Sentinel A4 Radar

Just four months after the initial contract award, the U.S. Army’s Sentinel A4 radar program already achieved several key milestones. In January, the U.S Army approved the program’s Systems Requirement Review (SRR), Systems Functional Review (SFR), and the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for one of the subsystems.

Sentinel A4 Array Subsystem (Photo Courtesy: Lockheed Martin)

«Traditionally, the SRR and PDR take place several months apart, but thanks to Lockheed Martin’s preparation, investment and our technically mature radar solution, we are able to support the Army’s need to field the system more rapidly», said Mark Mekker, director, Lockheed Martin Army radar programs. «We have achieved every milestone while working on a very aggressive timeline in order to deliver the radar on schedule».

Lockheed Martin’s open scalable radar architecture is the cornerstone of the radar system’s design and will allow for future upgrades that not only extend the life of the radar, but address threats to our warfighters that will evolve over the next 40 years.

The U.S. Army awarded Lockheed Martin a $281-million contract to develop the Sentinel A4 system in September 2019. The new air and missile defense radar will provide improved capability against cruise missiles, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), rotary wing and fixed wing, and rocket, artillery, and mortar threats.

The radar will also provide enhanced surveillance, detection, and classification capabilities against current and emerging aerial threats in order to protect U.S. Army maneuver formations and high-value static assets to include: command and control nodes, tactical assembly areas and geo-political centers.

 

Proven Radar Experience

With broad and deep experience developing and delivering ground-based radar solutions to our customers, our high-performing, high-reliability, Solid State Radar (SSR) systems specialize in counter target acquisition, early warning, situational awareness, and integrated air and missile defense. Our radars are designed with the highest degree of commonality and fully integrated SSR systems. They can operate in all environments, are available in highly mobile configurations, and are deployed worldwide. It’s why Lockheed Martin’s ground-based radars are the choice of more than 45 nations on six continents.

Guided Missile Frigate

U.S. Navy awarded a contract to design and produce the next generation small surface combatant, the Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) April 30. The contract for detail design and construction (DD&C) of up to 10 Guided Missile Frigates (consisting of one base ship and nine option ships) was awarded to Marinette Marine Corporation (MMC) of Marinette, Wisconsin, officials announced.

An artist rendering of the guided-missile frigate FFG(X). The new small surface combatant will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations (U.S. Navy graphic/Released)

«The Navy’s Guided-Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) will be an important part of our future fleet», said Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday. «FFG(X) is the evolution of the Navy’s Small Surface Combatant with increased lethality, survivability, and improved capability to support the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations. It will no doubt help us conduct distributed maritime operations more effectively, and improve our ability to fight both in contested blue-water and littoral environments».

The FFG(X) will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations. Specifically, FFG(X) will include an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) radar, Baseline Ten (BL10) AEGIS Combat System, a Mk-41 Vertical Launch System (VLS), communications systems, Mk-57 Gun Weapon System (GWS) countermeasures and added capability in the EW/IO area with design flexibility for future growth.

«I am very proud of the hard work from the requirements, acquisition, and shipbuilder teams that participated in the full and open competition, enabling the Navy to make this important decision today», said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. «Throughout this process, the government team and our industry partners have all executed with a sense of urgency and discipline, delivering this contract award three months ahead of schedule. The team’s intense focus on cost, acquisition, and technical rigor, enabled the government to deliver the best value for our taxpayers as we deliver a highly capable next generation Frigate to our Warfighters».

The acquisition process for FFG(X) began in 2017. Since then, the U.S. Navy has worked closely with industry to balance cost and capability. This approach was successful in achieving an Average Follow ship cost across ships 2-20 that is below the objective set in the CDD and aligns to the National Defense Strategy’s stated goal of achieving a more lethal, resilient, and agile force by pursuing acquisition strategies to build ships more quickly and affordably. For example, because the frigate acquisition program promoted shipbuilding competition, included early industry involvement, and open communication between all stakeholders, the program was able to accelerate almost six years as compared to normal shipbuilding programs.

The U.S. Navy released the FFG(X) DD&C Request for Proposals to industry June 20 last year. Technical proposals were received in August 2019, and cost proposals were received in September 2019. This was a full and open competition with multiple offers received.

Features

 

Specifications

Displacement 6,500 tons
Length Overall 496 feet/151.2 m
Beam 65 feet/19.8 m
Propulsion Combined diesel-electric and gas (CODLAG)
Sustained Speed 26+ knots/30+ mph/48 km/h
Range 6,000+ NM/6,905 miles/11,112 km at 16 knots/18.4 mph/29.6 km/h
Accommodations 200

 

GlobalEye

Saab delivered the first GlobalEye Swing Role Surveillance System aircraft to the United Arab Emirates on 29 April 2020.

Saab delivers the first GlobalEye

The United Arab Emirates has ordered three GlobalEye aircraft, with the initial contract signed in late 2015. In November 2019 the country also announced its intention to complete a contract amendment for the purchase of an additional two systems.

«The delivery of the first GlobalEye is a major milestone for Saab, but also an important step in the history of airborne early warning and control. We have set a new standard for the market and I am proud to say that we have delivered the most advanced airborne surveillance solution in the world to the United Arab Emirates», says Micael Johansson, President and CEO of Saab.

GlobalEye is Saab’s new airborne early warning and control solution. It provides air, maritime and ground surveillance in a single solution. GlobalEye combines Saab’s new Erieye Extended Range Radar and a range of additional advanced sensors with the ultra-long range Global 6000 aircraft from Bombardier.

First Q-53 with GaN

Not only is the AN/TPQ-53 system the most modern radar deployed by the U.S. Army, it is now poised to be the first and only Army radar system operating with Gallium Nitride (GaN).

First Q-53 Radar equipped with Gallium Nitride delivered to U.S. Army

«Lockheed Martin recently delivered the first Q-53 system to the U.S. Army equipped with GaN», said Mark Mekker, director, Lockheed Martin Army radar programs. «This critical upgrade will enable the Army to continuously grow and enhance the system’s capabilities to meet changing mission needs».

GaN transmit-receive modules will provide the radar with additional power, reliability and the possibility for enhanced capabilities, including extended range, counterfire target acquisition (CTA) and multi-mission, which delivers simultaneous CTA and air surveillance. The systems upgraded with GaN are part of the Lot 3 contract awarded in 2018.

«We realize how critical it is to develop and build these radars so they will be responsive to the evolving operational demands and threats our deployed troops face every day», said Mekker. «Lockheed Martin’s open, scalable radar architecture is the cornerstone of the systems’ designs and will allow for future upgrades that will not only extend the lives of the radars – but evolve their capabilities over the next 40 years».

 

About the Q-53

The primary mission of the Q-53 is to protect troops in combat by detecting, classifying, tracking and identifying the location of enemy indirect fire in either 90 or 360-degree modes. The Q-53 has protected warfighters around the world since 2010.

 

Proven Radar Experience

With broad and deep experience developing and delivering ground-based radar solutions to our customers, our high-performing, high-reliability, Solid State Radar (SSR) systems specialize in counter target acquisition, early warning, situational awareness, and integrated air and missile defense. Our radars are designed with the highest degree of commonality and fully integrated SSR systems. They can operate in all environments, are available in highly mobile configurations, and are deployed worldwide. It’s why Lockheed Martin’s ground-based radars are the choice of more than 45 nations on six continents.

Slocum Glider

Underwater gliders that can rapidly send vital information that could give an extra edge to the Royal Navy’s submarine hunting operations are being rigorously trialled in the North Atlantic.

Royal Navy trials underwater gliders that can aid submarine hunters

One of the Slocum Gliders is right now being tested to the limit as it hoovers up information about the seas west of Scotland during a five-month deployment.

The unmanned Slocum – using its array of cutting-edge sensors – is capable of sending near real-time information on temperature, depth, salinity (salt content), currents, oxygen levels, turbulence and more.

These parameters can impact the efficiency of the sonar and sensors used by the Type 23 frigates and Merlin and Wildcat helicopters – as well as the Royal Air Force’s P-8 Poseidon – during submarine hunting operations.

Currently, data collection takes months, but these gliders can not only provide unparalleled insight, they can also relay information in a matter of hours.

The intention is for the navy to eventually deploy gliders continually to high-threat areas to give a clear and constant picture of the underwater battlespace, meaning operational decisions will be based on the very latest information.

Having this data quickly means sub-hunters will be able to adapt better when they are attempting to detect underwater surface threats.

«Ocean environments are changing – what we knew 20 or 30 years ago doesn’t apply now in many areas, particularly the North Atlantic which is our backyard for submarine operations and probably one of the most complicated and challenging bodies of ocean», said Captain Pat Mowatt RN.

«Salinity, sound velocity and temperature have all changed. We need to know these accurately as we strive to understand more and more about the undersea environment (battlespace) and how this effects the performance of ship and submarine sensors so we can achieve an operational advantage».

The way sound travels through water is greatly affected by the water temperature, pressure and salinity, which impacts the effectiveness of sonar and sensors used by ships and aircraft to track submarines.

The gliders can provide up-to-date information on these matters quickly to TAC HM (tactical hydrography, meteorology and oceanography) trained officers who can then advise submarine hunting commanders about the range of the ship’s sonars and how to adjust settings for best results.

A better understanding of water column properties can also reveal insight into how an adversary might exploit the environment to ‘hide’ in underwater features, such as ocean fronts and eddies.

The glider can dive down to 1,000 m/3,281 feet using controlled buoyancy to drive itself to the surface and back down, which ultimately means it can stay out at sea for months on end and constantly send data.

Right now, the Royal Navy continues to trial these gliders as part of Project Hecla. One of them is currently off the North West coast of the Outer Hebrides.

The Slocum was due to stay out for four weeks but has been extended to up to five months, giving the project the opportunity to test the glider to its limits on a long duration mission for the first time.

The data is being integrated into ocean forecast models by the Met Office and is available for use by the Navy at the Joint Operational Meteorology and Oceanography Centre at Northwood.

These trials are supported by the National Oceanographic Centre, British Oceanographic Data Centre and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.

During these latest tests, the project has been able to look at reducing power consumption of on-board sensors to extend battery life and resolve teething issues of getting data from the shore-side receivers to the Met Office.

Project Hecla was established to optimise the Navy’s ability to collect and exploit hydrographic and oceanographic information and they are continuing to look at other opportunities on top of the gliders.

Among those are ‘profiling floats’ (basically a cylinder packed full of sensors) that can operate for three to four years once they are in the water, sending subsurface measurements to shore.

The project will also trial how autonomous vehicles can aid data collection and exploitation missions alongside NavyX, who are responsible for developing and testing new technology for potential use on the frontlines.

Project Hecla is also involved in maintaining safety of navigation for all ships using autonomous vehicles.

Data from trials of the REMUS (Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS) autonomous underwater vehicles is used to produce Admiralty Charts for maritime navigation systems.

Main Combat System

With the signing of two agreements, Germany and France have reached another milestone in the development of a new, innovative Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).

Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) agreement signed

The Main Ground Combat System project, to be implemented under German leadership, is to replace the German Leopard 2 main battle tanks and the French Leclerc main battle tanks from the mid-2030s. With the project, Germany and France are sending an important signal for European defense cooperation.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and her French counterpart Florence Parly have signed a framework agreement that sets out project organization and management structures. Due to the corona situation, the ministers could not meet to sign together.

 

System architecture study

Both countries should benefit equally from the cooperation, which is why the contracts to be concluded are based on 50 percent financing between Germany and France. In addition, both nations should receive sufficient intellectual property rights for the future intended use of the work results.

The ministers therefore also signed an Implementing Arrangement 1, which forms the basis for the commissioning of a system architecture definition study.

The budget committee of the German Bundestag has only recently cleared the way for the commissioning of this two-year study. Here, too, Germany and France share the costs.

The system architecture is a prerequisite for the development of a technology demonstrator with which the German and French requirements for the MGCS Main Ground Combat System can be evaluated.

Barracuda

According to Defense-aerospace.com, Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, welcomes the first dive in the Suffren at sea, carried out on Tuesday April 28, 2020, after her departure from the naval base of Cherbourg. The Suffren is the first of six Barracuda nuclear attack submarines.

Suffren, the first of six Barracuda-class nuclear-powered attack submarines being built for the French Navy, has kicked off her sea trials with her first dive at sea. These trials were originally due to begin in early 2020 (FR MoD photo)

Led by the French Armaments Directorate (DGA), these sea trials, which will last several months, will confirm the robustness and efficiency of the submarine before her hand-over to the French Navy.

At dockside as at sea, the test campaign will follow the specific health prevention and precautionary measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SSNs are real instruments of power, enduring and discreet. Their missions are varied, and range from support to the deterrent force, protection of the carrier strike group, intelligence gathering, and anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare. Suffren-type SSNs will add a land-attack cruise missile capability and will be optimized for the deployment of special forces.

With the Suffren, France is starting to renew its fleet of SSNs, which entered service in the 1980s, and will thus have modern submarines among the most efficient in the world.

With this first outing at sea, the Barracuda program crosses a major milestone after the launch of Suffren, on July 12, 2019, by the President of the Republic.

Over the past eight months, the program’s industrial and state teams have successfully conducted all of the Suffren’s dockside tests aimed at verifying the proper functioning of its various systems and equipment. Three prerequisites have been validated: the combat system has reached the end of its tests on land and is ready for the continuation of assessments at sea; the nuclear reactor was started at the end of 2019 after loading its fuel and, finally, in January 2020 the submarine was floated to validate the first waterproofness tests.

Started in the English Channel, these sea trials will later take the Suffren to the Atlantic and finally to the Mediterranean. Under the supervision of engineers and technicians from the DGA, the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA), Naval Group and TechnicAtome, they will be carried out by submariners of the French Navy who will gradually check all of the boat’s technical and operational capabilities.

They are due to last several months until her delivery scheduled for later this year. During the entire phase of sea trials, the boat remains the property of Naval Group. She is placed under the responsibility of the French Navy for operational command and as a delegated nuclear operator. As the contracting authority for the Barracuda program, the DGA is responsible for testing up to the acceptance of the boat and her delivery to the French Navy.

The DGA worked with the CEA, the French Navy and industrial prime contractors to allow the program to continue under specific health conditions. Since March 16, the business continuity plan for the Cherbourg site and the Barracuda program takes into account all measures to ensure the health and safety of personnel.

In particular, all personnel on board for sea trials have been placed in preventive quarantine, and have been tested negative for COVID-19. On board, wearing a mask will be mandatory at all times and the rules of hygiene and disinfection will be strictly applied.

 

Technical characteristics

Surface displacement 4,700 tonnes
Diving displacement 5,200 tonnes
Length 99 metres/325 feet
Diameter 8.8 metres/28.87 feet
Armament naval cruise missiles, F21 heavy-weight wire-guided torpedoes, modernized Exocet SM39 anti-ship missiles
Hybrid propulsion pressurised water reactor derived from the reactors on board the Triomphant-type SSBN and Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, two propulsion turbines, two turbo generators and two electric motors
Crew 65 crew members + commandos
Availability > 270 days per year

 

Combat Systems

The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), the lead ship of the Navy’s next-generation of multi-mission surface combatants, on April 24.

Official U.S. Navy file photo of the guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) arriving at its new homeport in San Diego

Following this delivery, the ship will transition from Combat Systems Activation to the next phase of developmental and integrated at-sea testing. This event marks a major milestone of the dual delivery approach for USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), which achieved Hull Mechanical & Electrical delivery from shipbuilder General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in May 2016. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems was the prime contractor for the Zumwalt Combat System, and has lead activation and integration for Zumwalt class ships both in Bath, Maine and San Diego.

«Delivery is an important milestone for the Navy, as DDG-1000 continues more advanced at-sea testing of the Zumwalt combat system», said Captain Kevin Smith, DDG-1000 program manager, Program Executive Office, Ships. «The combat test team, consisting of the DDG-1000 sailors, Raytheon engineers, and Navy field activity teams, have worked diligently to get USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) ready for more complex, multi-mission at-sea testing. I am excited to begin demonstrating the performance of this incredible ship».

With delivery, USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) joins the U.S. Pacific Fleet battle force and remains assigned to Surface Development Squadron One. In addition to at-sea testing of the Zumwalt combat system, DDG 1000 will also operate as a key enabler in the acceleration of new warfighting capabilities and rapid development and validation of operational tactics, techniques, and procedures.

The 610-foot/186-meter, wave-piercing tumblehome ship design provides a wide array of advancements. Employing an innovative and highly survivable Integrated Power System (IPS), DDG-1000 has the capacity to distribute 1000 volts of direct current across the ships’ entirety, allowing for enhanced power capability for various operational requirements. Additionally, the shape of the superstructure and the arrangement of its antennas significantly reduce radar cross section, making the ship less visible to enemy radars.

«Every day the ship is at sea, the officers and crew learn more about her capability, and can immediately inform the continued development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to not only integrate Zumwalt into the fleet, but to advance the Navy’s understanding of operations with a stealth destroyer», remarked Captain Andrew Carlson, the Commanding Officer of USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). «After sailing over 9000 miles and 100 days at sea in 2019, we are absolutely looking forward to more aggressive at-sea testing and validation of the combat systems leading to achievement of initial operational capability».

The USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is the first ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers. The USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) is homeported in San Diego and is undergoing combat systems activation. The third and final ship of the class, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002), is under construction at BIW’s shipyard in Bath, Maine.

As one of the Defense Department’s largest acquisition organizations, PEO Ships is responsible for executing the development and procurement of all destroyers, amphibious ships, special mission and support ships, and special warfare craft.

 

Ship Characteristics

Length 610 feet/186 m
Beam 80.7 feet/24.6 m
Draft 27.6 feet/8.4 m
Displacement 15,761 long tonnes/16,014 metric tonnes
Speed 30 knots/34.5 mph/55.5 km/h
Installed Power 104,600 hp/78 MW
Crew Size 158 – Includes Aviation Detachment

 

Ships

Ship Laid down Launched Commissioned Homeport
USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) 11-17-2011 10-28-2013 10-15-2016 San Diego, California
USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) 05-23-2013 06-21-2016 26-01-2019 San Diego, California
USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) 01-30-2017 09-12-2018

 

Delbert D. Black

The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of the guided missile destroyer USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119) from Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Ingalls Shipbuilding division, April 24.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Delbert Black (DDG-119) conducts the second builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of HII by Lance Davis/Released)

Accepting delivery of the USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119) represents the official transfer of the ship from the shipbuilder to the Navy. Prior to delivery, the ship successfully conducted a series of at-sea and pier-side trials to demonstrate its material and operational readiness.

The 69th Arleigh Burke class destroyer honors Delbert D. Black, the first Master Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy, and will be the first naval ship to bear his name. Black is known for guiding the U.S. Navy through the Vietnam conflict and ensuring enlisted leadership was properly represented Navy-wide by initiating the Master Chief program.

«The DDG-51 shipbuilding program and Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast are proud to accept delivery of Delbert D. Black on behalf of the Navy, a look forward to her commissioning later this year», said Captain Seth Miller, DDG-51 class program manager, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships. «Ingalls has delivered another highly capable platform that will sail from our shores and help protect the nation for decades to come».

The DDG-51 class ships currently being constructed are Aegis Baseline 9 Integrated Air and Missile Defense destroyers with increased computing power and radar upgrades that improve detection and reaction capabilities against modern air warfare and Ballistic Missile Defense threats.

In addition to USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119), HII’s Pascagoula shipyard is also currently in production on the future destroyers USS Frank E. Peterson Jr. (DDG-121), and USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), as well as the Flight III ships, USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG-125), and USS Ted Stevens (DDG-128).

As one of the Defense Department’s largest acquisition organizations, PEO Ships is responsible for executing the development and procurement of all destroyers, amphibious ships, special mission and support ships, and boats and craft.

 

CHARACTERISTICS

Length Overall 510 feet/156 m
Beam – Waterline 59 feet/18 m
Draft 30.5 feet/9.3 m
Displacement – Full Load 9,217 tons/9,363 metric tons
Power Plant 4 General electric LM 2500-30 gas turbines; 2 shafts; 2 CRP (Contra-Rotating) propellers; 100,000 shaft horsepower/75,000 kW
Speed in excess of 30 knots/34.5 mph/55.5 km/h
Range 4,400 NM/8,149 km at 20 knots/23 mph/37 km/h
Crew 380 total: 32 Officers, 27 CPO (Chief Petty Officer), 321 OEM
Surveillance SPY-1D Phased Array Radar (Lockheed Martin)/AN/SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar (Raytheon Company) and Aegis Combat System (Lockheed Martin); SPS-73(V) Navigation; SPS-67(V)3 Surface Search; 3 SPG-62 Illuminator; SQQ-89(V)6 sonar incorporating SQS-53C hull mounted and SQR-19 towed array sonars used with Mark-116 Mod 7 ASW fire control system
Electronics/Countermeasures SLQ-32(V)3; Mark-53 Mod 0 Decoy System; Mark-234 Decoy System; SLQ-25A Torpedo Decoy; SLQ-39 Surface Decoy; URN-25 TACAN; UPX-29 IFF System; Kollmorgen Mark-46 Mod 1 Electro-Optical Director
Aircraft 2 embarked SH-60 helicopters ASW operations; RAST (Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse)
Armament 2 Mark-41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) with 96 Standard, Vertical Launch ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket) & Tomahawk ASM (Air-to-Surface Missile)/LAM (Loitering Attack Missile); 5-in (127-mm)/54 (62) Mark-45 gun; 2 (1) CIWS (Close-In Weapon System); 2 Mark-32 triple 324-mm torpedo tubes for Mark-46 or Mark-50 ASW torpedos

 

GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYERS LINEUP

 

Flight IIA: Technology Insertion

Ship Yard Launched Commissioned Homeport
DDG-116 Thomas Hudner GDBIW 04-23-17 12-01-18 Mayport, Florida
DDG-117 Paul Ignatius HIIIS 11-12-16 07-27-19 Mayport, Florida
DDG-118 Daniel Inouye GDBIW 10-27-19 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
DDG-119 Delbert D. Black HIIIS 09-08-17 Mayport, Florida
DDG-120 Carl M. Levin GDBIW
DDG-121 Frank E. Peterson Jr. HIIIS 07-13-18
DDG-122 John Basilone GDBIW
DDG-123 Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee HIIIS 01-27-20
DDG-124 Harvey C. Barnum Jr. GDBIW
DDG-127 Patrick Gallagher GDBIW

 

Flight Tests

The Emerging Technology Combined Test Force (ET-CTF) successfully completed flight tests on its newest autonomous aircraft test bed last month at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

A Bob Violett Models ‘Renegade’ commercial, off-the-shelf, turbine-powered jet aircraft, is parked at a dry lake bed prior to a test flight at Edwards Air Force Base, March 4. The aircraft will be used as an autonomous software test bed by the 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technology Combined Test Force (Air Force photo by Chris Dyer)

The flight tests are in support of the Skyborg project with the goal to ultimately provide an autonomous software testing package.

«We are doing function check flights of the BVM (Bob Violett Models) ‘Renegade’ commercial, off-the-shelf, turbine-powered jet aircraft», said Captain Steve DiMaio, ET-CTF, 412th Test Wing. «It is in support of the Skyborg test program testing autonomy. Currently, today we are just doing a build-up approach of expanding the envelope of the airplane, making sure all of our tunes on our autopilot are correct».

The Skyborg program is a developing software tool spearheaded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) that will allow engineers and researchers to develop autonomous capabilities. AFRL plans to have Skyborg as an Early Operational Capability as early as 2023. The ET-CTF is producing software for testing autonomous aircraft and to make them safer.

Variations of artificial intelligence such as the Automatic Ground and Air Collision Avoidance Systems have been proven to have save lives and aircraft.

The Renegade aircraft falls under the Group 3 classification of unmanned aerial systems as prescribed by the Department of Defense. This classification is for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) jets weighing more than 55 lbs./25 kg but less than 1,320 lbs./599 kg. The jet can also fly at speeds of 200 knots, or around 230 mph/370 km/h.

«It’s very similar to the previous aircraft that we used, which was called a Shockwave», DiMaio said. «This is slightly bigger; carry a little more gas (with) a bigger engine, not necessarily faster, but it is a great test bed because we have a larger payload capacity. We also have longer flight time and added capability just by that larger capacity inside».

The ET-CTF team, along with their mission partners, produce software for their test beds that push flight safety envelopes to help develop test safety procedures and requirements in the development of the Skyborg program. Engineers are able to install software updates to the aircraft and then study its flight characteristics and behavior to ensure the computer codes produce no harm to the jet and does as it is intended.

The ET-CTF team completed at total of five test flight missions with the Renegade in March, however because of recent minimum manning postures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, the team has had to rework their upcoming test missions, said John Wilson, ET-CTF Deputy Director.

«The COVID HPCON (Health Protection Condtion) limitations are impacting the next flight of the Renegade», Wilson said. «There are plans to continue to fly the Renegade in the future, but the flights are on hold due to COVID and our current minimum manning posture».

Wilson explained that while the ET-CTF’s mission partners may have travel limitations, ET-CTF is working with them for future flight tests, and in the meantime, the unit is working on furthering their own skill sets.

«There may be opportunity for continued training as ET CTF works to maintain pilot currency», he said.

The recently completed flight testing in March was a success for the ET-CTF and the Skyborg program according to Lieutenant Colonel David Aparicio, ET-CTF Director. It proved the viability of a surrogate small UAS aircraft at a higher speed regime, greater endurance, and a larger payload capacity than previous test campaigns.

«As the 412th Test Wing continues to seek ways to support the 2018 National Defense Strategy, affordable high-speed surrogate aircraft like the Renegade are invaluable to lowering the risk to future autonomy research and development programs», he said.

Despite the current travel restrictions and COVID-19 health protection conditions, ET-CTF and its mission partners are continuing to make advances in autonomy flight test. ET-CTF continues to develop test plans and procedures remotely with its team of operators and engineers. Additionally, ET-CTF developed some innovative procedures to protect its team while providing an ever-ready test capability to support the Warfighter, Aparicio added.