar set of DAA subsystems was installed on another drone – SkyGuardian, which most recently completed a 100-flight test program.

For small drones

Part of the system, in particular onboard radar, occupies a significant place and cannot be installed on small UAVs, which are more widely used in the world. In this regard, special attention is paid to the capabilities of satellite surveillance, given the relatively low power consumption, size and functionality of the UAV.

Can DAA technology be used with small drones?

“For small drones, this is the most difficult task, since currently the weight of the DAA execution kit is about 50–70 kg. On-board DAA is the prerogative of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles. And for small UAVs, there is only one way out – installing a mobile transponder” Borisov noted.

“Such equipment can weigh from 8 to 20 grams, and it can be easily installed on drones of almost any size. There are many examples of such developments, especially abroad. Cost is low, it is a very commercially available system. For example, in the USA the cost of a transponder starts from $ 50 per unit. I installed the hardware, software, and you are registered as an air traffic participant, provided, of course, you comply with a number of other requirements,” Fedor Borisov said.

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It should be noted that today several large companies offer special mobile transponders for drones. Sagetech Corporation provided its mobile transponder for the SIERRA-B drone as part of the DAA NASA test. There are others, including Russian ones.

ADS-B based on 1090ES / UAT transmits position data, and other aircraft in the vicinity and equipped with on-board receivers can receive this information in real time.

Thus, the NASA SIERRA-B drone can be easily visible to manned aircraft.

If the tests at Ikhana were basic, fundamental, then working with SIERRA-B is a big step towards a more advanced level of commercial flights in urban areas and beyond.

Projects in Europe

In 2016, the European defense agency launched several projects in the field of unmanned systems. Among them is TRAWA (Traffic Awareness), a defense research project.

The goal of TRAWA was to establish a clear definition for the term “Remain Well Clear”. It’s about the ability of drones to perform evasive maneuvers, ensuring that they always maintain a sufficient distance from other aircraft.

In the European Masterplan Drone Roadmap, it is noted that unmanned operations will be fully integrated into the concept of “smart cities”, where U-space will play the main role in controlling drone traffic and ensuring interaction with all actors in the drone ecosystem. DAA systems are also an integral part of the concept.

Read more: British fighters intercepted anti-submarine aircraft of the Russian Navy

However, it is noted that U-Space will strive to provide conflict-free flight paths to prevent over-reliance on embedded airborne systems.

Within the framework of the TRAWA project, it is planned to formulate requirements that will ultimately determine which types of drones will be admitted to controlled airspace and which will not.

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