China’s J-20 stealth fighter on real combat mission in the South China Sea, advancing China’s A2/AD strategy

CHINA’s made a significant step forward in its bid to equal — and eventually surpass — United States air superiority. China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet, one of the few fifth-generation jets in the world, has been deployed to the South China Sea and is armed with live weapons to patrol the disputed waters. “We just received a group of jets from Russia and inaugurated the J-20 last year, and now we can put them into a real combat mission in the South China Sea,” says Xu Guangyu, senior adviser to the the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, as quoted by the Global Times Friday.

 “The appearance of advanced People’s Liberation Army fighter jets capable of attacking surface combat vessels in this region is sort of a reaction to the provocation by the US,” Xu continued. Sukhoi Su-35s – China’s deadliest and most advanced fighter jets – were deployed to the region for a military training exercise, according to the PLA. In recent months, China has ramped up naval and military drills in the South China Sea – a strategically key and resource rich region. In January 2018,  China vowed to take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty after a US Navy destroyer sailed near disputed territory claimed by Beijing.

This puts it in second place. Before now, only the United States has had a fully operational ‘fifth generation’ fighter. And it’s easily the most capable aircraft deployed by any nation in its region — giving it a significant edge over the Japanese, Korean and Indian air forces.

Analysts say the J-20 may have a limited impact on the situation in the South China Sea, the Asia Times notes, as the aircraft are not designed for maritime patrols but air superiority over land held by an enemy. In addition to “production bottlenecks” limiting the total production of J-20s, “the high temperatures, humidity and brine corrosion there will render the J-20’s stealth coating ineffective after prolonged exposure to such an environment,” the publication notes.

China has also become the second nation to have two stealth fighter designs: The Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CAC) ‘J-20’ and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) ‘J-31’.  The J-20 and the FC-31 are fifth-generation stealth aircraft with high maneuverability, low-observability,  internal weapons bays, and capable of operating in a network-centric environment.

 For the United States, it represents a serious threat in certain operational scenarios such as a confrontation over Taiwan or the contested Senkaku Islands. For less capable militaries in the region such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the J-20 represents a game-changing capability shift on the horizon from their primary military threat — the Chinese air force, writes Justin Bronk in CNN.

As with all modern wars, airpower and air superiority play a key role and stealth fighters are critical instruments in establishing it. The rapid strides by China in developments of fifth generation stealth fighters and bombers are threatening to eliminate the air superiority that the West has held since World War II.

J-20 and J-31 to advance China’s A2/AD strategy and counterbalance US pivot to Asia Pacific

The multi-role J-20 offers the People’s Liberation Army Air Force the ability to penetrate defended airspace to deliver its large payload of weapons. Due to its larger size it will carry significantly more internal fuel, so it will have a longer range and be less dependent on vulnerable aerial refueling tankers in the vast Asia-Pacific. J-20 is meant to have much greater range and endurance than F-22. Its long combat radius of approximately 2000 km (1242 miles) will provide China a long-range strike system capable of reaching targets within Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and Guam.

In a conflict, the J-20 would likely be deployed in air-to-air combat with the mission of limiting the enemy’s radar coverage and strike range. A stealthy, supercruising, interceptor would provide the PLA-AF with the capability to penetrate an opposing  Integrating Air defence network (IADS)  to destroy U.S. power projection capabilities in the Western Pacific like E-3 AWACS, JSTARS, RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, other ISR systems, and importantly, Air Force and Navy tankers. “This would significantly complicate if not close down air operations from Andersen AFB and fixed basing in the Ryukyu chain, Japanese main islands, and Korean peninsula, during the opening phase of any contingency,” said Dr. Carlo Kopp.

It also has larger internal weapons bays than either the F-22 or F-35, so it will be able to carry larger, longer-range missiles or a greater load of standard air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions than either of the US designs. It’s could even carry long-range cruise missiles to attack scattered U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region.  Naval task forces structured around CVBGs and operating within the 1,000 NMI plus radius of the J-XX/J-20 would be at significant risk of rapidly losing their E-2C/D AEW&C and EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack coverage during the opening phase of any contingency.

“Any notion that an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will be capable of competing against this Chengdu design in air combat, let alone penetrate airspace defended by this fighter, would be simply absurd,” Dr. Carlo Kopp said. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet are both aerodynamically and kinematically quite inferior to the as presented J-XX/J-20 design, and even the shape based VLO capability in the J-XX/J-20, as presented, will effectively neutralise any sensor advantage either type might possess against earlier Russian and Chinese fighter designs

Implications of PLAAF acquiring a stealth bomber fleet, could prove to be effective capability to counterbalance US’s attempt to pivot its military and diplomatic efforts towards the Asian Pacific region.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report to the US Congress on China’s military and security progress indicates that China is closing the military technology gap in several areas. The PLAAF “is rapidly closing the gap with western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities,” the report assesses. These include command-and-control, electronic warfare and datalinks. J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters are expected to advance the overall Chinese anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD).

China second Nation to have two fifth-generation stealth designs J-20 and J-31 and second largest number stealth fighters

Chengdu Aircraft Corporation has rolled out “2017,” the eight in the line of J-20 jets that China has been developing in the past few years giving China the largest number of stealth fighters in the world after the United States. The J-20 Black Eagle could be fully operational by 2018.

The J-20 is slightly faster, with a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 compared to Mach 2 for the J-31. Both sport a combat radius of approximately 2000 km (1242 miles). J-20 is also bigger and heavier than the American F-22 Raptor and the Russian PAK FA T-50.

China  flew its second stealth fighter J-31, on December 26, 2016. The new J-31 prototype is three tons heavier and about 20 inches longer than the original technology demonstrator; it also had key improvements like an IRST sensor, stealthier wings, cleaner burning engines, and an improved radar. In addition to avionics and datalinks that enable sensor fusion, SAC officials state that the production J-31s (which could appear soon as 2019) could have supercruise capability, giving them a leg up over current F-35 fighters.

China showcased Shenyang J-31 (or “FC-31”) stealth fighter jet on the opening day of the Dubai Air Show. The test aircraft has been flying for more than two years, AVIC project manager Lin Peng told reporters after the briefing. AVIC is planning first flight of the production aircraft in 2019, with initial operational capability scheduled for 2022. The FC-31 will be fully operational in 2024.

Experts believe this would mean the Air Force plans to operate two stealth fighters for different missions, like the U.S. Air Force with the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II; the heavier J-20 would primarily be a high-altitude dogfighter, while the J-31 would perform a multitude of medium and low-altitude missions (in addition to air-to-air) including close air support, air interdiction, aerial bombardment, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

Some Experts also speculate J-31 to be complement to the J-20 stealth fighter, as a carrier-based fighter for the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force on the Liaoning Aircraft Carrier and future Chinese carriers. China is known to be working also on a new stealth fighter bomber concept dubbed as H-20.

Continuous optimization of J-20

The J-20 has a long and wide fuselage, immediately behind the cockpit is low observable intakes. All-moving canard surfaces with pronounced dihedral are placed behind the intakes, followed by leading edge extensions merging into delta wing with forward-swept trailing edges. The aft section features twin, outward canted all-moving fins, short but deep ventral strakes, and conventional round engine exhausts.

The J-20 is powered by two jet engines, like the F-22 but not the F-35. This gives it both extra power as well as the ability to survive an engine failure. Unlike the F-22, these are set well back in the airframe. This leaves ample space within the aircraft’s body for three large internal weapon bays — vital for stealth aircraft to remain invisible while carrying weapons.

The weapons are carried internally, with large central bay expected to contain four beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) or  heavier ant-ship or air-to-surface missiles and bombs. There is also provision for two short-range AAMs in two separate weapons bays on each side of the fuselage. The F-35, and to a lesser extent the F-22, have only small interior bays — meaning they must either go into combat with only a limited number of missiles, or give up much of their stealth advantage when carrying extra or larger weapons under their wings.

It has an infrared search and track sensor and possibly also an electro-optical distributed aperture system (EODAS), the latter a Chinese-designed system similar to that on the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter.

The J-20 appears to be designed for long-range interception with an emphasis on frontal-aspect low-observability. The forward-mounted canards, poorly shielded engines, underside vertical stabilizers and inferior radar absorbent coatings will limit its stealthiness  compared to US Air Force’s own stealth fighters, the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,  writes Justin Bronk in CNN.

“There is little doubt this configuration is intended to provide good sustained supersonic cruise performance with a suitable engine type, and good manoeuvre performance in transonic and supersonic regimes,” said Dr Carlo Kopp.


Chinese engineers are continuously optimizing the performance of J-20’s through advanced radars, sensors, stealth features, cutting-edge weapon system and jammers.

October 2012, prototype featured a different radome, which was speculated to house AESA radar. 2014 prototype showed a new intake and stealth coating, as well as redesigned vertical stabilizers, and an Electro-Optical Targeting System.

On 13 Sep, 2015, a new prototype marked ‘2016’ begun testing. This prototype has noticeable improvements, such as apparently changed DSI bumps on the intakes, which save weight, complexity and radar signature. Altering the shape of the DSI suggests that this prototype may have more powerful engines than its predecessors, likely to be an advanced 14 ton thrust derivative of the Russian AL-31 or Chinese WS-10 turbofan engines.

Eventually, by 2020 the J-20 is planned to use the 18-19 ton WS-15 engine, enabling the jet to super-cruise without using afterburners. Supercruise is an advanced technology which vastly improves the fuel economy of jet engines — allowing aircraft to coast at supersonic speeds for long distances without having to dump raw fuel on an afterburner.

The flight booms around the engines have been enlarged, possibly to accommodate rearwards facing radars or electronic jamming equipment. It also has a stealthier bumper. The stealthy fuselage extends almost all the way to the engine’s exhaust nozzles. The trapezoidal booms on sides of the nozzles are also reshaped, possibly to install rearwards facing radar or ECM equipment.

Compared to previous J-20s, “2016”‘s fuselage extends almost all the way to the engine’s exhaust nozzles. The greater surface area under fuselage would lead to enhanced stealth against enemy radar. The trapezoidal booms on sides of the nozzles also reshaped, possibly to install rearwards facing radar or ECM equipment.



The J-31 is a mid-weight, twin rudder and twin-engine jet, It appears to be a smaller and more agile aircraft than the Chengdu J-20. It also shares with the F-35C (and most other carrier based fighter jets) having the twin forward wheels. J-31 incorporates stealth characters such as forward swept intake cowls with diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) bumps and a two-piece canopy. Officials touted the aircraft’s “outstanding situational awareness” achieved with advanced radar, high maneuvering capabilities, and multi-spectrum low-observability.

The FC-31, which closely resembles the F-35, is a medium-sized, low-observable aircraft designed for “the demands of future battlefield environments,” AVIC project manager Lin Peng told reporters during the briefing.

Overall U.S. military and industry officials believe that the J-31 enters will be a match for existing fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon, and F/A-18 Super Hornet but it lags behind the United States’ F-35 technologically. However, AVIC President Lin Zhouming made bolder prediction, saying, “When [the J-31] takes to the sky, it could definitely take down the F-35. It’s a certainty.”

The plane is equipped with twin engines made in China, officials said — not the Russian RD-93 afterburning turbofan engine made in Russia. Like the F-35, the J-31 has two internal weapons bays that can each carry two medium range missiles. The FC-31 will carry the Small Diameter Bomb, as well as a variety of guided and unguided weapons, officials said.

Its WS-13 engines would be replaced by domestic WS-13E or WS-19 turbofan engines to give it that advantage in speed. The combination of the J-31’s high speed performance, and suggested payload of 6 PL-12 or 4 PL-21 long range air to air missiles suggests that the J-31 has been optimized as an air superiority fighter, though it can be fitted with a wide array of Chinese precision guided munitions like the LS smart bombs.

The test aircraft has been flying for more than two years, Peng told reporters after the briefing. AVIC is planning first flight of the production aircraft in 2019, with initial operational capability scheduled for 2022. The FC-31 will be fully operational in 2024.

The J-31’s chief designer, Sun Cong, has said that he hoped that the aircraft would follow his J-15 onto China’s aircraft carriers. The carrier-borne fifth-generation fighter could hypothetically give China greater first-strike capability in the event of a war. However, industry sources say development of the J-31 was provided entirely by the PLAAF with no input from the PLAN.


J-20 and J-31 being fitted with passive sensors

Wang Yanyong, technical director for Beijing A-Star Science and Technology, has confirmed that its two systems – the EOTS-89 electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and the EORD-31 infrared search and track (IRST) – are in development for China’s J-20 and J-31 fighters.

Marketing brochures on A-Star’s booth suggest that the J-20 could use the passive sensors to detect and aim missiles against the Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber and Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter, even while its radar is being being jammed by a Boeing EA-18G Growler. “It lists detection ranges for the B-2 at 150km and for the F-22 at up to 110km,” as reported by Stephen Trimble.


FC-31 is for Global Export

China plans to export its stealthy twin-engine J-31 fighter, which would become the first aircraft of its kind available to global customers who face US export restrictions or cannot afford Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter. The potential customers include Ally Pakistan, Iran, and Venezuela.


 Chinese stealth fighters have inferior engine technology, still formidable

The country’s engine technology lags that of United Technologies unit Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls-Royce, said Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

The country’s best warplane engine is the WS-10A Taihang, made by Shenyang Aeroengine Research Institute, a subsidiary of China’s biggest state-owned aerospace and defence company, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the sources said.

China is trying to procure Russia’s most advanced aero engine, Saturn 117S for the J-20 and J-31 has super cruise capability and is installed in the SU-35 PAKFA/FGFA. However, Russians are, evidently, hesitant to offer the 117S knowing the Chinese propensity to reverse engineer and copy them.

“Chinese engine-makers face a multitude of problems,” said Michael Raska, assistant professor in the Military Transformations Programme at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. China’s J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters cannot super-cruise, or fly at supersonic speeds like their closest rivals, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and F-35 stealth planes, without using after-burners, which removes warplanes stealthiness. Their engines also don’t produce enough thrust, or power, and need frequent repairs.

“The J-20 will give the People’s Liberation Army Air Force a technological advantage over every other Asian air force. While the J-20 may not be able to supercruise [fly at supersonic speeds without using fuel-thirsty afterburners] with its current Russian AL-31 turbofan engines, its high level of strength, long range and electronic warfare capabilities will make it a very formidable foe for other fighters,” magazine popular science said.


Chinese stealth planes developed with hacked technology

Many U.S. officials and pilots suspect that the Chinese have been using hacked U.S. technology to aid their indigenous development programs. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said the Chengdu J-20 twin-engine stealth fighter bears similarity to the F-22 Raptor made by Lockheed Martin Corp., while the Shenyang J-31 twin-engine multi-role fighter resembles the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter design also made by Lockheed. Chinese very likely stole a large amount of classified F-35 data as indicated by reports of a major cyber breach of Lockheed’s programs by Chinese hackers in April 2009


References and Resources  also include:

China’s Large High-altitude Long-endurance drones with counter stealth radars shall further enhance its A2/AD capability

Situational awareness of potential hostile targets and of friendly forces is considered to be a key component in obtaining and sustaining military superiority over adversaries. Airborne Early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft has been providing  a real-time picture of friendly, neutral, and hostile air and maritime activity under all kinds of weather and above all kinds of terrain. The US E3 AWACS has proved to be a key to victory for the United States in the 1991, 2001, and 2003 campaigns.

China has  also over 20 AWACS, including the new KJ-500 ones that can track over 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470 km. The PLAAF currently is thought to possess five KJ-2000 AEW&C aircraft. However the AWACS platforms are becoming increasingly vulnerable to sophisticated long range SAM systems and VLRAAM missiles, hence militaries are increasingly looking for more survivable platforms.

The increasing range and lethality of SAM systems and VLRAAM  shall force them further  outside the enemy border  and thereby reduce their effectiveness  in carrying out surveillance of adversary areas. Therefore militaries are considering new concepts and platforms to carry out  AWACS missions. One of the platform that is being considered by militaries to replace AWACS are high altitude and Long endurance drones. These high altitude long endurance drones  are not as high value platforms as AWACS and do not carry manned crew , hence do not need protection  as AWACS. They can therefore operate quite near the A2/AD environment.

The Divine Eagle UAV expected to provide an early warning line to detect threats to China’s airspace, like cruise missiles and stealth bombers, as well as be able to take on such missions as hunting for aircraft carriers in the open waters of the Pacific. Divine Eagle would also carry airborne anti-stealth radar system that could be used to counter American F-22s, F-35s and B-2s. Divine Eagle prototype appears to be larger than the U.S Air Force’s Global Hawk long-range surveillance drone and consequently could be equipped to “carry large missiles for satellite launching, anti-satellite and anti-ship missions,” elaborates the Washington Free Beacon.

China published its latest defense white paper titled “China’s Military Strategy”, which detailed its national security issues like  the U.S. rebalance to Asia; Japanese revisions to military and security policy; external countries meddling in Chinese territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere; instability and uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula; and independence movements simmering in both Taiwan and Tibet.

China calls its military strategy of “active defense,” a combination of strategic defense, self-defense, operational and tactical offense, and a willingness to counterattack. Chinese military’s primary aim is to prepare itself to fight “local wars under conditions of informationization”—in other words, regional conflicts in which command, control, communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (C4ISR) would play major roles.

Project 973 or Shen Diao (“Divine Eagle”) prototype

China has unveiled its latest platform for C4ISR, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s Project 973 or Shen Diao (“Divine Eagle”) prototype. This new large twin-fuselage turbofan-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) could serve as a new high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) multi-mission platform for conducting surveillance, cuing, and communication missions. The latest Divine Eagle iteration is less stealthy, having two satellite communications domes, completely vertical tails and an exposed engine intake.

The UAV is thought to be powered by a medium-thrust turbofan engine without A/B (WS-12 without A/B) located above the main wing and between the two vertical tainfins. As an AEW platform Divine Eagle is expected to have multiple conformal radar antenna arrays installed along the forward fuselages as well as the leading edge of the forward canard wing.

Popular Science describes the Eagle at about 6 meters tall, and 15 meters long (since most high altitude large UAVs have a wingspan to body length ratio of 2.5:1 to 3:1, the wingspan of the Divine Eagle is likely its be 35 to 45 meters across). With a maximum take off weight of at least 15 tons, the Divine Eagle is the world’s largest UAV, edging out the RQ-4 Global Hawk. The two photos and descriptions appear in Popular Science and provided by Chinese Media. The estimated endurance >12hr,  and ceiling 18km.

It was rumored that the UAV already made its first flight in October 2015. The latest image (July 2016) indicated that one Divine Eagle has been transferred to GAAC for further testing.

Divine Eagle carries 7 radars including a X/UHF AMTI Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on the front, two X/UHF AMTI/SAR/GMTI AESA radars on the twin booms, two X/UHF AMTI AESA radars on either side of the engine nozzles, and two more radars on the end of the booms.

Airborne Moving Target Indicators (AMTI) that are used to track airborne targets, like enemy fighters and cruise missiles. Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) radars could be used for identifying and tracking large groups of vessels such as an aircraft carrier strike force, while SAR is used to provide detailed imagines of ground targets like bases and infrastructure.

The most significant capability of UHF-band radars operating between frequencies of 300MHz and 1GHz (wavelengths between 10 centimeters and one meter long), is their ability to detect stealth aircrafts like the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, B-2 bomber and tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The VHF meter wave radar is capable of detecting stealth aircraft at a relatively long range but suffers from a lower accuracy. Therefore several Divine Eagles may fly ahead in a group formation while being controlled via datalink by the AWACS flying behind in a safe distance or by the ground station protected by the air defense unit. Together they act as an airborne multistatic radar system and are able to pick up the radar reflection signals of the same stealth aircraft from multiple directions. As the result the UAV can extend both the detecting range and accuracy of the AWACS against stealth aircraft. The design of Divine Eagle appear to share some similarity with the Russian Sukhoi S-62 concept which first appeared around 2000. It was reported that Russian assistance was sought during the initial development stage.


Enhanced A2/AD Capability

Russia is slated to supply  six S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The most important innovation of the complex should be the 40N6Е missiles with the range of 400 km and active radar homing in the terminal phase. The system could simultaneously intercept up to ten ballistic missiles traveling at a speed of 5 kilometers per second. The S-400 missiles will be used  against the most important targets, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, AWACS and jamming aircraft.

It may also help impose a ban on flights of fighter aircrafts in the region. In case the S-400 are deployed on the Shandong Peninsula they will be able to target aircraft over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

China has also  developed very long range air to air missile (VLRAAM) with ranges exceeding 300 km (roughly 186 miles), which is threat to air targets. In November 2016, a Chinese J-16 strike fighter test-fired a gigantic hypersonic VLRAAM missile, successfully destroying the target drone at a very long range. The VLRAAM is one of the world’s largest air to air missiles with likely range max out between 250 and 310 miles. As a point of comparison, the smaller 13.8-foot, 15-inch-diameter Russian R-37 missile has a 249-mile range.

China Divine Eagle is Beijing’s latest addition to its growing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, once it is deployed, it will make it harder for the United States and its allies to operate undetected close to Chinese shores.

They extend the reach of the PLA and meet the needs of the PLA to both breaks through the anti-access response plans of opponents, while also defending against hostile power projection.

“The deployment of high-altitude, long endurance UAVs equipped with advanced sensors would enhance the PLA’s ability to strike U.S. bases and naval assets in the region, as well as those of its allies and partners,” says Mark Stokes, a former Pentagon official.



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Air Force to spend $950 million on Autonomous technologies Research to enable its Anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) missions

The Air Force is looking to increase the use of autonomous technology and has released a Broad Agency Announcement for industry participation, according to a July 7 agency notice. The objective of Science and Technology for Autonomous Teammates (STAT) program is to develop and demonstrate autonomy technologies that will enable various AF mission sets. The STAT program will push for research to strengthen three capabilities: Multi-domain Command and Control (MDC2); Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED); and Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) in combat situations.


Autonomy is a capability (or a set of capabilities) that enables a particular action of a system to be automatic or, within programmed boundaries, “self-governing.” Autonomous systems provide a considerable opportunity to enhance future Air Force operations by potentially reducing unnecessary manning costs, increasing the range of operations, enhancing capabilities, providing new approaches to air power, reducing the time required for critical operations, and providing increased levels of operational reliability, persistence and resilience. This is the view of Air Force Office of the Chief Scientist that has come with report “Autonomous Horizons Volume I: Human Autonomy Teaming”.


The Science and Technology for Autonomous Teammates (STAT) program is seeking to improve Air Force operations through machine learning that uses human-machine teaming, autonomous decision-making processes, and information analytics research, according to the BAA overview.


DOD has been seeking to advance initiatives that focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence since the “Third Offset” strategy was unveiled in September 2014. The continued efforts are intended to promote technologies and concepts that support the U.S. military’s technological advantage.


The total estimated value is $950 million for the total period of performance, which is based on the following annual estimates: $118 million in FY 2018, $152 million in FY 2019, $159 million in FY 2020, $153 million in FY 2021, $149 million in FY 2022, and $219 million in FY 2023.

The program seeks technologies that:

1) Enable airman-machine teaming for executing Air Force missions.

2) Reduce workload or manning without compromising mission effectiveness or decision timelines.

3) Enable autonomous systems to understand commander’s intent and mission requirements and adapt to changing circumstances in a manner consistent with commander’s intent.

4) Allow autonomous and unmanned systems to safely and efficiently integrate into Air Force operations.


Chosen technologies will be open, reusable, adaptable, platform agnostic, secure, credible, affordable, enduring, and able to be integrated into autonomous systems. STAT’s objective is to demonstrate modular, transferable, open-system architectures, and deliver autonomous technologies to multidomain applications. The software algorithms must understand mission requirements, respond to human directions, and respond to unexpected threats and changing circumstances.


The technology demonstrations that result from this BAA will substantially improve the Air Force’s capability to conduct missions in a variety of environments while minimizing the risks to Airmen. The overall impact of integration of autonomous systems into the mission space will enable the Air Force to operate inside of the enemy’s decision loop.


Program Structure

This research will be part of Experimentation Campaigns in: 1 -Multi-domain Command and Control; 2- Intelligence, Surveillance, Recognizance (ISR) Processing Exploitation and Dissemination (PED); and 3- Manned-Unmanned combat Teaming to demonstrate autonomy capabilities to develop and demonstrate autonomy technologies that will improve Air Force operations through human-machine teaming and autonomous decision-making.


This effort features EIGHT important research areas of interest, listed below, which include needs for both technology maturation and integration:

  1. Mission Planning and Debrief.

STAT research must enable platforms to receive information generated during the mission planning process, and provide relevant information during the debrief process, without causing extension of the mission cycle timelines or requiring increased manpower. This area develops the capability for STAT-enabled systems to take in information about the mission plan (including mission contracts, contingencies, targets, frequencies, etc.) that will be necessary to react appropriately and autonomously to events and commands during mission execution. This area is critical for MDC2, ISR PED as well as manned-unmanned teaming.

  1. Flight Operations

Autonomous platforms must be able to safely aviate and navigate in ‘military airspace’ with other aircraft, manned and unmanned, while monitoring their own state of health and performing the appropriate actions to ensure safe flight. The platforms must perform basic flight operations to include automated flight modes, flight safety, survivability, and energy resource management. Autonomous vehicle functions enable the execution of mission taskings that span over all mission phases and kill chain elements. These elements are intended to execute the desired vehicle response commanded from other subsystems such as dynamic mission planning. Air and ground collision avoidance capabilities are required, adaptable to varying aircraft capabilities in maneuverability, sensors, and datalinks. Flight Operations is responsible for ensuring continued, safe operation in the presence of flight-critical failures and degradations. It is also responsible for ensuring continued, safe execution of mission tasking in the presence of mission-critical guidance, navigation, and control system failures and degradations.

  1. Communications & Datalinks.

The communications and data links are responsible for processing, passing and coordinating messages both onboard and between external communication nodes. Technologies are required for dynamic networking capabilities within the full spectrum of communications control and intelligent management of the dissemination of information (the how, when, and how much to communicate in a given environment agnostic of any singular communications medium). This area supports MDC2, ISR PED, and manned-unmanned teaming.

  1. Human Interfaces.

Human interfaces and decision aids enable the human to team with autonomous systems, leveraging the advantages of both human and machine intelligence. Human interfaces with autonomy platforms must be intuitive and simple for a human to use. This means that direct supervision of all decisions cannot be required. The interfaces provide human awareness and understanding of autonomous system decisions with minimal display clutter, through tailorable human-machine interfaces, effectively alerting the operator when human action is required. This area is critical for MDC2, ISR PED as well as manned-unmanned teaming.

  1. Multi-Domain Mission Operations.

Multi-Domain Mission Operations is focused on mission execution and operation of mission systems. Major components include:

  • Situation understanding through robust sensor exploitation, data analysis, and information sharing
  • Dynamic mission planning for contingencies
  • Multi-domain command and control

Robust sensor exploitation is essential for the deep understanding of the environment required for autonomous, closed-loop decision-making in a complex mission environment, with applications to autonomous vehicles command and control, and the processing, exploitation, dissemination (PED) process.

The situation understanding capability must provide detection, geolocation, identification and tracking of target and threats using a variety of sensing sources, traditional single and multi-INT fusion, distributed and cooperative techniques, and must operate over a large breadth of operating conditions. Dynamic mission planning determines how to achieve commanded mission effects, and includes task assignment and scheduling across multiple manned and unmanned systems, route planning, and re-planning for any mission contingencies. Dynamic mission planning and re-planning can occur at vehicle, team, or battlespace levels, and must occur as part of the overall command and control structure. Multi-domain command and control is essential for achieving coordinated effects through the use of heterogeneous assets in air, space, and cyber domains.

  1. Executive Functions.

The Executive Functions purpose is to provide high-level reasoning capabilities and a goal-prioritization service based on Commander’s Intent. The Executive Function research should support an agent-based model for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA-loop). Information about the operational environment will need a common state representation that allows for rational decision-making based on mission plans and current mission status. Decisions made by the machine will include determining what information must be shared with human operators, when new self-tasking should occur based on opportunity or necessity, planning new possible Courses of Action that achieve Commander’s Intent, and responding to a dynamic battlespace that requires adaptive behavior, such as real-time schedule changes and route planning. This area is critical for MDC2, ISR PED as well as manned-unmanned teaming.

  1. System Integration.

The technology components and capabilities developed must be capable of being integrated and demonstrated in USAF mission applications. Components should be as platform-agnostic as possible, and be adaptable to different capabilities, sensors, datalinks, etc. with minimal modification. Systems engineering activities are needed to determine functional, physical, and interface architectures, including allocation of tasks between humans and system autonomy. This activity includes Open System Architecture and Open Technology Development to ensure common interfaces and standards where appropriate. The architectures shall determine how the autonomy functions will be allocated and instantiated, how components will interact, the processing power required, and the information storage/access issues that arise from having distributed autonomous decision-making across multiple platforms and agents.

  1. Test and Evaluation, Verification and Validation techniques.

This area is critical for all autonomy research in MDC2, ISR PED and manned-unmanned teaming. The autonomous behaviors developed as part of this effort will require verification and validation, in addition to robust test and evaluation. These test events will stress the response of complex autonomous systems to both planned and unplanned events, and will require cutting edge non-traditional verification and validation techniques. Formal methods specification, simulation-based research & development, and analysis are included in these techniques. Modeling & simulation (M&S) activities will demonstrate technology readiness, air worthiness certification, and/or cyber-security authorization in coordination with existing in-house government M&S activities and support multiple, iterative field or flight test evaluation efforts.

 Security: It is expected that during the development and demonstration of technologies supporting the AFRL STAT portfolio that information will be used or generated up to the level of Collateral SECRET. Heightened security awareness and threat-based countermeasures are particularly essential during the research and development phase when our technology is most vulnerable to espionage, sabotage, or exploitation. The contractor shall train personnel in, and follow appropriate operations security (OPSEC) measures during the performance of these research activities.

Safety: The contractor shall consider system safety requirements when developing these identified technologies/technical objectives (Ref: Military Standard (Mil-Std 882E Department of Defense Standard Practice System Safety)). The system safety process is to identify and document any system safety hazards introduced during all phases (e.g., planning, design, fabrication and testing) and recommend adequate risk mitigations to either eliminate the identified safety risk or minimize them to acceptable risk level. The design goal shall be to eliminate all hazards. Any residual hazards and subsequent design risk shall be summarized and provide enough detail to support an informed program management decision with regard to the design’s overall safety risk. The contractor shall conduct an evaluation or assessment of these technologies and recommend appropriate system safety task(s) to be conducted in the appropriate research areas of interest



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Threat of swarm of drones delivering weaponized explosives becomes real, DARPA seeks swarm protection technologies

The militant organizations have started employing drones to further their terrorism. The small drones such as a quadcopter or model airplane are readily available and they are increasingly used by terrorists to retrofit them, giving the aircraft the ability to deliver weaponized explosives or hazardous materials. In their hands, drones could, fly IEDs through the air to a target, or disperse a biological or chemical agent while its pilot remains safely distanced from contamination. The lethality of these drones can be further enhanced by operating them in Swarms.

The Russian Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a week ago by a swarm of home-made drones – the first time such a coordinated assault has been reported in a military action. According to the Ministry of Defence, Russian forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility “successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)” last Friday night.

Rather than being quadcopters, the most popular design for commercial drones, the craft involved in these attacks resembled hobbyists’ model aircraft. They had three-metre wingspans, were built crudely of wood and plastic, and were powered by lawnmower engines. Each carried ten home-made shrapnel grenades under its wings.

“As evening fell, the Russia air defence forces detected 13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases,” the Ministry said in a statement. “Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three – the CSS point in Tartus.” Six of the assault force drones were intercepted by Russian electronic warfare units, with three of the UAVs being brought to land outside the base, while the remaining three exploded on contact with the ground. Another seven drones were “eliminated” by Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missiles fired by the Russians, with the bases reporting no casualties or damage, the statement explains.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.,  have released an industry solicitation for the Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program. The potential $63 million project seeks ways to defend against not only today’s radio-controlled and GPS-guided weaponized UAVs, but also against future UAVs that navigate by visual means in large groups to gather intelligence and coordinate attacks against one or more high-value moving targets.

“The rapid evolution of small unmanned air systems (sUAS) technologies is fueling the exponential growth of the commercial drone sector, creating new asymmetric threats for warfighters. sUASs’ size and low cost enable novel concepts of employment that present challenges to current defense systems. These emerging irregular systems and concepts of operations in diverse environments require technology advancements to quickly detect, identify, track, and neutralize sUASs while mitigating collateral damage and providing flexibility to operations in multiple mission environments,” says  DARPA.

Rapid advancement of Swarm technology

UAV Swarms is emerging enabling technology that can find, fix, and communicate precise target location of ground, sea, and air targets; they can serve as weapons platforms to attack air defense systems from multiple axes; or they can pass missile targeting data to any platform carrying a counter air missile.

Advanced Robotic Systems Engineering Laboratory (ARSENL), a team of students at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, successfully launched a swarm of 50 drones, all of them being controlled by a single operator. The long-term goal is to have the swarms determine how to act on their own, and ARSENL reportedly intends to test this by eventually having a 50 vs. 50 drone swarm dogfight.

Swarm of drones are also being considered by military for future A2/AD environment. Future wars will be fought with swarms of expendable, disaggregated, intelligent systems rather than the big, expensive weapon platforms the U.S. has relied on for fifty years, said William Roper, the lead of the Pentagon’s semi-secret Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), adding that he believes the Air Force will have a greater challenge adjusting to this new reality than the other services. The end goal, in Roper’s mind, is to limit the danger to individual operators. Rather than send in a wave of manned planes for the first day of combat, the SCO head said, send in wave after wave of cheap, disposable systems that come with no risk of losing a U.S. service member.

The U.S. Army has for the first time tested swarms of consumer drones during a major military training exercise and determined the low-cost technology is at a stage where it could be used offensively. By deploying swarm of consumer drones they become more viable as a weapon. They could easily overwhelm a small defensive position because they would represent too many targets moving too fast to successfully repel.

During the exercise, which is used by the Army to help evaluate new technology, the drones were deployed as a swarm to simulate a threat. In one exercise, for example, a swarm of drones with cameras on board was deployed in support of opposing forces in an attempt to discover the defensive positions of friendly soldiers.

Later, the Army expanded the trials to discover whether it might be able to make use of the same technology. The Army tested flooding a chunk of airspace with a drone swarm to generate a disruptive radar signature.
“It has been proved that consumer [drones] can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, distraction tactics and, in the future, the ability to drop small munitions,” said Barry Hatchett with the Army’s Program Executive Office


Counter-Drone technologies

Their low operational altitude along with small size, small RCS and small IR signature of the UAV makes it a difficult target for most of the common air defense systems such as antiaircraft guns and shoulder-fired IR missiles.

Many drone detection and neutralization technologies are being developed from shoulder-mounted launcher system to physically capture it, silent cyber weapon that floors a drone instantly, anti drone cannons, Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) like jamming of command and control links and GPS spoofing, counter drone Directed Energy Weapons both laser based and electromagnetic weapons.

Most counter-UAS systems under development are focused on today’s threat, which relies on radio frequency (RF)-based remote control or global position system (GPS)-based navigation. However, the next evolution of sUAS will not require GPS nor active communications to accomplish their missions. These vehicles will be capable of navigating by visual means or other methods, performing synchronized actions that allow large groups to coordinate an attack against one or more moving targets and be used as intelligence assets or as weapons carrying platforms. An effective counter-UAS system must be able to defend against today’s and tomorrow’s threats in a range of operating environments and adapt to evolving sUAS technologies and tactics.


DARPA’s Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program

The Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program is an advanced technology prototype development program that will develop and demonstrate an integrated prototype system capable of defeating a raid of self-guided, small Unmanned Aircraft Systems attacking a high value asset on the move.  This program will consider sUAS to be fixed or rotary wing air vehicles of less than approximately 200 pounds.

A sensing technology must be able to detect “numerous” small UAS at a distance of 1 km (0.62 mile) or greater and fit on a tactical ground vehicle such as a Humvee as well as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Defender-class 25-foot boat, Darpa said. A neutralization system must disable or destroy numerous, self-guided UAS at a distance of 1 km or greater. Darpa describes self-guided UAS as rotary- or fixed-wing drones that do not rely on radio frequency control or GPS navigation for their operation.

To meet these challenges, the MFP program must develop and integrate affordable technologies into a prototype system that has the capability to complete an engagement sequence within a compressed timeline while mitigating collateral damage..

System affordability and adaptability to host platforms (ground and maritime) will be major system design drivers and allow for the deployment of an effective deterrent and defensive capability to protect the full range of potential DoD, Homeland, and private sector assets.

Given the rapid proliferation of the potential threat, DARPA seeks to develop a complete defensive system with a focus on mobility, affordability, and automation that can be fielded as soon as possible.

DARPA proposes a top-level system architecture that decomposes the CUAS engagement sequence into three steps – Sense, Decide, and Act – and envisions a “Neutralization Web” that flexibly ties the subsystems and algorithms implementing these steps into complete protection chains adapted to the operational environment.

An MFP system could include distributed and elevated sensors and effectors networked to form a fused air surveillance picture, be controlled for fast decisive action, and provide several low-risk UAV-neutralization options.

To demonstrate the system, DARPA experts will use the U.S. Army Maneuver Aviation and Fires Integration Application (MAFIA) as the backbone operating system to enable a system plug-and-play environment, and DARPA will consider only system prototypes that incorporate a MAFIA architecture. It is a Government-owned, Service-oriented architecture that supports multiple operating systems and provides services, libraries, common applications and a software development kit for performer integration

The MFP program will consist of three phases, each culminating in an open-air demonstration against continuously more sophisticated threats and challenging scenarios.

“DARPA is interested in identifying novel, flexible, and mobile layered defense systems and component technologies to address this increasingly important issue as well as conventional threats,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager. “We’re looking for scalable, modular, and affordable approaches that could be fielded within the next three to four years and could rapidly evolve with threat and tactical advancements.”


DARPA selects three teams for Phase 1 of Mobile Force Protection programme

Led by Dynetics, Saab Defense and Security USA and SRC, the teams were awarded Phase I agreements for MFP to develop a technology that is capable of detecting, identifying, tracking and neutralising  adversary sUASs including fixed or rotary-wing aircraft.

DARPA Tactical Technology Office (TTO) programme manager Jean-Charles Ledé said: “Each team will now work to integrate novel ideas for advanced sensors and neutralisation approaches into a common framework emphasising safety for civilian bystanders, ease of operation, and low size, weight, power, and cost.

Our goal is a technology demonstration system that could fit onto currently deployed tactical ground vehicles and maritime vessels – getting advanced and upgradeable capabilities quickly to the warfighters who need them.”

The US Army’s maneuver aviation and fires integration application (MAFIA) service-oriented architecture has been chosen as the common framework for the data-fusion engine, decision-aid algorithms, and user interface for the teams’ command and control (C2) software.

MAFIA, which is already being used in several Defense Department (DoD) programmes, is said to support multiple operating systems and provide services, libraries, common applications, and a software development kit for performer integration. The MFP’s plug-and-play, technology demonstration system is anticipated to have the ability to integrate new sensors and emerging technologies.

“The three teams we’ve assembled have innovative ideas for a versatile, layered defense system that could protect convoys on the move from multiple small unmanned aircraft systems in real time,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, a program manager in Darpa’s Tactical Technology Office. “Each team will now work to integrate novel ideas for advanced sensors and neutralization approaches into a common framework emphasizing safety for civilian bystanders, ease of operation and low size, weight, power and cost.”


References and Resources also include:


US, Russia and China in Hypersonic Weapons Race for prompt global strike capability, Strategic bombing from outer space and defeating all missile defenses

US, Russia and China are in race for Hypersonic Weapons that shall revolutionize warfare by providing prompt global strike capability and defeat all missile defences. Hypersonic missiles travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 or 6,125 kilometers per hour) or more. Flying along the edge of space while gliding and maneuvering these missiles would strike targets with unprecedented speed and precision.


Brad Leland, Lockheed’s program manager for Hypersonics makes the case for the jet on the company’s website, stating: “Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour… Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.” Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.


The United States and Australia have concluded a series of hypersonic test flights at the Woomera test range in South Australia. The tests were conducted under the auspices of the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFIRE) programme, says Australia’s Department of Defence in a statement. In the statement, defence minister Marise Payne said that the tests have achieved “significant milestones, including design assembly, and pre-flight testing of the hypersonic vehicles and design of complex avionics and control systems.”  US intends to develop a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile by 2018-2020, and a hypersonic aircraft by 2030. Australia and other countries are also developing hypersonic weapons.


Recently China tested  DF-17  its first hypersonic glide vehicle-equipped missile intended for operational deployment. Chinese DF-ZF (previously designated as the WU-14) is a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle that has been flight-tested by the Chinese seven times, on 9 January, 7 August and 2 December 2014; 7 June and 27 November 2015; and again in April 2016. The strategic strike weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,231.01kph. Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions.


DF-ZF could be used for nuclear weapons delivery but could also be used to perform precision-strike conventional missions (for example, next-generation anti-ship ballistic missiles), which could penetrate “the layered air defenses of a U.S. carrier strike group. Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.


The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in its latest annual report that the China’s hypersonic glide vehicle program is “progressing rapidly” and the weapon could be deployed by 2020. China also is building a powered version of the high-speed vehicle that could be fielded by 2025.


Russia already successfully tested the Yu-71 hypersonic glider several times and will deploy a regiment of them armed with nuclear warheads by 2020, according to US sources. According to multiple reports, Russia is expected to begin production soon of its 3M22 Zircon, a hypersonic missile that will travel 4,600 miles per hour — five times the speed of sound — and will have a range of 250 miles. That’s just three minutes and 15 seconds from launch to impact. Guided hypersonic missiles will be more accurate than traditional ballistic missiles and could conceivably be armed with nuclear warheads, according to the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.

Hypersonic Weapons

Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds—five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond—offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance. While US wants to develop strike targets at any location  on earth within one hour using conventional warheads, China and Russia are aiming to defeat US missile defence system.


Hypersonic weapons can be Tactical Boost-Glide type, the approach already tested by both Russia and China: a rocket motor boosts the missile up to hypersonic speed, after which it glides to the target. The goal is to “skip” off the atmosphere like a skipping stone over water, allowing it to go vast distances at extreme speeds. Getting this to work requires progress in aerodynamics, stability, and controls, as well as materials, Bussing said. 3D printing can help in all these areas.


An “air-breathing” hypersonic vehicle, by contrast, flies under its own jet power the whole way. This approach allows less range than boost-glide but greater maneuverability. Air-breathers can also be significantly smaller. A rocket has to carry large amounts of oxidizer to burn its fuel. A jet just sucks in oxygen from the atmosphere. But normal jets don’t have to suck in air moving at Mach 5-plus. A jet that works at hypersonic speeds will require some breakthroughs — and, again, 3D printing can help grow the exotic components.



China developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies

Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a U.S. military program to develop weapons—mainly missiles—that can strike targets at any location on earth within one hour using conventional warheads.  Some analysts have argued that, if the United States were to launch these missiles during a conflict, nations with minimal satellite capabilities and launch notification systems (such as China) or degraded launch notification systems (such as Russia) could conclude that they were under attack with nuclear missiles.


China fears the system will be used to knock out its nuclear missiles on the ground in the early stages of a conflict. According to Saalman, “Chinese analysts view PGS as part of a larger U.S. effort to achieve ‘absolute security,’ with BMD as the shield and PGS as the sword.


China is conducting substantial research into both countering and developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies, with the DF-21D and WU-14 weapon systems as just two recent examples, according Dr. Lora Saalman, Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.


DF-17: China’s Newly Tested Ballistic Missile Armed With a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle

According to a U.S. government source who described recent intelligence assessments on the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) on the condition of anonymity, China recently conducted two tests of a new missile known as the DF-17 that is equipped with a “hypersonic glide vehicle” (HGV). The first test took place on November 1 and the second test took place on November 15.


HGVs are capsules on the top of a missile that hold the payload. They break apart from the main body of the projectile after it has reached its highest altitude, and glide to the target until impact.


The source said that the DF-17 was a medium-range missile system that had a range between 1,800 and 2,500 kilometers. It is capable of carrying nuclear and conventional payloads, and may be able to be configured to have a maneuverable reentry vehicle instead of an HGV.


Hypersonic gliders, by virtue of their low-altitude flight,  are difficult to detect with existing  missile defence radars, hence gives less time for interception . However  HGVs  are considerably slower in the final stages of their flight than most reentry vehicles on a ballistic trajectory to take place before the payload can reach its target. This may leave them vulnerable to interception by advanced terminal point defense systems.


DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, which the US calls Wu-14

Beijing for the seventh time successfully flight-tested its DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, which the US calls Wu-14, at the Wuzhai missile test range in the central portion of China. The strategic strike weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,231.01kph. The six previous tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 also having been successful. Glide vehicles are lifted to the high upper atmosphere by ballistic missiles and then glide at speeds five times faster than the speed of sound


Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions. “At a minimum this latest test indicates China is likely succeeding in achieving a key design objective: building a warhead capable of withstanding the very high stress of hypersonic maneuvering,” Rick Fisher, a China military expert, told the WFB. “It is likely that the test vehicle will form the basis for a missile launched weapon.”


“The Wu-14 is designed to penetrate US missile defense systems, meaning the PLA is capable of defending China’s territorial sovereignty. But such a test is only a nuclear deterrent. Neither China nor the US wants to declare war over the South China Sea issues,” said Professor He Qisong, a defense policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.


Analysts suspect that the WU-14 will first be used in shorter-range roles as an anti-ship missile. China has already believed to have developed advanced capabilities for precision ASBM strike against U.S. aircraft carriers and other naval forces operating in the western Pacific, at ranges between 1,500 and 2,000km, under its sea-denial strategy.


China is also believed to be developing capability on an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) variant that adopts a boost-glide for long range precision strikes – at least out to 8,000km – against a broad range of targets, including ships at sea.


The National Air and Space Intelligence Center has testified to Congress that China’s hypersonic glide vehicle will be used to deliver nuclear weapons. A variant also could be used as part of China’s conventionally-armed anti-ship ballistic missile system, which is aimed at sinking U.S. aircraft carriers far from Chinese shores.

China’s commercial Jilin satellite system also indicates the emergence of China’s Prompt Global Strike (PGS) capabilities.

The Jilin-1 group of satellites consists of 4 satellites: one 450-kg major satellite with a resolution ratio of 0.72 metres, two dexterous image taking satellites with a resolution ratio of 1.3 metres and one checking satellite with dexterous image taking. Chinese sources say that by 2030 there will be 138 satellites in the Jilin satellite system with a return visit speed of 10 minutes.


It is expected that the satellites will become smaller with higher resolution. The PLA will use that satellite system to help its intercontinental PGS system update its targets.


“China’s hypersonic weapons development program is probably less developed than the American program, but China might be able to develop its program more quickly,” said James Acton of the Nuclear Policy Program and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


US hypersonic technology programs

US government agencies are developing hypersonic technology for short-term and long-term goals. The near-term goals are hypersonic weapons that are expected to mature in the early 2020s and unmanned surveillance aircraft in the late 2020s or early 2030s, with hypersonic vehicles to follow in the longer term. Air-breathing access to space is a much longer-term goal. The general development strategy is to start small with weapons and to then scale up to aircraft and space vehicles as the technology and materials mature, reports Janes.


Raytheon has been awarded a USD 174 million contract for work on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme, according to a 28 October Pentagon announcement. USD3.4 million of the cost-plus-fixed-fee deal was awarded, according to the announcement. HAWC is a joint project with the US Air Force (USAF) to “develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile”, according to DARPA.


Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are both working on HAWC projects. The latter is also working on DARPA’s Tactical Boost-Glide (TBG) programme. Both HAWC and TBG are feeding into the USAF’s High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) effort, which the service intends to demonstrate around 2020.


Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, as they will be able to avoid detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception. “The very high speeds of these weapons, combined with their maneuverability and ability to travel at lower, radar-evading altitudes, would make them far less vulnerable than existing missiles to current missile defenses,” the commission stated.


These developments threaten the U.S.’s strategic missile defense technology to be obsolete before its fully deployed, on which US has spent more than $100 billion, according to 2011 Arms Control Association report. Some nonproliferation scientists, have expressed the doubts that they may carry Nuclear weapons as well.

US Prompt Global Strike (PGS)

Prompt Global Strike (PGS) is a U.S. military program to develop weapons—mainly missiles—that can strike targets at any location on earth within one hour using conventional warheads. This capability may bolster U.S. efforts to deter and defeat adversaries by allowing the United States to attack high-value targets or “fleeting targets” at the start of or during a conflict.


The 2006 QDR noted the need for prompt global strike capabilities to provide the United States with the ability “to attack fixed, hard and deeply buried, mobile and re-locatable targets with improved accuracy anywhere in the world promptly upon the President’s order. The 2010 QDR also noted that “enhanced long-range strike capabilities are one means of countering growing threats to forward deployed forces and bases and ensuring U.S. power projection capabilities.”


In 2003, the Air Force and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) initiated a program, known as FALCON (force application and launch from continental United States) that was designed to develop both a launch vehicle similar to a ballistic missile and a hypersonic reentry vehicle, known as the common aero vehicle (CAV) that, together, would provide the United States with the ability to meet the requirements of the prompt global strike mission.


US is funding several hypersonic programs: Lockheed Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, Air Force’s Force Application and Launch from Continental United States, known as FALCON, Raytheon Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), and the Raytheon/Lockheed Tactical Boost Glide. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency gave Raytheon $20 million and Lockheed $24 million for the latter.


DARPA indicated that the goal for the HTV-2 program is to develop a vehicle that can launch into the Earth’s upper atmosphere and descend across the Pacific Ocean with speeds of more than 13,000 miles per hour. It should be able to travel from Vandenberg Air Force Base to a target near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 30 minutes.


The Army is also developing a hypersonic glide vehicle, known as the advanced hypersonic weapon (AHW). Like the HTV-2, the AHW would use a hypersonic glider to deliver a conventional payload, but could be deployed on a booster with a shorter range than HTV-2 and, therefore, may need to be deployed forward, on land or at sea.


The Army conducted a successful flight test of the AHW on November 17, 2011.  The system launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, and used the strategic targets system (STARS) booster stack, which is derived from the Navy’s Polaris ballistic missile. According to press reports, the vehicle traveled 2,400 miles, from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii to Kwajalein Atoll. The test collected data on hypersonic boost-glide technologies and test range performance. The mission also tested the thermal protection technologies for the vehicle, an area where concerns exist because of the high temperatures generated during flight.

DARPA’s Tactical Boost Glide (TBG)

The Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that aims to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems. In a boost glide system, a rocket accelerates its payload to high speeds. The payload then separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.

The boost-glide hypersonic weapons would offer certain unique attributes to military planners. Compared to ballistic missiles, boost-glide weapons have potentially 5 to 10 times the speed of sound, nearly double the range, can generally transport a heavier payload over a given range, are capable of midcourse maneuvering, and fly at lower altitudes.

The TBG program plans to focus on three primary objectives:

  • Vehicle Feasibility—Vehicle concepts possessing the required aerodynamic and aerothermal performance, controllability and robustness for a wide operational envelope
  • Effectiveness—System attributes and subsystems required to be effective in relevant operational environments
  • Affordability—Approaches to reducing cost and increasing value for both the demonstration system and future operational systems

DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme

Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds—five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and beyond—offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems. Such systems could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance.


The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile. These demonstrations seek to open the door to new, responsive long-range strike capabilities against time-critical or heavily defended targets. The program intends to emphasize efficient, rapid and affordable flight tests to validate key technologies.

HAWC plans to pursue flight demonstrations to address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars—air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability. Technologies of interest include:

  • Advanced air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight
  • Hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise
  • Approaches to managing the thermal stresses of high-temperature cruise
  • Affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches
  • HAWC technologies could also extend to future reusable hypersonic air platforms for applications such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and space access.

Russia developing several air- and sea-launched hypersonic missiles

Russia is reportedly developing several hypersonic weapons systems, including air- and sea-launched missiles.

According to analytical website, this year Russia successfully tested its experimental Yu-74 hypersonic glide vehicle. The Yu-74 was carried by the intercontinental-range RS-18A (NATO codename: SS-19 Stiletto) ballistic missile system. The glider was launched from the Dombarovsky missile base in the Orenburg region and hit a target located at Kura Missile Test Range in northern Kamchatka region, the Russian Far East. Russia’s new Yu-74 ultra-maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicles may become yet another response to the deployment of NATO’s missile installations in Eastern Europe, according to analytical website Ostkraft, says Sputnik.

Last year Russia conducted a series of tests of the Yu-71 hypersonic attack aircraft. The Yu-71 is part of secret missile program codenamed “Project 4202.” The glider was said to reach speeds of up to 7,000 miles per hour. Due to its outstanding maneuverability and high speed the system can overcome any defense shield, Ostkraft noted.

Russia tested a hypersonic missile in February 2015, WFB reported. According to military experts in the United States, Russia is testing a new hypersonic attack aircraft, the Yu-71 that reportedly has the capability to carry nuclear warheads that can penetrate missile defence systems. It has also been suggested that Russia is particularly working on devloping episodic weapons systems that can be launched by both land and sea-based means.

Russia has also  testing its hypersonic cruise missile “Zircon”, which is expected to be put into mass production in 2018, as reported by Tass source in the Russian military-industrial complex.  Settings “zircon” remain secret. Open sources report that the range of the new missile can reach up to 400 kilometers, and its flying speed will exceed the speed of sound in five or six times.

The hypersonic missile—which is a component of the 3K22 Zircon system—will be incorporated into the nuclear-powered Project 11442 Orlan-class battlecruiser (NATO: Kirov-class) Pyotr Veliky when it completes its overhaul in late 2022, as reported by Dave Majumdar. “The Admiral Nakhimov heavy missile cruiser’s deep modernization envisages the replacement of the warship’s missile strike system. As a result, the vessel will get the Zircon hypersonic missiles,” a source told TASS.

The Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy is developing a hypersonic strategic bomber capable of striking with nuclear warheads from outer space, Lt. Col. Aleksei Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti. A trial model of Russia’s nuclear-capable outer space strategic bomber will be developed by 2020, according to its developer. The jet will be very capable and will need only one-two hours to reach any place on Earth through outer space.

Russian commander of the Strategic Missile Forces (SMF), Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, had earlier reported that the Russian Strategic Missile Forces Academy has already developed and tested an engine for the experimental aircraft.

“The idea is that the bomber will take off from a normal home airfield to patrol Russian airspace. Upon command it will ascend into outer space, strike a target with nuclear warheads and then return to its home base,” Solodovnikov told RIA Novosti.

Called the PAK-DA strategic bomber, the hypersonic aircraft – which will be invisible to radar – will be armed with a special hybrid Turbofan engine, making it capable of low-level space flight. The bomber will burn traditional kerosene fuel when flying inside the earth’s atmosphere. However, once in space, the engine switches to methane and oxygen which allows the PAK-DA to fly without air.

“We are cooperating with Russia’s Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute on the design of an airframe and the aircraft’s characteristics. I think that its lift-off mass must be 20-25 metric tons for it to be a strike aircraft. It will [be able to accelerate to] hypersonic speed in rocket mode,” he added.

Russia is also developing the P-800 Onyx, which some experts suspect could be a hypersonic missile as well. “It could be a fundamentally new missile, possibly hypersonic”. Russian officials have said their hypersonic arms development is aimed to penetrate U.S. missile defenses.

Army General Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy minister of defense, told reporters that the ministry has developed a special new fuel to enable missiles to fly at hypersonic speeds.

India and Russia developing hypersonic cruise missiles

Unlike the U.S. and China, both of whom focus their hypersonic development efforts on boost-glide vehicles, Russia and India are seeking to build hypersonic cruise missiles. NPO Mashinostroeyenia, is collaborating with India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to develop BrahMos-II or or BrahMos Mark II, a hypersonic cruise missile expected to have a range of 290 kilometres (180 mi) and a speed of Mach 7, expected to be ready for testing by 2017.

According to the company’s website, the BrahMos-II will be powered by a scramjet engine instead of a ramjet one. “As a variation of the ramjet,” the company explains, “scramjets allow combustion to occur in a supersonic airflow, thereby expanding the operating range above Mach 4.”


Traditional Missile Defense Obsolete

Ballistic missile defense systems based on velocity and trajectory of a ballistic missile path use mathematical algorithms to determine interception points to accurately guide an intercepting missile. The predictable ballistic trajectory of ballistic missiles makes them vulnerable to land and naval-based interceptor missiles,

The Hypersonic glide vehicle defeats this logic by not traveling in a predictable ballistic path. It is launched like a ballistic missile, but it stays within the atmosphere skipping and gliding irregularly across thin air before going downward hypersonically into a highly maneuverable and evasive path before striking its target.

The high maneuverability and the hypersonic speed make it very difficult to be intercepted by exo-atmospheric kill vehicles as well as lessens the time it can be detected, fired at, or reengaged if there is a miss.

This development threatens the U.S.’s strategic missile defense technology to be obsolete before its fully deployed, on which US has spent more than $100 billion, according to 2011 Arms Control Association report.

References and  Resources also include:

Militaries developing Lethal, extremely maneuverable, Autonomous and stealthy Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV)

An unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), also known as a combat drone or drone, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that usually carries aircraft ordnance such as missiles. Aircraft of this type have no onboard human pilot. These drones are usually under real-time human control, with varying levels of autonomy. While several nations possess and manufacture unarmed UAV, only the United States, Israel, Italy, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey are at present known to have manufactured operational UCAV as of December 2015.

The  MQ-1 Predator and its larger  cousin, MQ-9 Reaper, dual intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-strike platforms have been highly successful against non-state actors as part of the counterterrorism fight. However, these slow-moving and relatively low-flying aircraft make them susceptible to advanced anti-aircraft batteries and radars employed by near-peer competitors in what are described as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments.

Russia is known to operate some of the most sophisticated enemy air defenses in the world. Russian-built air defenses, such as the S-300 and S-400, are now better networked to one another, have faster processing speeds and are able to detect fighter aircraft on a wider range of frequencies, making it much more difficult for even stealthy fighters and bombers to operate.  Countries are now developing next generation of UCAVs that can operate in  anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments.

Future Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) would be large, comparable in size to fighters, combat capable, stealthy and highly sophisticated systems designed to be deep penetrating and stealthy strike aircrafts. In addition, they will be highly agile and supersonic, armed (aircraft ordnance) such as missiles, but with limited persistence. Carrier based advanced UCAVs of this type have also been proposed in the US.

UCAV Roles and Missions

The UCAV concept covers a wide range of systems with many different characteristics. Michael Franklin was until recently a researcher in the Military Sciences Department of the Royal United Services Institute UCAVs, classifies them into three types.

Armed Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)

UAVs like General Atomics Predator and Reaper, both of which have been used during the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are primarily used in ISR roles, but are armed to provide lethal effects if required.

Large, advanced, stealthy UCAVs

These UCAVs are highly sophisticated systems that are designed to be deep-penetrating and stealthy strike aircraft. They can be used to perform long-range bombing campaigns against fixed ground targets and for the suppression or destruction of air defence assets especially those against heavily defended targets. SEAD missions, such as destroying enemy surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites,  requires searching for targets and then acquiring and engaging once they are detected.

In the long-term, they could be used to gain control of the airspace. These systems will be operating in very hostile environments in the quest for Air Superiority and Air Supremacy. They would be required to conduct air-to-air engagements from long-range and also at close quarters. Examples of this type of system include the UK Taranis demonstrator programme, the now-terminated US Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme and the European nEUROn programme.

A carrier-based version of this type of UCAV could be used to increase naval reach, conducting sea-based surveillance, naval strike and the suppression of enemy air defence missions. However, UCAVs have not yet demonstrated high decision-making skills and situational awareness of a human pilot, hence being employed for air-to-air combat against other aircraft is still far off.

Small, agile, expendable UCAVs

Small, agile, expendable UCAVs, with airframes similar to large, long-range cruise missiles, are potentially a third type of UCAV. They would be much smaller than other UCAVs, and so would be hard to detect and, unlike a cruise missile, they would be reusable. These UCAVs would be suitable for penetrating air defence systems and could deliver small weapons from close range against an array of ground targets. If such a system could be developed at low cost, they could operate in extremely hostile environments as they would be expendable.

An example of this type of UCAV is the Lockheed Martin Minion concept. The proposed system is a cruise missile like, air-launched unmanned aircraft, which is able to carry a payload of four precision-guided small diameter bombs or, as an alternative, an electronic attack payload. Engagements would be controlled from the launch aircraft, before the Minion returns to a forward operating base, landing using
its own retractable landing gear. The aircraft is estimated to cost substantially less than a Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM).


Extremely Maneuverable

Since UCAVs do not need to carry equipment necessary for a human pilot (such as the cockpit, armor, ejection seat, flight controls, and environmental controls for pressure and oxygen), they have lower weight and size than a manned aircraft, they can be designed to be extremely maneuverable, and stealthier. Their extreme maneuverability will allow them to make very high g moves and even evade missiles. However, because being typically smaller than manned, they are not able to carry much fuel and are typically tailored to specific kinds of missions and not as versatile as a modern multi-role fighter.


Highly Autonomous

These drones are designed to be more autonomous to enhance their survivability. Unlike current military drones such as the General Atomics Reaper, which are generally flown by ground based “pilots,” the new model would have the autonomy to reach its own operational decisions and would contact ground personnel only to initiate attacks, Martin RoweWillcocks, BAE’s head of business development for future combat air systems, said in a briefing at the company’s Warton plant in northwest England. BAE Systems Plc lifted the veil on plans for the world’s first combat drones, saying it’s working toward a scenario in which the unmanned warplanes will fight alongside piloted aircraft rather than instead of them.

The processing speeds of computers and algorithms aimed at increasing autonomous activities have continued to evolve at an alarming rate, creating a fast-moving circumstance wherein drones will increasingly take on more and more functions by themselves, Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias told Scout Warrior in an interview. Computer algorithms will enable drones to conduct a much wider range of functions without needing human intervention, such as sensing, targeting, weapons adjustments and sensor payload movements, ranges and capabilities, he added.


Weapons Technologies

Armed ISR UAVs will be operating in relatively benign environments in which a state of air superiority has been achieved. They will be able to approach targets at close range and so will employ low-cost and simple guided munitions. The payload capacity of current armed ISR UAVs is also much lower than manned aircraft. Small, lightweight,  precision missiles, including Lockheed Martin Hellfire missiles, Raytheon Paveway Laser Guided Bombs and Boeing JDAMs, have been successfully integrated on to armed ISR UAVs. The power available is also less, hence small size, weight and low cost Jamming units have been developed. The US Hunter joint tactical unmanned aerial system is an example of an operational UAV that can conduct electronic attack missions.

Large, advanced, stealthy UCAVs shall have higher payload capacities than armed ISR UAVs and shall carry conventional air-to-ground cruise missiles in their internal weapon bays to improve the stealth characteristics of the airframe.They will be very high-value assets, and so will stand off to ensure survivability and will require more complex stand-off weaponry. Conventional air-to-ground cruise missiles for UCAVs may be superseded by smaller missiles that are classed as micro-munitions.

The development of micro-munitions is dependent on the advancement of Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) and Nano Electro-Mechanical System (NEMS) technologies. Micro munitons shall also be useful for armed ISR and small expandable UCAVs.

In the future UCAVs shall  deploy Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs), which could be used for both the attack of ground targets and self protection. One of the  potential DEW technology for the future is high-power microwave (HPM) weapons. A HPM weapon generates continuous or pulse microwave beams that could be directed at a target potentially turning any unhardened electronics into molten silicon.

Electromagnetic bombs, or E-bombs, may be used to destroy the electronics of its target – a radar system, GPS system, radio system or a computer. At an appropriate range from the target, a short and powerful burst of electromagnetic pulses (usually in the microwave range) is released. Small E-bombs delivered in a projectile, similar to a conventional cruise missile can be used in all classes of UCAV to deliver extremely localised effects.  The main advantage of these systems is that the duration of the pulse is so short that they are potentially non-lethal; an attack could spare human lives and leave buildings undamaged. As such, E-bombs are ideal for use in urban environments, where the level of collateral damage is critical. Electromagnetic warheads could be integrated into missile suites similar to GAMs (GPS Aided Munitions) and JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions).

A second future DEW technology for UCAVs is high-energy laser weapons. DARPA’s High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) program seeks to enable high-energy lasers to be integrated onto tactical aircraft, significantly increasing engagement ranges compared to ground-based systems. The project goal is to develop a 150 kilowatt (kW) laser weapon system with maximum weight of 750 kg (1,650 lb) and maximum envelope of 3 cubic meters (70.6 cubic feet).

According to The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), enemy threats to aircraft, both manned and unmanned, have grown increasingly sophisticated and necessitate a powerful response. HELLADS could be the answer, with lasers to counter multiple threats with the power and the speed of light. In addition to defense purposes, combat lasers could also be of great help in offensive missions, as they would allow for precise targeting while minimizing the extent of collateral damage.

Finally, in the long-term, UCAVs may be used to gain control of the airspace and so will require weapons for air to- air engagements. In this role UCAVs will be acting as unmanned fighter aircraft operating in hostile environments. These aircraft will be very high performance systems, operating with high speed, agility and a high degree of  autonomy. They would be required to conduct air-to-air engagements from long range and also at close quarters. Examples of Air Superiority and Air Supremacy weapons that are being integrated into today’s advanced manned fighter aircraft are MBDA’s ASRAAM and Meteor. It is possible to envisage that similar weapons could be integrated into advanced UCAVs in the long-term.


Militaries around the world are pursuing UCAV R&D programs

France begins Naval testing of Neuron UCAV 

Europe’s nEUROn unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator was presented in flight in June 2016 at an air meet at Istres organized by the French Air Force. It is the first time in world aeronautical history that a stealth aircraft controlled from the ground has flown in public. Dassault Aviation conducted a formation flight of the nEUROn UCAV with a Rafale fighter and a Falcon 7X business jet in March 2014, marking the world’s first operation in which a combat drone flew in formation with other aircraft.

The Dassault nEUROn is an experimental Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) developed with international cooperation, led by the French company Dassault Aviation. Countries involved in this project include France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden & Switzerland. The design goal is to create a stealthy, autonomous UAV that can function in medium to high-threat combat zones. The operational UCAV is expected to be a larger design than the nEUROn demonstrator.

The UCAV is developed by an industrial team led by Dassault Aviation with the collaboration of Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi, Saab, Airbus Defence and Space, RUAG and HAI. nEUROn is expected to be larger and more advanced than other proven UAV systems like the MQ-1 Predator. It would be able to launch precision-guided munitions from an internal weapons bay, and perform an air-to-ground mission in a network centric warfare.

The air vehicle fuselage length and the wingspan are approximately 10m. The empty weight of the air vehicle is around 4,500kg and with a full payload the weight will be about 6,000kg. The air vehicle has tricycle-type landing gear for runway take-off and landing. The French maker states the nEUROn’s Adour engine (tuned from the SEPECAT Jaguar) will be replaced in the production version by a more powerful, specific, engine based on Snecma’s M88 from the Dassault Rafale.

nEUROn will have the capability to carry two laser guided 250kg (550lb) bombs in two weapon bays. The air vehicle is expected to have an endurance of several hours and high subsonic speed i.e. a maximum speed of Mach 0.7 to Mach 0.8. The unmanned nEUROn is controlled from ground-based stations and from control stations in combat aircraft such as the French Rafale or the Swedish Gripen.

The demonstrator made its first flight at Istres on December 1, 2012. The test schedule was completed in September 2015 with the 123rd flight. An additional series of tests was launched by the DGA in May 2016 to study the use of an unmanned combat air vehicle in a naval context.


BAE Taranis model, one of the largest design concepts

The British completed what was thought to be the third and last series of test flights from a site at Woomera, Australia, in the autumn of 2015. “Analyses from the third phase of flight trials is still going on. What we plan to do beyond that will be a subject for discussion once the analysis phase is completed,” said Martin Rowe-Willcocks, the head of future programs at BAE’s Military Air and Information business. An industry team led by BAE Systems completed two phases of trial flights at Woomera, Australia, between August 2013 and January 2014.

Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, was built by a BAE-led consortium in a £200 million (US $291 million) program primarily meant to test British unmanned air combat vehicle controls and low observable technology. Taranis is a British demonstrator programme for unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology. BAE describes Taranis’s role in this context as following: “This £124m four year programme is part of the UK Government’s Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle Experiment (SUAVE) and will result in a UCAV demonstrator with fully integrated autonomous systems and low observable features.”

The 9 meters wide by and 4 meters high Taranis demonstrator will have an MTOW (Maximum Takeoff Weight) of about 8000 kilograms and be of comparable size to the BAE Hawk – making it one of the world’s largest UAVs. It will be stealthy, fast, and able to deploy a range of munitions over a number of targets, as well as being capable of defending itself against manned and other unmanned enemy aircraft. The demonstrator will have two internal weapons bays. BAE, GE Aviation, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Selex are among the companies behind development of the 8-ton vehicle, which is similar in size to the Hawk trainer jet. 

US’s  Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles

Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration (LCASD)

The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded target drone builder Kratos a contract to execute what it calls a Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration (LCASD). This proof-of-concept initiative is centered on creating a (relatively) cheap unmanned combat aircraft that the USAF can afford to lose in combat, even opting to do so willingly by sending it on a one-way mission if need be. Alternatively, if the vehicle had the range to return to friendly territory, it could be repeatedly recovered and launched again on other missions, even from small bases without runways. The contract’s total value is $40.8 million, with Air Force contribution  is only up around $7 million,

Here is exactly what the AFRL wants out of this demonstration phase:

The LCASD system KUSD will provide a configurable design for multiple variants, anticipated to perform various missions that could require Nap-of-The-Earth (NOE) Flight, Cruising at High Altitudes, Defensive Counter Air (DCA) Maneuvers, Offensive Counter Air (OCA) Maneuvers, the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), and the Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD). Additionally, the System will also incorporate performance capability including extreme agility for missile avoidance maneuvers to improve survivability.

The Kratos LCASD design will meet, or in certain cases significantly exceed, the following stated Air Force goals for the program:

  • UAS Acquisition Cost: $3 million or less for the first unit up to 99 units, and $2 million or less for 100-or-greater unit quantity purchases.
  • 1,500 nautical mile mission radius with a 500 lb. payload.
  • Capable of Mach 0.9 Dash.
  • Maximum G load limits, maneuver rates, and subsystem environmental suitability.
  • Internal weapons capability; sized to carry and deliver at least two GBU-39 small diameter bombs.
  • Runway Independent Take-off and Landing capability.
  • Emphasis on the use of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) materials, sub-systems, manufacturing processes, and open mission system architecture concepts.
  • Tactical consideration of the vehicle shape, elimination of gaps and mismatches, and aero-structural inlet integration.


 US’s Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) programme

The Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) programme began being managed by DARPA, but was handed over to a joint US Navy and Air Force office in October 2005. The two principle systems being developed under the first phase of the programme, the Spiral 0 phase, are the Boeing X-45 and the Northrop Grumman X-47.


X-45 J-UCAV (Joint Unmanned Combat Air System)

Boeing has unveiled its Phantom Ray, a fighter-sized unmanned combat air vehicle which first flew in 2011. The aircraft has a 50-foot wingspan, can climb to 40,000 feet and reach speeds of Mach .85. The Boeing joint unmanned combat air system X-45 is an unmanned combat air vehicle being developed for strike missions such as Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD), electronic warfare and associated operations.

Built and wholly financed by Boeing as a future technology test bed and demonstrator, it is a stealthy, 50ft flying-wing design, which is said to be able to carry 4,500lbs of payload to a ceiling of 40,000ft and at speeds of up to 534kn.

In March 2004, the X-45A completed a ten-day schedule of test flights including dropping a 250lb inert Small Smart Bomb (SSB) at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. In August 2004, the first test of multi-vehicle operations took place. Two X-45A demonstrators were controlled by a single operator / pilot. X-45A flight tests were successfully concluded in August 2005.


US Navy’s X-47B

The Northrop Grumman X-47B is a demonstration unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) designed for aircraft carrier-based operations. The X-47B is a tailless jet-powered blended-wing-body aircraft capable of semi-autonomous operation and aerial refueling.

With a gross takeoff weight of 44,000lbs, a payload of 4,500lbs and capable of flying at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet at high subsonic speeds for six hours, hybrid wing-bodied X-47B is the size of a strike fighter and has a range of some 2100nm without refuelling.

UCAVs also don’t need to worry about pilot fatigue as operators work in shifts and are easily substituted, meaning mission lengths can be extended to up to 50 hours. By comparison, fighter jets need to return to base, undergo maintenance and change pilots before they can take off again.

The aircraft is highly autonomous, can fly a pre-programmed mission under computer control and then returning to base at the mouse-click of its operator, who monitors its operation but does not actively directly pilot it.

The UCAV conducted its maiden flight in 2011 before completing ground tests and commencing test flights in 2013. In-flight refueling tests began at the start of 2015. In August 2014, the US Navy announced that it had integrated the X-47B into carrier operations alongside manned aircraft.

UCAVs can also carry a wide range of ammunition, including the MK-84, GBU-31, BLU-109, MK-83, MK-82, GBU-32, GBU-103, GBU-104, GBU-105, AGM-114, AGM-65E, CBU-99, GBU-12, MK-82, MK-46/50/54, and so forth, making them extremely versatile and capable of carrying out missions over both sea and land as well as engaging in aerial combat. Importantly, the X-47B would allow US aircraft carriers to maintain a distance of more than 500 nautical miles off the coast of mainland China in an assault

Northrop Grumman intends to develop the prototype X-47B into a battlefield-ready aircraft, the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system, which will enter service in the 2020s



According to the United States Defense Department’s latest report on China’s military build-up, China is poised to become the world leader in unmanned military aircraft with up to 42,000 pilotless aircraft aloft by 2023. These will include fixed wing and rotary aircraft to conduct surveillance, attack and even air combat missions.

AVIC 601-S is a series of Chinese low-observable flying wing UAVs jointly developed by Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (SYADI) of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and Shenyang Aerospace University

In 2013 China revealed that it was developing four new types of UAVs including the Yilong and Lijian which look very similar to US built aircraft such as the General Atomics Reaper and the Northrop Grumman X-47B carrier based Unmanned Air Combat Vehicle (UCAV).

The Lijian, also known as “sharp sword”, is a stealthy flying wing design that first flew in November 2013 and is very similar to the X-47B that has been operated from a US aircraft carrier. The Sharp Sword is jet-powered and has a wingspan of 14 meters. It’s not yet known the precise mission Sharp Sword is assigned, but possible missions would including reconnaissance and eventually combat missions.


 China  developed part Missile and Part UCAV

Jane’s sources have shed new light on a hitherto unseen anti-ship weapon/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-like system – centred around a wing-in-ground-effect optimised airframe – that was initially circulated on Chinese internet discussion forums around May 2017 in a Mandarin language brochure with a redacted product designation.

Developed by defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) subsidiary, the system has been given the product designation of CH-T1, although it is understood that the company prefers to identify it as the Ground Effect UAV (GEUAV) demonstrator.

The forward segment of the 5.8 m long GEUAV demonstrator is shaped like a conventional missile, with a cylindrical fuselage capped by an ogival nosecone where the radar seeker is located. Towards the rear is an unconventionally designed main body featuring two thick, long chord but short-span stubby wing structures running along the sides of its belly that combine to form a continuous wing-like undersurface. Two small outer wings can be found at the front of the main stub wings, along with upwards cranked V-tailfins at the rear that have an overall span of 3.8 m.

The air vehicle has a specified maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 3,000 kg – although the prototype weighed significantly less during trials as it only carried partial payloads and fuel loads – and achieves take-off via rocket assisted catapult launch. It can be powered by either a turbojet or turbofan engine, which enables it to travel at a maximum speed of Mach 0.65 (802 km/h) while cruising at terrain hugging altitudes of 1–6 m. The engine draws its air from an intake located on top of its main body to avoid ingesting sea spray during low level flight overwater.

Russia’s MIG Skat Stealth UCAV Prototype

Russian military aircraft maker MiG said in May 20115, it was ready to go ahead with a research and development project for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) based on its Skat prototype, after signing a deal with the Trade and Industry Ministry earlier that month.

SKAT is a low-observable, subsonic craft meant to carry weapons in two ventral weapons bays large enough for missiles such as the Kh-31, powered by a single Klimov RD-5000B turbofan engine, a variant of the RD-93. It has an 11.5 meter (37.7 ft) wingspan, and is 10.25 meters (33.6 ft) long.

The single-engine subsonic design has a maximum thrust of 49,4 kN. So that the Skat is able to reach a top speed of 800 km/h with a maximum take-off weight of 10 tons, at altitude. The Skat is expected to have a service ceiling of 12,000 m and a range of 4000 km.

The Skat will be able to carry 2 tons of armament in two internal weapon bays. It should be equipped with Air-to-Surface missiles, Glide bombs, Cruise missiles and anti-radiation missiles. Possible roles include the suppression and attack of enemy air defenses.

United Aircraft Corporation’s president Mikhail Pogosyan revealed plans to produce a prototype of a 20-tonne UCAV by 2018. Pogosyan also revealed that this prototype will be based on the Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter.


India’s AURA unmanned combat air vehicle being developed by DRDO

AURA is an autonomous unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation for the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. The Main role of AURA is to deploy as Unmanned Stealth Bomber. The AURO is UCAV with long range and have properties of ‘Stealth’ which makes it almost undetectable on defence radars.

The UCAV’s design is similar to the American Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit bomber. IT is capable of flying at the altitude of 30,000 feet and has a range of 300+ km.  The whole of the AURA is made by composite materials and weigh less than 15 tonnes. The DRDO is going to use a Kaveri engine to power this unmanned vehicle.

The AURA is mainly deploy for the various military missions which includes Deep penetration strike, Suppression of enemy air defences, strategic reconnaissance and electronic warfare.

Unlike other UCAVs which only armed with missiles, The AURA can be capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. It will act as the ultimate ‘force multiplier’ and ‘game changer’ in any battle scenario of the future.

The Project cost is estimated to $1.5 billion ( Rs 8,250 crore).


Israel’s Harop

The IAI Harop (or IAI Harpy 2) is a disposable attack unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) developed by the MBT division of Israel Aerospace Industries which is part UAV and part missile. Rather than holding a separate high-explosive warhead, the drone itself is the main munition. This SEAD-optimised UCAV is designed to loiter the battlefield, hunt critical targets and attack targets by self-destructing into them.

Harop is 8 feet, 2 inches long with a wingspan of 9 feet, 10 inches. The range is said to be in the 1000 km range or upto 1000 km range and upto six hours of flight time. The aircraft is lauched from a prepared container and extends its outboard wing sections upon launch.

The Harop features two guidance modes: it can either home in on radio emissions by itself with its anti-radar homing system, or the operator can select static or moving targets detected by the aircraft’s electro-optical sensor. This latter mode allows the Harop to attack radars that are presently shut down and therefore not providing emissions for the aircraft to automatically home in on. Harop has been exported to a handful of Asian countries.

The head of Israel Aerospace Industries’ military aircraft division believes its future profits reside in the market for unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV). Future combat UAVs should be fast and carry a lot of weapons, and they may even be like flying bomb trucks that operate alongside manned aircraft. “This is one of the configurations you’re looking at,” Shahar says. “Not every UCAV will be an F-35 without the pilot.”


References and Resources also include:


USAF launches LRASM, a long-range, precision-guided, anti-ship missile designed for A2/AD threat environments.

China is fielding large number of long range of antiship ballistic and cruise missiles , strike aircraft, and submarines designed to overwhelm both US air bases and carrier strike groups. According to US Navy, “As the air and missile defense capabilities of potential adversaries rapidly advance, the ability of the U.S. Armed Forces to employ short-range precision guided weapons such as Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) will be increasingly challenged. China and Russia are also increasingly fielding sophisticated electronic warfare systems that can jam the GPS and other communication links.

The LRASM is a long-range precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and Air Force warfighters in anti-access/area-denial threat environments. The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound. What really makes LRASM stand out is that all of this is completely autonomous. Human beings tell the missile where the enemy fleet is, which ship to strike, and a provide it with a continuous stream of data—the missile takes care of everything else. Using artificial intelligence, the missile takes data and makes decisions all on its own.

Anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environment could be countered by highly autonomous systems  like  LRASM.  LRASM  missile employs advanced technologies that reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links, and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control LRASM surface-launch director Scott Callaway said: “This successful flight test demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s readiness to answer the US Navy’s need for new anti-surface warfare capabilities as part of the ‘distributed lethality’ concept, which calls for arming even the Navy’s smallest ships with powerful weapons that can hit targets hundreds of miles out

The US Air Force (USAF) has successfully launched the first tactical configuration long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM) at the Point Mugu Sea Range in California, US. The launch of Lockheed Martin-built LRASM was carried out by a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber from Edwards Air Force Base in California. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control LRASM director Mike Fleming said: “This was the first flight of a production representative, tactical configuration LRASM.

The US Air Force’s (USAF) B-1B Lancer bomber has successfully test-fired production configuration long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASMs) over the Sea Range at Point Mugu in California. The trial witnessed the launch of two Lockheed Martin-built LRASMs against multiple maritime targets. It met the primary test objectives, including target impact, paving the way for LRASM’s early operational capability.

Earlier, Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) was successfully released from a U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. The jettison release of the first LRASM from the Super Hornet is used to validate the aerodynamic separation models of the missile. “The first time event of releasing LRASM from the F/A-18E/F is a major milestone towards meeting early operational capability in 2019,” said Mike Fleming, Lockheed Martin LRASM program director. “The program is executing the integration and test contract, maturing subsystems and proving flight worthiness.”


Enhanced A2/AD environment

China is fielding an ASBM, referred to as the DF-21D that is a theater-range ballistic missile equipped with a maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) designed to hit moving ships at sea. This missile provides the PLA the capability to attack aircraft carriers in the western Pacific. The CSS-5 Mod 5 has a range exceeding 1,500 km [about 810 nm] and is armed with a maneuverable warhead. It can approach its target at hypersonic speed at a near-vertical ballistic angle, capable of executing a series of complex maneuvers during its descent, greatly complicating defensive counter-fire.

The warhead is thought to be composed of numerous cluster munitions that would spread out across the deck of the supercarrier, disabling or destroying exposed aircraft, radar dishes, and antennae as well as killing the flight deck crew, achieving a mission kill without necessarily sinking the ship. The recent DF-26 has a reported range of 1,800 miles to 2,500 miles, may also have an anti-ship capability.

The PLA Navy is also deploying a wide range of advanced ASCMs, the new YJ-12 ASCM provides an increased threat to naval assets, due to its long-range and supersonic speeds. It is capable of being launched from H-6 bombers.

The implication for the U.S. Navy is that it needs aircraft and weapons with longer ranges. The Navy is “going to have to adopt an offensive mindset,” naval strategist Bryan Clark, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and projection forces subcommittee.

Rob McHenry, a program manager in the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA, explained to Aviation Week: “We want US Navy cruisers and destroyers to be able to stand off from outside of potential adversaries’ direct counter fire range, and be able to safely engage and destroy high value targets they may be engaging against from extended range, well beyond potential adversary ranges that we may have to face…

Standoff precision guided weapons

LRASM – a modified version of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – was developed as part of an urgent operational need for U.S. Pacific Command for a modern air launched anti-ship cruise missile.

The capability to employ precision guided weapons at standoff ranges in large numbers will be necessary to ensure operational success in any high-end engagement. Advanced weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile—Extended Range (JASSM–ER), the Longe Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), the Tomahawk missile and others will be key elements in attack execution.”“I need weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further, and are more survivable,” PACOM commander Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate.”

“Once the missile flies that far, it has a requirement to be able to independently detect and validate the target that it was shot at. Finding that target, the missile will have to be able to penetrate the air defenses and finally, once it gets to that target, it has to have a lethal capability to make a difference once it gets there.”

LRASM is first guided by the ship that launched it, then by satellite. The missile is jam-resistant and can carry on even if it loses contact with the Global Positioning System. As part of the targeting system, the missile can be set to fly to a series of waypoints, flying around static threats, land features, and commercial shipping. LRASM can detect threats between waypoints and navigate around them. If it decides it would be entering the engagement range of an enemy ship not on the target list, LRASM will fly around the ship, even skipping waypoints that might lie within enemy range and going on to the next one.

After locating the enemy fleet, it dives to sea-skimming altitude to avoid close-in defenses. LRASM then sizes up the enemy fleet, locates its target, and calculates the desired “mean point of impact”—the exact spot the missile should aim for, taking into account the accuracy of the missile—to ensure the missile does not miss. In most instances that is the exact center of the ship, with the angle of the ship in relation to the missile taken into consideration, reported Kyle Mizokami in PM. Using AI and datalinks, multiple LRASMs can launch a coordinated attack on an enemy fleet.

The LRASM programme supports the US Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) effort to improve its ability to engage and destroy high-value targets from extended range.


Lockheed conducts successful flight tests of LRASM

LRASM is armed with a proven 1,000-pound penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead, Lockheed officials said. With a range of at least 200 nautical miles, LRASM is designed to use next-generation guidance technology to help track and eliminate targets such as enemy ships, shallow submarines, drones, aircraft and land-based targets, according to Lockheed Martin developers.

The LRASM, which is 168-inches long and 2,500 pounds, is currently configured to fire from an Air Force B-1B bomber, Navy surface ship Vertical Launch Tubes and a Navy F-18 carrier-launched fighter. The weapon is expected to be operational from an Air Force B-1B bomber and a Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.

Earlier Lockheed Martin has successfully carried out a controlled flight test of the US Navy’s long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM) surface-launch variant. Conducted from the navy’s Self Defense Test ship at the Point Mugu Sea Range, California, the event marked the third successful surface-launched LRASM test. The operational LRASM was fired from the MK41 VLS launcher, which flew a pre-planned low-altitude profile, collecting aerodynamics agility data, and then returned to its pre-determined destination.

ViaSat has been contracted to deliver datalink communications for the integration and test phase of the US Navy’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) programme. The follow-on deal was awarded by Lockheed Martin, and will see ViaSat supply Weapon Data Link (WDL) L-Band Units (LBU) in support of missile test programme’s datalink communications requirements.The weapon system will be able to communicate with launch platforms using the ViaSat datalink solution, as well as provide growth opportunities in the future.

The test proved the maturity of the missile, which loaded mission data using the modified Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TTWCS+), and aligned mission data with a moving ship in a dynamic at-sea environment.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control LRASM surface-launch director Scott Callaway said: “This successful flight test demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s readiness to answer the US Navy’s need for new anti-surface warfare capabilities as part of the ‘distributed lethality’ concept. In 2013 and 2014, the LRASM was also tested successfully from a ground-based MK 41 VLS Desert Ship. Lockheed is planning to continue with testing of the LRASM on other surface ship applications, including topside, deck-mounted launchers.

Earlier Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy completed the first Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) prototype captive-carry flight tests on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The flights were conducted at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland.  These initial airworthiness flight tests used a LRASM mass-simulator vehicle attached to the Navy’s F/A-18E/F to evaluate flight and handling characteristics, as well as to measure structural loads and strains on the aircraft. A future series of tests would gather noise and vibration data between the aircraft and the missile.

“LRASM is a precision-guided, anti-ship standoff missile designed to meet the needs of U.S. Navy and Air Force warfighters in anti-access/area-denial threat environments.”

LRASM leverages the state-of-the-art Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) airframe and incorporates additional sensors and systems to achieve a stealthy and survivable subsonic cruise missile. It is 168-inches long, weighs 2,500 pounds, and has a reported range of 500 nautical miles.

Featuring a multi-modal sensor, weapon data link, and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy enemy threats, the LRASM missile is armed with a 1,000lb penetrator and blast-fragmentation warhead.

The current plan is to have the weapon operational on-board an Air Force B-1B bomber by 2018 and a carrier-launched fighter Navy F-18 by 2019, Navy statements have said.


LRASM, is a collaborative effort between Lockheed, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency, or DARPA.

The joint DARPA – Navy Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) program is investing in advanced technologies to provide a leap ahead in U.S. surface warfare capability. The LRASM is designed to detect and destroy specific targets within groups of ships by employing advanced technologies that reduce dependence on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, network links and GPS navigation in electronic warfare environments. Autonomous guidance algorithms should allow the LRASM to use less-precise target cueing data to pinpoint specific targets in the contested domain.

LRASM employs a multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said. LRASM is engineered with all-weather capability and a multi-modal seeker designed to discern targets.

Beyond their anti-jamming digital GPS, therefore, LRASM will also rely on a 2-way data link, a radar sensor that can detect ships (and might also be usable for navigation), and a day/night camera for positive identification and final targeting. In its second flight test conducted in November 2014, the missile receiving inflight targeting updates via data-link and scoring a direct hit on the moving ship target.

The program also focuses on innovative terminal survivability approaches and precision lethality in the face of advanced counter measures. In 2015 test, in the final portion of the flight, the missile detected, tracked and avoided an object that was deliberately placed in the flight pattern to demonstrate LRASM’s obstacle-avoidance algorithms.

A key feature of this missile is a terminal guidance system that would allow it to reach a target even if the military were denied access to GPS signals or other network links.

The Lockheed Martin recently tested Joint-Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) that has a multi-mode guidance section with semi-active laser (SAL) sensor for precision-strike and a fire-and-forget millimeter wave (MMW) radar for moving targets in all-weather conditions. JAGM can engage several different stationary and moving targets in the bad weather, smoke and dust, and advanced countermeasures. Laser and radar guided engagement modes enable JAGM to strike accurately and reduce collateral damage, Lockheed Martin officials say


BAE Systems has begun production of an advanced targeting sensor for LRASM

BAE Systems has begun production of an advanced targeting sensor for the emerging Long Range Anti-Ship Missile engineered to track and destroy moving targets from great distances semi-autonomously, developers said. BAE Systems is a subcontractor to main LRASM developer Lockheed Martin. Production of the sensor comes shortly after Lockheed received the first LRASM production contract award from the Navy and Air Force.

Along with advances in electronic warfare, cyber-security and communications, LRASM is design to bring semi-autonomous targeting capability to a degree that does not yet exist. As a result, some of its guidance and seeker technology is secret, developers have said. Overall, LRASM employs the multi-mode sensor, weapon data link and an enhanced digital anti-jam global positioning system to detect and destroy specific targets within a group of ships, Lockheed officials said.

Developers say the weapon is particularly well suited for the most advanced adversary weapons systems and most high-threat warfare scenarios such as a “near-peer” type of combat engagements. Advanced threat environments are expected to include enemy forces armed with long-range sensors, electronic warfare, tactics for compromising or jamming GPS signals and a host of additional countermeasures designed to thwart incoming surface and air weapons.

“Our differentiator is that our technology can sense, identify, and help target moving ships from a great distance. With our LRASM sensor, we’ve transitioned our world-class electronic warfare capabilities from other platforms to a missile system with extremely low size, weight, and power constraints,” BAE LRASM Program Manager, Joseph Mancini, told Scout Warrior.

US Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW)

Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) will be an offensive weapon system that can be air, surface, and subsurface launched in the maritime battle space environment. OASuW will be a vital component of the Joint Force Anti-Surface Warfare capability and incorporate new and emergent technologies to support an increased offensive strike capability. Due to emerging threats, the fleet issued an Urgent Operational Needs Statement (UONS) that identified a capability gap for a long-range anti-ship missile to be filled by 2018.

Directly supporting this UONS and significantly reducing Joint Force warfighting risks, the U.S. Navy initiated OASuW Increment 1, which leverages the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA)/Office of Naval Research Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) demonstration program to deliver an Early Operational Capability (EOC) in the required timeframe.

OASuW Increment I — an ongoing program between DARPA and the Navy — is being developed using the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) to meet an urgent operational need from U.S. Pacific Command.

LRASM fills the most urgent air-launched capability gap to compliment, existing ASuW weapon systems and positions the Department of Defense to address evolving surface warfare threats. Longer term OASuW requirements will be addressed in the future by OASuW Increment II.

Set to start in Fiscal Year 2017, the contest for the Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) Increment II seeks to replace the Navy’s decades-old inventory of Boeing RGM-84 Harpoons with more technologically sophisticated weapons.

The Harpoon missile does not have the range or survivability to defeat emerging surface threats. Additionally, the US Navy has reduced the number of Harpoon missiles deployed each year; the Navy’s ability to effectively implement Harpoon in battle is diminished as compared to the 1980s fleet.

Navy also tested in 2015, a sea-based Tomahawk land attack missile against a moving maritime target. The TLAM, however, requires in-flight communication updates to adjust its flight path. However, It does boast nearly twice the range of the LRASM.


References and resources also include:

US DOD developing swarming, autonomous UAVs to counter Anti-access /Area Denial environments

US military is facing increasingly Anti-access /Area denial environment,  a set of overlapping military capabilities and operations designed to slow the deployment of U.S. forces to a region, reduce the tempo of those forces once there, and deny the freedom of action necessary to achieve military objectives . “A2/AD capabilities enabled by integrated air defense systems that include advanced fighters, advanced surface-to-air missiles, active and passive cuing systems, and directed energy weapons” make many U.S. fixed facilities vulnerable to attack in ways hard to imagine a decade ago, according to Harry Foster from National Defense University.

Most of the current inventory of Unmanned Aerial Systems are not  not well-matched in A2/AD environment  against more technologically advanced enemies who present higher levels of threats, contested electromagnetic spectrum and relocatable targets, according to DARPA. Drones, which currently are flown individually, “are operated by large crews,” “This is expensive and incompatible with an organic system able to react quickly to a dynamic situation.”

One of the technology US Military for defeating A2/AD Strategies is  UAV Swarms technology. The large UAVs  have large radar cross section hence more vulnerable, hence DARPA is trying to replace large UAV with swarms of small UAVs which shall be difficult to detect and engage.

For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well,” said DARPA in a statement.

Swarms  can find, fix, and communicate precise target location of ground, sea, and air targets; they can serve as weapons platforms to attack air defense systems from multiple axes; or they can pass missile targeting data to any platform carrying a counter air missile. DARPA is planning to develop UAS swarm capability under its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment program (CODE).

An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems (UAS) with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne.

So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach. Gremlins program, seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UASs) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air.  The program plans to demonstrate an ability to launch and recover small drones  carrying 60-pound sensor payloads  from an Air Force C-130 up to ranges of 300 nautical miles aircraft. The program is expected to culminate in an air launch and recovery demonstration in 2019.

 Swarming Autonomous drones

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will seek a $582.7 billion Fiscal Year 2017 budget that includes research and development spending on a new “arsenal plane,” swarming autonomous micro drones, and “gun-based” missile defense. The Pentagon seeks to spend $71.4 billion on research and development in the budget, Carter told The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

One of the projects being pursued by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), is developing swarming, autonomous vehicles that will operate as groups in multiple domains. “In the air they’ve developed micro drones that are really fast, really resistant,” Carter said. “They can fly through heavy winds and be kicked out the back of a fighter jet moving at Mach 0.9, like they did during an operational exercise in Alaska last year, or they can be thrown into the air by a soldier in the middle of the Iraqi desert.” The miniature drones make use of some commercial and 3D-printed components, he added.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work outlined the pillars of the “third offset strategy,” a plan to develop the technologies that will maintain the American military’s technological superiority. “United States would need to make progress in five key areas: autonomous “deep learning” systems, human-machine collaboration, assisted-human operations, advanced human-machine teaming, and semi-autonomous weapons, “he further said.

Challenge of enhancing endurance of Swarms

To make the swarm a reality, the Pentagon would need to invest in smaller unmanned systems, they also need to bring long endurance and persistence, which means the ability to refuel or recharge in flight.

“Remote recharging would be ideal, perhaps by some sort of directed-energy transmission” According to Cololnel John McCurdy, director for remotely piloted aircraft programmes at the Air Force Academy. The UAS will also require stealth, passive sensors, secure communication links and host of countermeasures.


 Distributed Airborne Capabilities

Small UAS have limited range and responsiveness, however, compared to larger airborne platforms. In November 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) request released request for information seeking information from industry on how to expand the operational envelopes of smaller UAS by using existing military aircraft to transport multiple small UAS into the theatre of operations and launch them while airborne.

“We want to find ways to make smaller aircraft more effective, and one promising idea is enabling existing large aircraft, with minimal modification, to become ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager. “We envision innovative launch and recovery concepts for new UAS designs that would couple with recent advances in small payload design and collaborative technologies.”


DARPA’s “Gremlins” Could Enable Cheaper, More Effective, and Distributed Air Operations

Gremlins program, seeks to develop innovative technologies and systems enabling aircraft to launch volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned air systems (UASs) and safely and reliably retrieve them in mid-air. The program also aims to prove that such systems, or “gremlins,” could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems, spreading out payload and airframe costs over multiple uses (expected lifetime 20 uses) instead of just one.

The program envisions launching groups of gremlins from large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft, as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses could provide significant cost advantages over expendable unmanned systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional manned platforms.

The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, an initiative aimed at harnessing near-term emerging technologies for operational use, demonstrated an ability to launch small drones from the flare dispenser of an F-16.

“Our goal is to conduct a compelling proof-of-concept flight demonstration that could employ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other modular, non-kinetic payloads in a robust, responsive and affordable manner,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager.

DARPA plans to focus primarily on the technical challenges associated with safe, reliable aerial launch and recovery of multiple unmanned air vehicles. As algorithms for increased levels of autonomy advance, aircraft will be able to control drones from the cockpit with a pilot in a command and control role, service experts have explained.

The Gremlins program plans to explore numerous technical areas, including:

  • Launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts
  • Low-cost, limited-life airframe designs
  • High-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping

Additionally, the program will address new operational capabilities and air operations architectures as well as the potential cost advantages.

DARPA recently completed Phase 1 of its Gremlins program, which envisions volleys of low-cost, reusable unmanned aerial systems (UASs)—or “gremlins”—that could be launched and later retrieved in mid-air. Taking the program to its next stage, the Agency has now awarded Phase 2 contracts to two teams, one led by Dynetics, Inc. (Huntsville, Ala.) and the other by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (San Diego, Calif.).

“The Phase 1 program showed the feasibility of airborne UAS launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification to the host aircraft,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA program manager. “We’re aiming in Phase 2 to mature two system concepts to enable ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ using air-recoverable UASs that could carry various payloads—advances that would greatly extend the range, flexibility, and affordability of UAS operations for the U.S. military.”

Gremlins Phase 2 research seeks to complete preliminary designs for full-scale technology demonstration systems, as well as develop and perform risk-reduction tests of individual system components. Phase 3 goals include developing one full-scale technology demonstration system and conducting flight demonstrations involving airborne launch and recovery of multiple gremlins. Flight tests are currently scheduled for the 2019 timeframe.

“We see the potential for using this technology on our own Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper® to offer our customers new mission capabilities,” David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI, said in a written statement.


DARPA programme to explore Offensive swarming operations (OFFSET)

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has commenced a project to explore how swarms of robots could be used to operate alongside army and marine units at the company level and below.

OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics (OFFSET) seeks to dramatically increase the effectiveness of small-unit combat forces operating in urban environments by developing and demonstrating 100+ operationally relevant swarm tactics that could be used by groups of unmanned air and/or ground systems numbering more than 100 robots.

These swarm tactics for large teams of unmanned assets would help improve force protection, firepower, precision effects, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. OFFSET plans to offer frequent opportunities for engagement with anticipated end users in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps and would share successfully tested swarm tactics with them on a rolling basis.

DARPA  is also reaching out to industry to help it build a game-based open architecture system to test swarm drone tactics in cities. Creating an open architecture system allows small businesses more opportunities to help DARPA develop swarm tactics for unmanned systems. DARPA also emphasized their interested in rapid development prototyping projects as part of their OFFSET program. Rapid development prototyping often times means quicker acquisition programs, which means more opportunities for startups.


for more information in OFFSET:


DARPA’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment program (CODE)

The U.S. military’s investments in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have proven invaluable for missions ranging from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to tactical strike, but most current systems demand continuous control by a dedicated pilot and sensor operator supported by numerous telemetry-linked analysts. This requirement severely limits the scalability and cost-effectiveness of UAS operations and compounds the operational challenges posed by dynamic, remote engagements against highly mobile targets in contested electromagnetic environments.

DARPA’s Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program aims to overcome these limitations with new algorithms and software for existing unmanned aircraft that would extend mission capabilities and improve U.S. forces’ ability to conduct operations in denied or contested airspace.

CODE intends to focus in particular on developing and demonstrating improvements in collaborative autonomy—the capability of groups of UAS to work together under a single person’s supervisory control. The unmanned vehicles would continuously evaluate themselves and their environment and present recommendations for UAV team actions to the mission supervisor who would approve, disapprove or direct the team to collect more data.


CODE Phase 2

DARPA is planning to develop UAS swarm capability under its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment program (CODE). DARPA recently awarded Phase 2 system integration contracts for CODE to Lockheed Martin Corporation (Orlando, Fla.) and the Raytheon Company (Tucson, Ariz.). Further, the following six companies—all of which had Phase 1 contracts with DARPA to develop supporting technologies for CODE—will collaborate in various ways with the two prime contractors:

  • Daniel H. Wagner Associates (Hampton, Va.)
  • Scientific Systems Company, Inc. (Woburn, Mass.)
  • Smart Information Flow Technologies, LLC (Minneapolis, Minn.)
  • Soar Technology, Inc. (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
  • SRI International (Menlo Park, Calif.)
  • Vencore Labs dba Applied Communication Sciences (Basking Ridge, N.J.)


“During Phase 1, we successfully demonstrated, in simulation, the potential value of collaborative autonomy among UASs at the tactical edge, and worked with our performers to draft transition plans for possible future operational systems,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager. “Between the two teams, we have selected about 20 autonomous behaviors that would greatly increase the mission capabilities of our legacy UASs and enable them to perform complex missions in denied or contested environments in which communications, navigation, and other critical elements of the targeting chain are compromised. We have also made excellent progress in the human-system interface and open-architecture framework.”

CODE’s prototype human-system interface (HSI) is designed to allow a single person to visualize, supervise, and command a team of unmanned systems in an intuitive manner. Mission commanders can know their team’s status and tactical situation, see pre-planned and alternative courses of action, and alter the UASs’ activities in real time.

For example, the mission commander could pick certain individual UASs from a team, circle them on the command station display, say “This is Group 1,” circle another part of the map, and say “Group 1 search this area.” The software then creates a sub-team with the circled UASs, divides up the search task among those assets, and redistributes the original tasks assigned to Group 1 assets to the remaining UASs. This capability significantly simplifies the command and control of large groups of UASs. Other parts of the HSI research focused on how to display the new plan, including potential impact on other mission objectives, and—depending on pre-set mission rules—either directly executes the plan or waits for the commander’s approval to act

Using collaborative autonomy, CODE-equipped UASs would perform their mission by sharing data, negotiating assignments, and synchronizing actions and communications among team members and with the commander. CODE’s modular open software architecture on board the UASs would enable multiple CODE-equipped unmanned aircraft to navigate to their destinations and find, track, identify, and engage targets under established rules of engagement. The UASs could also recruit other CODE-equipped UASs from nearby friendly forces to augment their own capabilities and adapt to dynamic situations such as attrition of friendly forces or the emergence of unanticipated threats.

“Further, CODE aims to decrease the reliance of these systems on high-bandwidth communication and deep crew bench while expanding the potential spectrum of missions through combinations of assets—all at lower overall costs of operation. These capabilities would greatly enhance survivability and effectiveness of existing air platforms in denied environments.”

CODE’s envisioned improvements to collaborative autonomy would help transform UAS operations from requiring multiple operators for each UAS to having one mission commander simultaneously directing all of the unmanned vehicles required for the mission. Commanders could mix and match different systems with specific capabilities to suit individual missions instead of depending on a single UAS with integrated capabilities, the loss of which would be potentially catastrophic. This flexibility could significantly increase the mission- and cost-effectiveness of legacy assets, reduce development times and costs for future systems, and enable new deployment concepts.

“Just as wolves hunt in coordinated packs with minimal communication, multiple CODE-enabled unmanned aircraft would collaborate to find, track, identify and engage targets, all under the command of a single human mission supervisor,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager.

CODE researchers seek to create a modular software architecture beyond the current state of the art that is resilient to bandwidth limitations and communications disruptions yet compatible with existing standards and amenable to affordable retrofit into existing platforms.

CODE program aims to develop open architecture, algorithms for collaboration and autonomy functions that will bolster UAS scalability, cost effectiveness, interoperability and operational capability and expand UAS operations in hostile environments, according to DARPA.




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New technologies overcoming Gaps, Obstacles, and Technological Challenges in Hypersonic Applications

The era of hypersonic flight had arrived. The large driving force behind hypersonic research emerges from the need to reduce cost to space and faster global transportation for both military and civilian purposes. Countries are developing future hypersonic Spaceplanes , enabling  intercontinental travel at very high speeds, that could  cut the journey times from the UK to Australia from the current duration of around 20 hours to as little as two hours.


They shall also provide revolutionary military capability like prompt global strike, launch on demand, satellite servicing and antisatellite missions. The Military of United States, Russia and other countries are developing sixth-generation fighters that may be capable of achieving hypersonic speeds. There is global race to develop Hypersonic Missiles such as US HTV-2 and X-51, Chinese WU-14, Russian Yu-71, that travel at least five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or more. These vehicles can fly along the edge of the space and can glide and maneuver to the targets.


The Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation (HIFiRE) program is a hypersonic flight test program executed by the United States AFRL and the Australian DSTO.1,2 Its purpose is to develop and validate technologies critical to next generation hypersonic aerospace systems. Candidate technology areas include, but are not limited to, propulsion, propulsion-airframe integration, aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics, high temperature materials and structures, thermal management strategies, guidance, navigation, and control, sensors, and system components.


Challenges of Hypersonic Flight

Hypersonic revolution blends the twin stream of space and aeronautics research into a confluence. Halon gives a good description of how the hypersonic flight realm traverses a complex environment as, “ranging from high in the stratosphere to operations into and cross the demarcation of spaceflight, where the laws of aerodynamics cease to apply and the laws of ballistic, Keplerian trajectories, and Hohmann transfers take over.”


Designing a HV often appears daunting and difficult. Numerous attempts have been made in the past with many successes and failures. Only a few programs ever became operational vehicles. Two hurdles which essentially link into a co-hurdle are the extreme hypersonic flight conditions and hypersonic mission objectives.


For example, mission objectives include space access and global transportation. Space access not only requires the attainment of very high vehicle velocities but also must traverse the varying atmospheric layers to reach an orbital path. Global access missions also benefit from hypersonic speeds but do not require the large orbital altitudes. Therefore, HV systems provide the desired speeds but demand complexity.


NASA categorizes speeds between Mach 5 ( 6125 kilometers per hour) to 10 Machs as Hypersonic. Aerodynamic drag roughly scales with the square of airspeed; double the speed, and the drag goes up four times. Streamlined shapes have partly overcome this problem, but the solution then, as it is now, is more thrust. However,  hypersonic speeds  speeds are frequently limited not by available thrust or drag, but by the heat buildup caused by atmospheric friction.


When moving at such velocity the heat generated by air and gas in the atmosphere is extremely hot and can have a serious impact on an aircraft or projectile’s structural integrity. That is because the temperatures hitting the aircraft can reach anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 °C. The structural problems are primarily caused by processes called oxidation and ablation. This is the when extremely hot air and gas remove surface layers from the metallic materials of the aircraft or object traveling at such high speeds.


The hypersonic regime introduces a number of flow attributes such as: extremely high turbulence, pressure, temperature, density, vorticity, and energy, thin shock layers, viscous interactions, entropy layers, changes in vehicle stability and control; and physical-chemical gas changes such as ionization, dissociation, equilibrium effects, and other molecular phenomena.


Studies have uncovered some of the lingering elements that continue to plague vehicle aerodynamics, viz. Limited capabilities of ground testing facilities for the simulation of hypersonic flows. Other challenges are the limited aerothermodynamic flight test database. The stringent access restrictions to existing databases and  the limited verification efforts of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) aerothermodynamic codes against ground test data.


The need for improved, cost effective instrumentation hardware and interpretive techniques seems to be essential for advancing hypersonic flight technology. Furthermore, collaboration through CFD, ground testing, and analytical modeling will greatly assist in data interpretation.


In addition to database creation, fundamental fluid dynamics analysis of hypersonic flow motions constitutes another essential aspect of aerodynamic research. Specific topics include boundary layer transition in hypersonic flight and boundary layer effects around vehicles that directly impact surface heating.


In addition, the hypersonic designer must remain aware of the other flow regimes since a hypersonic vehicle will have to transition from rest to the designed hypersonic flight Mach number and transition throughout the various characteristics of the atmosphere. The need to operate in several flight regimes can lead to unforeseen aerodynamic conditions, especially in air-breathing propulsion systems. While a certain shape or lift-to-drag (L/D) configuration may be efficient at low hypersonic Mach numbers (say 4-8), it may exhibit a severe degradation in aerodynamic performance outside this envelope. This would be the case, for example, during the takeoff and landing phases of a space plane.


Other relevant areas that fall under this category consist of control surfaces such as fins, elevons, tailerons, flaperons, etc. The technological factors associated with these control surfaces include:

  • The requirement to employ thin structures that reduce drag.
  • The need to overcome the thermal protection barriers imposed by the thin surface requirement
  • The need to design for longer life cycles and mitigate oxidation.
  • The need to integrate both hot and cold structures (e.g., in actuators).


Technology Breakthroughs for Hypersonic Flight

Lockheed is working on a number of innovative technologies to enable long-duration, maneuverable, hypersonic flight, company CEO Marillyn Hewson told reporters. These breakthroughs include new thermal protection systems, innovative aerodynamic shapes, navigation guidance and control improvements, and long-range communication capabilities, she said.


Ultra High Temperature Materials

Hypersonic platforms are ultimately limited by the capacities of the materials available.

The  Airframe of Hypersonic Vehicles like SR-72 ( Lockheed Martin  reconnaissance drone with strike capability) , must include advanced materials to stay intact while subjected to high dynamic loads, and to withstand the extreme aerodynamic heating of hypersonic flight, as air friction alone would melt conventional materials, writes Dora E. Musielak, Ph.D. University of Texas at Arlington.

There is growing interest in developing ultrahigh temperature materials (UHTM). These are materials with temperature capability greater than 1650 °C and able to withstand extreme erosive / corrosive environments. UHTM should possess high strength at high temperatures, oxidation resistance, ablation resistance, thermal shock resistance.

These materials will be required for hypersonic air breathing vehicles, hyper speed cruise missile, hypersonic aircrafts, re-usable launch vehicles to protect leading edges and nose cones that experience very high temperatures (> 2000 °C). Refractory diboride composites like ZrB2, HfB2 etc and multilayer coatings of HfC, SiC on C-C composites are most promising UHTM candidates.


Scramjet Technologies

Solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets, in conjunction with turbine, ramjet, and scramjet engines, embody some of the available propulsion concepts that are capable of hypersonic flight. Two branches emerge as the dominant hypersonic engine mechanisms, the rocket motor and the air-breather.

Ramjets become less efficient at higher Mach numbers due to the ramjet’s subsonic combustion. Scramjets potentially hold the capability to realize the objective of a long range airliner at hypersonic speeds and, complement the traditional rocket in space launchers.

The Air Force, in collaboration with DARPA, NASA, and the Navy, is developing scramjet—supersonic combustion ramjet—technologies that may contribute to the long-range strike mission in the future. In this type of vehicle, the engine gets the oxygen it needs for combustion from the atmosphere passing through the vehicle, instead of from a tank onboard. This eliminates the need for heavy reservoir oxygen tanks, and makes the vehicle far smaller, lighter, and faster than a conventional rocket.


3D Printing Key to Hypersonic Weapons: Raytheon

“But when it comes to making hypersonic systems, which require exotic materials and strangely shaped components that conventional methods can’t handle, 3D printing may be essential,” says Raytheon’s head of advanced missile systems, Tom Bussing. “Growing” parts in a 3D printer allows you to make much more complex shapes than the traditional process — used since before the Bronze Age — of casting the basic shape in a mold and then cutting it to the final desired form.


He gave example of design of cooling system for hypersonic jet moving through the air, at Mach 5-plus, that generate extreme friction and heating of hypersonic air vehicle. “But if you want cooling vents in a traditionally manufactured component, you have to drill a bunch of holes in it (and hope you didn’t weaken it too much). If you want cooling vents in a 3D-printed component, you just program the printer to make a shape that has openings in it from the start. What’s more, if you drill out your cooling channels, they’re going to be pretty much straight; but if you grow the channels in a 3D printer, they can be helixes or other elaborate shapes that vent heat much more efficiently.“If it’s more efficient, it means you can make it smaller, [with] less cooling,” said Bussing. “[It] lasts longer, flies farther.”


Tactical Boost-Glide is the approach already tested by both Russia and China: a rocket motor boosts the missile up to hypersonic speed, after which it glides to the target. The goal is to “skip” off the atmosphere like a skipping stone over water, allowing it to go vast distances at extreme speeds. Getting this to work requires progress in aerodynamics, stability, and controls, as well as materials, Bussing said. Getting this to work requires progress in aerodynamics, stability, and controls, as well as materials, Bussing said. 3D printing can help in all these areas


An “air-breathing” hypersonic vehicle, by contrast, flies under its own jet power the whole way. This approach allows less range than boost-glide but greater maneuverability. Air-breathers can also be significantly smaller. A rocket has to carry large amounts of oxidizer to burn its fuel. A jet just sucks in oxygen from the atmosphere. But normal jets don’t have to suck in air moving at Mach 5-plus. A jet that works at hypersonic speeds will require some breakthroughs — and, again, 3D printing can help grow the exotic components.


Orbital and Nasa 3D printed scramjet engine part survives critical wind tunnel tests

Orbital ATK has successfully tested a 3D printed hypersonic engine combustor at Nasa Langley Research Centre in Virginia. The breakthrough could lead to planes that can travel 3,425mph (5,500km/h) – 4.5 times the speed of sound.

The combustor was created through a manufacturing process known as powder bed fusion (PBF). In this, a layer of metal alloy powder is printed and a laser fuses areas of together based on the pattern fed into the machine by a software program.

As each layer is fused, a second is printed until the final product is complete. Any additional powder is removed and the product is polished. The combustor was successfully put through a range of hypersonic flight conditions over the course of 20 days, including one of the longest duration propulsion wind tunnel tests ever recorded.

Orbital says one of the most challenging parts of the propulsion system, scramjet combustion. This houses and maintains stable combustion within an extremely volatile environment.


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DARPA develops drones to deliver payload and then self destruct to avoid drone capture incidents

A Chinese navy submarine rescue vessel launched a small boat and seized the US drone which the Pentagon also called an “ocean glider.”  The Pentagon said the Chinese ship ignored repeated demands to return the vehicle from the USNS Bowditch. One week later the Chinese government has returned the US underwater drone it siezed in the South China Sea, according to Chinese and US officials. The Pentagon said the United States would continue to investigate the “unlawful” seizure, which took place in international waters about 50 miles northwest of Subic Bay in the Philippines.

In 2014, Iran claimed to have developed a stealth drone which it says is copy of US RQ-170 Sentinel, made by Lockheed Martin. “The drone was brought down by the Iranian Armed Forces’ electronic warfare unit which commandeered the aircraft and safely landed it,” the Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported. Late 2014, Iran announced it had “managed to reverse engineer most parts” of the drone, according to the Tasnim report. In 2011, U.S. “stealth” Blackhawk helicopter that crashed during the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden was given access to China by Pakistan despite explicit requests from the CIA not to, the Financial Times reported.

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA )  launched  “Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems” (ICARUS)  program to prevent incidents like this from happening. The goal was to create drones that would be deployed from an aircraft, deliver their payloads, and literally disappear.

Using its Ghost expendable glider, DZYNE flight testing recently proved aerodynamics and controls necessary for autonomous delivery of a small, three-pound payload. Developed under contract through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) ICARUS program, Ghost is a small, robotic cargo glider that will allow precision supply drops for those in the field. Currently, supply to small military or civilian teams in difficult-to-access territory requires large, parachute-based systems that must be carried out or otherwise disposed of, for operational security and environmental concerns. It can be challenging to get a parachute-based system to deliver cargo precisely in an area surrounded by trees or buildings. The Ghost air vehicle uses a novel air vehicle design and flight control methodology to eliminate these challenges.

Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program

DARPA  awarded contracts to three companies the MORSECORP, PARC, and DZYNE to develop a vanishing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) able to deliver a small package no larger than 3 pounds to a GPS-programmed location with 33-foot accuracy. The vanishing air vehicles, which the companies will develop to operate at night that can complete their mission like making precise deliveries of critical supplies and then  must be able to vanish within four hours of landing, leaving remnants no larger than 100 microns — or about the width of a human hair.

In one program-driving scenario, troops are called upon to deliver food, perishable vaccines, insulin, and blood and plasma products to widespread, difficult-to-reach destinations in the aftermath of an earthquake or tsunami. The option to forget entirely about the remains of all those delivery vehicles once they have done their job would relieve response teams from the logistics task of packing and transporting the vehicles out of the affected region while essentially eliminating environmental impacts from the vehicles’ deployment.

Today the supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in rough terrain, such as sniper teams and Special Forces, requires large parachute-delivery systems that must be packed-out after payload delivery for security and environmental concerns. Vanishing precision-delivery vehicles would enable efficient resupply to teams in distributed locations, eliminate the need to pack-out delivery parachutes, and deliver time-critical humanitarian supplies to personnel serving in remote or dangerous areas, DARPA officials say.

In a military context, access to small, unmanned delivery systems whose structural and avionics components were made with transient materials could ease the provision of, say, water, batteries or emergency medical supplies without adding to a unit’s pack-out-burden.

“Inventing transient materials, devising ways of scaling up their production and combining those challenges with the hard control and aerodynamic requirements to reach the precision and soft-landing specs we need here makes for a challenging and compelling engineering problem.”

Among the ephemeral materials so far have been developed are small polymer panels that sublimate directly from a solid phase to a gas phase, and electronics-bearing glass strips with high-stress inner anatomies that can be readily triggered to shatter into ultra-fine particles after use.

The program builds on recent innovations in its two-year-old Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which has developed self-destructing electronic components. “Our VAPR program partners are developing structurally sound transient materials with mechanical properties that exceeded our expectations,” says Troy Olsson, program manager of VAPR and ICARUS for DARPA.

Developed under contract through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) ICARUS program, Ghost is a small, robotic cargo glider that will allow precision supply drops for those in the field. Currently, supply to small military or civilian teams in difficult-to-access territory requires large, parachute-based systems that must be carried out or otherwise disposed of, for operational security and environmental concerns. It can be challenging to get a parachute-based system to deliver cargo precisely in an area surrounded by trees or buildings. The Ghost air vehicle uses a novel air vehicle design and flight control methodology to eliminate these challenges.

DZYNE Technologies developing technology advances in DARPA’s ICAURS project

The Ghost demonstration took place July 17-19, and featured gliders built from a non-vanishing material that mimics the physical properties of vanishing materials. The gliders were dropped from balloons to conduct 15-mile, cross-country flights, ending with a steep, precision-guided approach to a defined target.

“The successful flight testing of the Ghost air vehicle demonstrates DZYNE Technologies’ exceptional capability in designing a purpose-built unmanned aircraft to fulfill a challenging mission profile,” said Darrell Gillette, DZYNE Technologies CEO.

Patrick Wright, Ghost Program Manager, remarked, “This is exciting for DZYNE because Ghost becomes the starting point for a whole family of autonomous cargo delivery systems.”

DZYNE is developing manufacturing processes that will allow Ghost gliders to be built using the vanishing structural materials developed under the DARPA Vanishing Programmable Resources program (VAPR).


MIT-founded Morse Develops Single-Use Disappearing Drone for DARPA

According to MIT,  the  Morse, which stands for Mission-Oriented Rapid-Solution Engineering,  began working on its promise to create a disappearing drone that could fly 100 miles, land within 30 feet of its target, and dissolve within four hours or within 30 minutes of the sun rising.

Morse CEO Andreas Kellas admitted that this is anything but easy. “Developing an aircraft that can meet the accuracy and range requirement alone is a challenge,” said Kellas. “But add in the disappearing requirement and the problem becomes nearly impossible. That’s when you have to apply the MIT mentality: be creative, tenacious, and figure out how to make the impossible happen,” he added. One year later, and Icarus has reached “advanced research stage,” bringing the once seemingly impossible task closer to reality.

You might be wondering what the functional purpose is, of a drone that’ll vanish without a trace. According to MIT, DARPA was keen on producing such UAVs in order to deliver important payloads such as antivenom or plasma, as well as tools to people in remote areas or dangerous territories where detection of drones could further the threat of reprisals.

Kellas explains, “Our warfighters and those of our allies often operate in forward areas where their discovery would compromise their safety. This system would enable the resupply of lifesaving antivenin, blood transfusion kit, and other critical items without compromising their position.”

To make the disappearing drones a reality, MORSE developed a self-flying vehicle that is made from lightweight film that contains a guidance system smaller than a tennis ball. The vehicle is made of specially developed polymers that, when exposed to heat or sunlight, quickly depolymerize, or disintegrate, into a clear liquid substance, leaving only the guidance system and delivered supplies upon landing.

The MORSE team demonstrated a successful official high altitude flight test earlier this summer, followed by a successful depolymerization demo of its disappearing material.


Swarms of Disposable Drones Will Make Critical Deliveries and Then Vanish

Existing autonomous supply vehicles have a multitude of limitations, including landing accuracy, cost, and a need to recover the system after deployment. Resupply systems such as parachute or UAV-based solutions use expensive vehicles that must be retrieved. The battery capacity required for return trips displaces payload capacity, the vehicles are costly to mass produce, and may require transport of heavy launch/land infrastructure.

As recipients of an ICARUS seedling effort, Otherlab has developed heavy-duty cardboard gliders which can deliver supplies and then disappear in a span of days. These gliders, while capable of re-use, are designed to be expendable and biodegradable.

The Otherlab system, the Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA), pairs advanced computational design techniques with low-cost fabrication methods for rapid airframe development. The designs are adaptable to mission-specific payloads across a range of production scales. APSARA vehicles have a long shelf-life, can be cheaply assembled, and flat-pack for shipping, to be folded into form when needed. APSARAs are customizable, can be assembled in theater, and benefit from being constructed from a low-cost, high-availability material.

APSARAs are ideal for delivering humanitarian payloads to the most remote areas. Capable of carrying low thermal loss canisters and medically sensitive fluids, APSARAs can transport blood and vaccines – often most critically needed in regions with undeveloped road and runway infrastructure.

They may also enable the delivery of other equipment, such as batteries, to specific locations. APSARAs enable distributed delivery with precise landings, solving the “last leg” problem for battlefield or low-infrastructure locations, and reducing supply chain vulnerability.

In one operational concept, a C-17 (or C-130) could be equipped with several hundred APSARA gliders, each loaded with critical medical supplies and preprogrammed with delivery coordinates. The combined range of the large transport and the gliders deployed from it would allow the single airplane to conduct delivery operations covering an area the size of California.

According to Star Simpson, Otherlab’s APSARA project engineer, “we used cardboard as a prototyping material because it is easy to work with and resembled mycelium, the mushroom-based material that we intend for the future product.” Like mushrooms, Simpson says the design can grow. “We can currently carry up to a one-kilogram payload, and we know we can pretty directly scale the airplane up to about an 8-foot wingspan and carry 10 kilograms with no problems.”

Otherlab has experimented with a variety of landing techniques, but for now, they’ve settled on a spiral down to a controlled crash landing.

NASA invents self-destructing bio-drone made of fungus and bacteria

A biodegradable drone made out of fungus, bacteria and wasp spit built by NASA-affiliated scientists may pave the way for future spyware, which would simply self-destruct if it crashes, leaving behind only minute remnants.

The biological drone would simply melt away, according to its designers. “No one would know if you’d spilled some sugar water or if there’d been an airplane there,” Lynn Rothschild of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California told New Scientist. The model was conceived by a group of scientists from across Stanford, Brown and Spelman College.

The main body is primarily made of a fungal material called mycelium which was covered by the outer skin made out of bacterial cellulose sheets, which were grown in a laboratory and take on a sticky, leathery type consistency. For waterproofing, the device was coated in proteins, which had been cloned from paper wasps’ saliva – what they use to gel their nests together and waterproof them.

However, at present key components like electronics, propellers and batteries are not bio-degradable. The team has expressed a desire to develop sensors made out of E. coli bacteria. “There are definitely parts that can’t be replaced by biology,” team member Raman Nelakanti of Stanford University told New Scientist.



Vanishing electronics based on tempered Glass

Gregory Whiting, a materials scientist and manager of the Novel Electronics Group have developed a new computer chip made of tempered glass, which when remotely triggered could self destruct itself in seconds and keep the sensitive data secure. The new method utilizes silicon computer wafers attached to a piece of tempered glass, which when heated in one spot shatters into small pieces.

Tempered glass is about four times stronger than “ordinary,” or annealed, glass, and unlike annealed glass, which can shatter into jagged shards when broken, tempered glass fractures into small, relatively harmless pieces.

Normally tempered glass is made by heating in oven at a temperature of more than 600 degrees Celsius and then undergoing a high-pressure cooling procedure called “quenching.” Due to this process, the exterior of the glass contracts, putting the exterior into compression while the interior that is warm maintains extraordinary tensile stress. The heat-tempering process only works with pieces of glass that are at least 0.03 inches thick, as glass is a poor temperature conductor. Also, it requires thinner materials to produce tiny particles.

Researchers used an alternate method called ion exchange. The researchers began with a thin piece of glass that was rich in atoms of sodium, or sodium ions, with one electron stripped off. The glass was then put into a hot bath of potassium nitrate. Potassium ions then try to exchange places with the sodium ions. However, this produces enormous tension in the glass, as the heftier potassium ions must squeeze into place within the silicon matrix, Whiting said.

The new method provides the option to either attaching silicon wafers directly to the glass, or fabricating the two together.

The team to induce chip suicide triggers the chip with a tiny heating element, which causes a thermal shock that creates a fracture that spreads throughout the glass. The recent chip demonstration relied upon the laser triggering a photo diode, which switched on the self-destruct circuit. Future versions of the chip could use anything from mechanical switches, or Wi-Fi to radio signals as triggers.


PARC Successfully Demonstrates Electronics that Disintegrates on Demand

PARC performed several dozen live demonstrations of the transient technology, The self-destructing chip was on display last month at DARPA’s “Wait, What? Technology Forum” in St. Louis, where attendees used a standard laser pointer to provide a remote logical signal that triggered a current pulse in a resistive heater which provided the energy needed to initiate a defect and disintegrate PARC’s electronic device within a couple of seconds. While an optical signal was used in this demonstration, PARC’s technology can also be triggered via a radio frequency signal as well as physical or chemical triggers.

Previous research by the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology has also considered using a tiny resistor heater that could cause critical circuits to self-destruct to prevent reverse-engineering. Researchers at Iowa State University also have reported progress in working with “transient materials” used for electronics, passports or credit cards that could degrade on command.

Parc, a part of Xerox, has extended its multimillion dollar contract with DARPA to develop its Disintegration Upon Stress Release Trigger (DUST) technology under DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources program.



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