Tag Archives: DARPA

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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DARPA OFFSET

Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, recently supported the fifth OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics, or OFFSET, DARPA program field exercise. Using integrated swarm technology developed by a Raytheon BBN-led team, a single operator successfully controlled a swarm – composed of 130 physical drone platforms and 30 simulated drone platforms – both indoors and outdoors in an urban setting.

DARPA OFFSET
Raytheon BBN-led team recently supported DARPA’s fifth OFFSET program field exercise

During the exercise, the team used a combination of commercial off-the-shelf and custom-built hardware and software to deliver swarm autonomy. This enabled a single or small group of operators to direct and manage the activities of a large swarm of autonomous air and ground vehicles with minimal training.

«Controlling a drone swarm changes the way an operator or group of operators think about the drones», said Shane Clark, Raytheon BBN OFFSET principal investigator. «Takeaways from this exercise help inform us of the inflection points between utility and manageability».

A key element of the program is the use of inexpensive hardware. Without powerful computing and sensing capabilities available in larger more expensive platforms, Raytheon BBN needed to create a broad library of simple tactic building blocks used to create plans to accomplish mission objectives. Raytheon BBN also designed and configured a scalable, modular and decentralized approach to manage a variety of current and future platforms and missions. Whenever possible the drones collaborate actively to decide how to accomplish a specific mission most efficiently.

«Our software is smart enough to assign drones with the right capabilities to the appropriate set of tasks», Clark said. «For example, if the task is to surveil a building, multiple drones will be dispatched with each surveilling portions of the building. The software considers each platform’s sensor capabilities, and tasks drones with downward facing cameras to surveil the roof».

Once the drones are deployed, their collaboration allows them to understand what parts of a building have been explored and where the gaps are. They then autonomously select how to fill in those gaps.

To tackle the complexities of human swarm interfaces, the Raytheon BBN team created a virtual reality interface, in addition to traditional camera views. It takes feeds from all the swarm assets to create an interactive virtual view of the environment.

«You can look behind the building to access a view of drone locations for example and use the virtual reality environment to test and see if your mission is viable. We also developed a speech interface with the operationally deployed Tactical Assault Kit, or TAK, integration capability that enables the operator to act quickly while maintaining situational awareness over many systems simultaneously», Clark said.

The Raytheon BBN-led team includes Smart Information Flow Technologies, or SIFT, and Oregon State University. The team is contracted by DARPA to demonstrate its swarm capabilities during Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment 2022, hosted by the Army Maneuver Battle Lab.

Manta Ray

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Phase 2 contracts to continue the Manta Ray program that began in 2020. The effort seeks to demonstrate innovative technologies allowing payload-capable autonomous Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) to operate on long-duration, long-range missions in ocean environments. The two prime contractors, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation and Martin Defense Group, are each developing unique full-scale demonstration vehicles.

Manta Ray
Artist’s concept of a Manta Ray UUV

The Manta Ray program seeks to develop UUVs that operate for extended durations without the need for on-site human logistics support or maintenance. In Phase 1 of the program, performers designed and conducted preliminary testing on novel approaches in energy management, UUV reliability, biofouling and corrosion control, navigation, and undersea obstacle avoidance, among other areas that directly enable long-endurance missions.

«DARPA’s Manta Ray program has made significant breakthroughs toward enabling payload-capable autonomous underwater vehicles to operate independently of crewed vessels or support infrastructure», stated CDR Kyle Woerner, Manta Ray’s program manager. «By investing in diverse solutions, DARPA strengthens our ability to transition innovative undersea technologies to our national security partners. Manta Ray is uniquely positioning itself to simultaneously introduce a new class of underwater vehicle while contributing key component technologies to other vital undersea programs».

The Manta Ray program concluded Phase 1 with Critical Design Reviews (CDR) that demonstrated design maturity and readiness for advancement to Phase 2. The selected performers will now work on subsystem testing followed by fabrication and in-water demonstrations of full-scale integrated vehicles.

The Manta Ray program seeks to develop unmanned underwater vehicles that operate for extended durations without the need for on-site human logistics support or maintenance

Gremlin Air Vehicles

An unmanned air vehicle demonstrated successful airborne recovery during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program’s latest flight test deployment last month. During the deployment, two X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicles (GAV) successfully validated all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features before one GAV ultimately demonstrated airborne recovery to a C-130 Hercules.

X-61 Gremlin Air Vehicles (GAV)
Gremlins Air Vehicle during a test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, October 2021

«This recovery was the culmination of years of hard work and demonstrates the feasibility of safe, reliable airborne recovery», said Lieutenant Colonel Paul Calhoun, program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «Such a capability will likely prove to be critical for future distributed air operations».

During the final experiment, the team refurbished an X-61 vehicle and conducted a second flight within 24 working-hours. In addition, many hours of data were collected over four flights including air vehicle performance, aerodynamic interactions between the recovery bullet and GAV, and contact dynamics for airborne retrieval. Unfortunately, one GAV was destroyed during the flight tests.

«Airborne recovery is complex», said Calhoun. «We will take some time to enjoy the success of this deployment, then get back to work further analyzing the data and determining next steps for the Gremlins technology».

Safe, effective, and reliable air recoveries promise to dramatically expand the range and potential uses of unmanned air vehicles in conflict situations. The GAVs can be equipped with a variety of sensors and other mission-specific payloads. They can also be launched from various types of military aircraft, keeping manned platforms safely beyond the range of adversary defenses. After air retrieval, the GAVs can be refurbished by ground crews to prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos, is developing the Gremlin vehicles.

DARPA Gremlins Program Demonstrates Airborne Recovery

Scramjet-powered missile

DARPA, in partnership with the U.S. Air Force, completed a free flight test of its Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) last week. The missile, built by Raytheon Technologies, was released from an aircraft seconds before its Northrop Grumman scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) engine kicked on. The engine compressed incoming air mixed with its hydrocarbon fuel and began igniting that fast-moving airflow mixture, propelling the cruiser at a speed greater than Mach 5/3,836 mph/6174 km/h (five times the speed of sound).

Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC)
Artist’s concept of Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapons Concept (HAWC) missile (Courtesy: Raytheon Missiles & Defense)

The HAWC vehicle operates best in oxygen-rich atmosphere, where speed and maneuverability make it difficult to detect in a timely way. It could strike targets much more quickly than subsonic missiles and has significant kinetic energy even without high explosives.

«The HAWC free flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our warfighters», said Andrew «Tippy» Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next generation capability to the U.S military».

Goals of the mission were: vehicle integration and release sequence, safe separation from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and boost, booster separation and engine ignition, and cruise. All primary test objectives were met.

The achievement builds on pioneering scramjet projects, including work on the X-30 National Aero-Space Plane as well as unmanned flights of NASA’s X-43 vehicles and the U.S. Air Force’s X-51 Waverider.

«HAWC’s successful free flight test is the culmination of years of successful government and industry partnership, where a single, purpose-driven team accomplished an extremely challenging goal through intense collaboration», Knoedler added. «This historic flight would not have been possible without the dedication of industry, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Navy flight test personnel who persevered through the pandemic to make the magic happen».

The HAWC flight test data will help validate affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches that will field air-breathing hypersonic missiles to our warfighters in the near future.

Payload for DARPA

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Blackjack program has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a contract for Phase 2 development of an advanced, software-defined Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) payload, with options to build units destined for space flight.

Blackjack program
Northrop Grumman’s advanced, software-enabled positioning, navigation and timing payload has been developed to keep forces on target in difficult environments against advanced threats – even if the availability of existing satellite navigation systems are degraded or denied

The PNT payload work is led by Northrop Grumman’s Future PNT Systems Operating Unit in Woodland Hills. The team supports the DARPA Tactical Technology Office’s goal of achieving capable, resilient and affordable national security space capabilities from Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

«Northrop Grumman’s software-defined Positioning, Navigation and Timing technology will offer military users an agile new signal from LEO that is not dependent on existing satellite navigation systems», said Doctor Nicholas Paraskevopoulos, chief technology officer and sector vice president, emerging capabilities development, Northrop Grumman. «Warfighters depend on assured PNT for traditional missions like force projection and joint operations, but also for emerging autonomous and distributed missions».

The PNT payload features Northrop Grumman’s Software Enabled Reconfigurable Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Embedded Architecture for Navigation and Timing (SERGEANT) capability. The Phase 2 development effort is valued at $13.3 million if all options are exercised through emulation, critical design and build.

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

Integration and Validation

Northrop Grumman Corporation delivered the Arrays at Commercial Timescales Integration and Validation (ACT-IV) system to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The system is based on an advanced digital Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) that completed multiple successful demonstrations and acceptance testing at Northrop Grumman test facilities.

ACT-IV
Northrop Grumman tests its Arrays at Commercial Timescales Integration and Validation (ACT-IV) digital AESA system for the AFRL and DARPA at the company radar range in Linthicum, Maryland (Source: Northrop Grumman)

«The development of the ACT-IV system is a breakthrough in AESA performance and marks an important milestone in the nation’s transition to digitally reprogrammable multifunction Radio Frequency (RF) systems», said William Phillips, director, multifunction systems, Northrop Grumman. «The new ACT-IV capabilities have the agility to defeat complex emerging threats and will be used to enhance the next generation of integrated circuits and AESAs that are currently in our digital AESA product pipeline».

ACT-IV is one of the first multifunction systems based on a digital AESA using the semiconductor devices developed on the DARPA Arrays at Commercial Timescales (ACT) program. By applying the flexibility of the digital AESA, the ACT-IV system can perform radar, electronic warfare and communication functions simultaneously by controlling a large number of independent digital transmit/receive channels. The agility of the digital AESA was demonstrated during multiple demonstrations at the Northrop Grumman test range and will enable future warfighters to quickly adapt to new threats, control the electromagnetic spectrum, and connect to tactical networks in support of distributed operations.

The ACT-IV system will be a foundational research asset for the Department of Defense’s multi-service research initiative for digital radars and multifunction systems. This initiative will support a community of researchers that are developing new algorithms and software to explore the possibilities of next generation digital AESAs for national security missions.

The algorithms, software and capabilities developed on ACT-IV will transition into next generation multifunction RF systems to support advanced development programs throughout the Department of Defense.

«This delivery is the culmination of the close collaboration between the teams at AFRL, DARPA and Northrop Grumman», said Doctor Bae-Ian Wu, ACT-IV project lead, Sensors Directorate, AFRL. «The ACT-IV system is being prepared for initial testing by the AFRL Sensors Directorate as part of a strategic investment to develop and test the technologies for multifunction digital phased array systems in an open-architecture environment for the larger DoD community».

Northrop Grumman is the industry leader in developing mission-capable, cost-efficient, open-architecture and multi-function radar and sensor systems to observe, orient and act across all domains – land, sea, air and space. They provide the joint forces with the intelligence they need to operate safely in today’s multi-domain operational environment.

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