REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Oct. 31, 2017) -- The U.S. Army recently awarded nearly $2 million across five industry teams to help inform and enable the Army's next-generation Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System fleet slated to operate in the 2030 timeframe and beyond.
The contracts are part of a multi-year Science and Technology effort called Next Generation Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System Technology Demonstrator, or NexGen TUAS TD. The S&T program, led by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Development Directorate, held its Phase I kickoff meeting Oct. 18.
"It was a great collaborative opportunity, we were able to discuss, in depth, a schedule, goals, and requirements from the government," said NexGen TUAS Deputy Program Manager, Justin Scharber. "There are five contract companies that are also partnering with non-traditional defense contractors. That's part of the exciting piece of this, we are looking forward to innovative ideas and solutions. At this stage we want creative, out-of-the-box thinking."
"The Army acknowledges it has a significant need for improved aerial reconnaissance and security," said NexGen TUAS TD Program Manager, Maj. Michael Osmon. "Apaches and Shadows have been a stop-gap with the retirement of the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, but it's not optimal. To help meet that need, and given the increasingly complex global security situation, development efforts for a more capable, multi-role TUAS have been accelerated."
The objective of the NexGen TUAS TD is to identify, mature, and demonstrate enabling air vehicle technologies that overcome key technology barriers and result in the desired performance, survivability, and reliability for an advanced, multi-role unmanned aircraft. In order to best accomplish its goals, the program is divided into three phases.
In Phase I, the group has established five main topics of focus including takeoff and landing methods, performance sensitivities and trade-offs, autonomy, all weather, and teaming. Along with specific questions within each area, the study teams will also evaluate the effects that potential requirements or capabilities would have on factors such as size/weight, manning requirements, transportability, and cost.
"Before zeroing in on a specific technology, we're working to establish an objective endstate for the role and desired capabilities of advanced unmanned aircraft, including effects of increased autonomy and better parity with current and future manned platforms, including operations in adverse weather," Osmon said. "We're asking our Phase I teams to start at a relatively high level and conduct objective analysis to inform concepts of employment, understand key sensitivities, and define the trade space. We're interested not just in their final recommendations, but in the how's and why's that led them there."
The specific industry and academia teaming includes: Bell Helicopter teamed with GE Aviation and the University of Maryland; The Boeing Company teamed with CyPhy; Near Earth Autonomy teamed with Boeing Phantom Works and Insitu; Raytheon teamed with Karem; and United Technologies Research Center teamed with Near Earth Autonomy. This Phase I work is being performed through the Vertical Lift Consortium Other Transactions Agreement administered by Advanced Technology
The concepts, technical data, and analyses from Phase I will determine ADD's technology development approach towards building and flying technology demonstrators, as well as inform and refine FTUAS concepts of operations and system requirements for an acquisition program of record. The results are scheduled to be presented at a government workshop in May 2018.
"AMRDEC will do an independent analysis with the data," said Scharber. "ADD's Concept Design and Assessment Group will assess the information from industry and determine our trade space. This will involve estimating what these concepts might cost the government."
Phase II will be a Configuration Trade Studies and Analyses effort. This will be conducted to generate feasible conceptual designs satisfying the advanced UA requirements and capabilities refined from Phase I. ADD will assess these conceptual designs, including effects of projected technology insertions, to determine candidate critical enabling technologies for development and demonstration.
Once specific technologies are selected for incorporation into the TD, ADD will establish quantitative metrics with threshold and objective values. Design, fabrication, integration, and initial test/demonstration activities will occur in 2020-2023, culminating with the final test/demonstration of air vehicle technologies in 2023.
This effort involves a partnership with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager for Reconnaissance and Attack and Project Management Office for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, organized into an integrated product team.
"We believe that being formally organized like this, this early in the process, will pay dividends with respect to creating achievable user requirements and an informed acquisition program with reduced technical risk," Osmon said. "Ultimately, ADD plays a supporting role in the IPT as we invest in producing the knowledge and technology needed, and we hope to leverage the investment of other similar efforts. We're working very hard to get this right."
UAS currently outnumber manned systems in the fleet and will continue to grow in number of aircraft, increased capability, and expanded mission sets. Future UAS must be capable of performing a diverse set of missions in contested airspace against near-peer adversaries on a multi-domain battlefield.
"Our ultimate goal for this Technology Demonstrator is to inform TCM-RA and PM-UAS of the technology readiness levels, also the associated risks with developing and fielding a system with these technologies," said Scharber. "We want to provide knowledge to the user community and information to the Program Office enabling them to develop a product that will provide them with an asymmetric advantage to the Warfighter."
U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center is operationally aligned to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, and administratively aligned to the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. This joint alignment established a closely woven research, development, acquisition, and sustainment team to provide increased responsiveness to the nation's Warfighters. AMRDEC has the mission to deliver collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions.