All posts by Dmitry Shulgin

Next generation MICA

The French Defence Procurement Agency DGA (Direction Générale de l’Armement) has awarded MBDA the contract for the MICA NG (Missile d’Interception et de Combat Aérien Nouvelle Génération) programme to develop the next generation of the MICA missile. With deliveries scheduled to begin in 2026, MICA NG will be available to arm the current and future versions of the Rafale combat aircraft.

MBDA to develop the next generation of the MICA missile
MBDA to develop the next generation of the MICA missile

MICA NG is intended as the replacement for the MICA missiles currently in operational service with the French armed forces and exported to 14 countries worldwide. The NG programme includes an extensive redesign of the current MICA family while keeping the same aerodynamics, mass and centre of gravity. This is done to minimise the amount of adaptation required to operate the new system with existing platforms and launchers. The unique concept that has ensured the ongoing success of MICA for two decades remains: the option of two different seekers (infrared and radio frequency) and two launch modes (rail and ejection) in a single missile casing.

The technological step changes introduced with this change of generation will provide the capability to counter future threats. This includes targets with reduced infrared and electromagnetic signatures, atypical targets (UAVs and small aircraft), as well as the threats normally countered by air-to-air missiles (combat aircraft and helicopters).

More specifically, the infrared seeker will use a matrix sensor providing greater sensitivity. Meanwhile the radio frequency seeker will use an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Antenna), enabling smart detection strategies. The reduced volume of electronic components within MICA NG will allow it to carry a larger quantity of propellant, thereby significantly extending the range of the missile. Utilising a new double-pulse rocket motor will also provide additional energy to the missile at the end of its flight to improve manoeuvrability and the ability to intercept targets at long range. Lastly, the addition of internal sensors will allow the monitoring of the status of the weapon throughout its life (including during storage and transport), contributing to significantly reduced maintenance requirements and cost of ownership.

MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier said at the programme launch: «We are proud of the work completed with the DGA to achieve maximum technical and financial optimisation. The fact that we have reached this stage is thanks to the vision that we were able to share with our French customer to address its operational challenges, as well as our own long-term commercial challenges. The upgrading of the MICA family will enable us to support the armed forces throughout the remaining operational life of the Rafale».

 

About the MICA missile

MICA entered service in 1997, and was designed to replace the short-term MAGIC 2 missile and the medium-range Super 530 D missile with a single weapon system equipped with two interchangeable seekers: one being radio frequency and the other infrared. Approximately 5,000 MICA missiles in various versions have been ordered by 22 armed forces around the world.

SLBM Facility

Navy leaders and local officials cut the ribbon for a new facility considered vital to the nation’s Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) Program, here, November 1.

The Navy's new Missile Support Facility was formally dedicated at a ribbon cutting ceremony held at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), November 1. The facility features state-of-the-art labs, offices, and equipment for more than 300 NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department scientists, engineers, and technical experts who develop, test, and maintain the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile fire control and mission planning software (U.S. Navy illustration/Released)
The Navy’s new Missile Support Facility was formally dedicated at a ribbon cutting ceremony held at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), November 1. The facility features state-of-the-art labs, offices, and equipment for more than 300 NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department scientists, engineers, and technical experts who develop, test, and maintain the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile fire control and mission planning software (U.S. Navy illustration/Released)

Three guest speakers – Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe, U.S. Representative Rob Wittman, and Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone – described the Missile Support Facility as crucial to the top-priority SLBM program responsible for the bulk of the nation’s nuclear deterrent capability.

«This is quite an honor and privilege the United States Navy bestowed on us with all their priorities and we’re very grateful», said John Fiore, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) technical director, in his welcoming remarks to several hundred government, contractor, and military personnel – mostly SLBM employees in the process of transitioning into the new facility as well as their retired counterparts, including pioneers who were key in establishing the program at Dahlgren.

SLBM systems have provided a reliable, secure strategic deterrent for the nation since 1960.

«From the beginning, the U.S. Navy looked to Dahlgren for solutions», Fiore told the audience while recounting the command’s role in the first launch of a Polaris missile from a submarine – the USS George Washington (SSBN-598) – that accurately struck its target 1,100 miles/1,770 km down range 58 years ago. «As a testament to the high quality of work performed at Dahlgren, the commander of the USS George Washington relayed to President Eisenhower the success of the first submarine launched ballistic missile: ‘Polaris – from the deep to target – perfect’».

Over the years, the Polaris Ballistic Missile Program evolved to the Poseidon Program and then to the Trident Program, each with more stringent requirements.

The facility features state-of-the-art labs, offices, and equipment for more than 300 NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department scientists, engineers, and technical experts who develop, test, and maintain critical portions for current and future missile systems.

«The men and women of NSWC Dahlgren have stood with us side by side for 60 plus years and will continue to stand with us side by side for the next 66 years», said Wolfe – director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs – in reference to the USS Columbia (SSBN-826) class strategic nuclear submarine program the U.S. Navy anticipates will be in effect until 2084.

The first of 12 Columbia nuclear submarines – designed to replace the Trident missile-armed Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines – is scheduled to begin construction in 2021.

The U.S. Navy has identified the Columbia-class program as its top priority program. Currently, NSWCDD is in the research and development phase of the program. The future submarine is being designed to have a longer service life, better operational availability, and better survivability than its predecessors.

Columbia will serve as a sea-based strategic deterrence while rehosting the Trident II D5(LE) missile system, providing the most survivable leg of the nation’s nuclear triad.

The nuclear triad comprises platforms and weapons that serve as the backbone of U.S. national security. The triad – Ohio-class nuclear submarines, strategic bombers, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles – provides the nation with significant deterrent and decisive response capabilities.

«As we’ve gone through Polaris, Poseidon, Trident I, Trident II, and whatever comes after Trident II, we are going to continue to rely on this unique critical skill that you have in this program», said Wolfe. «We know that we can always count on you to deliver».

Dahlgren’s SLBM experts will be able to collaborate more frequently and effectively as they deliver technologies that foster rapid development of SLBM capabilities in addition to the incorporation of new capabilities in existing software.

«The building is really the opportunity and the tool that’s needed for each and every one of you to do the spectacular job that you do», said Wittman, chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. «We are in an amazing turning of the page in the chapter of our strategic defense in this nation. Our triad is the most resilient and foundational element of what we do to protect this nation and I would argue that our SLBM is the most critical part of that triad».

With almost unlimited cruising range, the triad’s SLBM nuclear submarines are capable of extended submerged operations in the international waters of the world. The Navy’s Fleet Ballistic Missile system provides the U.S. with a powerful deterrent against a global war.

«Today’s ribbon cutting expands our capacity to sustain our weapons system into the future, keeping the U.S. Navy on the cutting edge of weapons systems technology», said Jeff Kunkler, deputy program director for SLBM at Dahlgren in his remarks as master of ceremonies, pointing out the command’s work on the Columbia-class submarine. «We are beginning the planning for a life extension program for the Trident missile. We are also implementing several significant initiatives resulting from the recent Nuclear Posture Review, as we continue to sustain and support the current Fleet».

The Nuclear Posture Review is a legislative-mandated review undertaken by the Department of Defense that outlines U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and force posture for the next five to 10 years.

Kunkler recollected the changes he has seen over 37 years at the previous SLBM building, once the most coveted place to work where the satellite and global positioning system programs as well as the command’s computer support division were located.

«We had a Polaris fire control system, a Poseidon fire control system, and, at that time, a brand-new formidable Trident I system», said Kunkler about the capabilities when he started his career in 1981. «We hosted two of the most powerful and modern mainframe computers in the Navy at the time. These computers were used to perform the extensive computations required to calculate the SLBM and satellite trajectories. Each computer occupied several cabinets in large rooms. The only method of human interface was operators feeding in punched cards».

Representing the future at the ceremony were two groups of students – eight Spotsylvania Post Oak Middle School students and 11 King George High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) cadets.

«I think it’s wonderful to see their participation», said Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone. «We should all enjoy seeing the young people and inspire these young men and women to enter into the defense industry».

After the ceremony, the JROTC cadets along with the Post Oak Middle School students and three of their teachers joined guests and NSWCDD personnel who toured the new facility.

«You take time out of your schedules when you get off work to go out and engage our local students and get them interested in the jobs that you are doing», said Ransone in her speech, regarding NSWCDD scientists and engineers who mentor Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in the schools and during the command’s annual STEM summer academy. «The goal is to inspire our youth through robotics, mathematics and the Sea Perch programs, and many times, those students end up competing nationally. Your hope is to inspire them to become innovative scientists and engineers but also to introduce them to the range of work here at Dahlgren so we’re protecting their future».

Certainly, SLBM technological innovation and support is among the range of work available to current and future employees who will continue developing the next generation of submarines under the Columbia Program.

«We envision that this facility will empower our teams with the ability to collaborate real-time, face-to-face, to arrive at mutual understanding of complex strategic products in support of the warfighter», said project lead Kathryn Dawson. «This human interaction, this exchange of diverse ideas, this unleashing of human energy, is vital to the future success of our program».

A test launch

The U.S. Air Force has conducted a test launch of unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 Pacific Standard Time November 6, 2018, at Vandenberg AFB
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 11:01 Pacific Standard Time November 6, 2018, at Vandenberg AFB

The Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) says in a statement the missile was launched at 11:01 p.m. Tuesday November 6, 2018, to determine the accuracy and reliability of the system and such tests «are not related to any real-world events».

The command says the missile’s re-entry vehicle reached its intended target but details about the test can’t be released.

The Air Force tests Minuteman missiles by launching them from California to a target in the Pacific Ocean.

In July, a missile was intentionally destroyed over the Pacific due to an unspecified in-flight anomaly.

The Air Force Global Strike Command is located at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

 

General characteristics

Primary function Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
Contractor Boeing Co.
Power plant Three solid-propellant rocket motors: first stage ATK refurbished M55A1; second stage ATK refurbished SR-19; third stage ATK refurbished SR-73
Technologies chemical systems division thrust first stage: 203,158 pounds/92,151 kg; second stage: 60,793 pounds/27,575 kg; third stage: 35,086 pounds/15,915 kg
Weight 79,432 pounds/36,030 kg
Diameter 5.5 feet/1.67 m
Range 5,218 NM/6,005 miles/9,664 km
Speed approximately Mach 23/15,000 mph/24,000 km/h at burnout
Ceiling 700 miles/1,120 km
Date deployed June 1970, production cessation: December 1978
Inventory 450

 

Unmanned Aerostat

Lockheed Martin completed the successful integration of a Telephonics RDR-1700B radar onto a 74K aerostat for land and sea missions. This latest milestone follows Lockheed Martin’s successful integration of various payloads including radar sensors from Telephonics, Leonardo and Northrop Grumman as well as electro-optic/infra-red cameras from L-3 Wescam.

The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System provides multi-mission, multi-domain persistent surveillance capability from maritime domain awareness to border and infrastructure protection
The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System provides multi-mission, multi-domain persistent surveillance capability from maritime domain awareness to border and infrastructure protection

«The integration of the Telephonics radar showcases our continued commitment to exploring the latest technologies as part of our aerostat systems», said Jerry Mamrol, vice president of Navigation, Surveillance and Unmanned Systems for Lockheed Martin. «It allows for multi-domain, modular and open architecture capabilities for faster, more cost-effective development efforts».

The Lockheed Martin 74K Aerostat System, with integrated multi-mission payloads and high operational availability, has supported the warfighter in many harsh and challenging environments. The 74K aerostat system leverages a wide-area, secure communications backbone for the integration of threat reporting from multiple available sensor assets. With more than 1.6 million combat mission flight hours, the robust design, communications relay and C4 integration on the 74K aerostat supports automated interoperability between tactical and theater surveillance assets and dissemination of operational threat data to aid interdiction of hostile fires and unconventional threats.

Lockheed Martin has specialized in lighter-than-air technology for over 95 years, delivering persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and national agencies.

Patrol Ships

As part of Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy, the Government of Canada is acquiring the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) to bolster the Royal Canadian Navy’s capabilities while equipping its women and men with versatile and reliable vessels to complete their vital missions.

The Royal Canadian Navy to receive a sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship
The Royal Canadian Navy to receive a sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship

On November 2, 2018, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence announced that the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will receive a sixth patrol ship, which will help sustain hundreds of highly-skilled middle class jobs at Irving shipyards.

The Royal Canadian Navy needs a diversified fleet to respond to the challenges it faces today and will face well into the future. The AOPS will patrol Canada’s oceans, including the Arctic, and are perfectly suited for missions abroad to support international partners, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, search and rescue, and drug interdiction.

A sixth patrol ship will greatly increase the capacity of the Royal Canadian Navy to deploy AOPS simultaneously, at home or abroad. Additionally, a fleet of six AOPS will allow our frigates to focus on further tasks, allowing the RCN to use its fleet more effectively.

The Government of Canada is also committed to providing the best economic opportunities for Canadians. Through the National Shipbuilding Strategy, the Government of Canada is providing the Royal Canadian Navy with safe and effective vessels to carry out their missions, while providing meaningful economic opportunities for Canadians.

 

Quick facts

The decision for a sixth ship was made possible after ensuring adequate funding for the acquisition of the ship, as well as the modified production schedule.

The Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships will significantly enhance the Canadian Armed Forces’ capabilities and presence in the Arctic, as well as augment their presence on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, better enabling the Royal Canadian Navy to safeguard Canadian Arctic sovereignty.

The AOPS are highly versatile platforms that can be used on a variety of missions at home and abroad, such as coastal surveillance, search and rescue, drug interdiction, support to international partners, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief.

Three ships are in full production and steel cutting for the fourth ship is planned for this winter.

The first AOPS is now in the water and is expected to be delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy in summer 2019.

Mobile Encryptor

General Dynamics Mission Systems has announced the expansion of its Tactical Local Area Network Encryption (TACLANE) portfolio, the world’s most widely deployed family of Type 1 encryptors, with the new, small form-factor mobile encryptor, the TACLANE-Nano (KG-175N). The new encryptor was shown operating this year, passing live traffic including real-time streaming video with other TACLANE (High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor) HAIPE encryptors. It was also integrated into several market leading deployable systems and flyaway communication kits used by government in support of mobile missions today.

TACLANE-Nano encryptor provides end-to-end HAIPE encryption in the smallest, lightest and most power-efficient form factor for classified communications at the tactical edge
TACLANE-Nano encryptor provides end-to-end HAIPE encryption in the smallest, lightest and most power-efficient form factor for classified communications at the tactical edge

TACLANE-Nano has gone from an initial concept introduced at the General Dynamics-sponsored, Dynamics Connections 2017, to a working beta product in less than a year, highlighting the rapid pace of development and achievement in bringing a new, compact Type 1 encryptor for mobile users.

Equipped with the latest in crypto modernization technology and designed to protect information classified up to Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI), the TACLANE-Nano has been ruggedized to withstand the rigors of any environment. It is ideal for mobile communications, integration into flyaway kits and deployable systems, dismounted tactical forward deployment, unmanned/manned Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations, covert and special operations.

«The addition of TACLANE-Nano to the TACLANE portfolio demonstrates how General Dynamics delivered a truly innovative solution that is adaptable to customer needs», said Michael Tweed-Kent, vice president and general manager of the Cyber and Electronic Warfare Systems line of business at General Dynamics Mission Systems. «We know our customers depend on TACLANE, and with this latest introduction, we continue to instill confidence in their digital world. Its size, features and performance mean the TACLANE-Nano can be deployed in a range of environments, spanning from an unmanned system, to a warfighter on the frontline, ensuring the secure encryption of highly-classified communications and information sharing that is so critical to the mission».

TACLANE-Nano is Size, Weight, Power and Cost (SWaP-C) optimized, with unmatched performance for a small form-factor, Inline Network Encryptor (INE). It supports the bandwidth needed to process voice, video and data applications, including real-time video and data analytics. The new encryptor supports crypto modernization efforts such as legacy and link encryptor replacement, Advanced Cryptographic Capabilities (ACC) and Over The Network Keying (OTNK). Other features include support for software features such as Agile VLAN and Agile TCP Performance Enhancing Proxy (PEP) for improved networking efficiency and performance, as well as remote management and configuration via the GEMÔ One encryptor manager. The TACLANE-Nano is expected to be submitted to NSA for certification in the fourth-quarter of 2018.

 

Key Features

  • Designed to protect information classified TS/SCI and Below
  • Simultaneous HAIPE v4.2.5 and (Internet Protocol Security [IPsec] Minimum Essential Interoperability Requirements) IPMEIR 1.0 compliant
  • Simultaneous Suite A/B without user intervention
  • 50 Mb/s Throughput (100 Mb/s Aggregate) Greater throughput achievable dependent upon traffic mix
  • Small size (1.2”H × 3.5”W × 2.25”D)
  • Low power (5 Watts typical)
  • Hot swappable/redundant power from USB or Power over Ethernet (POE)
  • Embedded Agile TCP Performance Enhancing Proxy (PEP) for disadvantaged networks
  • Supports Agile VLAN feature for Layer 2/Layer 3 agility and advanced networking
  • Safe keying features including Classified/Unclassified Device Generated Shared Key (DGSK) and Exclusion Keys (EKs)
  • ACC and Key Management Infrastructure Over The Network Keying (KMI OTNK) compliant
  • IPv4/6 Dual Stack
  • MIL-STD-810G ruggedized/MIL-STD-461F EMI compliant
  • Supported by GEM One Remote Encryptor Manager

Multirole Frigate

According to the post Kosuke Takahashi, correspondent of the magazine IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced on 1 November that it has been awarded a contract by the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) to build the first two of four ships of a new class of multirole frigate for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).

MHI has been awarded a contract by the Japanese MoD to build the first two of four ships of a new class of multirole frigate (seen here in computer-generated imagery) for the JMSDF (Source: MHI)
MHI has been awarded a contract by the Japanese MoD to build the first two of four ships of a new class of multirole frigate (seen here in computer-generated imagery) for the JMSDF (Source: MHI)

Although MHI did not disclose the value of the contract, the MoD had earmarked JPY92.2 billion (USD816 million) in its budget for fiscal year 2018 for the construction of the two 426-foot/130-meter-long, 42.6-foot/13-meter-wide frigates, which are expected to be handed over to the JMSDF in March 2022.

In August the MoD requested JPY99.5 billion from Tokyo for the construction of the two remaining vessels, with delivery expected to take place in March 2023. However, the contract for these two ships has yet to be awarded.

MHI’s frigate design and proposal were selected over those submitted by Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding (MES) and Japan Marine United. MES, however, was chosen to be the subcontractor.

Construction of the first 3,900 tonne ship will take place at MHI’s Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagasaki Prefecture, while the second one will be built at MES’s Tamano Shipyard in Okayama Prefecture. The arrangement marks the first time that MHI will build a ship as the lead contractor.

According to the MoD, this new frigate class, which is intended to carry out surveillance missions in waters surrounding the Japanese archipelago, will be equipped with enhanced multirole capabilities, including the ability to conduct anti-mine warfare operations, which until now have been performed by the JMSDF’s ocean-going minesweepers.

Armament on the frigates, each of which will be capable of embarking one helicopter as well as unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, is expected to include the navalised version of the Type-03 (also known as the «Chū-SAM Kai») medium-range surface-to-air missile, a 5-inch (127-mm)/62-calibre gun, a Vertical Launch System (VLS), canister-launched anti-ship missiles, and a SeaRAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) close-in weapon system.

Swiss army knife

The U.S. Army awarded Raytheon Company a $191 million contract for Ku-band radio frequency radars. KuRFS, an advanced electronically scanned array system, fills an immediate U.S. Army operational need for a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle radar.

Raytheon's KuRFS radar is a multi-mission radar providing detection of rocket, artillery, mortar and UAS threats by providing a critical sense and warn capability
Raytheon’s KuRFS radar is a multi-mission radar providing detection of rocket, artillery, mortar and UAS threats by providing a critical sense and warn capability

Already deployed, KuRFS delivers precision fire control as well as «sense and warn» capability for multiple missions including detection of rocket, artillery, mortar and swarming Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) threats.

«Seeing threats – like swarming drones – as soon as possible on the battlefield is essential to protecting critical assets and saving soldiers’ lives», said Andrew Hajek, senior director of tactical radars at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. «KuRFS makes this possible by delivering a unique combination 360-degree situational awareness, precision and mobility».

KuRFS enables defense against multiple threat types through integration with the Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System (LPWS), .50-caliber/12.7-mm guns and 30-mm cannons. The radar also supports high-energy laser and the Coyote weapon system in both a ground mounted or vehicle mounted configuration.

Raytheon’ KuRFS is able to quickly address the urgent needs of the Army through a model of rapid-turn development and deployment. This reduces time to fielding, while providing enhanced flexibility to adapt to a quickly-changing threat environment in the drone space.

Defense Laser

The Missile Defense Agency awarded Lockheed Martin a nine-month, $25.5 million contract extension to continue development of its Low Power Laser Demonstrator (LPLD) missile interceptor concept. This program, awarded August 31, builds on a 2017 contract to develop an initial LPLD concept.

Lockheed Martin’s Missile Defense Laser Concept Continues Toward Development
Lockheed Martin’s Missile Defense Laser Concept Continues Toward Development

Lockheed Martin’s LPLD concept consists of a fiber laser system on a high-performing, high-altitude airborne platform. LPLD is designed to engage missiles during their boost phase – the short window after launch – which is the ideal time to destroy the threat, before it can deploy multiple warheads and decoys.

Over the course of this contract, Lockheed Martin will mature its LPLD concept to a tailored critical design review phase, which will bring the design to a level that can support full-scale fabrication.

«We have made great progress on our LPLD design, and in this stage, we are particularly focused on maturing our technology for beam control – the ability to keep the laser beam stable and focused at operationally relevant ranges», said Sarah Reeves, vice president for Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin Space. «LPLD is one of many breakthrough capabilities the Missile Defense Agency is pursuing to stay ahead of rapidly-evolving threats, and we’re committed to bringing together Lockheed Martin’s full expertise in directed energy for this important program».

Lockheed Martin expands on advanced technology through its laser device, beam control capabilities, and platform integration – ranging from internal research and development investments in systems like the Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) to programs such as the Laser Advancements for Next-generation Compact Environments (LANCE) for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Continued LPLD development will take place at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California campus through July 2019.

As a proven world leader in systems integration and development of air and missile defense systems and technologies, Lockheed Martin delivers high-quality missile defense solutions that protect citizens, critical assets and deployed forces from current and future threats. The company’s experience spans directed energy systems development, missile design and production, hit-to-kill capabilities, infrared seekers, command and control/battle management, and communications, precision pointing and tracking optics, radar and signal processing, as well as threat-representative targets for missile defense tests.

First-Of-Its-Kind

U.S. Army pilots exercised supervised autonomy to direct an Optionally-Piloted Helicopter (OPV) through a series of missions to demonstrate technology developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The series of flights marked the first time that non-Sikorsky pilots operated the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter, as an OPV aircraft.

U.S. Army Pilots Fly Autonomous Sikorsky Helicopter in First-Of-Its-Kind Demonstration
U.S. Army Pilots Fly Autonomous Sikorsky Helicopter in First-Of-Its-Kind Demonstration

«Future vertical lift aircraft will require robust autonomous and optimally-piloted systems to complete missions and improve safety», said Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations. «We could not be more thrilled to welcome Army aviators to the cockpit to experience first-hand the reliability of optimally-piloted technology developed by the innovative engineers at Sikorsky and DARPA. These aviators experienced the same technology that we are installing and testing on a Black Hawk that will take its first flight over the next several months».

SARA, which has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight, successfully demonstrated the advanced capabilities developed as part of the third phase of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. The aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground. Sikorsky’s MATRIX Technology autonomous software and hardware, which is installed on SARA, executed various scenarios including:

  • Automated Take Off and Landing: The helicopter autonomously executed take-off, traveled to its destination, and autonomously landed;
  • Obstacle Avoidance: The helicopter’s LIDAR and cameras enabled it to detect and avoid unknown objects such as wires, towers and moving vehicles;
  • Automatic Landing Zone Selection: The helicopter’s LIDAR sensors determined a safe landing zone;
  • Contour Flight: The helicopter flew low to the ground and behind trees.

The recent Mission Software Flight Demonstration was a collaboration with the U.S. Army’s Aviation Development Directorate, Sikorsky and DARPA. The Army and DARPA are working with Sikorsky to improve and expand ALIAS capabilities developed as a tailorable autonomy kit for installation in both fixed wing airplanes and helicopters.

Over the next few months, Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk equipped with ALIAS. The company is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify ALIAS/MATRIX technology so that it will be available on current and future commercial and military aircraft.

«We’re demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly», said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center. «We’re confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)».

Through the DARPA ALIAS program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy that will give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program will improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.