SAN DIEGO, June 15, 2004 (PRIMEZONE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) successfully demonstrated a shipboard mission control system that will allow unmanned combat aerial vehicles to participate safely and autonomously in conventional manned, aircraft-carrier flight operations.
The mission control system allows an operator of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to change the mission plan of the vehicle in flight in response to new air traffic control requirements, system failures or changes in enemy activity.
The demonstration occurred Feb. 23-29 on the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier stationed off the East Coast of the United States. It was conducted as part of Northrop Grumman's work on the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) program. The J-UCAS program is an effort by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy to develop a new fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that can perform combat missions for both services. Northrop Grumman is currently producing two X-47B demonstrator UAVs for the J-UCAS program.
"This test demonstrates that Northrop Grumman's J-UCAS mission control system can work smoothly and effectively with a carrier air traffic control center to bring the J-UCAS air vehicle into the carrier environment and get it safely down on the deck," said Scott T. Winship, Northrop Grumman's J-UCAS program manager. "It's one of many key risk reduction tasks we've addressed to ensure that UAVs migrate successfully into this critical combat environment."
The mission control system demonstration was led by DARPA in collaboration with Northrop Grumman and the Navy's Joint Precision Approach and Landing System development program. It included Navy and J-UCAS mission control equipment installed on the Harry S. Truman and a specially configured Beechcraft King Air aircraft serving as an X-47B surrogate.
The surrogate X-47B, operating from a shore base, flew five sorties to the Harry S. Truman. Each sortie consisted of approaching the carrier, entering its air traffic control pattern, "waving off" instead of landing, and then circling back around.
During each approach, the surrogate's onboard mission management system received instructions from the carrier-based Joint Precision Approach and Landing System air traffic control system, which it used to adjust the aircraft's flight path, air speed etc. for an optimum "landing" on the carrier deck. Simultaneously, the mission management system relayed the instructions to a small computer attached to the co-pilot's steering yoke, and to the J-UCAS shipboard mission control system.
During normal operations, the J-UCAS air vehicle would respond directly to carrier air traffic control center instructions via its mission management system, just like a manned aircraft. For this demonstration, however, the surrogate aircraft pilots executed the instructions manually to validate the integrity of the data link sending information between the carrier air traffic control system and the X-47B surrogate.
The J-UCAS mission control system operator does not normally participate directly in the air traffic control loop, but rather monitors the carrier air traffic control system's interaction with the UAV. The operator also works cooperatively with the carrier air traffic controllers to prevent airspace conflicts between manned and unmanned systems.
The J-UCAS program was established in fall 2003 to demonstrate the technical feasibility, military utility and operational value of developing a network of high performance and weaponized UAVs. These air vehicles will conduct a variety of 21st century combat missions for both the Air Force and the Navy including suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; precision targeting and strike; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Northrop Grumman's efforts to design, develop and produce an unmanned combat air system that satisfies the operational requirements of both services is managed by the company's Integrated Systems sector. Its J-UCAS concept builds on the company's extensive experience with autonomous flight control, including thousands of flight hours by its combat-proven RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance system and the RQ-8 Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned system.
Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration organization. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports integrated systems and subsystems optimized for use on networks. For its government and civil customers worldwide, Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military and homeland defense missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space access; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.
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