By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Recently, video emerged that showed Islamic militants in Syria had acquired a surveillance drone. It marked the first time such technology has been used by the burgeoning terrorist organization, a RAND Corp. analyst said.
The consequences of the Islamic State — the terrorist organization known as ISIS that has been characterized by its increasingly violent tactics in the Middle East — acquiring such technology could be dangerous, Colin Clarke, an associate political scientist at RAND Corp. who researches ISIS, told National Defense.
“This is the first time I’ve seen ISIS showing this kind of capability,” Clarke said. “[But] it’s not a total surprise simply because we’ve seen other similar … groups like Hezbollah or Hamas using these drones.”
A DJI Phantom FC40 unmanned aerial vehicle took the footage seen in the video, which was published on YouTube on Aug. 23, he said.
“[It’s] a spotter mini-drone, so it’s … got a smart camera. It’s really used for surveillance purposes to spy on enemy positions,” Clarke said.
Militants used the footage to survey the Tabqa military airfield, a key Syrian air base, that the group later captured. The base was the last government stronghold in the area.
“They … [used] this as a recon method to scout out what the base looked like before going in with a more kinetic attack,” Clarke said. “They used multiple suicide bombers to gain entry.”
Not only did the capturing of the base give ISIS a foothold in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, but it may have acquired surface-to-air missiles known as man portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, Clarke said.
The shoulder-launched missiles are capable of striking airplanes or helicopters at altitudes of up to 16,000 feet, he said. That kind of capability in ISIS’ hands is “scary,” he said.
While the drone may not have been critical in taking the base, it gave militants situational awareness they wouldn’t have had otherwise, Clarke said.
“Any small advantage helps. I’d say it’s kind of a force multiplier,” he said. “Any time you can get advanced information by scouting out a position before attacking it is helpful because it helps you plan exactly what kind of resources you are going to need.”
For now, it appears that ISIS does not have access to a more advanced armed UAV, though that is not entirely out of the question, Clarke said.
Hamas and Hezbollah, Islamic militant groups in Palestine and Lebanon, respectively, have shown previously that they have drone capabilities, he said.
Hezbollah allegedly flew a UAV over the Israeli city of Haifa in April 2013. Israel destroyed the aircraft.
In July, Israel allegedly shot down a Hamas-owned drone during Operation Protective Edge. Shortly after, the group released an image of what it says was one of its armed drones, though specific capability details were not released.
Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, has claimed it has engineered three drones — one that could be armed, one that could be used as a self-guided missile and one for surveillance, Clarke said.
Media outlets reported that these drones were variants of the Ababil-1, an Iranian-made UAV.
“If a group like Hamas has this kind of technology, then it’s inevitable … [and] only a matter of time before a group like ISIS gets this,” he said.
It is possible that groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah could one day acquire a more advanced drone if given to them by a state sponsor, such as Iran, Clarke said.
ISIS, on the other hand, does not have a state sponsor, which could make it more difficult to obtain an armed drone, he said. The group, which identifies as Sunni, lacks support from Sunni-backed states such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia, he said.
“Some of the traditional Sunni powers are very scared, … the Saudis, the Qataris and Kuwaitis, of what could happen if ISIS sets their sights on Riyadh [in Saudi Arabia] or one of these other places,” Clarke said.
The unmanned aerial vehicle used by ISIS in the YouTube video is not sophisticated, Clarke said.
“It’s a pretty basic drone. It’s pretty simple. I wouldn’t say it’s sophisticated any more than the drones that people use in the United States now to take pictures of their wedding,” Clarke said.
However, having this kind of technology increases the group’s credibility, he said.
“[This] plays into the … narrative that ISIS is building, which is that we’re a different type of insurgent group [and] you’ve never seen anything like us. You’ve never seen this kind of propaganda, with their media front. You’ve never seen a group with this much money, which is arguably true. Or this type of arsenal,” Clarke said. “The recruits that are pouring into Syria and Iraq are by and large flocking to this group mostly because it has been successful.”
James Carafano, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said it was unavoidable that ISIS would get its hands on a UAV.
“The notion that the United States was going to be the only country using operational drones was going to be something that was going to come to an end fairly quickly,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean ISIS has a real advantage.
“Just because you have … [a drone] doesn’t mean you have much of an operational capability,” Carafano said. “A drone is a low-end capability for us, a drone is a high-end capability for these guys. And the capacity of us to overmatch that is pretty significant.”
If ISIS deploys a UAV, the United States could easily deploy a fighter jet in response, he said.
Should ISIS continue to invest in UAVs, it can expect to have enemies attempt to jam them or strike them, which adds another layer of operational complexity, he said.
“As soon as you get in the drone business, you have to get into the countermeasures to protect the drone from being shot down or electronically interfered with. That’s a whole other level of sophistication you have to get through,” Carafano said.
Credit: Aerial footage from an ISIS drone (YouTube photo)
By Valerie Insinna
On the heels of reports that China had successfully completed a second ultra-high-speed missile flight test, the Defense Department announced on Aug. 25 that it had aborted a test of its own hypersonic weapon.
The military is investigating the “anomaly” responsible for the test failure, but analysts told National Defense that the incident was not a major setback for the program.
"It's a glitch. These are weapons that operate under fantastic stresses,” said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “Failure is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if data can be gathered so that you learn from your mistake.”
“These weapons are traveling at such fantastic speeds and they are required to be capable of such accuracy that it is simply going to require an extensive development program to achieve a point where they can be considered ready for the field,” he added.
The Aug. 25 test of the advanced hypersonic weapon was aborted because of an unspecified flight anomaly, according to a Defense Department news release. “The test was terminated near the launch pad shortly after liftoff to ensure public safety. There were no injuries to any personnel,” the release read.
Testers made the decision to destroy the rocket within four seconds of its launch at the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, said Maureen Schumann, a Pentagon spokeswoman. She was not able to provide additional information on what the anomaly was or how it was detected.
The advanced hypersonic weapon is just one of the technologies under development in the conventional prompt global strike program, she said. The goal is to create a menu of precision strike options that would be able to hit anywhere in the world in under an hour.
U.S. program officials are conducting an investigation to determine the cause of this Monday’s test failure, said Schumann. The investigation will likely take “weeks or months” to finish and will inform future tests and scheduling.
The August test was the second flight of the advanced hypersonic weapon, Schumann said. “The objective of the test was to develop and demonstrate hypersonic boost glide enabling technologies and collect data on flight vehicle and test range performance for long-range atmospheric flights.”
The United States may not be the only country that has been testing high-speed weapons this month. China conducted the second test flight of its hypersonic glide vehicle — called the Wu-14 — on Aug. 7, unnamed U.S. officials told the Washington Free Beacon.
Schumann would not confirm whether the Chinese military had executed a second Wu-14 test in August. Earlier this year, the Pentagon confirmed the Wu-14’s first flight test in January.
Based on the available evidence, including Chinese reports circulating the internet, it seems probable that there was a second Wu-14 test recently, Fisher said.
"China and the United States are seeking to develop the same range of hypersonic weapons, both boost-glide or hypersonic glide vehicles, and future air-breathing hypersonic vehicles, such as scram jets,” Fisher said.
The U.S. program appears to have progressed further, “but the Chinese program may be better funded and have greater depth in terms of the commitment of intellectual and development resources,” he said.
Mark Gunzinger, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said he is skeptical that China’s development of hypersonic weapons has matured past that of the United States.
“We hear about the successes and not the failures” of the Chinese program, he said. “They could have had dozens of failures that we know nothing about, at least in public.”
Hypersonic weapons could be operational within a decade, Gunzinger said. The challenge, especially in a budget-conscious environment, will be figuring out how to drive down manufacturing costs.
“Can we find a sweet spot in hypersonic weapons where the price point is right and we can buy enough of them?” he asked.
One of the reasons why hypersonic weapons are so highly coveted is because they are difficult to shoot down, Fisher said. Directed energy weapons, such as a hypersonic capable rail gun or laser, could offer a way to counter hypersonic missiles.
"If you have two to four rail guns for example, [and] you get maybe a two-minute warning that a hypersonic warhead is coming at you, that's enough time to put into the sky clouds of hypersonic rail gun rounds that are designed like shotgun shells,” he said. “They'll release into the air 100 to 200 tungsten pellets. Even if the hypersonic warhead is maneuvering, you're likely to knick it with one of these pellets, and that alone will make the warhead tumble out of control."
The United States appears to be further along in its efforts to develop directed energy weapons, although China’s program is not particularly transparent, Fisher said.
The Navy in April unveiled a high-speed electromagnetic rail gun capable of launching projectiles at speeds up to 5,600 miles per hour. The service has also tested its laser weapons system at sea, proving that it could shoot down small unmanned aircraft.
That laser currently lacks the power and range necessary to destroy a hypersonic glide vehicle, but it could become powerful enough in the next decade to shoot down such weapons, Fisher said. A hypersonic speed capable rail gun is possible in the early 2020s, he added.
Gunzinger said it may be too difficult to intercept a hypersonic missile with a high-powered laser, but rail guns could be well suited for those missions.
The advanced hypersonic missile was developed by Sandia National Laboratory and the Army. Its first flight test took place in November 2011 and was successful, with the missile traveling from Hawaii and hitting a target at the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Photo Credit: The Advanced Hypersonic Weapon concept conducts its first flight in 2011 (Army photo)
By Stew Magnuson
The Defense Department has not only failed to boost competition for programs, it is backsliding, a memo from a senior official said.
In a memorandum dated Aug. 21, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall issued a call to action after the department failed to meet its goals to increase competition among vendors.
“In fact, we have experienced a declining competition rate, and we must take action to reverse this trend,” he wrote in the memo.
“Given the declining trend in competition in the department and in light of today’s limited resources, we must maximize our use of direct and indirect competition,” he wrote in a memo obtained by the National Defense Industrial Association policy division. “Every dollar saved through competition benefits the war fighter and the taxpayers.”
Kendall in the memorandum calls for quarterly progress updates to be addressed at the business senior integration group. “We will collaborate to understand best practices that have been successfully employed to either achieve direct competition or realize the benefits and effects of indirect competition,” he wrote.
He is also issuing “Guidelines for Creating and Maintaining a Competitive Environment for Supplies and Services in the Department of Defense.” Further, a “DoD Competition Handbook: A Practical Guide for Program Managers” will be published in September, which will update a previous handbook last published in 1984.
For competitive solicitations in which more than one company expressed interest during the market research phase, but only one offer or a lesser number of offers were ultimately received, contracting officers will be asked to seek feedback to understand why companies declined to submit an offer, the memo said.
“We will use this feedback to consider how we might overcome barriers to competition for future requirements,” Kendall wrote.
The memo also changes the procedure for acquiring justification and approval documents that allow an official to solicit a non-competitive acquisition. Contracting officers will have to issue requests for information or sources sought notices before embarking on such an acquisition. “This technique is already used in many instances, but expanded use will inform our ability to maximize use of competitive procedures,” Kendall wrote. It will be possible to obtain a waiver for this requirement, but it must be obtained from a flag officer, he added.
Kendall is also amending a requirement in justification and approval documents that calls for agencies to explain what, if any, steps can be taken to overcome barriers in subsequent acquisitions.
There is no policy to track whether the plans or actions spelled out in the J&A documents to ensure that barriers are removed are ever attempted.
“As a result, approval authorities may be missing opportunities to learn why non-competitive acquisitions are not overcoming barriers to competition for subsequent acquisitions of the item,” he wrote.
The next J&A document asking for a non-competitive procurement must be approved at a higher level. The approving official will have the discretion to determine whether the planned actions were completed, the memo said.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Sarah Sicard
The Navy on Aug. 20 awarded five eight-year contracts valued at $2.5 billion as part of a continued effort to its update network systems for ships at sea.
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command selected BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, General Dynamics C4 Systems, Global Technical Systems, Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. and Serco Inc. for the consolidated afloat networks enterprise services (CANES) production phase.
“Our goal is to see competition throughout the eight-year period of performance," said Capt. Ben McNeal, tactical networks major program manager. "Initially, each of the awardees is tasked to produce one destroyer production unit."
Afterwards, the five industry teams will be competing against each other for continuous firm-fixed-price production and training contracts.
The current network setup on naval ships consists of old technologies retrofit with new hardware and software in order to keep up with advancements in the field. The resulting effect is a slow system that is constantly in need of repairs and leaves the security of the cyber networks aboard ships at risk.
The solution is to replace ailing technologies by modernizing hardware and software through the CANES program. The end goal is a single shipboard network outfitted with the latest computing and cyber security technologies.
"The operating systems that exist today on some of those legacy networks are not sustainable," said Rear Adm. Christian Becker, program executive officer, command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I). "CANES improves our operational capability at the same time decreasing our cost for sustainment costs caused by our legacy networks."
Some of the legacy systems have been around since 1999, and are experiencing end-of-life issues, said Becker.
Navy officials are hoping these vendors will allow them to upgrade key technologies by focusing on virtualization and consolidation, along with big data and cloud technologies.
"What we've incorporated in CANES is a robust systems management domain that is made up of a robust set of software and tools to allow us to be able to identify each of the components from hardware and software and cyber solutions within the architecture," said McNeal.
In the early stages of CANES, the Navy selected Northrop Grumman in 2012 for a design and development and limited deployment phase.
"CANES is a significantly faster, more secure and flexible network," Dave Wegmann, director, maritime command and control systems at Northrop Grumman Information Systems, said in a statement. "Our original network design remains important to ensure CANES affordability and agility in delivering the next generation of C4I capabilities."
In order to prevent these systems from becoming obsolete, CANES has created a timeline for upgrades.
"We have a two-year development cycle for software, and a four-year cycle for hardware, and in between those two periods the government will be taking on the effort of looking at issues, coming up with solutions," said McNeal.
CANES installations have been completed aboard nine destroyers, and the Navy hopes to equip 180 vessels by 2022.
Credit: Guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (Navy photo)
By Valerie Insinna
Rapid innovations in information technology and changes in the geopolitical environment — including events such as the conflict in the Gaza Strip and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — all point to the military’s need for large amounts of quickly digestible data.
The challenge for the defense industry is drawing meaningful conclusions from that information, while at the same time safeguarding that intelligence from network intrusions. For Lockheed Martin, this means beefing up capabilities such as cyber security and big data analytics, company officials said Aug. 13 during a briefing to reporters.
"Despite the tight budget environment, the program reductions that are going on across the industry, we still need to be incredibly innovative, make sure we're investing in the future, developing the [research-and-development] capabilities that really differentiate us from our competitors,” said Tim Reardon, the company’s vice president and general manager of defense and intelligence solutions.
The company makes about $1 billion in revenue off its cyber products and services, Reardon said. A spokeswoman for Lockheed declined to provide figures for the amount of research-and-development dollars spent on cyber and advanced data analytics. She said, however, that consumer demands in both areas are growing in the defense and commercial markets.
The Defense Department and intelligence agencies already manage their own networks, said Darrell Durst, vice president of cyber solutions. What Lockheed can provide to the government is its expertise. “We’re here to assist them through … our tradecraft. It’s our people, it’s our process and the emerging technologies,” he said.
Things have changed in the commercial sector, where it was once difficult to get company executives to understand the dangers posed by cyber threats, Reardon said. Now, they understand the importance of cyber security, but they don’t know what to do to keep their networks safe.
“There’s an evolution in the perception of the private sector now that it’s not always sufficient just to buy a software defense software product, put it on your network and you’re good to go,” Reardon said. “I think there’s an appreciation that that’s not sufficient for advanced persistent threat and some really advanced adversaries.”
Commercial companies need to know the weak spots in a network’s defenses where adversaries are getting in, Durst said. Lockheed offers products and consulting services that can help businesses create better-protected network architecture, Durst said.
“One of those things is actually eliminating the number of [internet service provider] connections you have into your business. That’s one way for you to be able to control the ingest of information,” he said.
Lockheed decided 10 years ago to develop in-house cyber security capabilities to safeguard its intellectual property, Durst said. Since then, threats have changed from small, disruptive hacktivist groups to very organized entities that sometimes lay dormant for months before reappearing.
Attacks on the company have slowed since Mandiant put forward a 2013 report exposing a cadre of Chinese hackers with links to the People’s Liberation Army, said Charlie Croom, vice president for cyber strategy and government relations. Although Lockheed Martin does not focus on attributing cyber crimes, it can identify recurring hacker groups based on the target and the techniques used to try to exploit a network.
The company had been tracking the group exposed in the report, Croom said. "The bad news is, of the 10 original adversaries we've seen [since 2003] … we're still seeing eight of them. So they are persistent.”
It’s likely some hackers have shifted their focus from Lockheed Martin to a more vulnerable target: one of the smaller businesses in the company’s supply chain, Durst said. “What they'll do is they'll go to the supplier that has that connection to Lockheed Martin from an IT perspective or even in a sharing of documentation through USB or through an internet connection.”
The rapidly changing threat environment has triggered a bigger focus on advanced analytics in the Defense Department, intelligence community and in the commercial sector, executives said.
In order to acquire, manage and analyze data, Lockheed relies on sophisticated algorithms as well as intelligence tradecraft — “the detective work, if you will, to make sense of that data and present it to a customer in a way that’s meaningful,” said Jason O’Connor, vice president of analysis and missions solution.
The company uses a product it developed called LM Wisdom to comb through databases and cull information from public sources, media reports and social media. Most of its algorithms rely on making a correlation of some type, such as measuring a population’s sentiment in order to predict future behavior, O’Connor said. For instance, an algorithm can measure citizens’ attitudes about their country’s leader.
One of the challenges is focusing your analytics to the right things, Reardon said. “Its hard to have your analysts covering all topics across the world for all things that might happen. So they’re typically focused on whatever the hot spot is.”
O’Connor said, “We have analysts currently working for our customers ... assessing the situation in Syria and Iraq. They're using every available source of data and applying ... algorithms to provide meaningful recommendations, hopefully anticipatory recommendations to our customers in those areas.”
He stressed that the human analyst was integral to making recommendations using data. "We're not suggesting that an algorithm is the ultimate outcome.” False positives and negatives are a given, so having an analyst in the loop is important when drawing conclusions from the data, he said. “Our focus is on making that tradecraft that much more powerful, making the data visible, making it accessible, making such data make sense."
Drawing huge amounts of information from many sources can help analysts have confidence in their predictions, he said. "Data doesn't have to be as good if the data is big.”
In an internal exercise, Lockheed analysts were able to use trends in social media to predict which Arab Spring countries would have uprisings or overthrow their leaders six weeks ahead of those events, O’Connor said.
"We have a very high confidence in our ability to predict societal level changes and events ... with the right upfront planning, the right attention to it,” he said
The company was recently contracted by a pharmaceutical firm to find a criminal organization that was counterfeiting its products. In a couple days, Lockheed was able to uncover the key players in that enterprise and identify the flow of money.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
By Valerie Insinna
Northrop Grumman's X-47B
Industry will have a finalized request for proposals for the Navy’s first operational carrier-launched drone by early September, its program officer said Aug. 17.
The final RFP for the unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike, or UCLASS, will be released only to the four companies competing for the contract: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman.
“We have had continuous dialogue with our industry partners, and they have provided us feedback, corrections,” said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.
“We are ready now to go forward to release the request for proposal that encompasses the technical strategy and design requirements as well as the business strategy, and we're on the precipice of releasing that RFP to the four vendors ... pending final senior Department of Defense discussions and final approval, which is now scheduled to occur over the next three weeks."
While many of its requirements are classified, Navy officials have publicly said that UCLASS must have an endurance of 14 hours and an internal payload of 1,000 pounds. It will initially operate in permissive airspace, but should be designed so that it can engage in non-permissive environments at a future date.
In a July op-ed in The National Interest, Forbes stated that UCLASS’s emphasis on endurance and providing continuous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance comes at the expense of the vehicle’s survivability and weapons payload.
“I believe strongly that the nation needs to procure an unmanned combat air vehicle platform that can operate as a long-range surveillance and strike asset in the contested and denied A2/AD [anti-access, area-denial] environments of the future,” he wrote. “To achieve this, such a system should have broadband, all-aspect stealth, be capable of automated aerial refueling, and have integrated surveillance and strike functionality.” It appears the Navy is not taking that path, he added.
Winter contended that the scrutiny from the Hill and defense analysts is not unlike other high-profile programs.
"The fact that there's been a lot of external discussion, interest, dialogue from our friends in the legislative branch all the way to the folks in the intelligence community to other elements within the Department of Defense — I've had that on my [surface warfare] programs. I've had that on my other weapons programs — so I don't see that as necessarily something different,” Winter said.
The program has also received a fair amount of criticism from industry executives, who have said that UCLASS technical details have fluctuated during the preliminary design process.
Winter said the top-level “warfighter requirements” have been stable since April 2013, but the more detailed technical specifications have been modified since then.
"The design requirements have been continually refined to ensure that we had a technically feasible solution,” he said. “We don't want to provide something to industry that they technically can't accomplish. So we've spent the due diligence over the last nine to 10 months to get the technical requirements correct.”
The result was a back-and-forth between Navy officials and company engineers to optimize survivability, payload and endurance and ensure that design specifications were attainable, he said.
The UCLASS program has two objectives, Winter said. The first is to design, mature and integrate the air vehicle, command-and-control systems and the aircraft carrier itself. The second objective is to develop the concept of operations for carrier-launched unmanned aircraft.
"When we give this to the fleet, they will determine and make lots of assessments and analysis to determine how it will be used,” he said. “So, will it be a standalone squadron? Will there be air vehicles part of another squadron, E-2 or an F-18? Those are all things that will be identified."
The Navy has not yet decided who will operate UCLASS. Winter stressed that, unlike the Army and Air Force, there is no need to manually “fly” a naval drone such as UCLASS, Triton or Fire Scout. All three are equipped with advanced computers, sensors and algorithms that autonomously control the aircraft. The human operator’s role is simply to be a “man on the loop” that can step in during an emergency.
“We've already established our manpower profile for Triton,” he said. “We're looking at the commonality of manning, training and equipping across the Tritons, the Fire Scouts and the UCLASS, so we can be more consistent across our Navy from a total manpower [standpoint including] … recruiting, training, to bringing our sailors and Marines into the fleet to operate these things."
Capt. Beau Duarte, the program manager for the X-47B unmanned aircraft that is helping formalize processes for drone integration on a carrier deck, said that a basic UCLASS capability will be turned over to the fleet sometime around 2020. During its four-year “early operational capability,” the system will undergo fleet exercises and early deployments that will help finalize the concept of operations.
“The intent is, from a maintenance perspective, to have organic Navy capability. ... From an operator perspective, we'll see,” Duarte said. “It's an autonomous system, so you don't have a stick and throttle requirement for someone at the controls, but whether that person is a pilot, a naval flight officer, enlisted, we will figure it out and those early operational deployments will help inform that decision."
Because UCLASS and other naval drones are autonomous, it is critical that communications nodes and data links cannot be compromised by cyber threats, Winter said. Program officials are evaluating whether the UCLASS requirements meet the new cyber guidance standards released by the Defense Department.
“I don't have data to back this up, [but] I believe that we have to continue to mature our cyber design activities to ensure that our systems going forward are not vulnerable to this emerging — and yet to truly be defined — cyber threat,” he said.
The Navy may need to develop “network troubleshooters” to mange and safeguard the data links that enable control of unmanned aircraft like UCLASS. “Is it an adjunct to a current skill set that already exists, or is it something new?” he asked. “We've got the time to think that through, and we're thinking through it."
Photo Credit: Navy
By Sarah Sicard
The Army paired an unmanned air cargo aircraft with a ground robot to perform an autonomous resupply mission at Fort Benning, Ga., on Aug. 18.
The test began with a K-MAX unmanned helicopter which carried a squad mission support system in a sling and delivered it to a mock battleground. The robot then performed resupply and surveillance missions.
The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center and Lockheed Martin sponsored the demonstration.
“The synergistic use of unmanned air and ground vehicles will give warfighters a larger operational reach, and allow execution of missions that are currently performed at great risk to the warfighter,” said TARDEC Director Paul Rogers in a statement.
After performing the resupply mission, the robot was then tasked with finding a surveillance point wherein it raised its gyrocam sensor and scanned the area for enemy forces.
This demonstration was aimed at illustrating the impact of integrating unmanned aerial vehicles with unmanned ground vehicles on eliminating operator risk. In an actual combat scenario, the ground robot would be able to perform resupply tasks that would reduce the number of truck convoys, as well as allow for a remote operator to observe dangers in combat zones and assess situations accordingly, said the statement.
A remote operations center equipped with satellite links as well as local line-of-sight communications systems controlled and monitored the vehicles’ activities throughout the demonstration. In future exercises, Lockheed Martin and TARDEC officials said the communications systems will become more integrated.
K-MAX business development lead John McMillan said in a phone interview that the operation went flawlessly, and that it worked to demonstrate the feasibility of such a concept as well as its implications for the future of unmanned systems in general.
The K-MAX, manufactured by Kaman Aerospace Corp., became the first unmanned aircraft system to execute deliveries in combat for the Marine Corps in 2011, while the squad mission support system is the largest unmanned vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces. Both have been used as troop support in Afghanistan.
This was one of many tests for the K-MAX and squad mission support system carried out separately, but only the second time they performed a demonstration in tandem. Lockheed Martin and TARDEC have plans for a third demonstration in 2015.
“Fully autonomous capabilities as we’ve just demonstrated will allow service members to focus on important missions and remain out of harm’s way,” said Scott Greene, vice president of ground vehicles for Lockheed Martin missiles and fire control. “This successful demonstration with both unmanned air and ground vehicles shows us that these missions are not only possible, but can be available much sooner than you would expect.”
Though the mission was conducted as part of TARDEC’s “extending the reach of the warfighter through robotics” capability assessment for the Army, the application of such a concept has benefits for other branches of the military, and for commercial use as well, said the statement.
Natural disaster relief, firefighting and oil and gasoline delivery were some of the applicable areas for this technological integration outside of the military, said McMillan, but the possibilities extend well beyond even those.
“This demonstration signifies another use for robots and this brings us closer to the pinnacle of how we use unmanned systems,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of aviation and unmanned systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business.
Credit: A K-MAX delivers an SMSS unmanned ground vehicle during a fully autonomous mission demonstration (Lockheed Martin photo)
By Valerie Insinna
Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — The Navy’s carrier-launched X-47B drone and an F-18 Hornet on Aug. 17 took off, flew in pattern together and landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, marking the first time the unmanned demonstrator has flown cooperatively with a manned aircraft.
(See video of F-18 and X-47B flying in pattern together here)
The demonstrations, although historic, did not go exactly as anticipated. In a phone call with reporters prior to the flight tests, Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy’s program manager, said the goal was to have only a 90-second pause between launching the Hornet and the X-47B. The aircraft would fly around the ship, execute a couple touch-and-go landings, and then land within 90 seconds of each other.
(See video of touch-and-go landings here)
Before its first catapult launch, the X-47B sat on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt about a half hour after the F-18 took off.
The reason for the delay was that the ship was angled slightly downward, Duarte said.
“Our flight limits for an experimental aircraft are very conservative, so we needed to get the flight deck level,” Duarte said. “Over the next 20 minutes or so, the captain of the ship transferred fuel aft to make the aircraft carrier sit up a little bit [and] moved some equipment in the hangar bay."
After being catapulted into the sky, the X-47B turned downwind and carried out its planned flight pattern with the F-18. It then executed a touch-and-go landing to ensure the software was functioning properly, Duarte said. The first landing and second takeoff were also slightly delayed, with a couple minutes between recoveries and launches.
On its second landing, the X-47B finally met its time objective — it was captured and cleared the landing area in 90 seconds. Duarte stressed that meeting the 90-second goal was not as important as refining the aircraft’s concept of operations.
“The deck handling solution for the X-47 may not be the solution we do for future aircraft,” he said. “We’re just looking at the feasibility of integrating these aircraft. Timing is a good initial vector to see how we’re doing, but it’s not the end-all that we’re looking for.”
While the Air Force and Army fly UAS separately from manned assets, the Navy’s strategy is to team unpiloted and piloted aircraft, said Rear Adm. Mat Winter, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons. The X-47B cooperative demonstrations will help establish how sailors and naval aviators can integrate unmanned aircraft with existing capabilities.
The other difference between Navy UAS and the other services’ is that the Navy’s are almost completely autonomous, flying itself using a combination of advanced algorithms and sensors.
"What you saw today was history,” Winter said. “It was history in the making, and it's the next step in our understanding of how technologies come together to the tactical to provide a war fighting capability. It's not 'unmanned over all others,' it's a blending of unmanned and manned capabilities."
The X-47B is paving the way for the Navy’s first operational carrier drone, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike. UCLASS, as it is commonly called, will collect intelligence, target enemies and contain a limited strike capability, Winter said.
Four contractors are competing to build UCLASS: General Atomics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which built the X-47B. The system isn’t scheduled for an early operating capability until about 2020, but the hope is that the X-47B testing will help mature technology and refine the concept of operations for UCLASS.
In actual combat operations, any extra time needed to recover the aircraft is more time when the ship is vulnerable. Manned aircraft can land and clear the landing area within 60 seconds, Duarte said. “So first time out of the bat, achieving 90 seconds, that’s pretty good.”
“I think as we get more opportunities — and we've got four more flight periods over the next couple of days — we will ...see what we get with the time,” he added. “Since this is the first time we've done it, we will see what level of interaction between the two aircraft that we can achieve and we will let that feed our future concept of operations development."
Over the course of the week, the Navy plans to execute a total of about seven catapult launches and arrested landings, as well as 20 touch-go-flights, Duarte said. Journalists watched the first of three test periods Aug. 17. Two more hours of demonstrations are scheduled for Aug. 18.
The testing this week will also include some night deck handling operations, which will assess how well flight deck personnel can taxi an aircraft at night, he said. F-18s will not be involved in those tests.
The X-47B featured a couple new capabilities for this latest bout of testing, Duarte said. In order to perform arrested landings on a carrier, an aircraft must be outfitted with a tail hook, which catches on an arresting wire and decelerates. For these exercises, a new hook actuator and accompanying software were installed on the X-47B, allowing the UAS to automatically retract its hook after landing. The drone also displayed its new automatic wing fold capability after its second arrested landing.
Whether there will be further demonstrations of the X-47B is unknown at this point. After current tests are completed, the Navy will assess the data and decide whether further flights are needed, Winter said.
“Our strategy going forward is to continue to operate X-47 as a system, to mature technologies and discover and explore unmanned carrier aviation where it makes sense,” he said.
Duarte, for his part, said that additional testing, both on the ground and in the air, could be helpful. Autonomous aerial refueling is one area that could benefit from further exploration, but it will depend on whether the program can obtain additional funding, he said.
“There is always something we can do and learn, and from a concept of operations development perspective, we have tremendous opportunity to continue with the X-47,” he said. “It will be a business case decision, whether the resources are available.”
The carrier drone has already extended its lifeline a couple times. After its first touch-and-go and arrested landings in May 2013, Northrop Grumman executives said that the program would end that summer.
Credit: The F-18 and X-47B prepare to launch off the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (photo by Valerie Insinna)
By Valerie Insinna
The Army has selected Bell Helicopter and a Boeing-Sikorsky team to produce and fly rotorcraft in 2017 for its joint multi-role technical demonstrator program, giving these companies a leg up in developing the service’s next-generation fleet.
The JMR program is the Army’s science and technology effort for the future vertical lift program of record — the intended procurement vehicle to field speedy, long-range successors to the Army’s helicopter fleets. The medium variant of FVL, scheduled for initial operating capability in the mid 2030s, would replace Boeing’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and Sikorsky’s UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter.
Rotorcraft heavyweights Bell, Boeing and Sikorsky came in on top of two smaller companies, AVX Aircraft Co. and Karem Aircraft, which were also vying for a chance to build demonstrators. Both companies — as well as other helicopter manufacturers such as Airbus and AgustaWestland — could come back to the table when the FVL program begins.
Bell’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor, named after its 280-knot top speed, can fly at double the speed and has twice the range of any of the Army’s current helicopters.
“The aircraft can provide the military with unmatched range, speed and payload capabilities, and is designed with operational agility in mind to provide our soldiers transformational reach and revolutionary capability on the battlefield,” Keith Flail, program director for the Bell V-280 Valor, said in a statement. “We remain focused on providing exceptional capabilities and flexibility in an advanced aircraft with reduced weight, complexity and cost.”
Boeing-Sikorsky’s helicopter, called the SB>1 Defiant, features a coaxial, counter-rotating rigid main rotor blades on top, and a pusher propeller in the rear that allows the aircraft to accelerate and decelerate. The aircraft is based on Sikorsky’s X-2 demonstrator.
“As the original equipment manufacturers for both the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, we bring tremendous technological breadth and depth to the customer,” said Shelly Lavender, president of Boeing Military Aircraft. "I believe our technical capabilities and experience in development and flight testing of complex rotorcraft systems were a key factor in the customer’s decision.”
Dan Bailey, the Army’s JMR program manager, has said the service could only afford to take two competitors to flight demonstrations, but said the other companies could still have a future role.
It was not immediately clear whether AVX or Karem would have further involvement in developing JMR technologies. AVX Aircraft proposed a coaxial design while Karem offered a tiltrotor, but neither manufacturer has ever produced an operational helicopter.
AVX spokesman Mike Cox said, “We’re still in negotiations with the Army … about doing some level of work.”
Karem Aircraft’s program manager did not immediately return a request for comment.
It’s no surprise that the Army chose Boeing-Sikorsky and Bell to move forward, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. All three companies invested a lot of money into their designs and have extensive experience selling rotorcraft to the Army.
“It’s certainly safer to go with the incumbents just because they’re the ones that are going to be in business,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the other guys don’t have innovative ideas and designs, but in terms of safety and the industrial base, it was pretty clear that the two incumbents had a strong advantage.”
However, Aboulafia is skeptical that the JMR and FVL efforts will result in procurement of new helicopters. Both programs may produce useful new technologies, but it may take the Army decades to incorporate any revolutionary changes in rotorcraft design, he said.
“Both of these two contenders have the greatest experience in building and designing. Now, there’s two big issues," he said. "Are we ready to decide who is offering the future optimal rotorcraft configuration, or is it going to take another couple decades? Are we ready to say in the JMR timeframe what is the ideal shape of the future rotorcraft?"
The other issue is that even if the Army does choose a design, it’s “highly uncertain, indeed unlikely” that it will pay a premium for the extended speed and range sought after in the FVL program, he said.
Photo Credit: Bell Helicopter
By Sandra I. Erwin
Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall is proposing changes in how weapon systems are tested. He suggests tests should be performed earlier in the design cycle than is customarily done.
The sooner the testing, he says, the sooner the Pentagon will catch problems before the military sinks huge amounts of money into a program. This would help avert expensive redesigns and modifications — a costly lesson the Pentagon learned over the past decade from the F-35 fighter program.
Kendall also believes that earlier "developmental" testing can help reduce the cost of "operational" testing — realistic live-fire drills that are mandated by law before any weapon systems goes into production.
"We are trying to have more efficient test programs overall, get the data out before we make production decisions. That's critical to design stability," Kendall told National Defense after delivering a speech at a recent conference on acquisition reform. Program managers should have more data about how their systems perform before they begin operational tests, Kendall said. "We will continue to try to blend operational testing and developmental testing."
But the Pentagon's plan to wring out more "efficiency" from testing has stirred old animosities between the procurement shop and the office of the director of operational test and evaluation — which operates independently from the procurement office and reports directly to the secretary of defense. DOT&E, as the testing office is known, has been a thorn in the side of many big-ticket weapon programs. Kendall's comments are raising fears in the testing community that their budgets will be gutted.
Acquisition executives from every branch of the military have chafed at being blindsided by DOT&E reports. For many years, program managers have sought to have more control over test reports before DOT&E releases them to Congress and the news media. Procurement officials would rather have test results reported directly to them and have greater say in what information is disclosed.
After operational testers gave the Navy’s littoral combat ship a scathing review in their fiscal year 2012 annual report to Congress, service officials were unprepared for the political damage the report would cause. Testers concluded the ship lacked firepower and was not survivable in high intensity conflict. The report prompted an extensive review of the LCS and the Pentagon ordered the Navy to consider other alternatives.
Kendall's deputy, Darlene Costello, in a speech to a test-and-evaluation industry conference last month, explained the rationale for planned changes related to weapon tests. There is now a "big emphasis on what we do before an RFP goes out. ... Testing is a big part of that," said Costello, who is director of program and acquisition management.
An RFP, or request for proposals, details specific requirements that contractors must satisfy. Costello said earlier testing would help military buyers understand the state of technology and set more realistic expectations before they commit to a weapons contract. This is a "big area associated with testing that Secretary Kendall wants to emphasize," she said. "I have sincere appreciation for the relationship between testing and acquisition." She also noted that in these times of declining budgets, tension between the two communities tends to rise as everyone competes for a slice of a shrinking pie.
Speaking at the same conference, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore pushed back on the notion that testing costs should be treated as expendable overhead. "How are you going to compress testing in this era of constrained budgets? I think it's a mistake. It accepts the premise that testing is driving increased cost," he said. "The facts don't support that premise. We want to make sure we do testing as rigorously and as often as we can."
Infighting between program officers and testers is par for the course at the Defense Department. Kendall's predecessor Ashton Carter commissioned an independent team in 2011 to probe complaints that developmental and operational testing contribute to excessive cost and schedule slippages in programs.
A review of 40 programs that had experienced significant delays found that only in seven were tests to blame. It concluded that "testing and test requirements, by themselves, do not generally cause major program delays.” It found no significant evidence that the testing community is responsible for unplanned requirements, cost or schedule problems. In 37 programs, delays were caused by issues that were discovered during testing.
In a June 2011 letter to senior officials, Carter called for a better "relationship and interaction among the testing, requirements and program management communities. ... Although the independent review found that tensions between programs and the test community are to be expected and healthy for the most part, occasionally the tensions grow to the point of frustration and animosity."
In his recent speech at the industry conference, Gilmore made a case that testers tend to become convenient scapegoats but are hardly to blame for cost and schedule overruns.
At the root of the problems that have plagued major Pentagon programs is the way the military services define their requirements, said Gilmore. "Oftentimes requirements are defined in technical specifications. That's OK, but insufficient to ensure a system provides military utility."
He cited the Navy's P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft as a case in point. In operational tests last year, the aircraft showed it could fly, but it was not able to perform key missions like wide-area antisubmarine surveillance. Gilmore blamed the flap on the Navy because it had not specified antisubmarine warfare as a "key performance parameter." In an operational test, said Gilmore, the aircraft needs to do much more than just fly.
Poorly written requirements continue to haunt programs, he said. "In this wonderful town, common sense doesn't play a role." Gilmore said many of the key parameters for the F-35 joint strike fighter relate to aircraft performance and payload capacity. "If we were just going to test KPPs, we would not fly combat missions, we would not penetrate air defenses, we would just fly off the carrier and back. ... How meaningful are these requirements?"
Many of the more complex mission systems have yet to be tested in the F-35, even though the program is already in production. "The Defense Department is committed to the program," he said. "The department has no choice but to make the program work. I don't see that the program is going to be derailed by any negative test results," he said. "My guess is that if there are problems in testing that require hardware changes, those will come in later blocks."
Gilmore rejects the argument often made by procurement officials that a system can be "fixed over time."
The Army, he said, wasted billions of dollars on a future combat system and on digital radios that never materialized. Its leaders were guilty of "approving requirements that are not achievable." Some programs get to operational testing and still don't have concepts for how they will operate, he said. "If the testing community played a more prominent role in requirements — and that's a big if — perhaps we could have avoided these mistakes," Gilmore said.
Laying the blame for added cost and delays on testers is a common practice, he said. But programs should not skimp on testing, Gilmore warned. "In this budget environment, testing, especially operational testing, assuming it's feasible, is essential. When people claim that testers add billions of dollars to programs, the facts don't support that claim. ... The earlier you test, the sooner you fix programs, the lower the cost."
Gilmore suggested major programs should have a firm "test and evaluation master plan" before an RFP is written. "I have never understood when I am told we cannot do a T&E master plan until we get a response back from contractors. How can you generate a meaningful RFP without a draft test plan? Just as importantly, how can you evaluate the responses industry provides? I don't get it. What I fear is that some of these RFP evaluations are check mark exercises. I hope that's not the case."
It is still not clear how Kendall’s plan to accelerate tests will be put into practice. Operational tests usually happen late in the development cycle — sometimes just months before the Pentagon must make a decision to begin production. It can take years to have prototypes available, so unless prototypes are built faster, experts contend, there's only so much operationally realistic testing that can be done earlier in a program.
Of greater concern to testers is how program managers will deal with the current budget crunch. When funds are slashed, program managers historically have pared back testing, especially developmental testing. Gilmore and others have argued that, as budgets come down, the Pentagon needs more testing because it cannot afford to make costly mistakes.
Credit: Frank Kendall speaks at a roll-out ceremony for the first two F-35s for the Royal Australian Air Force (Defense Dept. photo)