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13 Feb 20. AFRL delays first X-60A flight. 2019. Source: Generation Orbit. The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is delaying the first test flight of its Generation Orbit X-60A GoLauncher1 (GO1) hypersonic flight research vehicle from March to later this year, according to a programme official.
Barry Hellman, X-60A programme manager, declined to elaborate to Jane’s on 6 February as to why the first flight was being delayed but said that AFRL still expects a second test flight to come 4-6 months after the first. Hellman said AFRL, on the first flight, will fly advanced instrumentation, including an optical strain gauge, to see if it can withstand flight loads and acceleration.
An optical strain gauge, he said, is a new but very brittle way of measuring structural loads that can withstand higher temperatures. Hellman said a strain gauge is a basic technology that has been around for years that measures strain or how much load is going into a structure. But they are limited on temperatures and hypersonic vehicles get very hot. Hellman said optical strain gauges have been used on the ground but not necessarily on a flight vehicle.
The second test flight will feature some subsystems and small components that will ride along. Hellman declined to elaborate on subsystem specifics.
Despite the first flight delay, Hellman believes that four or more X-60A flights per year is a reasonable rate if there is enough desire and resources to support them. AFRL, he said, is starting fabrication of the first flight unit. Generation Orbit announced on 31 January that the X-60A had performed both cold flow and hot fire testing with the Ursa Major Technologies Hadley liquid rocket engine as part of integrated vehicle propulsion system verification and ground testing. (Source: Jane’s)
10 Feb 20. UK’s Second Carrier to Act as Technology Demonstrator in 2021. The UK Royal Navy (RN) is seeking to use its aircraft carrier programme as an opportunity for industry to demonstrate new maritime unmanned systems technologies. Speaking at the Defence IQ Surface Warships conference in London on 30 January, RN First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Tony Radakin said his service, together with the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), “is looking at using HMS Prince of Wales in 2021 as an experimentation platform … with a view to challenging our services and industry as to whether or not we can get large drones flying from the aircraft carrier as a technology demonstrator inside the next five years”.
HMS Prince of Wales is the second of the UK’s two, 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. Commissioned on 10 December 2019, the ship will conduct its first fixed-wing flying trials off the US east coast in 2021.
Although acknowledging that thinking on the project’s scope remains loose, the First Sea Lord stressed the idea “is about … how to get organisations to bend and change and to buy into the future.” In what is a UK-wide project for delivering carrier capability, Adm Radakin asked “as part of that journey, if these are the most advanced aircraft carriers in the world, how do we keep them at the leading edge of that?” “In a world where there’s a technology revolution that’s ongoing, it is about cultivating that approach,” he added.
Aircraft Carrier Programme
“So, when I look at Prince of Wales,” the admiral continued, “when we look at the ship’s programme, in 2021 can we have months when we’re operating off the East Coast of the United States where we look deliberately to do some experimentation?” “That, to me, is a challenge to industry to cultivate and buy into this thinking. It’s a challenge to ourselves.”
“It’s obvious we’re going to be flying drones off all our ships,” said Adm Radakin, “but then you get into the scaling of the carriers, and then you have to say ‘well, how would you do that and what do you want to do?’ At this stage, it’s just laying down a challenge … to cultivate what comes from there.” “I think where we will be is in the realm of technology demonstrators in order to lead to something beyond that,” he said.
Back in September 2015, then-First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas issued a similar challenge to industry.
Speaking at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, he said the RN would use its ‘Joint Warrior’ exercise series to host ‘Unmanned Warrior’, as a stage “for industry to demonstrate autonomous systems in a relevant tactical setting” and “to show how its technology and developmental expertise could change the way we operate”.
‘Unmanned Warrior’, which took place off Scotland’s west coast in September and October 2016, was a pivotal waypoint in the RN’s journey to date towards using unmanned systems. (Source: Armada)
11 Feb 20. New Pentagon budget request invests in 4 advanced technologies. The Pentagon wants to focus its 2021 investments on four critical emerging technology areas that will increase the United States’ comparative advantage against near peer adversaries. With $106.6bn set aside for research, development, test and engineering, the Department of Defense claims its fiscal year 2021 budget request, which was released Feb. 10, includes the largest research funding request in more than 70 years. This is spearheaded by $7bn in investments in four areas that leaders are calling the “advanced capability enablers.” These include hypersonics, artificial intelligence, 5G/microelectroncs, and autonomous platforms.
“To put this in perspective, last year’s budget was the largest RDT&E request in 70 years, and this year’s research request is even larger,” said David Norquist, the deputy secretary of defense. “We have been investing in these emerging technologies and many are now being prototyped and tested, and as they are ready we are poised to move them into production. In short, this budget invests in bringing the capabilities of tomorrow to life.”
While the Pentagon is emphasizing these investments, it is difficult to compare the budget requests to prior years since these four areas cover multiple programs and it’s not immediately clear which programs are included in this funding.
The first advanced capability enabler is microelectronics/5G development, where the Pentagon wants to invest $1.5bn.
On 5G, the Pentagon claims its investments will hasten “adoption of ‘ubiquitous connectivity,’ sharing more data at greater network bandwidth.” Pentagon officials see a variety of applications for 5G technologies, specifically highlighting its use for virtual/augmented reality, smart warehouses and dynamic spectrum sharing. In October, the Pentagon announced it plans to begin testing these applications at four U.S. military bases this year.
But that $1.5bn isn’t just for 5G development, it’s also meant to address the Pentagon’s concern over the trusted microelectronics supply chain.
DOD leadership is concerned that foreign-built microelectronics in American technologies could be used to install malware or bugs in those products at the direction of foreign adversaries. Some have even warned of a doomsday scenario, where a hostile government could access a kill switch in those microelectronics during a conflict to kill any opposing weapons systems or make them entirely unreliable. To counter this potential threat, the DoD has invested in efforts to build out domestic supply chains for trusted microelectronics.
The Department is also requesting $841m for the development of artificial intelligence, which Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Elaine McCusker said represents an 8 percent increase over the previous year. The Pentagon’s AI investment will largely be focused around its two main pathfinders: the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and Project Maven, a controversial program that uses AI to identify objects in drone video. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
12 Feb 20. US Soldiers now testing robot snakes, electric combat scooters and thermal-masking blankets. The EZRaider is an offroad electric scooter that soldiers are testing at the annual Army Expedionary Warfighter Experiments at Fort Benning, Georgia. (EZRaider)
In the hills and woodlands of western Georgia, soldiers in squad to company-sized teams are running mock battles, testing out the latest, greatest and weirdest tactical-level gear that the Army hopes will give them the edge in a rapid, complex, fight of the future.
The Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments this year focused on six categories: lethality, mission command, mobility, survivability, sustainment, team and soldier performance.
The AEWE began in 2004 to focus modernization effort on the small unit. They run in two phases, the first phase, from October to January, are standalone and live fire events with each system.
The force-on-force experiments begins in February and will run for three weeks. The annual event culminates on March 17 with a an “Insights Day” at Fort Benning, Georgia, that includes briefings on gear tested and how soldiers used it during the experimentation, Maneuver Battle Lab spokeswoman Monica Manganaro told Army Times.
Below is a just small sampling of a few of the 68 items listed for experimentation in six categories.
Cerberus GL UCAV
A 14 pound 3-shot, 40mm grenade-firing bot, this drone puts tactical-level loitering munitions in the hands of the small unit for fires support, basic aerial reconnaissance and battle damage assessments. The platform can fire explosive, flash, smoke, infrared and tear gas rounds and fly for 22 minutes at ranges up to 2 miles. It can also accommodate a laser rangefinder and swap out payloads to use a netgun for opposing drones, 12 gauge rounds and micro munitions. (Skyborne Technologies Pty Ltd.)
This shot-tracking, 1.6 ounce sensor is embedded in rifle or pistol handgrips. The device monitors, timestamps and geolocates all weapon use and weapon discharge in a given area. It uses a rechargeable battery that can run for 96 hours. The autonomous battle coordination system allows commanders to monitor and respond to “ground-level incidents in real time.” (Armaments Research Company, Inc.)
The 6.75-pound, 18.5-inch suppressed 5.56mm rifle with collapsible stock for soldiers rides with vehicles like the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle or M1 Abrams tank. For day-to-day activities in permissive and semi-permissive environments, key leader engagements and urban settings, the weapon offers more firepower than a pistol but fits within vehicles, allowing for more maneuver room. (Maxim Defense Industries, LLC)
LETS/MACS-B Unmanned System Technology
This air and ground robot system deploys multiple drones from an unmanned ground robot to run rapid 3D-mapping of an area. The system can run autonomously and share data across networked devices. It can also be controlled for more fine-tuned use by a soldier. During force-on-force operations, soldiers can use the system for target acquisition, reconnaissance and mapping, as well as compile data for advanced fires planning. (Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armament Center)
This snake-like robot gives soldiers the ability to check out subterranean, confined space or unstructured environments. The multipurpose unmanned ground vehicle can transmit visual, audio and data intelligence to the user. It can carry up to a 10 pound payload, including sensors for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection. Its range extends to 1,000 feet and can operate for up to three hours. (Sarcos Corporation)
This tactical level radar kit can be mounted at sites across an area and will remotely monitor enemy movement. The system can detect human movement up to 500 meters and vehicles at up to 1,000 meters away. First displayed at the 2017 AEWE, upgrades include an integrated GPS, ruggedized connectors, MPU5 radios and wireless operation. (ELTA North America)
This scooter-like ATV can ride either with a soldier driving or semi-autonomously. It can carry up to two people and pull a two-wheel, specially designed trailer for casualty or equipment transport. Both two- and four-wheel versions are available. It can fold onto itself for storage and transport. (Mistral Inc.)
Knee and ankle exoskeletons
The novel pneumatic exoskeleton is designed to reduce fatigue and give soldier knees more endurance for carrying loads or changing elevation. It can also help troops maintain peak running and walking speeds for longer when on flat ground. (Roam Robotics Inc.)
Ametrine thermal blanket
Material made using ametrine technology can shelter soldiers from thermal detection. It conceals heat signatures and can be used in forms like blankets, uniforms, or even a vehicle cover. (Federal Resources)
Audio gunshot detector
This body-worn system uses a wireless radio link to detect the source of small-arms fire and present that location on a visual display unit. It provides the direction and distance of the threat, allowing soldiers to collect information for targeting without having to see a shooter. That, coupled with other sensors, can help identify a target. (QinetiQ North America)
Safe Shoot friendly fire prevention
The weapons-mounted mesh networked radio system senses a weapon’s azimuth, angle and communication network backchannel to determine if a friendly entity is in the path of the weapon. It then provides immediate, automatic and autonomous alerts directly to the shooter. (Mistral Inc.)
Single soldier-portable micro generator
The P3 can provide consistent electrical output of 1 to 2 kilowatts and fits in a medium-sized backpack configuration, weighing 20 to 34 pounds. The microgenerator can run on any combustible liquid and is designed for low thermal output and sound attenuation. The microgenerator gives platoons with power requirements an “on-the-go” logistics option. (Enginuity Power Systems)
Bell Autonomous Pod Transport
The APT is a scalable drone that comes in two variants, one can carry up to 20 pounds and the other, 70. The larger version has a 48 kilometer range in under 30 minutes. With vertical takeoff, it does not rely on runways or roads. An all-electric system, it reduces fuel needs. And with swappable pods APT can support various missions from chemical-biological detection, to radio transmission/retransmission, to medical resupply. (Bell)
TEAM AND SOLDIER PERFORMANCE
The system integrates heads-up display goggles and weapons sensors to track weapon orientation, shot counting and downrange gunnery. It connects with existing platforms such as Nett Warrior, adding human performance data. The system can help commanders quantify shooter ability to engage targets accurately and consistently and identify weapon location and orientation. (FN America, LLC)
CRG Total Exposure Health Sensor Pod System
This system is designed to monitor varying air quality exposure. The sensor collects total exposure data for a variety of common volatile compounds and logs that information wirelessly into a system that can be adjusted to specific environments. The pods can be deployed in field environments or industrial settings. (Source: Army Times)
10 Feb 20. Honeywell to deliver cockpit upgrade for Leonardo’s AW139 helicopters. Technology company Honeywell is set to deliver a new Primus Epic 2.0 cockpit upgrade for Leonardo’s AW139 helicopters.
The Primus Epic 2.0 Phase 8 upgrade will introduce a range of features that improve safety for various missions and conditions and offer improved maps and situational awareness at night and in marginal weather.
Leonardo Helicopter Division marketing vice-president Paul De Jonge said: “Since its first certification, our AW139 platform has been supported by the latest Honeywell software technology.
“With Honeywell’s Primus Epic 2.0 upgrade, we continue to stay ahead of the industry by enabling pilots to fly a variety of challenging approaches. We continue to support several helicopter-specific missions, be it corporate VIP transport, emergency medical services, oil and gas, or search and rescue operations, with increased levels of safety.”
The upgrade includes SmartView synthetic vision system feature that is usable all the way down into the hover.
It also helps pilots navigate during low-visibility conditions and challenging missions that can include steep 9° descents into landing areas in challenging approaches.
Additionally, the iNAV map visual interface with easy-to-use displays and an improved Cursor Control Device will make map manipulation and menu navigation quicker.
Honeywell Aerospace Cockpit Systems vice-president and general manager Mike Ingram said: “Technology innovations are crucial to reducing pilot workload and making flights safer for crew and passengers.
“With the Epic 2.0 Phase 8 upgrade, AW139 pilots will not only reduce the time and cost of some operations, especially those in weather and around challenging terrain, they will also experience some of the best safety features available anywhere in the helicopter market.”
Furthermore, the Phase 8 upgrade increases connectivity capabilities, with wireless data loading, which pilots can use to access data at high speeds remotely without a hardwire connection.
They will also be able to transfer flight plans wirelessly and accelerate preflight actions. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
08 Feb 20. DARPA selects performers to develop integrated mixed-mode RF electronics. DARPA has confirmed the selection of nine research teams to develop advanced RF mixed-mode electronics critical to emerging defence applications in communications, radar, and electronic warfare.
Today’s defence electronics systems rely on radio frequency (RF) mixed-mode electronics – those that integrate RF, analogue and digital circuits onto a single chip – to interface RF signals with digital processors.
This technology supports critical communications, radar and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, as well as being widely used to support commercial telecommunications.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has capability demands that far exceed the requirements of the commercial world in terms of speed, fidelity, capacity and precision.
Current commercial RF mixed-mode systems on a chip (SoCs) are implemented on digital complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) platforms, a technology that has been used for decades to construct integrated circuits, highly integrated transceivers, microprocessors and beyond.
Despite continued advancement and scaling along the trajectory of Moore’s Law for high integration density, these CMOS platforms are unable to support operations at higher frequencies with larger signal bandwidths and higher resolutions, essentially limiting their use in next-generation mixed-mode interfaces needed for emerging defence RF applications.
DARPA program manager, Dr Young-Kai Chen, who leads the Technologies for Mixed-mode Ultra Scaled Integrated Circuits (T-MUSIC) program, said, “T-MUSIC’s goal is to develop next-generation terahertz (THz) mixed-mode devices that integrate digital processing and intelligence on the same chip through an advanced CMOS fabrication platform.”
To advance RF mixed-mode interfaces beyond current limitations, DARPA established the T-MUSIC program. T-MUSIC was first announced in January 2019 as a part of the second phase of DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI).
One area of research under ERI Phase II focuses on the integration of photonics and RF components directly into advanced circuits and semiconductor manufacturing processes, enabling unique and differentiated domestic manufacturing capabilities.
“These technologies will provide DoD systems with differentiating capabilities in advanced RF sensors, high capacity wireless and wireline communications, and beyond,” Dr Chen added.
As such, T-MUSIC will explore the integration of mixed-mode electronics into advanced onshore semiconductor manufacturing processes.
The goal is to develop highly integrated RF electronics with an unprecedented combination of wide spectral coverage, high resolution, large dynamic range, and high information processing bandwidth.
Further, the program will work to establish a domestic ecosystem that can facilitate enduring DoD access to high-performance RF mixed-mode SoCs.
The T-MUSIC program has selected nine research teams from academic institutions, as well as commercial companies, to take on the program’s research objectives. In particular, five research teams will work to develop and implement advanced broadband RF mixed-mode circuit designs.
These designs will essentially form ‘building blocks’ that can be used by DoD-relevant applications. The building blocks will also establish the foundation of a mixed-mode IP library for the DoD user community. The research teams selected for this area of research include:
- BAE Systems;
- University of California, Los Angeles;
- University of California, San Diego; and
- University of Utah.
The five circuit design teams will closely collaborate with two foundry partners selected to support the development of advanced mixed-mode technologies in US onshore CMOS foundries. The foundry partners include GlobalFoundries and TowerJazz.
Finally, a third group of researchers will explore foundational breakthroughs in ultra-broadband transistors, pushing well beyond current near-term advances in foundry technology.
Research teams from the University of California, Los Angeles, and University of California, Berkeley, will explore new types of RF mixed-mode transistors capable of demonstrating transistor-switching speed up to 1 THz in a scalable CMOS platform.
10 Feb 20. The Boeing [NYSE:BA] Australia team recently completed major fuselage structural assembly for the first Loyal Wingman. The aircraft is one of three prototypes that will be developed as a part of the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
“This is an exciting milestone for the development program, and the Australian aerospace industry, as we progress with production of the first military aircraft to be developed in Australia in more than 50 years,” said Dr. Shane Arnott, program director, Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS).
The Australian team has applied digital engineering and advanced composite materials to achieve cost and agility goals for the 38-foot (11.7-meter) aircraft, which is designed to use artificial intelligence in teaming with other manned and unmanned platforms.
“The partnership with Boeing is key to building our understanding of not just the operational implications for these sorts of vehicles, but also making us a smart customer as we consider options for manned-unmanned teaming in the coming decade,” said Air Commodore Darren Goldie, RAAF Director-General of Air Combat Capability. “Boeing is progressing very well with its development and we look forward to seeing the final product in the coming months.”
Arnott said Australian Industry participation had been critical to the program’s rapid development, with a 16-strong Australian industry team making key deliveries to date including:
- BAE Systems Australia, who have delivered hardware kits including flight control computers and navigation equipment;
- RUAG Australia, who have delivered the landing gear system
- Ferra Engineering, who have delivered precision machine components and sub-assemblies to support the program; and
- AME Systems, who have delivered wiring looms to support the vehicle.
This first Loyal Wingman prototype will provide key lessons toward production of the ATS, which Boeing Australia is developing for the global defense market. Customers will be able to tailor ATS sensors and systems based on their own defense and industrial objectives.
The next major milestone will be weight on wheels, when the fuselage structure moves from the assembly jig to the aircraft’s own landing gear to continue systems installation and functional testing. The aircraft is expected to complete its first flight this year.
12 Feb 20. Denchi Begins Volume Production of Game-Changing Battery Solution for Military Deployment. Providing integration, lifespan & overall cost benefits by migrating to Li-Ion technology. The Denchi Group continues to expand its portfolio of advanced energy storage solutions for the most challenging application environments. After completing extensive and rigorous field trials with certain key customers over the last 12 months, the company has now announced full availability of its 430935 6T series. Supplied in a NATO 6T format (with 269mm x 256mm x 230mm dimensions), the new rechargeable batteries are based on a Li-Ion chemistry and have built-in charging electronics. The elevated power density levels achieved make these units highly optimized for situations where there are size, weight and power (SWaP) constraints to take into consideration.
For employment predominantly in lighting and ignition tasks, Denchi’s 6T Li-Ion batteries are suited to incorporation into a wide variety of military ground vehicles – from main battle tanks (MBTs) right through to armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and light armoured vehicles (LAVs). They can also be used in ‘silent watch’ mode to power electronic sights and communications equipment when the vehicle engine is turned off (something which is not possible with the conventional lead-acid batteries normally utilized by the military). These units are capable of delivering a maximum continuous discharge current of 350A, but are of particular value when intense power bursts are required (delivering a 30sec pulse of 1100A).
The integrated charger electronics represents a major advantage. Whereas other solutions do not have this, which makes them much harder to retrofit into existing designs. A broad input voltage range can be dealt with (going all the way up to 35V). There is the capability for constituent cells to each be charged directly (thus dramatically shortening charge times) with the current being raised from 45A to 270A (and the sinking of a 500A pulse for a 5sec period being possible). Over-/under-voltage, over-current and over-temperature protection mechanisms are included as part of the sophisticated battery management system, as well as self-balancing in order to combat individual cell aging. In addition, easy to read indicators on the exterior of these batteries mean that all essential status information can be quickly accessed.
Offering a simple drop-in replacement for lead-acid batteries in 24V systems, the Denchi 6T products allow two 40kg units placed in series (making up 80kg in total) to be substituted by a single much lighter unit (weighing only 25kg), resulting in a considerable weight reduction. They will support over 4,000 recharge cycles – an order of magnitude more than equivalent lead-acid batteries (and substantially better than competing Li-Ion solutions too), thereby markedly lowering the total cost of ownership and alleviating the related procurement effort. The time taken to fit them is also significantly shorter.
Housed within a rugged yet lightweight aluminium casing, Denchi 6T batteries achieve industry-leading operational longevity even when subject to extreme conditions. They have already be been extensively tested on British army vehicles. Their working temperature range spans from -40°C to +60°C. Thanks to internal heaters, use of cold start kits to be avoided. For more details on these batteries visit: https://www.denchipower.com/catalog-2/i9181dup1/6T-Lithiumion-Battery
12 Feb 20. Niobium-based connector allows passage of data and electricity underwater for a variety of applications. Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has signed its first non-exclusive agreement to manufacture niobium-based connectors (NiobiCon™) specifically designed for harsh environments.
NiobiConTM is a new way of making electrical connections underwater that enables power transfer and data exchange without using seals, oil or moving parts. This technology was developed to address the inefficient recharging of unmanned vehicles in underwater environments. When the niobium connector enters in contact with the water, it creates its own thin isolating layer, which gets scraped off when the connection is made. Once disconnected, the layer instantly regenerates.
“NiobiConTM is a patented technology that has global commercial and defense applications,” said Alan Lytle, vice president, undersea systems, Northrop Grumman. “It is an innovative wet-mateable connector technology we have developed that will not only improve reliability and cost-effectiveness, but also revolutionize the industry. We are excited to take the first step in developing solutions for specific future applications.”
Northrop Grumman has entered into an agreement with iCONN Systems LLC, which specializes in the manufacture of connectors for harsh environments as their first non-exclusive licensee. They will work with potential customers to develop more reliable interconnects for both commercial and defense applications.
“iCONN Systems is excited to design, develop and manufacture interconnects with Northrop Grumman’s patented technology introducing true wet-mateable connector products,” said Rich Regole, CEO, iCONN Systems, LLC.
Oxley Group Ltd
Oxley specialises in the design and manufacture of advanced electronic and electro-optic components and systems for air, land and sea applications within the military sector. Established in 1942, Oxley has manufacturing facilities in the UK and USA and enjoys representation worldwide. The company’s products include night vision and LED lighting, data capture systems and electronic components. Oxley has pioneered the development of night vision compatible lighting. It offers a total package incorporating optical filters, equipment modification, cockpit and external lighting along with fleet wide upgrade services including engineering, installation, support, maintenance and training. The company’s long experience of manufacturing night vision lighting and LED indicators, coupled with advances in LED technology, has enabled it to develop LED solutions to replace incandescent and fluorescent lighting in existing applications as well as becoming the lighting option of choice in new applications such as portable military hospitals, UAV control stations and communication shelters.