Army, Pentagon developing next-generation helicopter equipment, Phase II
December 14, 2011
The Army-led Science and Technology (S&T) Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Technology
Demonstrator effort to explore the envelope of technological possibility and
design a next-generation vertical lift aircraft to be ready by 2030 that is
faster, more capable and better equipped than today's fleet is also heavily
focused on leveraging advanced electronic and avionics capabilities, service
Sensors, electronics, avionics and cutting-edge types of mission and
survivability equipment are also a large part of the S&T equation, said Dave
Weller, science and technology program manager, Program Executive Office --
For instance, as part of the JMR Technology Demonstrator Phase 2, the Army's
Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC),
Redstone Arsenal, Ala., has sent a Nov. 9 formal Request for Information out
to industry in order to solicit feedback on developmental solutions and
emerging technologies in the areas of Mission Systems and Aircraft
Survivability Equipment (ASE).
"Our notional strategy with this RFI is to look at potential technological
solutions which can be integrated onto our flight demonstrator aircraft in
the 2018 timeframe," Weller explained.
Overall, the next-generation Mission Equipment Package (MEP) engineered for
the JMR will need to accommodate the capabilities and parameters of the new
Air Vehicles advanced in Phase 1 of the program, said Malcolm Dinning,
AMRDEC Aviation Liaison, ASA ALT.
"The Phase 1 Air Vehicle design will provide a new platform, but the ability
to be operationally effective depends upon the Mission Equipment Package --
such as targeting, weapons package and sensor capabilities," said Dinning.
"As we start looking at vehicle speeds that are well above current aircraft,
we cannot simply add large sensor pods onto the aircraft. We have to figure
out how to integrate these sensors and antennas as conformal systems to the
Accordingly, Phase 2 will look for integrated solutions and Mission Systems
capability able to provide the technological growth and open systems
architecture sufficient to bring the JMR aircraft into the next-generation.
"What we're trying to do is identify capabilities that we would like to see.
We don't anticipate any particular solution, rather we are asking industry
to propose solutions to certain problems we are looking to solve," said Ray
Wall, Chief of the Systems Integration Division, Aviation Applied Technology
Directorate (AATD), Fort Eustis, Va., (AATD), and lead for Phase 2 portion
of the JMR Technology Demonstrator program.
Vendors were invited to a JMR industry day in Newport News Va., Nov. 18 to
learn more detail regarding the parameters of the RFI.
"We told our industry partners what we are trying to do and gave them the
proper framework with which to give us advice. We're asking for industry to
provide feedback regarding whether they have specific solutions which can
meet our approach and solve our capability gaps. We are also interested in
their comments regarding whether they believe we have adequately addressed
an approach to solving problems that we know exist," said Wall.
The RFI will be followed by a Broad Agency Announcement expected to be
released to vendors in January 2012. The AATD plans to conduct a Phase 2
trade and analysis beginning in July of this year, to be followed by plans
to award multiple Mission Systems Effectiveness Trades and Analysis
Technology Investment Agreements by late 2012.
"We don't want to be bound by what is out there today. The hardware and
software solutions we seek may be similar or radically different than what
exists today," Wall explained.
Integration is key to the Army's Mission Systems and ASE strategy, as the
overall approach is aimed at fielding an integrated suite of sensors and
countermeasure technologies designed to work in tandem to identify and in
some cases deter a wide range of potential incoming threats, from small arms
fire to RPGs, shoulder-fired missiles and other types of attacks.
One such example of these technologies is called Common Infrared
Countermeasure (CIRCM), a light-weight, high-tech laser-jammer engineered to
divert incoming missiles by throwing them off course. CIRCM is a
lighter-weight, improved version of the Advanced Threat Infrared
Countermeasures (ATIRCM) system currently deployed on aircraft.
CIRCM, which will be fielded by 2018, represents the state of the art in
Countermeasure technology; future iterations of this kind of capability
envisioned for 2030 may or may not be similar to CIRCM. Future survivability
solutions will be designed to push the envelope toward the next-generation
of technology, Chase explained.
"We will need to be responsive to today's threats plus additional threats
that we don't even know about yet. With JMR, we are talking about a vertical
lift aircraft that has significantly different capabilities, so the sensors
and Mission Equipment will have to be significantly different in order to
accommodate the dimensions of the new Air Vehicle and the flight environment
in which it will operate," Chase said.
Additional countermeasure solutions proposed by industry could include
various types of laser technology and Directed Energy applications as well
as missile-launch and ground-fire detection systems, Wall added.
The RFI is also looking to gather information on sensor technologies, such
as next-generation options and solutions which might improve upon the state
of the art Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night
Vision Sensor (MTADS) systems currently deployed on helicopters; MTADS
sensing and targeting technology provide helicopters thermal imaging
infrared cameras as well stabilized electro-optical sensors, laser
rangefinders and laser target designators.
The current, upgraded MTADS currently deployed on aircraft throughout the
Army were engineered to accommodate the size, weight and power dimensions of
today's aircraft, dimensions which will likely change with the arrival of a
new Air Vehicle built for JMR, Wall said. In essence, the AATD is hoping the
proposed technical solutions will be engineered with a mind to the
dimensions comprising a new, next-generation Air Vehicle.
"We're looking for enhancements to MTADS and other sensors and Mission
Equipment in terms of how they could be incorporated into the airframe of a
new Air Vehicle," Wall said.
JMR Weapons Systems Integration is a critical part of this effort, according
to the RFI. The JMR aircraft will be engineered to integrate weapons and
sensor systems to autonomously detect, designate and track targets, perform
targeting operations during high-speed maneuvers, conduct off-axis
engagements, track multiple targets simultaneously and optimize fire control
performance such that ballistic weapons can accommodate environmental
effects such as wind and temperature, the RFI states.
Exploring the range of "autonomous flight" or "optionally piloted"
technologies is also central to the JMR program, Weller said. Along these
lines, the AATD is looking for technical solutions or mission equipment
which increases a pilot's cognitive decision-making capability by
effectively managing the flow of information from an array of sensors into
the cockpit, Weller explained.
The RFI describes much of this capability in terms of the need to develop a
Human Machine Interface (HMI) wherein advanced cockpit software and
computing technologies are able to autonomously perform a greater range of
functions such as on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection, thus
lessening the burden placed upon pilots and crew, Chase said.
In particular, cognitive decision-aiding technologies explored for
4th-generation JMR cockpit will develop algorithms able to track, prioritize
organize and deliver incoming on and off-board sensory information by
optimizing visual, 3-D audio and tactile informational cues, Dinning
"What we're really looking to do for the volume of information flowing into
the aircraft is exploring how to best deliver this information without
creating sensory overload. Some of this information may be displayed in the
cockpit and some of it may be built into a helmet display," Dinning added.
Manned-Unmanned teaming, also discussed in the RFI, constitutes a
significant portion of this capability; the state of the art with this
capability allows helicopter pilots to not only view video feeds from nearby
UAS from the cockpit of the aircraft, but it also gives them an ability to
control the UAS flight path and sensor payloads as well. Future iterations
of this technology may seek to implement successively greater levels of
autonomy, potentially involving scenarios wherein an unmanned helicopter is
able to perform these functions working in tandem with nearby UAS, Chase
Air-to-Air "tracking" capability is another solution sought by the RFI,
comprised of advanced software and sensors able to inform pilots of
obstacles such as a UAS or nearby aircraft; this technology will likely
include Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) transponders which cue pilots regarding
nearby aircraft, Wall said.
Technical solutions able to provide another important obstacle avoidance
"sensing" capability called Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) are also
being explored; in this instance, sensors, advanced mapping technology and
digital flight controls would be engineered to protect an aircraft from
nearby terrain such as trees, mountains, telephone wires and other
low-visibility items by providing pilots with sufficient warning of an
upcoming obstacle and, in some instances, offering them course-correcting
Using sensors and other technologies to help pilots navigate through
"brown-outs" or other conditions involving what's called a "Degraded Visual
Environment" is a key area of emphasis as well, Wall added.
"Overall, what we are trying to do is look at a range of solutions such as
radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and
communications equipment and see what the right architecture is and how we
would integrate all these things together," Wall explained.
Similar to Phase 1 which is focused on Air Vehicle development, Phase 2 of
the JMR TD is also heavily emphasizing affordability and hoping to encourage
innovation in a manner that also contains costs.
"JMR presents a unique opportunity to apply historic amounts of creativity
and innovation to the single largest decision factor influencing the entire
life cycle of an aircraft: cost. With a clean-sheet design, it may be
possible to incorporate from the beginning new technologies, new concepts,
new processes, or even old ones that could not win their way on to fielded
platforms," the RFI states.
Along these lines, the JMR is expected to use Health Usage Maintenance
Systems (HUMS), diagnostic sensor technologies attached to key aircraft
components to catalogue usage data as a way to streamline the repair parts
replacement process, substantially lower maintenance costs and in some cases
extend the service life of aircraft, Dinning said.
"HUMS absolutely has the highest potential for reducing operational and
maintenance cost of the aircraft. This provides an ability to build sensors
onto maintenance-intensive components that we routinely inspect. We record
the flight usage spectrum and the sensors record the behavior of this
component. This information is then passed to a diagnostic software tool
that diagnoses anomalies in that behavior and then sends the information to
a prognostic tool which determines when failure might occur. This
combination of sensing, diagnostics and prognostics allows us to move from
our current scheduled maintenance to a conditioned-based maintenance
approach. This allows us to replace stuff only as needed," Dinning said.
While this technology is used widely in the current fleet of Army aircraft,
future applications of HUMS will look at innovative ways of embedding
diagnostic technologies onto the Air Vehicle itself, Dinning said.