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[*] posted on 19-2-2020 at 11:28 AM


Three companies to lead Spain’s UAV contribution to FCAS

David Ing, Madrid and Gareth Jennings, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

18 February 2020


The Remote Carrier element of the FCAS/SCAF system will serve as a ‘loyal wingman’ to the New Generation Fighter. The combination of this unmanned platform and the fighter will be known as the Next-Generation Weapon System. Source: Jane’s/Gareth Jennings

Three Spanish companies are to jointly spearhead the country's participation in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) element of the NGWS (Next Generation Weapon System) that forms part of the wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS)/Système de Combat Aérien Futur (SCAF) programme.

GMV, SENER Aeroespacial and Tecnobit Grupo Oesia announced that they had reached the accord as part of the industrial plan being co-ordinated by the Spanish Ministry of Defence (MoD). An agreement was signed at the MoD on 17 February, at which the government was represented by the Secretary of State for Defence, Ángel Olivares, and the Secretary General for Industry and SMEs, Raul Blanco.

For FCAS/SCAF, the NGWS comprises the New Generation Fighter (NGF) and 'loyal wingman' UAVs. These UAVs are known as Remote Carriers (RCs), and overall development is being led by Airbus.

News of the Spanish participation in developing the RCs came days after France and Germany launched the demonstrator phase of the FCAS/SCAF project on 12 February. Besides the NGWS, this demonstrator phase also includes the Air Combat Cloud (ACC), which networks together all the elements of the future battlespace.

Spain's decision to take a one-third share in the FCAS programme constituted "an effort of participation without precedent in the European aerospace industry", the companies said in a joint statement.

"It centres on the development of new technologies and the evaluation of new concepts - based on a group of unmanned [air] vehicles, some with [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance] ISTAR observation capacity".

As such, it represented "an important step forward in the positioning of Spanish industry in the NGWS/FCAS project and opens the doors to the development of disruptive technologies".

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[*] posted on 22-2-2020 at 03:50 PM


Airbus Is Joining Forces with Europe’s Premier Missile Systems House MBDA to Develop Demonstrators for Remote Carriers

(Source: Airbus; issued Feb 20, 2020)

PARIS --- As part of last week’s awarding of the Phase 1A Demonstrators contract for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), Airbus and Europe’s premier missile systems house MBDA decided to join forces to develop demonstrators for Remote Carriers.

The teaming involves MBDA focusing on the development of small and medium class platforms together and under the lead of Airbus. On its side, Airbus will address the whole Remote Carrier scope and in particular teaming intelligence, whilst focusing on medium to large platforms.

MBDA’s portfolio of capabilities brings complementary expertise into the Airbus led Remote Carrier domain and is expected to contribute significantly to the future capabilities of Air Power. As the European champion in missiles, with industrial presence in France, Germany and Spain, MBDA brings in a unique expertise in launching, flying and autonomy of small and large missiles.

Airbus, as a major European player in UAS, is building on its full-scale expertise in small to large systems and in Man-Unmanned Teaming. Among its demonstrators, Airbus has operated since 2006 the Barracuda, a flying test bed for developing technologies and procedures to be used by mature next-generation UAVs to test fast reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting and battle damage assessment capabilities.

Designed to act as force multipliers, the Remote Carriers, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which aim at reducing the risks for manned aircraft by taking over specific air operations’ roles within high risk environments, providing new air warfare capabilities and teaming in combination with and coordinated by other manned air assets.

Capable of “Cross-Platform Mission Management”, the Remote Carriers will complement and augment manned fighter aircraft capabilities performing in close cooperation yet with a high degree of automation to improve the mission performance in high intensity conflicts, and increase the combat mass to better compensate limited numbers of sophisticated manned fighter aircraft.

Allowing more agile and faster adaptation and development of technologies, the Remote Carriers will drastically increase operational capabilities at a very fast pace.

Several types of Remote Carriers are being studied, including expendable swarms possibly followed by more sophisticated groups, providing a wide scope of potential missions to better support a safer penetration of manned aircraft into hostile environment.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 27-2-2020 at 09:12 AM


Kratos begins XQ-58A Valkyrie production, despite funding delay caused by mishap

By Garrett Reim26 February 2020

Kratos Defense and Security Solutions has started building production examples of its XQ-58A Valkyrie attritable unmanned air vehicle (UAV), despite an investigation into an October 2019 mishap which delayed an expected contract from the US Air Force (USAF).

The company had expected the USAF to grant it a production contract within 90 days of the start of FY2020, which for the US government begins 1 October 2019. That funding was delayed as the US Department of Defense (DoD) investigated an “anomaly” that caused the UAV to be damaged on landing after its third test flight in the fall, the company says in an earnings call on 25 February.


Source: US Air Force Research Laboratory
US Air Force Research Laboratory XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator


“This resolved [parachute] recovery system situation and related now complete customer investigation resulted in delays that have pushed Kratos’ previous Valkyrie expectation and programme plan approximately six months to the right,” says Eric DeMarco, president and chief executive officer of Kratos Defense, in the earnings call.

The XQ-58A returned successfully to flight in a fourth test in January 2020.

Nonetheless, the USAF contract was to be an important part of Kratos Defense’s 2020 revenue and the stock market reacted negatively to the news, with the company’s stock price falling by more than 22% to $15 a share on 26 February.

Kratos remains bullish on the production potential for the XQ-58A, which is continuing flight tests as a technology demonstrator with the US Air Force Research Laboratory. The company has started production of the UAV, using its own cash, at its Oklahoma City, Oklahoma facilities ahead of receiving a USAF contract.

“We expect an initial Valkyrie related production system and payload integration award sometime in the current months as we complete the process to work the details with the [USAF] stakeholders,” says DeMarco. “This is just one of several Valkyrie related opportunities we are currently pursuing, including one with an entity, where we are currently forecasting orders for a total of approximately 30 XQ-58 drones within the next 18 months.”

He did not disclose what other US defense services or entities are interested in the UAV.

The company plans to start delivery of the first 12 production examples of the Valkyrie in the first quarter of 2021, and aims to deliver one or two per month every month thereafter that.

“We are leaning forward here, ahead of the expected contract awards as we are highly confident that receipt of initial Valkyrie production contracts is not if, but when based on the most recent information that we have,” says DeMarco.

DeMarco says the USAF remains enthusiastic about the Valkyrie as a loyal wingman to manned fighter aircraft. He notes the service’s plans to fly the UAV in an exercise with the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Lockheed Martin F-22 in the first half of 2020. The Valkyrie is also a candidate for the USAF’s top unfunded priority, the Skyborg programme, an effort to develop artificially intelligence software to control a loyal wingman UAV, he says.
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[*] posted on 28-2-2020 at 07:18 PM


UAVs could start replacing manned fighters in mid-2020: USAF

By Garrett Reim, Orlando, Florida28 February 2020

As older Lockheed Martin F-16s approach the end of their service life in five to eight years, the US Air Force (USAF) may consider replacing the manned fighters with attritable unmanned air vehicles (UAV).

The service wants to rethink the way it does aerial combat using new technology, including attritable UAVs, says General James Michael Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, on 27 February at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.


Source: Air Force Research Laboratory
Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator in 2019 flight


“I hope that 30 years from now I’m not still trying to maintain 55 fighter squadrons,” he says. “I think we’ll advance and there’ll be some other things that will be cutting in [the fleet]”.

Instead of laying out a traditional acquisition plan centered around buying manned combat aircraft, Holmes says he wants the service to think more conceptually.

“As we go forward in the future, what I would rather build is a capabilities roadmap that shows how we’re going to accomplish the missions for the Air Force that we traditionally have done with fighters.”

The first opportunity to add attritable aircraft to the USAF inventory could come with the retirement of F-16 Block 25 and Block 30 aircraft in the mid-2020s.

“Sometime in the next five, six, seven or eight years, depending on budgets and capability, we’ll have to decide what we’re going to do about those airplanes,” Holmes says. “And so, there’s an opportunity there if we want to cut in something new – low-cost attritable loyal wingman, the different things that we’re looking at and experimenting with.”

After those fighters, the F-16 Block 40 and Block 50, which have substantial airframe life remaining, but need modernisation upgrades, could be on the chopping block, he says.

Holmes’s inspiration largely comes from the challenges of operating across the Pacific Ocean. He has held recent discussions with Will Roper, assistant secretary of the USAF for acquisition, technology and logistics, about developing future combat aircraft that can address these challenges.

“The idea of what is a fighter, the equation and kind of the math that we use to for a fighter still works pretty well in the European environment. The range and payload and distance problem is still a pretty effective solution,” he says. “It’s not as effective as solution in the Pacific because of the great distances.”

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter has been criticised for having a limited combat range of 600nm (1110km), insufficient to avoid a surprise hit by China’s long-range ballistic and cruise missiles while parked at an air base in the western Pacific Ocean.

In part to solve that limitation, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Defense Security Solutions have been developing the XQ-58A Valkyrie, a low-cost UAV with a 1,500nm combat radius. The attritable aircraft could be flown independently or as a loyal wingman alongside manned aircraft.

The range problem is also influencing the USAF’s thinking on its next-generation fighter development programme, called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), says Holmes.

“So as you look at NGAD, and you look at the follow-on programmes, I wouldn’t expect it to produce things that necessarily look like a traditional fighter, in that same kind of swap between range and payload and distance that we’ve done in a traditional fighter,” he says. “And, I think that’s what Dr. Roper is talking about. Both: How about the unmanned, low cost of tradable options? And, how might they do those same missions?”

Ultimately, it might mean the USA’s next fighter aircraft is unmanned.

“What we’re concerned about at Air Combat Command is not necessarily whether it’ll be a manned fighter, but how are we going to provide the capabilities that the joint force depends on us to do?”
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[*] posted on 2-3-2020 at 07:23 PM


AFA Winter 2020: AFRL plans Golden Horde networked collaborative weapons demo in 2020

Pat Host, Orlando - Jane's Missiles & Rockets

01 March 2020


Aircraft that resemble the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider and CSDB-1s fly during an attack simulation video on display on 28 February at the AFA Air Warfare Symposium. Source: Jane’s/Pat Host

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is planning to start demonstrations in late 2020 of its Golden Horde networked collaborative weapons effort, one of the US Air Force's (USAF's) top science and technology (S&T) programmes.

Golden Horde is a group of technologies the USAF is evaluating for network collaborative autonomous capabilities within existing weapon systems, Colonel Garry Haase, AFRL munitions directorate commander and director at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, told Jane's on 28 February at the Air Force Association's (AFA's) Air Warfare Symposium. The service, he said, will experiment with how to have a group of weapons talk and interact with one another and pass data back and forth into a network so they can better prosecute targets and better prioritise.

The USAF wants its Golden Horde weapons to be able to reform and reprioritise targets if some are taken out. The AFRL refers to this as 'playcalling'. A play is an established collaborative behaviour enabled, or disabled, when certain predefined conditions are met by the swarm.

Golden Horde uses a collection of plays called a 'playbook'. Loaded prior to a mission, the playbook provides a choice of plays from which the weapons can choose.

The upcoming demonstration will centre around what the AFRL is calling the Collaborative Small Diameter Bomb 1 (CSDB-1), integrated by Applications and Research Associates Inc (SARA), which is based on the Boeing GBU-39B/B Laser Small Diameter Bomb (LSDB) form factor. Col Haase said AFRL will use multiple CSDB-1s and have them work together to prosecute a target.

The AFRL will also add in a Collaborative Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (CMALD), integrated by the Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp (GTARC), to provide longer endurance and power platform. The goal, he said, is to demonstrate two different platforms talking and working together collaboratively to provide greater capability.

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[*] posted on 4-3-2020 at 12:59 PM


5 technologies needed to make attritable UAVs work

By Garrett Reim

3 March 2020

Aircraft developers believe these five pieces of technology need to be improved to make attritable aircraft work.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering

Digital engineering will be key to balancing the cost and capability of attritable aircraft, before using funds for building prototypes and flight testing, says Shane Arnott, director of Boeing Australia’s Airpower Teaming System programme.


Source: Boeing
Air teaming requires new forms of control automation to reduce the burden on pilots and ground operators


“For example, through application of digital engineering, Boeing Australia has a digital twin of the entire Boeing Airpower Teaming System aircraft design that we’ve been able to ‘fly’ thousands of times under different scenarios to test aircraft performance, the mission system and many other components necessary for capable attritable aircraft,” he says.

Moreover, tools such as additive manufacturing, autonomy in the fabrication plant and digital engineering, are needed to quicken the pace of innovation, says Scott Wierzbanowski, programme manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) X-61 Gremlins programme.

“Whereas it may typically take three to five years to build a clean sheet autonomous air vehicle, driving the build cycle down to 12 to 18 months not only regulates non-recurring costs, but also pushes cutting edge technology out to the field sooner,” he says.

Trustworthy autonomy

Managing loyal wingman or swarms of attritable UAVs can’t add tasks to overworked pilots and ground operators. Instead, new forms of flight control automation and artificially intelligent software need to be developed.

“Scaling up quantities of deployed vehicles must be done in parallel with the reduction of the number of human operators required to control them,” says Tim Keeter, Dynetics X-61 Gremlins programme manager. “From force composition, to mission planning, to engagement, the commander’s intent needs to be clearly and simply communicated by the operator and autonomously implemented by artificially intelligent agents distributed throughout the system.”

Autonomy is also needed to cope when adversaries, such as Russia or China, use electronic warfare to jam or disrupt communication between operators and UAVs.

“Denied environments will stress these future systems to intelligently adapt when individual aircraft are lost, to identify new threats or changes in an adversary’s tactics, and to quickly fuse data from multiple, distributed sensors for consumption by the swarm, as well as by the human operator,” says Keeter.

Cheaper jet turbines

Because attritbale aircraft would likely only have lifecycles of 20 to 30 missions – more than single-use cruise missiles, but less than manned jet fighters – new turbines need to be developed to fit this novel application.

“The cost of engines in the 700lb-thrust and smaller class is a significant factor in the cost of an attritable vehicle. Lower vehicle costs promote greater use of attritable vehicles, which increases the demand for engine production,” says Keeter of Dynetics. “Additionally, engines that are optimized for reuse with quick refurbishment times as opposed to being expendable, offer a greater advantage for attritable vehicles that are also recoverable. Above all, a revisualisation of engine design to reduce parts count, materials, machining and touch labor costs that are achievable through additive manufacturing and new production technologies is key.”

Cheaper mission systems

For an attritable aircraft to be low-cost enough to be lost to combat attrition its subsystems and payloads also need to be inexpensive.

“There are certainly payloads that can fit the attritable price range, but many are at the lower end of the capability spectrum or are single-mode and capability systems,” says Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’s unmanned systems division. “There will likely be continued focus on producing mission payloads near the technical edge of the envelope, but with an objective for a significantly reduced cost, where even the high-capability payloads can be considered attritable.”

Another way to reduce costs would be to network and synthesise information gathered from inexpensive sensors across a group of UAVs, giving operators data without having to risk a single $5 million to $10 million multi-mode sensor, he says. “In this case, UAVs would be deployed in numbers and would work as integrated teams to satisfy the mission requirement,” says Fendley.

Airborne recovery

More work needs to be done to perfect recovering UAVs in midair, says Keeter of Dynetics.

“While most may struggle to think of airborne recoverability as a technology, it is in fact a collection of enabling technologies like precision navigation, innovative recovery systems, robust safety systems, aerial networks, mass property management, structural design elements to enable recovery, and specialized avionics,” he says. “Going the next step to attritable aircraft that are also recoverable allows vehicle costs to amortise across multiple uses, enables use of high-performance and high-cost payloads, and can significantly lower average mission cost.”
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[*] posted on 4-3-2020 at 01:03 PM


General Atomics shows off Defender UAV concept to protect refuelling tankers

By Garrett Reim, Orlando, Florida

4 March 2020

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems unveiled a conceptual unmanned air vehicle (UAV) called “Defender” intended to serve as an air-to-air missile platform for protecting large and slow-moving aircraft, including aerial refuelling tankers.

The Defender appears a variant of the company’s Predator C Avenger, a jet-turbine-powered UAV intended for armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. General Atomics has produced limited numbers of Predators for the US Air Force (USAF).


Source: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
General Atomics Defender conceptual rendering


Defender is only a concept, and General Atomics has secured no customers nor is pursuing a specific USAF programme, says Chris Pehrson, General Atomics’ vice-president of strategic development for Department of Defense customers.

“The role of this type of platform would be protection of high-value airborne assets, such as the tankers and ‘big wing’ ISR platforms that comprise what the USAF calls the ‘outside force,’” Pehrson says during the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando on 28 February.

“The outside force, with Defender ensuring safe sanctuary, would support the penetrating ‘inside force’ that operates in more-contested regions of the battle space,” Pehrson adds.

Protecting tankers and ISR aircraft with UAVs could free manned fighters, such as Lockheed Martin F-35As, to launch strikes deep into enemy territory.

A rendering released by General Atomics shows a Defender in flight having released a missile from its internal weapons bay. The UAV flies ahead of a Boeing KC-46 tanker that is refuelling another Defender.

In-flight UAV refuelling would be novel for the USAF, but the government has evaluated the concept. In 2012, NASA and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency demonstrated a Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk autonomously refuelling another RQ-4A. In 2015, the US Navy autonomously refuelled the X-47B unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

Aerial refuelling could enable Defenders to stay on station longer, reducing the number of aircraft needed and minimising gaps in protection. The extended-range variant of General Atomics’ Avenger already has a 20h flight endurance.

The Avenger has a 2,948kg (6,500lb) payload capacity, including the ability to carry 1,588kg worth of munitions or sensors internally. It can operate up to 50,000ft and has a standard dash speed of 350kt (648km/h).
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[*] posted on 10-3-2020 at 10:35 PM


U.S. Air Force Plots Fleet Insertion Path For ‘Loyal Wingman’

Steve Trimble Lee Hudson March 06, 2020


The F-16 Block 25/30 replacement could be a low-cost, attritable drone such as the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie.
Credit: Kratos


The format of the U.S. Air Force’s “fireside chat” series is well-understood. A technology pioneer such as Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson or Mark Cuban appears onstage at an Air Force-affiliated event, counsels an audience of pilots and airmen about innovation and, not least, tries not to offend anyone. Elon Musk arrived at the Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 28 with a different plan.

The founder of SpaceX and Tesla, who seems to delight in publicly tweaking established competitors in the space market such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, sat on the Air Force Association’s (AFA) stage and declared that the fighter aircraft—for decades the heart of the Air Force’s tactical combat capability—is already irrelevant.

- Unmanned aircraft eyed to replace Block 25 and 30 F-16s
- Kratos set to deliver 12 XQ-58s by early 2021

“The fighter-jet era has passed,” Musk said, provoking audible gasps and murmurs in an audience peppered with officers clad in flight suits. Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Musk’s interviewer, quickly changed the subject.

Hours later, Musk clarified in a tweeted reply to Aviation Week that he meant the fighter aircraft remains relevant, just not the pilot onboard.

“The competitor [to a manned fighter] should be a drone fighter plane that is remote-controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy,” Musk writes.

Musk’s comments on airpower should be taken with a grain of salt. Although his companies have sought to disrupt the space, automotive and mining industries, Musk has no track record in the aircraft sector. One of his symposium hosts, David Deptula, a retired lieutenant general who is now dean of the AFA’s Mitchell Institute, also pointed out in a rapidly published rebuttal in Forbes that Musk’s predictions about autonomy are often wrong, even when it concerns the self-driving capabilities of Tesla cars.


GA-ASI proposes defending tankers with jet-powered, missile-carrying drones like the Defender (pictured). Credit: U.S. Air Force

But Musk’s remarks only differed with those of senior Air Force officials at the same event in the details of timing and scope. For over a year, Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, has championed a vision of future airpower populated by numerous, small batches of autonomous aircraft augmenting manned fighters with specialized capabilities. For the first time, Gen. James Holmes, head of Air Combat Command (ACC), offered a path to introducing such aircraft into the fleet around 2025-27.

In the near term, the Air Force is focused on replacing aging F-15C/Ds with a mix of Boeing F-15EXs and Lockheed Martin F-35As. The Air Force decided to add the F-15EX to its inventory last year even as the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) began experimenting with a new class of low-cost aircraft with an “attritable” value.

The first such experimental aircraft, the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie, in March 2019 completed the first of four flights made to date.

Next year, the Air Force plans to fly the XQ-58A or a similar aircraft with an artificial intelligence “brain,” which allows the so-called Skyborg aircraft to learn maneuvers as it flies. Such capabilities are not far from Musk’s vision of future air combat, but they are too immature to replace a fleet of F-15Cs on the verge of being grounded; hence, the decision to buy the F-15EX instead.

The next opportunity to introduce a new kind of aircraft comes in about 5-8 years, Holmes says. That timing dovetails, perhaps intentionally, with the schedule for maturing aircraft such as the XQ-58A and Skyborg. The Air Force will need to replace hundreds of F-16 Block 25s and Block 30s, which entered production in the mid-1980s.

“There’s an opportunity there if we want to cut in something new, a low-cost attritable, loyal wingman and the different things that we’re looking at and experimenting with,” Holmes says.

In late February, Holmes and Roper met to discuss the meaning of a “fighter aircraft” in the future with the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program in the backdrop. The program office for NGAD began operations in October, with a focus on inventing a new production process capable of affordably producing small batches of advanced aircraft every 3-5 years. But Air Force officials are still grappling with the definition of basic requirements such as range and payload, as operations in the vast Pacific Ocean dominate the calculations.

“The equation and the kind of math that we use for a fighter still works pretty well in the European environment—the range and payload and distance,” Holmes says. “It’s not as effective a solution in the Pacific, because of the great distances. So as you look at NGAD and you look at the following programs, I wouldn’t expect it to produce things that necessarily look like a traditional fighter.”

The exhibit hall at the Air Warfare Symposium offered some clues. Besides the usual displays and posters of F-35s and F-15s, some new concepts appeared. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI) showed a concept design called “Defender,” an apparent variant of the Predator C Avenger, armed with air-to-air missiles and infrared search-and-track sensors. The Defender would protect an “outside force” of enablers, such as tankers and surveillance aircraft, from aerial attack while an inside force of stealth bombers and fighters engaged targets downrange, a GA-ASI spokesman says.

Kratos, meanwhile, continues working on the XQ-58. The AFRL initially funded five test flights, but despite a crash landing on the third flight, all test objectives were met after the third test, says Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’ Unmanned Systems Division. The AFRL now is accelerating the “missionization” of the XQ-58, Fendley says, adding payloads and potentially weapons. The first payload integration will be demonstrated in April, when the XQ-58 serves as a communication conduit between the F-35 and the F-22.

Meanwhile, Kratos has started production, with 12 XQ-58s scheduled off the assembly line by the first quarter of 2021. The fleet will be assigned to multiple demonstration programs, funded by several agencies, Fendley says.

The XQ-58’s performance helps define the new class of aircraft, called “loyal wingman” in the U.S. and “remote carriers” in Europe. A critical feature shared by the XQ-58 and similar aircraft such as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) is range. Both are capable of flying 3,000 nm unrefueled, almost three times the range of the F-35. Unlike the ATS, the XQ-58 does not need a runway to land, and instead deploys a parachute.

Both aircraft seem unrecognizable from the typical next-generation fighter favored by ACC, but the command is changing its approach, Holmes says.

“In the past at Air Combat Command, we would have built something that we call a fighter road map . . . to figure out what our fighter force will look like for the next 30 years,” Holmes said. “What I would rather build is a capabilities road map that shows how we’re going to accomplish the missions for the Air Force that we traditionally had done with fighters.”

At the same time, Holmes’ counterparts in the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) are also changing their approach to fighter acquisition. Last October, the AFMC established the Advanced Aircraft Program Executive Office, which is tasked with reinventing the acquisition process for the next class of fighters. A modern fighter is typically developed over a decade and then sustained for several more. For the next generation, the Air Force now prefers to produce multiple aircraft in small batches, in development cycles lasting only five years.

The sustainment phase would be minimal, as the aircraft would be phased out after a brief operational career. The approach requires that the Air Force make the design phase profitable for contractors, which now lose money in design and earn profits during the sustainment phase. The approach means paying higher prices up front for the design, but theoretically less overall during the shorter lifespan of the aircraft.

The Air Force is still trying to craft the contractual mechanism for such an acquisition approach, says Gen. Arnold Bunch, the head of AFMC.

“Industry is going to have to rethink how they want to go do this. They’re gonna have to talk to their boards in a different way,” Bunch says. “[Something] we also have to factor into that is: How do I do my cost estimates? How do I do my financial planning? How do I interact with Congress?”
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[*] posted on 18-3-2020 at 09:03 PM


Boeing leverages Australian partnerships to boost Loyal Wingman

Jon Grevatt, Bangkok - Jane's Defence Industry

18 March 2020


Boeing Australia announced in February that it had completed the major fuselage structural assembly for the first Loyal Wingman prototype aircraft it is developing with the Royal Australian Air Force. (Boeing)

Boeing is leveraging its connections through Australia’s industrial collaboration programme – the Australian Industry Capability (AIC) scheme – to support its project to develop the Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

A Boeing spokesperson told Jane’s that there are now more than 20 Australian companies involved in the project, which was unveiled at the Avalon Air Show in February 2019 to support and protect future air combat missions.

Boeing Australia announced in February 2020 that it had completed assembly of the fuselage structure of the first of three planned Loyal Wingman prototypes. Preparations to produce the second prototype are currently under way.

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[*] posted on 28-3-2020 at 09:32 PM


U.S., Australia Make Progress on Robotic Jets

3/27/2020

By Connie Lee


XQ-58A
Air Force photo


The U.S. Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force are making progress with efforts to develop unmanned jets that can serve as “loyal wingmen” for manned counterparts. Under the concept, robotic systems can accompany fighters as decoys, weapons carriers or sensor platforms.

The U.S. Air Force’s effort is dubbed the XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, which is an unmanned, long-range, “high subsonic” aircraft, according to the service. The platform is being developed by Kratos Defense and Security Solutions and falls under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s low-cost attritable aircraft technology portfolio.

“We’ve been flying very regularly since March of 2019 as we demonstrate the system and evaluate different mission capabilities, and effectively perform different mission scenarios in these flights,” said Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’ unmanned systems division.

The system’s first flight lasted for over an hour at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, the Air Force said in a news release. The service will hold multiple flight tests over two phases to test the system’s functionality, aerodynamic performance and launch and recovery systems.

The most recent flight test was in January, according to Kratos. The company was awarded a $40.8 million cost-share contract from the Air Force Research Lab in 2016 to develop the design.

Kratos developed Valkyrie from a clean-sheet design, and is intended to be a low-cost, affordable solution for tactical unmanned aerial systems operations, Fendley said. This year, the company is focusing on integrating mission systems into the aircraft. The system is 27 feet long and runway-independent, according to Kratos.

In October, the company found an anomaly, which was fixed in time for the January flight, Fendley said. The problem occurred with the aircraft’s parachute recovery system.

The system is not included in the final operational design, he noted.

“We completely redesigned that part of the system,” he said, noting that the previous one had been provided by subcontractors. “We took that part over … and demonstrated it successfully. It worked perfectly in our last flight.”

Kratos has already begun manufacturing the vehicles ahead of an expected Air Force production contract award. The company is working on 12 aircraft and opened a new production facility in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, over a year ago. Planes are scheduled to begin rolling off the line in the first quarter of 2021, Fendley noted.

“My expectation is by the time we get to even completing the first airplane, we will likely have more orders than we have built airplanes, at that point, based on our current forecast,” he said.

Although the company is waiting on Air Force production agreements, the company has received Defense Department contracts for Valkyrie mission system integration and demonstration testing in the meantime, Fendley said.

Kratos has “high faith” in the loyal wingman concept, and the company is confident that it is possible to build an unmanned, attritable vehicle within a reasonable cost range, he noted.
Mike Wipperman, the Air Force’s XQ-58A program manager, said the service hopes to build an aircraft for $3 million or less.

Fendley said: “The most important thing that we’ve learned is, we can, in fact, build and deliver an unmanned, attritable aircraft that is in the cost range that satisfies the attritable requirement and still meet the subsonic performance range that you need to be able to be an effective loyal wingman.”

In April, the Valkyrie will be participating in a Defense Department demonstration by serving as the communications link between an F-35 joint strike fighter and an F-22 Raptor. The Valkyrie will be equipped with critical communications equipment for the event, he said.

Meanwhile, “as a part of that flight demonstration, we’re performing the translation function between those two, something that the military has been looking to do for some number of years,” he said.

The Air Force is looking at the feasibility of using attritable aircraft that can take the brunt of an adversaries’ attacks. However, Wipperman said the service is still fleshing out specific details on how unmanned aircraft can be used in missions.

“Ongoing modeling and simulation efforts continue to provide insights for vehicle utility in operation, but no definitive mission has been released since [a low-cost attritable strike demonstrator] is a research-and-development program and not an operational system,” he said in a written statement. “Due to the aircraft’s demonstrated success, many discussions have started about how to continue to provide examples of operational capability.”

Its true test will be deployment and demonstration of repeated usage without sustainment through depot maintenance, he said. “An objective of attritable aircraft is to greatly reduce [operational-and-sustainment] costs.”

Boeing Australia is also working on a research-and-development effort with the Royal Australian Air Force through the loyal wingman advanced development program. The company’s aircraft is called the airpower teaming system, or ATS, which is about 38 feet long and can fly over 2,000 nautical miles, according to the company.

Jerad Hayes, director of autonomous aviation and technology at Boeing defense, space and security sector, said the aircraft will be able to support a broad range of missions.

“It is an ideal aircraft to support force training requirements and can be used independently or in support of piloted aircraft,” he said in an emailed statement. “ATS is designed to have 5th-generation flight characteristics, enabling cooperative operations with existing assets in the same flight regime.”

Plans include building three prototypes, which will be used to demonstrate operational concepts.

However, “Boeing has the capability to rapidly build additional aircraft should the need arise,” Hayes said. First flight is scheduled for this year in Australia, he said, declining to provide specific dates.

So far, the company has learned that the loyal wingman concept can augment existing capabilities, he said. This will require a platform that is limited in cost. Operators should also be able to make changes to the platform to adjust for different missions.

“Embedded in this mindset is use of model-based design and development, advanced manufacturing techniques and designing a system for operational flexibility,” he said.

Boeing declined to provide specific information on the platform’s sensors and payloads, but Hayes noted that they can be swapped out quickly to meet different needs.

“In general, the airpower teaming system ‘baseline’ aircraft is one that each customer can tailor via the ATS’ modular design, where sensors/payloads can be swapped out quickly for varying mission needs,” he said. “This ultimately results in variants that provide exactly what each customer wants — using local industry capabilities as applicable — for the specific missions they have.”

To demonstrate the platform’s mission flexibility, the company created a “digital” twin of the aircraft that has been flown under various scenarios to test missions systems performance, he said.

Boeing is also incorporating artificial intelligence capabilities into the aircraft. These are critical because autonomous platforms need to be able to fly independently and safely while working alongside manned counterparts, he noted.

“The artificial intelligence algorithms and behaviors not only have to be created but also extensively tested in the lab and in the field,” Hayes said. “In Australia, that work is well advanced.”

The company has fielded a team of 15 autonomous testbed aircraft to explore and refine autonomous control algorithms, data fusion, object detection systems and collision avoidance behaviors.

“Some of those testbeds are high-performance jets that have flown up to [186 miles per hour] in teamed flights to test our autonomy and AI technologies,” he said.

The company has two goals for the aircraft, developing prototype unmanned “loyal wingmen” to see how these could support future missions and providing key lessons toward future production of its airpower teaming system, Hayes noted.

Potential uses for the aircraft include tactical early warning and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, he added.

“It is an ideal aircraft to support force training requirements, and can be used independently or in support of piloted aircraft,” he said. “Its modular design has enough payload capacity to perform a range of missions, and the platform can be fueled and reconfigured to rapidly reconstitute mission capability in the field.”

Boeing finished the platform’s major fuselage structural assembly, and the next milestone will be “weight on wheels,” which is when the fuselage structure is moved from the assembly jig to the aircraft’s landing gear to continue systems installation and functional testing, Hayes said.

Fifteen other Australian companies are also working on the aircraft, according to Boeing. For example, BAE Systems Australia is providing flight control computers and navigation equipment and RUAG Australia is providing the landing gear system.
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[*] posted on 9-4-2020 at 11:13 PM


Australia’s Loyal Wingman clears power-on milestone

By Craig Hoyle

9 April 2020

The Royal Australian Air Force’s Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Programme has made a significant advance, with the Boeing Australia-led project recently achieving power-on status. Announced on 9 April, this followed the unmanned platform also recently passing a ‘weight on wheels’ milestone.

“The development milestones come just weeks after completion of the first fuselage, allowing for rapid progress on systems installation and functional and integration testing from the aircraft’s own landing gear,” Boeing Australia says.


Airpower Teaming System
Source: Boeing Australia


Revealed as a technology demonstration effort at the Avalon air show in February 2019, Canberra’s Airpower Teaming System effort will assess the feasibility of using a so-called loyal wingman in concert with manned Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters.

“We’re continuing at pace toward our goal of flying later this year, so that we can show our customer and the world what unmanned capability like this can do,” says Boeing programme director Shane Arnott.
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[*] posted on 10-4-2020 at 12:48 PM


Boeing Australia advances Loyal Wingman development

Kelvin Wong, Singapore - Jane's International Defence Review'

09 April 2020


The first Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft prototype has entered the systems installation and functional testing phase following its latest development milestones. Source: Boeing Australia

Boeing Australia's first Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft prototype has stood on its own wheels and powered up its electrical system for the first time, the company announced on 8 April.

The latest development milestones follow the assembly of the first aircraft's fuselage structure in February and will lead to further systems installation and functional and integration testing from the aircraft's own landing gear.

The unmanned aircraft is one of three prototypes that are being developed as a part of the Loyal Wingman-Advanced Development Programme - also known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) - in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

"The weight on wheels milestone is when the main fuselage sits on its wheels for the first time," Dr Shane Arnott, programme director of the Boeing ATS, told Jane's in an emailed statement. "Power [has also been] turned on through the vehicle electrical distribution system which supports start of factory acceptance testing.

"The milestones allow for rapid progress on systems installation and functional and integration testing from the aircraft's own landing gear," he added.

"Following factory acceptance of the aircraft, it will go into taxi testing in advance of first flight, which will take place in 2020 in Australia - beyond that, we're not offering specific dates or the locations of the flight," Dr Arnott explained. "However, we know an aircraft of this type must be designed for rapid production and testing, and we've done just that."

The first prototype will also provide key lessons towards production of the ATS, which Boeing Australia is developing for the global defence market. It is envisioned that prospective operators will be able to tailor ATS sensors and systems to meet their specific requirements.

Jane's earlier reported that more than 20 companies are supporting Boeing Australia in this effort, with design, development, and manufacturing of the prototypes being carried out across three undisclosed Australian states, although Boeing declined to name specific locations.

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[*] posted on 5-5-2020 at 01:11 PM


Boeing rolls out Airpower Teaming System for Royal Australian Air Force

By Garrett Reim

5 May 2020

Boeing Australia plans to unveil its first Airpower Teaming System unmanned air vehicle (UAV) on 5 May, when it presents the aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The Airpower Teaming System is Boeing’s first attempt to build a loyal wingman, a UAV designed to protect and assist manned fighters. The manufacturer plans to build three examples of the prototype aircraft for Canberra.


Source: Boeing
First example of the Airpower Teaming System


Later this year, the Airpower Teaming System will undergo ground testing, followed by taxi tests and its first flight test. After that, manned-unmanned teaming test flights will be conducted, says the firm. Testing is to be done at undisclosed locations in Australia.

Boeing aims to manufacture the Airpower Teaming System as an attritable aircraft – a UAV cheap enough to be lost to combat attrition without breaking the bank.

The manufacturer claims the UAV has a low price point, but declines to specify costs. The closest competitor to the Airpower Teaming System is Kratos Defense and Security Solutions’s XQ-58A Valkyrie, which claims a price of $2-3 million per unit depending on quantities ordered.

The Australian government announced in February 2019 an investment of A$40 million in the Airpower Teaming System. Boeing declines to disclose its investment in the programme. The company also declines to disclose if it or the RAAF owns the aircraft.

To keep costs low Boeing says it is leveraging advanced manufacturing techniques from its commercial airliner division, including developing a digital twin of the aircraft to help model structures, systems, capabilities and lifetime maintenance requirements.

“It’s one of the most comprehensive digital twins within Boeing,” says Shane Arnott, programme director of Boeing Australia’s Airpower Teaming System.

The aircraft was also made using Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single-composite piece. “The wing is actually two pieces – a top and a bottom that snap together,” says Arnott.

The technique was pioneered on the 787 airliner programme, he adds. ”As a relatively small programme, we’re able to reap the benefits of the big freight train programmes in Boeing,” Arnott says.


Source: Boeing
Rendering of the Airpower Teaming System flying alongside the F-15


The Airpower Teaming System comes with a 2.6m (8.5ft)-long modular nose cone that has a volume of more than 1.47cbm (52cb ft). Because the aircraft has an open systems electronics architecture, operators can quickly swap in and out modular nose cones with different payloads, such as various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cameras. That should allow a country to more-easily add proprietary payloads, says Arnott.

The Airpower Teaming System will be controlled with “artificial intelligence”, he adds. Boeing declines to explain in detail how the system works.

In broad terms, a controller in another aircraft, such as an officer in the backseat of the Boeing EA-18G Growler, would use the manned-unmanned teaming system to signal mission intent to the loyal wingman, letting the artificial intelligence system determine specifics, such as navigating to a destination. The system would also have safety protocols to ensure loyal wingmen keep safe distance from controlling aircraft.

VIDEO: Boeing Unveils First Loyal Wingman Aircraft: https://youtu.be/iJpeWAxk2So

Retrofitting an aircraft with a manned-unmanned controlling system would be relatively easy and low cost, says Boeing.

“We have an approach that is flexible and does not require significant modification to the other aircraft,” says Arnott. “We’re not looking to push any upstream requirements from our aircraft. You can’t get an affordable system and then require significant upstream changes. That’s a core part of the concepts to make it easy to adopt this into a fleet.”

Boeing is exploring using its Airpower Teaming System in a number of roles, in addition to using the aircraft as a loyal wingman to fighters. In particular, the company is exploring the idea of using the UAVs to protect vulnerable commercial derivative aircraft, such as Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The company declines to give specific performance details about the Airpower Teaming System. Previously, it said it would offer “fighter-like performance” and a 2,000nm (3,700km) range.
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[*] posted on 5-5-2020 at 01:39 PM


From today's Australian

Boeing unveils Australian-made Loyal Wingman combat drone

ROBYN IRONSIDE
AVIATION WRITER
@ironsider



The first Loyal Wingman aircraft, designed and built in Australia. Picture: AAP/Boeing


US aircraft manufacturer Boeing has unveiled its first Australian-designed and made aircraft in 50 years – an unmanned system known as the Loyal Wingman.

Using artificial intelligence to extend its capabilities, the drone represents Boeing’s largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside the US.

To be used by the Royal Australian Air Force, the aircraft also serves as the foundation for a new airpower “teaming” system being developed for the global defence market.

The RAAF hopes to work out how best to integrate the 11.5m long drones with fighter jets and other combat aircraft, keeping pilots safe by putting lower cost unmanned planes at risk.

Scott Morrison hailed the aircraft’s development as a “truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation”.

“The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our air force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future,” said the Prime Minister.

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Chief of the RAAF, said the rollout of the first aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman project.

“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry,” said Air Marshal Hupfeld.

“This demonstrates the importance of the relationship air force has with Boeing Australia and defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future.”



The Loyal Wingman prototype will begin ground trials soon. Picture: AAP

With a global market demand for highly capable but affordable unmanned aircraft, Boeing applied company-wide innovation to achieve those goals.

The aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities and full life-cycle requirements; manufactured with Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece; and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes.

Vice president and general manager of autonomous systems for Boeing Defense Space and Security, Kristin Robertson, said they were looking forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving the unmanned teaming concept.

“We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing airpower teaming system,” said Ms Robertson.

The Loyal Wingman prototype now moves into ground testing, followed by taxi and first flight later this year.





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[*] posted on 5-5-2020 at 04:30 PM


Boeing rolls out Australia’s first ‘Loyal Wingman’ combat drone

By: Valerie Insinna   6 hours ago


Boeing rolled out the first Airpower Teaming System unmanned aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force on May 5, 2020. (Boeing)

WASHINGTON — Boeing is set to roll out the first “Loyal Wingman” drone for the Royal Australian Air Force during a Tuesday morning ceremony, putting the RAAF high on the list of countries experimenting with autonomous aircraft.

“This a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”

The RAAF plans to buy three drones, which Boeing calls the Airpower Teaming System, as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.

Over a series of flight tests and demonstrations, the RAAF hopes to figure out how to best integrate drones with fighter jets and other combat aircraft, allowing the air force to keep pilots safe by putting lower cost unmanned assets at risk during a fight.

“Autonomy is a big element of this, as well as the incorporation of artificial intelligence. Those two elements combined enable us to support existing forces,” said Jerad Hayes, Boeing’s senior director for autonomous aviation and technology.

The ATS is semi-autonomous, meaning that fighter pilots will not have to remotely control the maneuvers of the drone, said Shane Arnott, Boeing’s ATS program director.

“When you are teaming, say with a Super Hornet, they don’t have the luxury during combat maneuvers or operations to be remotely piloting another aircraft while doing their own,” he said.

But one of the biggest technical questions still remains: How much data should be transferred from the ATS to the cockpit of the manned aircraft controlling it, and when does that turn into information overload? That question is one Boeing wants to answer more definitively once ATS makes its first flight later this year and moves into its experimentation phase, Arnott said.

“There’s a lot for us to figure out [on] what’s that right level of information feed and direction. One of the great benefits of working with the Royal Australian Air Force is having the real operators [give feedback],” he said. “We don’t have all the answers yet. We have a lot of understanding through our surrogate simulator and surrogate testing that we’re doing, but we will prove that out.”

Boeing first introduced the Airpower Teaming System at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon in February 2019, when the company unveiled a full-scale model. Since then, the company has moved quickly to fabricate the first of three aircraft, completing the fuselage structure this February. In April, the aircraft stood on its own wheels for the first time and powered on.

The ATS air vehicle is 38 feet long, with a removable nose that can be packed with mission-specific sensors and other payloads. Throughout the design process, Boeing simulated a “digital twin” of the aircraft that allowed it to virtualize the operation of the aircraft, as well as how it would be produced and maintained.

It also saved money by incorporating resin-infused composite structures, including one that is the largest piece Boeing has ever manufactured using that technique, Hayes said. That large structure snaps into another to form the plane’s wings, cutting down on the manpower needed to fabricate the aircraft.

While the drone’s sleek, twin-tailed design is simple, with only four moving surfaces, it was carefully composed to optimize the aircraft’s survivability, maneuverability and cost, Arnott said.

While Arnott wouldn’t talk about the stealth features of the aircraft, he noted that “there was a lot of thought put into getting that right balance of ‘good enough’ across the board, and [radar] signature is obviously an aspect, and affordability is a big one.”

Boeing officials have also declined to comment on the price of the aircraft, but Arnott and Hayes made it clear that Boeing intends to keep it cost-competitive with its main competitor, Kratos Defense and Security’s XQ-58 Valkyrie.

The U.S. Air Force has expressed interest in procuring Valkyrie for the loyal wingman role and to host communications relay payloads that would allow the F-35 and F-22 to share data stealthily.

Boeing is also engaged with the U.S. military about potential uses of the ATS, Hayes asid.

“We see the Airpower Teaming System platform as capable of going against many different mission sets, and as such, we’re engaging across the Department of Defense to understand their specific mission need, what their requirements are for those, and understanding exactly how the Airpower Teaming System fits those,” he said.

The nose — which is 8.5 feet long with more than 90k cubic inches volume — is key to the company’s strategy to sell the system outside of Australia, Arnott said. Boeing envisions working with international customers to create customized modular payloads that could be built with the help of indigenous suppliers, thus increasing its appeal.

“The industrial aspect of this is of a lot of interest for a number of countries,” said Arnott. “Being able to do meaningful work on the systems to the extent of creating whole new payloads or role capability is of great interest.”
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[*] posted on 5-5-2020 at 04:32 PM


Interesting, in the video, how they quickly role-change by swapping the front/nose section....................
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[*] posted on 6-5-2020 at 10:57 AM


From today's Australian

Australian fighter pilots get a Boeing drone of their own

BEN PACKHAM
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE CORRESPONDENT
@bennpackham

New Australian-made combat drones will be able to operate in teams of 16 or more with a single manned fighter jet, offering cutting-edge capabilities to the RAAF and friendly nations.

The first of the semi-autonomous Loyal Wingman drone was unveiled by Boeing Australia on Tuesday, as part of a broader push by Western nations to counter growing Chinese investment in unmanned fighter platforms.

The Loyal Wingman prototype is the first military aircraft to be designed and built in Australia for 50 years.

The national security significance of the project was underlined by Scott Morrison, who said it would enable Australia to “protect our nation and our allies”. “It means Australia can ­sharpen its edge and prepare for the future,” the Prime Minister said.

The stealthy, 11.7m-long aircraft is due to undergo initial flight tests later this year, and be ready for production in the mid-2020s.

The relatively cheap drones will be able to fly ahead and ­engage the enemy, conduct electronic warfare or act as decoys to draw fire from manned aircraft, acting as a “force multiplier” for more expensive platforms such as the $115m Joint Strike Fighter.

They will be able to work with JSFs, Super Hornets, Growler electronic warfare jets and Wedge­tail early warning and control aircraft.

“It’s designed to be a team of typically between two and four per (manned) aircraft … but also up to 16 or more, depending on the mission,” Boeing Australia’s Shane Arnott said.

The drone is said to have a range of 3700km — well above that of the JSF, which can only fly about 2000km without refuelling.

Defence has been reluctant to reveal the sorts of armaments or payloads the drones will carry, or the types of combat missions they will fulfil. But the head of air force capability, Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts, said: “It is an air combat capability that we are looking at here.”

The drones will be built on ­automated production lines with advanced composite materials, allowing a much more rapid development cycle, Air Vice-Marshal Roberts said. “The key moving forward … is that very ­expensive and exquisite platforms take a long time to develop and they don't necessarily deal with the rapid change of threats.

“And what we are looking at here is to try and get ahead of the game in terms of having a capability that can be produced ­quickly and really rapidly adjust to the threats.”

The Morrison government has invested $40m in the development of the aircraft, which will have significant export potential.

The US and Britain were both taking a close interest in the ­development of the aircraft.

US Studies Centre research fellow Brendan Thomas-Noone said the Loyal Wingman offered smaller, hi-tech air forces like Australia’s the ability to add greater depth at relatively low cost. “You can put more bombs on them or add electronic warfare suites that can add to deception,” he said.

“There are all sorts of things the system can allow even one or two fighters to do. It just multiplies their ability to operate.”

Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior defence analyst Malcolm Davis said the drone was “a pretty impressive piece of hardware”, and predicted it could evolve into a larger aircraft in the future with the ability to fly further and carry greater payloads.







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[*] posted on 6-5-2020 at 08:21 PM


RUAG expands Australian suppliers on Loyal Wingman

Jon Grevatt, Bangkok - Jane's Defence Industry

05 May 2020

RUAG Australia has confirmed its position as a supplier on the Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft system (UAS) being developed by Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The company said on 5 April that it has been selected to supply the UAS’ landing gear systems. In doing so, it said, RUAG Australia joins more than 35 Australian companies on the programme.

It also indicated that its recently expanded hydraulics facility in Bayswater, Western Australia, contributed to the manufacturing of the landing gear systems.

RUAG Australia made its announcement on the same day that Boeing Australia rolled out the first of three Loyal Wingman prototypes.

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[*] posted on 19-5-2020 at 09:27 AM


US Air Force launches Skyborg competition, artificial intelligence for loyal wingman UAV

By Garrett Reim

19 May 2020

The US Air Force (USAF) has launched a competition to design the artificially intelligent software, called Skyborg, that would control its planned fleet of loyal wingman unmanned air vehicles (UAV).

The service intends to grant indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts worth $400 million per awardee to develop the software and related hardware, it says in a request for proposals released on 15 May. The USAF is looking for technical and cost proposals from companies by 15 June 2020 and intends to award multiple companies contracts, though it may award just one contract or no contracts, based on proposals.


Source: US Air Force
US Air Force Research Laboratory XQ-58A Valkyrie, a possible demonstrator UAV for Skyborg software


Skyborg would be artificially intelligent software used to control the flight path, weapons and sensors of large numbers of UAVs. Automating flight control, in particular via artificial intelligence, is seen as necessary to allow a single person, perhaps a backseat pilot in a fighter aircraft, to command multiple UAVs at once.

In particular, the USAF wants Skyborg software and hardware to control “attritable” UAVs, aircraft with limited lifespans that are cheap enough to be produced in large numbers and could be affordably lost to combat attrition. Those UAVs could be used as loyal wingman aircraft alongside manned fighters, bombers and support aircraft.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory is leading development of these aircraft through its Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration programme. That effort has produced the Kratos Defense and Security Solutions XQ-58A Valkyrie, a UAV that has completed several demonstration flights. Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force also have developed a loyal wingman called the Airpower Teaming System. That UAV’s first flight is expected later this year.

“The intent of Skyborg is to integrate an autonomy mission system core and suite of services, [which are to be] developed under a separate Skyborg System Design Agent programme, with multiple low-cost air vehicle systems, each designed to perform one or more mission types,” says the USAF. “The Skyborg core will be a best-of-breed combination of industry and government solutions.”

The initial contract will be used to develop the first integrated Skyborg system, the first to be used in a family of aircraft, says the service.

The UAVs are to have modular hardware and software payloads that use a common Skyborg autonomy mission system, and enable manned and unmanned teaming. The USAF wants to use the modularity to quickly plug and play software and hardware changes that would be needed to defeat new threats from near-peer militaries, such as China or Russia.

“Low-cost unmanned vehicles are envisioned to augment high-end manned systems through a series of next-generation UAVs that are affordable, effective, quickly designed and produced,” says the service. “In order to be truly affordable, acquisition, operation and maintenance costs would need to be correspondingly very low as compared to current tactical aircraft. There will also be a large need to offer a short development cycle so that variants could rapidly be procured as needed.”

Previously, the USAF has said it wanted a Skyborg-controlled UAV reaching early operational capability as soon as 2023.
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[*] posted on 21-5-2020 at 12:42 PM


More than one company could get cash to build the Air Force’s AI-equipped Skyborg drone

By: Valerie Insinna   8 hours ago


Concept art from the Air Force Research Lab shows how the F-35 could be linked to a series of drones through the "loyal wingman" concept. (Air Force Research Laboratory)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force has kicked off a competition for one of its most highly anticipated tech programs, a drone known as Skyborg that will use artificial intelligence to make decisions in battle.

The service released a solicitation May 15 for Skyborg prototypes, which will merge autonomous, low-cost aircraft with a suite of artificial intelligence capabilities.

The Air Force envisions Skyborg as a family of drones — each designed for a specific mission or set of missions — with modular hardware and software payloads and a common AI backbone, which will allow software to be rapidly updated across the fleet.

The Air Force intends to give multiple companies $400 million to develop different versions of the Skyborg system, although it reserves the right to award just one or no contracts. Proposals are due June 15, with awards projected around July 8, according to the solicitation.

Once under contract, companies will “conduct research to develop, demonstrate, integrate and transition air vehicle, payload and autonomy technologies and systems that will provide affordable, revolutionary capabilities to the warfighter through the Skyborg program,” the Air Force said.

The service previously intended to use experimentation and prototyping to have Skyborg operational by 2023.

Skyborg will be what the service calls an attritable system, meaning that aircraft loss is expected and can be tolerated even though the system is not considered expendable and can be reused.

Aircraft should “generate massed combat power with minimal logistical footprints,” with cost per unit and the price of operating and maintaining the air vehicles a “small fraction” for that of the Air Force’s existing fighter inventory, according to the solicitation.

Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper has compared Skyborg to R2-D2, the Star Wars droid that feeds Luke Skywalker helpful information while piloting an X-Wing. Skyborg would build up efficacy on its own via artificial intelligence by working with manned pilots, who would issue commands to the drone and provide feedback on the data presented by it.

Last year, Roper told Defense News that the service was exploring the possibility of teaming Skyborg both with the Lockheed Martin F-35 and the Boeing F-15EX aircraft. The ability to team manned fighter jets with smart, autonomous drones could “open up the door for an entirely different way to do aerial combat,” he said in May 2019.

“We can take risk with some systems to keep others safer,” he said at the time. “We can separate the sensor and the shooter. Right now they’re collocated on a single platform with a person in it. In the future, we can separate them out, put sensors ahead of shooters, put our manned systems behind the unmanned.”

Numerous aircraft companies are expected to bid on the Skyborg solicitation.

Kratos Defense and Security Solutions is already working with the Air Force on its XQ-58A Valkyrie drone, which logged its fourth successful flight test in January as part of the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology program.

Earlier this month, Boeing rolled out its own loyal wingman drone, the Airpower Teaming System. The Royal Australian Air Force has committed to buy three of those systems for experimentation under its Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.

General Atomics and Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works each plan to offer their own aircraft proposals, according to Air Force Magazine.

In fiscal 2021, the Air Force intends to spend $157.6 million across its three “vanguard programs,” which includes the Skyborg effort. The service also included an additional $25 million for Skyborg on its unfunded priorities list, which would allow it to begin integrating UAVs with artificial intelligence software.
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[*] posted on 23-5-2020 at 12:43 PM


The Air Force Is Now Accepting Bids to Build R2D2-Like 'Skyborg' Copilots


A Skyborg conceptual design for a low cost Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle. (U.S. Air Force)

22 May 2020

Military.com | By Oriana Pawlyk

The U.S. Air Force has launched the bidding process for its next-generation "Skyborg" program, aimed at pairing artificial intelligence with a human piloting a fighter jet.

The service posted a solicitation notice last week on the government's acquisition and awards website. Multiple companies could potentially win contract awards of $400 million each, according to the posting.

Depending on how many companies the Air Force chooses, firms may develop tailored portions of the Skyborg system, it states.

"The intent of Skyborg is to integrate an autonomy mission system core and suite of services ... with multiple low-cost air vehicle systems, each designed to perform one or more mission types," the solicitation adds.

"The Skyborg core will be a best-of-breed combination of industry and government solutions. This [indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity] will be used to develop the first integrated Skyborg system, the first of a family of aircraft with modular hardware and software payloads that incorporate the common Skyborg autonomy mission system and enable manned/unmanned teaming," officials said.

The service plans to announce the award in July and expects Skyborg's initial operation to be ready by the end of 2023.

Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, first spoke of the Air Force Research Lab-led program last year.

He told reporters during the 2019 McAleese Conference that, while Skyborg is reminiscent of the Air Force's proposed Loyal Wingman program -- to send out drones ahead of fighters to act as scouts, Skyborg will take the concept even further, with an AI plane that trains with its pilot, acting as a sidekick, rapidly thinking through problems and taking command if necessary.

"I might eventually decide, 'I want that AI in my own cockpit,'" Roper said. "So if something happened immediately, [the AI] could take hold, make choices in a way that [a pilot would] know because [a pilot has] trained with it."

In short, it's R2-D2 from "Star Wars" in an aircraft of its very own, he said.

Roper explained that the experimental AI could be integrated within BQM target drone variations, the XQ-58A Valkyrie, or even QF-16 converted unmanned fighters.

The Valkyrie, made by Kratos Defense, has been undergoing test flights for the past year, most recently in January at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

The drone is part of the Air Force's Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program, an effort to develop unmanned attack aircraft, which are intended to be reusable but cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant cost.

Kratos has already said it will compete for the Skyborg program.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and General Atomics are also expected to bid, according to Air Force Magazine.

Like Kratos, Boeing already has a similar program underway. Earlier this month, it delivered its first "loyal wingman" prototype to the Royal Australian Air Force. The drone-jet hybrid will enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance gathering for pilots in the cockpit, according to the company.

It uses artificial intelligence "to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft," Boeing said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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[*] posted on 23-6-2020 at 07:15 PM


22 JUNE 2020 00:00 GMT+0

UK reveals progress in ‘swarming drone' development efforts

by Gareth Jennings

The UK government has reported good progress on its three key efforts to develop future ‘swarming drone’ capabilities for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).


Network-enabled, or ‘swarming’, unmanned aircraft is a key technology that the UK is developing both as a standalone capability and as part of the wider Tempest future combat air system. (Crown Copyright)

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that work is progressing well on the Project ‘Mosquito’ technology demonstration programme, the 'Many Drones Make Light Work' programme, and other efforts to develop network-enabled or ‘swarm' drones.

“Project Mosquito is a technology demonstration being conducted in two phases. Phase 1 is complete, and the Ministry of Defence is currently evaluating the proposals for Phase 2. As Project Mosquito is a technology demonstrator, it is not anticipated that the project will result in an operational capability.

“The Many Drones Make Light Work project explores the technical feasibility and military use of a swarm of up to 20 small unmanned aircraft vehicles, operating under the control of one individual. The project is in its final phase, Phase 3, delivering a structured flight evaluation programme of this new capability with the successful first trials held in March.

“The Royal Air Force's [RAF’s] swarming drones project continues to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office [RCO], with progress during recent trials exceeding expectations in several areas. Following the successful first trials, 216 Squadron was reformed at RAF Waddington on 1 April. [This unit] will take on the operating role for the RAF's fleet of network enabled drones,” the baroness said on 19 June.
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[*] posted on 24-6-2020 at 09:56 AM


UK Reveals Progress In ‘Swarming Drone' Development Efforts (excerpt)

(Source: Jane’s; posted June 22, 2020)

By Gareth Jennings


Network-enabled unmanned aircraft, also known as ‘loyal wingmen,’ are being developed by the UK both to accompany manned aircraft like the future Tempest and as an autonomous capability for the future. (UK MoD image)

The UK government has reported good progress on its three key efforts to develop future ‘swarming drone’ capabilities for the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said that work is progressing well on the Project ‘Mosquito’ technology demonstration programme, the 'Many Drones Make Light Work' programme, and other efforts to develop network-enabled or ‘swarm' drones.

“Project Mosquito is a technology demonstration being conducted in two phases. Phase 1 is complete, and the Ministry of Defence is currently evaluating the proposals for Phase 2. As Project Mosquito is a technology demonstrator, it is not anticipated that the project will result in an operational capability.

“The Many Drones Make Light Work project explores the technical feasibility and military use of a swarm of up to 20 small unmanned aircraft vehicles, operating under the control of one individual. The project is in its final phase, Phase 3, delivering a structured flight evaluation programme of this new capability with the successful first trials held in March.

“The Royal Air Force's [RAF’s] swarming drones project continues to be developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office [RCO], with progress during recent trials exceeding expectations in several areas. Following the successful first trials, 216 Squadron was reformed at RAF Waddington on 1 April. [This unit] will take on the operating role for the RAF's fleet of network enabled drones,” the baroness said on 19 June. (end of excerpt)

-ends-
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[*] posted on 27-6-2020 at 04:21 PM


Australia Supports Boeing’s Loyal Wingman Australian Industry Team

(Source: RUAG; issued June 24, 2020)

RUAG Australia has been selected to supply the landing gear systems for the Loyal Wingman - Advanced Development Program led by Boeing Australia for the Royal Australian Air Force.

“We are very proud to have achieved this success in delivering the landing gear systems,” said Terry Miles, General Manager RUAG Australia’s. “RUAG Australia’s unique Hydraulic Center of Excellence and ultra-precision manufacturing capabilities prove a significant contribution in serving the interests of Defence as well as Australian industry reliably and well into the future.”

RUAG Australia joins over 35 Australian companies in manufacturing the first military aircraft in Australia in more than 50 years. The aircraft rolled out today is the first of three prototypes for Australia’s Loyal Wingman program and serves as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) product being developed for the global defence market.

RUAG Australia has been a supplier to Boeing since 2001.This latest contract will help create additional jobs for RUAG Australia, as well as for the wider supply chain in Australia. RUAG Australia is a supplier to a range of Boeing programs, including F/A-18F Super Hornet, E-7A Wedgetail, CH-47 Chinook and others.

“The Loyal Wingman is a historic development program for the Australian aerospace industry, Boeing and our entire industry team, and we’ve worked together with speed and agility to deliver this smart unmanned aircraft,” said Shane Arnott, Boeing Airpower Teaming System program director. “We’ve leveraged the skills of the local supply chain to build a Loyal Wingman that will work together with other airpower teaming assets to provide an unmatched capability for Australia and for our global customers.”

RUAG Australia is an independent supplier and life-cycle support provider of systems and components on behalf of the RAAF and other international air forces, as well as civil aviation, worldwide.

-ends-
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[*] posted on 30-6-2020 at 10:22 PM


Dstl nears decision on LANCA flight demonstration for UK

By Craig Hoyle

30 June 2020

A UK technology programme to demonstrate a so-called “additive capability” for use as part of a future combat air system is advancing on schedule, with an initial one-year phase having concluded in May.

Led by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the lightweight affordable novel combat aircraft (LANCA) initiative will assess such an unmanned system’s suitability for employment alongside fighters such as a future Tempest platform.


Source: FlightGlobal
Unmanned LANCA would act as a so-called ‘additive capability’ alongside Tempest


Dstl displayed a LANCA concept model within an exhibit for the Royal Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July 2019.

To be produced for a targeted one-tenth of the cost of a fighter, the transonic platform could be employed in a variety of roles, including carrying sensors or electronic warfare equipment in advance of strike packages.

Dstl says three bidders – Boeing, Team Avenger (formed by Blue Bear), and Team Blackdawn, “all participated fully in phase 1, and have submitted proposals for phase 2”. It is currently assessing which of their designs will be advanced to flight status by as early as 2022.

“We anticipate being able to announce the results of the phase 2 evaluation later in the summer,” says Peter Stockel, autonomous systems and innovation autonomy challenge lead at Dstl.

“Phase 2 completes in mid-2023 on current plans, and we would expect to have flight tests well in advance of that,” he says.

“We have asked that demonstration system flights are delivered using full-scale vehicles,” Stockel says, although “sub-scales may [also] be used as part of de-risk elements”.

Also referred to as Project Mosquito, the demonstration activity is comparable to the US Air Force Research Laboratory’s “loyal wingman” assessment of Kratos Defense & Security Solutions’ XQ-58A Valkyrie, and Australia’s Airpower Teaming System project, being advanced by Boeing.
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