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[*] posted on 18-1-2020 at 03:41 PM
SWARM Missile Systems and everything related


Dynetics X-61A Gremlins makes first flight, but destroyed after parachute fails

By Garrett Reim18 January 2020

VIDEO:Gremlins X-61A Maiden Test Flight: https://youtu.be/P3DncMeGqTg

Dynetics’ X-61A Gremlins unmanned air vehicle (UAV) made its first flight in November 2019.

The flight lasted 1h 41min and took place at Dugway Proving Ground near Salt Lake City, Utah, it was announced several months later by Dynetics on 17 January.

However, the UAV was destroyed when its main chute used for landing did not deploy and it crashed into the ground, says Dynetics.


Source: Dynetics
Dynetics X-61A Gremlins in first flight


“The loss of our vehicle validates our decision to build five [X-61s],” says Tim Keeter, Dynetics Gremlins programme manager. “Overall, I am proud to see all the hard work pay off and we are excited to continue this momentum towards the first airborne recovery in early 2020.”

The Gremlins programme is run by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Its aim is to create low-cost UAVs that could be air-launched and recovered in swarms. The aircraft could be used for a variety of applications including as a surveillance platform or as a loitering munition.

“When the Gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24h,” says DARPA. “The Gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, which are designed to operate for decades.”

The final flight in the Gremlins programme requires Dynetics to demonstrate the ability to launch, fly and then recover four X-61As in under 30min.

Dynetics is the prime contractor for the Gremlins programme, while the body of the UAV is built by Kratos Defense and the turbine is supplied by Williams International.
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[*] posted on 22-1-2020 at 07:44 PM


DARPA, Dynetics move Gremlins focus to aerial recovery

Pat Host, Washington, DC - Jane's International Defence Review

22 January 2020


The X-61A demonstrator during a November 2019 flight test at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Source: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Dynetics are shifting their focus in the Gremlins programme to aerial recovery of the X-61A demonstrator after completing the device's first flight test in November 2019.

The goal of this third phase of Gremlins will be the completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable X-61A unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), according to a DARPA statement. The system would launch groups of the device from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range of adversary defences. Once the X-61A demonstrators complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

Tim Keeter, Dynetics Gremlins programme manager, told reporters on 21 January that aerial recovery of the X-61A will combine military capabilities found in airborne aerial refuelling and towing targets in the air. According to a video provided by the Pentagon, the recovery begins with a towed, stabilised capture device, similar to a hose-and-drogue, pushed out from the back of a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. DARPA plans to use a C-130 to recover the X-61A in its flight test scheduled to take place in the second quarter of 2020.

As the X-61A gets closer to the drogue, a small metallic arm pops out of the top of the aircraft, which then enters the capture device. The wings of the X-61A then shift to be parallel to the aircraft, rather than perpendicular.

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[*] posted on 29-1-2020 at 03:42 PM


US Defense Department launches Gremlins drone from a mothership for the first time

By: Valerie Insinna   12 hours ago


A Gremlins air vehicle participates in a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in November 2019. (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Department is one step closer to having swarming drones that it can launch from military planes and recover in midair, having successfully conducted the first flight of the Gremlins aircraft in November.

The test, which occurred at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, proved that a C-130A could successfully launch an X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicle, said Tim Keeter, who manages the program for Dynetics. The company won the Gremlins contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2018.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going forward that this vehicle can fly where it’s supposed to fly, how it’s supposed to fly,” Keeter said during a Jan. 21 phone call with reporters. “Now the team can be principally focused on the other portion of our program plan … which is to successfully rendezvous with a C-130, dock with our docking system … and safely recover the vehicle.”

During the test, which lasted 1 hour and 41 minutes, the X-61A flew with no anomalies and the DARPA-Dynetics team completed all test objectives, including transitioning the X-61A from a cold-engine start to stable flight; validating the Gremlins’ data links and handing off control of the drone between air and ground control stations; deploying the docking arm; and collecting data on the air vehicle.

However, during the recovery process, the drone crashed to the ground and was destroyed. The drogue parachute, which deployed first to slow the air vehicle, functioned as planned, Keeter explained. However, the larger main parachute — which would soften the landing of the air vehicle so that the drone could be reused — did not correctly deploy due to a mechanical issue.

Dynetics has built four other Gremlins vehicles, leaving enough drones to accomplish the program’s primary requirement to fly and recover four Gremlins in 30 minutes, said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA’s Gremlins program manager.

The next demonstration, set for sometime this spring, will verify whether the Gremlins can be successfully recovered by the C-130 while in flight. Wierzbanowski characterized this test as critical for proving that the Gremlins can be reused over multiple missions — a key point for bearing out the cost-effectiveness of the concept.

"If I have an expendable vehicle, at some point I'm not going to want to be able to use those things because they’re just too expensive,” he said. “But if I can recover them and then amortize the cost of that vehicle over 10 or 20 or 30 sorties, maybe there's a bend in the curve somewhere that really will allow us to benefit from these smaller, more affordable, attritable systems."

During the recovery process, the C-130 will lower a towed capture device that will mate with the Gremlins drone, thus avoiding the turbulence generated by the wake of the larger aircraft, Keeter said. Once the drone is stabilized by the capture device, an engagement arm deploys, docking with the X-61A and bringing it inside the C-130 cargo bay to be stowed.
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[*] posted on 21-3-2020 at 01:17 PM


USAF Research Laboratory tests Gray Wolf low-cost turbojet for swarming cruise missiles

By Garrett Reim

21 March 2020

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has tested its Grey Wolf low-cost turbojet engine.

The TDI-J85 engine, and related low-cost cruise missile, were designed and built in partnership with Northrop Grumman and Technical Directions, says AFRL.

The initial TDI-J85 test campaign involved multiple inflight engine starts and operation at high altitude.


Source: US Air Force Research Laboratory
Gray Wolf cruise missile


“The engine met performance expectations for thrust and surpassed fuel efficiency expectations,” says AFRL. “The engines tested accumulated sufficient inflight operating time, building confidence in the design durability.”

The laboratory aims to create a cost-effective, easily manufacturable jet engine that can be produced in large numbers and that will power swarms of low-cost cruise missiles. It claims the TDI-J85 is the first in “its class and price point to successfully operate at altitude”.

The USAF wants cruise missiles with ranges more than 250nm (463km) that can be used for a variety of missions.

In 2017, Northrop Grumman was awarded $110 million by AFRL for the Gray Wolf development effort. That contract said the goal of the cruise missile was “defeat of enemy integrated air defense systems”.

The laboratory is also looking at way for the Gray Wolf missiles to work together.

“Additionally, the programme explored using multiple Gray Wolf missiles in a networked swarm to meet an evolving warfighter mission requirement,” says AFRL.

Those abilities fit the description of AFRL’s Golden Horde initiative, a project aiming to create a networked swarm of munitions, including guided bombs and cruise missiles, that would autonomously share targeting information and coordinate attacks.

“When each weapon shares measurements of a target’s location, combining this information reduces errors since it creates a more accurate target location for all to reference,” says the AFRL.

“Ultimately, this supports the use of lower-cost sub-systems in place of more-expensive systems without sacrificing capability.”
The Golden Horde is to use a team-like autonomy that AFRL describes as “play calling”.

“A ‘play’ is an established collaborative behavior enabled (or disabled) when certain predefined conditions are met by the swarm,” says the laboratory. “Golden Horde uses a collection of plays called a playbook. Loaded prior to the mission, the playbook provides a choice of plays from which the weapons can choose.”

The AFRL is careful to note the Golden Horde technology would not use artificial intelligence or machine learning to decide what targets to strike.

“The system only selects from set plays and cannot violate defined Rules of Engagement,” it says.

The AFRL plans to start demonstrating the Golden Horde concept in late 2020, using a modified Diameter Bomb I and a modified Miniature Air-Launched Decoy. It wants those two weapons to work together to attack simulated targets in a demonstration in the fall of 2021.

As part of the Gray Wolf initiative, the laboratory plans next to use test data to integrate the TDI-J85 engine in flight test vehicles.

“As part of the weapon system integration and demonstration phase, the team will modify and verify the interfacing operating software, perform captive flight test and conduct a missile release test to demonstrate the low-cost cruise missile concept,” says AFRL.

A timeline of that next phase of tests was not given.
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[*] posted on 27-3-2020 at 02:08 PM


AFRL & Industry Team Successfully Demonstrates First Ever 200-lb. Thrust Class Low-Cost Engine

(Source: Air Force Research Laboratory; issued Mar 19, 2020)


A Gray Wolf low-cost cruise missile prototype. These low-cost cruise missiles will offer a stand-off solution with a variable payload capability, meaning the missiles are designed to cruise for distances greater than 250 nautical miles. (AFRL photo)

EGLIN AFB, FL. --- The Air Force Research Laboratory working with Northrop Grumman and Technical Directions Inc. (TDI) recently tested a first-of-its-kind, low-cost turbojet engine under the low-cost cruise missile program known as Gray Wolf. The TDI-J85 engine underwent a successful flight test campaign culminating in multiple inflight engine starts and operation at high altitude.

The engine met performance expectations for thrust and surpassed fuel efficiency expectations. The engines tested accumulated sufficient inflight operating time, building confidence in the design durability. The engine design focused on affordability and manufacturability, which enables increased production. Test results proved the engine capability. It is the first engine in its class and price point to successfully operate at altitude. With the success of this test, AFRL is one significant step closer to launching a low-cost cruise missile.

Gray Wolf is an Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD)-directed prototype production and demonstration of low-cost cruise missile. These low-cost cruise missiles will offer a stand-off solution with a variable payload capability, meaning the missiles are designed to cruise for distances greater than 250 nautical miles and can accommodate multiple mission profiles. Additionally, the program explored using multiple Gray Wolf missiles in a networked swarm to meet an evolving warfighter mission requirement.

“The success of this test greatly increases our confidence in the performance of the engine and weapon systems as a whole. Developing the TDI-J85 engine in parallel to the cruise missile has proved challenging, but the collaborative partnership between AFRL, TDI, and Northrup Grumman has been outstanding,” said Col Garry Haase, AFRL/RW Director.

AFRL and our partners will utilize the recent flight test data to integrate the TDI-J85 engine into the Gray Wolf Flight Test vehicles. As part of the weapon system integration and demonstration phase, the team will modify and verify the interfacing operating software, perform captive flight test, and conduct a missile release test to demonstrate the low cost cruise missile concept.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 1-4-2020 at 08:15 PM


UK stands-up ‘swarming drones’ development unit

Gareth Jennings, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

31 March 2020


The RAF plans to field a ‘swarming drones’ capability to add mass to its capable but numerically limited aircraft. 216 Squadron was stood-up on 1 April to develop this concept. Source: Crown Copyright

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has stood-up an experimental unit dedicated to developing an operational ‘swarming drones’ capability, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Jane’s .

216 Squadron was reactivated at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on 1 April, the MoD said. Previously, the ministry explained that the unit will be tasked with bringing the RAF’s “ambitious” swarming drones capability into service and continue its development.

As previously reported by Jane’s , the then-Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson said in February 2019 that by the end of that year the RAF would operationally field “swarm squadrons of network-enabled drones capable of confusing and overcoming enemy air-defence systems”. In July 2019 the then-Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier clarified the minister’s comments by saying that 216 Squadron would be stood-up by the end of the year to develop the concept, with the capability itself to be delivered by about July, with further development to follow.

This is still the MoD’s stated intention. However, Jane’s understands that 216 Squadron has been reformed with minimal manning for now, and that work is ongoing to assess the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic on future plans, manning, and timelines.

In terms of the potential solution to the ‘swarming drones’ requirement, the RAF has previously said that the timelines meant it would not be looking to develop a bespoke platform but would instead be using something that was already available. No further details have been provided for commercial confidentiality reasons.

While the near-term timelines and milestones for 216 Squadron and the wider swarming drone capability are currently subject to developments with the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the MoD noted earlier that progress during recent trials has exceeded expectations in several unspecified areas. A source familiar with the trials noted to Jane’s that the results so far were “looking promising”.

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[*] posted on 21-4-2020 at 05:02 PM


DARPA awards nine new contracts to foster drone swarm technology

Nathan Strout

14 hours ago


Some of 250 robots are assembled for a DARPA OFFSET robot swarming exercise at Camp Shelby, Miss. (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued nine new contracts to companies developing drone swarm technologies, the agency announced April 13.

Through the agency’s Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program, or OFFSET, it hopes to foster technology developments that will enable 250 small unmanned air or ground robots to work together in support of the war fighter.

The program works in five main areas: swarm tactics, swarm autonomy, human-swarm teaming, virtual environment and physical test bed. The agency has hosted multiple swarm sprints to encourage rapid innovation in one or more of those areas.

The nine awards mark the fifth such swarm sprint, with this one focused on swarm tactics and physical test beds in an urban environment.

“The urban environment presents compelling challenges such as tall buildings, tight spaces, and limited sight lines,” Timothy Chung, the OFFSET program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in an agency news release. “Enhancing the Swarm Physical Testbeds that tackle those unique challenges is a desired goal of the OFFSET program.”

Four of the participants will be tackling the swarm tactics portion of the sprint, where they will be asked to solve problems such as “disrupting the opposition’s decision making, obfuscating swarm intent, updating maps of a dynamic environment, and maintaining the swarm’s communications indoors.”

The remaining five performers will work on the physical test bed thrust area, which includes reducing deployment times, utilizing new navigation sensors, incorporating fixed-wing aircraft into the swarm and enhancing mobility for robotic, wheeled vehicles in urban settings.

Participants will incorporate their technologies into the OFFSET swarm systems architecture to demonstrate their respective solutions, with field tests taking place in December 2020.

The recipients are as follows:

Thrust area: Physical test bed

- Michigan Technological University/Michigan Tech Research Institute
- Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
- HDT Expeditionary Systems, Inc.
- Sentien Robotics
- Texas A&M University

Thrust area: Swarm tactics

- Michigan Technological University/Michigan Tech Research Institute
- Charles River Analytics, Inc.
- Soar Technology, Inc.
- Northwestern University
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[*] posted on 14-7-2020 at 02:28 PM


US Air Force gears up for first flight test of Golden Horde munition swarms

By: Valerie Insinna   4 hours ago


Senior Airmen Jacob Coltson directs a forklift carrying Miniature Air Launch Decoys into a munitions storage area on Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The Air Force is developing a networked version of the MALD. (Staff Sgt Micaiah Anthony/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — As a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot closes in on a target, she fires four GPS-guided bombs. As the weapons swarm toward their destination, sharing information about their surroundings, one of the munitions sights a higher-priority target nearby. Instantly, the game plan changes — the bombs’ programming now directs two of the weapons toward the high-priority target, while the rest carry out the original strike.

That scenario is similar to one the Air Force Research Laboratory plans to test this year using a Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb, one of the two munitions the Air Force is developing in the Golden Horde program.

With Golden Horde, the Air Force aims to find out whether munitions can be networked together and operate autonomously after launch according to a set of predetermined rules. Col. Garry Hasse, director of AFRL’s Munitions Directorate, emphasized that this capability is different than a weapon that can independently make decisions based on artificial intelligence.

“We get that question a lot,” he told Defense News in a June 18 interview.

“With all the talk about artificial intelligence and other things in ‘Terminator’ movies … [there’s] certainly some trepidation of what independent capability a weapon may have.”

Golden Horde is one of the three technology development efforts chosen by the Air Force in 2019 as a “Vanguard program” — a high-priority prototyping and experimentation initiative that the service earmarked as potentially groundbreaking. Along with its fellow Vanguards — the loyal wingman drone known as Skyborg and Navigation Technology Satellite-3, an experimental satellite that would augment GPS — the Air Force hopes to speed Golden Horde toward either fielding or failure.

AFRL is working on two networked munitions for Golden Horde: the Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb I (CSDB-1) and the Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD). Both involve taking munitions currently in production — the laser-guided version of Boeing’s Small Diameter Bomb I and Raytheon’s Miniature Air-Launched Decoy — and then outfitting them with new radios that allow the weapons to exchange information, and equipping them with new processors for additional computing power, said Norma Taylor, the program manager for Golden Horde.

That in turn enables a massive software upgrade known as the “autonomy module,” a playbook of algorithms that tell the weapon how to respond to specific changes on the battlefield, whether that means the sighting of a new threat or the destruction of some of the collaborative weapons.

So far, AFRL has completed the hardware design for CSDB-1 and is working on software and algorithm development, Hasse said, “and then also doing simulations and running through different scenarios that is part of defining those playbooks.”

AFRL is on track to begin F-16 fighter jet flight tests with the CSDB-1 this fall and winter, with similar tests of the B-52 bomber carrying the CMALD planned for summer 2021, Hasse said.

The first flight test scenarios will be simple, helping the Air Force gauge whether the weapons are properly communicating across the network and acting in accordance with the mission playbook. For example, a team of CSDB-1s could come across a threat while en route to attack a target and would have to change trajectory to avoid it.

A pilot’s experience launching the CSDB-1 or CMALD should be about the same as the baseline version of the weapon, with mission-planning teams working to preprogram the networked munitions with information about its rules of engagement ahead of takeoff, Taylor said.

“[Mission planners] would give information to the weapon on an appropriate engagement zone, where it would be considered proper for the weapon to engage targets … and they would give the weapons information on known targets in that zone,” she said. “But if they have some idea that there might be other targets out there that they don’t know, they will give the weapon some information in terms of priorities, so that if you come across a higher-priority target that’s in the authorized engagement zone, then you have permission to change your assignment.”

Eventually, AFRL will use the CSDB-1 and CMALD together in an integrated swarm in a more complex scenario, currently scheduled around 2022, Taylor said.

“One of the important aspects of the networking aspect of the technology is the ability to send information to the weapon while it’s in flight and give it a new mission download, so to speak,” she said. “It might have been loaded with ‘mission A’ on as its primary mission, and if things change, then there is an ability through that networked radio to provide mission updates.

“But the important thing is to realize that whether it’s preprogrammed in mission planning or whether it’s a mission update to your flight, the operators are still required to provide the weapon those rules of engagement are on, where they can and can’t engage, and what their mission priorities are.”

In the future, Hasse noted, the Air Force could eventually use the series of platforms and sensors linked through the Advanced Battle Management System to cue collaborative munitions on changes in the rules of engagement.

The integration of hardware and software on the Golden Horde program is being performed by Scientific Applications and Research Associates Inc. — which won a $100 million contract in 2019 for CSDB-1 — and Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation, which won $85 million for CMALD, Air Force Magazine reported.

AFRL plans to present an acquisition plan for collaborative weapons “soon,” Hasse said, but the weapons developed during Golden Horde might not be the munitions that become acquisition programs of record.

“I don’t know [that it’s] specifically a collaborative [small diameter bomb] that we’ll transition into the inventory. … I think more it’s a matter of looking at some of the plays and the networking capabilities and the collaboration capabilities that could be put into other systems.”
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