A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed Martin announced that the AEHF-5 protected communication satellite is now in transfer orbit. The launch on August 8 was successful and the AEHF-5 is now responding to the US Air Force's 4th Space Operations Squadron’s commands. According to Lockheed, the squadron began "flying" the satellite shortly after it separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket approximately 5 hours and 40 minutes after the rocket's successful 6:13 am ET liftoff. The Advanced Extremely High Frequency 5 or AEHF-5 satellite is the fifth addition to the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation. The satellites are built by Lockheed Martin and are used to relay secure communications for the Armed Forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands. The first AEHF satellite was launched in 2006 and the most recent, the AEHF-4 in October 2018. The sixth and final AEHF satellite is expected to launch later this year.
The USA’s new Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites will support twice as many tactical networks as the current Milstar II satellites, while providing 10-12 times the bandwidth capacity and 6 times the data rate transfer speed. With the cancellation of the higher-capacity TSAT program, AEHF will form the secure, hardened backbone of the Pentagon’s future Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) architecture, with a mission set that includes nuclear command and control. Its companion Family of Advanced Beyond-line-of-sight Terminals (FAB-T) program will give the US military more modern, higher-bandwidth receiving capabilities, and add more flexibility on the front lines. The program has international components, and partners currently include Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands.
This article offers a look at the AEHF system’s rationale and capabilities, while offering insight into some of the program’s problems, and an updated timeline covering over $5 billion worth of contracts since the program’s inception.
Latest updates[?]: General Atomics won a $25.2 million delivery order, which procures Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) Depot Planning Phase II efforts, including depot level logistics support analysis, engineering support for logistics, supportability analysis, maintenance planning, reliability maintenance, technical manual development and engineering support as it directly correlates to depot planning for the USS Gerald Ford (CVN 78) and USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79). More than 99 percent of the work on this contract will be performed in San Diego, with one-tenth of one percent of work on the contract taking place in Tupelo, Mississippi. Expected completion date is February 2022.
As the US Navy continues to build its new CVN-21 Gerald R. Ford Class carriers, few technologies are as important to their success as the next-generation EMALS (Electro-MAgnetic Launch System) catapult. The question is whether that technology will be ready in time, in order to avoid either costly delays to the program – or an even more costly redesign of the first ship of class.
Current steam catapult technology is very entertaining when it launches cars more than 100 feet off of a ship, or gives naval fighters the extra boost they need to achieve flight speed within a launch footprint of a few hundred feet. It’s also stressful for the aircraft involved, very maintenance intensive, and not really compatible with modern gas turbine propulsion systems. At present, however, steam is the only option for launching supersonic jet fighters from carrier decks. EMALS aims to leap beyond steam’s limitations, delivering significant efficiency savings, a more survivable system, and improved effectiveness. This free-to-view spotlight article covers the technology, the program, and its progress to date.
Latest updates[?]: Russia has announced that it is developing its own rail gun technology as the first pictures of US efforts made their way to press. The "battlefield meteorite" is capable of firing a projectile at an initial speed of 4,500 miles per hour, piercing seven steel plates, and leaving a 5-inch hole -- able to "blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps." For Russia, the new weapon will not replace traditional weapons "even in the mid-term perspective," as much time needs to pass from the first tests to the mass production, especially considering the high price of the production, according to Russian senator Franz Klintsevich.
Back in March 2006, BAE Systems received a contract for “design and production of the 32 MJ Laboratory Launcher for the U.S. Navy.” Some hint of what they are talking about can be gleaned from the name. BAE isn’t the only firm that’s working on this program, which the US Navy sees as its gateway to a game-changing technology. The project is an electro-magnetic rail gun, which accelerates a projectile to incredibly high speeds without using explosives.
The attraction of such systems is no mystery – they promise to fire their ammunition 10 or more times farther than conventional naval gun shells, while sharply reducing both the required size of each shell, and the amount of dangerous explosive material carried on board ship. Progress is being made, but there are still major technical challenges to overcome before a working rail gun becomes a serious naval option. This DID FOCUS article looks at the key technical challenges, the programs, and the history of key contracts and events.
The USA’s University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System conducts research throughout the world’s oceans, and their fleet has shifted to 4 basic research vessel types: Global, Ocean/Intermediate, Regional and Coastal/Local. From 2014 onward, new Ocean Class ships will replace aging Intermediate Class ships in current use, and serve alongside the new SWATH-hulled RV Kilo Moana [T-AGOR 26]. Growing trends towards larger, interdisciplinary science teams, using more sophisticated research equipment, means a need for larger and more sophisticated ships. They new Ocean Class will provide parties of up to 25 scientists with an advanced blue-water platform that can stay at sea for up to 40 days, and cover up to 10,000 nautical miles.
Can they be built affordably? The US Navy is managing the competition, construction, and chartering process, and the 1st build contract was issued in October 2011.
The Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory serves as a U.S. Navy UARC (University Affiliated Research Center) in Defense science and technologies, with a focus in naval missions and related areas. In September 2012, they were awarded a 5-year, maximum $415 million cost-plus-fixed-fee indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity task order contract. in return, they’ll provide up to 2,060,076 staff hours for research, development, engineering, and test and evaluation. An option for an additional 5 years could bring the maximum value to $853.3 million, and the cumulative staff hours to 3,935,759.
PSU’s ARL will work on guidance, navigation and control of undersea systems; advanced thermal propulsion concepts and systems for undersea vehicles; advanced propulsors and other fluid machinery for marine systems; materials and manufacturing technology; atmosphere and defense communications systems; and other related technologies. Individual task orders will be issued as needs arise. Work is expected to be completed by September 2017, or September 2022 with all options exercised. This contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-12-D-6404).
Readers who follow the tech press may be familiar with the concept of quantum computing. Computers use binary bits: on/off, yes/no, represented by 0 or 1. A quantum bit, or qubit, can be 1, or 0… or both. Whereas 111 = 7 in binary, and each number is a single choice among all the possibilities in the number of binary digits, 3 qubits can hold all 8 possibilities (0-7), which means you can do calculations on all of them at once. The more qubits used, the more computation, so 32 qubits theoretically gets you 2 to the 32nd power computations (about 4.3 billion) at once – much more power than conventional computing, and it keeps on rising exponentially.
It’s worth noting that quantum computing has limits, and areas where it will not be suitable for computing tasks. They are not fully understood yet, but have been shown to exist at the theoretical level. So far, all we can say is that certain kinds of problems will be solved much, much more quickly. The uses of such a system for searching large domains of information, cracking codes, creating codes, or running simulations that include the quantum level (as a number of modern physical and medical science applications do) are clear. As an additional benefit, quantum cryptography methods benefit from quantum principles. Eavesdropping is not only incredibly difficult, it will create noticeable interference.
Various American agencies continue to be interested in the field, which has also begun finding commercial applications.
UAVs have played a crucial role in gathering intelligence in the US military’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are thousands of UAVs gathering and distributing valuable data on the enemy, but each system uses its own proprietary subsystem to control the air vehicle as well as receive and process the data. Yet commanders need access to information gathered by all types of UAVs that are flying missions in their area of operation.
Recognizing this shortcoming, the Pentagon began an effort in 2008 to break down the proprietary barriers between UAV systems and create a single GCS that will fly all types of drones.
This free-to-view DID Spotlight article examines the problem of proprietary UAV systems and efforts to break down barriers to sharing vital UAV-generated information.
Aug 30/11: The President and Fellows of Harvard College in Cambridge, MA receive a $6.7 million cost reimbursement contract for research to develop technologies and approaches to predict natural viral evolution. We’d all benefit from that, but we’re still likely to be surprised by what actually happens.
Work will be performed in Cambridge, MA (39%); Laurel, MD (37%); Baltimore, MD (9%); Ann Arbor, MI (9%); and Pittsburgh, PA (5%). Work is expected to be completed by Aug 31/12. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) manages the contract (HR0011-11-C-0093).