Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, has delivered the first-ever experimental Flexible Distributed Array Radar, or FlexDAR, to the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Built in partnership with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, FlexDAR combines digital beam forming, network coordination and precise time synchronization to perform multiple missions, such as surveillance, communications and electronic warfare, simultaneously with a single array.
«FlexDAR is a new apex in phased array radar system development», said Colin Whelan, vice president of Advanced Technology at Raytheon Missiles & Defense. «It will improve military communications and deliver on our vision for a multi-mission radar. There really is nothing else like it on the planet».
NRL developed FlexDAR’s back-end subsystems, which were integrated with Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s front-end subsystems at the company’s Rhode Island facility. Further integration and testing occurred at the NRL’s Chesapeake Bay Detachment in Maryland, before delivering FlexDAR to ONR at their NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
«This was a highly successful collaboration between the Navy’s technology arm and a trusted industry partner», said Doctor Bradley Binder, program officer at ONR. «The partnership between ONR, NRL and Raytheon Missiles & Defense on FlexDAR has resulted in the delivery of a digital testbed that will pioneer next-generation capabilities for surface-, sea- and air-based platforms».
FlexDAR is being developed under ONR’s Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare Command and Control (EMC2) program to demonstrate the benefits of migrating digital technologies closer to a sensor’s front end. It comprises two experimental phased-array radars equipped with digital beam forming, communications and network-linked, distributed radar tracking.
FlexDAR’s aperture is capable of using a very large portion of its operating band at once, and it can expand to include future software upgrades.
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.
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.
A new era in autonomy and unmanned systems for naval operations is on the horizon, as officials at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced April 14 recent technology demonstrations of swarming Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. LOCUST can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary. The deployment of UAV swarms will provide Sailors and Marines a decisive tactical advantage.
«The recent demonstrations are an important step on the way to the 2016 ship-based demonstration of 30 rapidly launched autonomous, swarming UAVs», said ONR program manager Lee Mastroianni.
The LOCUST program includes a tube-based launcher that can send UAVs into the air in rapid succession. The breakthrough technology then utilizes information-sharing between the UAVs, enabling autonomous collaborative behavior in either defensive or offensive missions. Since the launcher and the UAVs themselves have a small footprint, the technology enables swarms of compact UAVs to take off from ships, tactical vehicles, aircraft or other unmanned platforms.
The ONR demonstrations, which took place over the last month in multiple locations, included the launch of Coyote UAVs capable of carrying varying payloads for different missions. Another technology demonstration of nine UAVs accomplished completely autonomous UAV synchronization and formation flight.
ONR officials note that while the LOCUST autonomy is cutting edge compared to remote-controlled UAVs, there will always be a human monitoring the mission, able to step in and take control as desired. «This level of autonomous swarming flight has never been done before», said Mastroianni. «UAVs that are expendable and reconfigurable will free manned aircraft and traditional weapon systems to do more, and essentially multiply combat power at decreased risk to the warfighter».
UAVs reduce hazards and free personnel to perform more complex tasks, as well as requiring fewer people to do multiple missions. Lowering costs is a major benefit of UAVs as well. Even hundreds of small autonomous UAVs cost less than a single tactical aircraft – and, officials note, having this capability will force adversaries to focus on UAV swarm response.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s Sailing Directions to the fleet note that over the next 10 to 15 years, the U.S. Navy will evolve and remain the preeminent maritime force. It directs: «Unmanned systems in the air and water will employ greater autonomy and be fully integrated with their manned counterparts».
ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and non-profit institutions over 960 industry partners. ONR through its commands including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.
The LOCUST program will make possible the launch of multiple swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm and adversary