2 September 2019

USAF F-16 pilots to get new product for improved rainstorm visibility

US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots are set to receive a new product developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to address visibility problems during heavy rain.

Known as HydroSkip, the product has the ability to repel water from aircraft transparencies.

HydroSkip has been developed to address risks posed by fast-moving pop-up storms so that pilots can navigate the aircraft and land safely. The product works by preventing pooling or stagnation of rain on the canopy of the F-16 aircraft.

A team of engineers from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate and the University of Dayton Research Institute tested different formulations and selected the optimal formula for HydroSkip.

AFRL Aerospace engineer Mike Gran said: “We picked the best one that could be developed into a product the airforce can use in the field.”

The formula was then sent to the F-16 System Program Office (SPO) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for distribution to the F-16 fleet community. F-16 SPO Donald Willmoth said that HydroSkip applies to the F-16 canopy ‘like car wax’ and wipes clean within ten minutes.

The product, which is manufactured by TexStars, can be used once per month and its application is as simple as that of common polish.

Keeping in view the demand for the product from various F-16 units, the SPO went through the process of changing the technical orders and issued a notification to all of the units last month.

Willmoth added: “With this change, they can go ahead and order this product.”

However, the SPO has placed a restriction on the quantity of the product that can be ordered by each unit. The temporary restriction could be lifted after TexStars achieves a stable production level for HydroSkip. The product is planned to be tested by three airforce bases, including one in the US and two overseas.

Willmoth said: “The plan is to fly 50 flight hours on one squadron and 60 days on the other with periodic testing to (verify) material durability.”

2 September 2019

Northrop Grumman and US Army conduct IBCS flight test

Northrop Grumman has conducted a flight test of the US Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

The test also involved Sentinel and Patriot radars and a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor.

The IBCS flight test was undertaken to test the capability of the system to detect, track and engage threats flying at lower altitude trajectory at an extended range. During the test, Northrop Grumman and the army intercepted a cruise missile beyond the range limitation of the current Patriot air defence system.

Northrop Grumman Missile Defense and Protective Systems vice-president and general manager Dan Verwiel said: “This is an important event proving IBCS ability to enable next-generation concepts such as ‘engage-on-net’. This flight test also shows how IBCS ‘extends the battlespace’ to allow ‘shoot-look-shoot’ opportunities, maximising the probability of destroying the threat, which is critical as threats increase in sophistication.

“The successful test, with IBCS in a near-operational environment, provides confidence IBCS is delivering transformational warfighting capabilities, including all the advantages of intercepting a threat close to its origin.”

As part of the flight test, a drone target was used as a cruise missile surrogate. The low-flying target was launched towards an asset defended by a US Army IAMD task force. The defence system in place to tackle the target included battery and battalion IBCS engagement operations centres, a Patriot radar, two Sentinel radars, and two PAC-3 launchers.

Northrop Grumman noted that the target escaped from the Patriot radar’s field of view due to the low altitude trajectory.

The Sentinel radars were used to obtain measurement data to enable the IBCS to provide the engagement solution.

A command was then issued from the engagement operations centre to launch a PAC-3 interceptor missile to destroy the drone target.

30 August 2019

Collins Aerospace to provide avionics system for USAF’s C-130H fleet

Collins Aerospace Systems has received a contract to provide its avionics system for the US Air Force’s (USAF) C-130H military transport aircraft fleet. The subcontract from prime contractor L3Harris Technologies is part of the USAF’s C-130H Avionics Modernization Program Increment 2 (AMP INC 2) programme.

Under the contract, Collins Aerospace will provide its Flight2 integration avionics system for installation on 176 C-130H aircraft of the Air National Guard and US Air Force Reserve. The update is expected to extend the service life of the 1970s aircraft by 20 years.

The Flight2 avionics system will replace more than 100 analogue instruments currently installed within the C-130H cockpit.

It will have multifunctional displays (MFD), control display units (CDU), and a digital autopilot, which are all intended to provide pilots with improved situational awareness and safety.

The system will also help reduce pilot workload. The company noted that the new displays offered by Flight2 will allow pilots to overlay flight plans and view radar information.

Collins Aerospace military avionics and helicopters vice-president and general manager Dave Schreck said: “Prior to our selection for the AMP INC 2 programme, 190 C-130 aircraft have already been modified, or are on contract to be modified, with our proven Flight2 avionics.

“These aircraft are important to national security, and by working with L3Harris, our integrated avionics system will support the extension of the life of the planes for another 20 years.”

The firm already provides products such as propellers, wheels, brakes, secure communications, head-up displays / enhanced vision systems (HUD/EVS) and cargo loading systems for the C-130H programme.

Last month, Collins Aerospace completed the first C-130H cockpit modernisation for the French Air Force.

L3Harris was awarded a $499m contract in June this year to design, produce and certify a modernisation solution for the C-130H fleet.

29 August 2019

DARPA is seeking a giant tunnel for ‘underground experimentation’

DARPA is seeking a giant tunnel for ‘underground experimentation’. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has filed a request for information on a large unused tunnel system it can use for underground experimentation.

In a series of tweets, the agency said: “Attention, city dwellers! We’re interested in identifying university-owned or commercially managed underground urban tunnels & facilities able to host research and experimentation.

“The ideal space would be a human-made underground environment spanning several city blocks with complex layout & multiple stories, including atriums, tunnels & stairwells. Spaces that are currently closed off from pedestrians or can be temporarily used for testing are of interest.”

DARPA tweeted the request on Wednesday with the deadline for suggestions being this Friday. The agency told Army Technology the information would be used for information and planning purposes.

According to documents, DARPA is looking to research ‘state-of-the-art in innovative technologies’ that it can use to better leverage the underground domain.

The agency is looking to test systems that can ‘rapidly map, navigate, and search unknown complex subterranean environments to locate objects of interest’.

DARPA has not specifically said what experiments it will use the tunnels for, but they may be used to test innovations from its Subterranean (SubT) Challenge which has tasked industry with creating solutions to make entering tunnels safer for soldiers.

DARPA told Army Technology that the information would be used to help teams involved in the SubT challenge identify locations where they can test systems in advance of the ‘Urban Circuit’ event in February of 2020.

On its SubT Challenge site, DARPA says: “Complex underground settings present significant challenges for military and civilian first responders. The hazards vary drastically across domains that can degrade or change over time and are often too high-risk for personnel to enter.

“The DARPA Subterranean or SubT Challenge seeks novel approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments during time-sensitive combat operations or disaster response scenarios.”

The requirements for the SubT Challenge are similar to the experiments described in DARPA’s request for information on potential underground testing areas.

The winner of the challenge will receive $2m in the final event, with additional prizes on offer. To win, the solution will have to traverse a circuit made up of man-made caves, mass-transit systems and naturally occurring cave networks.

The US military, throughout its history, has had trouble dealing with caves in conflicts from WWII and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Syria, with enemy combatants using them to hide troop movements and shelter from air raids.

Entering cave networks presents soldiers with a host of unknowns making missions more dangerous. New underground solutions developed as a result of DARPA’s research could help increase survivability by improving troops knowledge of the environment they are about to enter and what they can expect to come up against.

29 August 2019

US to activate Space Command, paving the way for Space Force

The US will today stand-up the United States Space Command, which will unify command and control of the US space-based assets. This marks an important step in the creation of a US Space Force.

The current head of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) General John Raymond will be in charge of the new United States Space Command (USSPACECOM), running both organisations simultaneously.

Speaking at a press event yesterday the US Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, said: “I’m also excited for tomorrow’s activation of the United States Space Command. To ensure the protection of America’s interests in space, we must apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task, and that is exactly what Space Command will do. As a unified combatant command, the United States Space Command is the next crucial step towards the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service.”

The creation of a unified space command, the US’ 11th combatant command, was prompted after calls for a US Space Force or Space Corps that would form the sixth branch of the US military.

The Department of Defence (DoD) has yet to confirm whether USSPACECOM will incorporate the entirety of the US Air Force space command, but the transfer of units and missions is set to begin in 2021.

International Institute of Strategic Studies senior fellow for military aerospace Douglas Barrie told Air Force Technology how the Space Command and Space Force will work: “The ‘Space Force’, the proposed creation of which was contentious, appears to be intended to better focus current capabilities emerging requirements in an increasingly contested domain. It will be under the auspices of the USAF, and will be run by Space Command.”

The US has also yet to confirm where the USSPACECOM will be based. It is expected to be operated out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado which already houses many of the USAF’s space operations.

The new Space Command will operate missile warning systems, satellites, space control and space support for the DoD. It is the first new command since the creation of the Cyber Command in 2009.

US Vice President Mike Pence announced the standing-up of the Space Command at a meeting of the US National Space Council last week.

The US previously had a Space Command, established in 1985 to control the space operations of the army, navy and air force. It was disbanded in 2002 after a revaluation of command and control structures following 9/11.

Last year President Donald Trump signed a directive instructing the DoD to formally form a Space Force that would see the US taking a more active role in space as a warfighting domain.

Barrie said: “In terms of assets, it [the Space Force] will bring together the current on-orbit systems while also likely developing additional defensive, and likely offensive, capabilities and further exploring the utility of small satellite constellations as means of rapidly reconstituting space-based ISR, for example.

The creation of the US Space Command and eventual Space Force – if formed – is in part a response to the increasing activities of Russia and China in the space domain. In July, for instance, Chatham House released a report detailing Russian efforts to buzz NATO satellites.

Barrie added: “Russia has been making efforts to rebuild its military space architecture, while also developing air-and ground-based hard and soft-kill systems for satellite defeat. China is also building up its military space capability and is similarly pursuing anti-satellite capabilities.”

While the US DoD can restructure its unified combatant commands as it sees fit, the creation of the Space Force would require consent from the US Congress for authorisation and funding. Pence signalled that the necessary legislation would be put to Congress in due course.

Speaking about the Space Force, Pence said: “The United States Space Force will ensure that our nation is prepared to defend our people, defend our interests, and to defend our values in the vast expanse of space and here on Earth with the technologies that will support our common defence for the vast reaches of outer space”.

The US current annual defence budget passed with the inclusion of funding for a military space branch.

28 August 2019

Brazil’s first Gripen E fighter completes debut flight

The first Brazilian Gripen E fighter aircraft has completed its maiden flight from Saab’s airfield in Linköping, Sweden. The jet with serial number 39-6001 was flown by Saab test pilot Richard Ljungberg on 26 August for 65 minutes.

The flight validated the aircraft’s basic handling and flying capabilities at different altitudes and speeds.

In a statement, Saab stated that the flight was carried out to see if the Gripen E fighter is performing in line with requirements.

Saab president and CEO Håkan Buskhe said: “This milestone is a testament to the great partnership between Sweden and Brazil. Less than five years since the contract was signed, the first Brazil Gripen has conducted her first flight.”

The 39-6001 is the first Gripen E aircraft to have been produced for Brazil. The aircraft will serve as a test aircraft in the joint test programme, which will involve envelope expansion and testing of tactical system and sensors.

It features a new cockpit layout with a large wide area display (WAD), two small head-down displays (sHDD) and a new head-up display (HUD).

In addition, the 39-6001 is equipped with an updated flight control system. Saab has also incorporated some changes in the aircraft’s hardware and software.

Richard Ljungberg said: “The flight was smooth and the aircraft behaved just as we have seen in the rigs and simulators. This was also the first time we flew with the wide area display in the cockpit, and I am happy to say that my expectations were confirmed.”

The aircraft entered the second stage of final assembly earlier this year. It will serve the Brazilian Air Force under the designation F-39.

Under a contract, Saab will supply 28 Gripen Es and eight two-seated Gripen F aircraft to the South American country.

28 August 2019

Knifefish autonomous UUV obtains Milestone C approval from US Navy

The Knifefish autonomous unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) has received Milestone C approval from the US Navy.

The approval from Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC) is a key milestone for the Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Program. It sets the stage for the navy to proceed with the low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the vehicle.

General Dynamics Mission Systems is the prime contractor for the Knifefish system. The company has been awarded a potential two-year, $44.59m contract modification to begin the LRIP.

Knifefish can be deployed from the US Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) or other ‘vessels of opportunity’. The system uses automated target recognition software technology and low-frequency broadband sonar to detect, classify and identify buried, bottom and volume mines in high-clutter environmental conditions.

Knifefish is designed to provide increased mine-hunting capability and is a key component of the LCS Mine Countermeasure Mission Package. It works as an off-board sensor that ensures the safety of personnel as the host ship is stationed outside the boundaries of the minefield.

The system includes two UUVs, support systems and equipment. Featuring an open systems architecture, Knifefish supports the reconfiguration of the mission package to meet evolving mission demands. The modularity will also allow future block upgrades to sensors and target recognition software.

Knifefish underwent developmental testing followed by an operational assessment between January and May this year. The tests were carried out off the coasts of Massachusetts and Florida and included operations such as mission planning, launch and recovery, monitoring the sorties and data processing.

In January, the system took part in shipboard integration testing alongside Textron’s unmanned influence sweep system (UISS) onboard LCS vessel USS Independence (LCS 2). Knifefish passed sea acceptance testing in June last year.

The navy expects to make a decision on the system’s full-rate production in the fiscal year 2022. The decision will be preceded by further testing of LRIP systems.

The service plans to acquire a total of 30 Knifefish systems.

28 August 2019

Oracle to challenge DoD JEDI contract again

Oracle has announced it will again challenge the Department of Defence’s (DoD) $10bn Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract.

Oracle had previously challenged the decision not to award the contract to the company in federal claims court. It will now appeal that decision.

Oracle’s general counsel Dorian Daley said: “The Court of Federal Claims opinion in the JEDI bid protest describes the JEDI procurement as unlawful, notwithstanding the dismissal of the protest solely on the legal technicality of Oracle’s purported lack of standing.

“Federal procurement laws specifically bar single award procurements such as JEDI absent satisfying specific, mandatory requirements, and the court in its opinion clearly found DoD did not satisfy these requirements.”

The contract is currently under two separate reviews at the DoD, one from the Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and the other from the DoD Office of the Inspector General, as reported by Army Technology.

The single-source 10-year contract is expected to be won by Amazon as the company has experience in sensitive cloud contracts based on its work on a similar system for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Microsoft is also on the shortlist with Amazon, after the DoD eliminated Oracle and IBM during earlier stages of the process.

Daley added: “The opinion also acknowledges that the procurement suffers from many significant conflicts of interest. These conflicts violate the law and undermine the public trust.

“As a threshold matter, we believe that the determination of no standing is wrong as a matter of law, and the very analysis in the opinion compels a determination that the procurement was unlawful on several grounds.”

Judges dismissed Oracle’s legal challenge saying the company “cannot demonstrate prejudice” against it during the award process of the JEDI contract.

Oracle has claimed that the contract was designed for Amazon to win, citing close relationships between the DoD and Amazon employees as a potential source of conflicts of interest. At least two DoD employees had been in the process of securing jobs at Amazon while working on the JEDI contract.

Despite the ongoing reviews DoD chief information officer Dana Deasy earlier stressed that “the continuation of the JEDI evaluation work has not been paused”.

The DoD already has a multitude of cloud solutions, however the JEDI contract would become an umbrella system allowing easier access to and storage of classified documents and intelligence. The system will house around 80% of the DoD’s existing cloud infrastructure.

In documents, the DoD says the contract will help “support enhanced lethality and strategic readiness” and “enable the war fighter to respond at the speed of operations”.

Competition for the contract has been fierce due to its high value. Research by Gartner revealed there are “five non-Chinese companies seriously competing in the hyper-scale cloud marketplace”; four of these companies applied for the contract.