Category Archives: Unmanned Systems

Optionally-Manned
Firebird

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Firebird multi-sensor aircraft showcased the versatility of the optionally-manned autonomous system as it flew to various locations across the United States last month. The ability of Firebird to be flown manned through national airspace is a demonstration of its unique operational flexibility for self-deployment and its rapid relocation ability to adapt to specific user needs and operational requirements.

Firebird
Northrop Grumman’s Optionally-Manned Firebird Demonstrates Operational Flexibility

The company flew Firebird almost 9,000 miles/14,484 km around the US with stops in Dayton, Ohio; Washington DC; Patuxent River, Maryland; as well as Tampa, Miami and Key West, Florida.

«Our flights showcased one of its key differentiators – the ability to position the system in a manned configuration, then convert to autonomous operations for persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in under two hours», said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. «At each stop, plane-side briefings provided customers the opportunity to see first-hand the operational versatility of the platform, its large sensor bay, and rapid configurability for changing mission needs».

Firebird is a medium altitude long endurance Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that is designed for flexibility and affordability. Customers can install new payloads in as little as one day, and swap payloads in 30 minutes making the system suitable for numerous domains and missions.

The flights concluded in Key West, Florida where the team conducted a series of manned maritime operational events that included a four-sensor package containing two high-definition Electro-Optical and InfraRed Sensors (EO/IR); a maritime configured multi-spectral sensor for small target detection; and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 97,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

The Firebird multi-sensor aircraft prepares for its multi stop demonstration tour

Payload release test

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) successfully completed the XQ-58A Valkyrie’s sixth flight test and first release from its internal weapons bay, March 26, 2021 at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

XQ-58A Valkyrie
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground test range, Arizona on March 26, 2021. This test was the first time the weapons bay doors have been opened in flight (Courtesy photo)

This test, conducted in partnership with Kratos UAS and Area-I, demonstrated the ability to launch an ALTIUS-600 Small, Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) from the internal weapons bay of the XQ-58A Valkyrie. Kratos, Area-I and AFRL designed and fabricated the SUAS carriage and developed software to enable release. After successful release of the SUAS, the XQ-58A Valkyrie completed additional test points to expand its demonstrated operating envelope.

«This is the sixth flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie and the first time the payload bay doors have been opened in flight», said Alyson Turri, demonstration program manager. «In addition to this first SUAS separation demonstration, the XQ-58A Valkyrie flew higher and faster than previous flights».

This test further demonstrates the utility of affordable, high performance unmanned air vehicles.

 

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.

MUAS for Australia

Northrop Grumman Australia and Leonardo Australia’s team has been shortlisted to proceed to the next phase of the SEA129 Phase 5 program for the acquisition of a Maritime Unmanned Aerial System (MUAS) designed to deliver a deployable Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (ISR&T) capability to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The Northrop Grumman and Leonardo proposal will enhance capability effects and tactical decision-making during RAN maritime operations.

Leonardo AWHERO
Leonardo AWHERO – First Ocean 2020 sea trial demonstration (Source: Leonardo S.p.A.)

«Northrop Grumman brings decades of unmatched expertise delivering and sustaining unmanned and manned aerial systems for customers in Australia and across the globe», said Christine Zeitz, general manager, Asia Pacific, Northrop Grumman. «We are confident our MUAS offering delivers world-class capability that addresses the RAN’s ISR&T mission requirements and optimises Australian industry capability».

The Northrop Grumman and Leonardo team’s proposal includes the state-of-the-art AWHero MUAS platform and subsystems, a capability specifically designed to operate in complex maritime environments. The AWHero is based on a mature and modular architecture that allows a wide and easily reconfigurable range of payloads including Leonardo’s Maritime Radar for unmatched ISR&T area coverage.

The team’s offering also includes an exportable variant of Northrop Grumman’s ground-breaking Distributed Autonomy/Responsive Control (DA/RC) command and control system. Integrated with the ship, control station and aircraft, DA/RC will deliver enhanced and automated tactical decision making to the RAN to help outmatch threats in a complex, unpredictable threat environment. The collaborative autonomy software will also be incorporated in Northrop Grumman Australia’s distributed systems integration laboratory which will provide the RAN and Australian industry a collaborative development environment to effectively exploit evolving technologies.

«We are excited to join forces with Northrop Grumman and Australian industry partners, further strengthening our collaborative approach in Australia», said Brian McEachen, VP Military Sales Asia-Pacific, Leonardo Helicopters. «The integrated capability of the AWHero leverages Leonardo’s expertise in rotorcraft, system integration, UAS and operations in the maritime domain, which combined with Northrop Grumman’s extensive portfolio of world-leading capabilities and technologies will provide the Royal Australian Navy with a level of advanced MUAS-based ISR&T they seek both now and into the future».

An integral part of the Northrop Grumman and Leonardo proposal is a commitment to maximising Australian industry participation. A robust and reliable domestic support network of proven industry members will be engaged in the production, delivery, sustainment and follow-on development of sovereign MUAS capability to the Australian Defence Force to meet the RAN’s current and future needs.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 97,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

First Flight

Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) have successfully completed the first test flight of the Loyal Wingman uncrewed aircraft.

Loyal Wingman
Successful test progresses Royal Australian Air Force’s teaming aircraft program

The flight of the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years flew under the supervision of a Boeing test pilot monitoring the aircraft from a ground control station at the Woomera Range Complex.

«The Loyal Wingman’s first flight is a major step in this long-term, significant project for the Air Force and Boeing Australia, and we’re thrilled to be a part of the successful test», said Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability. «The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams. Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions», she said.

Following a series of taxi tests validating ground handling, navigation and control, and pilot interface, the aircraft completed a successful takeoff under its own power before flying a pre-determined route at different speeds and altitudes to verify flight functionality and demonstrate the performance of the Airpower Teaming System design.

«Boeing and Australia are pioneering fully integrated combat operations by crewed and uncrewed aircraft», said Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and CEO Leanne Caret. «We’re honored to be opening this part of aviation’s future with the Royal Australian Air Force, and we look forward to showing others how they also could benefit from our loyal wingman capabilities».

With support from more than 35 Australian industry teams and leveraging Boeing’s innovative processes, including model-based engineering techniques, such as a digital twin to digitally flight-test missions, the team was able to manufacture the aircraft from design to flight in three years.

This first Loyal Wingman aircraft is serving as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System being developed for various global defense customers. The aircraft will fly alongside other platforms, using artificial intelligence to team with existing crewed and uncrewed assets to complement mission capabilities.

Additional Loyal Wingman aircraft are currently under development, with plans for teaming flights scheduled for later this year.

Australia’s First Loyal Wingman Completes Maiden Flight

Blue Water UAS

Naval Air Force Atlantic conducted a test of a logistics Unmanned Air System (UAS) prototype over Naval Station Norfolk (NAS) on February 21, 2021. The long-range cargo transport, dubbed Blue Water UAS, is designed to operate with Naval Forces that typically operate in heavy winds over open water and require aircraft to land on pitching vessels at sea. The technology demonstrator vehicle can operate in some of these conditions and further development will be required to meet the full Naval requirement.

Blue Water UAS
Naval Air Force Atlantic demonstrates UAS prototype

«The Ford Blue Water UAS supply demo is a first step in revolutionizing logistics support to maximize operational availability and lethality for these critical capital assets», said Captain John Bush, Director, Aircraft Material and Engineering, Naval Air Forces Atlantic.

The proof-of-concept test was successfully conducted by transporting light-weight logistical equipment from the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC), Naval Station Norfolk on board USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) while the Ford-class aircraft carrier was in-port.

«This UAS demonstration leverages cutting edge technology to enhance our logistical efficiency across the Naval Air Force», said Rear Admiral John F. Meier, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic. «We have come a long way in integrating unmanned systems in Naval Aviation and the lessons learned today will help to accelerate this capability to the fleet».

Historic data from Navy casualty reports show that warships that move to non-mission capable or partially mission capable status often do so due to logistics issues like the need for electronic parts, 90 percent of which are logistical deliveries weighing less than 50 pounds/22.68 kg. Currently, aircraft like the MH-60 helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft fly these missions. Blue Water presents an opportunity to cut the cost and inefficiency of these flights.

«Carrier logistics is a complex and diverse problem set», said Captain Paul Lanzilotta, Gerald R. Ford’s commanding officer. «Sometimes getting a small part delivered to the ship has a big impact on the availability of an embarked system or aircraft. Having UAS like Blue Water may improve our ability to quickly meet specific logistics needs where payload and ship’s location permit».

The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) will continue to work with its industry partners to enhance the UAS in-house with developments like folding wings for better handling and ship storage, and consider alternative air vehicle designs with advanced propulsion systems to provide greater range and payload performance, optical and infrared collision avoidance and landing systems, and navigation systems not only dependent on GPS.

«Deterring, fighting, and winning future conflicts will require more from us», said NAWCAD Commander, Rear Adm. John Lemmon. «Developmental platforms like our Blue Water UAS are important for exploring opportunities to maintain a competitive edge with top-tier technology and improve the logistical support of America’s Sailors and Marines».

Blue Water UAS can operate from both the ship and the shore. It requires minimal maintenance and control stations are small – about the size of a shoebox or small suitcase – netting near zero infrastructure. Experimentation with the fleet will continue throughout 2021. The results of the experimentation will help the Navy decide whether to transition the technology to support fleet initiatives.

Alliance Surveillance

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk has recently enabled NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force to achieve a declaration of initial operating capability (IOC) from Supreme Allied Commander Europe, giving NATO commanders the ability to perform uninterrupted in-theater operations 24/7/365. The RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk variant provides cutting-edge Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) in support of global security.

RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk
NATO AGS RQ-4D Phoenix Global Hawk

«NATO AGS will help the Alliance with persistent regional defense and deterrence», said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. «The commitment of the entire AGS team partnership – both government and industry – has shown incredible dedication, working across cultures, time zones and languages, all aiming toward one goal – providing the Alliance with this critical capability».

The NATO AGS system is comprised of five aircraft, ground and support segments, along with advanced sensor technologies. The Phoenix aircraft has met the rigorous standards required for the first large unmanned aerial vehicle – military type certification and approved by the Italian Directorate of Aeronautical Armaments and Airworthiness (DAAA). Companies from across NATO member nations, including Leonardo, Airbus and Kongsberg, comprise the Northrop Grumman-led industry team that developed the NATO AGS capability.

The wide area surveillance of the RQ-4D Global Hawk and the fixed, mobile and transportable ground stations will support a full range of missions, including protection of ground troops and civilian populations, border control, crisis management and humanitarian assistance in natural disasters. The platform’s high-altitude, long-endurance capability delivers sustained, uninterrupted in-theater operations providing an unprecedented amount of ISR data to the Alliance. With the state-of-the-art main operating base at the Italian Air Base, Sigonella, Italy, data can be rapidly disseminated to allied forces, providing an unmatched advantage.

Northrop Grumman’s family of autonomous High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HALE) systems, including Global Hawk, are a critical component of networked, global ISR collection for allied nations and mutual defense organizations around the world. Global Hawk collects ISR data that enables decision makers to act with the right information at the right time.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 97,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

LongShot Concept

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Tactical Technology Office (TTO) to develop an advanced technology weapon concept designed to significantly increase engagement range and weapon effectiveness of U.S. Forces against adversary air threats.

LongShot
Northrop Grumman to Develop Advanced Air-to-Air Missile Engagement Concept

«Our collaboration with DARPA is the critical first step in the development of innovative operational concepts and solutions that will enhance our warfighter’s combat capability against a rapidly growing threat», said Jaime Engdahl, program director, kinetic weapons and emerging capabilities, Northrop Grumman. «The LongShot program enables us to combine our digital engineering skillset with our extensive knowledge in advanced technology weapons, autonomous systems and strike platforms to increase weapon range and effectiveness».

Spurred by rapid technological advancements and an ever more dangerous and disruptive battlefield, DARPA’s LongShot program will explore new lethal engagement concepts by leveraging multi-modal propulsion, weapon systems that can be operationally deployed from existing fighters or bombers.

DARPA’s advanced aerospace systems activities are focused on utilizing high pay-off opportunities to provide revolutionary new system capabilities, as opposed to incremental or evolutionary advancements, in order to achieve undeterrable air presence at dramatically reduced costs.

The LongShot program enables Northrop Grumman to combine its expertise in weapon system design, survivability, autonomy, advanced mission systems and rapid prototyping to deliver advanced solutions that help to maintain a competitive military advantage in highly contested environments.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 97,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

Airbus Survey Copter

Airbus Defence and Space mini UAS subsidiary Survey Copter signed a contract with French DGA Armament general directorate to provide the French Navy with 11 systems, (22 aircraft), of the electrically powered fixed-wing Aliaca maritime version Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) (officially called SMDM/«Systèmes de Mini Drones aériens embarqués pour la Marine» by French authorities), including training and integrated logistic support. First deliveries are expected in 2021.

Airbus Survey Copter Aliaca
French ministry for Armed Forces selects Airbus Survey Copter Aliaca fixed-wing drone systems to equip its ships

«We are honored to contribute to the missions of the French Navy which we will support with the highest standards of quality and reliability. This new contract strengthens Survey Copter’s position as a global key player for maritime mini UAS», said Nicolas Askamp, Head of Survey Copter/Airbus Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The Aliaca maritime UAS is a high endurance versatile system allowing up to 3 hours missions over a 50 km/31 miles/27 NM range, perfectly adapted to maritime missions with high gyro stabilized Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) payload performances and qualified to operate in severe environmental conditions. Launched by catapult, the Aliaca maritime UAS concludes its flight by landing automatically using a dedicated net landing solution. With a length of 2,2 m/7.2 feet and a wingspan of 3,6 m/11.8 feet for a maximum take-off weight of 16 kg/35 lbs., the Aliaca maritime UAS benefits from a powerful yet silent electric motor. The system can be deployed easily and rapidly in less than 15 minutes by 2 operators only.

Similarly, the «user-friendly» ground control station enables the operator to constantly monitor the automatic flight of the UAS while receiving in real-time day and night images and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data gathered by its on-board sensors.

It is designed to conduct several types of missions around the ships, including increasing the understanding of the tactical situation, control of illegal operations at sea, search-and-rescue, traffic monitoring, pollution detection, tracking of any suspicious behaviour in the ship environment and coastal surveillance.

This light on-board aerial solution gives the opportunity to vessels, traditionally not equipped with aerial assets, to enhance their tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, support decision making and reactivity in operations.

The Aliaca maritime UAS can easily be integrated on board any ships, with or without helicopter landing-deck, and its small logistic footprint enables operations and storage on board smaller sized ships. Its integration does not require heavy on-board modification nor storage of specific fuel.

The result of 10 years of Research and Development (R&D) investments and on-board experimentations, Survey Copter’s «off the shelf» Aliaca maritime UAS is a robust and resistant system to the corrosive maritime environment, an adapted solution to the electro-magnetic constrains on board, and benefits from an efficient net recovery system, fully automated, meaning that no human action is required during the recovery phase.

LongShot program

DARPA’s LongShot program, which is developing an air-launched Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) with the ability to employ multiple air-to-air weapons, has awarded contracts to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for preliminary Phase I design work. The objective is to develop a novel UAV that can significantly extend engagement ranges, increase mission effectiveness, and reduce the risk to manned aircraft.

LongShot UAV
Artist’s concept of LongShot UAV

Current air superiority concepts rely on advanced manned fighter aircraft to provide a penetrating counter air capability to effectively deliver weapons. It is envisioned that LongShot will increase the survivability of manned platforms by allowing them to be at standoff ranges far away from enemy threats, while an air-launched LongShot UAV efficiently closes the gap to take more effective missile shots.

«The LongShot program changes the paradigm of air combat operations by demonstrating an unmanned, air-launched vehicle capable of employing current and advanced air-to-air weapons», said DARPA program manager Lieutenant Colonel Paul Calhoun. «LongShot will disrupt traditional incremental weapon improvements by providing an alternative means of generating combat capability».

In later phases of the program, LongShot will construct and fly a full-scale air-launched demonstration system capable of controlled flight, before, during, and after weapon ejection under operational conditions.

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.