Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Sparrowhawk

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) conducted captive carry Sparrowhawk Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) flight demonstrations on September 16-17, 2020. The Sparrowhawk aircraft is designed as an airborne launch and recovery demonstrator aircraft tailored to fit GA-ASI platforms, and is focused on Advanced Battle Management System’s attritableONE technologies. Sparrowhawk iterates on the DARPA Gremlins Program to further airborne recovery of sUAS, reducing the cost of operation and enabling new mission capabilities to GA-ASI’s MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft.

Sparrowhawk
GA-ASI conducts Sparrowhawk sUAS flight tests

«Sparrowhawk extends and multiplies MQ-9-based sensors, reduces manpower and increases ISR coverage», said GA-ASI President David R. Alexander. «With attritableONE technology that is survivable and precise, Sparrowhawk is a true game changer».

The Sparrowhawk sUAS was carried on a MQ-9A and controlled exclusively using GA-ASI’s Metis Software Defined Control Station hosted on a laptop computer, which drastically reduced the system’s logistical footprint and supports the vision for interfaces to the aircraft from across the battlefield – without the need for a Ground Control Station shelter or vehicle. Communications were achieved using a fielded meshONE datalink, enabling collaborative autonomy capabilities among the platforms. The Cooperation in Denied Environments (CODE) autonomy engine was implemented to further understand cognitive Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing for unmanned systems.

The test flights build on the capabilities demonstrated when Gray Eagle carried two Area-I Altius-600 Air Launched Effects (ALEs) during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) demonstrations, underscoring GA-ASI’s commitment to expanding the capabilities of its aircraft. Sparrowhawk and airborne recovery also enable these benefits:

  • Allows below-the-weather Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), and enables reduced visual and acoustic ISR
  • Enables attritable ISR/Electronic Warfare (EW) in the contested environment, allowing the MQ-9 to stand off at safe ranges
  • Employs larger and more expensive payloads at greater transit ranges compared to ground-launched aircraft and air-launched expendables
  • Maintains the chain of custody, through adverse weather, MQ-9 rotations, or with multiple targets

First Firescout

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 received their first MQ-8C Firescout on September 15 aboard Naval Station Norfolk.

MQ-8C Firescout
HSC-22 Receives First MQ-8C Firescout

HSC-22 marks the first East Coast squadron to operate all three systems to include the MH-60S Knighthawk, MQ-8B Firescout, and MQ-8C Firescout. The new added capability of the MQ-8C combines the capabilities of the MQ-8B with the MH-60S Knighthawk to improve the Navy’s ability to investigate and target hostile surface contacts.

«Incorporating the MQ-8C Firescout will represent a significant improvement in our unmanned air vehicle mission capability», said Commander Matthew Wright, HSC-22’s commanding officer. «The ‘Charlie’ is bigger, faster, can carry more mission equipment, and remain airborne over twice as long as our already-proven MQ-8B’s».

MQ-8B and C Firescout variants are designed for suitably equipped ship-based and land-based autonomous systems. MQ-8B and C Firescout/MH-60S extend Naval Aviation’s capability to support distributed maritime operations providing integrated, over-the-horizon intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting, and combat logistics support.

While the majority of the flight software in the MQ-8C Firescout is similar to the MQ-8B Firescout variant, the aircrews must adapt to the new capabilities of upgraded Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to include obtaining additional qualifications required for the maintenance team.

Lieutenant Ryan Jaenke, MH-60S, MQ-8B/C pilot, discussed the advanced capabilities of the MQ-8C Firescout.

«The MQ-8C Firescout is the latest step toward increasing the duration that UAS has on the battlefield as well as the impact. It advances the reliability of UAS as well as leaves a larger impact on the battlefield in missions that are not new to today’s warfighter», said Jaenke.

HSC-22’s mission is to provide manned and unmanned maritime attack and combat support capabilities to the fleet. HSC-22’s inherent versatility provides full-spectrum warfighting support across multiple mission-sets and diverse and distributed platforms.

 

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)

 

New Capabilities

Northrop Grumman Corporation has delivered a pair of sensors to enhance the capability of its Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance autonomous aircraft system. Enhancements include the deployment of the MS-177 multi-spectral camera system to provide additional high resolution imaging capability for operational users. The second new capability is the first fielding of the increment 1 upgraded AN/ASQ-230 system on Global Hawk to meet expanded electronic threats.

Global Hawk
Global Hawk takes off equipped with a MS-177 multi-spectral camera system. MS-177 provides high resolution imaging capability for operational users

The MS-177 camera system provides multiple channels of intelligence collection in visible and infrared bands and provides a dramatic increase in multi-spectral imaging capacity. When paired with a Global Hawk platform, the MS-177 provides collection coverage in areas that cannot easily be reached by other means. Fielding of the AN/ASQ-230 increment 1 enhances Global Hawk’s support against electronic threats.

«Ongoing improvements to Global Hawk underscore Northrop Grumman’s commitment to the United States Air Force’s ISR mission and reducing costs through agile development and leveraged solutions», said Leslie Smith, vice president, Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman. «New and improved payloads flying on our young, yet proven fleet of aircraft will allow our partners to deploy high value, networked assets to monitor adversaries while not risking the lives of military personnel well into the 2040s».

Global Hawk’s combination of autonomy, range, endurance and payload, and an average aircraft age of under nine years, make Global Hawk a valuable asset for domestic and international customers with critical ISR collection requirements. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments recently published a report highlighting the key role systems like Global Hawk play around the globe.

In the future, Global Hawk is uniquely positioned for additional missions that connect the joint force as one, including persistent high capacity backbone, pseudo-satellite communications coverage, and joint all-domain command and control.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

‘Fires Up’ Engine

Boeing Australia powered up the commercial turbofan engine on the first Loyal Wingman aircraft in September, as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight.

Loyal Wingman
Boeing Australia has completed the engine run on its first Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft as part of ground testing and preparations for first flight (Boeing photo)

This milestone comes on the heels of Boeing completing the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force earlier this year, a major step forward for the unmanned vehicle serving as the foundation for the global Boeing Airpower Teaming System, an artificial intelligence-powered teaming aircraft developed for the global defense market.

«This engine run gets us closer toward flying the first aircraft later this year and was successful thanks to the collaboration and dedication of our team», said Doctor Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. «We’ve been able to select a very light, off-the-shelf jet engine for the unmanned system as a result of the advanced manufacturing technologies applied to the aircraft».

Powering on the engine is part of ground testing and preparations for first flight

Gremlins Program

After meeting several primary objectives during risk reduction flights at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah in late July, DARPA’s Gremlins program now is targeting additional tests of its X-61A vehicle later this year. The program seeks to develop and demonstrate air launch and air recovery of up to four Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), known as Gremlins Air Vehicles (or just Gremlins), within 30 minutes.

Gremlins X-61-A vehicle flies below an Air Force C-130 aircraft

Over several days in July, the technology development team completed multiple flight tests of the Gremlins air-vehicle ground and recovery systems, including demonstration of a recovery system safely retrieving and stowing the air vehicles. The team also conducted a controlled launch of a Gremlin flying for more than two hours and performed rendezvous and autonomous formation station-keeping between the air vehicle and a C-130 at a separation of 125 feet/38.1 m.

The July flights follow the program’s first flight test in November 2019, during which the program completed one captive-carry mission, and an airborne launch and free flight lasting more than 90 minutes.

«The air vehicle performed beautifully from launch through mission modes, and the consistency between the flight tests in November and July increases confidence in the X-61A», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the Gremlins program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «However, we made a decision to delay the first air recovery attempt and instead focus on key risk reduction activities to better ensure a smooth air recovery test later this year».

The program now calls for flight tests to resume in October with the key objective to recover first one, and then two, air vehicles in the same flight. By the end of the year, the program aims to complete the test series, culminating with airborne recovery of four Gremlins within 30 minutes. This final demonstration will showcase the capability of safe, effective, and efficient air recoveries, opening the way to dramatically expand the application and utility of attritable UASs.

Mission flexibility and affordability are the key attributes of the Gremlins system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while the latter remain beyond the range of adversary defenses. The Gremlins program is using a C-130 as the demonstration platform, but the recovery system is designed to be easily modified and compatible with a wide array of transport aircraft and weapons systems. Once Gremlins complete their missions, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews could prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Gremlins can incorporate several types of sensors weighing up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and integrate technologies to accommodate different stakeholders and missions.

First free flight

The prototype of Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) has performed its first free flight on 28 July 2020. The VSR700 performed a ten-minute flight at a drone test centre near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.

VSR700 prototype performs first autonomous free flight

This is a significant step in the programme following the first flight in November 2019 when the prototype was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements. To enable this free flight, Airbus Helicopters implemented geofencing, a virtual perimeter, which enabled and justified a flight clearance from airworthiness authorities for free flight. The flight test programme will now evolve to progressively open the flight envelope.

«The free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy’s future drone», said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. «Thanks to the French PlanAero, the programme will make full use of two demonstrators and an optionally piloted vehicle to develop and mature the technical and operational aspects for successful UAS operations in a naval environment».

The VSR700, derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2, is an unmanned aerial system in the 500-1000 kg/1102-2204 lbs. maximum take-off weight range. It offers the best balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost. It is capable of carrying multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter, with a low logistical footprint.

This VSR700 prototype has evolved over the last nine months since its maiden flight. The programme implemented the geofencing function, as well as a Flight Termination System allowing the mission to be ended if necessary. Modifications have equally been performed to the air vehicle, alongside autopilot software evolutions and updates, as well as structural modifications and reinforcements.

 

Technical Data

Length 6.2 m/19.6 feet
Height 2.28 m/7.4 feet
Main rotor diameter 7.2 m/23.5 feet
Endurance Over 10 hours; 8 hours with full tactical load
Payloads (100 kg/220.5 lbs.) Rapid role change, multiple payloads: Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR), Radar, Communications Intelligence (COMINT), Automatic Identification System (AIS), etc.
Maximum speed 120 knots/185 km/h
Ceiling 6,000 m/20,000 feet
Propulsion Aviation Certified Engine; Diesel fuel and Jet fuel
Maximum takeoff weight 700 kg/1,543 lbs.
Maximum wind for takeoff & landing 45 knots/80 km/h (in all directions)

 

Skyborg Vanguard
Program

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) has awarded multiple Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contracts to The Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.

AFLCMC awards Skyborg contract

These initial awards will establish a vendor pool that will continue to compete for up to $400 million in subsequent delivery orders in support of the Skyborg Vanguard Program.

The aim of the Skyborg Vanguard program is to integrate autonomous attritable Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) technology with open missions systems to enable manned-unmanned teaming. This will provide a game-changing capability to the warfighter. The attritable UAV line of effort awarded by this contract will provide the foundation on which the Air Force can build an airborne autonomous ‘best of breed’ system that adapts, orients, and decides at machine speed for a wide variety of increasingly complex mission sets.

«Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force», said Brigadier General Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft, who, along with Brigadier General Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), serves as the leadership for the Skyborg program. «We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power».

Skyborg is one of three Vanguard programs identified late last year as part of the Air Force Science and Technology (S&T) 2030 initiative. These high priority Air Force capability development efforts come with an enterprise commitment to deliver game-changing capabilities to transform Air Force operations for the future force.

«Autonomy technologies in Skyborg’s portfolio will range from simple play-book algorithms to advanced team decision making and will include on-ramp opportunities for Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies», said Pringle. «This effort will provide a foundational Government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous, and open-architecture UAS».

The Vanguards are also introducing a novel early partnership between AFLCMC and AFRL due to the need to quickly identify cutting edge technology and transition directly into the hands of the warfighter.

«The greatest technological edge is for naught if the warfighter can’t use it on the battlefield. That makes the partnership between AFRL and AFLCMC so vital to this program. We can’t allow bureaucratic speed bumps to interfere with our mandate to deliver», White said.

Orbital Outpost

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, was awarded a contract to repurpose SNC’s Shooting Star transport vehicle as a proposed commercial solution for an Unmanned Orbital Outpost – essentially a scalable, autonomous space station for experiments and logistics demonstrations – by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). SNC’s Shooting Star transport vehicle serves as the core structure for the proposed design.

Ozmens’ SNC Selected by the Department of Defense to Design, Develop Unmanned Orbital Outpost Prototype

The versatility of the Dream Chaser spaceplane and Shooting Star technologies and subsystems allow for greater flexibility and modularity both internally and externally for orbital outpost mission requirements. For DIU, this design leverages commercial programs and private investment at a fraction of the cost and schedule of building government-owned and operated systems. Repurposing space hardware reduces the time to achieve a minimal operating capability, orbital debris and the cost of launching dedicated buses to support subsequent mission requirements.

«We’re excited by the multi-mission nature of Shooting Star», said SNC CEO Fatih Ozmen. «It was originally developed for NASA resupply missions to the International Space Station, and since then we keep identifying new capabilities and solutions it offers to a wide variety of customers. The possible applications for Shooting Star are really endless».

Shooting Star is a 16-foot attachment to Dream Chaser developed for NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) missions to provide extra storage for payloads and to facilitate cargo disposal upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. However, the transport vehicle’s unique design also offers free-flyer and satellite capabilities for large payloads with high-power capacity. It can also support logistics services to Low-Earth orbit (LEO) and cislunar destinations.

«The current Shooting Star is already designed with significant capabilities for an orbital outpost and by adding only a few components we are able to meet Department of Defense (DoD) needs», said former NASA space shuttle commander and retired USAF pilot Steve Lindsey, now senior vice president of strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area. «We are proud to offer our transport vehicle to DoD as a free-flying destination for experimentation and testing, expanding beyond its current payload service capabilities for Dream Chaser cargo missions».

The proposed orbital outpost will be initially established in LEO with guidance, navigation and control for sustained free-flight operations to host payloads and support space assembly, microgravity, experimentation, logistics, manufacturing, training, test and evaluation. Future outposts may be based in a variety of orbits including, medium-Earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit, Geosynchronous Earth Orbits (GEO) to include GEO transfer orbits, and cislunar orbits.

Counter-sUAS System

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2) system has been selected by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as the interim command and control system for future Counter-Small Unmanned Aerial System (C-sUAS) procurements.

Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control is Department of Defense system of choice for Counter-Small Unmanned Aerial System

The decision follows the findings of a service board established by the DOD’s Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-sUAS) Office to evaluate and provide an order-of-merit list for «best-of-breed» systems to counter small drones. The down-select board was comprised of representatives from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command, and senior representatives from the acquisition, technical, operational and other communities. FAAD C2 will serve as the current joint common C-sUAS C2 platform while an enduring solution is developed.

«Our FAAD C2 has been saving lives at Forward Operating Bases and locations around the world since 2005», said Kenn Todorov, vice president and general manager, combat systems and mission readiness, Northrop Grumman. «FAAD C2 continuously evolves to defend against new threats like small unmanned aerial systems and will continue to be the gold standard for protection of our troops whether stationed at bases or on the move».

FAAD C2 is a battle-proven C2 system, deployed in several theaters of operation for the C-UAS and C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar) missions for its proven performance and flexibility that enables easy integration with available sensors, effectors and warning systems to launch rapid, real-time defense against short range and maneuvering threats. It also has been selected as the C2 system for the Army’s Initial Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) platforms. FAAD-C2 is built on the open architecture common to the Northrop Grumman all-domain C4I solution ecosystem and will ultimately converge into the US Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS).

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

Phoenix

The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF), with support from Northrop Grumman Corporation, marked a significant milestone recently in the System Level Performance Verification with the completion of a nine-hour training and test flight conducted for the first time under control of NAGSF trained pilots.

NATO RQ-4D Phoenix Reaches New Milestone

«Northrop Grumman is proud to support NAGSF pilots training as they control flights with number one NATO RQ-4D Phoenix», said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. «We remain committed in our relationship to NATO and the mission to protect and defend global security».

The NATO AGS RQ-4D aircraft is based on the U.S. Air Force wide area surveillance Global Hawk. It has been uniquely adapted to NATO requirements and will provide NATO state-of-the-art intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. This includes protecting ground troops, civilian populations and international borders in peacetime, times of conflict and for humanitarian missions during natural disasters.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.