The F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler Program Office (PMA-265) has conducted a successful series of Manned-UnManned Teaming (MUM-T) flight tests in which a Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstrated command and control of three Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
The event took place at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Point Mugu, California, and included four flight tests supported by Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons (VX) 23 and 31 and industry partners, Boeing and BAE Systems.
«The MUM-T concept explores interoperability between manned aircraft and unmanned autonomous systems to conduct missions», said Captain Jason Denney, program manager for PMA-265. «Such collaborative endeavors are imperative for resource and requirements planning to ensure the warfighter is equipped with best-in-class capabilities».
During the flight tests, F/A-18 pilots Super Hornet entered commands into a third-party tablet instructing the UAVs to perform various maneuvers used in combat missions. The tablet was connected to the Block III’s adjunct processor, known as the Distributed Targeting Processor – Networked (DTP-N), which transmitted these commands to the UAVs. The UAVs successfully carried out all commands given by the pilots.
«The U.S. Navy conducts exercises of this nature with industry partners to evaluate current and future capabilities», said Doctor Michael Yu, PMA-265 science and technology, and experimentation/demo lead. «The comprehensive analysis of data captured during these events further informs development and refinement of technologies that could potentially be incorporated into Navy platforms».
Yu said MUM-T could allow the U.S. Navy to extend the reach of its aircrew, while keeping them farther away from enemy fire. This capability could also enable pilots to delegate tasks or incorporate UAVs into missions such as patrolling airspace, fueling aircraft or serving as a communication relay node.
«MUM-T has the potential to transform tomorrow’s fleet into a more lethal, better-connected force», said Denney. «MUM-T will help us maintain the technological advantage and competitive edge against our adversaries».
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet serves as the backbone of carrier-based aviation power projection. PMA-265 continues to evaluate MUM-T and other innovative technology to keep the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler strategically relevant in today’s dynamic combat environment.
The ability to task unmanned systems from a manned aircraft is an important force multiplier in Airbus’ vision for future air power, with a wide range of applications extending to combat scenarios and beyond.
As a pioneer in the realm of Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), Airbus has developed an ambitious technological roadmap to make this innovative concept – which boosts the effectiveness of piloted and pilotless aircraft alike – a reality. The company demonstrated leading technological and industrial capabilities in 2021 and 2022, including key flight tests.
Fully implementing Manned-Unmanned Teaming – which will play an instrumental role in such initiatives as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and Multi-Domain Combat Cloud – requires a high level of automation. However, the involvement of human operators will ensure that meaningful control always will be retained.
Leveraging Airbus’ expertise
The involvement of Airbus with Manned-Unmanned Teaming began in 2018, when the first flight test campaign took place to validate initial capabilities. Since then, the development has seen increasing levels of maturity – with Airbus and its partner teams focusing on several key areas.
Synchronized and efficient use of manned and unmanned vehicles necessitates coordination and optimisation, with requirements that may vary from one mission to the next. To address this, Airbus is developing artificial intelligence-based teaming concepts and algorithms, including swarming behaviours and distributed teaming intelligence shared among the platforms.
This novel approach is reflected in the payloads, which can be integrated on the unmanned aircraft, as well as in the way they are used. For example, a distributed electronic warfare sensor was shown to be capable of precisely and quickly locating a threat and sharing its location across the network.
To achieve such capabilities, the unmanned assets must be able to communicate with the manned resources – and among each other in an agile and robust way, which is why an advanced data link is one pillar of the development.
Additionally, Airbus is preparing airframe solutions for future unmanned systems, building on experience in both unmanned aerial vehicles and combat aircraft. As the development progresses, these solutions will materialise as the FCAS Remote Carriers – unmanned aircraft designed to cooperate with fighters. To achieve the full potential, MUM-T technologies will also need to be relevant for already-existing unmanned aerial systems and for those developed in the future.
Building upon lessons learned from the previous MUM-T-related milestones, Airbus marked a major achievement with a live demonstration that linked company-built Do-DT25 target drones acting as surrogate Remote Carriers with an in-flight German Air Force Eurofighter aircraft. This occurred during the Timber Express 2021 multinational exercise organised by the German Armed Forces.
During the trial, the Eurofighter was able to assign tasks to two Airbus Do-DT25 Remote Carriers in real time. These unmanned platforms demonstrated the ability to perform several tasks, including aerial reconnaissance and electronic warfare. Upon receiving the tasks, the Remote Carriers autonomously planned their flight routes, adhering to prescribed airspace restrictions and circumnavigating known threats.
In 2022, MUM-T-related flight tests were performed outside of Germany for the first time. A test campaign organized in the Finnish areas of Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi – and directed by the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF) – marked the official start of cooperation with the German Armed Forces on this key capability.
As stated by the FDF in a press release: «The research cooperation strengthens the Defence Forces’ understanding of the development of unmanned aviation, which enables experimenting and evaluating the teaming of unmanned and manned aerial vehicles in the local operational environment».
In parallel, the capabilities of manned platforms are increasing to accommodate the future potential of Manned-Unmanned Teaming. Airbus’ multi-role A400M Atlas airlifter is envisioned as a launcher of FCAS Remote Carriers, with the first flight test already performed to confirm this capability.
The capstone flight test used real mission sensors on multiple unmanned military platforms and a manned military fighter aircraft, to execute a combat mission.
BAE Systems and the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) have completed a successful flight test of advanced Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) technology at a Department of Defense flight test range. The technology enables the rapid infusion of new payloads and platforms into the fleet to quickly enhance mission effectiveness and counter adversary technology.
The capstone flight test used real mission sensors on multiple unmanned military platforms and a manned military fighter aircraft, to execute a combat mission. The team of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) worked together to develop and execute autonomously the necessary tactics to complete the mission. The aviator used the Human Machine Interface (HMI) to monitor the mission’s progress and interact with the UAVs as desired.
«The development of autonomous technology is crucial to protect our warfighters against emerging threats», said Ehtisham Siddiqui, vice president and general manager of Controls and Avionics Solutions at BAE Systems. «This flight test demonstrates our team’s commitment to accelerate the deployment of reliable and innovative manned-unmanned teaming solutions for mission success».
During this most recent flight test, the team achieved its primary goal of demonstrating collaborative mission execution in an operationally representative environment. BAE Systems’ HMI was developed through extensive virtual and constructive simulation testing with assistance from pilots and electronic warfare officers. Test feedback from the manned aircraft operator also underscored the maturity of the MUM-T technology offering, highlighting its user-friendly interface, which increases mission safety and lethality.
«Our deep expertise in developing and fielding safety-critical flight control systems means that safety and assurance are integrated into our MUM-T architecture and software from the ground up», said Matthew Trouve, director of Development Programs for Military Aircraft Systems at BAE Systems. «This provides the warfighter with the necessary trust and confidence in our solution to operate in the same environment as autonomous unmanned teammates».
BAE Systems has developed its purpose-built architecture to be open, flexible, and assured. The company’s underlying MUM-T algorithms enable decentralized autonomous decision-making at the tactical edge, allowing the architecture to be easily adapted for new missions and incorporate future technology. A software development kit also allows third parties to introduce new algorithms and technologies to support future missions.
Over the next year, BAE Systems will continue development efforts with the DOD and invest in additional capabilities to further mature its MUM-T suite for operational readiness. The next phase of flight tests will enhance the mission suite’s capabilities and technology, showcasing flexibility and openness for integration on an additional manned aircraft type and another unmanned platform to execute a different mission.
BAE Systems’ MUM-T program leverages its more than 40 years of experience in flight control systems and 20 years of autonomous systems development expertise. Work for the MUM-T program is based at the company’s state-of-the-art facility in Endicott, N.Y.
Airbus A400M Atlas, the world’s most advanced multi-role airlifter utilised by military forces around the globe, has demonstrated an airborne launch of a drone fulfilling a vital function for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS).
During a recent test, an A400M Atlas deployed a drone from its opened rear cargo ramp door whilst airborne, validating its ability to air-launch drones. In the future such unmanned aircraft, called Remote Carriers, can serve as force multipliers for various missions, while keeping the pilots out of harm’s way. Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) will allow the Remote Carriers to operate in concert with manned aircraft, opening new fields of tactics to surprise, deceive, deter, saturate and strike opponents.
During the A400M Atlas flight test, an Airbus-built Do-DT25 drone, acting as a surrogate Remote Carrier, was released over a test range in Northern Germany. Shortly after the launch, the drone’s parachute opened, delivering it safely to the ground. Throughout the test, the drone was connected and transmitting data to the A400M Atlas «mother aircraft». This data transfer illustrates how Remote Carriers can be connected to a combat cloud network, providing vital information by serving the role of «eyes and ears» over the battlefield, whilst also enabling them to be tasked by the manned aircraft’s operators during their missions.
Building up the expertise in manned-unmanned teaming
The A400M Atlas air-launch demonstration involved a joint flight test crew from the German Air Force and Airbus. The new Modular Airborne Combat Cloud Services (MACCS), also an Airbus product, enabled full connectivity between the airlifter and the drone.
Airbus will continue validation of the A400M Atlas as an airborne launch platform for Remote Carriers, envisioning the ability to deploy large numbers of these drones. The multi-role airlifter’s large cargo bay is expected to be able to hold 40 or more Remote Carriers. By bringing Remote Carriers closer to the fight, an A400M Atlas will provide the numbers in terms of flying platforms for a Future Combat System to serve multiple missions, even in a well-protected environment. The next flight test is planned to happen this year.
In addition, Airbus contribution to the 2021 German Air Force’s Timber Express exercise saw an important development step being cleared. A Eurofighter networking with and tasking two Do-DT25 drones in real-time, became the successful first application of MUM-T with operational military aircraft in Europe.
Previously, Airbus also demonstrated the control of five Do-DT25 drones by a mission group commander who was airborne in a manned command and control aircraft. Validating such elements, as connectivity, human-machine interface, and the concept of teaming intelligence through mission group management, also constitute key steps towards using Remote Carriers as force multipliers within the Future Combat Air System.
Army engineers evaluated methods to improve the radio performance of Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs) during a field-based experiment.
The experiment focused on protected communications for tele-operating robotic combat vehicles under the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team’s (NGCV CFT) Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) effort, which combines Soldiers, manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, robotics and sensors to increase situational understanding, lethality and resiliency.
Radios will play a key component in the Optionally-Manned Fighting Vehicle’s ability to remotely control and maneuver RCVs in urban environments and varied terrain, noted Archie Kujawski, a network architect with the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center – a component of Army Futures Command’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).
«In previous years, we did a campaign of learning to evolve modeling and simulation and lab-based risk reduction events, but the rubber hits the road when you can come out to a field environment and validate modeling and simulation as well as lab results», Kujawski said.
C5ISR Center engineers mounted radios onto multiple on-the-move vehicles to assess robustness and capacity in urban, open and wooded terrain, and resiliency during simulated electronic warfare attacks. Additionally, they explored system enhancements that increased signal strength and electronic protection.
«We also assessed the radio systems using a vendor-sourced antenna which demonstrated the value of employing directional antennas to amplify our signals in the direction of friendly forces and to block enemy jammers’ effects, ensuring continuous operations across the objective», said Doctor Michael Brownfield, the C5ISR Center’s Future Capabilities chief.
Brownfield noted the Army’s network currently uses Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) radios as a mid-tier transport to enable command post dispersion and to share common-operation-picture data with mobile maneuver forces. C5ISR Center engineers were able to simulate this setup by placing the technologies in a «highly dynamic, mobile environment».
«The data we’re collecting will enable us to better understand how the stressed, contested and congested network will meet a multitude of emerging Army expeditionary mission requirements», said Brownfield, who noted the findings will support network design for Capability Sets 23 and 25.
The effort is a continuation in a series of experiments conducted by the NGCV CFT and DEVCOM’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), to assess the effectiveness of RCV platforms at the platoon level and higher. The network-focused experiment will help to refine system requirements, reduce risk to performance and identify spectrum demands leading up to the MUM-T Phase II Soldier Operational Experiment (SOE II), at Fort Hood, Texas, in fiscal year 2022.
«We’re trying to determine how much bandwidth we can allocate to each one of our sections and then build those sections up to platoons, so this experiment is absolutely critical for us. It is one of our key enablers and proof of principle, ensuring we have enough technical data and validity around our concepts, so we know it is reasonable and fieldable», said Christopher Ostrowski, associate director of experimental prototyping for DEVCOM GVSC.
Ostrowski said GVSC’s partnership with the C5ISR Center is a great example of «what DEVCOM does for the Army, and especially for the CFTs and our PEO colleagues».
«It’s a whole-enterprise, holistic approach to capability development from initial concept to transition to the acquisition system, and it gives our warfighters unparalleled capability that they can rely upon».
MUM-T modernizes the Army’s current fleet of vehicles to include the ability to control unmanned RCVs. The capability will positively impact Army survivability, providing Soldiers standoff to reduce the risk of casualties, allowing maneuver commanders the time and space to make critical decisions and potentially increasing the number and diversity of multi-mission payloads employed on the battlefield, said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Orlowski, product manager for Robotic Combat Vehicles under Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS).
«We don’t want Soldiers on a manned system to make contact with the enemy first. We want RCVs to make contact with the enemy first, and radio performance is critical to enabling CVs to do so», Orlowski said. «If we can make contact with robots forward first, whether those are air or ground robots, then we can provide commanders time and space to make decisions».
C5ISR Center resources have played a key role in helping the NGCV CFT develop a communication backbone to control RCVs that is «secure, reliable and resilient while able to support operations at relevant distances in the future environment», said Colonel Warren Sponsler, NGCV CFT’s chief of staff.
«A priority for AFC and the NGCV CFT has been to conduct experimentation and Solider touchpoints as often as we can. This allows us to learn early, learn fast and be willing to fail fast. If things don’t work, we make adjustments as needed and continue the momentum forward», Sponsler said. «We’ve been able to really capitalize on great work and partnership with the C5ISR Center. It has helped increase our warfighters’ ability to see the enemy first, make decisions faster and then execute lethal operations».
As a follow-on to the experiment, C5ISR Center engineers are working to integrate the radios tested onto vehicles in preparation for a safety release later this year in support of the SOE II event. Lessons learned from the experiment will also help support execution for Project Convergence 21.