Air Chiefs meet to talk Technology in Dubai

This is an article published in our December 2017/January 2018 Issue.

Major General Ibrahim Al Alawi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence the introduction to the 8th Dubai Air Chief’s Conference. The theme of the event was The Future of Air Power: Exploiting Advances in Network Centric Warfare. (Photo: Segma)

Senior international air force commanders and the aviation industry make the biennial Dubai Air Chiefs Conference and Airshow a ‘must do’ event.

The 8th Dubai Air Chief’s Conference (DIAC), staged this year on Saturday 11th November 2017, is always the blue-ribbon event ahead of the bi-ennial Dubai Airshow which, for the last few years has been staged at the new Al Maktoum International Airport. This is inland from the man-made port of Jebel Ali, south of Dubai city.

The guest of honour the DIAC was HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation and chairman of Emirates Airline. He briefly commented on the importance of air power in the region, pointing out the conflicts taking place in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The welcome was presented by Major General Ibrahim Al Alawi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defence who announced that the theme of the conference was The Future of Air Power: Exploiting Advances in Network Centric Warfare. 

General Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff, United States Air Force gave the opening address leading off a broad selection of senior military officers. Setting the technology scene, he reminded delegates that “in the globalised, digitised world, over three billion people now own a smart phone – a figure that will double over the next decade. The technology within such phones through apps and their connectivity made them a threat in the hands of those ‘with malicious intent’.

He said that it had only been 23 years since the [General Atomics MQ-1] Predator had taken its first flight, and now “extremist were able to fly their own commercially built drones”. He acknowledged that air power was not assured, as witnessed in the skies over Syria.

Gen. Wilson added that while the capability of 5th Generation aircraft would help to ensure national sovereignty, this came at a high price in both maintenance and operating costs. Low and slow, together with long loiter periods are valuable. Somewhat surprisingly he also noted the value of new, low-end, light attack ‘OA-X’ aircraft that could provide ‘danger close’ combat air support to troops engaged on the ground. Although he did not refer to any location specifically, it is a lesson learned not only in Iraq and Afghanistan by NATO and its allies, but also by allied forces in the fight agains Daesh in Iraq and Syria, as well as by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

The vital requirement to digitally network military systems efficiently was to understand how to collect, share and learn from data quickly, regardless of domain.

Globalisation was allowing an adaptive enemy with access to digital technology, even relatively low technology that was commercially available, to pose major security threats, said Brigadier General

Rahed Al Shamsi, deputy commander of the UAE Air Force.

Brig. Gen. Al Shamsi repeated the need to continually reduce sensor to shooter time, for which fast, reliable and secure networks were needed and praised other national forces who had supported the Air Force’s capability here. “The UAE is proud to work alongside partners who have provide assistance and support. Many lessons have been learned and areas of improvement identified when networks are realised,” he said.

He echoed an oft repeated plea by the military to industry that software and hardware needs to be more upgradable although he acknowledged that network centric systems were not cheap. However, future weapons needed to be viewed as multi-role/sensor platform. “The UAE AF will spend time and money on networked forces architecture and C4 with a new air operations centre,” he stated.

Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Leight Gordan, head of the Joint Strike Fighter programme, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) said that Australian defence strategy involved becoming a 5th Generation Air Force, fully networked to deliver lethal and non-lethal air power.

Future operational success would mean “staying ahead of the ever quicker decision making cycle of our adversaries”. He added an observation that “the fog and friction of war will never be completely overcome while war remains a human endeavour. Data is the king; shared awareness is the force multiplier”.

AVM Gordon said that the experiences being learned by Australian personnel working abroad was helping to define what needed to be more fully understood including “what is 5th Generation logistics, engineering and maintenance – what does that look like?”. We need to drive this not only in combat action but also business processes.

Ballistic Missile Threat

Vice Admiral John Aquilino, commander of NAVCENT, 5th Fleet, said that the ballistic missiles fired from Yemen at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, gave an example of current dangers now being faced my numerous nations. “The days of the inaccurate SCUD are finished. Non-state actors possessing highly technical weapons threaten both our military and civilian areas.”

“There is already much information sharing but it needs to be expanded. Integration, interoperabily, capability and capacity exists today but we need to figure out how to move it around faster,” he said.

Regarding ballistic missile defence, he said that targeting quality data had to be shared very quickly between international partners, both sensors and shooters, because the widow of opportunity to act was so small. In the maritime environment, naval forces play a critical role, either as sensor (such as the US Navy’s Sea-Based X-Band Radar SBX-1 ship currently operating in the Pacific), or an Aegis destroyer as a sensor / shooter. There have also been successful engagement made by US Army’s Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot missile systems.

The US Navy’s Sea-Based Radar (SBX) is currently operating in the Pacific, according to Vice Admiral John Aquilino, who was addressing the Dubai International Air Chief’s conference on Saturday 11 November, 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

There is no doubt that the ballistic missile threat can be overcome, but the key is rapid data exchange between nations and learning to trust, concluded VADM Aquilino.

Other speakers included Air Commodore Philippe Adam, commander for Operations, Aviation Brigade, French Air Force; Lieutenant General Michael J. Hood CMM, commander, Royal Canadian Air Force; Air Vice Marshall Gerry M. Mayhew CBE, commander, No. 1 Group, Royal Air Force; and Air Commodore Robert Adang, deputy director, European Air Group (EAG), Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Around the Dubai Airshow  

The UAE Armed Forces made a number of announcements during the show, some of which included older announcements that had been repackaged specifically for the show.

Major General Staff Pilot Ishaq Saleh Al-Balushi, head of the executive directorate of industries and development of defense capabilities at the Ministry of Defense, revealed that a contract would be signed with Dassault and Thales for the upgrade of the Air Force’s Mirage 2000-9 aircraft.

Lockheed Martin was also an upgrade winner, through an annoucment by the UAE Armed Forces that it has signed a $1.65 billion contract that will ensure the UAE AF’s Block 60 F-16 Desert Falcon fighters receive the latest upgrade. This would address obsolescence issues in the F-16s which were bought back in 2000, said Maj. Gen. Adbullah Al-Hashimi, UAE Air Force.

Dual-band to multi-spectral

The UAE’s Ministry of Defence was revealed as the launch customer for the UTC Aerospace Systems/Goodrich 4th Generation multi-spectral MS-110 reconnaissance pod, derived from the DM-110 dual-band system which the UAE Air Force already operates on its F-16 fighters.

Vice president and general manager for Airborne Systems, Kevin Raftery, explained that the multi-spectral MS-110 now provides “three and a half times more data in a single mission – that’s via seven bands of data”.

“In the market segment we are in, we have to provide more capability for less cost,” he said. “Our sensors are huge collectors of intelligence. You will see a transformation over the decade where we will put focus into information sharing, automated recognition and cataloguing than we will be building sensors.”

“This involves data fusion and analytics – you need to analyse what you have got,” he continued. “We are implementing our previous five year plan. We go from dual-band (visible and infra-red) to multi-spectral. We provided day/night capabilities and now we provide all-weather with our radar system. We spend a lot of time talking to our customers to find out their mission needs and desires”.

Some customers want to expand their DB-110 sensors while others want to go to multi-spectral. “The results from good mission planning and data interpretation means that they need to learn how to use this increased data to best effect.” There are two aspects to this: collect and dissemination. The ground segment changes, as the task of disseminating the intelligence means that tools and training need to be expanded, particularly among the mission planners, the operators and the analysts as to how they interpret data, he explained.

The DB-110 has had great success with the Lockheed U2 and more recently with Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. The technology is no longer a major expense and it can be used in more than just defence – drug interdiction, maritime security, disaster analysis and relief.

Looking ahead, one adaptation will be “that we will probably have to make the DB-110 smaller for a few of the new aircraft, there may be a DB-90 or something similar.” Mr. Raftery added: “We want a family of systems where we take a long-range vision of what the product would look like which would include real-estate space and architecture capabilities that would allow us to adapt the system as technology changes or the mission changes. We could then go and upgrade the system for our customers without them having to make a major investment.”

The DB-110, seen here under a Lockheed Martin F-16, is a tactical dual-band, day/night reconnaissance system. Its third generation design features three independent optical fields of view which enable long-range standoff, medium range oblique and direct overflight missions. It now has a successor, the 4th Generation MS-110 with the UAE Air Force announced as the first customer. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

“If DB-110 is 3rd Generation, and MS-110 is 4th Generation, we think there are 5th, 6th and 7th Generations, and to our customers that is a big deal,” revealed Mr. Raftery. “We could potentially do a staggered implementation of their systems and customers like that approach. Application growth is a growing business. By the end of the year we will have 75 DB-110s that have been procured and that are currently operational, or are soon to be so. We also have some MS-110s,” he concluded, without revealing a number.

Landing Without the Hassle

One of Raytheon’s discussions during the airshow centred around its development of the joint precision approach and landing system (JPALS). As part of the Lockheed Martin F-35 development, and in particular the F-35B for carrier borne aircraft, Raytheon had the contract to develop the JPALS system for the US Navy and the US Marine Corps F-35s. JPALS is a GPS-based precision approach and landing system that assists aircraft to land in all weather conditions. “JPALS uses the GPS system to identify a landing point and could then guide an aircraft to within centimetres of that point,” said Tarik Yusifzai, vice president of strategic operations, MENA. “As it is GPS guided, it   is also more secure than radar which, once turned on gives the aircraft’s position away.” A civil version of the system has already been bought by authorities in the UAE to manage aircraft landing at several airports, including the still developing Al Maktoum International Airport.

JPALS is partly integrated with the deck landing system, but it does “bring the aircraft in to the wire,” confirmed Mr. Yusifzai. According to Raytheon, JPALS would get the aircraft to that point over the ship’s deck: ‘the two systems would agree with each other, meaning JPALS could show the pilot on glideslope and the deck landing system would show the same’.

“Our system provides the trajectory, point to land – all of which is displayed on the pilot’s Head-Up-Display (HUD),” said Mr. Yusifzai. The pilot is cued through two symbologies: a large window that shows the general direction of landing when the aircraft is still some distance away, which then transforms into a smaller window for absolute precision. At the end of the mission the two windows close together.

“The other important aspect is that this is equally applicable for UAVs,” said Yusifzai. “You can launch a UAV and bring it back using our system,” he confirmed. “We have had successes to within centimetres landing on the cable,” he said. Using the example of Northrop Grumman’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system (UCAAS), it would pick up the JPALS signal and land autonomously when commanded to do so. A Raytheon clarification added that, theoretically, if a UAV was being flown with a pilot in command at a control station, the pilot would see the same instrumentation as the pilot of a manned aircraft.

“We are also working on a system that will serve expeditionary forces on the ground,” said Yusifzai. “It is a derivative of JPALS, as it solves classical weather problems such as sand that might interfere with the radar’s picture. This would be rapidly deployed in a humvee with four antennas and two operators.

“One system can also control multiple landing sites in a 20nm radius,” said Mr. Yusifzai. “One location can provide landing information for up to 50 aircraft in that area, recommending numerous approaches to avoid threats for up to 30 of those operational aircraft. All the aircraft needs is a GPS receiver in the aircraft.

Sales Success for Skeldar

“It has been an amazing breakthrough year for UMS Skeldar with five sales so far,” said David Willems, head of business development at Switzerland-based UMS Skeldar talking on the Saab stand during the airshow (UMS Skeldar is a joint venture between UMS Aero Group and Saab).

Expalining this recent successful take-off of the Skeldar V-200 Remotely Piloted Aerial System (RPAS), Mr. Willems attributed it to finally moving beyond the idea that the V-200 was a prototype platform. “We flew daily at Aero India at the beginning of the year – this was the first time at a manned airshow,” he stated.

But he feels that the real breakthrough came following a couple of announcements made during the summer. “We reached an agreement with Jetlease to offer the Skeldar V-200 platform as a leasing product for the civil as well as military market. We got a lot of requests from agencies who don’t want to buy, but preferred to trial it or supplement existing capabilities”. This includes the ‘blue light’ emergency services sector as well as emerging military forces that will not develop their own heavy fuel UAV capable of lifting off at a maximum weight of 235kg.

The UMS Skeldar V-200 is now available for lease through Jetlease for military forces that would prefer to trial before the buy. UMS Skeldar is also about to release the smaller R-350 into the market and would be of particular interest to ‘blue light’ services. (Photo: UMS Skeldar)

Mr. Willems offers an example of a potential customer: “Perhaps a navy wants to create a Request for Information (RfI) for a UAV platform; but they want to assess what is available in the market before making a decision. Now we can offer a lease on the V-200 platform for a number of years to allow them to trial and assess its capability.”

The second breakthrough came when UMS Skeldar announced an agreement with Sentient Vision Systems to provide the ViDAR (Visual identification Detection and Ranging) system for its UAV systems. This allows the V-200 to use between five and 10 cameras offering between a 180-360 degree awareness around the UAV. The ViDAR uses autonomous detection over a wide area to give a better ‘find’ capability than more passive electro-optical sensors, claimed Mr. Willems. The company claims over 80 times better area coverage over standard EO/IR systems.

The endurance of the V-200 is around five hours with 40kg of load in a typically average day, but would of course vary if the UAV was operating in more extreme ‘hot and high’ conditions, or was required to hover for long periods. Willems said that a good constant speed of between 38-48 knots (70-90km/h) would maximise the fuel consumption with an average payload onboard.

The Skeldar V-200 now has a bigger variant, the R-350 which offers two hours endurance with a payload of 30kg. “That is enough to complete a lot of missions,” said Mr. Willems. “The R-350 is smaller than the Skeldar V-200 but has been in development for nearly ten years, although the new product is a redesign of the old product.”

“We are now working on the next version of both UAVs, the B versions, but with improved performance, upgraded avionics and more stability. Weight reduction is the biggest challenge to improve each platform, and any kilogram saved gives more fuel or heavier payload. We want to make the platform lighter but keep the same payload capability”, says Mr. Willems.

The first sale of an R-350 was made to the German military. Earlier in the year the R-350 conduct trials for the German Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw). But the main targets are ‘blue forces’ because it is easy to deploy with a small footprint.

Typically two operators are required for the R-350 and four for the V-200, especially if it is ship based. Mr. Willems floats the idea that both aircraft could work as a pair, having heavy fuel engines with multiple interoperable payloads.”

C2 Debut

The Japanese aircraft maker Kawasaki Heavy Industries brought its newly developed C2 transport aircraft to the Dubai Airshow for a debut appearance. With a maximum take-off weight of 155 tons, it slips between the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules with 74 tons and the Boeing C-17 at 249 tons.

The Kawasaki Heavy Industries C2 medium transport aircraft made its debut appearance at the Dubai Airshow 2017. (Photos: Andrew Drwiega)

After the Japanese Government announced that the development of the aircraft was complete in March 2017, the Japanese Air Self Defence Force began receiving its first aircraft with an eventual requirement of up to 30 C2s.

It can house 40 medical litters inside the large cargo compartment (15.6m long; around 4m height and 4m wide). Its range with a maximum payload is reported to be 2,400nm. Five cameras are sited around the aircraft to assist the aircrew and loadmaster, who has a dedicated workstation at the front of the cargo deck. Representatives said that there was triple redundancy in the control system.

The Kawasaki Heavy Industries C2 medium transport aircraft made its debut appearance at the Dubai Airshow 2017. (Photos: Andrew Drwiega)

by Andrew Drwiega