The Army successfully tested its ability to redirect munitions in flight Aug. 28 in an experiment over the Mojave Desert involving an unmanned aircraft, smart sensors and artificial intelligence.
It was the “signature experiment for fiscal 2019” said Brig. Gen. Walter T. Rugen, director of the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, speaking Thursday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s “Hot Topic” forum on aviation.
The experiment at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., tested a capability developed by his CFT called A3I, standing for Architecture, Automation, Autonomy and Interfaces.
Welding air-ground ‘punch’
In the A3I experiment, an operator in the back of an MH-47 Chinook helicopter used an iPad to control a Grey Eagle unmanned aircraft system over China Lake. He fired a GBU-69 small glide munition from the Grey Eagle and it was the first time that type of UAS fired that kind of missile.
Then as the munition approached its target, a system of ground sensors picked up a higher-priority target nearby. Another operator in the Tactical Operations Center was able to quickly take over control of the glide munition and redirect it to the new target, which it ultimately destroyed.
The A3I system of interconnected sensors was developed over a nine-month period by the Future Vertical Lift CFT in conjunction with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command with input from academia and industry.
The MH-47 helicopter in the experiment was part of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
“Collaboration between the communities is pretty impressive,” said Brig. Gen. Allan A Pepin, commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, who also spoke at the AUSA panel.
The China Lake experiment demonstrated “leap-ahead” technology in lethality and reach, Rugen said.
“We really worked hard on our unmanned systems, our architecture, our automation and our interfaces up at China Lake against a real threat,” he said.
The overall experiment was designed to penetrate an urban environment pairing manned and unmanned aircraft, smart munitions, sensors and automated processing capabilities.
The experiment was able to demonstrate a “very dynamic and agile tasking of effects,” Rugen said. “It culminated with a very open-system architecture on the Grey Eagle that was demonstrated very effectively.”
Rugen said it is part of how the CFT is working to “weld the air-ground team tighter and tighter into a pretty solid punch for any potential enemy.”
RFP for assault aircraft
Two weeks ago Program Executive Office Aviation issued a request for proposal, or RFP, to Aviation and Missile Technology Consortium members for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft. The RFP is for the FLRAA Competitive Demonstration and Risk Reduction phase one. This comes after a request for information, or RFI, issued in April.
Great teaming has taken place so far with industry on two FLRAA Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrators, Rugen said, adding it’s “taking JMR from a tech demonstrator to a weapons system.”
The two JMRs — the Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant and the Bell V-280 Valor — have already been flying to show some of the technologies the Army wants. But neither are the final design for the FLRAA, officials stressed, and the recent RFP went out to about 600 members of the consortium.
Phase one of the CD&RR will deliver an initial conceptual design to include all substantiating technical documentation to support the design, requirements decompositions, trade studies, and requirements feasibility for FLRAA. Rugen said the RFP kicks off competitive conceptual design demonstrations that will result in the selection of two vendors in March to complete phase one of the CD&RR.
In addition, a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, will eventually replace some of the Apache AH-64 helicopters. In April, five vendors were awarded Other Transaction Authority, or OTA prototype agreements. Rugen said his team expects to receive all industry proposals in January and then two vendors will be selected in March for competitive prototypes.