NAWCWD manned for unmanned systems

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division scientists, engineers, technicians and operators are involved in all levels of Unmanned Systems (UxS) research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation (RDAT&E).

“Unmanned systems are a huge part of our future,” said Elijah Soto, NAWCWD director of Unmanned Systems. “Persistence is key because it is an important part of our nation’s defense.”

UxS work at NAWCWD began in the early 1960s as unmanned aerial targets were created from refurbished and reconfigured combat aircraft.

“We provide warfighting effects – that is our primary mission,” said Soto, who oversees UxS work at NAWCWD. “This includes payload (anything that is added to a UxS to complete a mission) development and fleet integration.”

NAWCWD leverages the in-house engineering expertise from decades of weapon, target and manned system support and applies it to UxS. Many of NAWCWD’s existing engineering and testing processes can be tailored to support UxS projects.

UxS project support at NAWCWD includes Navy program work, multi-service government work and partnerships with industry through cooperative research and development agreements and commercial service agreements.

“NAWCWD is on the cutting edge of UxS advancement,” Soto said. “We like to be first, we tend to be first. Our ability to support first flights, first weapons firings and first payload integrations were built around the RDAT&E environment that we have created at China Lake and Point Mugu.”

NAWCWD firsts include:

The RQ-8 Fire Scout and the X-47A Pegasus first flights.
The first launch of an air-to-air Stinger from an MQ-1.
The first release of the GBU-39 Joint Direct Attack Munition from an MQ-9 Reaper was completed using NAWCWD resources and ranges.
The first support of UxS search and rescue efforts on land and at sea with Predator B.
Past experience has positioned NAWCWD for new projects, no matter how unusual, according to Soto.

“We are cleared for weird out here,” Soto said. “Due to the vast resources we have at our finger tips, we have the ability to support many programs. We provide them with resources and environments for testing their systems that they could not find anywhere else.”

There are many “one-of-a-kind” resources offered at NAWCWD according to Soto. The 20,000 square miles of military controlled airspace (known as R-2508), 1.1 million acres of land ranges at China Lake and up to 220,000 square miles of sea ranges at Point Mugu offer a diverse terrain for UxS tests. Terrain that is similar to many warfighting environments. Sparsely populated range areas offer a chance to test and train without critical infrastructure concerns, allowing the focus to be on the safety and control of the system. Because the R-2508 airspace is controlled by the military, authorized customers do not need to obtain a certificate of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to test within NAWCWD ranges.

With 350 days of clear weather each year, testing is completed year round.

UxS testing and training at China Lake is supported by the Flash Site UxS Facility, Integrated Battlespace Arena, Mobile Command and Control Lab and Payload Integration Lab. The Rapid Prototyping Facility, Software Engineering Lab, Systems Integration Lab and a 2,200-foot combat aircraft loading-area-enabled unmanned airstrip also assist. The facilities and runway at Point Mugu and San Nicolas Island provide access to dedicated hangers, launch pads, surface craft and chase aircraft for marine testing and training.

“The intellectual resource that comes from the scientists and engineers that work at NAWCWD is among the best in the nation,” said Scott O’Neil, executive director for NAWCWD.

China Lake and Point Mugu have a mixed military and civilian workforce that is located closely with various operational military units. This allows for early involvement from the warfighter as RDAT&E is accomplished.

The resources at China Lake and Point Mugu support testing and fleet integration for all forms of UxS, including:

Aircraft systems (from group 1, which is less than 20 pounds to group 5, which is more than 32,000 pounds).
Ground systems.
Undersea systems.
Surface systems.
These resources allow for cost effective and flexible testing under one command (NAWCWD) Soto added.

“NAWCWD is focused on providing full-scope mission capabilities for UxS,” said Soto, a 14-year employee with NAWCWD. “We respond to fleet needs. As the demand from the fleet increases for unmanned systems, we react quickly to those needs.

“Many of the specialized capabilities that come from NAWCWD go from an idea, or concept, to being used by the warfighter in a matter of months. UxS is a strategic thrust area (point of focus) for NAWCWD, as is counter-UxS,” added Soto.

In fiscal year 2011, UxS flight hours and revenue generation exceeded manned flight efforts at NAWCWD and have continued to ever since.

“We are developing common standardized interfaces that lead us away from unique or stovepipe proprietary systems,” Soto said.

NAWCWD focuses on common standardized interfaces to apply the same technology across multiple UxS programs to save time and money.

“The potential to apply standardization to the integration and interoperability of manned and unmanned systems is also being explored,” Soto said. “The government needs to be the lead systems integrator for our programs and capabilities that we bring to the warfighter.”

NAWCWD leadership realizes that UxS is a worldwide venture. The UxS International Programs Office at NAWCWD provides a focal point for international engagement, to include working with coalition partners, co-development of capabilities or foreign military sales testing and engineering support.

“Over 18 countries are developing their own indigenous unmanned systems capability,” said Kelly McDonald, UxS International Programs Office lead for NAWCWD. “Whether for future conflicts, or large humanitarian disaster relief, the Navy will need to work with our allies where numerous UxS are operating from multiple countries. It’s important we understand the policy implications of flying unmanned systems in a coalition environment, and how to best work together. The UxS International Office is working to develop those relationships to enable the effective use of unmanned systems.”

Soto said that the future of UxS will include tactical work to alleviate the need to put military members in harm’s way.

Future UxS work, where the system is controlled by humans from a remote location, will combine with swarming and autonomous systems, where the system is controlled by its own software. Efforts to incorporate the “sense and avoid” technologies that are seen in today’s automobile industry are being done on UxS, said Soto, who envisions a future where there is a UxS solution for every direct combat situation.

“Technology is advancing in UxS,” Soto said. “We are leading that because we are early adopters and early adopters always benefit when the technology explodes. UxS can, and will, perform a large majority of roles in dangerous scenarios.”

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Source / Author: NAVAIR