Tag Archives: DARPA

Autonomous Black Hawk

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have successfully demonstrated to the U.S. Army for the first time how an uninhabited Black Hawk helicopter flying autonomously can safely and reliably perform internal and external cargo resupply missions, and a rescue operation.

Autonomous Black Hawk
Sikorsky demonstrates to the U.S. Army for the first time how an optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter flying in autonomous mode could resupply forward forces. These uninhabited Black Hawk flights occurred in October at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company

Performed October 12, 14 and 18 as part of the U.S. Army’s Project Convergence 2022 (PC22) experiment, the flights show how existing and future piloted utility helicopters could one day fly complex missions in reduced crew or autonomous mode. This would give Army commanders and aviators greater flexibility in how and when aircraft and pilots are used, especially in limited visibility or contested environments.

 

Why It Matters

Sikorsky is partnered with DARPA to develop autonomy technology that will exponentially improve the flight safety and efficiency of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. Sikorsky’s autonomy system, known as MATRIX technology, forms the core of DARPA’s ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System) project.

«We believe MATRIX technology is ready now for transition to the Army as they look to modernize the enduring helicopter fleet, and acquire Future Vertical Lift aircraft», said Igor Cherepinsky, director of Sikorsky Innovations. «In addition to increasing flight safety and reliability, MATRIX technology enables survivability in high tempo, high threat 21st Century Security environments where Black Hawk helicopters operate today, and DEFIANT X and RAIDER X helicopters could operate in the future. Uncrewed or reduced crewed helicopters could safely perform critical and lifesaving missions day or night in complex terrain and in contested battlespace».

 

The Yuma Details

During PC22 Technology Gateway, the Sikorsky and DARPA team showed how the optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter with no humans on board can deliver a large quantity of blood product unharmed by flying low and fast above ground level using the terrain to mask its signature; resupply troops with an external load; and re-route mid-flight to evacuate a casualty.

To begin the flight demonstrations, pilots flew and landed the Black Hawk aircraft, then activated the MATRIX system to give full control to the flight computer. When the pilots exited, the helicopter autonomously completed the following mission demonstrations:

  • Long-endurance Medical Resupply: The Black Hawk aircraft flew 83 miles/133.6 km while loaded with 400 units of real and simulated blood – totaling 500 pounds/277 kg. On reaching 40 miles/64.4 km from its initial take-off point, the helicopter descended into a valley as low as 200 feet/61 m above ground level at 100 knots/115 mph/185 km/h.
  • Cargo Delivery and Casualty Evacuation (combined mission): The helicopter lifted off with a 2,600-pound/1,179-kg external load attached to a 40-foot/12-meter sling, and flew at 100 knots/115 mph/185 km/h for 30 minutes toward a designated landing zone. While in flight, the helicopter was redirected, simulating a scenario in which a threat needed to be neutralized near the primary landing site. Sikorsky demonstrated how a ground operator with a secure radio and tablet can take control of the uncrewed helicopter, command it to release its sling load, and then land to evacuate a casualty from a nearby location. Once the manikin on a litter was secured inside the cabin, the ground operator launched the aircraft. During the return flight, a BATDOK health monitoring device integrated with the helicopter’s communications system relayed the patient’s vitals in real-time to a ground-based medical team.

 

What’s Next

The PC22 demonstrations were the second set of uninhabited Black Hawk flights this year. Sikorsky and DARPA will continue to work toward the transition of this technology for military operations, such as aircrew support and operations, logistics and medical resupply, casualty evacuation, and commercial applications such as firefighting, cargo and urban air mobility.

Sikorsky and DARPA Autonomous Black Hawk Flies Logistics and Rescue Missions Without Pilots on Board

Beyond Linear Processing

Radar systems have seen many technology improvements in apertures (antennas) and associated hardware and software since the nascent operational versions in World War II. What hasn’t changed significantly over the decades, however, is that radars still use linear signal processing between the aperture and the detector. In the 1940s linear radar signal processing used vacuum tubes and analog circuits, while current radars accomplish linear signal processing digitally with microchips and software.

Beyond Linear Processing (BLiP)
DARPA seeks novel algorithms to enable current radar performance in systems half the size

With the Beyond Linear Processing (BLiP) program, DARPA’s goal is to improve radar performance by applying innovative signal processing methods. BLiP will leverage high-power computer processing to explore new, non-linear and iterative signal processing techniques that could lead to lighter, smaller, and less expensive – but equally capable – radar systems. If successful, BLiP would enable the same radar performance achieved on large platforms today on much smaller sea, air, and ground platforms.

«A lot of radar improvements over the past 30 years have focused on growing the size of the aperture for greater sensitivity or increasing transmitter power», said Frank Robey, BLiP program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. «Those are important, but if we want to shrink aperture size by 50% and still get the same radar performance then we need to disrupt the linear signal processing paradigm. With the tremendous increases in computer processing power available today, we can take a fresh look at radar signal processing and explore iterative, leap-ahead techniques».

BLiP will address the current immaturity of non-linear and iterative signal processing methods. Over the course of the two-year program, end-to-end radar signal processing chains will be developed, analyzed, implemented and tested – initially through non-real-time laboratory testing and culminating in real-time implementation and full-scale field testing using an operational National Weather Service radar. Key technical challenges for BLiP will be the development, understanding, and optimization of the signal processing chain, and the practical aspects of implementing BLiP algorithms using real-time, high-performance processing.

A Proposers Day for interested proposers is being held on October 28. The BLiP Broad Agency Announcement solicitation provides full program details for submitting an abstract and/or proposal.

POWER

DARPA is working on the next leap forward in energy distribution by leveraging wireless power beaming to create a dynamic, adaptive, speed of light wireless energy web. The goal of the Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay (POWER) program is to design and demonstrate airborne optical energy relays. These relays are a critical component necessary to allow ground-sourced lasers to be coupled with high-altitude, efficient long-range transmission. Additionally, such relays will enable future multi-path wireless energy networks.

Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay
POWER Aims to Create Revolutionary Power Distribution Network

«This is the internet for energy – harnessing resilient, multipath networks to flow energy from abundant sources to energy-starved consumers», said Colonel Paul Calhoun, POWER program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «The military faces particularly acute energy challenges, which are driving this innovation. We often must operate far from established energy infrastructure and rely on liquid fuels that require precarious supply lines».

Current military platforms that require long range, endurance, or significant weapons delivery capability must be physically large to carry the stored energy needed to complete a mission as liquid fuel. A wireless power transfer network transforms platforms into conduits rather than containers, which enables small inexpensive platforms with significant capabilities such as unlimited range or endurance.

Power beaming may sound exotic, but it is the exact same physics used in wireless communication. «You need a power source; you convert that power to a propagating wave, typically electromagnetic, send it through free space, collect it in through an aperture, and then convert it back to electricity», said Calhoun.

Conversion efficiencies remain a challenge, though. In a multi-hop network, converting from a propagating wave back to electricity and back to propagating wave at each node quickly accrues unacceptable losses. Each one of those conversions is relatively inefficient and multiplying them across a chain is impractical.

«The POWER program will develop efficient power beaming relays that redirect optical energy transmissions while maximizing beam quality at each point along the way, selectively harvesting energy as needed», said Calhoun. «It is a three-phase development effort, culminating in a compelling energy relay flight demonstration».

History has shown energy transport breakthroughs like the Roman roads, railroads, mechanized warfare, and air-refueling tankers that more rapidly and resiliently flow energy through the battlespace give a decisive military advantage. «We believe the next energy revolution will be enabled by the wireless energy web», said Calhoun. «It will dramatically compress transport timelines and resiliently provide distributed energy to consumers in air, on land, on the sea, undersea, and in space».

POWER
POWER would use relays to advance the state of the art in power beaming

X-Plane

DARPA’s AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane program, nicknamed ANCILLARY, aims to develop and flight demonstrate critical technologies required for a leap ahead in Vertical TakeOff and Landing (VTOL), low-weight, high-payload, and long-endurance capabilities. The goal is to build a plane that can launch from ship flight decks and small austere land locations in adverse weather without launch and recovery equipment typically needed for these systems.

X-Plane
AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane

«The ability for the warfighter to deploy and retrieve such systems in challenging conditions without reliance on infrastructure would minimize personnel, costs, and vulnerability during sensitive operations», said Steve Komadina, the DARPA program manager for ANCILLARY.

A large non-traditional commercial industry base has fueled recent VTOL research investments and advanced controls leading to innovative vehicle configurations spanning size, weight, power, and cost. Advancements in small propulsion systems, high capacity low weight batteries, fuel cells, materials, electronics, and low-cost additive manufacturing can now enable new architectures and designs to be explored in this trade space.

«ANCILLARY plans to use a multi-disciplinary approach that will bring together developments in advanced control theory, aerodynamic modelling, and advanced propulsion to solve a combination of challenging design objectives», said Komadina. «The upcoming Proposers Day and Expo on September 20, 2022, will not only bring together traditional aircraft manufactures, but also non-traditional military contractors that have been investigating commercial VTOL solutions».

Industry and academic technologists and researchers who could supply needed component and manufacturing techniques are encouraged to attend.

AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY (ANCILLARY)

NOMARS Program

DARPA is moving into Phase 2 of the No Manning Required Ship (NOMARS) program, which seeks to build and demonstrate a revolutionary new Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV) that can go to sea and perform missions with unprecedented reliability and availability, while carrying a significant payload. The agency selected Serco Inc.’s design to move forward at the conclusion of Phase 1.

NOMARS
Concept design for NOMARS Defiant unmanned ship

NOMARS took a clean-sheet approach to ship design, holding firmly to the requirement that there will never be a human on board the vessel while it is at sea – including during UNderway REPlenishment (UNREP) events. By eliminating all constraints and requirements associated with humans, NOMARS opened up the design space to novel ship configurations and capabilities that could never be considered for crewed vessels.

NOMARS is also pushing the boundaries on ship reliability. Because there is no crew on board to perform maintenance, NOMARS required new approaches for power generation, propulsion, machinery line-up, and control schemes to ensure continuous functionality throughout a long mission in all weather, temperature, and sea states.

«NOMARS plans to demonstrate a next-generation completely unmanned ship that will enable entirely new concepts of operations», said Gregory Avicola, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We will enable methods of deploying and maintaining very large fleets of unmanned surface vessels that can serve as partners, across the globe, for the larger crewed combatants of the U.S. Navy».

In Phase 1, Serco developed a new Design Space Exploration (DSX) toolset that can evaluate spaces with a variety of parameters and outputs millions of ship designs to meet a diverse set of performance objectives and constraints. Serco used their DSX tool to create a set of ship designs ranging from 170-270 metric tons, then refined those into a single ship for the preliminary design review, which the company dubbed Defiant. In Phase 2, Serco will finalize ship design, build the ship, and work through a series of rigorous testing activities before taking it to sea for a three-month demonstration event. Serco is working with Beier Integrated Systems LLC, Caterpillar, DRS Naval Power Systems Inc., ICE FLOE LLC (dba Nichols Brothers Boat Builders), Metron Inc., Serco Inc. (div Maritime Engineering Operations), Submergence Group LLC, and Thrustmaster of Texas Inc. on the project.

Defiant will be the first of its kind. The 210-metric ton MUSV-class ship aims to maximize performance, reliability, and maintenance efficiency while still carrying significant payload at tactically useful ranges. The goal is to achieve ultra-reliability objectives by integrating distributed hybrid power generation, podded propulsors, and high-capacity batteries. A key philosophy of NOMARS is «graceful degradation», which allows individual equipment to fail over time by having enough system-level redundancy to meet full system requirements at speeds of at least 15 knots/17 mph/28 km/h after one year at sea. The major system components of the selected design are modularized, so repairs can be conducted with equipment typically found in yacht-yards worldwide. This maintenance philosophy supports rapid turnaround, allowing the ships to spend a majority of their lifetime at sea performing missions.

Operational Fires Program

DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program has successfully executed its first flight test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The OpFires system achieved all test objectives, including first ever use of a U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) logistics truck as a medium-range missile launcher, missile canister egress, stable flight capture, and use of U.S. Army inventory artillery fire control systems to initiate the test mission. Lockheed Martin built the system, which includes a Northrop Grumman rocket motor, and conducted the test.

Operational Fires (OpFires)
Successful launch of OpFires missile from a USMC Logistic Vehicle System Replacement

The test demonstrated integrated technology maturation of key enabling components including the first stage rocket motor, missile canister, and Missile Round Pallet (MRP). The MRP is designed for use with the load handling system available on USMC and Army logistics vehicles, eliminating the need for a bespoke OpFires Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL).

«This is a promising step toward a TEL on-demand capability for accurately firing medium-range missiles from highly agile, readily available logistics trucks that are already in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventory», said Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Stults, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program manager for OpFires. «Our successful agile hardware development approach prioritizes full-scale flight testing that will inform further design maturation this year».

The primary goal of OpFires is the development and demonstration of a ground-launched two-stage propulsive system capable of employing hypersonic (greater than five times the speed of sound) payloads from ubiquitous U.S. military trucks (the Palletized Load System family of vehicles) that can penetrate modern air defenses and precisely strike time-critical targets. Compatibility with existing command and control, vehicles, logistics infrastructure, and operating environments ensures that OpFires is highly mobile and rapidly deployable.

«The OpFires program is a great example of how DARPA, in partnership with industry, is helping the Department of Defense facilitate rapid development and testing of advanced hypersonic technologies to accelerate the delivery of transformational warfighting capabilities», said Michael White, principal director for hypersonics in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

The OpFires program will complete an integrated system critical design review in 2022.

DARPA Operational Fires (OpFires) Successful First Flight Test

Liberty Lifter project

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Liberty Lifter project to demonstrate a leap in operational logistics capabilities by designing, building, and flying a long-range, low-cost X-plane capable of seaborne strategic and tactical lift. The new vehicle concept seeks to expand upon existing cargo aircraft by proving revolutionary heavy air lift abilities from the sea.

Liberty Lifter project
Liberty Lifter Aims to Revolutionize Heavy Air Lift: large seaplane concept envisions extended operations, affordable production, advanced controls

The envisioned plane will combine fast and flexible strategic lift of very large, heavy loads with the ability to take off/land in water. Its structure will enable both highly controlled flight close to turbulent water surfaces and sustained flight at mid-altitudes. In addition, the plane will be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.

Although current sealift is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functional ports, and results in long transit times. Traditional airlift is much faster, but has limited ability to support maritime operations. Additionally, today, such aircraft suffer payload limitations or require long runways.

There is a history of attempting to develop aircraft created to fly with «wing-in-ground effect», which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above ground or water. The most well-known examples are the Soviet «ekranoplans». These vehicles were high speed and runway-independent, but were restricted to calm waters and had limited maneuverability.

«This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters», said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations».

To address the shortcomings of existing vehicles and operational concepts, the Liberty Lifter program focuses on addressing three main challenges.

Extended Maritime Operations: Emphasis will be placed on operating in turbulent sea states by creating high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce wave impact load during takeoff/landing, and innovative design solutions to absorb wave forces. In addition, the project will address risks of vehicle collision during high-speed operation in congested environments. Finally, the aim is for the vehicle to operate at sea for weeks at a time without land-based maintenance activities.

Full-Scale Affordable Production: Construction will prioritize low-cost, easy-to-fabricate designs over exquisite, low-weight concepts. Materials should be more affordable than those in traditional aircraft manufacturing and available to be purchased in large quantities.

Complex Flight and Sea Surface Controls: Advanced sensors and control schemes will be developed to avoid large waves and to handle aero/hydro-dynamic interactions during takeoff/landing.

The Liberty Lifter program aims to design, build, float, and fly an affordable, innovative, and disruptive seaplane that operates efficiently in ground effect (less than 100 feet/30.5 meters above surface), can sustain flight altitudes up to 10,000 feet/3,048 meters Mean Sea Level (MSL), and enables efficient theater-range transport of large payloads at speeds far exceeding existing sea lift platforms. Liberty Lifter will use low-cost manufacturing akin to ship fabrication in building a highly innovative seaplane capable of meeting Department of Defense (DoD) heavy lift requirements (100+ tons/200,000+ lbs.) that operates with runway and port independence.

Glide Breaker

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking innovative proposals to conduct wind tunnel and flight testing of jet interaction effects for Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program. The overall goal of Glide Breaker is to advance the United States’ ability to counter emerging hypersonic threats. Phase 1 of the program focused on developing and demonstrating a Divert and Attitude Control System (DACS) that enables a kill vehicle to intercept hypersonic weapon threats during their glide phase.

Glide Breaker
Glide Breaker Program Enters New Phase

Phase 2 will focus on quantifying aerodynamic jet interaction effects that result from DACS plumes and hypersonic air flows around an interceptor kill vehicle. The Glide Breaker Phase 2 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) can be found at this link.

«Glide Breaker Phase 1 developed the propulsion technology necessary to achieve hit-to-kill against highly-maneuverable hypersonic threats. Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program will develop the technical understanding of jet interactions necessary to enable design of propulsion control systems for a future operational glide-phase interceptor kill vehicle. Phases 1 and 2 together fill the technology gaps necessary for the U.S. to develop a robust defense against hypersonic threats», said Major Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

Uninhabited flight

The DARPA Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program completed a first ever flight of a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter without anyone onboard. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, completed 30-minutes of uninhabited flight with the Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) over the U.S. Army installation at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on February 5th. An additional uninhabited flight was also conducted on February 7th.

ALIAS
ALIAS equipped Black Hawk helicopter completes first uninhabited flight

The Black Hawk was retrofitted with Sikorsky MATRIX autonomy technologies that form the core of ALIAS and can change the way aviators and air crews execute their missions by providing assistance when flying with limited visibility or without communications.

ALIAS is a flexible, extensible automation architecture for existing manned aircraft that enables safe reduced crew operations, which facilitates the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft. It also provides a platform for integrating additional automation or autonomy capabilities tailored for specific missions.

«With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics», said Stuart Young, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer».

The ALIAS program has leveraged the considerable advances in aircraft automation systems over the past 50 years, as well as similar advances in remotely piloted aircraft. Even in today’s most automated aircraft, pilots must still manage complex interfaces and respond to unexpected situations.

ALIAS aims to support execution of an entire mission from takeoff to landing, including autonomously handling contingency events such as aircraft system failures. Easy-to-use interfaces facilitate supervisor-ALIAS interaction.

«With ALIAS, the Army will have much more operational flexibility», said Young. «This includes the ability to operate aircraft at all times of the day or night, with and without pilots, and in a variety of difficult conditions, such as contested, congested, and degraded visual environments».

The Army is currently exploring potential use cases for technologies such as ALIAS, including those outlined in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.

Within the next month, the ALIAS program plans to conduct the first flight of a fly-by-wire M-model Black Hawk at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

First Uninhabited Black Hawk Flight

AI assistant

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Perceptually-enabled Task Guidance (PTG) program to develop a prototype Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistant. The prototype will be embedded in an Augmented Reality (AR) headset to help rotary pilots perform expected and unexpected tasks.

OCARINA
Northrop Grumman’s prototype AI assistant will help rotary pilots perform expected and unexpected tasks such as augmenting the crew’s response to an engine fire in this example

Northrop Grumman, in partnership with the University of Central Florida (UCF), will develop an Operator and Context Adaptive Reasoning Intuitive Assistant (OCARINA) that will support UH-60 Blackhawk pilots, who fly with both visual and instrumented flight, which varies with weather, time of day and other environmental factors.

«The goal of this prototype is to broaden a pilot’s skillset», said Erin Cherry, senior autonomy program manager, Northrop Grumman. «It will help teach new tasks, aide in the recognition and reduction of errors, improve task completion time, and most importantly, help to prevent catastrophic events».

Rotorcraft aircrews face numerous demands particularly when flying in close proximity to buildings, terrain, people and from the threat of adversary RADAR systems. Today, simple warning systems are the most common means for aiding a rotorcraft aircrew, such as auditory alerts to increase altitude. These warning systems are limiting and can induce unanticipated cognitive burdens on pilots. Studies have shown that inattentional blindness to such warnings can occur, often making them ineffective for the aircrew.

DARPA’s PTG program aims to develop AI technologies to help users perform complex mental and physical tasks. The goal is to provide users of PTG AI assistants with wearable sensors that allow the assistant to observe what the user perceives and know what the user knows. Using advanced information processing and an AR interface, the goal of the program is to have the AI assistant provide feedback and guidance through speech and aligned graphics at the right place and time to augment the aircrew.

Using powerful, proven algorithm development and implementation processes, Northrop Grumman develops and integrates leading-edge AI solutions into large, complex, end-to-end mission systems that are essential to our national security. Northrop Grumman’s artificial intelligence systems are developed using responsible AI principles. The company’s AI technologies are equitable, traceable, reliable, governable, auditable and protected against threats.

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