Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

SeaGuardian

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is working with Leonardo to integrate the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E V2 radar into the centerline radar pod of its MQ-9B SeaGuardian Remotely-Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS). The integration of this market-leading radar onto the SeaGuardian will enable persistent maritime ISR and is available to our international customer base.

MQ-9B SeaGuardian
Leonardo Seaspray AESA Maritime Radar to be Integrated on GA-ASI SeaGuardian

GA-ASI’s MQ-9B is revolutionizing the long-endurance RPAS market by providing all-weather capability and compliance with STANAG-4671 (NATO airworthiness standard for Unmanned Aircraft Systems). These features, along with an operationally proven collision-avoidance radar, enables flexible operations in civil airspace. SeaGuardian has a multi-mode maritime surface-search radar with Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) imaging mode, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver, and a High-Definition – Full-Motion Video sensor equipped with optical and infrared cameras. This sensor suite, augmented by automatic track correlation and anomaly-detection algorithms, enables real-time detection and identification of surface vessels over thousands of square nautical miles.

The Seaspray 7500E V2 radar is well-suited to the SeaGuardian mission set, using Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) technology to detect, track and classify hundreds of maritime contacts. The integration will also include an Open Mission Systems (OMS) approach, which enables the SeaGuardian and its sensor suite to offer operational and sustainment flexibility to end users.

Numerous countries use Leonardo Seaspray E-scan radars and the company has utilized operational feedback from these customers to expand and optimize the radar’s suite of advanced modes. These include Leonardo’s patented small target detection capability, allowing it to spot extremely difficult targets such as submarine periscopes and shipwrecked individuals at long range, even in very stormy seas. A key discriminator of Leonardo’s E-scan radars is their high reliability and fault tolerance that allows effective operation throughout a mission even if a number of individual radar modules fail.

The Seaspray greatly enhances the capabilities of the MQ-9B and builds on the already close working partnership between GA-ASI and Leonardo. Earlier this year GA-ASI announced the completion of initial integration work of Leonardo’s SAGE electronic surveillance unit onto the SeaGuardian, equipping the aircraft with the ability to gather intelligence information on maritime and land-based radar emitters over a wide area.

Customers will be able to choose from a wide assortment of sensors and payloads on the SeaGuardian platform, with both Seaspray and SAGE as off-the-shelf sensor options.

The Bug

In collaboration with UAVTEK, we have developed a nano «Bug» drone and delivered the first 30 units to the British Army, which has put it through its paces as part of a trial.

UAVTEK Bug
Collaborating with UAVTEK to develop to develop non ‘Bug’ drone

The Bug is a nano-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) weighing 196 g/7 ounces – similar to the weight of a smartphone – with 40-minute battery life and a 2 km/1.24-mile range. It boasts a stealthy low visual profile and the ability to fly even in strong winds of more than 50 mph/80 km/h. It was the only nano-UAV able to cope with the uncompromising weather during a recent Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) event hosted by the Ministry of Defence’s Future Capability Group.

James Gerard, Principal Technologist at BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence business said: «We delivered the Bug in partnership with UAVTEK, an SME that designs and builds UAVs from its workshop in the Cotswolds. Our experience in developing large volumes of secure hardware means we were able to help the team turn the excellent design into a real product which our Armed Forces can use. This kind of collaboration is happening right across BAE Systems and is a great way to quickly get the best thinking from small companies into the hands of military users».

James Gerard, Principal Technologist, BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence said: «In even the toughest weather, the Bug can deliver vital tactical intelligence on what’s around the corner or over the next hill, working autonomously to give troops a visual update. Combined with our other information advantage products, this video feed could be shared multi-domain, enabling commanders on land, sea and air to increase their situational awareness and inform their decisions».

Innovations at the annual AWE event are designed to explore emerging technologies and identify specific capabilities, this year focusing on Agile Command, Control and Communication (C3) space suitable for rapid exploitation. Emphasis is placed on innovations which push the boundaries of technology and military capability, testing a range of prototype systems by putting them in the hands of the user whilst giving invaluable military feedback to suppliers.

Jenna Copley, Director at UAVTEK said: «BAE Systems has been extremely supportive of us as an SME and the team has shared procedural knowledge to improve our engineering processes and practices. BAE Systems has effectively offered us a mentoring partnership and supported us in a variety of activities, whilst still enabling us to remain an agile Subject Matter Expert (SME) and keep our core offerings and DNA».

The teams are now working on the next developments on the nano-UAV, exploring sensing equipment and capabilities which could be added, as well as how the Bug could be integrated with other military equipment.

Bug infographic
Bug infographic

Taxi Test

Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) have completed the first high-speed taxi test of the Loyal Wingman in preparation for first flight.

Loyal Wingman
Boeing Australia’s Loyal Wingman displays its orange flight-test livery (Boeing photo)

Boeing test personnel monitored the aircraft’s performance and instrumentation from a ground control station to verify the functionality while the vehicle reached accelerated speeds. The uncrewed aircraft has been undergoing low-, medium-, and high-speed taxi testing at a remote test location in Australia.

«Our test program is progressing well, and we are happy with the ground test data we have collected to date», said Paul Ryder, Boeing Flight Test manager. «We are working with the Air Warfare Centre to complete final test verifications to prepare for flight testing in the new year».

Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force will resume final taxi tests and preparations for flight in early 2021 when the range reopens.

RAAF Head of Air Force Capability Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts said seeing the aircraft in person during the December trials had been extraordinary.

«There is something very special about testing an aircraft that takes technology to the next level. It is iconic in its own way», said Roberts. «Experiencing the enthusiasm of the Boeing and Air Force team reminded me of my early career testing aircraft».

«This is what innovation is all about – working together to achieve many firsts», she said.

More than 35 Australian suppliers on the Australian industry team have contributed to the aircraft development, including investment partner BAE Systems Australia, which has been embedded with the Boeing test team on-site.

«In the past year alone, we have made amazing strides on this aircraft, taking it from a fuselage to a finished aircraft that has undergone rigorous testing», said Doctor Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. «Our focus now is on conducting a safe and secure flight-test regimen for the Loyal Wingman program».

Boeing Uncrewed Loyal Wingman Conducts First High-Speed Taxi Test

gatewayONE

On December 9, the joint force took another step toward achieving a military Internet of Things (IoT) when fifth-generation aircraft overcame long standing connectivity limitations to share actionable operational data in their native secure digital «languages» with and through multiple sources for the first time.

gatewayONE
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fly in formation with the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing range, Arizona, during a series of tests December 9, 2020. This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force on-ramp last year in December (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sergeant James Cason)

This test was the latest demonstration of the transformative warfighting impact of the open architecture underpinning the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).

The joint effort included a Marine Corps F-35B variant and the Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II variant flying with an attritableONE XQ-58A Valkyrie for the first time. The primary tests took place at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona with preparatory tests at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Lieutenant Colonel Kate Stowe, gatewayONE program manager at the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, set out with 18 test objectives and successfully achieved nine.

«Testing is all about pushing the limits of what’s possible, finding out where the toughest challenges are, and adapting creative solutions to overcoming difficult problem sets», Stowe said. «The real win of the day was seeing the gatewayONE establish a secure two-way translational data path across multiple platforms and multiple domains. That’s the stuff ABMS is all about».

Fifth-generation fighters are typically limited to communicating with each other and to command and control centers via legacy tactical data connections, not in their native, but incompatible digital «languages» – Multifunctional Advanced Data Link for F-35 Lightning II and Intra-Flight Data Link for the F-22 Raptor. Not only can gatewayONE translate between those formats, in this test it moved data that is normally relegated to an operations center or tactical ground node, directly pushing it into the cockpit at the edge of the multi-domain battlespace for the first time.

Additionally, the test pushed the position data of each platform outside of the aircraft’s close-proximity formation through gatewayONE, which enables battle managers on the ground or in the air to better orchestrate operations. The gatewayONE payload also passed tracks or cues from ground operators to both fighters and passed a cue from the F-35A Lightning II to the F-22 Raptor for the first time. These bi-directional communications pathways occurred in the platforms’ native digital «languages» and the data was displayed through the aircrafts’ organic systems.

«The gatewayONE payload really showed what’s possible and helped us take a big step towards achieving (Joint All-Domain Command and Control)», said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wright, a 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-35 pilot. «This critical capability provides additional connections between our advanced fighters and other forces and battle managers across all domains. The future is promising, and gatewayONE will allow the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II to connect to and feed data sources they’ve never before accessed. Those future connections will bring additional battlefield awareness into the cockpit and enable integrated fires across U.S. forces».

Additional successful tests during the week included establishing a communications pathway between the KC-46 Pegasus tanker and a ground node using commercial internet routing standards over the Tactical Targeting Network Technology waveform and the F-35B Lightning II sending full-motion video to a ground controller.

«If fifth-generation platforms are going to be quarterbacks of a joint-penetrating team, we have to be able to communicate with those quarterbacks in an operationally relevant manner and enable data sharing between them, to them, and from them. For years people said it couldn’t be done. Today the team turned another page toward making the impossible possible», said Preston Dunlap, Air and Space Force’s chief architect. «In just 12 months, the team has opened the door to a world where we can put the power of an operations center into the cockpit at the tactical edge».

The December 9 flight test included the attritableONE platform, also known as the XQ-58 Valkyrie, a lower-cost, unmanned, aerial vehicle. The rocket-launched Valkyrie successfully conducted a semi-autonomous flight alongside the F-22 Raptor and F-35s for the first time. The gatewayONE payload was integrated into the Valkyrie for its maiden voyage with the fifth-generation fighters to conduct an initial test of gateway capabilities from an attritable platform; however, shortly after takeoff, the communications payloads lost connectivity and those test objectives were unable to be accomplished.

The acquisition team – comprised of Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center personnel working in conjunction with Eglin Air Force Base, Florida’s 46th Test Squadron – came together to make this test a success and empower the platforms involved with capability desired by the warfighter and operator.

This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force architecture on-ramp last year in December.

ABMS is the Air Force and Space Force’s priority program to develop the military’s first Internet of Things and is the services’ primary contribution to Joint All-Domain Command and Control, a Defense Department-led effort to securely connect all elements of the U.S. military–every sensor and shooter–across land, air, sea, space and cyberspace.

DARPA Gremlins

Attempts at airborne retrieval of three unmanned air vehicles, nicknamed Gremlins, were just inches from success in DARPA’s latest flight test series that started on October 28. Each X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) flew for more than two hours, successfully validating all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features. Nine attempts were made at mechanical engagement of the GAVs to the docking bullet extended from a C-130 aircraft, but relative movement was more dynamic than expected and each GAV ultimately, safely parachuted to the ground.

X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV)
Gremlins Air Vehicle and C-130 aircraft during a test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah

«All of our systems looked good during the ground tests, but the flight test is where you truly find how things work», said Scott Wierzbanowski, program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We came within inches of connection on each attempt but, ultimately, it just wasn’t close enough to engage the recovery system».

Hours of data were collected over three flights, including aerodynamic interactions between the docking bullet and GAV. Efforts are already underway to analyze that data, update models and designs, and conduct additional flights and retrieval attempts in a fourth deployment this spring.

«We made great strides in learning and responding to technological challenges between each of the three test flight deployments to date», said Wierzbanowski. «We were so close this time that I am confident that multiple airborne recoveries will be made in the next deployment. However, as with all flight testing, there are always real world uncertainties and challenges that have to be overcome».

The goal of the Gremlins program is to demonstrate air launch and air recovery of four GAVs within 30 minutes. The capability of safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries will dramatically expand the potential uses of unmanned air vehicles in conflict situations. The GAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific technologies. They can also be launched from various types of military aircraft, keeping those less expendable assets beyond the range of adversary defenses. After air retrieval of GAVs, they would be transported back to the ground where crews could prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

Dynetics, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos, is developing the Gremlin vehicles.

Aerial Refueling Store

Boeing and the U.S. Navy have for the first time flown the MQ-25 T1 test asset with an Aerial Refueling Store (ARS), a significant milestone informing development of the unmanned aerial refueler.

MQ-25
Boeing and the U.S. Navy flew the MQ-25 T1 test asset with an Aerial Refueling Store (ARS) for the first time on December 9, 2020. The successful flight with the Cobham ARS – the same ARS currently used by F/A-18s for air-to-air refueling – tested the aircraft’s aerodynamics with the ARS mounted under the wing. Future flights will continue to test the aerodynamics of the aircraft and the ARS at various points of the flight envelope, eventually progressing to extension and retraction of the hose and drogue used for refueling (Credit: Dave Preston)

The successful 2.5-hour flight with the Cobham ARS – the same ARS currently used by F/A-18s for air-to-air refueling – was designed to test the aircraft’s aerodynamics with the ARS mounted under the wing. The flight was conducted by Boeing test pilots operating from a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois.

«Having a test asset flying with an ARS gets us one big step closer in our evaluation of how MQ-25 will fulfill its primary mission in the fleet – aerial refueling», said Captain Chad Reed, the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. «T1 will continue to yield valuable early insights as we begin flying with F/A-18s and conduct deck handling testing aboard a carrier».

Future flights will continue to test the aerodynamics of the aircraft and the ARS at various points of the flight envelope, eventually progressing to extension and retraction of the hose and drogue used for refueling.

«To see T1 fly with the hardware and software that makes MQ-25 an aerial refueler this early in the program is a visible reminder of the capability we’re bringing to the carrier deck», said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 program director. «We’re ensuring the ARS and the software operating it will be ready to help MQ-25 extend the range of the carrier air wing».

The Boeing-owned T1 test asset is a predecessor to the engineering development model aircraft being produced under a 2018 contract award. T1 is being used for early learning and discovery, laying the foundation for moving rapidly into development and test of the MQ-25. Following its first flight last year, T1 accumulated approximately 30 hours in the air before the planned modification to install the ARS.

Earlier this year the Navy exercised an option for three additional MQ-25 air vehicles, bringing the total aircraft Boeing is initially producing to seven. The Navy intends to procure more than 70 aircraft, which will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters.

Static Testing

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) recently completed Full Scale Static (FSS) testing on the MQ-9B Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) wing after three months of extensive testing. MQ-9B includes SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian RPA produced by GA-ASI.

MQ-9B SkyGuardian
GA-ASI Completes Full-Scale Static Testing On MQ-9B SkyGuardian Wing Structure

The testing included multiple load cases to 150 percent of expected maximum flight loads. The wing was loaded using specially designed fixtures to apply a distributed load across the wingspan – simulating gust and maneuver flight conditions – with no failures.

«Successful completion of FSS testing on the MQ-9B wing was a critical step in proving that our design meets stringent certification standards for structural strength and integrity», said Dee Wilson, Vice President, Engineering Research Development & Design Hardware. «The wing performed as expected, matching analytical predictions closely. Our engineering design, stress and test teams are commended for an exceptional effort in meeting this critical milestone».

This particular wing design is the culmination of a large development effort from multiple areas within GA-ASI and represents a major milestone in qualifying the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian RPA to fly in non-segregated airspace. The wing test success also establishes the baseline wing design for the entire MQ-9B product line. This is critical as GA-ASI starts deliveries to the multiple customers pursuing the MQ-9B including the United Kingdom, Belgium and Australia.

Avenger

On October 28, 2020, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) conducted an autonomous flight using a government-supplied Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) autonomy engine to support air-to-air targeting missions. The CODE autonomy engine was installed on a GA-ASI Avenger Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

Avenger UAS
GA-ASI Demonstrates Government-Supplied Code Autonomy Engine

The CODE autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing on larger UAS platforms, such as Avenger. Using a network- enabled Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) radio for mesh network mission communications, GA-ASI was able to show integration of emerging Advanced Tactical Data Links (ATDL) and separation between flight and mission critical systems.

«This represents a big step on the path to more sophisticated autonomous missions for unmanned aircraft where operator input can be minimized to support optimal manning of multiple products for complex air battles», said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. «For this initial flight, we used Avenger as the flight surrogate for the Skyborg capability set, which is a key focus for GA-ASI emerging air-to-air portfolio».

As part of the autonomous flight, the CODE autonomy software controlled the maneuvering of the Avenger UAS for over two hours without traditional pilot input. GA-ASI furthered the development of the CODE software by adding behavioral functions for a coordinated air-to-air search with up to six aircraft (for the demonstration, five of the aircraft were virtual). The CODE operator, using a small form factor commercial computer running the government-provided software, set mission objectives for the flight in which the autonomy software was used to coordinate the six aircraft to accomplish the air-to-air search objective.

GA-ASI created ground and air adapter services that passed operator mission inputs to the flying constellation of aircraft using Link 16-formatted messages that followed Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol (JREAP). The open architecture of the CODE software enables communications between the aircraft, the CODE software and the autopilot.

 

Characteristics

Wing Span 66 feet/20 m
Length 44 feet/13 m
Powerplant Pratt & Whitney PW545B turbofan
Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight 18,200 lbs./8,255 kg
Fuel Capacity 7,900 lbs./3,583 kg
Payload Capacity Internal – 3,500 lbs./1,588 kg
Total – 6,500 lbs./2,948 kg
Weapons Hellfire missiles; GBU-12/49, GBU-31, GBU-32, GBU-38 JDAM, GBU-39, GBU-16/48
Payloads Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR); Lynx Multi-mode Radar; Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)/Electronic Support Measures (ESM) System; Communications relay
Power 20 kW (redundant)
Maximum Altitude >50,000 feet/>15,240 m
Maximum Endurance 20 hr
Maximum Air Speed 400 KTAS/460 mph/741 km/h
Standard Dash 350 KTAS/403 mph/648 km/h

 

High Altitude Platform

Airbus Defence and Space has successfully completed a new test flight campaign for its Zephyr High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) in Arizona, U.S.A.

Zephyr HAPS
The Airbus Zephyr, Solar High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) concludes a successful new test flight campaign in Arizona, USA

The 2020 flight campaign succeeded despite global slowdowns due to the Covid19 pandemic. It focused on aircraft agility, control and operations to build upon previous campaigns, which have already proven the day and night stratospheric persistence of the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) essential in military and commercial markets.

This year’s campaign held during the first three weeks of November aimed to demonstrate operational flexibility and aircraft agility, particularly testing lower altitude flying and early stage transition to the stratosphere. It also allowed the validation of a new flight planning tool suite and the development of operational concepts through multiple, varied flights in short succession.

«Having proven stratospheric flight, we continue to further mature the operational system with the objective to be more flexible and robust in order to meet our customer needs. The outcome of this campaign is a valuable contribution to the full flight programme next year», said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus.

The campaign team used a Zephyr aircraft, fitted with new software control systems and specific flight test instruments, plus associated lighter test aircraft to conduct multiple successful test flights during November.

The flights demonstrated take-off, climb, cruise, upgraded flight control and descent phases, followed by successful landings. The objectives of the test campaign were all achieved showcasing a more resilient and capable aircraft.

Zephyr is the world’s leading, solar-electric, stratospheric UAS. It harnesses the sun’s rays, running exclusively on solar power, above the weather and conventional air traffic, filling a capability gap complementary to satellites, UAVs and manned aircraft to provide persistent local satellite-like services.

With the conclusion of this year’s successful test flight campaign, Zephyr has come another step closer to an operational reality. Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both commercial and military customers alike. Zephyr will provide the potential to revolutionize disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world.

Already in July 2018, the Zephyr team conducted a successful test flight campaign when Zephyr S flew in the stratosphere for nearly 26 days (25 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes‎).

It remains the longest flight duration of an aircraft ever made without refuelling. The aircraft persisted in the stratosphere day and night, consistently achieved a dawn altitude of 60,000 feet/18,288 meters as well as its highest altitude of 71,140 feet/21,683 meters.

 

About the Airbus Zephyr Programme

The original target mission of the Zephyr is to provide local persistence at an affordable price with a re-usable solar-powered aircraft, providing a wide scope of applications, ranging for example from maritime surveillance and services, border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, or navigation. Operating in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 70,000 feet/21 kilometres, the ultra-lightweight Zephyr has a wingspan of 82 feet/25 meters and a weigh of less than 165 lbs./75 kg, and flies above weather (clouds, jet streams) and above regular air traffic, covering local or regional footprints.

Ideally suited for «local persistence» (ISR/Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance), the Zephyr has the ability to stay focused on a specific area of interest (which can be hundreds of miles wide) while providing it with satellite-like communications and Earth observation services (with greater image granularity) over long periods of time without interruption.

Teaming Flights

Boeing recently completed flight tests with five high-performance surrogate jets operating autonomously in a team at the new Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry, Australia.

Boeing’s Advanced Queensland Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project
The five aircraft took off, completed various formations and landed autonomously as part of the test mission (Boeing photo)

Boeing’s advanced autonomy technology, including on-board command and control and data sharing capabilities, were tested using the 3.4-meter (11-foot) aircraft.

«The tests demonstrated our success in applying artificial intelligence algorithms to ‘teach’ the aircraft’s brain to understand what is required of it», said Emily Hughes, director of Phantom Works International. «The data link capabilities enabled the aircraft to communicate with the other platforms so that they could collaborate to achieve a mission».

Testing lasted 10 days, with aircraft incrementally added until the five operated together. During testing, the aircraft reached speeds of 270 kilometers (167 miles) per hour.

«With the size, number and speed of aircraft used in the test, this is a very significant step for Boeing and industry in the progress of autonomous mission systems technology», Hughes said.

The activity was the final milestone delivered in partnership with the Queensland government as part of Boeing’s Advanced Queensland Autonomous Systems Platform Technology Project. During the project, Boeing has worked with over 90 personnel from a number of small-to-medium enterprises including RFDesigns, Amber Technology Ltd., Premier Box, McDermott Aviation and Five Rings Aerospace.

Technology and capabilities proven under this program will form part of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System and future Boeing autonomous platforms.