Category Archives: Air

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.

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.

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.

NGJ program

The U.S. Navy has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a $35.1 million, 20-month contract to demonstrate existing technologies for the low-band frequency jammer, the second increment of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) program.

The U.S. Navy selected Northrop Grumman to demonstrate existing technologies for the Next Generation Jammer Low Band, which will fly on the EA-18G Growler to provide advanced airborne electronic attack capabilities. The NGJ system will give Growlers – including this aircraft assigned to the Cougars of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 – the ability to defeat increasingly advanced and capable threats, making the carrier strike group more survivable (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bill M. Sanders/Released)
The U.S. Navy selected Northrop Grumman to demonstrate existing technologies for the Next Generation Jammer Low Band, which will fly on the EA-18G Growler to provide advanced airborne electronic attack capabilities. The NGJ system will give Growlers – including this aircraft assigned to the Cougars of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 – the ability to defeat increasingly advanced and capable threats, making the carrier strike group more survivable (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bill M. Sanders/Released)

Northrop Grumman has been the Navy’s airborne electronic attack integrator for more than 50 years. In addition to its work on NGJ Low Band (NGJ-LB), the company continues to support the fleet with advanced electronic attack capabilities.

The NGJ system will augment, and ultimately replace the EA-18G Growler aircraft’s aging ALQ-99 tactical jammer with advanced airborne electronic attack capabilities for defeating increasingly advanced and capable threats. Developed in three frequency-focused increments – high-band, mid-band and low-band – NGJ will be capable of jamming multiple radar signals at the same time, including surveillance and air-defense radars.

The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) selected Northrop Grumman for the NGJ-LB Demonstration of Existing Technology phase. The contract was awarded October 25.

Northrop Grumman’s offer was selected based on technical merit and potential maturity for accomplishing the low-band mission. The company’s solution also provides rapid operational capability to the fleet.

«Northrop Grumman will deliver a mature, low-risk and exceedingly capable solution for Next Generation Jammer Low Band that outpaces evolving threats and enables the Navy’s speed-to-fleet path», said Thomas Jones, vice president and general manager, airborne Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, Northrop Grumman.

«Our NGJ-LB pod provides multi-mission capability for electromagnetic maneuver warfare. We stand ready to demonstrate advancements in this mission area and deliver ahead of schedule».

Work primarily will be performed in Linthicum, Maryland, and Bethpage and Amityville, New York.

Air System Falco

Leonardo has completed series of successful test flights of its Falco EVO Remotely-Piloted Air System (RPAS) in Bulgaria. The flight campaign was to validate a package of upgrades that extends the endurance and operational range of the platform for overland and maritime missions. This includes a Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) satellite data-link system and a new propulsion system based on a heavy-fuel engine. As well as extending the flight envelope of the Falco EVO, the new engine was also proven to generate more electricity on-board the platform, granting access to more power-intensive ISR sensors required for complex missions.

Leonardo Successfully Completes First Flight Campaign of Falco EVO with New Engine and Satellite Command Link
Leonardo Successfully Completes First Flight Campaign of Falco EVO with New Engine and Satellite Command Link

Further trials are now planned that will see the Falco EVO flying equipped with Leonardo’s new Gabbiano TS Ultra-Light (UL) surveillance radar (launched at the Paris Air Show in 2017) combined with a high-definition InfraRed (IR) electro-optical system, Automatic Identification System, and a comms relay suite.

The Falco EVO, the longest-endurance model from Leonardo’s Falco RPAS family, is a surveillance and intelligence-gathering platform suited to overland and maritime missions. It can fly for more than 20 hours while carrying a payload of up to 100 kg. The Falco EVO has already been delivered to its launch customer in the Middle East region, while the original Falco RPAS has been chosen by five customers. The Falco EVO is currently engaged in a selection process for a prestigious international client and will shortly be deployed in the Mediterranean for a European surveillance programme.

More than 50 Falco family RPAS are currently engaged on operations around the world. Some customers choose to own and operate Falco family platforms while others, such as the United Nations for its humanitarian MONUSCO mission, have selected Leonardo to deliver a managed service package. Under this kind of arrangement, Leonardo owns and operates the Falco and provides surveillance information directly to the customer. This «managed service» model is expected to be a growth area for Leonardo which is expanding its «drones as a service» offering, including to civilian customers such as police and emergency responders.

GOLauncher1

The Air Force has designated the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight research vehicle as X-60A. The vehicle is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division.

An artist's sketch of an X-60A launch (Courtesy illustration)
An artist’s sketch of an X-60A launch (Courtesy illustration)

It is an air-dropped liquid rocket, specifically designed for hypersonic flight research to mature technologies including scramjet propulsion, high temperature materials and autonomous control.

«The X-60A is like a flying wind tunnel to capture data that complements our current ground test capability», said Colonel Colin Tucker, Military Deputy, office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering. «We’ve long needed this type of test vehicle to better understand how materials and other technologies behave while flying at more than 5 times the speed of sound. It enables faster development of both our current hypersonic weapon rapid prototypes and evolving future systems».

AFRL’s motivation for the X-60A program is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, those technologies must also be tested with actual hypersonic flight conditions.

Utilizing new space commercial development, licensing, and operations practices, X-60A is envisioned to provide the Air Force, other U.S. Government agencies, and industry with a platform to more rapidly mature technologies.

The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8.

This is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program to receive an experimental «X» designation.

200 Knots

The Sikorsky S-97 Raider light tactical prototype helicopter is advancing rapidly through its flight test schedule, recently exceeding 200 knots/230 mph/370 km/h at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center. Raider, developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, is based on the company’s proven X2 Technology, enabling speeds twice that of conventional helicopters.

Flight testing of the Sikorsky S-97 Raider helicopter is exceeding expectations at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center (Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company)
Flight testing of the Sikorsky S-97 Raider helicopter is exceeding expectations at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center (Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company)

«The Sikorsky S-97 Raider flight test program is exceeding expectations, demonstrating Raider’s revolutionary speed, maneuverability and agility», said Tim Malia, Sikorsky director, Future Vertical Lift Light. «X2 Technology represents a suite of technologies needed for the future fight, enabling the warfighter to engage in high-intensity conflict anytime, anywhere as a member of a complex, multi-domain team».

Sikorsky continues to demonstrate the application of its X2 Technology as the company prepares its proposal for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) competition, driving forward the Army’s efforts to revolutionize its aircraft fleet as part of what is known as Future Vertical Lift.

Raider incorporates the latest advances in fly-by-wire flight controls, vehicle management systems and systems integration. The suite of X2 Technologies enables the aircraft to operate at high speeds while maintaining the low-speed handling qualities and maneuverability of conventional single main rotor helicopters.

«It’s exciting to achieve these high speeds with X2 Technology», said Sikorsky experimental test pilot Bill Fell, a retired U.S. Army pilot. «It’s undeniably important for the warfighter to get to the mission fast. And once they get there, X2 Technology provides the critical handling qualities that make the aircraft survivable, lethal and agile. Sikorsky X2 Technology changes the way we fly and fight – we can get there fast, be more effective while on the scene and we can get out fast».

Sikorsky’s X2 Technology at the heart of the Raider helicopter is scalable to a variety of military missions including light assault, light attack, armed reconnaissance, close-air support, combat search and rescue and unmanned applications.

The development of X2 Technology and the Raider program has been funded entirely by significant investments by Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin and industry partners.

Infrared
Countermeasure

Northrop Grumman Corporation teamed with the U.S. Army to develop the Common Infrared Countermeasure (CIRCM) system, and after undergoing a rigorous testing process to ensure system readiness for the demands of combat operations, the CIRCM system has achieved Milestone C. This critical milestone, awarded by the Department of Defense Milestone Decision Authority, marks the end of the development and testing phase and enables the beginning of production and deployment.

CIRCM is designed to protect aircraft from infrared guided missiles. The system has now received Milestone C approval from the Department of Defense, indicating readiness for production and fielding. Northrop Grumman teamed with the U.S. Army to develop the CIRCM system
CIRCM is designed to protect aircraft from infrared guided missiles. The system has now received Milestone C approval from the Department of Defense, indicating readiness for production and fielding. Northrop Grumman teamed with the U.S. Army to develop the CIRCM system

CIRCM is a lightweight system that uses laser energy to defend aircraft against advanced infrared missiles. It has a modular open systems architecture designed to evolve to defeat emerging infrared threats.

To achieve Milestone C, Northrop Grumman has worked closely with the Army to thoroughly test CIRCM. The system has undergone thousands of hours of laboratory, flight and free flight missile testing to verify its performance in a range of realistic combat scenarios. Throughout the process, CIRCM demonstrated its ability to protect aircrews by countering threats.

«With the achievement of Milestone C, we have collectively taken an important step toward getting this critical, life-saving technology to the warfighter», said Bob Gough, vice president, land and avionics Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) division, Northrop Grumman. «The CIRCM capability is mature, reliable and has proven to be mission-effective».

Northrop Grumman’s infrared countermeasures systems have been installed on more than 1,500 aircraft, representing more than 80 different aircraft types, including large and small fixed-wing, rotary wing and tilt-rotor platforms.

Flight tests

Northrop Grumman Corporation recently began flight tests for MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft produced in Moss Point at the Trent Lott International Airport, a major milestone for the company and the region’s aerospace economy.

Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout takes off for its first flight out of Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Mississippi
Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8C Fire Scout takes off for its first flight out of Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Mississippi

Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point facility is key to producing and testing the MQ-8C Fire Scout, the U.S. Navy’s newest autonomous helicopter that is bringing increased speed, endurance and payload capacity to distributed maritime operations. The U.S. Navy recently completed initial operational test and evaluation aboard the USS Coronado (LCS-4) for the MQ-8C Fire Scout, which has over 1,500 program flight hours. The aircraft is a modified Bell 407 helicopter that is produced in Moss Point and supports quality manufacturing jobs in Mississippi.

«Building on Northrop Grumman’s recent announcement of new production capabilities in Moss Point and a 40 percent increase in employment at the site, the ability to now conduct MQ-8C Fire Scout flight tests where the production occurs will bring new efficiencies and effectiveness to our local operations and improve our ability to serve the U.S. Navy», said Melissa Packwood, program director, Fire Scout, Northrop Grumman.

In June, elected officials joined local employees to cut the ribbon on the new machine shop section that delivers important capabilities at Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point manufacturing center. For more than a decade, Gulf Coast employees have manufactured rotary and fixed wing autonomous systems in Moss Point that support the U.S. and its global allies. Recent facility upgrades have allowed for new work on manned aircraft to come to the site, diversifying the portfolio of work and bringing new jobs to the region.

In April 2004, Northrop Grumman broke ground in Moss Point with site construction beginning in 2005. In April 2006, Northrop Grumman contributed to aerospace industry growth in southern Mississippi when the ribbon was cut on the 101,000 square-foot facility. The company celebrated its 10-year anniversary at the site in 2016 and recently extended its lease adjacent to Trent Lott International Airport through 2026.

 

Specifications

Length 41.4 feet/12.6 m
Width 7.8 feet/2.4 m
Blades Folded Hangar 7.8×34.7×10.9 feet/2.4×10.6×3.3 m
Height 10.9 feet/3.3 m
Rotor Diameter 35 feet/10.7 m
Gross Takeoff Weight 6,000 lbs./2,721.5 kg
Engine Rolls-Royce M250-C47B with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control)

 

Performance

Speed 140 knots/161 mph/259 km/h (maximum)
Operational Ceiling 17,000 feet/5,182 m
Maximum Endurance 14 hrs.
Maximum Payload (Internal) 1,000 lbs./453.6 kg
Typical Payload 600 lbs./272 kg (11 hrs. endurance)
Maximum Sling Load 2,650 lbs./1,202 kg

 

Engine Specifications

Power 651 shp/485.45 kW
Pressure ratio 9.2
Length 42.95 inch/1.09 m
Diameter 24.81 inch/0.63 m
Basic weight 274 lbs./124.3 kg
Compressor 1CF (centrifugal high-pressure)
Turbine 2HP (two-stage high-pressure turbine), 2PT (two-stage power turbine)