Textron sets its sights on US Air Force's light aircraft experiment
By: Valerie Insinna, March 14, 2017 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Textron)
WASHINGTON — Textron is chomping at the bit for the U.S. Air Force’s planned light attack aircraft demonstration, where it plans to show off the capabilities of the Textron AirLand Scorpion jet and Beechcraft AT-6.
The Air Force has yet to greenlight a program of record, but the service intends to invite industry to participate in flight experiments this summer at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. If the exercise goes well and companies are able to prove a business case, the service could embark on an light attack aircraft acquisition, or OA-X.
In an exclusive interview with Defense News, Textron officials said they see sales opportunities for at least two of its existing planes if the Air Force moves ahead with OA-X.
“We think this will be a complimentary capability to the Air Force’s CAS [close-air support] assets, and we agree with the Air Force that there is certainly a need,” said Jim Grant, Textron Aviation's senior vice president of military programs. “We believe we have at least two aircraft that are great candidates for OA-X, and so we’re actually very excited to see what the actual requirements are.”
Top Air Force brass have acknowledged that the fight against militant groups in the Middle East isn’t likely to subside for at least another decade, but ongoing operations are taxing the service’s limited number of aircraft. The idea behind OA-X is that if the Air Force was to invest in several hundred low-cost attack planes, it could use its more expensive, sophisticated aircraft for training against high-end threats, contributing to overall readiness.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein signed a memo on March 8 formally authorizing the flight demonstration, service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed in an email to Defense News. The memo explains that the Air Force plans to conduct a variety of experiments meant to help the service make future force structure and modernization decisions, with the light attack aircraft demo as the first campaign.
A formal invite to industry is expected within weeks or perhaps even days. The Air Force’s strategic development planning and experimentation office, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, will lead the effort.
The service has not reached consensus on potential OA-X requirements, only that entries must be low-cost and ready for production. Therefore, Textron is proposing multiple options with different layers of capability.
If the service opts for an inexpensive turboprop type of aircraft, Beechcraft’s AT-6 could be a good fit, said Grant. The aircraft is based on the T-6A used by the Air Force for basic pilot training and modified for the light attack mission. The AT-6 features seven hard points for general-purpose, laser-guided and inertially aided weapons. It also boasts low operating costs and can be flown for less than $1,000 per hour.
“When it comes to a turboprop, we believe that it is a very viable candidate,” Grant said.
In that category, the AT-6 could come up against Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano, which the U.S. government has purchased for the Afghan air force. But while commonality with allies could be a selling point for the A-29, the idea of buying a Brazilian plane could rankle the “America First” Trump administration.
If the service is willing to pay more for added capability, the Scorpion jet offers greater performance and more flexibility than a turboprop plane, said Bill Harris, Textron AirLand’s vice president of Scorpion sales.
Textron designed the Scorpion with modularity in mind, allowing it to quickly adapt different sensors and weapons in its internal payload bay or the six hard points located on the wings, which can collectively carry 6,200 pounds of ordnance.
The jet’s ability to fire precision-guided munitions while maintaining low levels of noise could make it a better choice for urban close-air support than loud, less advanced turboprop planes, Harris said.
“These confusing, urban-type battlefield engagements where the target has very short dwell time and it’s hard to dig out where the target might be [located], so you’re working with ground forces as well as other aircraft," he said. "I think the Scorpion has some capabilities with the sensors that it can carry to tackle that kind of a mission that may be a little more difficult for an AT-6."
The Scorpion hasn’t found a launch customer, and Textron AirLand is currently in the throes of manufacturing the third production-conforming jet. Depending on the size of the order and the modifications, Harris estimated unit prices could clock in at $20 million to $30 million a copy, with an operating cost of about $3,000 per flight hour.
Textron AirLand to forgo T-X bid with Scorpion jet
By: Valerie Insinna, March 14, 2017 (Photo Credit: Textron AirLand)
WASHINGTON — Textron Airland has officially decided against offering its Scorpion jet for the Air Force’s T-X trainer competition, ending speculation about whether the aircraft would emerge as a dark horse candidate.
“We certainly believe the Scorpion can fit a good training role, not only for the U.S. Air Force but around the world, but with the requirements that had been put out there for the T-X, we don’t believe the Scorpion fits all the requirements,” said Bill Harris, the company’s vice president of Scorpion jet sales.
Textron told Defense News in early 2016 that it would probably not pursue the T-X contract unless the Air Force changed its requirements to be less demanding. However, earlier this winter, company officials stated that they had not ruled out a T-X bid and were assessing the final request for proposals.
Harris explained Textron wanted to take a second look at the requirements to evaluate whether Scorpion could fit the service’s needs, but the jet had trouble meeting some of the Air Force’s more aggressive performance characteristics, including a high G threshold of 6.5 — the Scorpion can achieve 6 Gs.
“It basically was very close to what you would see in an F-16 Block 50 aircraft,” he said. “We went over it and over it, and it became clear that we weren’t going to meet these aggressive performance standards.”
That leaves five teams still in the ring to fight over the $16 billion contract: Boeing and Saab’s clean-sheet design, Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries modified T-50, Leonardo DRS’s T-100, Sierra Nevada Corp and Turkish Aerospace Industries’ newly designed Freedom Trainer, and newcomer Stavatti Aerospace’s Javelin concept.
Proposals are due March 30, and the Air Force plans to award a contract this year. The program of record currently includes 350 planes and ground training systems, however industry has speculated there could be an opportunity to sell hundreds more T-X aircraft domestically and internationally.
The decision not to bid on the T-X opens Textron up to focus on an upcoming light attack demonstration with the Air Force, as well as its ongoing cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the service to conduct an airworthiness assessment of the Scorpion, Harris said.
Textron and the Air Force recently completed the first phase of the CRADA, in which the parties laid out the evaluation procedures and what elements of the aircraft would be assessed. Within weeks, the company will begin the second phase, which involves providing engineering analysis and data from ground and flight tests, he said.
“We’re flying the first production aircraft, P1, and expanding that envelope, and as we do that, that is the aircraft that has all of the sensors on the aircraft to take in the data,” he said. “Then, in the near term … we will start building some of these ground test articles, which are just subcomponents of the airplane that we’ll begin tests on.”
The entire process will take about two years to complete, Harris said.
The Scorpion is the first aircraft that will undergo an Air Force airworthiness assessment without being acquired by the service or a foreign military, although Harris hopes the CRADA will improve the jet’s chances of landing its first customer. The company expects several countries will put out requests for proposals this year that could be a good fit for Scorpion, but Harris acknowledged that Textron is “not as near as we’d like” to finding a launch customer.
Textron rolled out the Scorpion in 2013 and conducted its first flight with a proof-of-concept demonstrator aircraft that year. The company has since embarked on a limited run of three production-conforming aircraft, which it is using to expand the aircraft's flight envelope and validate its mission systems.
P-1 made its first flight on Dec. 22 and is approaching 70 flight hours, Harris said. The second production aircraft, P-2, is headed for its first flight in a matter of weeks, and P-3 is currently under construction.
GE, Rolls, Pratt Vie For B-52 Engine Upgrade
Mar 13, 2017
James Drew | Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
Candidates to upgrade the B-52's 1961-vintage TF33 low-bypass turbofan include the GE Aviation CF34-10, Pratt & Whitney TF33 Engine Enhancement Package and Rolls-Royce BR700: U.S. Air Force
Engine manufacturers are lining up to upgrade or replace the Boeing B-52H’s outdated and inefficient Pratt & Whitney TF33 low-bypass turbofan engines to keep the mighty Cold War bomber flying beyond 2050.
U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson told Congress on March 8 that the service must explore options for replacing the TF33, which powered the first H-model B-52 flight on March 6, 1961, almost six decades ago.
GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce tell Aviation Week they are actively engaged with the Air Force about the re-emerging requirement, offering ready-made commercial derivative engines or, in Pratt’s case, a TF33 upgrade package.
Their proposals come after the Air Force and Boeing proposed swapping the TF33 for eight modern, 17,000-19,000-lb.-thrust-class regional/business jet engines instead of earlier four-engine alternatives, which were deemed too risky because of the necessary structural modifications and airflow changes around the bomber’s nuclear-armed weapons.
The service once proposed a quartet of CF6 high-bypass turbofans, which are derived from the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy’s TF39 (pictured being tested by a B-52). It also considered the 757-class PW2040 and RB211 series. But recent analysis points to an eight-engine solution to limit airframe modification.
That would require at least 608 powerplants for today’s operational feet of 76 B-52Hs, plus several sets of spares.
The Air Force has not commissioned or conducted any wind tunnel or flight tests of candidate engines in the past several years. But market research suggests there are enough engine options on the commercial market to warrant a competition.
A request for information issued in 2014 sought alternative solutions that achieve 10-25% better fuel consumption and 15-25 years of use between schedule depot overhauls. On Feb. 3, the government issued another RFI, this time seeking TF33 replacements, specifying “regional/business-size jet engines.”
“Acquisition strategies are in the process of being formed for both the purchase of the engine and the integration on the aircraft,” a service spokesman said on March 13. “If the Air Force decides to fund a re-engine program in the future, it will assess all procurement options to create the best value for the government.”
GE Aviation CF34-10
GE Aviation is a longtime propulsion system supplier for the Air Force’s bomber force, including the four-engine Boeing B-1B (F101-102) and Northrop Grumman B-2A (F118-100). The company says it supports the Air Force’s B-52 re-engining plan and would offer the 18,000-lb.-thrust-class CF34-10, developed from the TF34/CF34 family.
The smaller 9,000-lb.-thrust TF34-100 powers the service’s Fairchild Republic A-10 “Warthog” attack aircraft. The latest commercial CF34-10 series powers the Brazilian Embraer 190, 195 and Lineage 1000 and Chinese Comac ARJ21 regional jets.
“While no GE engines have been demonstrated on the B-52, the CF34-10 is an economical eight-engine replacement,” says Karl Sheldon, GE vice president and general manager of large military turbofan engines. “We are excited to compete for the opportunity to fly the CF34 on this strategic asset.”
Pratt & Whitney Engine Enhancement Package
Nobody has more experience with the 56-year-old TF33 than the original designer and manufacturer, P&W.
The company says it could offer a new commercial engine, but believes an upgrade makes the most sense.
“Commercial engines offer advantages of higher fuel savings, extended mission range, reduced aerial refueling and minimized overhaul maintenance,” a company spokesman says. “However, all commercial engines in this class require increased ability to support the B-52H electric and hydraulic load requirements, and would also require extensive airframe integration and flight testing.”
The firm’s engine enhancement package would address the TF33’s performance, durability, reliability, fuel consumption and time between scheduled overhauls as much as possible without needing to buy new. “The TF33 currently meets all B-52H power and performance specifications and would not require any changes to the aircraft structure,” the company says.
P&W is pitching this as the “affordable option.” Digitally-controlled commercial propulsors would also need to be militarized and hardened against electromechanical pulses resulting from nuclear explosions as well as cyberattacks.
Headquartered in Indianapolis, British engine maker RR’s U.S. division has already had “several conversations” with the Air Force about a B-52 propulsion upgrade. The company would offer something from its BR700 series, which already powers the Air Force’s Gulfstream V/C-37A personnel transport fleet and the Bombardier E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communications Node—based on the Global Express.
The alternatives in the B-52’s thrust class are the BR715 and BR725 series, but the company has not decided which to offer.
“A decision has not been reached yet, as we await the specific requirements,” says Thomas Hartmann, RR’s senior vice president for U.S. customer business. “We are confident we can meet the technical and availability requirements.”
U.S. Air Force Low-Cost Fighters: Does OA-X Stand A Chance?
Mar 15, 2017
Lara Seligman | Aviation Week & Space Technology
The U.S. Air Force has taken another baby step toward possibly buying 300 low-cost, light-attack aircraft to fight violent extremists in the Middle East. Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has approved a light-attack fighter flight demonstration at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, this summer to look at the capabilities of existing commercial designs.
But the “OA-X” concept is not a new idea. It dates back to 2007, as the surge in Iraq reached its peak and demands on air power there were at an all-time high, says Mike Pietrucha, now a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. At the time, the Air Force was starting to realize it had a fly-and-sledgehammer problem in the Middle East: Since 1991 it had been wearing out its expensive fighters striking terrorists armed with much cheaper and less sophisticated weapons.
“It is as if we were trying to shuttle kids to and from school, large numbers of them, in a Porsche,” says Pietrucha, one of the creators of the OA-X concept. “It’s not that our current aircraft are not good at the job—they are. It was just the most expensive solution.”
OA-X Part Two
- USAF Chief Gen. David Goldfein formally approved a light-attack fighter flight demonstration this summer at Holloman AFB
- New thoughts on concept from USAF Reserves Col. Mike Pietrucha, one of the founders
- The 2007 plan fell victim to budget constraints
- With more money expected for Defense , OA-X may stand a chance today
Inspired by the Colombian air force’s modern fleet of turboprop light-attack aircraft—including Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano, the older EMB-312 Tucano, Cessna’s Vietnam-era A-37 Dragonfly modernized with a partial glass cockpit, and the Douglas AC-47 gunship—Pietrucha, Lt. Col. David Torres-Laboy and Lt. Col. Mike Saridakis began studying a more cost-effective solution to fighting terrorists. They looked in particular at the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, a Korean War-vintage aircraft that had been retired by the U.S. Navy, and the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, an observation aircraft that was repurposed as a light-attack bird.
“We said, ‘OK, we’re combat-experienced dudes, let’s take a look at that kind of aircraft and update it conceptually with what we expect in a modern combat aircraft: precision weapons, sensors,* situational awareness tools, data links, communications, etc,” says Pietrucha.
Out of this study came the OA-X Enabling Concept, officially approved by Air Combat Command in 2008, which laid out the requirements of an affordable light-attack and observation aircraft. The guidelines then were almost exactly the same as they are today: a commercial-off-the shelf aircraft with a turboprop powerplant—easier to maintain and more fuel-efficient than a jet engine, thus much cheaper to operate—and big guns, along with modern precision munitions, sensors and communications suites. A key advantage of OA-X, then and now, is that it eases the burden on the A-10, bomber and fighter fleets currently flying close-air support (CAS) missions in the Middle East, while simultaneously lowering operating costs of CAS and armed reconnaissance missions in low-threat environments.
The original OA-X fell victim to the funding challenges of 2008, says Pietrucha. However, it did lead to several other initiatives, including Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance, canceled in fiscal 2012, and the more successful Light Air Support effort to buy a small fleet of light-attack aircraft—eventually Super Tucanos—to train the Afghan air force.
The U.S. Air Force is looking at possibly buying 300 low-cost, light-attack OA-X aircraft, inspired by the legacy OV-10 Bronco, to help fight terrorists in the Middle East. Credit: Technical Sgt. Bill Thompson/U.S. Air Force
“By 2008 we already had more mission than we had Air Force, and so if we got additional dollars we really needed to fix things that were broken or were on the verge of breaking,” Pietrucha says. “When you are under those kind of conditions with your funding stream, you spend a lot of time patching holes rather than reassessing.”
The air force is now reviving the OA-X concept. Potential contenders include the Super Tucano, Textron’s Scorpion and Beechcraft’s T-6. Money is still a problem—Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) detailed a 300-aircraft buy for just less than $6 billion over six years in a recent white paper—but the time may be right to introduce a light-attack fleet. The Trump administration has promised to lift sequestration cuts and invest more money in defense, from building a 350-ship Navy to boosting the number of Air Force combat-coded fighters to 1,200.
In addition, the Air Force has a pilot-retention problem. One way to keep experienced pilots in the service and simultaneously boost the ability to train new pilots is to buy additional seats.*
“We are almost 1,000 pilots short, and that situation will never get better unless we have more cockpits,” Pietrucha says. “Because the cost to operate a turboprop is so much lower than a jet, if you compare to a Strike Eagle, you are probably looking at between one-sixth and 1/10 the cost, so you can fly the cheaper aircraft a whole lot more.”
Still, OA-X faces many obstacles. Gen. (ret.) Herbert Carlisle, chief of Air Combat Command until March 10, questions the utility of investing in a light-attack fighter—designed for low-end combat— that would not be survivable in more hostile air space.
“Would it be viable in the environments we are trying to operate in the future?” Carlisle asks. “The threat is getting greater capability, and the threat environment is increasing. So when we look at OA-X, we can’t look at it based on what we are doing today. I think the procurement cost and then the savings in [operations and maintenance] are very compelling, but I think the environment it is going to operate in is the one we really have to understand before we commit too many resources.”
However, Pietrucha argues that “permissive airspace is the majority of the planet, the majority of the time.” Many countries, and particularly nonstate actors, cannot afford the advanced radars and surface-to-air missiles that pose a real threat to nonstealth aircraft, he notes. Turboprop aircraft are actually less vulnerable to the more common infrared seekers because the exhaust plumes are much cooler than those of the traditional jet fighter, he asserts.
The Air Force will be fighting coalition and irregular wars in permissive airspace for the foreseeable future, says Pietrucha. As long as that environment exists, a light-attack aircraft will be invaluable. “We are not talking about a radar threat environment, so for the vast majority of the world and certainly in our fight against violent extremists, you are looking at a lightly contested environment that these aircraft might as well have been designed for,” he says.
ANALYSIS: USAF looks for autonomy breakthrough
15 March, 2017 SOURCE: Flightglobal.com BY: Leigh Giangreco Washington DC
On a frigid February day, there is no sanctuary from the biting winds at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. Yet even as the Midwestern gusts whip across vast fields and over immense hangars, the US Air Force’s colossal C-17 Globemasters soar over the base with ease. As the gargantuan cargo aircraft circle overhead, it is difficult to imagine that 100 years ago, and just a few miles southwest at McCook field, researchers at the original incarnation of what is today the Air Force Research Laboratory were concocting plans to weaponise a wooden flying machine.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s name and its base have changed since 1917, but its mission to spearhead defence aviation technology has remained the same. Today, the service’s research arm is at the forefront of developing the autonomous systems and UAV concepts that form the foundation of the Department of Defense’s third offset initiative. At the same time, it continues to plug away at technologies that, for decades, have been five years from fruition.
As evidence that persistence can pay dividends, hypersonics are in favour today on the back of success with programmes such as the Boeing X-51 scramjet demonstrator. Indeed, even as the USAF has scrambled for dollars over the last eight years, the DoD has heavily protected funding for hypersonics research. Morley Stone, AFRL’s chief technology officer, told FlightGlobal during a February visit to Wright-Patterson that part of that financial support came through a partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which shared both funding and knowledge with the USAF.
The ARFL's work includes testing an automated collision avoidance system
Now, the AFRL is turning its focus to another technology with great challenges but huge promise: autonomous systems. The crown jewel of the laboratory’s autonomous flight research is its Loyal Wingman programme, a concept that aims to multiply a manned fighter’s capabilities by teaming it with an autonomous jet. Loyal Wingman promises to transform unmanned aircraft by jumping from routine automation to a platform capable of decision making. Though not part of its short-term demonstration plan, the advanced reasoning ambitions central to the Loyal Wingman concept will be among the laboratory’s greatest challenges.
“The litmus test of an autonomous system is the ability to handle the unplanned event,” Stone says. “I would perceive that as the biggest gap that needs to be filled… making sure we’re seeing the appropriate response to that unplanned event.”
Compared to Loyal Wingman, Boeing’s unmanned research scramjet represented a simple demonstration, according to Stone. Whereas X-51 flew as an unmanned asset, Loyal Wingman will pair a manned fighter with a UAV. When a human is brought into the testing environment, the risk calculus and level of complexity increases along with the demonstration cost, he says.
The laboratory is working on a demonstration with another government agency, though Stone declined to identify which entity.
By fiscal year 2019, the laboratory will begin testing Loyal Wingman payloads on small-scale, 2.4m (8ft) UAVs, says Kris Kearns, autonomy lead at the AFRL. The laboratory will develop algorithms, test them in simulations and then test components on small vehicles before refining and integrating additional capabilities, she adds. A capstone flight activity demonstrating a manned-unmanned teaming strike mission in a contested environment is scheduled for fiscal year 2022, although this could be brought forward.
Stone notes that DoD budget signals coming from Congress are encouraging, so the AFRL is looking at ways to accelerate the programme should more money be made available.
The AFRL is developing Loyal Wingman’s software, not the aircraft, but eventually the laboratory will move the programme’s software from a small UAV to a larger platform with a tactical profile. Based on the results of a broad agency announcement, the USAF could integrate the software on a platform offered by industry or an existing aircraft within the service’s own inventory.
The group is also studying the F-35 programme to understand what tasks could be shifted from a manned platform to the autonomous wingman, Kearns says. By measuring how well pilots perform during different scenarios and the difficulty of juggling various tasks throughout a flight, it should be possible to define baseline expectations for Loyal Wingman, so programme managers can develop technologies to better support the pilot.
“There will always be a pilot in the decision of target identification and any use of deadly force, so that will always remain on the pilot’s task list,” she says. “But there are lots of decision support aids that we can create to help that pilot understand and make that decision on whether he thinks that target is what it is and how to execute it.”
While the AFRL will not create new communications or sensors for Loyal Wingman, the laboratory is tracking the commercial sector’s sensor development. In its search for cutting-edge sensor technology, the air force is surveying innovation on the ground rather than in the air. The automotive industry is investing more in autonomous technology than any other sector, Stone says. That industry’s focus is contributing to a drop in sensor costs and speeding up algorithm development, but it is also sucking up talent that would otherwise be available to work on the AFRL’s projects.
Sub-tier suppliers provide the smarts to car manufacturers, but some of those suppliers have also partnered with the air force on machine learning technology that transcends automotive and aerospace platforms, Stone says. Whether it is a Mercedes Benz or a Lockheed Martin F-16, both platforms have a human operator who will suffer from fatigue. Today’s cars are capable of monitoring eyes, seat shifting and steering wheel movement to identify a tiring driver. As the air force and DoD talk about human-machine teaming, it is important to have a model that understands human fatigue and its consequence on operator performance.
“The system needs to understand, for example, what are the weaknesses in this case and what does that look like in its human counterpart so it can correspondingly compensate or suggest courses of action that can help ameliorate that weakness,” he says.
Much of the automotive industry’s work on unplanned events has focused on mapping roads, but technology is beginning to explore abnormal operating conditions, Kearns says. As UAVs approach autonomous operation in the same airspace as manned platforms, the AFRL must focus on air collision avoidance. The USAF has already fielded the automated ground collision avoidance system (auto GCAS) on the Lockheed F-16 and has tested an integrated air and ground collision avoidance system (ICAS) at Edwards AFB in California for the past year. Air and ground recovery involve two different manoeuvres, says Amy Burns, automatic collision avoidance technology programme manager at the AFRL. Auto ACAS (air collision avoidance system) was set up specifically to work in a training environment where the USAF finds the majority of mishaps occur, Burns says.
Auto GCAS employs one recovery manoeuvre to save the pilot’s life from an imminent ground collision: roll to wing level with a 5g pull. But GCAS was built on the premise of a man inside the cockpit, so the USAF must develop an algorithm for an autonomous system that can continue flying the aircraft following the recovery manoeuvre, Kearns says: “You need to make sure that the algorithms are set such that you don’t get into another downpull into the ground.”
The USAF began its first phase of flight tests for ICAS this past year and is planning a second phase of flight tests in April at Edwards. ICAS has been tested using air combat manoeuvring instrumentation pods, which provide the datalink to connect co-operative aircraft and allow both aircraft to perform a recovery manoeuvre. The AFRL has developed a co-operative solution where both aircraft can manoeuvre, but the laboratory also created a non-co-operative solution where a pilot could avoid other aircraft in the area if the pilot can locate them.
“If you can get a track file on them, then you can develop a recovery manoeuvre away from them,” Burns says.
The system is constantly ingesting datalinked information on position, air speed and velocity, which generates a track file. The aircraft can then predict where another aircraft will be at a specific point in time and decide whether it will collide.
“It can take in 19 different track files, sort them and pare it down to your highest threat that you would collide with closest to you and that’s the one you would recover away from,” Burns says. The aircraft would use radar to identify non-co-operative aircraft, which do not have access to the datalink.
Between phases 1 and 2, the AFRL tweaked the algorithm for the air collision avoidance piece in formation flight.
“We want to allow the other aircraft to rejoin and fly formation with the lead, but we don’t want them to collide with the lead,” Burns says. “We’re working to define a region that’s acceptable to pilots…. If they’re in a certain closing rate a certain distance away then the system goes to standby and lets them rejoin with the lead.”
When the AFRL tweaked the system in phase 1, the laboratory also made changes to the fielded GCAS. The researches found that when pilots performed a split S manoeuvre, which typically pulls more than 5g, the GCAS pulled the aircraft out because the system was predicting a 5g recovery. The AFRL went back to the design and changed the split S routine so the system pulls 7g to give pilots more room before the system takes over.
Avoiding moving aircraft in the air adds a great deal of complexity to ICAS, Burns says. Where GCAS employs one 5g pull manoeuvre, auto ACAS employs nine recovery methods to navigate around other moving aircraft. That includes seven different roll and pull moves, a manoeuvre that pushes the nose of the aircraft under the other aircraft and a maintain manoeuvre that locks pilots out of their current activity until they have avoided the interfering aircraft.
Researchers have also found that the aircraft may prematurely pull up if it believes it is approaching the ground. The system assesses digital elevation data by taking a circular scan of the ground and then chooses the highest point as an altitude reference for recovery. The AFRL is working to change the system so it no longer uses a high point as the floor, Burns says.
The system would still assess a peak in the distance, but would not use that point as the baseline.
“We’ll just cover the part that’s close to that mountain with that altitude and then we’ll do another sampling that’s closer in for the highest point in that region, almost like an inverted wedding cake,” she says. “They would do a sampling in the middle and then another so those would make your terrain profile so it wouldn’t constantly pull the aircraft out at altitudes the pilot did not want it to be pulled out at.”
USAF to convert Block 5 Reapers to ER configuration
Gareth Jennings, London - IHS Jane's International Defence Review
16 March 2017
The US Air Force (USAF) intends to award General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) a contract to upgrade a number of its MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to the extended range (ER) configuration, it disclosed on 15 March.
The US Air Force is to convert a number of its Block 5 Reaper unmanned aircraft into the ER configuration. (US Air Force)
A solicitation titled MQ-9 Block 5 Follow-On Reaper Capability Enhancement (FORCE), posted on the US government's Federal Business Opportinties (FedBizOpps) website, says that the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) Medium Altitude UAS Division intends to award a contract on a sole source basis to GA-ASI.
The USAF has already upgraded an unspecified number of its Block 1 MQ-9 Reapers to the ER configuration. No details pertaining to numbers of additional systems to be modified, contract values, or timelines were revealed in the synopsis.
The Reaper ER modification involves the fitting of new wings containing extra fuel tanks and winglets. Additional (non-drop) fuel tanks can also be fitted to the aircraft's underwing hardpoints for additional range. The baseline MQ-9 has an endurance of about 32 hours (clean), and while GA-ASI has not disclosed the endurance of the ER-upgraded vehicle, it is understood to be more than 40 hours.
As of September 2015 (the latest date given on its website), the USAF had 90 MQ-9s in its inventory though this number is now believed to be closer to about 105.
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US Air Force to release OA-X invitation this week
16 March, 2017 SOURCE: Flightglobal.com BY: Leigh Giangreco Washington DC
The US Air Force will officially kick off its low-cost fighter experiment this week, with invitations to industry expected to release 17 March.
The OA-X concept has progressed in fits and starts over at least two decades, but the constrained fiscal environment in Washington, continued counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East and fighter pilot shortfall in the air force has appeared to push the cheap, light-attack option to the service’s acquisition priorities this year. Lt Gen Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition, emphasised the upcoming invitation constitutes an experiment and not a programme of record.
“We do not know how we’re going to proceed after the experiment,” Bunch told air force and industry representatives during a 16 March address in Washington. “We could move forward into a combat demo, we could move forward into another experiment in the CONUS [Continental United States], we could decide that there’s enough out there from industry that we want to start the process to begin an acquisition program but we do not know that today.”
The USAF could also decide to put the experiment on the shelf if industry’s offerings are not mature enough, he adds.
The invitation will detail mission profiles, carriage requirements, mission durations and supply chain requirements, Bunch says.
The USAF will also examine offerors’ manufacturing levels to see how quickly a low-cost fighter could be fielded. Buying the light-attack aircraft would not come at the cost of fifth-generation procurement, but would consume an additional budget line, he adds.
While previous OA-X efforts have favored turboprop aircraft, the USAF has not drilled down requirements for specific platforms. The service is seeking an aircraft optimised for an austere environment that can operate off of 6,000ft or shorter runwasy and fly with an average fuel flow of 1,500lb/h or less, Bunch says.
“For light attack, it’s going to be open to anybody,” he says. “But there are selection criteria. I don’t know what the art of the possible is for industry right now, so we’re trying to keep it as broad as we can, industry may have something that’s very innovative that we haven’t thought about.”
The service expects responses from industry within a month and will make a selection for participants to fly this summer at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. That experiment would continue work from a previous US Special Operations Command effort known as Combat Dragon. Combat Dragon I operated low-cost aircraft at Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada, and its successor Combat Dragon II demonstrated OV-10 Broncos in the Middle East. Like the previous iteration of low-cost aircraft experiments, the Holloman exercise would determine whether the service should transition to a second phase with demonstrations in the Middle East, USAF chief Gen David Goldfein told reporters 3 March at the annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
Lockheed Martin gets $40 million contract to recoat Air Force F-22 Raptors
By: Christopher Diamond, March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase//US Air Force)
The Lockheed Martin Corporation has received a $40 million contract modification to strip and recoat the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor Fleet.
Under the new agreement, Lockheed will strip and recoat the stealth fighter jets, with an expected completion date of June 20, 2019, according to the Defense Department.
Lockheed established an F-22 Inlet Coating Repair Speedline facility in Marietta, Georgia, last August under an Air Force contract. The first F-22 arrived there in November, according to Lockheed Martin.
The original contract had Lockheed recoating 12 F-22s and the first plane was returned to the Air Force in February. The new contract modification will have all F-22s with reverting coating stripped and recoated.
The stealth F-22 relies on exterior coatings for its Very Low Observable radar cross-section, the feature that allows the plane to fly undetected by enemy radar.
Work will be performed at facilities in Palmdale, California; Marietta, Georgia; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Fort Worth, Texas. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah is overseeing the project.
It’s time to put national security first [Commentary]
By: Col. Keith Zuegel (ret.), March 20, 2017 (Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Rasheen Douglas/US Air Force)
In the late 1970s, our nation’s defense leaders repeatedly warned the Congress about having a "hollow force." It was a force that suffered from severe personnel and equipment shortages and a lack of training.
In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan restocked the Department of Defense’s bare shelves by investing in our military, ended the Cold War, and bolstered a force that President H.W. Bush used to crush former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s military in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
We could not conduct another Desert Storm today. We downsized two-thirds of the force that won the Cold War, and our nation chose instead to go on a procurement holiday. From 1975 to 1990, we bought an average of 230 Air Force fighters per year. From 1991 to 2000, we averaged just 28 per year. Some of the legacy aircraft from Desert Storm remain but are fewer in number and are now 26 years older. Fourth-generation fighters from the 1980s and 1990s are simply unable to penetrate some of today’s modern defenses, and today’s bomber fleet largely predates stealth technology, which is needed against tomorrow’s threats.
Though we now have more capable precision-guided munitions, we have depleted our stocks. The F-22 Raptors are still the world’s premier fighter, however, we didn’t procure as many as our country needed. Yes, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the newest in fifth-generation capability, but we need many more and as quickly as possible.
The U.S. Air Force is our nation’s first responder around the globe, however, it now has the smallest, oldest and least-ready force in its history. It operates an aging and increasingly costly force of 50-year-old refueling tankers; bombers, trainers and helicopters more than 40 years old; and fighters more than 30 years old. In the meantime, America’s potential adversaries are rapidly closing the technological superiority gap. The Air Force in particular has a growing strategy-resource mismatch*—*it is too small for its growing missions and too big for its budget.
Since 1991, the service's personnel decreased by 38 percent and the force structure drew down from 8,600 to 5,500 aircraft. Its aircraft average 27 years old. It downsized from 134 to now only 55 fighter squadrons. The service needs 350,000 active-duty personnel to perform all its missions including 1,500 more pilots and 3,400 more maintainers.
As Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Similar to the 1970s, the “hollow force” has emerged again, and the alarm bells are going off.
Just this month, services’ vice chiefs of staff testified before the House and Senate Armed Services committees about deteriorating readiness and repeatedly used the phrase "hollow force." They warned that we just can’t remain complacent any longer by relying on the investments of the 1980s.
With the world getting increasingly more dangerous, yesterday was the time to invest. We are left with no choice but to invest more now. Each of these upcoming years the Air Force must grow its end strength, improve readiness, and recapitalize and modernize its force structure. We then will have the Air Force our nation requires. Every day we wait and kick the proverbial can down the road, we are getting closer to the point where we will no longer have that needed instrument of power — the strength of our military — when we need it. The world’s thugs are already testing our resolve.
In his first address to the U.S. military at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida on Feb. 6, President Donald Trump pledged to build up the nation's military. "We're going to be loading it up with beautiful new planes and beautiful new equipment. ... You've been lacking equipment. We're going to load it up."
The Air Force needs to grow its end strength and recapitalize its aging force structure to ensure continued core mission capabilities. Air and space superiority are not American birthrights. They do not occur automatically. They need to be fought for and won.
While the U.S. Air Force has many needs including increased personnel, training, readiness, flying hours and weapon systems sustainment, the fiscal 2017 supplemental defense budget should include at least 20-30 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — we must accelerate the F-35 purchase over the next five years. Only a modernized fifth-generation fleet with its collaborative family of systems can overwhelm an enemy force.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein agrees. “The more F-35s we can actually procure in the shortest amount of time to be able to reduce the aircraft age and be able to get more heavily into the fifth-generation business is clearly a priority,” he said.
We also need to accelerate the KC-46 tanker buy with a multi-year procurement and at a quantity that is most cost-effective to the taxpayers. When we retire our last KC-135 tanker, it will be more than 80 years old. No commercial airlines are flying with 80-year-old aircraft. Not many of us would consider getting into one.
Our nation is at its crossroads now and has a critical decision to make: whether or not to invest in our future, our nation and our military now.
Load it up!
Keith Zuegel is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who flew in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, earning a Silver Star medal. He was also a mission planner for the Bosnian war. He currently serves as the senior director of government relations for the Air Force Association.
Reprieve Likely for U-2 Dragon Lady
by Chris Pocock*-*March 20, 2017, 7:30 AM
The U-2 Dragon Lady seems likely to fly on for several more years.
The U.S. Air Force is preparing to extend the service life of the U-2S Dragon Lady for several more years. Under previous budget plans, the evergreen spyplane was due to be retired in 2019-20, leaving only the unmanned RQ-4B Global Hawk to perform the high-altitude reconnaissance mission. Managers at the Lockheed Martin (LM) Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, are preparing upgrade proposals for the U-2’s sensors and communications fit.
Gen. “Hawk” Carlisle, who retired last week as commander of Air Combat Command, told AIN last November that “we’re trying to find the money” to retain the U-2. Now a senior Air Force official has told the Skunk Works that the 27-strong fleet will be retained until at least the mid-2020s. “There’s a lot more runway in this jet yet,” said Kyle Franklin, the new U-2 program manager for LM. “We could offer a quantum leap in capability,” he told AIN last week.
Two upgrades for the U-2 are already being developed. A Celestial Object Sighting System (COSS, or “star tracker”) has been designed by Draper Laboratories as an alternative means of navigation. The U-2 flies daily around the borders of North Korea, which has frequently jammed GPS signals. Raytheon has designed an active clectronically scanned array (AESA) for the U-2’s advanced synthetic aperture radar system (ASARS) that would be redesignated ASARS-2B. Both systems are nearing flight test.
The aircraft’s alternative electro-optical imaging system, designated SYERS-2C, has recently been upgraded by UT Aerospace Systems to offer 10-band multispectral capability. The U-2’s legacy SIGINT system has been replaced with the Northrop Grumman Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP).
Meanwhile, flight tests of the U-2 with an Open Mission System (OMS) have continued at Palmdale. Three different defensive systems, an electronic attack payload and several classified payloads have now been integrated. Communications systems that allow the U-2 to act as a gateway between fifth- and fourth-generation combat aircraft have also been tested.
In recent media briefings, officials from Northrop Grumman have contended that the Global Hawk can provide an equivalent capability to the U-2. The Air Force has part-funded integration of the Dragon Lady’s imaging systems on the unmanned jet. But the U-2 airframe offers superior performance. It flies much higher and faster, with a greater payload. All except four jets in the U-2 fleet were built in the 1980s, and have 80*percent*structural life remaining. LM officials say that over the past decade, the U-2 has demonstrated an unequalled 95*to 97percent*mission success rate. According to their analysis of 2015 USAF data, the U-2S collected twice the imagery of the Global Hawk with the same on-station total times.
Lockheed Martin has proposed replacing the U-2 with a semi-stealthy, long-endurance, high-altitude aircraft designated TR-X. To save on acquisition costs, it would re-use the U-2’s engine and sensors, the latter being housed in twin, wing-mounted pods with interchangeable options, similar to the U-2 today. The Skunk Works has indicated a price of $3.8 billion for 30 TR-X aircraft, but is also offering costed options for enhanced low observability, such as conformal antennas.*