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Special Planes : the nEUROn

by Elco B Sat May 13th, 2006 at 05:05:15 PM EST

Impression of what the NEURON is going to look like.
Neurons are a major class of cells in the human nervous system and their primary role is to process and transmit neural information. I know this is a ridiculous short description but the name of this plane indicates what it's designed for.
 Ok, there is EURO in it and the plane is a major European project but military can think !
 This development of new 'toys' shows how they think and how industry and governments waste our money and resources.

Some facts :

  • The remotely piloted aircraft, Predator B, which carries two Hellfire missiles and can stay aloft for more than a day at a time, 'stunned' the world with its ability to hunt down and kill Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Afghanistan and the Middle East...
  • The Duth Ministry of Defence, this week, announced an emergency purchase of ALADIN mini UAV's to help protect their troops in Afghanistan.
  • The last week I read lots of articles in magazines and newsproviders on the internet related to military unmanned, remote controled and other wierd stu ff; amazing how fast this things spread all over the world and how much money is involved .

UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
UCAV = Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle
MAV = Mini Aerial Vehicle
ISTAR = Intelligence, Surveillance, Target acquisition and Reconnaissance

  • US design consultancy Avid is seeking a partner to develop an unusual UAV comprising a flying-wing mother ship powered by ducted-fan engine modules that can detach to operate autonomously as MAV's.
  • India , South-Africa and even Nigeria are purchasing UAV's (All from Reuters this week).
  • The ISTAR requirements by the armed forces are huge and the industry is happy to play along.

US soldier launches a mini UAV in Iraq. Live video stream can be linked to any US commander at any level if he has a computer.

Other developments
* We all heard of 'smart' bombs and munitions. Accuracy, pin-point, precision and minimizing collateral damage are now widely known.

This smart bomb, the Enhanced Guided Bomb Unit-27, has an optical sensor system, an onboard computer, adjustable flight fins and a battery that powers everything.Unit cost: 55000 us dollars, coproduction of Raytheon Missile Systems, Lockheed Martin and Texas instruments. This weaopon is also sold to European country's with F-16 Falcon jets in their inventory.

  • the US is now field-testing in Iraq an automatic defence-system : a mini unmanned turret with a machine gun or grenade launcher. The turret has 360 degrees sensors. These sensors (via computer) can identify, when a shot is fired, what weapon was fired, pinpoint the exact place, determine if it is 'friendly' fire or hostile and return fire when needed. That thing fits even on the roof of a Humvee and when switched on , only needs human assistance for inserting  a new load of ammunition.  In ideal circumstances the system returns fire before the hostile bullet or grenade reaches his target.

  • Also the command structures in the army's are changing. Now they call it: Future Combat Systems (FCS)
The Future Combat Systems (FCS) is a joint (across all the military services) networked (connected via advanced communications) systems of systems (one large system made up of 18 individual systems plus the network and Soldier- often referred to as 18 plus one plus one). A Soldier, linked to these platforms and sensors, has access to data that can provide a much more accurate picture of what's going on around him. The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical [WIN-T] will be the backbone of the Army's Future Combat Systems

This military jargon hides a multi-billion-dollar plan in the US, but also in Europe .
An illustration :  in the Vietnam-era, when a field commander wanted aerial support for his troops he had to address a motivated request to his commander. Then the staff passed it to the airforce, they looked at the maps, controlled their ressources and so on. In the most favorable circumstances, the planes showed up 30 minutes after the request but mostly it took more time,   and of course the situation had changed during that delay : result : the target had moved, confusion, bombing total inefficient and frustration.
Afghanistan 2002 : now, when troops are moving in the field, there is mostly a plane around with smart munitions, when the groundtroops desire a place bombed they enter the coordinates in their battlefield-laptop, the data go through a massive network (a commander can cancel the action) and within 2 minutes the munition is 'deliverd'.

Side-note :

  • First of all: if you have stupid leaders, 'smart' bomb-  and other -systems wont help very much (and don't ask for an illustration for this..)
  • All this high-tech things have a fail- rate of 30%.
  • Smart weapons can be fooled by humans with simple actions, even the famous cruise-missiles where jammed in Iraq ( I'm researching this story, worth a diary on his own)
  • Human mistake: a 20-year old US special forces soldier entered his own coordinates instead of those of the 'enemy'-position: his entire group of 5 man was bombed 'to dust' before he could correct his input. (Afghanistan 2003)

The above illustrates the thinking of the military :
automatisation, unmanned, information gathering, control from (safe)distance: thus networking, and networking the networks.

All these ideas, opinions and expectations are discussed on a regular base on  internatial meetings, military exercices, conferences and exhibitions like the Eurosatory exhibiton in Paris next 12-16 june.


During the 2003 Paris Air Show, French Minister of Defence Mme Michele Alliot-Marie announced a major agreement signed between EADS, Dassault Aviation, and Thales. The agreement covered a joint-venture to "realize a new unmanned military technology that covers all future activity in combat and strategic reconnaissance aeronautics." EADS currently leads a HALE (High Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV project, and a manned/unmanned maritime surveillance project is also in the works based on work done by Thales, Dassault, and Elbit Systems.

The Neuron UCAV program, meanwhile, is led by the French DGA defence procurement agency. DGA acts as the program executive on behalf of the participating countries, and has entrusted development of the first Neuron UCAV demonstrator to Dassault Aviation and its European partners. These include SAAB (Sweden) in particular, HAI (Greece), Alenia (Italy), EADS-CASA (Spain), and RUAG Aerospace (Switzerland).

The Neuron program has three stated goals:

   1. The first is to maintain and develop the skills of the participating European aerospace companies' design offices, which will not see any other new fighter programs before 2030 now that the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter projects are all complete or well underway.
   2. The second goal is to investigate and validate the technologies that will be needed by 2015 to design next-generation combat aircraft.
   3. The final aim is to validate an innovative cooperation process by establishing a European industry team responsible for developing next-generation combat aircraft.

Work breakdown among those companies is as follows:

    * Dassault Aviation (France): Prime contractor; general design authority; flight controls; final assembly; static and flight testing;

    * Saab (Sweden): overall design; fuselage; avionics; fuel system; autonomy functions, some flight testing and verification; low signature adaptation of the exhaust pipe; and landing gear doors. Saab is also the coordinator for all the Swedish corporations involved.

    * EADS CASA (Spain): wing; ground control station; data-link integration

    * Alenia Aeronautica (Italy): weapon firing system; air data system; electrical system; flight testing

    * RUAG Aerospace (Switzerland): wind tunnel tests; weapons carriage

    * Thales (France): data-link; command and control interface

    * HAI (Greece): rear fuselage; tail pipe; systems integration bench

According to prime contractor Dassault Aviation, the French government will provide half of the program's EUR 400 million ($480 million) budget, while the remaining funds will be supplied by the other participating member nations.

More precise reports place France's share of the development funding at about EUR 185 million. Sweden's share would be SEK 750 million (EUR 80 million at then-current conversion), of which SEK 600 million (EUR 64 million) would be financed by Saab AB. The Swedish FMV procurement agency will offset Saab's costs, however, with an equal contribution to future development of the Saab JAS-39 Gripen manned lightweight fighter. The cost of Spain's participation to the program is estimated at EUR 35.5 million, spread over the 2007-2012 period.

There are simular projects in yhe US (JCAS), Germany (Barracuda) and the UK (CORAX)

       BARRACUDA                                 JUCAS-X47-B

The idea for the Neuron is to have a flying plane in 2011, and capability to launch bombs in 2012.
Some details :  Neuron will be of a size comparable to a Mirage 2000 fighter, with a weight of approximately 6 tonnes, a wingspan of 10-12 meters and a length of 6 meters.  
Its main design goals are low-observability (its radar cross-section will be comparable to that of an object the size of a tennis ball), weapon payload (in an internal bay) and launch of air-to-ground weapons.
Neuron will be powered by a single engine, and have a top speed of about Mach 0.8.  


"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 05:50:49 PM EST

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 06:08:01 PM EST
Bravo - you have 'outed' a most terrifying weapon - although it wouyld appear not to be remote-controlled.  Presumably they are standard-issue to purchasers of McMansions in the suburbs.  I would certainly feel more of a man if I had one myself...
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 08:57:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding ground-based automated military stuff, here's a link to the Google Video version of a 3 minute movie of "BigDog" -- the US military's prancing, agile, prototype pack-animal.

There's a higher-resolution 11.5 Meg wmv file that you can download and play again and again. Amaze your friends!

I showed it to a guest today; she away with shivers, asking where she could download a copy for herself. A quote: "I feel like I've seen the future, and I'm not sure I like it."

(I linked this in an earlier diary. The context page for the video is Boston Dynamics: BigDog -- The Most Advanced Quadruped Robot on Earth.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 03:29:14 AM EST
That's how our societies work : UAV are a very promising technology, but there is no money to develop them, unless the military is interested.

It's not all negative though, because it seems to me that a swarm of UAV is far more dissuasive than a nuclear threat in theaters such as the Middle East.

Remain the Japanese to keep trying the civilian market, and what Yamaha does is quite interesting, one can imagine endless applications to this kind of machine :

by balbuz on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 08:34:52 AM EST
Draganflyer XPro (with videos) : you already can by your own spy-plane.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 10:12:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What should be 'interesting' is how wars will look like when both saides have UAVs...

Stanisław Lem's Fiasco may yet prove prescient.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 03:42:08 PM EST
Then the Nintendo & Playstation generation will get generous job offers.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 03:44:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm less interested iin what happens in the control rooms, more in what happens out there.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 03:51:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Out there it'd be hell, uenmployed Nintendo & Playstation bystanders would get hacked to bits ;)

Sorry I can't help looking at this with slit eyes, as I always think of war gadgets in terms of new possibilities for people to find cheap ways to dismiss them.

For instance, unless the UAV has a 2x360° view and quintuplets following the camera, then I think there'll always be a way to screw with it ;))

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:01:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The trick is: generals don't give a damn if you screw it. Or if you screw ten thousands. UAVs are disposable. They cost so much less than a full fledged aircraft, its support carrier/base, not to mention the training of a career pilot, and the media risk of having him killed, or worse (like captured and shown like a trophy on videos) !

They'll just mass-manufacture these in Taiwan, and if the buggy software gives it 3% of friendly fire, who cares, West side's only drones on the battlefield if you unfold the logic completely ... Oops, civilians out there too, but they're locals, so again, generals don't really care.

by Pierre on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:15:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's true, though I was actually thinking "screw with it" in terms of sending it wrong information.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:17:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Reconnaissance/patrol drones have preset routes like cruise missiles, and upload data by satellite so they don't have to come back in one piece to make the mission a success. There is little comm feed implied and that is easy to secure.

But the real problem is getting rid of all comms: This is an interesting issue. I don't know about those new technology drones, but in a large-scale deployment, they would have to be pretty autonomous: no way a central command would handle 10k+ drones on a battlefield, armies of Nintendo players are eerie. There's just no way a C3I network would support thousands of low-latency video-feeds and order anytime soon. It's just too much bandwidth. What bandwidth is available today is already expensive to get in a secure and stealth fashion: look at the money Thales and Sagem make on C3I chains, it's more than the actual weapons they sell.

A real combat drone would have to handle "high level language" orders like "patrol this area in a random pattern for six hours, freely engaging any moving vehicle on the ground and engaging upon confirmation for others..." A.I. systems still have a long way to go before humans can really delegate such tasks.

by Pierre on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:30:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"patrol this area in a random pattern for six hours[..]A.I. systems still have a long way to go before humans can really delegate such tasks

I agree, even if I lack AtinTM's knowledge on such issues. I can already picture a robot flying "randomly" over a small piece of land (because of randomly choosing to get left, then left, then again left, then left again ;))

That same robot would also be thiking along the lines of "six hours starting at what time exactly, and do I include processing time, do I use local time or HQ time, and do I suddenly stop flying randomly after six hours, what the hell do I do" pssssscht BOOM (robot head explodes)

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:35:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, you nailed an essential point so I have great hopes for you.

Stick with me kid and you'll be wearing horse turds as big as diamonds.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 05:01:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Using SWARM technology recon droids don't have to follow preset flight paths and for the overall mission parameters it is better if they don't follow preset flight paths.  Statistical analysis of military - especially Air Force - methods of operation, operational cycle time, yadda-yadda make preset missions easy - ok - easier to defeat.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:39:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the good robots and the bad robots would duke it out while the citizens of the world continue their lives uninterrupted (except for taxes to pay for the robots).
by asdf on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:24:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Just pop a tac-Nuke at 80,000 feet and fry their electronics.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:42:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Well, the second photo shows the German Mucke UAV which is designed for electronic warfare : ECM technics to counter 'enemy' UAV's.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:34:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The coming UAV wars are not the most interesting, it's just the same old boring warfare we have known all along.

What is really interesting, and really makes for an exciting future is the Do It Yourself cruise missile. I wonder if they built up the West Bank fence high enough :

by balbuz on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 03:10:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the type of stuff is what I used to do all the live long day (doo-dah, doo-dah.)

Trying to process real-time information in a Complex Fitness Landscape using Frames or Scripts produces frustration, error, and not much else.  Modern software heuristics and paradigms deal with sets really, really well but are really, really lousy at anything that isn't in a set or cannot be reduced into a set.  The, odd but prevalent, notion anything that can be put into a collection or a group is - automatically - a Set doesn't help.  

Dr. Brachman the head of the IPTO at DARPA confessed as much several years ago when he flat-out stated computers do not know what they are doing and, on the current technological development trajectory, will never know what they are doing.  In order to stop funding the 'same old thing' Dr. Brachman started a series of BAAs (project requests) at DARPA IPTO where, in fact, they successfully funded the same old thing -- IN A SHINY NEW WRAPPER! -- which, of couse will make all the difference. <snark>

I keep close tabs on research in this area.  There has been nothing published that would lead me to believe the Swedes, French, Italians, & etc are any different.  (Direct experience, albeit 20 years ago, with British, German, and Swiss software companies are even more transfixed by Set Theory then here in the US.)  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, of course.  But if there had been a breakthrough I would have seen evidence of it in other areas of - let's call it - qualitative information processing.  And, again, there is no evidence for that, either.

So, as a paid whore - uh - 'professional' with decades of expertise and experience -- don't worry about Robot Fighting Vehicles anytime in the near future.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun May 14th, 2006 at 04:30:28 PM EST
The Neuron is designed as a test platform for new technics. The Neuron will never be an operational plane.
Indeed very interesting what new stuff will be developed.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 03:58:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting, in some dark sense?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 04:37:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, dark .... it's all about control, search and kill...
but also waste of (tax)money and resources and scientific research.  Saab, one of the partners in the project has 120 (no typo) engineers in France working on it.
Furthermore, some research for the project is done by university's (education-money).
In the weekend I met a Prof from the university of Leuven, department Telecom-research. I asked him if he knew about the Neuron: his answer : you are not supposed to know about.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon May 15th, 2006 at 04:47:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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