Tag Archives: DARPA

First Flight

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins program has completed the first flight test of its X-61A vehicle. The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A Hercules and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.

Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019

The goal for this third phase of the Gremlins program is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), or «Gremlins». Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The team met all objectives of the test in November, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems, and flight termination. A parachute anomaly occurred in a recovery sequence that is specific to the test series and not part of the operational plan. The incident resulted in the loss of the test vehicle, one of five in the program. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, which will continue in 2020.

«The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data».

The next step for the program is a full evaluation of the test data, as well as to understand any issues related to the failure for the main parachute to deploy. The team anticipates the second flight test at Dugway in the spring 2020 timeframe to remain on track.

The C-130 Hercules is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

The U.S. Air Force designated the Gremlins air vehicle as X-61A in August in recognition of the technical challenges associated with the program.

A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.

Gremlins X-61A Maiden Test Flight

Angler program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded six contracts for work on the Angler program, which aims to pioneer the next generation of autonomous underwater robotic systems capable of physical intervention in the deep ocean environment. This class of future Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) must overcome reliance on GPS and human intervention to support infrastructure establishment, maintenance, and resilience over the vastness of the ocean. The Angler program seeks to merge breakthroughs in terrestrial and space robotics, as well as underwater sensing, to develop autonomous robotic solutions capable of navigating and surveying ocean depths, and physically manipulating human-made objects of interest.

Artist’s concept of Angler

Three companies will perform in Track A, focused on developing an integrated solution for all challenges in the Angler technology and operational areas:

  • Leidos;
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation;
  • L3Harris Technologies.

Three companies will perform in Track B, focused on developing solutions specific to the fields of navigation, autonomy, and perception:

  • SoarTech;
  • EdgeTech;

The Angler program envisions numerous benefits, including:

  • Establishing functionality for long-duration mission navigation and autonomy deprived of GPS and surface-based communication;
  • Providing a first-of-its-kind long-distance undersea manipulation platform capable of fully autonomous operation;
  • Advancing perception systems to enable grasping underwater objects in degraded undersea environments.

The program is targeting three phases of development, culminating with a fully integrated prototype completing an underwater mission in a dynamic, open ocean environment.

Machine learning

BAE Systems has been awarded a Phase 2 contract to develop machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal of DARPA’s Hallmark Tools, Capabilities, and Evaluation Methodology (Hallmark-TCEM) program is to not only develop and evaluate tools and capabilities that increase an operator’s understanding of space events, but also enhance the ability to select effective courses of action for any given situation.

Machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios

Space assets such as satellites are becoming increasingly important and relied upon by the Department of Defense for communications, surveillance, and security. As part of Hallmark-TCEM, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development team will build cognitive-based machine learning algorithms and data models aimed to give space operators the ability to identify abnormal activities and predict possible threats. The team will build on Phase 1 work of the program, and continue to leverage the decade-long development of the company’s Multi-INT Analytics for Pattern Learning and Exploitation (MAPLE) technology with a solution called MAPLE Automates Joint Indications and Warnings for Cognitive Counter-Space (MAJICS).

«Our technology builds data models based on normal activity and then ingests large amounts of real-time, streaming data to compare against the normal model and determine if any abnormal activity is occurring or will occur», said Doctor John Hogan, product line director of the Sensor Processing and Exploitation group at BAE Systems. «By using this technology, we hope to reduce the operator’s workload by providing a solution that will automatically predict space events such as launches or satellite movements based on millions of pieces of data, helping them make rapid decisions to avoid any potential threats».

BAE Systems’ research on the Hallmark-TCEM program adds to the company’s machine learning and artificial intelligence segment of its autonomy technology portfolio. The capabilities developed under the Hallmark-TCEM effort will be integrated into DARPA’s Hallmark Software Testbed (Hallmark-ST) program. Work for the program will be completed at the company’s facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts and Reston, Virginia.

Tactical Boost Glide

Raytheon Company and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed a successful baseline design review for the Tactical Boost Glide hypersonic weapons program, establishing the company’s technical approach for a critical design review and moving the system a step closer to development and use.

Raytheon, DARPA complete key design review for new hypersonic weapon

A boost glide weapon uses a rocket to accelerate its payload and achieve hypersonic speeds – velocities greater than Mach 5. During flight, the payload separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.

«We understand the urgency of the need and are working fast to deliver this advanced technology to our nation’s military», said Doctor Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. «The goal is to keep America ahead of emerging threats, and we are well on our way».

The U.S. military will use hypersonic weapons to engage from longer ranges with shorter response times and with greater effectiveness than current weapon systems.

Earlier this year, Raytheon received a $63 million DARPA contract to further develop the Tactical Boost Glide program, a joint effort between the agency and the U.S. Air Force.

Signals Intelligence

BAE Systems has been awarded funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to integrate Machine-Learning (ML) technology into platforms that decipher radio frequency signals. Its Controllable Hardware Integration for Machine-learning Enabled Real-time Adaptivity (CHIMERA) solution provides a reconfigurable hardware platform for ML algorithm developers to make sense of Radio Frequency (RF) signals in increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum environments.

The solution provides a reconfigurable hardware platform for developers to make sense of radio frequency signals in increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum environments

The up to $4.7 million contract, dependent on successful completion of milestones, includes hardware delivery along with integration and demonstration support. CHIMERA’s hardware platform will enable algorithm developers to decipher the ever-growing number of RF signals, providing commercial or military users with greater automated situational awareness of their operating environment. This contract is adjacent to the previously announced award for the development of data-driven ML algorithms under the same DARPA program (Radio Frequency Machine Learning Systems, or RFMLS).

RFMLS requires a robust, adaptable hardware solution with a multitude of control surfaces to enable improved discrimination of signals in the evolving dense spectrum environments of the future.

«CHIMERA brings the flexibility of a software solution to hardware», said Dave Logan, vice president and general manager of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems at BAE Systems. «Machine-learning is on the verge of revolutionizing signals intelligence technology, just as it has in other industries».

In an evolving threat environment, CHIMERA will enable ML software development to adapt the hardware’s RF configuration in real time to optimize mission performance. This capability has never before been available in a hardware solution. The system provides multiple control surfaces for the user, enabling on-the-fly performance trade-offs that can maximize its sensitivity, selectivity, and scalability depending on mission need. The system’s open architecture interfaces allow for third party algorithm development, making the system future-proof and easily upgradable upon deployment.

Other RF functions, including communications, radar, and electronic warfare, also can benefit from this agile hardware platform, which has a reconfigurable array, front-end, full transceiver and digital pre-processing stage. Work on these phases of the program will take place at BAE Systems’ sites in Hudson and Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Dallas, Texas.

Fly-by-wire

A technology kit developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, was used for the first time to operate a Black Hawk helicopter with full-authority, fly-by-wire flight controls. The May 29 flight marked the official start to the flight test program for the soon-to-be optionally piloted aircraft. Follow-on flight testing aims to include envelope expansion throughout the summer leading to fully autonomous flight (zero pilots) in 2020.

A Black Hawk equipped with Optionally-Piloted Vehicle (OPV) technology made its first flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Fla., facility on May 29. Sikorsky is developing autonomous and OPV technology that builds on its fly-by-wire technology to ultimately reduce the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) (Photo courtesy Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company)

«This technology brings a whole new dimension of safety, reliability and capability to existing and future helicopters and to those who depend on them to complete their missions», said Chris Van Buiten, Vice President, Sikorsky Innovations. «We’re excited to be transforming a once mechanically controlled aircraft into one with fly-by-wire controls. This flight demonstrates the next step in making optionally piloted – and optimally piloted – aircraft, a reality».

This is the first full authority fly-by-wire retrofit kit developed by Sikorsky that has completely removed mechanical flight controls from the aircraft.

Through DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy to give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program aims to improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.

Sikorsky has been demonstrating its MATRIX Technology on a modified S-76B called the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA). The aircraft, which has been in test since 2013, has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight.

Sikorsky announced in March that its S-92 helicopter fleet update will include the introduction of phase one MATRIX Technology that will bring advanced computing power to the platform. This foundation enables adoption of autonomous landing technology.

DARPA’s interceptor

Raytheon Company successfully tested a hot fire rocket motor for DARPA’s Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System, or MAD-FIRES.

Raytheon tests rocket motor for DARPA's MAD-FIRES interceptor
Raytheon tests rocket motor for DARPA’s MAD-FIRES interceptor

The MAD-FIRES interceptor is designed to provide a robust and affordable self-defense capability that defeats multiple waves of anti-ship missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as other threats.

«The Navy is asking for leading-edge capabilities that can take out rapidly approaching targets, and Raytheon’s interceptor for the MAD-FIRES program will deliver», said Doctor Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. «This test shows Raytheon is right on track to provide an affordable, advanced technology to the fleet».

If fielded, this capability will combine the speed, rapid fire and depth of a gun weapon system with the precision and accuracy of guided missiles.

Undersea threats

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Biological Technology Office selected Northrop Grumman Corporation to prototype sensing capabilities using undersea organisms to assist in passively detecting and tracking undersea threats.

DARPAs Biological Technology Office Selects Northrop Grumman for Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors PALS Program
DARPAs Biological Technology Office Selects Northrop Grumman for Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors PALS Program

As part of the Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program, Northrop Grumman will develop biological sensing hardware that has increased sensitivity for certain sensor modalities, achieving greater range. Artificial intelligence will be applied to observe patterns in the marine environment to help classify targets. Northrop Grumman is partnered with Coda Octopus, Duke University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Memphis.

«The detection, classification and tracking of undersea objects is a critical military capability and we are excited to work with DARPA to develop this next generation approach», said Mike Meaney, vice president, advanced missions, Northrop Grumman.

Tactical Boost Glide

Raytheon Company won a $63.3 million DARPA contract to further develop the Tactical Boost Glide hypersonic weapons program. The joint DARPA and U.S. Air Force effort includes a critical design review, a key step in fielding the technology.

Raytheon wins $63.3 million DARPA contract for hypersonic weapons work
Raytheon wins $63.3 million DARPA contract for hypersonic weapons work

«This latest contract adds to Raytheon’s growing number of hypersonic weapons programs», said Doctor Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. «Raytheon is working closely with our customers to quickly field these advanced weapon systems and provide our nation’s military with the tools they need to stay ahead of the escalating threat».

Hypersonic weapons will enable the U.S. military to engage from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current weapon systems.

Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds – five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond – offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance.

The Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that aims to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems. In a boost glide system, a rocket accelerates its payload to high speeds. The payload then separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.

The TBG program plans to focus on three primary objectives:

  • Vehicle Feasibility – Vehicle concepts possessing the required aerodynamic and aerothermal performance, controllability and robustness for a wide operational envelope;
  • Effectiveness – System attributes and subsystems required to be effective in relevant operational environments;
  • Affordability – Approaches to reducing cost and increasing value for both the demonstration system and future operational systems.

TBG is a two-phase effort that plans to include ground and flight testing to mature critical technologies, and aims to demonstrate the system performance achievable through the integration of those technologies. The program is using a disciplined systems engineering approach to define demonstration system objectives and identify enabling technologies needed for future systems. The TBG program is exploiting the technical knowledge and lessons derived from development and flight testing of previous boost glide systems, including the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2).

Blackjack program

Airbus Defense and Space Inc. has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a satellite bus in support of the Blackjack program.

Airbus wins DARPA contract to develop small constellation satellite bus for Blackjack program
Airbus wins DARPA contract to develop small constellation satellite bus for Blackjack program

DARPA describes the Blackjack program as an architecture demonstration intending to show the military utility of global low-earth orbit constellations and mesh networks of lower size, weight and cost. DARPA wants to buy commercial satellite buses and pair them with military sensors and payloads. The bus drives each satellite by generating power, controlling attitude, providing propulsion, transmitting spacecraft telemetry, and providing general payload accommodation including mounting locations for the military sensors.

«Airbus has previously co-invested hundreds of millions of dollars in high-rate manufacturing technology and supply chain logistics to build large constellations of small satellites», said Tim Deaver, Director of U.S. Space Programs at Airbus Defense and Space, Inc. «Airbus is committed to growing manufacturing capability in the U.S. and our government customers can leverage this commercial capability to develop low-earth orbit constellations to complement large existing systems».

This contract positions Airbus Defense and Space, Inc., of Herndon, Virginia, and its strategic joint venture partner, OneWeb Satellites, of Exploration Park, Florida, as the ideal service providers for Blackjack.

High production rates and design-to-cost management techniques enable OneWeb Satellites to offer low cost constellation solutions for the U.S. government and current customers. Constellations of inexpensive satellites permit wide scale disaggregated architectures enhancing survivability across many different mission areas.

OneWeb Satellites is pioneering new value propositions in space. They are leading the design and manufacturing of ultra-high performing satellites at high-volumes.

«We have created a game changer with our overall design, supply chain and production system», said Tony Gingiss, CEO, OneWeb Satellites. «Our team is transforming the space industry and we are in the midst of demonstrating we can deliver on our promises».

OneWeb Satellites brings to bear capabilities which dramatically lower the cost and shorten acquisition timelines for customers thanks to a modular design and agile serial production of satellites.

The OneWeb Satellites satellite manufacturing facility in Florida is the latest step in Airbus’ continued and long-standing commitment to growth in U.S. manufacturing, job creation and investment.

This facility, which will ultimately support thousands of jobs and follows the opening of our U.S. Manufacturing Facility for A320 aircraft in Mobile, Alabama, from which we delivered our first aircraft in 2016. An A220 assembly line on the same site in Alabama will break ground in January of 2019.

With our extensive network of U.S. suppliers, Airbus is the largest consumer of U.S. aerospace and defense goods in the world – buying more than any other company or even country. Airbus invested $16.5 billion with U.S. companies in 2017, supporting 275,000 American jobs.