United States Military Aviation

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First Flight of the Valkyrie - a Step Closer to Manned-Unmanned Flying Formations - Defense Update:



First Flight of the Valkyrie – a Step Closer to Manned-Unmanned Flying Formations


The US Air Force’s latest unmanned aircraft system (UAS), XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Valkyrie is a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle designed to operate autonomously or in cooperation with manned aircraft as part of the Air Forces’ ‘Loyal Wingman’ concept. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A. According to the designer, the 30 ft (9 meters) long Valkyrie has a range of more than 3,000 nautical miles (5,556 km)

Based on Kratos’ low-cost target aircraft design philosophy, Valkyrie is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, which has the objective to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft. The objectives of the LCAAT initiative include designing and building UAS faster by developing better design tools, and maturing and leveraging commercial manufacturing processes to reduce build time and cost. It took Kratos and the Air Force little over 2.5 years to develop Valkyrie, from contract award to the first flight. “XQ-58A is the first example of a class of UAV that is defined by low procurement and operating costs while providing game-changing combat capability,” said Doug Szczublewski, AFRL’s XQ-58A Program Manager. According to the Air force, by teaming unmanned assets like the Valkyrie with an F-35 or an F-22, each manned platform can cover more space at a lower cost point.



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A wind tunnel model of the Valkyrie used for wind tunnel testing. Photo: Kratos
Unlike the UTAP-22 Mako that was used in flight tests with 3 and 4 GEN fighters the design features on Valkyrie are likely to reduce radar and thermal signature, better preparing it for operations with stealth aircraft. Among those features are the trapezoidal profile, canted tails, low-profile dorsal air intake and engine exhaust, serrated access panels, and weapons bay doors.



Developed for runway independence, the aircraft was launched and behaved as expected on its first flight that lasted 76 minutes. The XQ-58A has a total of five planned test flights in two phases with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems.

Previous experimentations were done with UTAP-22 Mako, another platform developed by Kratos. A derivative of Kratos’ BQM-167 aerial target drone, the platform provides a highly maneuverable unmanned aircraft, capable of carrying and operating weapons and advanced sensor systems. It demonstrated the capability to operate in synch with manned formations. It has flown in multiple large-scale military exercises and has been cleared for export.

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> U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE > Contract View

ontracts for March 7, 2019
DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY

Tactical & Survival Specialties,* Harrisonburg, Virginia (SPE8EJ-19-D-0001); W.S. Darley & Co.,* Itasca, Illinois (SPE8EJ-19-D-0002); Atlantic Diving Supply Inc.,* doing business as ADS, Virginia Beach, Virginia (SPE8EJ-19-D-0003); Federal Resources Supply Co.,* Stevensville, Maryland (SPE8EJ-19-D-0004); Unifire Inc.,* Spokane, Washington (SPE8EJ-19-D-0005); and Quantico Tactical,* Aberdeen, North Carolina (SPE8EJ-19-D-0006), are sharing a maximum $4,000,000,000 bridge contract under solicitation SPM8EJ-13-R-0001 for special operations equipment. These are firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, 365-day bridge contracts. These were sole-source acquisitions using justification 10 U.S. Code 2304 (c)(1), as stated in Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1. Locations of performance are Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Washington and North Carolina, with a March 6, 2020, performance completion date. Using military services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Type of appropriation is fiscal 2019 defense working capital funds. The contracting activity is Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

NAVY

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, Northridge, California, is awarded a $322,504,595 cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to provide for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) of the AGM-88G, Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER). The EMD effort includes the design, integration and test of a new solid rocket motor for the AARGM-ER for use on the F/A-18E/F, EA-18G and F-35A/C aircraft platforms. Work will be performed in Northridge, California (98 percent); and Ridgecrest, California (2 percent), and is expected to be completed in December 2023. Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $55,087,929 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-19-C-0050).

Harris Corp., Clifton, New Jersey, is being awarded $43,263,695 for modification P00013 to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-17-C-0090). This modification is for the procurement of additional full-rate production Lot 16 Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures AN/ALQ-214 A(V)4/5 Onboard Jammer systems for the F/A-18 E/F aircraft for the government of Kuwait under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Work will be performed in Clifton, New Jersey (59 percent); San Jose, California (14 percent); San Diego, California (7 percent); Rancho Cordova, California (5 percent), Mountain View, California (3 percent); and various locations throughout the continental U.S. (12 percent), and is expected to be completed in August 2022. FMS funds in the amount of $43,263,695 are being obligated at time of award, none of which expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Owego, New York, is awarded a $23,882,121 cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-reimbursable indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract. This contract provides engineering, logistics, tooling management support and technical data services for sustainment, operation, maintenance, and training in support of all domestic and foreign H-60 variants. Work will be performed at Owego, New York (55 percent); and Stratford, Connecticut (45 percent), and is expected to be completed in March 2024. No funds will be obligated at the time of award. Funds will be obligated on individual orders as they are issued. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-19-D-0001).

Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems, Manassas, Virginia, was awarded a $20,889,135 cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-only modification to previously-awarded contract N00024-18-C-5218 to exercise an option and provide incremental funding in support of the continued development, integration and production of the Navy’s AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 Surface Ship Undersea Warfare System. The AN/SQQ-89A(V)15 is the Surface Ship Undersea Warfare combat system, with the capability to search, detect, classify, localize and track undersea contacts, and to engage and evade submarines, mine-like small objects and torpedo threats. The contract is for development, integration and production of future advanced capability build and technical insertion baselines. Work will be performed in Manassas, Virginia (83 percent); Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania (10 percent); Syracuse, New York (6 percent); and Hauppauge, New York (1 percent), and is expected to be completed by March 2020. Fiscal 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy); fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy); and foreign military sales (Australia) funding in the amount of $20,889,135 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity. (Awarded March 6, 2019)

Gravois Aluminum Boats LLC, doing business as Metal Shark,* Jeanerette, Louisiana, is awarded a $20,628,477 delivery order to previously awarded, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity, firm-fixed price contract N00024-17-D-2209 for 12, 40-foot patrol boats, complete with basic boat equipment, shipping, long term preservation, boat familiarization, and crew original equipment manufacturer and waterjet training. Work under this delivery order will be performed in Jeanerette, Louisiana, and is expected to be complete by August 2022. Fiscal 2019 other procurement (Navy) (Overseas Contingency Operations); and fiscal 2019 other procurement (Navy) funding in the amount of $20,628,477 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity.

B.L. Harbert, Birmingham, Alabama, is awarded a $20,599,777 firm-fixed-price contract for construction of a combat vehicle warehouse at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia. The work to be performed provides a dehumidified warehouse for the storage of ground weapon system principal end items and associated collateral material. The structure will have a low profile sloped roof to minimize the volume of interior space to be dehumidified. The structure will be supported on a shallow foundation with a reinforced concrete slab on grade. Work will be performed in Albany, Georgia, and is expected to be completed by May 2021. Fiscal 2018 military construction (Navy) contract funds in the amount of $20,599,777 are obligated on this award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with three proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic, Norfolk, Virginia, is the contracting activity (N40085-19-C-9126).

G-W Management Services LLC,* Rockville, Maryland, is awarded a $19,754,000 firm-fixed-price contract for the improvement of Fuller Road at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The work includes the reconstruction, widening and minor realignment of existing Fuller Road from each of U.S. Route 1 to Mason Drive, and new entry control facility/access control point with entrance security building(s). The security facilities include new gate house, two sentry houses, inspection shelters, a canopy structure, and personnel weather shelters. The work includes: forest clearing, demolition and removals, grading, retaining walls, utility relocations, site utilities (storm drain, sanitary sewer, telecom, and power), buildings structures, vehicle inspection canopy, active vehicle barrier, and incidental related work. Work will be performed in Quantico, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by November 2020. Fiscal 2018 military construction (Navy) contract funds in the amount of $19,754,000 are obligated on this award and will expire on March 8, 2019. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website with five proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Washington, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity (N40080-19-C-0010).

ARMY

Accurate Energetic Systems LLC,* McEwen, Tennessee (W52P1J-19-D-0028); and Spectra Technologies LLC,* East Camden, Arkansas (W52P1J-19-D-0029), will compete for each order of the $45,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for Trinitrotoluene and plastic bonded explosive N-9. Bids were solicited via the internet with four received. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of March 6, 2024. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, is the contracting activity.

Tribalco LLC,* Bethesda, Maryland, was awarded a $12,043,813 modification (P00010) to contract W912DY-16-D-0021 for radio systems and services. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of March 12, 2020. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntsville, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., Oak Brook, Illinois, was awarded a $10,610,812 modification (P00016) to contract W912BU-15-C-0054 for dredging and rock removal. Work will be performed in Chester, Pennsylvania, with an estimated completion date of March 15, 2019. Fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance Army funds in the amount of $10,610,812 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the contracting activity.

UNIFORMED SERVICES UNIVERSITY OF THE HEALTH SCIENCES

Angayut LLC, Arlington, Virginia, has been awarded a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-quantity/indefinite-delivery contract (HU000119D0001) with a minimum award amount of $100,000 and a maximum ceiling/face value of $20,000,000 for professional, scientific, and administrative support services. Performance will occur in Bethesda, Maryland; and San Antonio, Texas, from March 5, 2019, to March 4, 2024. The contract does not include options. Angayut is an 8(a) Alaskan Native Corporation in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. Operations and maintenance funds will be applied at the task order level. In accordance with Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S. Code 637(a)(1)) and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 19.8, and the executed partnership agreement between the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Defense. Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, is the contracting activity. (Awarded March 5, 2019)

DEFENSE HEALTH AGENCY

QBase LLC, Reston, Virginia (HT0015-19-F-0036), was awarded a firm-fixed-price $7,546,347 contract for non-personal information technology (IT) services in support of the Defense Health Agency (DHA), Health Information Technology (HIT), Infrastructure and Operations Division (I&O), Enterprise Systems Branch. These support services include virtual and physical server administration; database administration; IT system patching and mitigation of system vulnerabilities; application deployment, data at rest; technical writing; security scanning; Tiers 2 and 3 system administration services; operating system deployments; backup and storage services; and network and application vulnerability scanning. The award was made as a small business competitive solicitation in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation 8.405, using General Services Administration eBuy Schedule 70, Special Item Number 132-56. Seventeen quotes were received in response to the solicitation. The contractor place of performance is Falls Church, Virginia. The contract provides for four option periods, if exercised. This contract is funded with fiscal 2019 operations and maintenance appropriations in the amount of $7,546,347. The Defense Health Agency, Contracting Office – Health Information Technology, San Antonio, Texas, is the contracting activity. (Awarded Feb. 28, 2019)

AIR FORCE

CORRECTION: A $48,444,066 contract announced on March 6, 2019, for Assured Information Security Inc.,* Rome, New York (FA8750-19-C-0013), for full spectrum cyber capabilities was actually awarded today. All other information in the March 6, 2019, announcement is correct.
 

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Boeing contracted to integrate LRSO cruise missile with the B-52H bomber

The US Air Force (USAF) Nuclear Weapons Center has awarded Boeing a USD250 million contract to integrate the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile weapon system with the B-52H large-payload multirole strategic bomber aircraft.

Under the provisions of the contract, Boeing will undertake aircraft and missile carriage equipment development and modification, and full integration and testing of the LRSO for the USAF fleet of B-52H platforms. The programme is expected to be completed by 31 December 2024.

The Air Force Material Command issued a pre-solicitation notification on 10 April 2018, indicating that it intended to award the aircraft original equipment manufacturer (Boeing) up to USD250 million to integrate the LRSO weapon on the USAF's fleet of 76 B-52H bombers between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2023 (with provision for an additional year if needed).

However, while integration work is now set to begin, the LRSO is still a developmental capability and will not be fielded until the 2030 timeframe.

In August 2017 USAF awarded two separate contracts - each with an estimated, but unconfirmed, value of about USD900 million - to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon for work on the LRSO missile. Both contracts run until 2022, following which the air force will select one concept solution to advance its development under an Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development phase contract.

Intended to penetrate and survive integrated air-defence systems and prosecute strategic targets in support of the Air Force's global attack capability and strategic deterrence core function, the LRSO is a developmental, nuclear-capable cruise missile concept that is being proposed as a significantly enhanced replacement for the currently fielded AGM-86 Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). Both conventional and nuclear variants of the LRSO weapon are required to reach initial operational capability before the retirement of their respective ALCM versions - around 2030.
 

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https://thenewsrep.com/115347/the-s...-plan-to-give-fighter-pilots-drone-sidekicks/

The Skyborg Program: The Air Force’s new plan to give fighter pilots drone sidekicks
skyborg.jpg

U.S. Air Force photo

by Alex Hollings · 2 days ago

The Australian government and Boeing recently unveiled their plans for a “Loyal Wingman” drone system that would provide multiple support drones for fighters, bombers, and even unarmed aircraft during combat operations. Now, the U.S. Air Force has begun touting a new endeavor, dubbed “Skyborg,” that could take the Loyal Wingman concept to the next level.



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Put simply, Skyborg is an Air Force Research Lab initiative that aims to not only field unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to support manned combat aircraft, but to use artificial intelligence (AI) to allow these armed drones to learn directly from the behavior of their human peers. Skyborg-equipped aircraft could fly alongside fifth-generation fighter platforms like the F-35, participating in combat operations and even making decisions about how best to execute the mission in situations where it may be better equipped than even human operators.

As Oriana Pawlyk at Military.com points out, AI-enabled drones could feasibly identify and respond to incoming threats faster and more accurately than a human could in some circumstances. While a pilot has to rely on data being relayed to him or her via the aircraft’s (increasingly streamlined) monitors or heads-up displays, a drone touting AI could read and respond to incoming threats without that cognitive lag, making decisions informed by lessons learned from observing the human pilot, but executing them within a fraction of a second.

The idea of having an autonomous platform thinking, learning, and flying alongside human pilots may sound a little too much like the ill-fated 2005 film, “Stealth,” in which a team of pilots has to chase down its UCAV wingman after it gains sentience (due, of course, to a lightning strike). In reality, however, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Dr. Will Roper contends the pressing threat related to AI isn’t that our aircraft will turn on us, but rather the possibility that a nation like China may begin fielding these systems first.

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This movie predicted elements of the Skyborg program more than a decade ago, despite being overwhelmingly mediocre.
“Imagine having trained person after person, generation after generation. What if, once you get on the curve, what if it’s exponential? And whoever gets on it first has an advantage forever?” Roper asks. “I don’t want China on that curve. I want us on that curve, and us accelerating ahead of the pack.”

Roper doesn’t believe that a program like Skyborg will lead to removing manned aircraft from combat operations, but rather he sees it as an opportunity to expand the branch’s force projection capabilities. The digital knowledge acquired from the Skyborg initiative, wherein the AI-equipped drones learn by following the lead of human pilots, could be used to help mature the capabilities of multiple autonomous aircraft across the force, and even inform the ways the Air Force trains future human pilots.

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Drones like the Air Force’s new XQ-58A Valkyrie could be equipped with Skyborg AI to fly alongside manned aircraft. (USAF)
“Learning is taking place on one platform to be shared across a fleet of those platforms (but) you may want to share that across the entire Air Force,” Roper said. “I would love to have an Air Force that did that.”

Eventually, those same AI systems could find their way into manned aircraft as well — making for an incredibly adept autopilot, but more importantly, serving as a valuable tool in the human operator’s arsenal. Having a capable AI that has learned its operational tactics from the pilot it’s flying with could help further streamline situational awareness for pilots and expedite responses to threats.

“I might eventually decide, ‘I want that AI in my own cockpit,'” Roper told journalists. “So if something happened immediately, (the AI) could take hold, make choices in a way that (a pilot would) know because (a pilot has) trained with it.”

A Skyborg-powered fleet is still a ways off, but Roper says the branch intends to have some operational models within the coming years. As the technology matures, officials will develop a better understanding of how best to leverage the capabilities the program offers, and importantly, where not to leverage them.

Roper says the Skyborg system’s responses to training will be “how we’ll know how much we trust, and how much (responsibility) we’re willing to turn over to it.”
 

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Raytheon has released the first photo of its EMD Next Generation Jammer - Mid Band pod. The plan is still to start delivering the first five EMD pods to the US Navy starting mid May and have all 5 delivered by the end of the year. They'll start chamber testing with the first few pods later this summer followed by captive carry and integration flights on the EA-18G by the year end. Plan is to begin radiating flights by early next year. They currently plan on getting Milestone C approval in the 2nd half of 2020 as well to get the production rate up to get to Early Operational Capability by 2022

fetch


Meanwhile, some solid investment into both the NGJ-MB and NGJ-LB pods (R&D only, procurement is separate) in the Navy's FY20 budget including $630+ Million for Research and Development to support the two NGJ programs, up 17% from FY19 levels.
 

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Boeing's Big Win: $14.3 Billion to Modernize the B-52 and B-1 Bombers

Boeing's Big Win: $14.3 Billion to Modernize the B-52 and B-1 Bombers

Rich Smith, The Motley Fool
Motley FoolApril 20, 2019
Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) may have won the contest to build the U.S. Air Force's new B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber and the $90 billion payday that comes with it. But don't cry too much for Boeing (NYSE: BA), the loser in that contest. Boeing just landed a $14.3 billion award -- for airplanes it has already built!
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Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber
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Northrop's B-21 may be the future of U.S. Air Force bombers, but right now, it's Boeing's B-52 winning all the cash. Image source: Getty Images.
The Pentagon giveth, and the Pentagon ... giveth and giveth even more
Last week, in its daily digest of defense contracts awarded, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Boeing had won "a $14,314,300,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the modification, modernization, engineering, sustainment and test of the B-1/B-52 weapons systems."
Boeing was the logical contractor to tap for these upgrades, seeing as it, or its predecessor companies, built both the B-1 and the B-52. (The other strategic bomber that you've probably heard of, the B-2, was built by Northrop Grumman, as the new B-21 will be.)
Dubbed the "B-1/B-52 Flexible Acquisition and Sustainment contract," this contract will pay Boeing "for the upcoming modernization and sustainment efforts to increase lethality, enhance survivability, improve supportability, and increase responsiveness" of the Air Force's B-1 and B-52 strategic bomber fleets -- 133 bombers in total, according to the latest figures from Flightglobal's World Air Forces 2019 report.
Average it out, and the Air Force is paying a touch more than $107 million per plane just to upgrade each bomber -- or about what it would cost to build a new F-35 stealth fighter jet from the ground up!
What it means for investors
At $14.3 billion, Boeing's B-1/B-52 upgrade contract equates to more than seven months' revenues for Boeing's Defense, Space & Security division (BDS), the second largest of the company's three main divisions, but its least profitable at a profit margin of just 6.9% according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
For comparison, Boeing's flagship commercial airplanes unit earns profit margins nearly twice as high -- 13% -- while its global services division earns an even better 14.7% operating profit margin, albeit on less revenue.
What will be interesting to see over the 10 years that this contract runs (DOD says the bomber upgrade work "is expected to be complete by April 11, 2029") is whether this contract ends up improving margins at BDS. After all, "modernization and support" services sound more in line with the work that Boeing global services does for its commercial customers than the construction of entire new warplanes that BDS focuses on. If this kind of work results in such above-average profit margins on the civilian side of the business, it stands to reason it could be similarly profitable on the defense side -- helping to revive profit margins at Boeing Defense.
What comes next
Whatever profit margins Boeing ends up making, it had best make good use of the money, because there may not be too much more where this came from.
Once Northrop Grumman begins churning out B-21s early next decade -- an estimated 100 planes are expected to be built -- the U.S. Air Force plans to begin retiring its B-1 Lancer fleet, as well as its fleet of Northrop-built B-2s. The fate of the venerable B-52 Stratofortress, in use since the 1950s, is less certain. Some commentators believe the B-52 will continue flying well into the 2040s. But given its age, chances are that the Air Force will decide to phase out the Stratofortress at some point, in favor of shiny new B-21 Raiders.
When that happens, expect to see Boeing fade into the background as Northrop Grumman lines up to claim the multi-billion-dollar bomber "modernization" contracts of the future.
 
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No Bigger Secret: Why the New Mach 5 SR-72 Spy Plane Could Be Everything

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No Bigger Secret: Why the New Mach 5 SR-72 Spy Plane Could Be Everything
Why Russia and China should be nervous.

by Task and Purpose

What we know so far.

The successor to Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird, the Mach 3 long-range recon aircraft that once tore across the skies like a Cold-War era arrowhead before its retirement in 1999, may be inching closer toward reality.

According to Aviation Week, a handful of visitors to the SAE International Aerotech Congress and Exhibition at Fort Worth, Texas, this week reported catching glimpses of a “demonstrator vehicle” believed to be linked to the proposed replacement: the SR-72.

Though the SR-72’s development is (understandably) a tightly-kept secret, Aviation Week reportsthat: In the early hours of July, an “unmanned subscale aircraft” was seen flying into the Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, where Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works division is headquartered.

With an “optionally piloted” flight research vehicle test slated for 2018 by Lockheed back in June, and a test flight anticipated to occur by 2020, the presence of the demonstrator at Palmdale seems to indicate that the SR-72’s progress is in line with Lockheed Martin’s timeline.

“Although I can’t go into specifics, let us just say the Skunk Works team in Palmdale, California, is doubling down on our commitment to speed,” Orlando Carvalho, the executive vice president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin, said at the exhibition, which ran from Sept. 26 to 28. “Simply put, I believe the United States is on the verge of a hypersonics revolution.”

Lockheed Martin has remained tight-lipped on the SR-72 program since announcing the Blackbird successor in 2013, but the aerospace giant wants to up the ante in terms of speed. And that’s saying something: the Blackbird as it's known is not only faster than any other jet-propelled aircraft — it can literally outrun missiles.

“Speed matters, especially when it comes to national security,” as Carvalho put it.



If the recent sightings in Palmdale are tied to the Blackbird’s replacement, then the aircraft really is fast — and not just on the flight line. While still under development at Skunk Works, the proposed reconnaissance plane is expected to hit Mach 6 thanks to advanced new hypersonic tech.

“Hypersonics is like stealth. It is a disruptive technology and will enable various platforms to operate at two to three times the speed of the Blackbird,” Carvalho told Aviation Week. “Operational survivability and lethality is the ultimate deterrent. Security classification guidance will only allow us to say the speed is greater than Mach 5.”



The proposed hypersonic aircraft could fill a space left by the SR-71, which was retired in 1999 due to the proliferation of spy satellites, enemy air defenses, and ultimately, its exorbitant costs — roughly $200,000 per hour of operation, reportsthe National Interest. Unlike its predecessor, the SR-72 is being designed with strike capability in mind — which means it’s not just a super speedy spy plane: It can reach out and touchobliterate a target, then zip back the way it came.

Carvalho’s comments, while not explicitly linked to the SR-72, mirrored sentiments expressed by Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs organization, during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics forum in Denver, Colorado in June.

“We’ve been saying hypersonics is two years away for the last 20 years,” said Weiss. “But all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with DARPA and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our warfighters as soon as possible.”
 
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The Navy's New Jammers For Its EA-18G Growlers Cut Back Their Range More Than The Old Pods

The Navy's New Jammers For Its EA-18G Growlers Cut Back Their Range More Than The Old Pods
The Growlers are sorely in need of the new jamming systems, but the present pod design could create all-new issues.
BY JOSEPH TREVITHICKNOVEMBER 28, 2018

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The U.S. Navy says that Raytheon’s Next Generation Jammer-Mid Band pod, of NGJ-MB, at least in its present form, further reduces the maximum range of the EA-18G Growler over the current system. This was one of the reasons why the service rejected the company’s proposal for the Next Generation Jammer-Low Band pod, NGJ-LB, and could present operational challenges in the future.

This information and more is contained in a response from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissing Raytheon’s protest of the Navy’s decision to award two separate contracts to L3 and Northrop Grumman for continuing development of the NGJ-LB in August 2018. While the GAO’s basic determination had been public knowledge since October 2018, the document outlining the watchdog’s position in detail had been previously sealed under a protective order. It is now publicly available, albeit in redacted form.

“Raytheon challenges the Navy’s criticisms of its proposed low band jammer with respect to size, drag, EIRP [Effective Isotropic Radiated Power, a measure of the efficiency of a transmitting antenna], and weight,” GAO explained. “We have reviewed all of Raytheon’s arguments and find no basis to sustain the protest.”

Raytheon’s NGJ-LB concept was derived from their design for the NGJ-MB, also known as the AN/ALQ-249(V)1, which has been in development since at least 2010. At present, the Navy’s EA-18Gs carry three AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System pods in both high- and low-band configurations, which first entered service in the 1970s.

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An exploded view of Raytheon's AN/ALQ-249(V)1 Next-Generation Jammer-Mid Band pod.

The NGJ-MB will replace the high-band ALQ-99 pods that Growlers carry under each wing, while the NGJ-LB will replace the third, low-band pod that the aircraft lug around on the centerline stores position underneath their fuselage. The Navy does plan to eventually procure an improved high-band jamming capability under the broader NGJ program, but it remains to be seen whether this will consist of additional systems inserted into one or more of the pods already in development or consist of a separate unit altogether. You can read more about these various components and other issues in our recent in-depth profile of the program here.

The Navy found that Raytheon’s proposal for the NGJ-LB would be too big for the centerline stores position and expressed concerns about potential weight growth. Raytheon contended that the service had unfairly judged these parameters since it had already cleared the Growler to fly with a 480-gallon drop tank under the fuselage. This store is also outside the approved “volume” for that station. The Massachusetts-headquarters defense contractor also argued it would leverage weight reduction experience from its NGJ-MB work to help reduce risk.

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A graphic showing various systems the EA-18G typically carries during missions at prsent, including the three ALQ-99 pods.

However, Raytheon’s planned NGJ-LB would have exceeded the maximum volume by a greater margin than the 480-gallon drop tank, which is also not a common store for the EA-18G during routine missions. The Navy reiterated that it had made it clear that any proposals needed to be within the set parameters, regardless.

As to the weight issue, the Navy acknowledged it had miscalculated the potential growth that Raytheon’s pod might experience. At the same time, it said that the company couldn’t base its own projections on experience with the NGJ-MB, since the internal components inside the low-band pod would be significantly different.

The separate requirements in antenna types and other components between the mid- and low-band pods, and their arrangement within the pod, was also what led the Navy to question the EIRP of Raytheon’s proposed configuration. The mid-band system itself has already had to undergo a major design overhaul due to difficulties in inserting the required jamming equipment and its power supply into the set size and weight parameters for that pod.

But by far the biggest revelation from the GAO’s decision is that Raytheon’s NGJ-MB pods, which the Navy still intends to use on its EA-18Gs, produce more drag than the ALQ-99s and will reduce the overall range of the aircraft. This issue was the final reason why the service rejected the firm’s bid for the low-band pod.

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An EA-18G carrying the current AN/ALQ-99 pods.

“The Navy explains that Raytheon’s proposal shows that mission radius decreases by [Redacted] NM [Nautical Miles] from [Redacted] NM to [Redacted] NM when two ALQ-99 pods under the aircraft wings are replaced with Raytheon’s mid band pods and the center pod (at station 6) is an ALQ-99,” GAO explained. “The Navy questions Raytheon’s claims that replacing the center pod with Raytheon’s proposed low band pod would decrease mission radius by only [Redacted] NM.”

This is, at least in part, a result of how Raytheon crafted the power-generation system for its pod. When the jammers are running, two pairs of doors, one set on each side of the pod, open to allow air in to drive ram-air turbine. The ALQ-99s have small propellers at the front that perform the same basic function and also produce drag, but less than of the new design.

It is worth noting that the Navy did not require the drag coefficient for either the mid- or low-band pods to be equal or less than that of the ALQ-99s. However, it still has the potential to create significant operational challenges depending on how pronounced the loss of range is.

Enemy surface-to-air missile systems and their associated radars and other sensors, as well as the sensors suites on fighter jets and dedicated early warning aircraft are only increasing in range and capability. Shore-based anti-ship defenses are similarly improving. All of this will require American aircraft carriers to launch strike packages ever further away from their actual objectives.

The video below shows various layers of present and future Chinese anti-air and air-ship defense systems that the country has and is developing as part of its strategy to deny its opponents access to broad areas during a potential conflict. These are just some of the threats American carriers and their air wings might have to contend with in the future.

The Growlers typically fly with two drop tanks, but cannot carry any additional ones on the wings or underneath the fuselage and still perform their core mission. Those stores stations are taken up by the jamming pods.

The EA-18Gs are capable of refueling in flight, but at present, Navy Carrier Air Wings have a severe lack of organic air-to-air refueling capability. Plans to field a fleet of unmanned carrier-based drone tankers, known as the MQ-25A Stingray, are still years away from coming to fruition. Other tankers from the U.S. Air Force or foreign partners may be another option, but would not necessarily be available during distributed or expeditionary operations.

With these limitations, it could be harder for the Growlers to get to the target area and remain there on station for extended periods of time. Unless whatever low-band pod design the Navy chooses to procure in the future has equal or less drag than the existing ALQ-99, it could still exacerbate this issue, as well.

It could also have repercussions for the proposed high-band pod. The Navy wants the pod to be open-architecture to allow for the rapid insertion of new hardware and software as time goes on, but it's not at all clear if the existing size and weight parameters of the mid-band pod will be able to accommodate the desired high-band jammers.

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A US Navy briefing slide outlining the service's plans for the Next-Generation Jammer program as a whole.

Raytheon’s design may mitigate the issue somewhat in that the doors for the ram-air turbine do not need to be open all the time, unlike the ALQ-99’s front-mounted propeller, which is constantly exposed. Still, it appears that, by the company’s own calculations, there is still an overall loss in range with the current configuration. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the range reduction becomes more pronounced if the aircraft spend more of their flying time actually jamming.



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Structural and actuation challenges will be areas to watch out for given @Raytheon unique design of the AN/ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) that allows ram air to enter and exit through two sets of doors that pop open while emitting.
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A more immediate solution would be for the Navy to acquire conformal fuel tanks (CFT) for the EA-18Gs. It is already working with the aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing, to develop CFTs for its F/A-18E/Fs, but has not said whether those upgrades would extend to the Growler fleet. The added fuel will give Super Hornets an average of 100 to 120 miles of additional range depending on their stores loadout.

There have also been long-standing discussions about an engine upgrade for the Super Hornets, which might also filter down to the Growlers. This could improve overall fuel efficiency and increase range. The Navy has not yet formally decided to pursue this update for either the F/A-18E/F or EA-18G, though.

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BOEING

A graphic showing the comparable ranges of Super Hornets with and with conformal fuel tanks.

The EA-18Gs have been in desperate need of new, more capable jamming pods for some time now, with the ALQ-99s having had noted reliability issues for years already. At the same time, electronic warfare capabilities will only become more vital to the Navy’s Carrier Air Wings and their ability to operate in high-risk environments as time goes on.

The mix of higher- and lower-band electronic warfare capabilities will remain important even with the Navy's introduction of the stealthy F-35C Joint Strike Fighter. The low-band pod, especially, will also be ideally suited to jamming longer-range, lower-frequency radars, which may be able to detect stealth aircraft.

But for Growlers carrying the new pods to be most effective, the Navy will also have to find ways to ensure the aircraft can make it to the target area and stay there long enough and in sufficient numbers to adequately perform their mission.
 

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The Mysterious And Potentially Revolutionary Celera 500L Aircraft May Fly Soon

The Mysterious And Potentially Revolutionary Celera 500L Aircraft May Fly Soon
New details about its engine, together with other design features, point to extremely efficient performance that could change commercial air travel.
BY JOSEPH TREVITHICK AND TYLER ROGOWAYJUNE 7, 2019

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SOCAL AIRSHOW REVIEW

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More than two years after The War Zone was first to report on a mysterious bullet-shaped aircraft appearing at the Southern California Logistics Airport near Victorville, a refined version of the plane has conducted taxi tests and looks to be getting close to its first flight. Even though much about its design and purpose remain unclear, we do know now that the aircraft, which is called the Otto Aviation Celera 500L, is definitely focused on potentially game-changing high-efficiency flight that has the potential to disrupt the aerospace marketplace.

UNMASKING THE BULLET-SHAPED MYSTERY AIRCRAFT AFTER IT REEMERGES AT VICTORVILLEBy Tyler RogowayPosted in THE WAR ZONE

WHAT IS THIS MYSTERY AIRPLANE PHOTOGRAPHED AT CALIFORNIA AIRPORT LAST WEEK?By Tyler RogowayPosted in THE WAR ZONE

OPTIONALLY MANNED FIREBIRD RAPIDLY MATURES AHEAD OF INTERNATIONAL DEBUT THIS SUMMERBy Tyler RogowayPosted in THE WAR ZONE

NORTHROP GRUMMAN PLANS TO UPEND AERIAL SURVEILLANCE MARKET WITH THEIR OPTIONALLY MANNED FIREBIRDBy Tyler RogowayPosted in THE WAR ZONE

UNUSUAL HIGH-ALTITUDE SPY PLANE APPEARS AT SPECIAL OPERATIONS EXERCISEBy Joseph TrevithickPosted in THE WAR ZONE

In January 2019, new pictures of the pusher-propeller Celera 500L, which carries the U.S. civil registration code N818WM, emerged showing it in a markedly more mature state than what we had seen in the past. The plane now has winglets at the tips of both wings, but it's not clear if the wings themselves are entirely new. The aircraft also had a black propeller in place of the earlier white one and an aerodynamic spinner over the propeller hub. There's also a much better view of the trapeze-like landing gear assemblies, which are of the general style found in patent documents that Otto Aviation has submitted relating to a number of the aircraft's features.

In addition, as compared to earlier images, the aircraft finally has conformal cowlings fitted in place over its rear-mounted engine compartment. Each one features a single large air intake and an exhaust port.

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SOCAL AIRSHOW REVIEW

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SOCAL AIRSHOW REVIEW

For comparison, below you can see a picture of the Celera 500L as it existed in June 2017.

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RYAN NOTESTINE

In May of 2019, NASA pilot and photographer Scott Howe also spotted the Celera 500L doing high-speed taxi tests at the Southern California Logistics Airport as he flew by. This further supports the assessment that the aircraft is getting closer to a first flight.

Beyond what we can see, there's still limited information about the aircraft's specifications or even its manufacturer, Otto Aviation Group, which has been operating virtually in secret on this project for around a decade. In April 2019, there was a public notice about the company renewing its lease on space at the Southern California Logistics Airport. Beyond that, the patent documents do lay out a case for disrupting traditional 'hub-and-spoke' commercial aviation models and offering improved efficiency in aircraft performance to, in turn, reduce inefficiencies in passenger air travel.

"Such a transportation system requires a unique aircraft. It must be capable of operation from any current airfield," one of the patent documents says in its background section. "Preferably, it would have operating costs well below current costs and competitive with commercial airliners, cruise at higher system speed than current commercial aircraft, have a longer range with full passenger and luggage load than most current business aircraft, provide passenger comfort comparable to commercial aircraft, and be capable of all weather operation. The plane should also provide for ease of maintenance and require only a single pilot."

The patent goes on to describe a notional aircraft that would cruise between 460 and 510 miles per hour at an altitude of up to 65,000 feet, yielding a fuel efficiency rate of between 30 and 42 miles per gallon. To put this in perspective, the Pilatus PC-12, a popular light, single-engine turboprop aircraft has a service ceiling of 30,000 feet, a cruising speed just under 330 miles per hour, and still burns, on average, 66 gallons of jet fuel per hour, for a fuel economy of roughly five miles to the gallon. Even going to a Learjet 70, which has similar speed performance to what's stated in the Celera patent documents, but still nowhere near as high a ceiling, we are talking about roughly three miles per gallon of gas at cruise. So, Otto Aviation is talking about performance that is at least 10 times more efficient than existing light business jets with similar cruise capabilities.

New information in the plane's public profile on the Federal Aviation Administration website offers clues as to how the Celera 500L expects to offer this revolutionary new capability. Most importantly, FAA says that the aircraft's airworthiness was approved in February 2019 and that it uses the Raikhlin Aircraft Engine Developments (RED) A03 V12 engine.

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RED

The RED A03 engine.

It is unclear from the available information whether the Celera 500L uses one or two A03 engines. The FAA's profile describes the aircraft as a "single engine," but patent documents had described two engines driving a single propeller. Of course, they had also said these would be diesel engines with multi-stage turbochargers and intercoolers, the latter of which redirect heat to improve efficiency and keep the entire system cool while the former would theoretically provide enough power even at very high altitudes where super-efficient flight can be realized.

The engine type and configuration may not be final, either. Otto Aviation has been working on the aircraft for nearly a decade already and it is clear the company has been considering different engine arrangements in that time. A source has told The War Zone that a single V8 engine from now-defunct TRACE Engines was originally supposed to power the aircraft via a reduction drive. TRACE's engine was derived from the high-efficiency OE600 design, which another company, Orenda, had first begun work on in the 1990s.

RED promotes its A03, a kerosene-powered 500-horsepower water-cooled design, which also uses a multi-stage turbocharger, as offering high fuel efficiency, low fuel consumption, and excellent reliability with limited maintenance as compared to more traditional piston engines with similar horsepower ratings. The German company also says it can configure the engine itself for "optimal" performance in "close cooperation with the airframe manufacture [sic; manufacturer]." Initial flight testing of the engine began in 2012 using a modified Yakovlev Yak-52 aircraft and the A03 received European Aviation Safety Agency approval in 2014. The engine is now set to power the new Yak-152, which the Russian Air Force plans to purchase as replacements for its Yak-52s.

One of Otto Aviation's patents also says that the intakes and exhausts we mentioned before are supposed to help leverage this engine design to provide even greater efficiency. The exhaust setup is also supposed to include a novel heat exchanger that combines heated cooling air with exhaust gases provide a small additional boost in thrust. It all remains to be seen whether or not the combination of an A03 optimized for the Celera 500L specifically, together with intercoolers and specialized exhausts, will be enough to get the plane anywhere close to the kind of high-altitude performance Otto is clearly aiming for broadly.

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A diagram from one of Otto Aviation's patents showing the proposed heat exchanger arrangement that would send air over intercooler tubes and the engine turbochargers themselves, before mixing that then heated air with exhaust gases and forcing it out the tailpipe for a small boost in thrust.

The Celera 500L's other design features are certainly also meant to help with highly efficient flight, including its teardrop fuselage which offers aerodynamic efficiency while maintaining a large internal volume. Schematics and other details in the patent describe the use of composite materials and a single primary center spar for structural stability, all of which helps keep the aircraft light, too.

It's not clear from the pictures available what the final wing configuration might look like, but those same patents indicate that Otto Aviation has been working on an advanced, multi-part flap arrangement. This could give the Celera 500L acceptable takeoff characteristics from smaller runways—as short as 3,000 feet—while still offering optimal efficiency in other flight regimes, including high-altitude flight. This is something that would be extremely valuable for commercial aviation applications since the aircraft could operate from small airports and still retain the ability to conduct non-stop flights to destinations a significant distance away.

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USTPO

A schematic of the multi-part flap arrangement from one of the Otto Aviation patents.

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USTPO

Another schematic showing the system at full extension.

All told, it's not clear whether Otto Aviation expects the Celera 500L design to actually serve as the basis for a new kind of passenger aircraft design or whether it is more of a technology testbed to prove certain parts of a future aircraft. But the patent drawings do show a similarly sized version with passenger windows and what appears to be a side-mounted emergency exit. It's still hard to say for sure given the remarkable amount of secrecy surrounding the aircraft.

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USTPO

A patent drawing similar to the Celera 500L design as it exists now, but with passenger style windows and emergency exit.

Regardless, by all indications, Otto Aviation is working on what could be a very exciting and potentially revolutionary design. Being able to fly direct to smaller airfields near one's destination on smaller aircraft at a very low cost could open up private-like air travel to the masses.

With taxi tests already underway, and possibly complete, a first light could be just around the corner. We will be definitely be keeping a close eye out for when the bullet-shaped aircraft takes to the skies for the first time, which will hopefully lead to more information about just what it can really do.