Category Archives: Air Force

Compass Call

BAE Systems has designed, tested, and delivered key components for the U.S. Air Force’s first EC-37B Compass Call aircraft. The delivery paves the way for developmental and operational flight testing of the Baseline 3 configuration of Compass Call in January 2023. Baseline 3 offers additional electronic warfare capabilities. Interim fielding is expected to follow the completion of testing by mid-2024.

EC-37B Compass Call
A milestone delivery for Compass Call

«Since the program’s inception, BAE Systems has consistently delivered advanced capabilities for Compass Call», said Jared Belinsky, director of Electronic Attack Solutions at BAE Systems. «This final hardware delivery for the first EC-37B Compass Call aircraft ensures an upgrade that will continue to outpace our adversaries».

Compass Call is being redesigned from the current EC-130H airframe model to the enhanced flight performance of a commercial business jet airframe known as the EC-37B. It is the Department of Defense’s only long range, full-spectrum stand-off electronic warfare jamming platform.

EC-37B Compass Call disrupts enemy command and control communications, radar, and navigation systems to restrict battlespace coordination. It suppresses air defenses by preventing the transmission of essential information between adversaries, their weapon systems, and control networks.

BAE Systems also recently successfully tested three third-party applications on Compass Call’s Small Adaptive Bank of Electronic Resource (SABER) technology. The hallmark of SABER is its open system architecture that enables the rapid integration of new technology through software updates instead of hardware reconfiguration. This allows for the rapid insertion of new capabilities to keep pace with emerging technologies.

Work on EC-37B Compass Call is being conducted at BAE Systems’ state-of-the-art facilities in Nashua, New Hampshire, Hudson, New Hampshire, and San Diego, California.

HSVTOL aircraft

Bell Textron Inc., a Textron Inc. company, announced on September 19, 2022 it has entered into a teaming agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), a global aerospace and national security company, for Bell’s High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) aircraft. As part of the collaboration, SNC will specifically support the design and development of mission systems for HSVTOL variants.

HSVTOL
Teaming agreement signed to add mission systems support for new Bell aircraft development

Bell’s HSVTOL vehicles blend the hover capability of a helicopter with the speed, range and survivability features of fighter aircraft, with low downwash hover capability and jet-like speeds of more than 400 kts/460 mph/741 km/h. This family of scalable aircraft concepts is designed to carry out USAF and USSOCOM missions across the full spectrum of conflict and political scenarios, including personnel recovery, contested logistics and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Strike.

«In an effort to advance technical maturity and deliver HSVTOL capability to warfighters sooner, Bell is assembling a team of industry-leading partners. We’re thrilled to have SNC onboard», said Jason Hurst, vice president, Innovation, Bell. «We’ve made significant progress in Bell’s HSVTOL technology development in 2022, and we look forward to showing this progress in the upcoming year».

«SNC is delighted to join the Bell’s HSVTOL development team, and we are already hard at work to deliver the visionary mission systems that Bell demands for their visionary aircraft», says Derek Hess, vice president, strategic program business development at SNC. «Our nation’s warfighters will benefit from this HSVTOL program’s ground-breaking operational capabilities».

Similar to Bell’s innovation development, SNC continues to leverage its mission systems expertise to explore dynamic new opportunities. SNC also supports Bell with additional mission systems expertise for the development of the Bell 360 Invictus for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competition.

Bell is currently executing its HSVTOL risk reduction effort and participating in the AFwerX HSVTOL Concept Challenge, a crowdsourcing effort for the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Bell is one of 11 companies from more than 200 challenge entrants selected to receive market research investments aimed at advancing HSVTOL technology.

Brazilian helicopters

The Brazilian armed forces, through the Combat Aircraft Programme Coordinating Committee (COPAC), have acquired 27 single engine H125 helicopters to boost the training capacity of the Brazilian Navy and the Air Force.

H125
The Brazilian armed forces acquire 27 H125 helicopters

The H125 will be produced in the H125 final assembly line located in Itajubá, Brazil at Helibras’ factory where the H225Ms for the Brazilian armed forces are also assembled. These new helicopters will replace the ageing AS350 and Bell 206 helicopters currently in service with the Brazilian Air Force and the Brazilian Navy respectively.

«This joint procurement contract represents the realisation of a project that will equip both the Brazilian Air Force and Navy with modern aircraft that will meet the needs of the Forces for the next 30 years», said Commander of the Air Force, Lieutenant Brigadier Carlos de Almeida Baptista Junior.

«Airbus Helicopters is proud to see the H125 supporting the training of the next generation of pilots of the Brazilian armed forces. The H125 is a versatile helicopter used widely in both the civil and military markets as a training platform thanks to its ruggedness, reliability, and easy maintenance. We are honored by the continued confidence of the Brazilian armed forces after more than 40 years of cooperation», said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters.

The new H125 helicopters will have a G500H TXi double glass cockpit and VEMD (Vehicle & Engine Multifunction Display) and will be compatible with the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG). They will also include different types of mission equipment such as a winch and a hook so that the training of future pilots is as representative of their missions as possible.

The Brazilian armed forces currently operate a total of 156 Airbus helicopters deployed from its eight bases across the country. Its fleet ranges from the light single engine Ecureuil family to the multi-purpose heavy H225M helicopter, 67 and 41 helicopters respectively, to cover a wide array of missions such as tactical transport, search and rescue missions, and civil population support.

The worldwide best-selling H125 has accumulated more than 37 million flight hours with more than 5350 helicopters currently in operation. The model, known for its robustness and versatility, is widely used in high-performance missions.

Infographic H125
Infographic: Airbus Helicopters and the Brazilian Armed Forces

First Australian Triton

Northrop Grumman Corporation on September 14, 2022 unveiled Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton autonomous aircraft during a ceremony at its High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) aircraft production site in California. The event, attended by Australian, U.S. government and defense officials, highlights the continued progress of the MQ-4C Triton program for both the Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Navy.

MQ-4C Triton
Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton on the runway in Palmdale, California (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

«Today marks a significant milestone for Australia and the MQ-4C Triton program», said Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems. «As we get ready for final system integration and flight test, we are one step closer to delivering this extraordinary maritime awareness capability to Australia».

Australia is a cooperative program partner in the Triton program and was critical in helping shape the requirements for the system. As partners, U.S. and Australian defense forces will be able to share data collected by their respective Tritons, a critical ability in one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

«Triton will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with an unprecedented capability to monitor and protect our maritime approaches», said Air Marshal Robert Chipman, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force. «Triton will work alongside the P-8A Poseidon and this unmanned aircraft system will allow us to cover significant areas, at longer ranges and has the ability to stay airborne longer than a traditional aircraft».

Northrop Grumman initiated the build of the first Australian Triton in October 2020 at its production facility in Moss Point, Mississippi, and met another major production milestone in December 2021 when the fuselage and one-piece wing were mated in Palmdale, California. The aircraft is scheduled for production completion in 2023 and delivery to Australia in 2024.

Northrop Grumman’s family of autonomous HALE systems perform critical wide-area Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (ISR&T) missions. Today, autonomous HALE systems operate across the globe, with greater than 24-hour endurance, collecting essential ISR&T data over land and sea to enable rapid, informed decision-making. In the future, these systems will connect the joint force, implementing advanced autonomy and artificial intelligence and machine learning while delivering indispensable capabilities with fewer people to provide information at the speed of relevance.

Manned-Unmanned Teaming

Boeing has digitally demonstrated a new open autonomy architecture for MQ-25 Stingray that will allow the U.S. Navy to increase mission effectiveness by integrating Manned-UnManned Teaming (MUM-T) capability at speed and scale.

MQ-25 Stingray
Boeing’s MUM-T demonstration included three different naval aircraft tasking four virtual, autonomous MQ-25s to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Here a simulated F/A-18 Super Hornet interacts with a simulated MQ-25 Stingray. The other aircraft tasking MQ-25s in the demo included Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command and control aircraft and Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft

The non-proprietary architecture, based on the government-owned Open Mission System specification, is the foundation for advanced MUM-T. A Boeing-led team virtually demonstrated how other aircraft can use MQ-25’s architecture and task it to conduct tanking and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions – all within the mission airspace and without traditional communications with the ship-based ground control station.

Boeing’s MUM-T demonstration included Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command and control aircraft, Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and Boeing’s F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet fighter jet. Using their existing operational flight program software and data links, the aircraft safely and efficiently tasked four virtual, autonomous MQ-25s to conduct ISR missions. The F/A-18 Super Hornet also used its advanced tactical data links and Boeing’s conceptual «Project Black Ice» crew vehicle interface, which significantly reduced aircrew workload.

«Large swaths of ocean could be surveilled, identified and targeted when MQ-25 Stingray is teamed with carrier-based assets such as the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye or the land-based P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft», said Don «BD» Gaddis, director, MQ-25 Stingray Advanced Design. «Through this demonstration, our customers saw how this digital, open approach to MUM-T is key to fielding critical warfighting capability at much lower cost and with greater speed and agility».

For example, the demonstration showed how both the P-8A Poseidon and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye could easily task an MQ-25 Stingray teammate with an ISR mission specifying only the search area and no-fly zones. Using an onboard autonomy framework developed by Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, the MQ-25 Stingray autonomously did the rest – including validating the command against its operational constraints, planning its route and conducting its search pattern, among many other tasks.

Aurora also created and demonstrated a prototype platform abstraction layer – a software boundary that decouples MQ-25’s flight safety and flight critical components from mission software and sensor hardware. This commercial best practice allows third-party «app» integration on MQ-25 Stingray. Using an Aurora-provided software development kit, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division created a new radar search application for MQ-25 Stingray that was successfully used during the demonstration.

«Aurora’s robust software development kit enables our Navy teammates to rapidly integrate new capabilities», said Graham Drozeski, vice president of Government Programs for Aurora Flight Sciences. «The platform abstraction demonstration met test objectives for resource sharing between multiple onboard systems and supervisors, and these efforts will greatly reduce government test and certification costs as new capabilities are added over time».

The demonstration was aligned to the future warfighting capabilities in the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework. Boeing will continue to refine the autonomy, sensors, interface exchanges and crew vehicle interfaces required for MUM-T.

New capability

Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force are continuing enhancements to the B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber fleet providing new capability, including its first long-range stealth missile.

B-2 Spirit
Northrop Grumman aircrew inspect the B-2 Spirit of Arizona before take-off in Palmdale, California

The B-2 Spirit successfully released a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) during a flight test in December. The JASSM-ER further enhances the B-2’s ability to hit any target, anywhere. The integration of JASSM-ER enables the delivery of a low observable asset capable of traveling greater distances than its predecessor.

JASSM-ER is one of three new advanced capabilities being introduced to the B-2 Spirit to further modernize the platform. The B-2 Spirit fleet, capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear ordnance, is also integrating crypto modernization and a Radar Aided Targeting System (RATS). The latest system advancements are part of Integrated Functional Capability (IFC) P6.4, which was certified last year by the Air Force. RATS will complete the latest phase of nuclear modernization of the B-2 Spirit.

«The unrivaled capabilities of the B-2 Spirit make it the only long range, penetrating stealth bomber currently in the U.S. arsenal», said Shaugnessy Reynolds, vice president and B-2 Spirit program manager, Northrop Grumman. «Committed to continued modernization of the B-2 Spirit, we’re leveraging our company’s innovation in digital engineering and its decades of leadership in designing and maintaining low observable platforms to keep the B-2 Spirit mission ready».

The integration of RATS allows the B-2 Spirit to fully employ the B-61 mod 12 nuclear bomb. RATS is the key element of the nuclear modernization, as GPS may not be available during a bomber task force mission.

Crypto modernization further improves the communications security of various high frequency transmissions. The B-2 Spirit may now securely utilize advanced communication devices in the future threat environment. Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman conducted a successful communications flight test with modern cryptology at its Oklahoma City Weapons System Support Center site.

The capabilities of this IFC continue to position the B-2 Spirit fleet as a key component of the Department of Defense’s nuclear triad. It is also part of Northrop Grumman’s ongoing modernization efforts leveraging 21st century technology incorporating digital engineering.

Grey Wolf

Boeing has delivered four MH-139A Grey Wolf test aircraft to the U.S. Air Force as the service prepares to replace its aging fleet of UH-1N helicopters.

MH-139A Grey Wolf
MH-139A Grey Wolf will protect intercontinental ballistic missiles and support four Major Air Force Commands and other operating agencies

The Grey Wolf is a multi-mission aircraft – based on the proven commercial AW139 helicopter – designed to protect intercontinental ballistic missiles and transport U.S. government officials and security forces. Boeing was awarded a $2.4 billion contract in September 2018 for 80 helicopters, training systems and associated support equipment.

«The Grey Wolf is a modern, versatile aircraft offering greater range, speed and endurance than the UH-1N Huey it replaces», said Mark Cherry, vice president and general manager of Boeing Vertical Lift. «I am proud of our team who, along with our partner Leonardo, helped us to achieve this milestone – a tremendous first step in a long line of Grey Wolf deliveries».

The delivery milestone follows receipt of the Federal Aviation Administration-issued supplemental type certificate, required to commence deliveries. With aircraft in hand, the Air Force will now proceed with Military Utility Testing as the program progresses toward Milestone C.

«We are thrilled that the first four MH-139As have been accepted by the U.S. Air Force», said Clyde Woltman, chief executive officer, Leonardo Helicopters U.S. «This aircraft is well-positioned to become an important asset in the defense and security of the United States».

Leonardo produces the helicopter at its plant in northeast Philadelphia, while Boeing is responsible for military equipment procurement ad installation, and post-delivery support of the aircraft.

Boeing has the most advanced military rotorcraft in the world, renowned for leading-edge solutions that deliver proven capabilities. With 60 years of expertise and a global fleet over 2,500 strong – comprising the AH-6 Little Bird, AH-64 Apache, V-22 Osprey and H-47 Chinook aircraft, and in-development entrants, including the MH-139A Grey Wolf and DEFIANT X – Boeing advances missions ranging from precision attack and reconnaissance to medium and heavy lift operations.

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures and services commercial airplanes, defense products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future, leading with sustainability, and cultivating a culture based on the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity.

Test Aircraft VISTA

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office has invested $15 million upgrading a decades-old workhorse to make it relevant for 21st century warfighter challenges.

X-62
Modified X-62 helps accelerate tactical autonomy development

AFRL’s Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation team is using a highly modified Air Force Test Pilot School NF-16, an aircraft recently designated the X-62, to accelerate the development of tactical autonomy for uncrewed aircraft.

Matthew Niemiec, the autonomous aircraft experiment portfolio lead, said the upgrades to the X-62, also known as the Variable In-flight Stability Test Aircraft, or VISTA, include software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other platforms. He said it also could host a variety of autonomy behaviors, including those from the Skyborg Autonomy Control System and others provided by third-party industry partners.

Skyborg is a Department of the Air Force Vanguard project that has informed the transition of open, modular autonomy to enable combat mass using low-cost uncrewed aircraft. These vehicles will be equipped with autonomy systems and will assist human-piloted aircraft perform critical missions.

Since March 2021, the Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation team executed 16 live test events focused on evaluating the Skyborg Autonomy Control System on the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie, UTAP-22 Mako and General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger uncrewed air vehicles.

«The data generated during these tests, along with feedback provided from our user community, show that in order to rapidly develop and mature tactical autonomy on an appropriate timeline, investment in, and utilization of, a mature, tactically relevant platform is required», Niemiec said.

The X-62 uses a «safety sandbox» that allows integration and flight of modeled air vehicles, control laws and autonomy capabilities. Unlike the uncrewed aerial vehicles such as the Valkyrie, Mako and Avenger, the X-62 has room for a crew of two, including a pilot who can supervise the autonomy control system’s performance, similar to the way the automotive industry tested autonomous driving features.

«Ground and flight testing on X-62 is one of several steps we are taking to build out critical information networks and physical storage infrastructure necessary to enable rapid autonomy development», Niemiec said. «The goal by fall 2022 is to have it flying alongside an uncrewed platform, with both using tactically-relevant sensors while flying autonomy behaviors. We’re also building out a robust simulation environment to capture operator feedback and integrate their inputs into our autonomy development process».

Two systems have been modified in the X-62. One is the VISTA simulation system, which allows the aircraft to mimic the flight characteristics of a different airplane. The other is the system for the autonomous control of the simulation, which enables different autonomous behaviors to fly the airplane.

«When you stitch those two capabilities together, you get a tactically relevant aircraft that enables rapid test of autonomy capabilities while also proving out the interface requirements necessary for different vehicle platforms», Niemiec said.

He said Skyborg and other advanced autonomy development efforts like DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Air Combat Evolution can leverage the X-62 as a surrogate for testing high-risk autonomous maneuvers, in parallel with uncrewed aircraft development efforts that are evaluating new high-risk vehicle model designs.

«Because we have a safety pilot, we can always turn it off, and improve our throughput for testing autonomy capability by 10 times», Niemiec said.

VISTA’s safety trip system also could automatically disengage the VISTA simulation system when the boundaries of its safety sandbox are violated, allowing larger and riskier steps to be taken with no impact on flight safety, he said.

Doctor M. Christopher Cotting, USAF Test Pilot School director of research, said VISTA is maintained and operated under a partnership with the Calspan Corporation and Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. The USAF Test Pilot School acts as VISTA’s prime integrator, manager and test organization.

«The USAF Test Pilot School has been the home of NF-16D VISTA since 2001», Cotting said. «It has been used to expose students to a wide range of aircraft dynamics, allowing students to experience first-hand both ‘good’ and ‘dangerous’ aircraft after they have been discussed and analyzed in the classroom».

VISTA has also been a risk mitigation platform for future USAF technologies.

«After a long track record of supporting the USAF Test Pilot School and the Air Force, the research systems on the aircraft were becoming dated and unsupportable», Cotting said.

As part of the transformation into the X-62 VISTA, Lockheed Martin Skunkworks designed the system for Autonomous Control of the Simulation, a new system for VISTA. This highly flexible computer architecture enables VISTA to test a wide range of autonomous systems.

Another integral part of the transformation was the new VISTA simulation system Calspan Corporation designed and installed. Lockheed Martin Skunkworks contributed the model following algorithm, an enhanced modeling framework capability to the simulation system. The improvements allow VISTA to support a wider range of aircraft simulation and multiple research control laws.

Cotting said the model following algorithm supports a modeling framework that can be openly distributed to researchers.

«Once researchers have integrated their simulation models, the new VISTA simulation system can take those models and easily implement them into the X-62», he said.

«Normally a new control system for an aircraft can take years to implement on an aircraft», Cotting said. «With VISTA, a new control system can be installed and flown in just a few months. Once installed, changes can be made overnight to modify the control system based on information learned during that day’s flight test».

The X-62 VISTA is built to be a technology demonstrator and risk reduction platform. For example, the control laws used to fly the Joint Strike Fighter were first flown on VISTA before the strike fighter’s first flight, reducing significant technical and safety risk.

«VISTA’s simulation framework is flexible enough to allow aircraft designers a chance to fly their aircraft before it ever leaves the ground», Cotting said. «While modern simulation laboratories are getting much better at simulating aircraft, they still cannot replicate some of the unknowns of operating an aircraft in a relevant flight environment. VISTA and its simulation system allow digital aircraft designs to be ‘flight tested’ before the aircraft is ever built».

Niemiec said AFRL is working with multiple industry partners to integrate advanced, tactical performance vehicle designs along with cutting edge autonomy capabilities onto the X-62.

«VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs», he said. «This approach, combined with focused testing on new vehicle systems as they are produced, will rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter».

First live-fire test

The U.S. Air Force and Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, successfully conducted the first Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) F3R, an AIM-120D3 missile, live-fire test against a target. The test used production missile hardware developed under the AMRAAM Form, Fit, Function Refresh program, which updates both the missile’s hardware and software.

AMRAAM F3R
An F-15E Strike Eagle equipped with an AIM-120 D3 taxies at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida for the first live-fire test of an AMRAAM F3R missile against a target (Photo: First Lieutenant Lindsey Heflin, U.S. Air Force)

The AIM-120D3 combines System Improvement Program 3F software updates with F3R hardware, putting tremendous capability against advanced threats into the warfighter’s arsenal.

During the June 30, 2022 test, the missile was fired from an F-15E Strike Eagle and guided toward an aerial target at long range. The primary objective was to prove out sub-system integration to support all phases of guided flight. The test also demonstrated full system integration and performance.

«Our warfighters deserve to have the most advanced technology in the air when they need it», said Paul Ferraro, president of Air Power at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. «F3R upgrades multiple circuit cards to address obsolescence, enhances the weapon’s capabilities, and extends the production line for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, and our Allied partners».

The live fire was the first of five planned missile shots in an integrated test series for the AIM-120D3 to qualify the new configuration for production and fielding. These tests incorporate various scenarios and targets to prove out the weapon’s advanced functionality and capabilities. An additional live fire for the Foreign Military Sales AIM-120C8 variant will occur in the near future. These live-fire tests are the culmination of captive flight tests, workup flights, and simulations.

Under the F3R program, engineers used model-based systems engineering initiatives and other digital technologies to upgrade multiple circuit cards and hardware into the guidance section of the missile and to re-host legacy software in the AIM-120D3 and AIM-120C8 AMRAAMs. Over the past year, F3R software was merged with SIP 3F advanced software capabilities to accelerate the fielding of this combined upgrade to the warfighter.

Manned-Unmanned Teaming

The ability to task unmanned systems from a manned aircraft is an important force multiplier in Airbus’ vision for future air power, with a wide range of applications extending to combat scenarios and beyond.

Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T)
Key milestones achieved in Manned-Unmanned Teaming for future air power

As a pioneer in the realm of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), Airbus has developed an ambitious technological roadmap to make this innovative concept – which boosts the effectiveness of piloted and pilotless aircraft alike – a reality. The company demonstrated leading technological and industrial capabilities in 2021 and 2022, including key flight tests.

Fully implementing Manned-Unmanned Teaming – which will play an instrumental role in such initiatives as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and Multi-Domain Combat Cloud – requires a high level of automation. However, the involvement of human operators will ensure that meaningful control always will be retained.

 

Leveraging Airbus’ expertise

The involvement of Airbus with Manned-Unmanned Teaming began in 2018, when the first flight test campaign took place to validate initial capabilities. Since then, the development has seen increasing levels of maturity – with Airbus and its partner teams focusing on several key areas.

Synchronized and efficient use of manned and unmanned vehicles necessitates coordination and optimisation, with requirements that may vary from one mission to the next. To address this, Airbus is developing artificial intelligence-based teaming concepts and algorithms, including swarming behaviours and distributed teaming intelligence shared among the platforms.

This novel approach is reflected in the payloads, which can be integrated on the unmanned aircraft, as well as in the way they are used. For example, a distributed electronic warfare sensor was shown to be capable of precisely and quickly locating a threat and sharing its location across the network.

To achieve such capabilities, the unmanned assets must be able to communicate with the manned resources – and among each other in an agile and robust way, which is why an advanced data link is one pillar of the development.

Additionally, Airbus is preparing airframe solutions for future unmanned systems, building on experience in both unmanned aerial vehicles and combat aircraft. As the development progresses, these solutions will materialise as the FCAS Remote Carriers – unmanned aircraft designed to cooperate with fighters. To achieve the full potential, MUM-T technologies will also need to be relevant for already-existing unmanned aerial systems and for those developed in the future.

 

Continuing development

Building upon lessons learned from the previous MUM-T-related milestones, Airbus marked a major achievement with a live demonstration that linked company-built Do-DT25 target drones acting as surrogate Remote Carriers with an in-flight German Air Force Eurofighter aircraft. This occurred during the Timber Express 2021 multinational exercise organised by the German Armed Forces.

During the trial, the Eurofighter was able to assign tasks to two Airbus Do-DT25 Remote Carriers in real time. These unmanned platforms demonstrated the ability to perform several tasks, including aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare. Upon receiving the tasks, the Remote Carriers autonomously planned their flight routes, adhering to prescribed airspace restrictions and circumnavigating known threats.

In 2022, MUM-T-related flight tests were performed outside of Germany for the first time. A test campaign organized in the Finnish areas of Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi – and directed by the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) – marked the official start of cooperation with the German Armed Forces on this key capability.

As stated by the FDF in a press release: «The research cooperation strengthens the Defence Forces’ understanding of the development of unmanned aviation, which enables experimenting and evaluating the teaming of unmanned and manned aerial vehicles in the local operational environment».

In parallel, the capabilities of manned platforms are increasing to accommodate the future potential of Manned-Unmanned Teaming. Airbus’ multi-role A400M Atlas airlifter is envisioned as a launcher of FCAS Remote Carriers, with the first flight test already performed to confirm this capability.