US Military Technology

RISING SUN

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US Missile Defenses Are About to Level Up
Over the next two years, the U.S. military expects to stand up its first "laser battalion," demonstrate that sailors can knock down ICBMs with missiles fired from surface ships, and establish two counter-Russian missile defense sites in Eastern Europe.

It’s all part of a series of soon-to-come innovations in missile defense aimed at deterring Russia, China, Iran, or any other adversary, outlined at the virtual Space Missile Defense symposium on Tuesday.

Among the key ones is the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense, or MSHORAD, basically a Stryker vehicle outfitted with anti-missile defenses, including the laser-equipped DE-MSHORAD. “Expect to have the first battalion fielded in 2021 with four battalions by 2023,” Lt. Gen. Dan Karbler, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told the audience.

Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, said that the 50kw laser-mounted Stryker was coming in 2022. The service is also working on a 200kw truck-mounted laser dubbed IFPC-HEL that Thurgood said would be deployable (although not necessarily deployed) with platoons in 2024. By the next year, the Army wants to field an even more powerful laser, the 300kw Indirect Fire Protection Capability-High Energy Laser, or IFPC-HEL.

The Army also wants to outfit maneuvering units with mobile microwave weapons, which, Thurgood said, are more useful against drone swarms than lasers, as microwaves can destroy the electronics of more targets at once. But directed microwaves, built at scale, don’t fit easily on a truck. Scientists are reducing the size and weight and making this more feasible.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency hopes that by the end of next year in Europe, a new Aegis Ashore missile interceptor site will have been completed in Poland (after delays due, in part, to COVID-19). “We are seeing an uptick in terms of the Army Corps construction,” said Adm. Jon Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. “We’re really going to go hot in 2021” toward a projected 2022 completion.

Next year will also see the Navy test its ability to down ICBMs with SM-3 missiles fired from an Aegis destroyer and guided by off-ship radar via the Sea-Based Weapons System, or SBWS, Hill said.

MDA and the Navy also will test the SBWS against a medium-range ballistic missile, and in a separate test against two separate short-range ballistic missiles, he said.

Next year will also mark a key one for the new next-generation interceptor program, an effort to build new missiles capable of hitting more advanced ICBMs that deploy decoys or multiple warheads. MDA went back to the drawing board on the project last August, canceling the program. It drafted a new request and re-awarded it to Northrop Grumman in May.

MDA has “paused” its program to design an interceptor that could take out hypersonic missiles, Hill said, to look at near-term options. But the hypersonic threat is only building. That means that a new request could emerge next year, which could speak to the feasibility of different concepts for countering hypersonic missiles.

All of this activity reflects the growing importance the U.S is placing on deterring and defending against missile proliferation worldwide. Congress put missile defense under the defense undersecretary for research and engineering in 2018. MDA's budget requests and appropriations have shrunk as services have taken on more of the “missile defense” role for themselves.

New missiles and missile defense technology are highly desired by U.S. allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as Russia, Iran, China and others have armed with the fast and low flying weapons, some threatening to top them with nuclear warheads, and as arms control agreements have expired or are set to, shortly. At the end of July, for instance, Russia announced that nuclear-armed hypersonic missiles would be deployed aboard ships.
 

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This Is The First Photo Ever Of A Stealthy Black Hawk Helicopter
We are constantly on the lookout for more details about the U.S. military's highly elusive stealthy Black Hawk helicopters, one of which famously crashed during the raid that led to the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011, as well as any possible predecessors that predated them. Now, what appears to be a previously unpublished picture has come to our attention that shows a heavily modified EH-60 electronic warfare and signals intelligence variant of the Black Hawk. Is seems to be, at the very least, one of the missing links connecting the unique Black Hawk helicopters used on the Bin Laden raid and stealthy Black Hawk design concepts dating back to the 1970s.

It is our understanding that the picture in question seen at the top of this story and again below in a slightly enhanced manner, has a relation to Fort Eustis in Virginia. In addition to being home to 128th Aviation Brigade, previously known as the U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School, Fort Eustis' Felker Army Airfield it also hosts a unit commonly known as the Flight Concepts Division (FCD), that is now called the Aviation Technology Office (ATO). This is the unit understood to be responsible for leading the development of the stealth Black Hawks used during the Bin Laden raid and many of the U.S. Army's most advanced and secretive rotary-wing capabilities.


Uncredited

The picture is undated and we have no immediate information about any program or programs the helicopter might have been associated with. The location where it was taken is also unknown, but is a desert locale that could indicate it was shot somewhere in the American southwest, which is home to a number of aviation test facilities, including top-secret air bases, such as Area 51 and the Tonopah Test Range Airport. The stealthy Black Hawks used in the Bin Laden raid were housed at the former, according to reports.

The Bin Laden raid Black Hawks were said to be based on the special operations MH-60 airframe. However, the helicopter seen in the photo is clearly a heavily modified Sikorsky EH-60 variant, though it's not clear if it is an EH-60A or EH-60L version. Both of these helicopters carried versions of the AN/ALQ-151 Quick Fix system, which was capable of both intercepting hostile electronic emissions and providing direction-finding information to locate the source, as well as electronic warfare jamming. The EH-60A carried the AN/ALQ-151(V)2 Quick Fix II system, while the EH-60L was equipped with the more capable AN/ALQ-151(V)3 Advanced Quick Fix suite.

The helicopter has the four dipole antennas, two on each side of the tail boom, found on both the EH-60A and EH-60L. Under the fuselage, it appears to have the long, retractable whip antenna found on the EH-60A, versus the more robust antenna system found on the EH-60L. This ventral antenna is associated with of the AN/ALQ-17A(V)2 Trafficjam communications jamming system, which is part of the larger Quick Fix II suite.


US Army via Ray Wilhite

An early EH-60A helicopter in flight with its retractable ventral antenna in the deployed position.

US Army

An EH-60L helicopter, showing its significantly different ventral antenna configuration.

It also has two large missile approach warning sensors, one on each side of the nose under the main cockpit doors, which are part of the AN/ALQ-156A Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) found on EH-60As and EH-60Ls. Two identical sensors were also mounted well behind the fuselage doors on this system, providing the Black Hawk with 360-degree coverage. The EH-60s were eventually equipped with a version of the AN/APR-39 radar warning system, as were other Black Hawks, which includes smaller receivers on the nose and tail of the helicopter.


US Army

An EH-60A supporting Operation Desert Storm with the radar warning receivers seen fitted.

US Army

Two more radar warning receivers were installed at the rear of the fuselage between the main cabin and the tail boom.
Interestingly, it also has stub wings, which provide one hardpoint on each side of the helicopter. These are more commonly associated with MH-60L/M Direct Action Penetrators assigned to the Army's elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, as well as U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawks. The External Stores Support System (ESSS) wing kit, which has two hardpoints on each side of the helicopter and was used on the EH-60L, is far more common.


US Army

One of the US Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's MH-60L Direct Action Penetrators.
The helicopter's most notable features are, of course, the extreme modifications to the nose, the "doghouse" where the engines and main gearbox are situated, as well as the engine intakes and exhausts. It also has a heavily modified rotor hub. All of these features appear to be designed to reduce its radar signature, especially from the critical forward hemisphere aspect.

The duckbill-like nose is reminiscent in many ways of stealthy design concepts that Sikorsky crafted in 1978 for the U.S. Army Research and Technology Laboratory, a unit at Fort Eustis. This extensive study was the first indication of the Army's interest in a reduced signature Black Hawk. You can read all about it in this previous War Zone feature.


USArmy

A diagram showing a stealthy Black Hawk concept that Sikorsky developed for the US Army in the late 1970s.
In addition, the nose, as well as the doghouse and rotor hub, all have some visual similarities to a kit that Bell developed for the OH-58X Kiowa in the 1980s. We also detailed this little known about Kiowa stealth upgrade in this past War Zone feature. The Army evaluated, but did not adopt the OH-58X en masse, though it did buy a number of the stealthy kits for use with its OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters.


Bell via Flight Global

An OH-58X demonstrator.

Sikorsky had proposed using advanced radar-absorbing composite materials as part of its stealthy Black Hawk design studies in the late 1970s and Bell incorporated similar concepts into its OH-58X. Sikorsky also experimented with its S-75 technology demonstrator during the mid-1980s, which made heavy use of composites and informed the development of the abortive Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche. The Comanche also featured a complex shrouded rotor hub design similar to this particular Black Hawk. It is almost certain that many, if not most of the additions to this EH-60 were also made of composites to help improve with radar signature reduction and limit the additional weight added to the helicopter when installed.


Sikorsky

The Sikorsky S-75.

Boeing-Sikorsky

An RAH-66A Comanche prototype.
It's also worth noting that the modified engine intakes on this Black Hawk appear to help conceal the fan faces of its two turbine engines and dramatically clean up the area around the engine nacelles and forward doghouse area. These are all features that traditionally have a high degree of radar reflectivity.

Later model UH-60As and UH-60Ls, as well as other H-60 variants based on those versions, also have infrared reduction fairings over their exhausts that have an opening at the front that allows cool air to pass through. On the aircraft in question, this area has been screened-over likely with a radar attenuating mesh.


US Army

A closeup of the engine intake and exhaust fairing as seen on typical UH-60As and Ls.

US Army

A mirrored close up of the intake and exhaust on the modified EH-60 for comparison.

Unlike the helicopters used in the Bin Laden raid, this particular example has no modifications to its tail rotor, which would have negatively impacted its all-aspect radar reflectivity and especially its acoustic signature. However, the radar reflectivity of the helicopter's front aspect would have been the most pressing concern when it comes to RF stealth, especially when penetrating into heavily defended areas. We also don't know whether additional stealthy add-ons, especially for the tail, were developed later for this project or were otherwise not fitted in this particular instance.

Without knowing the particular variant of EH-60, it is especially hard to try to determine the date of this photograph. Sikorsky began developing the EH-60A for the Army in 1980 after the service decided against fielding the Quick Fix II system on a variant of the venerable Bell Huey helicopter known as the EH-1X. The EH-60As would eventually replace older EH-1H helicopters equipped with the AN/ALQ-151 and AN/ALQ-151(V)1 Quick Fix suites.


US Army

A low-quality picture of one of the 10 EH-1Xs built for the Army before work shifted to the EH-60A. Note the Quick Fix II system's whip antenna in its deployed position under the tail.

Between 1989 and 1990, work began on the Advanced Quick Fix system, which was originally supposed to go on another UH-60A variant, known as the EH-60C. The Army eventually decided to install it on a modified UH-60L, taking advantage of that variant's more powerful engines. This became the EH-60L. This is not to be confused with EUH-60L helicopters configured as airborne command posts. The Army did not ultimately pursue the Advanced Quick Fix system, and the helicopter to go with it, on a widespread basis, a fate that befell many U.S. military programs in development right around the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Based on what we know, it is very plausible that this photograph was taken sometime in the late 1980s or more likely the 1990s. This would fit with the work Sikorsky was doing together with Boeing at that time on what would become the RAH-66, though it's not clear how these two efforts may have been related.

The use of an EH-60, in this case, may simply have had to do with this particular helicopter being available to take part in some tests. The small EH-60 force is known to be used for various tests and modifications trials. It's also worth noting that it has long been reported that the stealth Black Hawks employed during the Bin Laden raid had a "snap-on"-type kit, but the tail from the one that crashed has long seemed far too elaborate to be part of that kind of very temporary modification.


Public Domain

It's possible that there might have been some confusion as to how far work on stealthy modifications to the Black Hawk had progressed by time of the historic raid. The helicopters were an extremely well-kept secret at the time, one that we would have likely never learned about if the crash hadn't occurred. Pentagon officials could have misconstrued older tests with more basic kits with a far more elaborate configuration used on the raid.

There is also a possibility that the Army may have been interested in developing a stealthy kit for more general use on its Black Hawks and this was one rendition of such a solution. Adding these features to the EH-60 variants specifically could have been a more concerted effort, as well. A decreased radar signature could help those platforms get close to their targets without detection and then jam them, creating paths for non-stealthy helicopters, as well as fixed-wing aircraft, to follow through.

A kit that could be added and removed from any Black Hawk variant, as necessary, would have been a good way to prevent any unnecessary exposure of the capability during routine operations. Any degradation in performance would not have been permanent, either, allowing the helicopters to fly in a normal configuration the rest of the time.

Finally, we have to address the big question outstanding: could these modifications be the same as those used on the Bin Laden raid helicopters? Clearly it didn't have anywhere near the same treatment to its tail. Could a kit exists that uses these forward elements, or very similar ones, with the addition of a far more elaborate tail assembly to reduce acoustic signature as well? That is possible, but at this point, our best guess is that this was an evolutionary stepping stone, or an earlier iteration, of what would eventually lead to the now-famous, but never seen 'Stealth Hawks.' Still, nobody who isn't forbidden to discuss it on the record really knows for sure.

In the past, The War Zone has been told that the Stealth Hawks used a MH-60 for their base platform, but an outer composite body was specifically built by Sikorsky to accommodate it, making it a far more elaborate and permanent application. We still have not been able to corroborate these claims. In addition, it is stated that newer and even more complex generations of the Stealth Hawks were built following the Bin Laden raid and are in service now.

It's amazing to think that it has been nearly a decade after the daring mission into Abbottabad went down, yet we still don't have any additional official information about the helicopters used nor a single spotting of a similar platform.

Maybe the best description of the aircraft from someone who actually took part in Operation Neptune Spear came from Robert O'Neil, who is often referred to controversially as 'the man who killed Osama Bin Laden.' He recounts the following in the weeks leading up to the raid:
When we got to Nevada a few days later, where the team trained on another full-scale compound model, but this one crudely fashioned from shipping containers, we turned the corner, saw the helos we'd actually use, and I started laughing. I told the guys, "The odds just changed. There's a 90 percent chance we'll survive." They asked why. I said, "I didn't know they were sending us to war on a *censored*ing Decepticon."
Now, thanks to this image, we finally have some hard evidence of what at least one rendition of a 'Stealth Hawk' actually looked like and Decepticon certainly fits the bill.

We have already reached out to the Army for more information about this particular Black Hawk and any information about its stealthy features. We will be sure to let you know what else we are able to uncover about this helicopter.

Authors Note: The original version of this story said that the EH-60s had a certain type of radar warning receivers, but those sensors are actually part of the AN/ALQ-156A Missile Approach Warning System. We have updated the article to reflect that.

 
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RISING SUN

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Army Shows First-Ever Footage Of New Hypersonic Missile In Flight And Impacting
The U.S. Army has released new video footage of a hypersonic missile test it carried out in cooperation with the U.S. Navy earlier this year, including clips of it in flight and impacting the designated target area. That launch, dubbed Flight Experiment 2, was in support of the development of a common hypersonic boost-glide vehicle that is set to eventually go on top of ground and submarine-launched missiles.

Army Lieutenant General L. Neil Thurgood, the Director for Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, showed the video as part of a virtual briefing on Aug. 4, 2020. The presentation was part of the annual Space and Missile Defense (SMD) Symposium, which is being held online this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The brief video starts with footage of the test missile sitting on the pad at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, on the day of the launch, Mar. 19, 2020. It then cuts to the missile blasting off. The clip of the launch itself was previously released. At the time, the Army and Navy said that this "test builds on the success we had with Flight Experiment 1 in October 2017," which involved firing a prototype from an unspecified Ohio class submarine.

"It gets off the pad pretty quick," Lieutenant General Thurgood said, narrating the footage, but without giving any specifics about its exact speed. "It gets pretty high pretty fast."

Hypersonic boost-glide vehicles, including the Army and Navy's Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB), are unpowered and typically use rocket boosters to propel them to optimal speed and altitude. After that, they glide down toward their target at hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere along a varying trajectory. They are capable of maneuvering laterally, as well.

This gives hypersonic boost-glide vehicles an unpredictable flight profile compared to reentry vehicles on traditional ballistic missiles, even maneuverable designs. This, combined with their extreme speed, in turn, makes it very hard for an opponent to defend against these weapons or reposition or otherwise take cover before they hit. You can read more about the development of the C-HGB and the general principles behind hypersonic weapons in these past War Zone pieces.


US Army
A model of the C-HGB.

The video then moves on to showing a portion of the actual flight of the C-HGB. It was "not a very long flight," Lieutenant General Thurgood noted.

The Army has still not said how fast the C-HGB flew during Flight Experiment 2 or how far it traveled. The Pentagon has previously said that this weapon would allow the Army and Navy to "strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away" and that it will get up to a speed of Mach 17.

Thurgood's video montage ends with a clip of the boost-glide vehicle actually hitting its mark. "That is the explosion at the other end," the Lieutenant General said. It's not clear whether this shows the detonation of an actual explosive warhead or simply the kinetic effects of the vehicle slamming into the target area at hypersonic speed.

The Army officer said he could not go into the "classified pieces of this," but added that the weapon was "very accurate...over the distance that we were asked to go." Aviation Week's Defense Editor and good friend of The War Zone Steve Trimble noted that President Trump, in talking about the Army-Navy weapon in June during his commencement speech at West Point, said it could hit "within 14 inches from center point" of the intended target. Trump has also referred to this weapon as a "super duper missile."

It's not clear when the next flight test of the C-HGB might take place. The Army is hoping to conduct a test of its full ground-based system in 2022 and have the first unit equipped with it reach initial operational capability the following year. The Navy plans to field its version first on its Block V Virginia class submarines, the first of which is not due to enter service until later in the 2020s.

The Air Force had previously also been part of the C-HGB program, which would have been fitted to a large air-launched missile, but the service announced plans to shelve that effort indefinitely in its latest budget request for the 2021 Fiscal Year. Instead, it will focus on the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), another hypersonic boost-glide vehicle design, which you can read about in more detail in this past War Zone piece and could enter service on the B-52 bomber as early as 2021.

No matter what, the Army and Navy are certainly continuing to make progress in the development of what are slated to be their first operational hypersonic weapons.
 
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Check Out This B-52 Stratofortress Carrying Two AGM-183 Hypersonic Test Missiles
The age of hypersonic combat is fast approaching. Case in point, an Edwards Air Force Base test B-52H Stratofortress just carried out its last captive carry test flight for the service's new AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). The next phase will be actual test launches of the extreme-speed, air defenses-busting, tactical boost-glide hypersonic missile system.

The B-52 involved in the tests, 60-0050 "Dragon's Inferno," has been seen with increasingly elaborate modifications associated with the ARRW test program. These include a number of apertures for filming test launches, which are painted in customary day-glow orange that is a staple of the Air force's flight test community. The aircraft has flown with a captive carry AGM-183 airframe on numerous occasions, but this is the first time we have seen the B-52 outfitted with a pair of the missiles, one of which appears to be more advanced than the previously seen test missile airframe and has a gray overall scheme.


Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem


Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem


Air Force photo by Matt Williams


Air Force photo by Matt Williams

The mission saw the B-52 do laps with a chase F-16 over the barren desert north of Edwards AFB before breaking off and heading out over the vast range complexes off the Southern California Coast.

Other captive carry test missions of new hypersonic missiles have not gone as smoothly in the past. During a similar mission for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), an air-breathing missile concept which has been shrouded in more secrecy than the boost-glide AGM-183, the missile fell off the B-52. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the mishap, but it is a reminder that things can go seriously wrong even on a non-launch test mission of a new advanced missile capability.

Regardless, during the ARRW's final captive carry mission, which a number of aircraft trackers, including our photo contributor Matt Hartman, were watching closely via publically available aircraft tracking apps, the Air Force tested the missile's ability to communicate telemetry and GPS data to ground stations on the sprawling Point Mugu Sea Range. It served as a dry run of sorts for a test of ARRW's booster later this year.


Matt Hartman
60-0050's track during the test flight.

Lt. Col. Michael Jungquist, 419th Flight Test Squadron Commander and Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force Director stated the following in an Air Force release:

“The event this week demonstrated the ability to communicate with the prototype weapon; the entire team is excited to take the next step and begin energetic flight test of our first air-launched hypersonic weapons... These weapons will enable application of conventional firepower anywhere in the world at eye-watering speed.”



Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem



Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem



Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem

The idea behind ARRW is to push an air-launched hypersonic weapon capability from concept to reality as fast as possible in order to keep up with what has become an all-out hypersonic weapons race primarily between the U.S., China, and Russia. The Air Force is set to initially buy eight AGM-183s, four for testing and four for spares, some of which are likely to turn into the force's very first operational hypersonic weapons if they all are not needed for the test effort.

It remains unclear what the range of ARRW will be or its top speed, but seeing as the system will benefit from being launched tens of thousands of feet in the air, with its ballistic missile-like booster getting it up to very high speed before releasing its glide vehicle payload, ranges well in excess of 1,000 miles have been discussed as have speeds that go far beyond the Mach 5 hypersonic threshold.


USAF

Rendering of the AGM-183A as it is about to deploy its glide vehicle.

While the ARRW program is moving ahead, costs have soared by nearly 40 percent. Still, the Air Force seems to see the AGM-183 as a must succeed initiative so that it can add a hypersonic weapon into its quiver as quickly as possible. Doing so would not only offer a breakthrough capability, but it would give other more advanced hypersonic weapon concepts time to mature.

As it sits now, the Air Force could declare the AGM-183 operational by sometime in 2022 if everything goes as planned, and that is a very big if. Flight tests will prove just how mature this technology actually is. So, for better or worse, the Air Force and testers at Edwards AFB will learn relatively soon just how realistic their near-term hypersonic weapon dreams actually are.
 
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How Submarine Sonarmen Tirelessly Hunt For Enemies They Can't Even See
Sound analysis is a vital tool in naval operations. Sonar operators are a trained group of sailors who are responsible for managing a large amount of real-time acoustic information. They combine some natural ability with yearlong shore-based training before putting on a set of headphones at sea. The means and methods of the sonar operator’s job are one part of science combined with some individual talent to recognize acoustic patterns both audibly and visually. In this article, we will dive into what a sonar team provides the tactical decision-makers on board a vessel and how they go about providing it.

To understand how a sonarman analyzes acoustic detections, we must begin with understanding sound itself. Sound is energy moving through a medium, like water or air. It travels in sinusoidal waves radiating out in all directions from a source. These waves have both an amplitude energy level and a wavelength frequency. A sonar system will detect these waves and display them in different formats to the operator.

Editor's note: For those new to the topic, this is a very basic and brief description of a submarine's sonar. It is dated in a sort of wonderful way, but still worthwhile for a basic primer:
Sonar systems use a variety of arrays to detect energy. A single array is a group of elements that send information to the sonar beamformer. An element is a hydrophone that can be a piezoelectric device that is sensitive to sound or a more modern synthetic element that is much smaller. Smaller elements allow design engineers to add more receivers to an array while also shrinking its overall size.

The sonar array feeds data into signal conditioners like a preamplifier and equalizer. This signal 'cleaning' is carefully done by the processor so as not to strip any contact information from the raw signal. The data passes into the beamformer, where it is 'sorted' in the proper direction. Now the sonar signal is ready for display on the operator's console.


Penn State Navy ROTC Presentation Slide


The bow sonar arrays on the Seawolf class attack submarines. In addition to these primary arrays, modern submarines feature conformal arrays and towed arrays, which all contribute to the sonar 'picture' emanating out many miles from the submarines.

The sonar operator will analyze this signal on two general interfaces: the broadband display and narrowband display.

The broadband shows the collective energy received by the array on a bearing over time in a 'waterfall' format, cascading down from top to bottom, like a digital scroll. Broadband sonar displays what areas around the array are louder than others. The sonarman can listen to each bearing and determine if the rise in background noise is a target or not. Modern sonar systems have multiple arrays displaying data at the same time in this format. When multiple arrays are involved, this requires two operators working together to manage the flow of real-time data and make tactical sense of it.

The narrowband processors take the broadband energy and divide it into individual frequencies that cross the full spectrum of the array. The array size and number of elements determine the frequency range of the information displayed. This operator must carefully investigate every bearing and every frequency from every array in real-time. Narrowband sonar displays are a collection of data pages that are examined continuously, zoomed, interrogated, and calculated for possible contact relations.

Sea environments vary greatly and have an enormous impact on sonar performance. Deep-sea oceans have unique characteristics like deep sound channels that trap noise and allow it to travel for hundreds of miles with very little loss of energy. Littoral areas have freshwater run-offs from rivers and snow melts create vertical sound barriers that reflect your own sound. It’s like sailing in a sonic hall of mirrors. Ice caps and marginal ice zones are noisy areas that can mask and reflect sonar signals from moment to moment as you pass beneath ice keels. It’s like walking through a forest blindfolded where you can only detect the tree when it’s at arm’s length.


USN via Seaforces.org

The sonar picture of the area around the platform (ship or submarine) is a tactical puzzle. Small, inconsistent, and unrelated data must be pieced together to determine if a contact is detected. Once one is, the sonar system will begin tracking the noise source for the operators. Several passive ranging techniques, speed calculation, and real-time bearing change formulas are used to generalize the target's position. In a high contact environment, this can rapidly overwhelm an operator.

To help manage the flow of information, the Sonar Supervisor stands behind the operators where they can see all the displays. They act as a second set of eyes looking for things the operators may have missed. He or she is typically the most experienced operator on the team and can help classify and localize a new detection.

The Sonar Supervisor is the liaison between the raw acoustic data and the Approach Officer. The Approach Officer is typically the Captain, but can be any commissioned officer. The Sonar Supervisor is responsible for providing a clear picture of the real world tactical situation outside the submarine and to make sure that it matches the tactical fire control system's report. There is a team of people working the fire control computers, this is the Fire Control Tracking Party, they set the target solution. This is the solution a weapon will be given before it’s launched. The sonar supervisor has an independent solution he calculates from the raw acoustic data. He is the check between the reality outside the submarine and what the fire control tracking party believes is happening.


USN

The sonar system assists in target detection and classification. Automated and manually designated threat events are preloaded into the sonar computers. If the requirements are met, the sonar display will mark the detection to bring the operator's attention to it. The automated tracking system tracks and stores contact history without operator action.

When the sonarman assigns his tracker, the sonar computer already has the recent history of the target and offers it to the operator for analysis.

Let’s go through a hypothetical mission where all this comes together. Before we get underway we swing by the squadron building and pick up our package. It contains the latest weather projections for our operating area and any units that are not in port and maybe in the area. We get underway and update the sonar search plan with the probable threats we expect to encounter.

During our transit time, we are receiving radio traffic updating us with unit locations, both NATO and otherwise, that may be in our area. We attend daily ‘Warfighter Councils’ in the wardroom where we brief the Captain about our current environment and expected encounters, if any. This is were we deconflict the operating schedule of the submarine’s mission assignments. We can’t conduct noisy evolutions on the mission, so we get that done early while underway. Intelligence updates are discussed here and changes to the sonar search plan are discussed.

Just before the mission begins, we will pull into the nearest NATO or Pacific Fleet port and pick up a fresh pack of food, drop off any trash, and most importantly pick up the ‘Spooks.’ Spooks are crypto-radio sailors who spend most of their time locked inside the radio room’s exclusion area, but are vital to mission success. The Office of Naval Intelligence will also send us two or three specially trained sonarmen to assist us in tracking and recording the mission targets from the sonar perspective. A Submarine Group or admiral’s representative will ride with us as well.


USN

Once on station, the sonar team manning is increased. We switch to eight hours on watch, eight hours off watch ‘Port and Starboard’ rotations. Half the 14-man sonar division is on watch at any time. This is required for recording verification, annotation, and documenting the events that are about to unfold. Each sonar operator is wearing headphones, listening to the low volume static-like white noise of the ocean. The watches are long and intense as each new update is vigorously scrutinized for detection. Patterns are matched and measured with onscreen tools and cursors. Automatic artificial intelligence algorithms flag potential targets for the sonar operators to verify.

Target acquisition in sonar begins a series of events. Trackers are assigned to the target from every array that correlates to the detection. Initial movements are closely monitored because no one is sure how close the new contact is to their own ship. ‘Quick quiet’ is announced silently by cycling the lights around the submarine. No one moves. The engine room watch stands in place with their logs in hand. The cooks in the galley are like statues with mitten gloves and serving pans. No one moves.

Generally speaking, Sonarmen are trained to detect changes in patterns. A sharp, metallic transient object is out of place in the natural undersea world. A narrowband frequency shift or a distant active sonar can be subtle, but the experienced sailor can quickly identify these changes. These are the audio and visual cues the trained sonar operator hunts for tirelessly while on watch.


USN

Contact classification is done in two steps: First, the initial classification is the impression the operator gets when he first hears the target. General categories are biologics (fish and sea life), seismic (earthquakes), merchant, aircraft, trawler, warship, and submarine. It can also be a transit detection like a sharp metallic sound that is heard out of the blue or active sonar that lights up a display like it's the holidays.


The second step in classification requires analysis. It takes 30 to 45 seconds to get a look at a new detection and discover what kind of engine she’s running, what kind of hydraulic pumps are online, and what screw blade configuration she is using. This second step is what confirms the initial classification or changes it to the correct one.

The analysis of information is a large part of the sonar team’s responsibility. Data is not just directed from the array to fire control. The experienced sonar team analyzes each detection for the contact’s characteristics. Target classification is a stepped process of assigning a general rating like biologic or merchant, then refining it into a specific classification as more information is available. The target solution begins with a general direction of motion and is improved to a particular course, speed, and range. Today's military algorithms can solve these questions quickly, but they still must be verified by the sonar team.

Just outside our submarine, our target unknowingly passes along our port side. We wait as the contact passes through CPA (closest point of approach) and opens range. During this time, sonar data is sent to the fire control computers and a solution is set. When the Captain is ready, he will order us to come around and begin to trail the target.

In the control room, the target solution is laid down on a Fusion Plot. The Fusion Plot combines all the targets from every array on a single image anyone on the Tracking Party can use to get the contact picture around our submarine.

Information like detailed frequency analysis from the target’s mechanical and electrical sources are also plotted and used to help confirm the solution. Target frequencies are recorded and plotted over time. As the target moves, the frequency shifts slightly due to its Doppler effect. Watching this Doppler shift is one method sonar ‘sees’ the contact and plots its position. A well-trained team will do this without direction. Contact classification and other updates are passed over sound powered circuits that allow quiet communication between stations.

At the sonar consoles, some operators are tasked with finding new contacts. Just because we found our high-value target doesn’t mean he’s alone. In fact, he’s probably not. Few countries outside NATO operate independently.
The hunt continues.


USN

Tracking contacts while searching for new targets requires a disciplined operator. Contact maneuvers, changes in the environment, and automated tracker failures must be recognized immediately as not to ruin the contact solution with false data. The search for new contacts continues while the operator ensures a solid contact track is maintained. Every direction, elevation, frequency, and automated detection must be verified on each array. Then the search cycle begins again and is repeated for up to six hours at a time.

A sonar watch is exhausting and deserves a good shower afterward.

The intense cooperation of the sonar team and the sonar algorithms are necessary to be successful in the high data flow of today's complex sonar environments. The sea is full of noise. Fishing trawlers, long voyage merchant ships, wind, rain, tectonic and biological activity is a constant backdrop the sonar operator must use their tools to peer through the deepsea veil and find the target.

Sonar employment is a hunt. Underway, the sonar team is planning tactical positions, taking advantage of the environment and topography to catch their prey. The target knows they are being hunted. They are planning their own ambush and have a lot of the same tools we have. This hunt is also addictive and keeps sonarmen coming back for more—studying the environment, looking for that acoustic advantage that may be the difference between success and being detected.

It’s a tactical game where the board is constantly changing. There is no procedure or checklist to follow at this point. When the sonarman dons their headphones, they must use initiative, intuition, and individual ability to execute their role within the sonar team in order to catch the target.

This is what it’s like to hunt on a submarine.

Dominating an engagement with superior ability and tactical execution is the reward that keeps these undersea hunters coming back. Once you experience victory at sea, nothing else can give you a similar feeling. It makes the hard work in the training simulators, hours of lecture, reading, and study worth the effort. Improved knowledge and practical experience give today’s sonarmen the confidence and ability to fight and win the next hunt.
 

RISING SUN

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Dec 3, 2017
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U-2 receives ISR track data from F-35 in recent Orange Flag Evaluation
A Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft receives intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) track data from a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) during a recent Pentagon Orange Flag Evaluation (OFE).

The OFE, which took place on 1-2 July and included the US Army and US Air Force (USAF), demonstrated the ability to integrate F-35 ISR track data with a surrogate of the US Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS). Lockheed Martin spokesman Brett Ashworth said on 12 August that F-35 data collected from the U-2 will serve to validate that a single IBCS Airborne Sensor Adaptation Kit (A-Kit) can serve multiple pathways to get data from F-35 and ISR assets.

Artist’s illustration of F-35s providing ISR track data to a U-2 aircraft (top) communicating to queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat. (Lockheed Martin)

Artist’s illustration of F-35s providing ISR track data to a U-2 aircraft (top) communicating to queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat. (Lockheed Martin)

“This evaluation demonstrated the technology and concept is mature to support a planned demonstration with live targets and simulated [Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3)] fly-outs,” Ashworth said.

This evaluation expanded on the capability for F-35 ISR data to track and take action on an identified threat. This has been demonstrated across multiple Pentagon services and organisations to demonstrate Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO), according to a Lockheed Martin statement. It was also the first time a U-2 participated in the OFE.

Ashworth said on 11 August that the F-35 provides IBCS with an elevated sensor that can identify, track, and provide fire control quality data to cue US Army integrated air and missile defence assets at extended ranges. Connected sensor information between aircraft can queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat.
 
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vstol Jockey

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Dec 1, 2017
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Way back in 1992, IAF established its first ever aircombat simulator at Hindon airbase. I was flying for 20sqn IAF at that time and we came down from Kalaikunda to practice aircombat in it. The acm against pilots was normal affair but not even one of us could win against the computer as it had eyes all around and also knew what inputs we were making to controls. Plus the computer generated aircraft always turned at the most precise bank angles and directions at best rate which is not humanly possible for even the best of the fighter pilots of the world. The computer could optimise its energy levels and could easily even predict our energy levels at a point in future during the combat and make corrections accordingly.
I am not at all impressed by these results as this will happen 100 out of 100 times.
 
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STEPHEN COHEN

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Dec 4, 2017
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Way back in 1992, IAF established its first ever aircombat simulator at Hindon airbase. I was flying for 20sqn IAF at that time and we came down from Kalaikunda to practice aircombat in it. The acm against pilots was normal affair but not even one of us could win against the computer as it had eyes all around and also knew what inputs we were making to controls. Plus the computer generated aircraft always turned at the most precise bank angles and directions at best rate which is not humanly possible for even the best of the fighter pilots of the world. The computer could optimise its energy levels and could easily even predict our energy levels at a point in future during the combat and make corrections accordingly.
I am not at all impressed by these results as this will happen 100 out of 100 times.
If they can put Air To air missiles on Drones or the Wingman Concept that is being developed , then all pilots will be in difficulty

The Drones wont have to face G forces
 

vstol Jockey

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Dec 1, 2017
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If they can put Air To air missiles on Drones or the Wingman Concept that is being developed , then all pilots will be in difficulty

The Drones wont have to face G forces
Yes, but while you can jam the electronics of a Drone, you can't jam the mind of a pilot. Imagine a system in which pilot is giving commands by mouth and the aircraft he is flying is same as a drone with AI?
 

randomradio

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Nov 30, 2017
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India
U-2 receives ISR track data from F-35 in recent Orange Flag Evaluation
A Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft receives intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) track data from a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) during a recent Pentagon Orange Flag Evaluation (OFE).

The OFE, which took place on 1-2 July and included the US Army and US Air Force (USAF), demonstrated the ability to integrate F-35 ISR track data with a surrogate of the US Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS). Lockheed Martin spokesman Brett Ashworth said on 12 August that F-35 data collected from the U-2 will serve to validate that a single IBCS Airborne Sensor Adaptation Kit (A-Kit) can serve multiple pathways to get data from F-35 and ISR assets.

Artist’s illustration of F-35s providing ISR track data to a U-2 aircraft (top) communicating to queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat. (Lockheed Martin)

Artist’s illustration of F-35s providing ISR track data to a U-2 aircraft (top) communicating to queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat. (Lockheed Martin)

“This evaluation demonstrated the technology and concept is mature to support a planned demonstration with live targets and simulated [Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3)] fly-outs,” Ashworth said.

This evaluation expanded on the capability for F-35 ISR data to track and take action on an identified threat. This has been demonstrated across multiple Pentagon services and organisations to demonstrate Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO), according to a Lockheed Martin statement. It was also the first time a U-2 participated in the OFE.

Ashworth said on 11 August that the F-35 provides IBCS with an elevated sensor that can identify, track, and provide fire control quality data to cue US Army integrated air and missile defence assets at extended ranges. Connected sensor information between aircraft can queue existing missile defence systems to engage an incoming threat.
This is what I hope will be done with the Su-30UPG and S-400 over the next 5 years or so. And of course, the MRSAM and XRSAM as well.
 

randomradio

Senior Member
Nov 30, 2017
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India
Yes, but while you can jam the electronics of a Drone, you can't jam the mind of a pilot. Imagine a system in which pilot is giving commands by mouth and the aircraft he is flying is same as a drone with AI?
I think the plan will be to use laser to snipe the pilots. Or at least blind them.

A laser pod capable of melting metal should easily be able to poke a hole in the cockpit and fry the pilot.