Pentagon developing next-generation helicopter equipment

WASHINGTON — The Army-led sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy Joint Mul­ti-Role Demon­stra­tor effort to design a next-gen­er­a­tion ver­ti­cal-lift air­craft by 2030 is heav­i­ly focused on lever­ag­ing advanced elec­tron­ic and avion­ics capa­bil­i­ties, ser­vice offi­cials explained.

Con­cep­tu­al graph­ic illus­tra­tion of a poten­tial future Joint Mul­ti-Role con­fig­u­ra­tion for the next-gen­er­a­tion heli­copter.
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Sen­sors, elec­tron­ics, avion­ics and cut­ting-edge types of mis­sion and sur­viv­abil­i­ty equip­ment are a large part of the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, or S&T, equa­tion, said Dave Weller, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy pro­gram man­ag­er, Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office — Avi­a­tion. The goal is to design a ver­ti­cal-lift air­craft that is faster, more capa­ble and bet­ter equipped than today’s fleet. 


As part of the JMR Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor Phase 2, the Army’s Avi­a­tion and Mis­sile Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or AMRDEC, at Red­stone Arse­nal, Ala., has sent a Nov. 9 for­mal Request for Infor­ma­tion, or RFI, out to indus­try. The pur­pose is to solic­it feed­back on devel­op­men­tal solu­tions and emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies in the areas of Mis­sion Sys­tems and Air­craft Sur­viv­abil­i­ty Equipment. 

“Our notion­al strat­e­gy with this RFI is to look at poten­tial tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions which can be inte­grat­ed onto our flight demon­stra­tor air­craft in the 2018 time frame,” Weller explained. 

Over­all, the next-gen­er­a­tion Mis­sion Equip­ment Pack­age, or MEP engi­neered for the JMR will need to accom­mo­date the capa­bil­i­ties and para­me­ters of the new Air Vehi­cles advanced in Phase 1 of the pro­gram, said Mal­colm Din­ning, AMRDEC Avi­a­tion Liai­son for the Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of the Army for Acqui­si­tion, Logis­tics and Technology. 

“The Phase 1 Air Vehi­cle design will pro­vide a new plat­form, but the abil­i­ty to be oper­a­tional­ly effec­tive depends upon the Mis­sion Equip­ment Pack­age — such as tar­get­ing, weapons pack­age and sen­sor capa­bil­i­ties,” said Din­ning. “As we start look­ing at vehi­cle speeds that are well above cur­rent air­craft, we can­not sim­ply add large sen­sor pods onto the air­craft. We have to fig­ure out how to inte­grate these sen­sors and anten­nas as con­for­mal sys­tems to the air frame.” 

Accord­ing­ly, Phase 2 will look for inte­grat­ed solu­tions and Mis­sion Sys­tems capa­bil­i­ty able to pro­vide the tech­no­log­i­cal growth and open sys­tems archi­tec­ture suf­fi­cient to bring the JMR air­craft into the next generation. 


“What we’re try­ing to do is iden­ti­fy capa­bil­i­ties that we would like to see. We don’t antic­i­pate any par­tic­u­lar solu­tion, rather we are ask­ing indus­try to pro­pose solu­tions to cer­tain prob­lems we are look­ing to solve,” said Ray Wall, chief of the Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion Divi­sion, Avi­a­tion Applied Tech­nol­o­gy Direc­torate, or AATD, Fort Eustis, Va., and lead for the Phase 2 por­tion of the JMR Tech­nol­o­gy Demon­stra­tor program. 

Ven­dors were invit­ed to a JMR indus­try day in New­port News, Va., Nov. 18 to learn more detail regard­ing the para­me­ters of the RFI

“We told our indus­try part­ners what we are try­ing to do and gave them the prop­er frame­work with which to give us advice. We’re ask­ing for indus­try to pro­vide feed­back regard­ing whether they have spe­cif­ic solu­tions which can meet our approach and solve our capa­bil­i­ty gaps. We are also inter­est­ed in their com­ments regard­ing whether they believe we have ade­quate­ly addressed an approach to solv­ing prob­lems that we know exist,” said Wall. 

The RFI will be fol­lowed by a Broad Agency Announce­ment expect­ed to be released to ven­dors in Jan­u­ary 2012. The AATD plans to con­duct a Phase 2 trade and analy­sis begin­ning in July of this year, to be fol­lowed by plans to award mul­ti­ple Mis­sion Sys­tems Effec­tive­ness Trades and Analy­sis Tech­nol­o­gy Invest­ment Agree­ments by late 2012. 

“We don’t want to be bound by what is out there today. The hard­ware and soft­ware solu­tions we seek may be sim­i­lar or rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than what exists today,” Wall explained. 


Inte­gra­tion is key to the Army’s Mis­sion Sys­tems and ASE strat­e­gy, as the over­all approach is aimed at field­ing an inte­grat­ed suite of sen­sors and coun­ter­mea­sure tech­nolo­gies designed to work in tan­dem to iden­ti­fy and in some cas­es deter a wide range of poten­tial incom­ing threats, from small arms fire to RPGs, shoul­der-fired mis­siles and oth­er types of attacks. 

One such exam­ple of these tech­nolo­gies is called Com­mon Infrared Coun­ter­mea­sure, or CIRCM, a light-weight, high-tech laser-jam­mer engi­neered to divert incom­ing mis­siles by throw­ing them off course. CIRCM is a lighter-weight, improved ver­sion of the Advanced Threat Infrared Coun­ter­mea­sures, known as ATIRCM, sys­tem cur­rent­ly deployed on aircraft. 

CIRCM, which will be field­ed by 2018, rep­re­sents the state of the art in coun­ter­mea­sure tech­nol­o­gy, offi­cials said. Future iter­a­tions of this kind of capa­bil­i­ty envi­sioned for 2030 may or may not be sim­i­lar to CIRCM, Chase said. Future sur­viv­abil­i­ty solu­tions will be designed to push the enve­lope toward the next-gen­er­a­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, he explained. 

“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, Wall added. 


The RFI is also look­ing to gath­er infor­ma­tion on sen­sor tech­nolo­gies, such as next-gen­er­a­tion options and solu­tions which might improve upon the state-of-the-art Mod­ern­ized Tar­get Acqui­si­tion Des­ig­na­tion Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sen­sor, or MTADS, sys­tems cur­rent­ly deployed on heli­copters; MTADS sens­ing and tar­get­ing tech­nol­o­gy pro­vide heli­copters ther­mal imag­ing infrared cam­eras as well sta­bi­lized elec­tro-opti­cal sen­sors, laser rangefind­ers and laser tar­get designators. 

The cur­rent, upgrad­ed MTADS cur­rent­ly deployed on air­craft through­out the Army were engi­neered to accom­mo­date the size, weight and pow­er dimen­sions of today’s air­craft, dimen­sions which will like­ly change with the arrival of a new Air Vehi­cle built for JMR, Wall said. In essence, the AATD is hop­ing the pro­posed tech­ni­cal solu­tions will be engi­neered with a mind to the dimen­sions of a new, next-gen­er­a­tion Air Vehicle. 

“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,” Wall said. 


JMR Weapons Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion is a crit­i­cal part of this effort, accord­ing to the RFI. The JMR air­craft will be engi­neered to inte­grate weapons 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 such that bal­lis­tic weapons can accom­mo­date envi­ron­men­tal effects such as wind and tem­per­a­ture, the RFI states. 

Explor­ing the range of “autonomous flight” or “option­al­ly pilot­ed” tech­nolo­gies is also cen­tral to the JMR pro­gram, Weller said. Along these lines, the AATD is look­ing for tech­ni­cal solu­tions or mis­sion equip­ment which increas­es a pilot’s cog­ni­tive deci­sion-mak­ing capa­bil­i­ty by effec­tive­ly man­ag­ing the flow of infor­ma­tion from an array of sen­sors into the cock­pit, Weller explained. 


The RFI describes much of this capa­bil­i­ty in terms of the need to devel­op a Human Machine Inter­face, HMI, where­in advanced cock­pit soft­ware and com­put­ing tech­nolo­gies are able to autonomous­ly per­form a greater range of func­tions such as on-board nav­i­ga­tion, sens­ing and threat detec­tion, thus less­en­ing the bur­den placed upon pilots and crew, Chase said. 

In par­tic­u­lar, cog­ni­tive deci­sion-aid­ing tech­nolo­gies explored for 4th-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, Din­ning explained. 

“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 added. 

Manned-Unmanned team­ing, also dis­cussed in the RFI, con­sti­tutes a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of this capa­bil­i­ty; the state of the art with this capa­bil­i­ty allows heli­copter pilots to not only view video feeds from near­by UAS from the cock­pit of the air­craft, but it also gives them an abil­i­ty to con­trol the UAS flight path and sen­sor pay­loads as well. 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 work­ing in tan­dem with near­by UAS, Chase explained. 


Air-to-Air “track­ing” capa­bil­i­ty is anoth­er solu­tion sought by the RFI, com­prised of advanced soft­ware and sen­sors able to inform pilots of obsta­cles such as a UAS or near­by air­craft; this tech­nol­o­gy will like­ly include Iden­ti­fy Friend or Foe, or IFF, transpon­ders which cue pilots regard­ing near­by air­craft, Wall said. 

Tech­ni­cal solu­tions able to pro­vide anoth­er impor­tant obsta­cle avoid­ance “sens­ing” capa­bil­i­ty called Con­trolled Flight Into Ter­rain, or CFIT, are also being explored; in this instance, 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 of an upcom­ing obsta­cle and, in some instances, offer­ing them course-cor­rect­ing flight options. 

Using sen­sors and oth­er tech­nolo­gies to help pilots nav­i­gate through “brown-outs” or oth­er con­di­tions involv­ing what’s called a “Degrad­ed Visu­al Envi­ron­ment” is a key area of empha­sis as well, Wall added. 

“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,” Wall explained. 

Sim­i­lar to Phase 1 which is focused on Air Vehi­cle devel­op­ment, Phase 2 of the JMR TD is also heav­i­ly empha­siz­ing afford­abil­i­ty and hop­ing to encour­age inno­va­tion in a man­ner that also con­tains costs. 


JMR presents a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to apply his­toric amounts of cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion to the sin­gle-largest deci­sion fac­tor influ­enc­ing the entire life cycle of an air­craft: cost. With a clean-sheet design, it may be pos­si­ble to incor­po­rate from the begin­ning new tech­nolo­gies, new con­cepts, new process­es, or even old ones that could not win their way on to field­ed plat­forms,” the RFI states. 

Along these lines, the JMR is expect­ed to use Health Usage Main­te­nance Sys­tems, or HUMS, diag­nos­tic sen­sor tech­nolo­gies attached to key air­craft com­po­nents to cat­a­log usage data as a way to stream­line the repair parts replace­ment process, sub­stan­tial­ly low­er main­te­nance costs and in some cas­es extend the ser­vice life of air­craft, Din­ning said. 

HUMS absolute­ly has the high­est poten­tial for reduc­ing oper­a­tional and main­te­nance cost of the air­craft,” Din­ning explained. “This pro­vides an abil­i­ty to build sen­sors onto main­te­nance-inten­sive com­po­nents that we rou­tine­ly inspect. We record the flight-usage spec­trum and the sen­sors record the behav­ior of this com­po­nent. This infor­ma­tion is then passed to a diag­nos­tic soft­ware tool that diag­noses anom­alies in that behav­ior and then sends the infor­ma­tion to a prog­nos­tic tool which deter­mines when fail­ure might occur.” 

“This com­bi­na­tion of sens­ing, diag­nos­tics and prog­nos­tics allows us to move from our cur­rent sched­uled main­te­nance to a con­di­tioned-based main­te­nance approach. This allows us to replace stuff only as need­ed,” he continued. 

While this tech­nol­o­gy is used wide­ly in the cur­rent fleet of Army air­craft, future appli­ca­tions of HUMS will look at inno­v­a­tive ways of embed­ding diag­nos­tic tech­nolo­gies onto the Air Vehi­cle itself, Din­ning added. 

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