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China unveils stealth combat drone in development

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A Chinese state-owned company says it is developing a stealth combat drone in the latest sign of the country’s growing aerospace prowess.

The CH-7 unmanned aerial vehicle also underscores China’s growing competitiveness in the expanding global market for drones. China has won sales in the Middle East and elsewhere by offering drones at lower prices and without the political conditions attached by the U.S.

The CH-7’s chief designer Shi Wen says the aircraft can “fly long hours, scout and strike the target when necessary.”

“Very soon, I believe, in the next one to two years, (we) can see the CH-7 flying in the blue skies, gradually being a practical and usable product in the future,” Shi told The Associated Press.

Shi said manufacturer Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation plans to test fly the drone next year and begin mass production by 2022. He said the drone will likely be sold abroad but had no information on potential clients.

A model of the aircraft is being displayed at this week’s Zhuhai air show in southern China, a biannual event that showcases China’s latest advancements in military and civilian aviation.

With a wingspan of 22 metres (72 feet) and a length of 10 metres (33 feet), the swept-wing CH-7 is the size of a combat aircraft and its single engine can propel it at roughly the speed of a commercial jet airliner.

With a wingspan of 22 metres (72 feet) and a length of 10 metres (33 feet), the swept-wing CH-7 is the size of a combat aircraft and its single engine can propel it at roughly the speed of a commercial jet airliner. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

The U.S., Russia and France are also developing stealth drones, while Israel has long been a leader in the UAV field.

However, low prices and a willingness to transfer technology have endowed China with a “strong position,” in the UAV market, said Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the Teal Group Corp. in Fairfax, Virginia.

Unique export

The U.S. has been extremely cautious about selling its higher-end unmanned system, even to NATO member states, opening up an opportunity to China in the export market, said Justin Bronk, an export on such technologies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.

“It would represent an area of Chinese arms export offerings which no other country offers,” Bronk said.

Alongside its development of stealth fighters and commercial passenger jets, China has advanced rapidly in the development of UAVs, which have a relatively lower technological entry cost. Sales have also been boosted by the fact that China is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime that restricts exports of missiles and other unmanned weapons systems.

The numbers of drone programs unveiled in China in recent years has been “dizzying,” said Sam Roggeveen, director of the international security program at Australia’s Lowy Institute.

This Dec. 1, 2012 photo provided Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 by Dassault Aviation shows the pan-European stealth combat drone demonstrator Neuron taking off during its first flight in Istres, southern France. The U.S., Russia and France are all developing stealth drones, while Israel has long been a leader in the UAV field. (Remy Michelin/Dassault Aviation/Associated Press)

While the CH-7’s ultimate effectiveness remains to be determined, if exported, it would “mark another step-change for China, which has traditionally not offered its cutting-edge technology to foreign customers,” Roggeveen said.

Across the Middle East, countries locked out of purchasing U.S.-made drones due to rules over excessive civilian casualties are being wooed by Chinese arms dealers, now the world’s main distributor of armed drones.

The sales are helping expand Chinese influence across a region crucial to American security interests and bolstering Beijing’s ambitions to lead in high-tech arms sales.

While the U.S. still holds a technology advantage, China wins on price. The fact it is willing to sell the CH-7 abroad could indicate the technology is less than cutting edge, given China’s desire to guard its technological edge in such areas, said Ron Huisken, a regional security expert at Australian National University.

China’s exports also underscore the growing pervasiveness of drones in modern warfare, even without strong international agreements on where and how they can be used.

“One wonders what nasty surprises are in store as countries more casual about how they use drones and less strict about training standards get their hands on them,” said Huisken.

Two J-20 stealth fighter jets of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force performs during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Zhuhai city, south China’s Guangdong province. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Also appearing again at this year’s Zhuhai show was China’s homebuilt J-20 stealth fighter, which outwardly resembles the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor in service with the U.S. military.

It was joined by the Chinese J-10B fighter with vectoring thrust, featuring an engine equipped with a hinged nozzle. Vectoring thrust technology allows planes to direct their propulsion, giving it more flexibility in maneuvering, and the substation of Chinese-made WS-10 engines for those imported from Russia appears to mark a new milestone for the domestic defense industry.

The jet fighters on display thrilled spectators. For many, the performances demonstrated China’s burgeoning aerospace industry and growing confidence in its technology.

“I think it is pretty awesome,” said Xie Dongni, a marketer for an information technology company.

“I might not a plane specialist, but I can feel the way China is changing. It is getting stronger slowly, its international status is growing higher and higher.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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