By Kris Osborn
New sensing capabilities and technologies are aiding pilots navigating in degraded visual environments. Here, a Kentucky National Guard Aviator flys a mission run for the Air Soldier System situational awareness technologies during a test in which the pilot must land the aircraft during a “brown-out” landing. (U.S. Army photo.)
The Pentagon and the Army are in the early stages of a far-reaching science and technology (S&T) effort to engineer, build, and deliver a next-generation helicopter with vastly improved avionics, electronics, range, speed, propulsion, survivability, operating density altitudes, and payload capacity. In a series of five articles, Access AL&T looks in detail at what this program is intended to accomplish and how industry is contributing.
The Army’s Mission Systems and Aircraft Survivability Equipment strategy is aimed at fielding an integrated suite of sensors and countermeasure technologies designed to identify, and in some cases, deter a wide range of potential incoming threats, from small arms fire to rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-fired missiles.
One such example of these technologies is Common Infrared Countermeasures (CIRCM), a lightweight, high-tech laser jammer engineered to divert incoming missiles by throwing them off course. CIRCM is an improved version of the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures system currently deployed on aircraft.
CIRCM, which will be fielded by 2018, represents the state of the art in countermeasures technology. Future iterations of this kind of capability that are envisioned for 2030 may or may not be similar, but will be designed to push the envelope, said Ned Chase, Chief, Platform Technology Division, Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), Fort Eustis, VA, and Science and Technology Lead for the JMR Technology Demonstrator Program.
“We will need to be responsive to today’s threats, plus additional threats that we don’t even know about yet. With JMR, we are talking about a vertical lift aircraft that has significantly different capabilities, so the sensors and mission equipment will have to be significantly different in order to accommodate the dimensions of the new Air Vehicle and the flight environment in which it will operate,” Chase said.
Additional countermeasure solutions proposed by industry could include various types of laser technology and directed energy applications, as well as missile-launch and ground-fire detection systems, said Ray Wall, Chief of AATD’s Systems Integration Division and the Lead for Phase 2 of the JMR Technology Demonstrator program.
The Nov. 9, 2011, Request for Information (RFI) for the Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator Phase 2 Mission Systems Demonstration seeks information on:
- Sensor technologies, such as next-generation options and solutions that might improve on the state-of-the-art Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor (MTADS) systems currently deployed on Army helicopters. MTADS sensing and targeting technology provides helicopters with thermal-imaging infrared cameras as well as stabilized electro-optical sensors, laser range finders, and laser target designators.
The upgraded MTADS systems currently deployed on aircraft were engineered to accommodate their size, weight, and power dimensions, which are likely to change with the arrival of a new Air Vehicle built for JMR, Wall said.“We’re looking for enhancements to MTADS and other sensors and mission equipment in terms of how they could be incorporated into the airframe of a new Air Vehicle,” he said.
- Integrated weapon and sensor systems. The JMR aircraft will be engineered to integrate weapon and sensor systems to autonomously detect, designate, and track targets; perform targeting operations during high-speed maneuvers; conduct off-axis engagements; track multiple targets simultaneously; and optimize fire control performance so that ballistic weapons can accommodate environmental effects such as wind and temperature.
- “Autonomous flight” or “optionally piloted” technologies. Exploring these possibilities is also central to the JMR program. Along these lines, the AATD is looking for technical solutions or mission equipment that increases a pilot’s cognitive decision-making capability by effectively managing the flow of information from an array of sensors into the cockpit.
The RFI describes much of this capability in terms of a Human Machine Interface, whereby advanced cockpit software and computing technologies can autonomously perform a greater range of functions than now, such as onboard navigation, sensing, and threat detection, thus lessening the burden on pilots and crew, Chase said.
In particular, cognitive decision-aiding technologies explored for the fourth-generation JMR cockpit will develop algorithms able to track, prioritize, organize, and deliver incoming on- and off-board sensory information by optimizing visual, 3-D, audio, and tactile informational cues, said Malcolm Dinning, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center Aviation Liaison to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.
“What we’re really looking to do for the volume of information flowing into the aircraft is exploring how to best deliver this information without creating sensory overload. Some of this information may be displayed in the cockpit, and some of it may be built into a helmet display,” Dinning said.
- Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T). The state of the art in MUM-T allows helicopter pilots not only to view video feeds from nearby unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) from the cockpit, but also to control the UAS flight path and sensor payloads. Future iterations of this technology may seek to implement successively greater levels of autonomy, potentially involving scenarios wherein an unmanned helicopter is able to perform these functions in tandem with nearby UAS, Chase said.
- Air-to-air “tracking” capability. Advanced software and sensors could inform pilots of obstacles such as a UAS or nearby aircraft; this technology will probably include Identify Friend or Foe transponders, which cue pilots regarding nearby aircraft, Wall said.
- Technical solutions to provide another important obstacle avoidance “sensing” capability, called Controlled Flight Into Terrain. Sensors, advanced mapping technology, and digital flight controls would be engineered to protect an aircraft from nearby terrain such as trees, mountains, telephone wires, and other low-visibility items by providing pilots with sufficient warning and, in some instances, offering them course-correcting flight options.
Using sensors and other technologies to help pilots navigate through “brown-outs” or other “degraded visual environments” is a key area of emphasis as well, Wall said.
“Overall, what we are trying to do is look at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics, and communications equipment and see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together,” he explained.
Previous stories on JMR:
Pentagon, Army Developing Next-Generation Helicopter Fleet (9 January 2012)
Industry Teams at Work on JMR (10 January 2012)
The JMR Vision, From the Outside In (11 January 2012)
Next-Generation Equipment Eyed for New Helicopter (12 January 2012)
For more information on the DASA for Research & Technology, visit https://www.alt.army.mil/portal/page/portal/oasaalt/SAAL-ZT.
- KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.
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