Tag Archives: DARPA

X-Plane Phase 2

For decades, aircraft designers seeking to improve Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capabilities have endured a substantial set of interrelated challenges. Dozens of attempts have been made to increase top speed without sacrificing range, efficiency or the ability to do useful work, with each effort struggling or failing in one way or another.

DARPA’s Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to provide innovative cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies and develop and integrate novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities
DARPA’s Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to provide innovative cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies and develop and integrate novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities

DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program aims to overcome these challenges through innovative cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies and by developing and integrating novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities. In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded the Phase 2 contract for VTOL X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences.

«Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention – truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles», said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. «This is an extremely novel approach», Bagai said of the selected design. «It will be very challenging to demonstrate, but it has the potential to move the technology needle the farthest and provide some of the greatest spinoff opportunities for other vertical flight and aviation products».

VTOL X-Plane seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could:

  • Achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 knot/345 mph/555 km/h to 400 knot/460 mph/740 km/h;
  • Raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent;
  • Present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6;
  • Carry a useful load of at least 40 percent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds/4,536-5,443 kg.

Aurora’s Phase 2 design for VTOL X-Plane envisions an unmanned aircraft with two large rear wings and two smaller front canards – short winglets mounted near the nose of the aircraft. A turboshaft engine – one used in V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft – mounted in the fuselage would provide 3 megawatts (4,000 horsepower) of electrical power, the equivalent of an average commercial wind turbine. The engine would drive 24 ducted fans, nine integrated into each wing and three inside each canard. Both the wings and the canards would rotate to direct fan thrust as needed: rearward for forward flight, downward for hovering and at angles during transition between the two.

In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded the Phase 2 contract for VTOL X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences
In an important step toward that goal, DARPA has awarded the Phase 2 contract for VTOL X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences

The design envisions an aircraft that could fly fast and far, hover when needed and accomplish diverse missions without the need for prepared landing areas. While the technology demonstrator would be unmanned, the technologies that VTOL X-Plane intends to develop could apply equally well to manned aircraft. The program has the goal of performing flight tests in the 2018 timeframe.

Aurora’s unique design is only possible through advances in technology over the past 60 years, in fields such as air vehicle and aeromechanics design and testing, adaptive and reconfigurable control systems, and highly integrated designs. It would also be impossible with the classical mechanical drive systems used in today’s vertical lift aircraft, Bagai said.

The Phase 2 design addresses in innovative ways many longstanding technical obstacles, the biggest of which is that the design characteristics that enable good hovering capabilities are completely different from those that enable fast forward flight. Among the revolutionary design advances to be incorporated in the technology demonstrator:

  • Electric power generation and distribution systems to enable multiple fans and transmission-agnostic air vehicle designs;
  • Modularized, cellular aerodynamic wing design with integrated propulsion to enable the wings to perform efficiently in forward flight, hover and when transitioning between them;
  • Overactuated flight control systems that could change the thrust of each fan to increase maneuverability and efficiency.

«This VTOL X-plane won’t be in volume production in the next few years but is important for the future capabilities it could enable», Bagai said. «Imagine electric aircraft that are more quiet, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway-independent operations. We want to open up whole new design and mission spaces freed from prior constraints, and enable new VTOL aircraft systems and subsystems».

VTOL X-Plane Phase 2 Concept Video

 

FLA Takes Flight

They may not have zoomed flawlessly around obstacles like the Millennium Falcon did as it careened through the hull of a crashed Star Destroyer in Star Wars VII. But the sensor-loaded quadcopters that recently got tested in a cluttered hangar in Massachusetts did manage to edge their way around obstacles and achieve their target speeds of 20 meters per second. Moreover, the quadcopters were unmanned … and real. Thus was the initial phase of data collection for DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program recently deemed an encouraging success.

A FLA quadcopter self-navigates around boxes during initial flight data collection using only onboard sensors/software
A FLA quadcopter self-navigates around boxes during initial flight data collection using only onboard sensors/software

DARPA’s FLA program aims to develop and test algorithms that could reduce the amount of processing power, communications, and human intervention needed for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to accomplish low-level tasks, such as navigation around obstacles in a cluttered environment. If successful, FLA would reduce operator workload and stress and allow humans to focus on higher-level supervision of multiple formations of manned and unmanned platforms as part of a single system.

FLA technologies could be especially useful to address a pressing surveillance shortfall: Military teams patrolling dangerous overseas urban environments and rescue teams responding to disasters such as earthquakes or floods currently can use remotely piloted UAVs to provide a bird’s-eye view of the situation, but to know what’s going on inside an unstable building or a threatening indoor space often requires physical entry, which can put troops or civilian response teams in danger. The FLA program is developing a new class of algorithms aimed at enabling small UAVs to quickly navigate a labyrinth of rooms, stairways and corridors or other obstacle-filled environments without a remote pilot. The program seeks to develop and demonstrate autonomous UAVs small enough to fit through an open window and able to fly at speeds up to 20 meters per second (45 miles per hour) – while avoiding objects within complex indoor spaces independent of communication with outside operators or sensors and without reliance on GPS.

DARPA researchers recently completed the first flight data collection from the common quadcopter UAV platform that three research teams are using for the program. The flight test data validated that the platform – which uses a commercial DJI Flamewheel 450 airframe, E600 motors with 12″ propellers, and 3DR Pixhawk autopilot – is capable of achieving the required flight speed of 20 meters per second while carrying high-definition onboard cameras and other sensors, such as LIDAR, sonar and inertial measurement units. During the testing, researchers also demonstrated initial autonomous capabilities, such as «seeing» obstacles and flying around them at slow speed unaided by a human controller.

Through this exploration, the program aims to develop and demonstrate the capability for small (i.e., able to fit through windows) autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles to fly at speeds up to 20 m/s with no communication to the operator and without GPS
Through this exploration, the program aims to develop and demonstrate the capability for small (i.e., able to fit through windows) autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles to fly at speeds up to 20 m/s with no communication to the operator and without GPS

«We’re excited that we were able to validate the airspeed goal during this first-flight data collection», said Mark Micire, DARPA program manager. «The fact that some teams also demonstrated basic autonomous flight ahead of schedule was an added bonus. The challenge for the teams now is to advance the algorithms and onboard computational efficiency to extend the UAVs’ perception range and compensate for the vehicles’ mass to make extremely tight turns and abrupt maneuvers at high speeds».

The three performer teams are Draper, teamed with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Pennsylvania; and Scientific Systems Company, Inc. (SSCI), teamed with AeroVironment.

The test flight and data collection took place at Otis Air National Guard Base, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in a former aircraft hangar that was transformed into a warehouse setting with simulated walls, boxes and other obstacles to test flight agility and speed. The test run also resulted in several crashes. «But the only way to achieve hard goals is to push physical systems and software to the limit», Micire said. «I expect there will be more flight failures and smashed quadcopters along the way».

The FLA program aims to develop and test algorithms that could reduce the amount of processing power, communications, and human intervention needed for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to accomplish low-level tasks, such as navigation around obstacles in a cluttered environment
The FLA program aims to develop and test algorithms that could reduce the amount of processing power, communications, and human intervention needed for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to accomplish low-level tasks, such as navigation around obstacles in a cluttered environment

With each successive program milestone flight test, the warehouse venue will be made more complicated by adding obstacles and clutter to create a more challenging and realistic environment for the UAVs to navigate autonomously.

«Very lightweight UAVs exist today that are agile and can fly faster than 20 meters per second, but they can’t carry the sensors and computation to fly autonomously in cluttered environments», Micire said. «And large UAVs exist that can fly high and fast with heavy computing payloads and sensors on board. What makes the FLA program so challenging is finding the sweet spot of a small size, weight and power air vehicle with limited onboard computing power to perform a complex mission completely autonomously».

The FLA program’s initial focus is on UAVs, but advances made through the program could potentially be applied to ground, marine and underwater systems, which could be especially useful in GPS-degraded or denied environments.

 

DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program recently demonstrated that a commercial quadcopter platform could achieve 20-meters-per-second flight while carrying a full load of sensors and cameras

 

TERN for Small Ships

Small-deck ships such as destroyers and frigates could greatly increase their effectiveness if they had their own Unmanned Air Systems (UASs) to provide Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities at long range around the clock. Current state-of-the-art UASs, however, lack the ability to take off and land from confined spaces in rough seas and achieve efficient long-duration flight. Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), a joint program between Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), seeks to provide these and other previously unattainable capabilities. As part of TERN’s ongoing progress toward that goal, DARPA has awarded Phase 3 of TERN to a team led by the Northrop Grumman Corporation.

DARPA has awarded Phase 3 of TERN to a team led by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. DARPA plans to build a full-scale demonstrator system of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS designed to use forward-deployed small ships as mobile launch and recovery sites
DARPA has awarded Phase 3 of TERN to a team led by the Northrop Grumman Corporation. DARPA plans to build a full-scale demonstrator system of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS designed to use forward-deployed small ships as mobile launch and recovery sites

The first two phases of TERN successfully focused on preliminary design and risk reduction. In Phase 3, DARPA plans to build a full-scale demonstrator system of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS designed to use forward-deployed small ships as mobile launch and recovery sites. Initial ground-based testing, if successful, would lead to an at-sea demonstration of takeoff, transition to and from horizontal flight, and landing – all from a test platform with a deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other small surface-combat vessel.

«The design we have in mind for the TERN demonstrator could greatly increase the effectiveness of any host ship by augmenting awareness, reach and connectivity», said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. «We continue to make progress toward our goal to develop breakthrough technologies that would enable persistent ISR and strike capabilities almost anywhere in the world at a fraction of current deployment costs, time and effort».

«ONR’s and DARPA’s partnership on TERN continues to make rapid progress toward creating a new class of UAS combining shipboard takeoff and landing capabilities, enhanced speed and endurance, and sophisticated supervised autonomy», said Gil Graff, deputy program manager for TERN at ONR. «If successful, TERN could open up exciting future capabilities for U.S. Navy small-deck surface combatants and U.S. Marine Corps air expeditionary operations».

«Through TERN, we seek to develop and demonstrate key capabilities for enabling distributed, disaggregated U.S. naval architectures in the future», said Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees TERN. «This joint DARPA-Navy effort is yet another example of how the Agency collaborates with intended transition partners to create potentially revolutionary capabilities for national security».

The TERN Phase 3 design envisions a tailsitting, flying-wing aircraft with twin counter-rotating, nose-mounted propellers. The propellers would lift the aircraft from a ship deck, orient it for horizontal flight and provide propulsion to complete a mission. They would then reorient the craft upon its return and lower it to the ship deck. The system would fit securely inside the ship when not in use.

TERN’s potentially groundbreaking capabilities have been on the U.S. Navy’s wish list in one form or another since World War II. The production of the first practical helicopters in 1942 helped the U.S. military realize the potential value of embedded Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft to protect fleets and reduce the reliance on aircraft carriers and land bases.

The TERN demonstrator will bear some resemblance to the Convair XFY-1 Pogo, an experimental ship-based VTOL fighter designed by the U.S. Navy in the 1950s to provide air support for fleets. Despite numerous successful demonstrations, the Convair XFY-1 Pogo never advanced beyond the prototype stage, in part because the U.S. Navy at the time was focusing on faster jet aircraft and determined that pilots would have needed too much training to land on moving ships in rough seas.

«Moving to an unmanned platform, refocusing the mission and incorporating modern precision relative navigation and other technologies removes many of the challenges the Convair XFY-1 Pogo and other prior efforts faced in developing aircraft based from small ships», Patt said. «TERN is a great example of how new technologies and innovative thinking can bring long-sought capabilities within reach».

DARPA and the U.S. Navy have a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share responsibility for the development and testing of the TERN demonstrator system. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) has also expressed interest in TERN’s potential capabilities and is providing support to the program.

The Convair XFY-1 Pogo is one of many attempts made after World War II to devise a practical VTOL combat aircraft
The Convair XFY-1 Pogo is one of many attempts made after World War II to devise a practical VTOL combat aircraft

Laser weapon system

Because enemy aircraft and missiles can come from anywhere, a laser weapon system on a military aircraft will need to be able to fire in any direction. However, the laws of physics say that a laser only can engage targets in front of an aircraft that is travelling close to the speed of sound – unless atmospheric turbulence can be counteracted. That is exactly what Lockheed Martin has done in developing a prototype laser turret for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), paving the way for laser weapon systems on tactical aircraft.

A prototype turret developed by Lockheed Martin for DARPA and AFRL controls and compensates for air flow, paving the way for laser weapon systems on tactical aircraft. Here, a green low-power laser beam passes through the turret on a research aircraft (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)
A prototype turret developed by Lockheed Martin for DARPA and AFRL controls and compensates for air flow, paving the way for laser weapon systems on tactical aircraft. Here, a green low-power laser beam passes through the turret on a research aircraft (Photo: Air Force Research Laboratory)

The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control (ABC) turret is the first turret ever to demonstrate a 360-degree field of regard for laser weapon systems on an aircraft flying near the speed of sound. Its performance has been verified in nearly 60 flight tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 using a business jet as a low-cost flying test bed. As the aircraft travelled at jet cruise speeds, a low-power laser beam was fired through the turret’s optical window to measure and verify successful performance in all directions.

The design uses the latest aerodynamic and flow-control technology to minimize the impacts of turbulence on a laser beam. An optical compensation system, which uses deformable mirrors, then is used to ensure that the beam can get through the atmosphere to the target. Left unchecked, turbulence would scatter the light particles that make up a laser beam, much like fog diffuses a flashlight beam.

«This advanced turret design will enable tactical aircraft to have the same laser weapon system advantages as ground vehicles and ships», said Doug Graham, vice president of missile systems and advanced programs, Strategic and Missile Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems. «This is an example of how Lockheed Martin is using a variety of innovative technologies to transform laser devices into integrated weapon systems».

DARPA and AFRL will use the results of the flight tests in determining future requirements for laser weapon systems on high-speed aircraft and expanding their effectiveness.

Lockheed Martin is positioning laser weapon systems for success on the battlefield because of their advantages of speed, flexibility, precision and low cost per engagement. The corporation’s advances include the development and demonstration of precision pointing and control, line-of-sight stabilization and adaptive optics and high-power fiber lasers.

 

Go to HELLADS

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions, announced on May 21, 2015 that the High-Energy Liquid Laser (HELLADS) completed the U.S. Government Acceptance Test Procedure and is now being shipped to the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico. At WSMR, the laser will undergo an extensive series of live fire tests against a number of military targets.

The recently certified Generation 3 laser assembly is very compact at only 1.3 × 0.4 × 0.5 meters. The system is powered by a compact Lithium-ion battery supply designed to demonstrate a deployable architecture for tactical platforms
The recently certified Generation 3 laser assembly is very compact at only 1.3 × 0.4 × 0.5 meters. The system is powered by a compact Lithium-ion battery supply designed to demonstrate a deployable architecture for tactical platforms

The HELLADS Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS) is designed to demonstrate the efficacy of a tactical laser weapon in Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (CRAM), Counter-Air and Counter-Missile applications, as well as a number of special applications. The 150 kW Class HELLADS laser has been developed over a number of years to create a completely new approach to electrically powered lasers with sufficiently low size, weight, and power consumption to enable deployment on a number of tactical platforms.

«HELLADS represents a new generation of tactical weapon systems with the potential to revolutionize sovereign defenses and provide a significant tactical advantage to our war-fighters», said Linden Blue, CEO, GA-ASI. «It is remarkable to see high-power laser technology mature into an extremely compact weapons system and be deployed for field tests. It will be even more remarkable to witness the impact that this will have on U.S. Defense capability».

The HELLADS laser was developed through a series of stage/gate phases beginning with a physics demonstration and progressing through a series of laser demonstrators at increasing power levels. At each stage, DARPA required beam quality, laser power, efficiency, size, and weight objectives to be demonstrated. The program also developed the world’s highest brightness laser diodes, compact battery storage, and thermal storage systems, and improved the manufacturing process and size of specialized laser materials and optics.

The HELLADS DLWS holds the world’s record for the highest laser output power of any electrically powered laser. Doctor Michael Perry, vice president of Laser and Electro-Optic Systems for GA-ASI, credits DARPA with a unique capability to foster, nurture, and support such a development. «The HELLADS team of program managers, technical support, and DARPA senior management has worked to address the challenges of developing a completely new technology. Additionally, if it were not for the hard work of our scientists and engineers, we could not have succeeded. This is the most challenging program that I have been associated with», said David Friend, HELLADS Program Manager, GA-ASI. «This program has advanced the state-of-the-art in so many areas».

The pioneering HELLADS DLWS represents the first generation of the technology. Through other U.S. Government programs separate from the DARPA-supported work, GA-ASI has demonstrated, second and third Generation versions of the technology, which significantly increase the efficiency and reduce the size, weight, and power consumption for the system while increasing the beam quality.

The third Generation system is currently being incorporated into a Tactical Laser Weapon Module designed for integration into both manned and unmanned aircraft systems. «Even as we begin development of the fourth Generation system, I am looking forward to seeing HELLADS perform in the live fire tests», said Doctor Perry. «The laser technology is a means to an end. What matters is the new and cost-effective capability that we can bring to our country».

Featuring a flexible, deployable architecture, the TLWM is designed for use on land, sea, and airborne platforms and will be available in four versions at the 50, 75, 150, and 300-kilowatt laser output levels
Featuring a flexible, deployable architecture, the TLWM is designed for use on land, sea, and airborne platforms and will be available in four versions at the 50, 75, 150, and 300-kilowatt laser output levels

TERN – Phase 2

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has awarded prime contracts for Phase 2 of TERN (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal of TERN is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs).

Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node: Artist's Concept
Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node: Artist’s Concept

These systems could provide long-range Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets, including manned and unmanned helicopters. Further, a capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources. The two prime contractors selected by DARPA to work on new systems are AeroVironment, Inc., and Northrop Grumman Corp.

«To offer the equivalent of land-based UAS capabilities from small-deck ships, our Phase 2 performers are each designing a new Unmanned Air System intended to enable two previously unavailable capabilities:

  • the ability for a UAS to take off and land from very confined spaces in elevated sea states;
  • the ability for such a UAS to transition to efficient long-duration cruise missions», said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager.

«Tern’s goal is to develop breakthrough technologies that the U.S. Navy could realistically integrate into the future fleet and make it much easier, quicker and less expensive for the Defense Department to deploy persistent ISR and strike capabilities almost anywhere in the world», added Dan Patt.

The first two phases of the TERN program focus on preliminary design and risk reduction. In Phase 3, one performer will be selected to build a full-scale demonstrator TERN system for initial ground-based testing. That testing would lead to a full-scale, at-sea demonstration of a prototype UAS on an at-sea platform with deck size similar to that of a destroyer or other surface combat vessel.

Unfortunately, DARPA has restricted the bidding teams from revealing most details about their aircraft proposals, said Stephen Trimble, Flightglobal.com reporter.

The agency has released an image of an artist’s concept for a notional TERN vehicle. It reveals a tail-sitter, twin-engined design resembling the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) built by General Atomics and used primarily by the United States Air Force (USAF) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The artist’s concept demonstrates a sharply dihedral mid-wing and the Predator’s familiar anhedral stabilisers. The new vehicle is shown equipped with a visual sensor.

A dedicated launch and recovery system for the TERN UAS is not visible on either vessel shown in the image. A tail-sitter TERN is shown perched however on the aft helicopter deck of the destroyer, suggesting no catapults or nets are required to launch and retrieve the aircraft.

Third flight test

The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) built by Lockheed Martin achieved a third successful air-launched flight test, with the missile performing as expected during low altitude flight. The test, conducted on February 4, was in support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy joint-service LRASM program.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the DARPA/ONR funded Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program that is developing both an air- and surface-launch compatible anti-ship missile that will provide OASuW capabilities
Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the DARPA/ONR funded Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program that is developing both an air- and surface-launch compatible anti-ship missile that will provide OASuW capabilities

Flying over the Sea Range at Point Mugu, California, a U.S. Air Force Rockwell B-1B Lancer bomber from the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, released the LRASM prototype, which navigated through planned waypoints receiving in-flight targeting updates from the weapon data link.

«LRASM continues to prove its maturity and capabilities in this flight test program», said Mike Fleming, LRASM air launch program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. «This much-needed weapon seeks to provide a new capability that would enable deep strike in previously denied battle environments».

LRASM is a precision-guided anti-ship standoff missile leveraging the successful Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) heritage, and is designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and Air Force warfighters in a robust anti-access/area-denial threat environment. JASSM-ER, which recently completed its operational test program, provides a significant number of parts and assembly-process synergies with LRASM, resulting in cost savings for the U.S. Navy and Air Force Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare programs.

The tactically representative LRASM is built on the same award-winning production line in Pike County, Alabama, as JASSM-ER, demonstrating manufacturing and technology readiness levels sufficient to enter the engineering, manufacturing and development phase and to meet urgent operational needs.

LRASM launched from a Rockwell B-1B Lancer attacks a maritime ship target during flight-testing (Photo courtesy of DARPA)
LRASM launched from a Rockwell B-1B Lancer attacks a maritime ship target during flight-testing (Photo courtesy of DARPA)

 

LRASM

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile is a new generation weapon system for Air- and Ship-Launched Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW). LRASM is a precision-guided anti-ship standoff missile leveraging of the successful JASSM-ER heritage, and is designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and Air Force warfighters. Armed with a penetrator and blast fragmentation warhead, LRASM employs semi-autonomous guidance, day or night in all weather conditions. The missile employs a multi-modal sensor suite, weapon data link, and enhanced digital anti-jam Global Positioning System (GPS) to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of numerous ships at sea.

 

Background

Lockheed Martin is executing a LRASM contract, funded by DARPA and the U.S. Navy, to demonstrate tactically-relevant prototypes of a next generation anti-surface warfare weapon that can be either air or surface launched. The long-range capability of LRASM will enable target engagement from well outside the range of direct counter-fire weapons. LRASM will also employ enhanced survivability features to penetrate advanced integrated air defense systems. The combination of range, survivability, and lethality ensures mission success.

LRASM technology will reduce dependence on ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) platforms, network links, and GPS navigation in aggressive electronic warfare environments. The semi-autonomous guidance capability gets LRASM safely to the enemy area, where the weapon can use gross target cueing data to find and destroy its pre-determined target in denied environments. Precision lethality against surface targets ensures LRASM will become an important addition to the Warfighter’s arsenal.

Lockheed Martin Corporation has invested $30 million into the shipboard integration effort, to be worked in partnership with LM Mission Systems and Sensors who is responsible for the Mk-41 VLS (Vertical Launching System) integration of the missile, and IS&GS who will be working the weapon control system integration (Photo courtesy of LM)
Lockheed Martin Corporation has invested $30 million into the shipboard integration effort, to be worked in partnership with LM Mission Systems and Sensors who is responsible for the Mk-41 VLS (Vertical Launching System) integration of the missile, and IS&GS who will be working the weapon control system integration (Photo courtesy of LM)

 

Specifications

Approach: Autonomous sensing and dynamic routing coupled with advanced signature control

Speed: Subsonic

Seeker: Multi-mode

Warhead: 1,000-pound penetrating blast fragmentation

 

Features

Engagement from well outside direct counter-fire ranges

High probabilities of target kill

LRASM prototypes demonstrated tactically relevant system maturity during flight tests in 2013

Rapid transition to meet Warfighter needs for ASuW weapon capability

 

$1 million per launch

Through its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been developing new concepts and architectures to get small satellites into orbit more economically on short notice. Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, provided an update on ALASA at the 18th Annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. Tousley discussed several key accomplishments of the program to date, including successful completion of Phase 1 design, selection of the Boeing Company as prime contractor for Phase 2 of the program, which includes conducting 12 orbital test launches of an integrated prototype system.

The ALASA launch vehicle would be attached under the Boeing F-15 military aircraft operating on a regular runway
The ALASA launch vehicle would be attached under the Boeing F-15 military aircraft operating on a regular runway

«We’ve made good progress so far toward ALASA’s ambitious goal of propelling 100-pound (45 kg) microsatellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within 24 hours of call-up, all for less than $1 million per launch», Tousley said. «We’re moving ahead with rigorous testing of new technologies that we hope one day could enable revolutionary satellite launch systems that provide more affordable, routine and reliable access to space».

The 24-foot (7.3-meter) ALASA vehicle is designed to attach under an F-15E aircraft. Once the airplane reaches approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters), it would release the ALASA vehicle. The vehicle would then fire its four main engines and launch into Low Earth Orbit to deploy one or more microsatellites weighing up to a total of 100 pounds (45 kilograms).

Launches of microsatellites for the Department of Defense (DoD) or other government agencies require scheduling years in advance for the few available slots at the nation’s limited number of launch locations. This slow, expensive process is causing a bottleneck in placing essential space assets in orbit. The current ALASA design envisions launching a low-cost, expendable launch vehicle from conventional aircraft. Serving as a reusable first stage, the plane would fly to high altitude and release the launch vehicle, which would carry the payload to the desired location.

«ALASA seeks to overcome the limitations of current launch systems by streamlining design and manufacturing and leveraging the flexibility and re-usability of an air-launched system», said Mitchell Burnside Clapp, DARPA program manager for ALASA. «We envision an alternative to ride-sharing for microsatellites that enables satellite owners to launch payloads from any location into orbits of their choosing, on schedules of their choosing, on a launch vehicle designed specifically for small payloads».

ALASA had a successful Phase 1, which resulted in three viable system designs. In March 2014, DARPA awarded Boeing the prime contract for Phase 2 of ALASA.

Because reducing cost per flight to $1 million presents such a challenge, DARPA is attacking the cost equation on multiple fronts. The Phase 2 design incorporates commercial-grade avionics and advanced composite structures. Perhaps the most daring technology ALASA seeks to implement is a new high-energy monopropellant, which aims to combine fuel and oxidizer into a single liquid. If successful, the monopropellant would enable simpler designs and reduced manufacturing and operation costs compared to traditional designs that use two liquids, such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

Once the aircraft is airborne, the ALASA launch vehicle would drop away, fire its engines and launch small satellites into Low Earth Orbit
Once the aircraft is airborne, the ALASA launch vehicle would drop away, fire its engines and launch small satellites into Low Earth Orbit

ALASA also aims to reduce infrastructure costs by using runways instead of fixed vertical launch sites, automating operations and avoiding unnecessary services. Phase 1 of the program advanced toward that goal by making progress on three breakthrough enabling technologies:

  • Mission-planning software that would streamline current processes for satellite launches;
  • Space-based telemetry that would use existing satellites instead of ground-based facilities to monitor the ALASA vehicle;
  • Automatic flight-termination systems that would assess real-time conditions during flight and end it if necessary.

DARPA plans to continue developing these capabilities in Phase 2 and, once they’re sufficiently mature, intends to eventually transition them to government and/or commercial partners for wider use in the space community.

Pending successful testing of the new monopropellant, the program plan includes 12 orbital launches to test the integrated ALASA prototype system. Currently, DARPA plans to conduct the first ALASA flight demonstration test in late 2015 and the first orbital launch test in the first half of 2016. Depending on test results, the program would conduct up to 11 further demonstration launches through summer 2016.

If successful, ALASA would provide convenient, cost-effective launch capabilities for the growing government and commercial markets for small satellites. «Small satellites in the ALASA payload class represent the fastest-growing segment of the space launch market, and DARPA expects this growth trend to continue as small satellites become increasingly more capable», Burnside Clapp said. «The small-satellite community is excited about having dedicated launch opportunities, and there should be no difficulty finding useful payloads».