US manufactures of military equipment will soon be facing additional competition as Japan’s big guns prepare to rejoin global arms industry.
The huge engineering and technological might of Japan may be poised for a new lease of life as the country prepares to ditch a self-imposed ban on arms exports that was introduced in the mid-1970s.
The controversial decision, which is likely to encounter bitter opposition from the country’s mainly pacifist middle classes, could deliver significant economic benefits to Japan and lead to a realignment in the global defence industry.
A ruling party MP said that the greatest significance would be the conversion of Japan’s robotics industry from civilian to military use as the world’s defence spending is directed to remote-control hardware, such as drone aircraft.
Lifting or toning-down the 33-year old embargo would unleash some of the world’s most advanced heavy engineering companies into the international weapons market, one of the few areas of manufacturing where Japan’s immense technical resources have, for purely political reasons, not produced a dominant global player.
The expected move, which government insiders said may be announced by Taro Aso, the Prime Minister, before the summer, is likely to begin by relaxing the ban to allow Japanese companies to work on joint projects with American and European defence manufacturers, whose products could then be sold internationally.
Joint production and the scope to profit from a share of international sales could draw more Japanese companies into the defence industry and, the Government hopes, bring procurement costs down. Yet as the ban loosens further, government defence insiders say that Japan could be propelled into the top ranks of arms manufacturers.
Mr Aso’s Government, meanwhile, is struggling to reverse an unprecedented shrinkage of the economy while the strong yen has made Japanese goods even less price-competitive against South Korean and Chinese products. Defence analysts have long maintained that Japanese industry, once freed from its ban, could quickly rival British, American and European players. Japan’s prowess in miniaturised motors, robotics and control systems would be especially competitive.
Drone Operators Ask For ‘Open Systems’
National Defense Magazine is reporting Drone Operators Ask Industry For ‘Open’ Systems.
The ground-based equipment that is used to fly unmanned combat aircraft is not adequate to handle the demanding missions of current conflicts, operators say.
Of most concern is the design and configuration of the control stations where pilots fly surveillance drones over combat zones thousands of miles away. Operators have said that the workstation displays do not provide sufficient views of their surroundings, and that the aircraft-control system does not allow them to fly more than one aircraft at a time.
Companies are reacting to these complaints with redesigned control stations that place operators in a cockpit-like environment. The new systems also are attempting to improve interoperability by conforming to open standards that facilitate communications with different types of aircraft. While progress is being made, there are still some hurdles.
In an effort to encourage less “stove-piping,” Congress has mandated that all unmanned aircraft weighing more than 45 pounds must transition to a tactical common datalink that will enable them to interoperate with various ground technologies.
AAI Corp., which manufacturers the Shadow and Hunter unmanned systems, modified its ground control station software to comply with a NATO standard agreement for interoperability between drones that is known as STANAG 4586.
The common user interface is analogous to Windows in the computer industry, he says. The aircraft specific software is similar to a printer driver that communicates with a certain type of printer. If the printer runs out of ink, its driver puts a message indicator on the screen. The same holds true for an unmanned system communicating through the ground control station via a vehicle-specific module.
The station recently completed several takeoff and landing tests of the Sky Warrior, the Army’s newest drone that is based on the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Predator. That accomplishment demonstrates that the ground station can control an aircraft made by another manufacturer, Bachman says.
Raytheon Corp. also has modified its ground control stations. The company’s “common ground control system” was built with commercial computers and visual systems laid out in a cockpit-like configuration. Three wide-screen displays give pilots and sensor operators a 120-degree view of the battlefield. The company recently made an unsolicited bid to the Air Force.
General Atomics and Raytheon officials say that their ground control technologies also are STANAG 4586-compliant and can operate multiple aircraft.
The Air Force is rushing to train analysts to pore over UAV feeds and create so-called “actionable intelligence” that commanders can use to locate fleeting targets.
Some military organizations increasingly are relying on automated “sensor fusion” software to create intelligence products.
Not only are there more unmanned systems in the air but they also are being outfitted with larger sensors, which means that operators are “inundated by pixels,” says John Bradburn, senior business development director at Sarnoff Corp. Mission commanders have limited personnel at ground stations to analyze data, which is increasing the demand for automated tools, he says. Sarnoff developed a three-dimensional visualization technology called TerraSight that takes full-motion video from drones and combines it with blue-force tracking data and other metadata to create a digital map of the battlefield where commanders can easily pinpoint the location of targets.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Trailer 3 – TV Series
AAI Corporation, General Atomics, and Raytheon are soon going to have competition for their drones.
Yoda: “Begun these clone wars have.”
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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