ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and its new partners in academia and industry hope to solve the most difficult challenges in unmanned aviation. ARL officials unveiled the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Propulsion, or CUP, April 2, 2018, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its Vehicle Technology Directorate at APG.
The partnership holds the potential to position the Army to be a leader in UAS propulsion. The center will enable the development of future technologies to support the Army's modernization priorities and the lab's essential research areas, officials said.
"I've heard words used like historic, monumental, even game-changing," said ARL-VTD Director Dr. Jaret Riddick. "This is a real historic opportunity for the Vehicle Technology Directorate to showcase one of the rich research areas for the Army Research Laboratory and also for key Army stakeholders."
Increasing the performance of unmanned aircraft will lead to improvements in fuel efficiency, noise reduction, increased range and higher payloads, officials said. Unmanned aircraft such as the Gray Eagle, Shadow and Hunter stand to benefit initially, but as the relationship matures, center officials hope to improve smaller UAS as well.
Over the course of the last eight months, the Army's science and technology community has been synchronizing and aligning its resources to the six Army modernization priorities:
● Long-Range Precision Fires
● Next Generation of Combat Vehicles
● Future Vertical Lift Platforms
● Army Network
● Air and Missile Defense Capabilities
● Soldier Lethality
"As we focus on those priorities and align our investments across the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command and across the S&T enterprise, we come back to Future Vertical Lift," said ARL Plans and Programs Director Todd Rosenberger. "Clearly that's a critical program for us as we move forward into the future."
The laboratory will support Future Vertical Lift in a number of ways, Rosenberger said, but it's really about focusing on "spinning out near-term knowledge and understanding."
Center founder Dr. Chol-Bum "Mike" Kweon, who also serves as the lab's Propulsion Division chief, said having all the collaborators under one umbrella will help develop specific technologies.
"Most propulsion systems were adapted from ground systems," Kweon said. "There are challenges when you use ground systems in unmanned aircraft because the operating environments are totally different. In many cases, the components are not optimized and they're not designed for aircraft applications."
The lab has unique research tools such as the Small Engine Altitude Research Facility, which is one of four in the world.
"It's really the only one that has the kind of capabilities for the altitude and range of temperatures that are required to evaluate systems for the Army," Rosenberger said.
Additionally VTD has a Spray Combustion Facility to pursue combustion physics and understand the fundamental science associated with ignition and combustion in Army systems.
"All of these things, to include additional payloads for the platforms, are challenges that the Center for UAS Propulsion, or CUP, is going to focus on," Rosenberger said. "The premier center-stone for the center, though, is the Multi-Fuel Capable Hybrid Electric Propulsion Program. We will perhaps reduce the supportability/sustainability requirements such that we don't have to take as much fuel with us and potentially use indigenous fuels wherever we're fighting."
The center is a partnership with:
● U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center
● Program Executive Office-Aviation
● General Atomics
● Northrop Grumman
● General Motors
● General Electric
● Convergent Sciences, Inc.
● University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
● University of Wisconsin at Madison
● Iowa State University
● Oregon State University
● Northwestern University
● University of Illinois at Chicago
● Sandia National Laboratories
● Argonne National Laboratory
● Texas A&M University
● International partners in Australia and the Republic of Korea
"There is a wide variety of talent, expertise and knowledge that we're going to bring together in this community to focus on delivering new science and technology capabilities that will get the Army where it needs to be," Rosenberger said. "Our partners are critically important."
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.