Developing Smarter Munitions
In Multi Domain Operations, the expectation is that military targets will have moved or are moving, thus creating an operational need for targeting that doesn’t rely solely on GPS technology. Above, a sensor-packed drone operates at various altitudes to test how well certain sensors perform in detecting military targets under various conditions. The goal is to integrate sensors and artificial intelligence into munitions to achieve greater accuracy. Courtesy photo. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Army researchers are seeking to combine advanced sensor capabilities with intelligent software to revolutionize the “tip of the spear” for modern warfare, providing more precise, lethal cannon munitions to counter adversaries.

“A part of that is the replacement of Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) with more effective munitions, which would counter the numeric platform advantages that our adversaries currently possess,” said Col. William McDonough, Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems, which is part of the Joint Program Executive Office Armaments and Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal.

McDonough added that while a critical component of the target discrimination and lethality can be labeled "precision," it may be more helpful to see the intent as "a fired munition should always defeat its intended target and only its intended target."

“Within Multi Domain Operations, the targets for cannon artillery are primarily moved and moving targets--hence the operational need to move away from solely GPS capabilities,” McDonough added.

The Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center (CCDC-AC) at Picatinny Arsenal, which is part of the U.S. Army Futures Command, has worked with multiple organizations to conduct testing at Yuma Proving Ground to evaluate advanced sensors against a large array of military targets.

“We are evaluating the performance of advanced sensors to be able to detect targets from various ranges,” said Jacks George, Project Engineer, Precision Armaments and Intelligent Sensors Division. “Then we are going to conduct trade studies with intelligent software to evaluate performance of these systems, to engage only the predetermined target precisely, while reducing collateral damage.”

Obscuring the target
Obscurants and smoke are used during testing to determine how well sensors can detect military targets under a variety of conditions. Courtesy photo. (Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

One way to test and evaluate new intelligent sensor systems to determine their system capabilities and limitations is to collect real world data through a captive flight test. With the surge in the availability of commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, carrying a custom sensor package for data collection has become a low cost, viable alternative, with U.S. Army airworthiness and UAS approval to operate in restricted airspace.

During a two week test window, ground stations and UAS with sensor packages successfully collected data during day and night operations in various flight patterns, ranges, and altitudes That provided considerable insight into the potential capabilities of sensors for contractors and DOD agencies to assess the sensor technology combined with advanced software to detect and classify targets against meeting military requirements.

The Armaments Center at Picatinny is focused on the modernization of gun-hardened munition sensors and electronics by evaluating the performance of these advanced technologies, with the goal of delivering a timely and achievable capability that meets warfighter requirements for extended range intelligent munitions with pinpoint accuracy.

“As the Army prepares for an adaptive adversary, data collection becomes necessary to evaluate and validate target detection and classification software that will be integrated into the munition” George said. “More data that is collected will enable higher level of confidence on advanced software performance in various terrains, clutter and atmospheric degradation, such as rain, snow, fog.”

Gun hardening munition sensors and electronics is a complex process. It involves re-designing the sensors and electronics to fit within the limited space on munition. Also, proper structural support is needed to survive the gun shock, as well as to ensure no performance degradation in the operational temperature ranges.

Upon passing the structural tests, the integration of sensors into the munition with advanced software has to be evaluated to validate the accuracy of the sensor to be able to guide, detect, and classify threats through a series of data-collection tests before a live fire demonstration test.

“Overall, this type of data collection would save development cost and aid in expedited tradeoff evaluation of accuracy performance of various types of sensors that are integrated with advanced software to support the maneuver force,” George said.

In order to conduct a data-collection event, the CCDC Armaments Center coordinated with the test facility at Yuma Test Center (YTC) in Arizona.

“While developing a test plan with CCDC-AC, the complexity of executing this event was instilled into all stakeholders, as it required coordination with YTC range scheduling and control branches for range availability, daily launch clearances, and the creation of flight boxes,” said Savanna Silva, Test Officer at Combat and Automotive Systems Division, YTC.

“Additionally, it was very important to communicate early and often with customers to ensure an understanding of YTC capabilities, terrain, and protocols to ensure adequate test time allocated to collect required data,” Silva added.

Along with test coordination, the CCDC-AC led and coordinated with various organizations, including CCDC-Chemical and Biological Center (CBC), CCDC-Aviation and Missile Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Engineer Research and Development Center, CCDC – Computers, Cyber and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR), Program Executive Office Simulation, Training, Instrumentation (PEO STRI), and various DOD contractors that support Army modernization priorities.

As a part of the data collection effort, which included stationary and moving military platforms, CCDC-CBC provided obscurants for ground stations and UAS to collect data against military platforms with the most realistic environment in proving out military systems.

“Results from this data collection will feed valuable information into trade studies required to down-select potential multimodal sensors for further development, and ensure a modular open system architecture in munition development,” George said.

He underscored the importance of continuing collaboration among engineers and scientists, thus leveraging lessons learned to conduct future data collection events in different and more complex terrains. In addition, to invite more industry partners, and leverage ongoing military exercises to further prove out intelligent system capabilities.

George said the testing also demonstrated that, by combining efforts with other labs and industry to collect performance data of various types of sensors against military targets, more than $2 million was saved in testing costs. “This reduces redundancy and expedites delivery, particularly if someone else within DOD is looking at similar sensors.”

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL