Self-Regulated World Sought For UAVs

There is grow­ing inter­est in a U.S. avi­a­tion force—perhaps based pri­mar­i­ly on exist­ing air­craft in the effort to save shrink­ing defense dollars—that could car­ry out pre­ci­sion sur­veil­lance and strike mis­sions thou­sands of miles away.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with kind per­mis­sion of “Avi­a­tion Week & Space Tech­nol­o­gy

aviationweek

That capa­bil­i­ty would be par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful in the Pacif­ic Rim where U.S. bases are sit­ed far from sev­er­al hot spots. Chief among those are the min­er­al rich­es of the dis­put­ed South and East Chi­na seas, the pirate-rid­den Malac­ca Strait, the human- and drug-smug­gling routes into sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed north­ern Aus­tralia, ille­gal fish­ing in almost every country’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters and the trans­fer of pro­hib­it­ed nuclear and mis­sile tech­nolo­gies from North Korea.

Con­nect­ing the air­borne platforms—and the extreme­ly impor­tant out­put of their sensors—would be a large­ly autonomous net­work based on coop­er­at­ing super com­put­ers and sophis­ti­cat­ed data links. The net­work would han­dle intel­li­gence, sift­ing it for tar­gets and mon­i­tor­ing all the allied air­craft in-the­ater for their loca­tion, fuel, sen­sors and weapons. Once a tar­get of inter­est is locat­ed, super com­put­ers at the heart of the net­work would ana­lyze the activ­i­ty and decide whether addi­tion­al sur­veil­lance is need­ed. The tar­get also would be scanned for elec­tron­ic activ­i­ty. If a strike is deemed nec­es­sary, avail­able weapons—explosive, elec­tron­ic or cyber—would be deployed.

The Het­ero­ge­neous Air­borne Recon­nais­sance Team (HART) sys­tem is being designed to glue all these ele­ments togeth­er.

HART as now used is an infor­ma­tion col­lec­tor and tasker,” says Scott Win­ship, a vet­er­an Northrop Grum­man team leader for pro­to­type sys­tems. “It puts [infor­ma­tion] into a big hold­ing tank [using cloud com­put­ing]. It’s most­ly based on real-time video, elec­tro-opti­cal (EO) and infrared (IR) images, and the process for putting togeth­er a sig­nals intel­li­gence [sig­int] pack­age. We task and inte­grate sen­sors and then turn any of that col­lect­ed data into usable infor­ma­tion and new col­lec­tion tasks.”

Oth­er spe­cial­ists hint at the technology’s poten­tial. An inte­grat­ed next-gen­er­a­tion sig­int design, for exam­ple, might be able to “see” a push-to-talk radio, con­firm its iden­ti­fy and tag it. An autonomous unmanned aer­i­al sys­tem (UAS) could then fol­low, via video, the cell phone and the car it is in. When the phone rings, the col­lec­tor would be able to cap­ture and under­stand the con­ver­sion.

In an asso­ci­at­ed effort, the U.S. Air Force has estab­lished an RQ‑4 Glob­al Hawk UAS recon­nais­sance cen­ter on Guam. More­over, Glob­al Hawk is becom­ing part of a larg­er intel­li­gence net­work­ing con­struct that includes the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office (NRO) and the Nation­al Geo-spa­tial Intel­li­gence Agency (NGA). The lat­ter orga­ni­za­tion is focused on under­stand­ing what is on Earth, why it is there, its mean­ing and the con­text of its activ­i­ty. By adding real-time UAS sur­veil­lance, ana­lysts can start antic­i­pat­ing events.

“[NGA’s role] real­ly is activ­i­ty-based intel­li­gence and what might hap­pen next,” says its direc­tor, Leti­tia Long. “So we’re mov­ing into more of an antic­i­pa­to­ry mode. We bring as many pieces of infor­ma­tion as we can by using [mul­ti-intel­li­gence] fusion and non-tra­di­tion­al sources.

“It takes what we know about the Earth’s phys­i­cal fea­tures, both nat­ur­al and man-made, and adds to it imagery,” Long says. “We get imagery from any­place we can. That includes com­mer­cial radar imagery [and via] nation­al tech­ni­cal means such as satel­lites that NRO builds for us. [Also in use are] both for­eign and domes­tic com­mer­cial images, air­borne manned and unmanned, hand-held [dig­i­tal cam­eras] and increas­ing­ly, non-tra­di­tion­al sources [such as social media]. We’re con­cen­trat­ing on strength­en­ing analy­sis through bring­ing in those dif­fer­ent sources of infor­ma­tion and look­ing for dif­fer­ent phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy as new sen­sors and tech­nolo­gies are intro­duced.”

A vet­er­an Northrop Grum­man engi­neer who has spent 25 years build­ing pro­to­type sys­tems may have a small-scale ver­sion of a large-scale answer to the net­work­ing prob­lem. With fur­ther devel­op­ment, he sees it expand­ing to include all types of air­craft, includ­ing some non-tra­di­tion­al com­bat plat­forms, and encom­pass­ing an entire the­ater such as the Pacif­ic Ocean and Asia.

Win­ship, who has slipped in and out of Northrop Grumman’s black world in recent years, is now immersed in HART in con­junc­tion with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and oth­er aero­space com­pa­nies such as BAE Sys­tems and Lock­heed Mar­tin.

HART has three pro­ject­ed lay­ers so far. The top one is to pro­vide the strate­gic com­mand func­tion. The bot­tom enables tac­ti­cal sen­sor col­lec­tion. The mid­dle layer—for deci­sion-mak­ing, task­ing and data fusion—appears to be the most com­pli­cat­ed and is shared by many com­pa­nies that each devel­op diverse, spe­cial­ized algo­rithms.

“In the mid­dle is the fusion that we’re try­ing to get togeth­er on with Darpa in a pro­gram called ‘Insight,’” Win­ship says. “It ties togeth­er all the infor­ma­tion and then tasks it. Our part of the mid­dle lay­er is to enable HART to be the engine that goes out and col­lects what is com­mand­ed. In an expand­ed ver­sion, “[Insight] fig­ures out what needs to be col­lect­ed and tells HART to go do it. HART comes back with the infor­ma­tion, asks who needs it and [what else] is need­ed,” he says.

NGA’s Long described her agency’s work as devel­op­ment of algo­rithm-manip­u­lat­ed, “activ­i­ty-based intel­li­gence” that is parsed in a way to deter­mine what might hap­pen next. This antic­i­pa­to­ry capa­bil­i­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with the fusion of lots of data from sen­sors with diverse phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy.

HART can be all of that, plus task­ing assets to get the [addi­tion­al] data to put the puz­zle togeth­er,” Win­ship says. “Cer­tain kinds of intelligence—sigint, elint, EO/IR and images—can gen­er­ate a pat­tern. We’re knit­ting all those things togeth­er in order to pro­vide infor­ma­tion from a lot of dis­parate data.”

Data are sent from a portable com­put­er that directs small UAS, for exam­ple, to the oper­a­tions cen­ter and else­where. Along each step of the way, addi­tion­al com­put­ers enable more stor­age, inte­gra­tion and fus­ing of data, enabling the sys­tem to become a real-time gen­er­a­tor of infor­ma­tion.

“The next sub­stan­ti­a­tion of HART will be to enable dif­fer­ent kinds of sen­sors and infor­ma­tion to be on the net­work,” Win­ship says. “After that, the task will be to put a much more strate­gic lay­er on it [enabling] it to han­dle longer dis­tances, big­ger files and larg­er imagery. That will build out of the mid­dle lay­er.”

There is at least the vision of a recon­nais­sance-strike net­work with a the­ater-wide foot­print.

“It would be pos­si­ble to cre­ate a net­work that would reach from Hick­am [AFB, Hawaii] to col­lect infor­ma­tion on the Pacif­ic Rim,” Win­ship says. “But that’s not what we’re about right now.… [A]s long as there are the data links, we don’t care what the infor­ma­tion gath­er­er is or where it comes from. It doesn’t mat­ter if you are in the South Chi­na Sea or Kan­da­har, [Afghanistan].”

The HART tech­nol­o­gy also could be scaled and trans­ferred to both the strike and recon­nais­sance worlds.

“I’m a big believ­er in long-range strike, and I’ve been slug­ging away at [unmanned com­bat air sys­tems] for a long time,” Win­ship says. “[Some of us believe] that’s the way tech­nol­o­gy ought to move to get a good capa­bil­i­ty [for pen­e­trat­ing defenses]—which unmanned allows—and HART is a piece of that.

“No mat­ter what is done with long-range strike, whether sea- or land-based, algo­rithms like these enable long-range, per­sis­tent UAVs,” Win­ship says. “Algo­rithms that dis­con­nect long, bor­ing mis­sions from the con­stant atten­tion of an oper­a­tor are some­thing that has to be done any­way.”

There are oth­er com­bat ben­e­fits if some basic prob­lems can be solved.

“It’s easy for me to do a brief­ing on unmanned com­bat air sys­tems, but there is very lit­tle that can knit all these things togeth­er,” Win­ship says. “With HART, we’re enabling these lit­tle, inex­pen­sive UAVs and mak­ing them ‘no-kid­ding’ tar­get­ing weapons.”

Raytheon also is address­ing the con­cept. Researchers there have com­plet­ed the first test of the Minia­ture Air Launched Decoy Jam­mer (MALD‑J) in a sim­u­lat­ed oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment. The 300-lb. MALDs, some in free flight and oth­ers in cap­tive-car­ry, demon­strat­ed they could pro­tect manned air­craft through elec­tron­ic attack while oper­at­ing as part of a manned air­craft strike pack­age.

About AVIATION WEEK
Serv­ing over 1.2 mil­lion pro­fes­sion­als in 185 coun­tries, AVIATION WEEK is the largest infor­ma­tion and ser­vices provider to the glob­al com­mer­cial, defense, maintenance/repair/overhaul (MRO), space and busi­ness avi­a­tion com­mu­ni­ties and plays a crit­i­cal role in con­nect­ing indus­try pro­fes­sion­als world­wide. Anchored by its flag­ship Avi­a­tion Week & Space Tech­nol­o­gy, AVIATION WEEK con­tin­ues to grow and evolve its port­fo­lio to meet the needs of the indus­try.

With the devel­op­ments of high­er val­ue ana­lyt­i­cal tools — Avi­a­tion Week Intel­li­gence Net­work (AWIN), MRO Prospec­tor and Top Per­form­ing Com­pa­nies (TPC) — mar­kets and cus­tomers are empow­ered with the essen­tial data they need. AviationWeek.com, along with the events series, enable com­mu­ni­ties of buy­ers and sell­ers to con­nect more fre­quent­ly, pro­vid­ing mar­keters with new media oppor­tu­ni­ties. AVIATION WEEK con­tin­ues to expand in the defense sec­tor as well as in emerg­ing mar­kets includ­ing India, the Mid­dle East and Asia/Pacific.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →