Keeping aircraft in the fight

Working group identifies new suite of technologies to boost aircraft survivability.

by Mr. Mark Calafut

U.S. Army aviation faces a diverse threat environment, spanning broad categories of threats from ballistic munitions and guided mis-siles to directed energy and cyber weapons. It also spans generations of technology, ranging from constantly evolving sophisticated systems to widely proliferated legacy equipment. The modern threat environment presents both a technical challenge and a moving target to Army aviation. Historically, the science and technology (S&T) community has played an important role in developing ad-vanced technologies to outpace the evolution of the threat. In an increasingly challenging threat environment, S&T is now even more critical.

This has driven the S&T community not only to begin developing nontraditional technologies for advanced protection, but also to establish new practices and processes to evaluate them. In May 2016, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Devel-opment and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Cen-ter (AMRDEC) jointly formed an advanced protection working group to answer key questions for Army aviation. In its first year, the goal of the advanced protection working group was to identify the best technologies to protect the future force. The working group began its analysis from the fundamental premise that there is no "silver bullet" technology capable of addressing all future threats and operational scenarios. Instead, the solution for future aircraft survivability would be a range of technologies to avoid, detect and de-feat the emerging threat. This group would identify that solution.

CERDEC and AMRDEC structured the working group to include both breadth and depth of technical knowledge, as well as to en-gage with the intelligence, requirements and acquisition communities. The core team of the working group was responsible for per-forming technical analysis and developing the group's recommendations. The team was composed of technical experts from within CERDEC and AMRDEC, as well as from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, the Institute for Defense Analyses and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory. The core team also regularly consulted with subject matter experts (SMEs) from other government and academic organizations, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory. To ensure that the technical analysis was per-formed in the broader context and to facilitate engagement with the stakeholder community, the group also included representatives from the intelligence, requirements and acquisition communities.

The advanced protection working group began by adapting proven system engineering processes that are measurable and repeatable into a standardized method to evaluate technology. The group used this method to determine the performance of technologies with respect to classes of threats rather than with respect to any individual threat. This approach was intentionally designed to identify technologies whose capabilities span multiple threats and provide broad protection.

To ensure that all technical options were considered, the working group performed market research, conducted technology surveys and initiated discussions with SMEs. The working group initially identified 160 technologies; after review, it narrowed this list to 70 unique technologies for formal evaluation. These technologies include advanced sensors, defensive electronic attack capabilities and signature reduction technologies. A quantitative methodology enabled the working group to perform sensitivity analysis and assess the specific benefits and risks associated with each potential technology.

Technology evaluation was inherently challenging across this wide range of disparate technologies. The working group categorized the 70 technologies into several subareas, including topics such as aircraft survivability equipment (ASE)--electronic systems to detect and defeat threats--and vulnerability reduction--technologies to reduce the damage a threat delivers to the aircraft and crew (See Figure 2.). To minimize subjectivity in the analysis, the working group established a process of processes, where each of these tech-nology subareas was evaluated with a process appropriate for its characteristics and technical maturity. For example, in the area of ASE, there are experimental data and established modeling and simulation (M&S) tools available from across DOD. For many ASE technologies, including traditional electronic support sensors and electronic attack countermeasures, it was appropriate to use histori-cal data or M&S tools to assess performance. In contrast, in the area of nontraditional susceptibility reduction (NTSR), the working group was specifically looking for unconventional concepts that had not been previously considered for the survivability application. The NTSR assessment included technology options ranging from wild ideas that push the limits of the possible to proven components adapted from different applications. In many cases, NTSR technologies did not have appropriate M&S tools to support an assess-ment similar to the one conducted for ASE. Therefore, a unique assessment was developed specifically for the NTSR subarea. This process included an initial technology assessment followed by a selection process performed through structured SME assessment. To maximize objectivity, each technology was assessed by experts from different backgrounds to obtain multiple data points and provide a full perspective.

Overall, the working group engaged more than 15 SMEs to assess the 70 technologies. The experts evaluated each technology accord-ing to the process for its technology area and assigned a numerical value to its performance. They also provided confidence represent-ing the body of evidence behind the performance value. In the next step, stakeholders developed weights for each evaluation criterion based on priority, and the working group calculated a normalized composite score for each technology. This score represents a con-cise estimate of the relative performance of each technology.

After assessing the technologies individually, the working group determined the optimal suite of technologies. The working group envisioned a spectrum of technologies integrated into a layered survivability suite. When a threat is encountered, the survivability suite autonomously employs appropriate technologies throughout the tactical timeline to maximize survivability. This concept makes the most effective use of each technology available to defeat the threat given the unique parameters of an engagement. The working group systematically combined the highest-scoring technologies and considered technology dependencies to create candidate technology suites. The more threat characteristics that a technology suite addressed and the higher the priority of those characteristics, the greater the protection capability of the suite. Finally, the working group went beyond performance and considered the potential multi-functional applications of the suite and calculated the platform's size, weight and power requirements. The working group then agreed on a recommended technology suite for future survivability. The group will use these processes to refresh its technical solution and road map every three years, or more frequently if events drive a significant change in the threat picture or the state of technology.

The last step was the creation of a common 10-year technology development road map. The agreement on a common road map also has driven participating organizations to alter their planned S&T investments and more closely coordinate development efforts into common programs. This includes cross-cutting S&T areas that will require the joint attention of multiple laboratories, on topics such as M&S, power generation and storage, and common architectures that enable compatibility and data exchange. The road map was designed to include the development of enabling technologies with broad applicability, as well as more targeted efforts specifically designed to invest in identified S&T gaps.
To balance and manage risk, the road map includes critical decision points. Often, potential leap-ahead technologies are technically immature and high- risk. For these elements, the road map includes one or more critical decision points, where the result of tech-nical analysis or a technology maturity assessment determines whether investment should continue. This allows the S&T community to contribute to Army aviation by providing new advanced technologies as well as by determining the practical viability of potential leap-ahead technology paths.

The working group completed its first phase of analysis in July and has established the common objectives and decision points for the S&T community. Over the coming months, the group will present its results and recommendations to Army leadership for review and concurrence.

The advanced protection working group already has led to several major benefits for the S&T community. Foremost among these is the repeatable process it has established to assess a broad portfolio of technologies together and in an objective manner. This facili-tates the development of common S&T programs and demonstrations, improves targeting of investments and return on investment, and documents the contribution of each technology to the larger solution. Overall, the activities of the advanced protection working group demonstrate that S&T is about much more than technology: It's about creating and using balanced processes to help the Army identify cross-domain solutions to its most challenging problems.

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MR. MARK CALAFUT is a senior engineer overseeing the research portfolio for the Electronic Warfare Air/Ground Survivability Division within CERDEC's Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate. He holds an M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University, an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, and a B.S. in engineering and a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College. He is Level III certified in engineering and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

This article is published in the January -- March 2018 Army AL&T magazine.