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.
UAVs are ideal fit for risky military missions, however 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 DARPA is developing for defeating A2/AD Strategies is UAS swarm capability under its Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment program (CODE). 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. 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.
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.
In Nov 2019, officials with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that a series of tests at Arizona’s Yuma Proving Ground had shown that live and virtual drones could work together, with high degrees of autonomy, to complete missions even when their communications and GPS were under heavy electronic attack. DARPA’s CODE program demonstrated the ability of CODE-equipped Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) to adapt and respond to unexpected threats in an anti-access area denial (A2AD) environment. The UASs efficiently shared information, cooperatively planned and allocated mission objectives, made coordinated tactical decisions, and collaboratively reacted to a dynamic, high-threat environment with minimal communication.
The air vehicles initially operated with supervisory mission commander interaction. When communications were degraded or denied, CODE vehicles retained mission plan intent to accomplish mission objectives without live human direction. The ability for CODE-enabled vehicles to interact when communications are degraded is an important step toward the program goal to conduct dynamic, long-distance engagements of highly mobile ground and maritime targets in contested or denied battlespace.
“The test series expanded on previously demonstrated approaches to low bandwidth collaborative sensing and on-board planning. It demonstrated the ability to operate in more challenging scenarios, where both communications and GPS navigation were denied for extended periods,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA program manager for CODE.
During the three-week ground and flight test series in a live/virtual/constructive (LVC) environment, up to six live and 24 virtual UASs served as surrogate strike assets, receiving mission objectives from a human mission commander. The systems then autonomously collaborated to navigate, search, localize, and engage both pre-planned and pop-up targets protected by a simulated Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) in communications- and GPS-denied scenarios. “The demonstrated behaviors are the building blocks for an autonomous team that can collaborate and adjust to mission requirements and a changing environment,” said Wierzbanowski.
The DARPA team also has advanced the infrastructure necessary to support further development, integration, and testing of CODE as it transitions to future autonomous systems. Achievements include incorporation of third-party autonomy algorithms into the current software build, the creation of a government repository and lab test environment for the CODE algorithms, and the successful demonstration of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory White Force Network capability to provide constructive threats and effects in an LVC test environment. CODE’s scalable capabilities could greatly enhance the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of existing air platforms, as well as reduce the development times and costs of future systems.
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.
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
To date, the program has conducted Phase 2 flight test series with teams led by Lockheed Martin Corporation (Orlando, Fla.) and Raytheon validating the software open architecture and test-support framework. The teams completed numerous flight tests at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The tests flew RQ-23 Tigershark UASs modified with CODE hardware and software to control flight direction, altitude, speed, and sensors.
“The Phase 2 test flights exceeded their objectives to stand up the infrastructure, and showed promising progress toward the future collaborative autonomy capabilities CODE envisions,” Ledé said. “In Phase 3, we anticipate further expanding CODE capabilities by testing greater numbers of aircraft and highly autonomous behaviors in more complex scenarios.”
DARPA 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.
CODE Phase III
DARPA has selected the Raytheon Company (Tucson, Ariz.) to complete the development of the CODE software during Phase 3. Once fully demonstrated, CODE’s scalable capabilities could greatly enhance the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of existing air platforms, as well as reduce the development times and costs of future systems.
“CODE is working to develop a low-cost approach to upgrade legacy unmanned aircraft and make them more effective through groundbreaking algorithms and software that enable them to work together with minimal supervision,” said Jean-Charles Ledé, DARPA program manager for CODE and acting deputy director of the Agency’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO).
“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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