industry news

Electrically charged aircraft could avoid lightning strikes

12 March

Engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have proposed electrically charging an aeroplane’s exterior to reduce the chance of them being struck by lightning. The team found that if a plane were charged to just the right level, its likelihood of being struck by lightning would be significantly reduced. The theory, initially suggested by research sponsor Boeing, was tested conceptually through modelling.

The team developed a simple model of an aircraft-triggered lightning strike, showing how the outside of a plane becomes polarised when flying through an electrically charged environment such as a thunderstorm.

Channels of highly-conductive plasma, known as ‘leaders’, flow from opposite ends of the plane and eventually out toward oppositely charged regions of the atmosphere.

“Imagine two channels of plasma propagating very quickly, and when they reach the cloud and the ground, they form a circuit, and current flows through,” said team member and assistant professor Carmen Guerra-Garcia.

“These leaders carry current, but not very much,” added fellow researcher professor Martinez-Sanchez. “But in the worst cases, once they establish a circuit you can get 100,000 amps, and that is when damage happens.”

The researchers suggested temporarily charging a plane to a negative level to dampen the more highly charged positive end. This would prevent the positive end from reaching a critical level and initiating a lightning strike.

“We’re trying to make the aircraft as invisible to lightning as possible,” said co-author and head of MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics professor Jaime Peraire.

To emit the negative charge, a plane would be equipped with an automated control system comprising sensors and actuators fitted with small power supplies. The sensors would monitor surrounding electric field and then actuators would emit a current to charge the aircraft to the appropriate polarity. Researchers say this would require power levels lower than a standard light bulb.

“Aside from this technological solution, we are working on modelling the physics behind the process. This is a field where there was little understanding, and this is really an attempt at creating some understanding of aircraft-triggered lightning strikes, from the ground up,” said Peraire.

Aviation experts estimate that every commercial aeroplane in the world is struck by lightning at least once a year, with around 90% of these strikes likely triggered by the plane’s electrically-conductive exterior. Despite this, lightning itself poses very little danger to passengers inside the well-insulated cabin of an aircraft. However, an aircraft that has been struck by lightning requires follow-up inspections and safety checks that may delay its next flight, with severe damage taking the aircraft out of service indefinitely.

The results were reported in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Journal.

Lithuania’s cyber response force formation proposal receives approval

12 March

European Union (EU) defence ministers have approved the Lithuanian Government’s proposal of creating rapid cyber response teams as part of the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) framework. The Lithuanian cyber rapid response force formation and mutual assistance in cybersecurity initiative is one of the 17 PESCO projects approved by the EU member states.

While six member states will function as participants in the project, five other EU countries will remain as observers. In addition, Lithuania serves as the member of the Dutch-led military mobility initiative that focuses on smooth and effective removal of procedural, legal and infrastructural obstacles for quick movement of forces in Europe.

Lithuanian National Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said: “Fluent movement of military forces and equipment across inner borders of European countries is a crucial factor in ensuring expeditious response to threats in our region.”

Karoblis further said that the implementation of the proposal will be a shared interest of the Nato and the EU. Existing obstacles will be removed in the most effective way using tools from both organisations. The initiative of developing European military capabilities is expected to bolster the transatlantic cooperation and address all Nato and EU interests.

Karoblis added: “We have to seek openness and proper information sharing about the processes taking place in both organisations because compatibility of work and priorities is a necessary condition for Nato-EU cooperation.”

The two organisations agreed to cooperate on response to hybrid threats, strategic communication, cybersecurity, the fight against terrorism, and military capability development. They will also coordinate on exercise planning and execution, and building up the capacity of partner nations.

Leidos wins $200m for US Army’s geospatial intelligence support

12 March

The US Army has awarded Leidos with a $200m hybrid contract to support geospatial requirements, standards, and systems across the service.

The cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price follow-on contract has a potential period of performance of five years. The contract award follows after the US Department of Defense received five bids.

Under the deal, Leidos will be responsible for continuing to deliver technologies and expertise to support the army’s on-going geospatial research, integration, development, and operational requirements at the US Army Geospatial Center (AGC) at Fort Belvoir. In addition, the company will develop geospatial enterprise-enabled systems for the US Army and other Department of Defense (DoD) and non-DoD entities.

Leidos Advanced Solutions Group president Mike Chagnon said: “We are proud of the 25 years of support we’ve provided to the army’s geospatial work, helping deliver innovative intelligence capabilities into the hands of the army warfighter. Across the geospatial community, Leidos continues to innovate on behalf of our customers, delivering technologies and expertise focused on their unique missions.”

Work on the multi-award project will be carried out in Alexandria, Virginia, US, with an estimated completion date of 11 February 2023. In September 2016, the company was awarded a prime contract from the General Services Administration to support the AGC's High-Resolution 3D Geospatial Information programme. With a total of 32,000 employees, the company supports major missions in the defence, intelligence, homeland security, civil, and health industries.

UAE seeks $270.4m sale of AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II missiles

12 March

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified Congress of a possible foreign military sale (FMS) of AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II missiles to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). With an estimated cost of $270.4m, the possible FMS has been approved by the US State Department.

Under the potential deal, the UAE has proposed to acquire 300 units of the AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder Block II missiles, in addition to 40 9X-2 sidewinder captive air training missiles (CATMs), 30 AIM-9X-2 Block II tactical guidance units and 15 AIM-9X-2 CATM guidance units. The contract will also include containers, spares, support equipment and missile support.

As part of the FMS, the country has requested technical and logistical support services for the US Government and contractor, as well as other related support equipment and services. The deal will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the US and will help improve the security of the UAE.

It will help the UAE to meet all current and future threats, while offering an upgraded and improved capability to its airforce. It will also strengthen the country’s homeland defence. Raytheon Missile Systems Company, located in Tucson, Arizona, US, will serve as the prime contractor for the sale. The AIM-9X Sidewinder missile is an advanced infrared-tracking, short-range air-to-air and surface-to-air missile.

It is specifically designed for easy installation on a wide range of modern aircraft, including the F-15, F-16, F/A-18 and F-4 fighter jets. It can also be installed on the A-4, A-6 and AV-8B attack aircraft, as well as the AH-1 helicopter.

Singapore Navy developing new USVs

12 March

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has revealed the development of a new type of unmanned surface vessel (USV), which will be used to improve the country’s maritime security and homeland defence capabilities. RSN is set to deploy the unmanned ships to patrol the Singapore Strait, as well as detect and neutralise mines on the seabed to ensure that the country’s shipping lanes are safe for navigation, according to the Singapore Ministry of Defence.

A total of three types of autonomous surface vessel is currently being developed as part of the initiative, namely the Coastal Defence USV, the Mine Countermeasure USV with towed synthetic aperture sonar (TSAS) and the Mine Countermeasure USV with expendable mine disposal system.

The Coastal Defence USV is being built to carry out coastal patrol operations, while the Mine Countermeasure USV with TSAS is intended to help detect underwater mines on the seabed. The Mine Countermeasure USV with mine disposal system will be used for mine disposal activities. 

RSN’s latest USVs are designed for high-speed operations and manoeuvrability. In addition, they will feature a built-in collision detection and collision avoidance system in order to enable them to navigate safely and operate autonomously in proximity with other vessels.

The USVs’ integrated command and control systems will enable the Operator Control Station, located ashore or on-board platforms at sea, to control the movement and payload of the unmanned vessels with minimal manpower. Furthermore, the USVs are slated to be equipped with advanced sensors and software, making them capable of carrying out their operations at a much lower cost than current models.

The technology will also allow the manned vessels to be deployed at further ranges from Singapore and for more complex missions. Each of the three types of USV is approximately 16m in length, has a displacement of approximately 30t, an endurance of 36 hours and a top speed of 25k.

InDyne wins $417.8m contract for maintenance of SSPARS

9 March

US-based company InDyne has secured a $417.8m contract with the US Air Force (USAF) to provide operations and maintenance services for the solid state phased array radar system (SSPARS). Under the terms of the firm-fixed-price contract, the company will be responsible for providing the entire range of non-personal services, administrative, financial and managerial resources required on a continuous 24/7 basis to support the five SSPARS installations or sites.

Work will be carried out at the Beale Air Force Base (AFB) in California, Cape Cod Air Force Station (AFS) in Massachusetts, Clear AFS in Alaska, and Thule Air Base in Greenland, in addition to the Royal Air Force Fylingdales, UK.

The SSPARS sites offer a wide range of capabilities to the USAF, which includes sea‐launched ballistic missile warning, ballistic missile early warning and space surveillance, ground‐based midcourse defence programmes, military satellite communications systems maintenance, communications-electronic systems, and precision measurement equipment calibration and maintenance.

Work on the project is expected to be completed by 30 April 2026.

Fiscal 2018 operations and maintenance funds with the total value of $34.59m are being obligated at the time of award. The 21st Contracting Squadron in Peterson AFB, Colorado, serves as the contracting activity for the project. The USAF’s SSPARS is a complex network of radars that is capable of tracking approximately 10,000 objects orbiting the Earth. Since 2006, BAE Systems has been responsible for supporting the SSPARS solution.

US Navy’s COMSUBFOR starts Ice Exercise 2018 in Arctic Ocean

9 March

The US Navy’s Commander, Submarine Forces has officially begun this year’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) in the Arctic Ocean. ICEX 2018 will see participation from three nations’ naval services, three submarines and more than 100 personnel during its five weeks of operations.

The US Navy ships involved in this year’s exercise include the Seawolf-class fast attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) from Bangor, Washington, and the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) from Groton, Connecticut. In addition, the British Royal Navy has deployed the Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Trenchant (S91) for participation in the event. The vessels are set to jointly carry out multiple arctic transits, a North Pole surfacing, scientific data collection and other training evolutions during the exercise programme.

The commencement of the ICEX 2018 exercise was marked via the construction of a temporary facility named Ice Camp Skate. Ice Camp Skate is a temporary ice camp constructed on a sheet of ice in the Arctic Ocean, known as an ice floe. It will serve as a temporary command centre and is slated to carry out various submarine operations, including under-ice navigation and torpedo exercises. Ice Camp Skate comprises shelters, a command centre and infrastructure that are intended to safely accommodate and support more than 50 personnel at any one time.

ICEX 2018 will enable the US Navy to evaluate its operational readiness in the Arctic Ocean. It is also expected to improve the navy’s experience in the region and strengthen its understanding of the environment. The biennial exercise also allows the navy to continue developing cooperation with other services, allies and partner organisations. The US Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) in San Diego, California, serves as the lead organisation for the exercise’s coordination, planning and execution.

ASL director Larry Estrada said: “Our ASL team has been working for over a year to ensure our Submarine Force is able to conduct dynamic torpedo and under-ice operations in this unique environment. This year’s camp is prepared to support the force with communication and weapons recovery.”

The US Submarine Force has conducted more than 27 exercises in the Arctic region to date, the most recent being carried out in 2016.

RAAF’s JORN radar system to undergo $1.2bn upgrade

7 March

BAE Systems Australia is set to carry out a major $1.2bn upgrade on the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) to modernise the country’s defence force. Based in Longreach, Queensland; Laverton, Western Australia; and Alice Springs, Northern Territory, the network consists of three radar sites controlled from the JORN Coordination Centre at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia.

Located in remote parts, the radars are used to detect and track air as well as maritime targets from the country’s northern approaches. The JORN modernisation programme, which will continue for ten years, will require a highly technical workforce, supporting more than 500 technical jobs.

Australian Department of Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne said: “This upgrade will ensure the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is well-equipped with a world-leading over-the-horizon surveillance capability. The JORN radar system is a testament to the ingenuity, dedication and collaboration of airforce operators, Australian scientists, and Australian industry over more than 50 years.”

Resulting from a close collaboration between the defence and Australian industry, the JORN upgrade project will help improve the capability of the radar system.

Australian Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said: “The upgraded JORN system will be 100% designed, developed and delivered in Australia by Australians.”

The project will help generate 200 new job opportunities at BAE Systems and through the supply chain, with most positions open in the Edinburgh Defence Precinct of Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

Pyne added: “This project will also see a significant investment in the Alice Springs site and dozens of jobs maintained across the regional network at the radar sites in the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia.”

Being a part of Project AIR 2025 Phase VI, the current upgrade will ensure that the JORN radar system continues to protect Australia’s borders beyond 2040. BAE Systems is collaborating with Raytheon Australia, Daronmont Technologies, and RCR Tomlinson in order to jointly deliver the radar enhancement and maintain the JORN capability.