Drones – Latest News, Features & Expert Opinion

  • Easy Aerial Integrates Anti-Jamming Tech Into Its Military Drones

    New York-based Easy Aerial, a provider of drone-based cyber solutions to protect wireless communications from jamming attacks, has integrated anti-jamming technology into their military-grade autonomous unmanned aerial systems.

    The technology, called GPSdome, is the only dual-use (for military and civilian purposes) anti-jamming technology available, Easy Aerial said in a statement.

    The company said the technology, manufactured by Israeli GPS security firm infiniDome, integrates with Easy Aerial’s Smart Aerial Monitoring System and employs a unique interference filtering system that combines patterns from two omnidirectional antennas.

    During a jamming attack, the statement added, GPSdome analyzes the interference signal and feeds its properties into infiniDome’s algorithm to filter and reject any attacking radio frequency interference allowing the drone to continue to function.

    “We chose GPSdome because it’s a proven solution that perfectly suits the diverse missions our customers routinely fly in some of the world’s most inhospitable and hostile environments,” said Ido Gur, co-founder and CEO of Easy Aerial.

    “While our systems are equipped with multiple onboard redundancies, GPS signals are vital to maintaining position, navigation, and timing accuracy, ensuring uninterrupted operation.”

    The other factors that went into the favor of GPSdome were its lightweight, small form factor, low power consumption, and field-proven ability to detect, alert, and shield jamming signals, Easy Aerial said.

  • Purdue Working to Make Military Drone Software Hackproof

    Purdue University has embarked on a five-year project in collaboration with Princeton to make military drone software as well as that of other unmanned machines hackproof.

    The project, part of the Army Research Laboratory and Army Artificial Intelligence Institute, is funded with up to $3.7 million.

    Christened SCRAMBLE (SeCure Real-time Decision-Making for the AutonoMous BattLefield) by its developers, the prototype software suite is designed to provide more secure autonomous operations.

    Purdue said in a statement that to achieve this goal the team will be focusing on better protecting machine learning algorithms used by military drones and other automated machines to execute maneuvers.

    “The implications of insecure operation of these machine learning algorithms are very dire,” said Saurabh Bagchi, a Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

    “If your platoon mistakes an enemy platoon for an ally, for example, then bad things happen. If your drone misidentifies a projectile coming at your base, then again, bad things happen. So you want these machine learning algorithms to be secure from the ground up.”

    Three-Part Strategy to Secure Autonomous Systems

    An autonomous system can be hacked at several points of the operation, Bagchi said, for example by manipulating the process that technicians use to feed data into algorithms and train them offline. Such security breaches can occur even before a system is deployed.

    SCRAMBLE, the developers say, will patch vulnerabilities in the system in three ways.

    First, by making the algorithm robust enough that it can operate with uncertain, incomplete, or maliciously manipulated data sources.

    “Malicious agents can insert bogus or corrupted information into the stream of data that an artificial intelligence system is using to learn, thereby compromising security,” explained Prateek Mittal, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton, who is also part of the project.

    “Our goal is to design trustworthy machine learning systems that are resilient to such threats.”

    Second, the prototype will include a set of “interpretable” machine learning algorithms that will change the “operating environment” of SCRAMBLE due to reasons as divergent as benign weather changes or adversarial cyberattacks.

    But the operators will have knowledge of the reasons behind the change.

    “These changes can significantly degrade the accuracy of the autonomous system or signal an enemy attack,” said Purdue’s David Inouye, who is designing this particular aspect of the system. “Explaining these changes will help warfighters decide whether to trust the system or investigate potentially compromised components.” 

    The third strategy is to provide a “secure, distributed execution of these various machine learning algorithms on multiple platforms in autonomous operation,” Purdue said.

    “The goal is to make all of these algorithms secure despite the fact that they are distributed and separated out over an entire domain,” said Somali Chaterji, co-principal investigator on the project.

    Once the prototype is ready, the US Army researchers will evaluate it to check whether it can be feasibly deployed on the battlefield and whether it avoids requiring “cognitive overload” from its users.

  • US Drone Strike Kills 17 Jihadists in NW Syria Near Turkish Border

    The US army said Thursday it carried out a drone strike against Al-Qaeda leaders in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border, killing 17 jihadists, according to a war monitor.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five civilians were also among those killed.

    “US Forces conducted a strike against a group of Al-Qaeda in Syria (AQ-S) senior leaders meeting near Idlib, Syria,” said Major Beth Riordan, the spokeswoman for United States Central Command (CENTCOM).

    “The removal of these AQ-S leaders will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out global attacks threatening US citizens, our partners and innocent civilians,” Riordan said in a statement.

    She did not specify the number of deaths from the strike.

    But the Britain-based Observatory said the operation, which targeted a dinner meeting of jihadists in the village of Jakara in the Salqin area, killed at least 17 jihadists including 11 leaders.

    The village lies in Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib, which is dominated by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group, led by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and its rebel allies.

    But other jihadist groups, including the rival Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen faction, are also present in the area.

    Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that five non-Syrian jihadists were among those killed, but their nationalities were not immediately known.

    “They had been invited to dinner in a tent on a farm in Jakara,” he said.

    “It was a meeting of leaders opposed to HTS and who reject the Russia-Turkish deals” that led to a fragile truce in Idlib, he said. “Some were close to Hurras al-Deen.”

    A March agreement between rebel backer Ankara and government ally Moscow halted a deadly offensive by government forces against the region of some three million people.

    A US-led coalition is present in the east of the country, where its airstrikes have backed Kurdish-led forces battling remnants of the Islamic State group.

    Thursday’s strike came after it emerged that the 18-year-old who killed a school teacher in France last week for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class had been in contact with a Russian-speaking jihadist in Syria.

    A source close to the case said the identity of the Russian-speaking jihadist was not yet known, but French newspaper Le Parisien claimed the person’s IP address was traced to Idlib.

    After a string of military victories backed by key ally Russia, the Syrian government has regained control of around 70 percent of the country, the Observatory says.

    The war, which broke out after the bloody suppression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions from their homes.

  • US Army Field Tests Latest RQ–7B Shadow Drone

    The US Army has wrapped up its operational testing of the RQ–7B Shadow Block III system, the latest in the Shadow series of the tactical unmanned aerial system (TUAS).

    The testing included 94 missions and over 400 flight hours under realistic battlefield conditions, the US army said in a statement.

    A team of analysts will now provide relevant inputs from the tests to the army evaluators to assess the capability of the Block III system.

    “The data collected during the test will support an independent evaluation by the United States Army Evaluation Center,” said  Dr. Allison Hedrick, Aviation Test Directorate’s Lead Operations Research Systems Analyst.

    The Block III improves upon the army’s RQ–7B ShadowV2 model with a more capable payload sensor, improved engine, weatherization package, and an upgraded avionics package which includes Voice over Internet Protocol Communications and upgraded Levels of Interoperability functionality.

    The upgrade in the latter two functionalities will increase the synergy levels between the Shadow and attack helicopters, the US Army said.

    The manufacturer of the aircraft, Textron Systems, had last year introduced these upgrades to the present model.

    High Noise Signature

    The army has used RQ–7B Shadow for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in its various missions in Iraq and Afghanistan but recently the aircraft has come under criticism for its high noise signature.

    Block III tries to address this problem by replacing the current engine with a new water-cooled one.

    It also replaced the current POP-300 EO/IR payload with a larger L3Harris manufactured MX-10D multi-sensor, multi-spectral imaging, and targeting system, which will enhance its image collection capability.

    The upgrade will allow Shadow “to operate in two inches of rain per hour—a fourfold increase from its previous capability,” general manager for Textron Systems David Phillips told aviation-focused news outlet AINonline.

    Notwithstanding the expected upgrades to the UAS, the US Army is still actively looking to replace the Shadow through a program named the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System.

    Four military drones currently are vying to replace Shadow: Textron’s catapult-launched Aerosonde HQ; the V-Bat vertical takeoff UAS offered by Martin UAV and Northrop Grumman; the Arcturus JUMP-20 UAV; and the FVR-90 from L-3 Harris.

  • UK Unveils Explosive-Laden ‘Bug’ Drone Part of Futuristic Battle Strategy

    The UK on Monday unveiled a futuristic army strategy that includes Challenger 2 tanks equipped with tiny bug-like drones and a remote-controlled unmanned vehicle.

    The explosive-laden drone, The Bug, weighs less than 200 grams and can track vehicles by flying up to 50 miles per hour (around 80 kilometers per hour), blow open doors, and conduct surveillance.

    The unmanned vehicle, named The X3, meanwhile, can confront the enemies instead of the troops and send live footage back to the troops through the cameras fitted in it.

    The X3 has a speed of 20 kilometers per hour (12.4 miles per hour) and is equipped with speakers to distract the enemies, the Telegraph reported.

    It can travel up to two kilometers but can be linked with other vehicles to relay information along a chain up to 24 kilometers (15 miles) long, the paper added.

    The drone and the vehicle are linked with a mobile-like device, called the Android Team Awareness Kit (Atak), positioned on the chest of a soldier who can control them from afar.

    The device also helps the soldiers to see the position of other soldiers while fighting, and help them avoid friendly fire, the Daily Mail reported.

    Future Weapons Must Be ‘Threat-Driven’

    The system is part of the Ministry of Defence’s Science and Technology strategy that must “ensure that science and technology is at the beating heart of MOD policies and strategies.”

    Speaking while unveiling the strategy, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace emphasized the need for new armed forces equipment that is “threat-driven” and better aligned to the UK’s future needs.

    “We are in a very real race with our adversaries for technological advantage,” Wallace said, and called for the bridging the divide between “advanced science and technology research, production, scaling, and commercialisation.”

    “To succeed, we’re going to have to tap into our brightest brains across the defence industry, academia, and the whole of society,” he added.

  • US Army to Improve Encryption of Drone Communications

    The US Army is collaborating with two companies to enable small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to deploy a robust, on-demand, highly-secure communications network.

    This initiative is part of the US Army’s Reconfigurable Communications for Small Unmanned Systems (RCSUS) project. It aims to address the growing electronic warfare capabilities of peer and near-peer adversaries such as China and Russia.

    Viasat is the project’s prime contractor. They will partner with AeroVironment to develop advanced, encrypted communications for AeroVironment’s tactical UAS Puma AE.

    AeroVironment’s chief technology officer Scott Newbern said, “We will work to provide enhanced, secure communication capabilities via tactical unmanned aircraft systems operating at the battlefield’s edge.”

    Under this joint venture, AeroVironment’s Digital Data Link (DDL) radios — currently used by the US Army — will be converted into a Type-1 crypto communication system for video and data transmission.

    Additionally, the two companies will develop critical interoperability standards to generate a secure, digitally-encrypted communications network. They will also create a standardized communications architecture allowing UAS to access the spectrum easily — even in contested environments.

    The project will help the US army set new waveform standards that maximize connectivity and minimize risks of signal intercept.

  • China Unveils Swarm Drone Technology to Overwhelm Enemy’s Defenses

    China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), a Chinese state-owned company, released a 58-second video of the test-launch of a barrage of 48 attack drones on Tuesday.

    The video shows the drones, deployed on launchers fitted on a light tactical vehicle, swiftly unfold their wings in the air after being launched and then fly towards the intended target. The video also shows the drones being launched from a helicopter.

    The test, conducted last month, was reportedly to check the launch of China’s land-air coordinated fixed-wing UAV “swarm” system.

    The drones reportedly carry high-explosives warheads, capable enough of destroying tanks and other armored vehicles. They are intended to overwhelm the enemy’s defenses.

    Chinese-languaged news website Duowei News reported that the purpose of the test was to demonstrate the whole gamut of abilities of the system, including the rapid deployment, intensive launching, hovering and launching in the air, maneuvering launching, and precise formation.

    Upgrade to Existing Technology

    In 2018, China displayed a launch vehicle with eight CH-901s drones, which would be launched one at a time, according to Forbes.

    The CH-901 is a suicide drone that can hover over a target for 40 minutes and beams back video for the operator to locate a target, and then swoops down to hit it.

    The latest test, on the other hand, reportedly takes a step forward and demonstrates the swarming technology where the operator just designates the target and all the drones fly together to hit the target, without colliding.

    The present system is reportedly based on a special chip, a “multifunction processing unit for swarm intelligence,” which the makers (CETC) announced last October. The chip includes a complete flight control system, mission planning, intelligent decision-making, and dynamic networking between drones, as well as the ability to recognize targets and other objects.

  • US Fifth Generation Target Drone to Begin Test Flights

    The Defense Department announced on Wednesday it will begin test flights of its much-anticipated Fifth Generation Aerial Target drone (5GAT) later this month at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

    Delayed by cost overruns and transportation restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 5GAT pilotless test vehicle underwent successful ground-based testing in September at Michael Army Airfield, garnering top marks.

    The new drone system has generated a great deal of excitement among defense officials because of its ability to simulate fifth-generation enemy fighter threats US forces may encounter.

    The 5GAT, described as “a full-scale, low-observable air vehicle,” will facilitate the testing and evaluation of surface-to-air and air-to-air platforms and weapons in the development of tactics for pilots and ground forces to combat a fifth-generation air threat — at a small fraction of the cost of comparable jet fighters.

    Latest in Increasing Drone Development

    As part of a recent spike in the development of US drone force technology, the 5GAT system is designed to address a current deficit in platforms which accurately represent the capabilities of the latest generation of fighters for the training of defense force personnel.

    The primary contractor on the project, Sierra Technical Services, developed creative solutions including soft tooling in airframe construction to minimize costs. Subcontractor Fast Optimal Engineering was in charge of developing major subsystems such as landing gear, hydraulics, and steering while another, 5D Systems, developed the drone system’s software suite.

    Another key approach in driving down costs and speeding development of the three-and-a-half-year, cutting-edge drone project has been streamlined acquisitions, procurement, and management processes. The utilization of an existing army air control system and hardware from decommissioned military aircraft has also assisted completion.

    Initial testing late this month will evaluate flight characteristics and the performance of multiple subsystems, auto-takeoff, and landing, while further testing is set to measure increased G-force loading, speed, and altitude flight envelope limits.

  • Iran Says Drone Crashed Near Azerbaijan Border

    Iran said an unidentified drone crashed near its border with Azerbaijan on Tuesday, as Baku and Yerevan accused each other of violating a truce in fighting over Nagorno Karabakh.

    The drone crashed in a village in Parsabad county, Ardebil province, along Iran’s northern border, deputy governor Behrouz Nedayi told state news agency IRNA.

    “The drone’s identity and cause of its crash in the area are being investigated,” he said, reporting no damage.

    According to IRNA, the drone “may belong to Azerbaijan or Armenia’s army given the fighting beyond Iran’s northern border.”

    The two neighbors have for decades been locked in a dispute over Nagorno Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian area that broke away from Baku in a 1990s war that cost about 30,000 lives.

    Heavy fighting erupted on September 27 in one of the most combustible frozen conflicts left over from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers agreed Saturday to a humanitarian ceasefire, but repeated clashes have battered the truce deal.

    Iran has called on both sides to cease hostilities and offered to facilitate talks. It has also warned against any “intrusion” after mortar fire hit Iranian villages along the border.

    The Islamic republic itself is home to a large Azeri community, mainly in the northwest.

    According to some estimates, Azeris make up 10 million of the 80-million population of Iran, which is also home to almost 100,000 Armenians.

  • US Army Program Allows Drone Swarms to Recharge Autonomously

    The United States Army will soon be in control of a swarm of hundreds of drones that can descend on unmanned ground vehicles to recharge on their own.

    The success of the project is attributed to army-funded research at the University of Illinois Chicago. The Army Research Laboratory awarded the institute a four-year $8 million cooperative agreement in August to work on the foundational science in two critical propulsion and power technology areas for powering future unmanned aircraft systems (UASs).

    Autonomous Recharging

    The program allows the UASs to return from military missions on their own and hover over unmanned ground vehicles to automatically and autonomously recharge. This reduces the time spent maintaining the vehicles by eliminating the need for soldiers to manually change the batteries, enhancing logistical efficiency.

    The university is currently working on algorithms that would enable route planning for several teams of small unmanned air and ground vehicles.

    The program manager for the Army Research Laboratory’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program, Dr. Mike Kweon, said that route planning will be a critical feature for the army. As such, small and intelligent UASs can scout for the best routes during a mission and then return for recharging.

    “Without solving how to handle the energy demand, all other advanced technologies using artificial intelligence and machine learning will be useless for the Army,” Kweon explained. “On the battlefield, we do not have the luxury to replace batteries for hundreds of UAVs and recharging them for hours.”

    The research project is one of 11 that was funded as a part of efforts to create technologies for hybrid-electric engines that can run on multiple sources of fuel.