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July 27, 2020 | Local, Aerospace

These Companies Will Work on R2-D2-Like Drone Helper for Air Force Pilots

24 Jul 2020

Military.com | By Oriana Pawlyk

Four defense companies have been selected to begin work on the U.S. Air Force's Skyborg program, which aims to pair artificial intelligence with a human piloting a fighter jet.

The service chose Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc., and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to move forward on the program; however, the companies will be competing for the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, estimated to be worth up to $400 million, according to an announcement.

The autonomous Skyborg is intended for reusable unmanned aerial vehicles in a manned-unmanned teaming mission; the drones are considered "attritable," or cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant cost.

"Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force," said Brig. Gen. Dale White, program executive officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. White and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), together lead the Skyborg program.

"We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power," White said in a release.

"Autonomy technologies in Skyborg's portfolio will range from simple playbook algorithms to advanced team decision making and will include on-ramp opportunities for artificial intelligence technologies," added Pringle. "This effort will provide a foundational Government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous and open-architecture unmanned aerial [systems]."

Skyborg is one of three initiatives in the service's Vanguard Program portfolio for rapid prototyping and development of new-age technologies it can leverage for multiple operations. The Vanguard program brings together the research lab and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to "quickly identify cutting-edge technology and transition directly into the hands of the warfighter," the release states.

The Air Force launched the bidding process for Skyborg in May; it expects Skyborg's initial operation to be ready by the end of 2023.

Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, first spoke of the Air Force Research Lab-led program last year.

He told reporters during the 2019 McAleese Conference that, while it is reminiscent of the Air Force's proposed Loyal Wingman program to send out drones ahead of fighters to act as scouts, Skyborg will take the concept even further, with an AI plane that trains with its pilot, acting as a sidekick, rapidly thinking through problems and taking command if necessary.

In short, it's R2-D2 from "Star Wars" in an aircraft of its very own, he said.

"I might eventually decide, 'I want that AI in my own cockpit,'" Roper said. "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."

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/07/24/these-companies-will-work-r2-d2-drone-helper-air-force-pilots.html

On the same subject

  • Design by British firm BAE picked for Canada’s $60B warship replacement program

    October 21, 2018 | Local, Naval

    Design by British firm BAE picked for Canada’s $60B warship replacement program

    DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN The Canadian Surface Combatant project will see the Halifax-based Irving build 15 warships, which will form the backbone of the future Royal Canadian Navy The Canadian government has selected a consortium closely linked to Irving Shipbuilding to provide it with a new warship design for the most expensive defence project the country has ever seen. Canada announced Friday it had chosen the Type 26 warship design by British defence firm BAE for the $60-billion program to replace the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates. Lockheed Martin Canada is leading the BAE consortium and will be the prime contractor. The group’s win had been anticipated since 2016, however, after rival defence firms raised concerns that the competition had been rigged in favour of the British design. The Canadian Surface Combatant project will see the Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding build 15 warships, which will form the backbone of the future Royal Canadian Navy. It will be the largest and most complex procurement in Canadian history. However, it is seen as a major departure from previous procurement processes, as Irving is playing a significant role in selecting the winning design. The previous federal procurement minister, Judy Foote, had said only mature existing designs or designs of ships already in service would be accepted for the bidding process, on the grounds they could be built faster and would be less risky — unproven designs can face challenges as problems are found once the vessel is in the water and operating. But the Liberal government and Irving accepted the BAE design into the process, though at the time it existed only on the drawing board. Construction began on the first Type 26 frigate in the summer of 2017 for Britain’s Royal Navy, but it has not yet been completed. Both Irving and the federal government have insisted the procurement was being conducted in a way that ensures all bidders are treated equally, overseen by a fairness monitor with no unfair advantage given to any individual bidder. Nonetheless, while three consortiums submitted bids for the surface combatant program, several European shipbuilders decided against participating because of concerns about the fairness of the process. Others raised concerns about BAE’s closeness with the Halifax firm. Last year a French-Italian consortium also declined to formally submit a bid and instead offered Canada a fleet of vessels at a fixed price. Officials with Fincantieri of Italy and Naval Group of France said they don’t believe the procurement process as it is currently designed will be successful. The federal government, however, rejected the deal. The federal government had to remind Irving about the potential for conflict of interest when the firm joined forces with BAE in late 2016 to bid on a multi-billion dollar contract to provide maintenance and support for the navy’s new Arctic patrol and supply ships. The Irving-BAE alliance was not successful in that bid, but it led the government to remind Irving it had an obligation to “ensure that the Canadian Surface Combatant competition is conducted in a manner that is free from real or perceived conflicts of interest,” according to February 2017 documents prepared for defence minister Harjit Sajjan and released to the Conservatives under the Access to Information law. Andre Fillion, assistant deputy minister for defence and marine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said Friday’s decision is not a contract award. “It’s an important step to getting to contract award in the coming months,” he said. Negotiations will now begin with Lockheed Martin. if negotiations proceed accordingly a contract is expected to be signed sometime between January and March 2019. But Fillion said if there are issues with those negotiations and an agreement is not reached, the government will then turn to the next highest-ranked bidder. The government has declined to identify that firm, but the other bidders were from the U.S. and Spain.   The Canadian Surface Combatant program has already faced delays and rising costs. In 2008 the then-Conservative government estimated the project would cost roughly $26 billion. But in 2015, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, then commander of the navy, voiced concern that taxpayers may not have been given all the information about the program, publicly predicting the cost for the warships alone would approach $30 billion. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/british-design-selected-for-canadas-60b-warship-replacement-program-amid-concerns-about-winners-links-to-irving/

  • What does a DAR do?

    May 31, 2019 | Local, Aerospace, Security

    What does a DAR do?

    Michael Petsche Helicopters are pretty awesome devices. Even when you understand the physics of how they work, it’s still a wonder that the combination of whirling bits and pieces can result in flight. These magnificent machines put out fires, string powerlines, erect towers, pluck people in distress from mountains, and save countless lives. But here’s the thing: a brand new, factory-spec helicopter right off the production line can’t do any of those things. Flip through the pages of any issue of Vertical, and in almost every photo, the aircraft has been fitted with some type of special equipment. A firefighting machine will have a cargo hook for the bucket, a bubble window, an external torque gauge, pulse lights and a mirror. A search-and-rescue aircraft will have a hoist. Air ambulances are filled with lifesaving equipment. And very little of that stuff comes directly from the airframe original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Instead, this equipment is in place thanks to supplemental type certificates (STCs). As the name implies, an STC is required for an installation that supplements the original aircraft type certificate. It needs to meet all of the same requirements as the aircraft that it’s installed upon. Therefore, it must undergo the same kind of testing, analysis, and scrutiny that the aircraft does. How do regulatory authorities ensure that supplementary equipment meets the same standards as the aircraft they’re designed to augment? Through people like me. I am a Transport Canada Design Approval Representative (DAR), also known as a delegate. A DAR does not actually work for Transport Canada, but is delegated to act on its behalf to make findings of compliance in a particular field of specialty — such as structures, avionics, or as a flight test pilot. To secure an STC, not only must a modification meet the same standards as the original aircraft, but it has to be shown not to degrade the safety of the aircraft. Let’s take the firefighting helicopter as an example. The bubble window needs to be strong enough to withstand the aerodynamic loads in flight. In order to verify this, a structural test can be done on a test rig. However, the bubble window protrudes from the aircraft, resulting in extra drag. It could adversely affect how the aircraft behaves, or reduce climb performance, or have an effect on the pitot-static system. These are the sorts of issues that flight testing is meant to uncover. Similarly, if someone wants to upgrade an old GPS system to the latest and greatest model, testing must be done to ensure that there is no electrical interference between the new unit and any other existing systems on the aircraft. A big part of the STC process is determining just how you can prove that a modification meets the regulations. Does it need to be tested or is a stress analysis enough?  Or is it a combination of the two — or another method entirely? And on top of that, which regulations are applicable?  And furthermore, which version of the regulations needs to be applied?  The rules for the Airbus H125, for example, are not the same as for the Bell 429. It’s the role of the DAR (with concurrence from the regulator, in my case Transport Canada) to make these kinds of determinations. While the STC process is technically uniform, the scope can vary widely from one project to another. Changing a seat cushion or changing an engine type can both be STCs. The execution of a project can take many forms, and is dependent on a huge number of factors, including the DAR, the project scope, the resources available, and the end user. In my current role, I work largely on my own. The process typically begins with me submitting an application to open the project with Transport Canada. I prepare the documents and drawings, and witness and document any required testing. Then I compile it all and submit it to Transport Canada. Through all this, I will rely heavily on the end user to provide their insight and expertise — and their facilities. After all, it’s their aircraft, and they are the ones who will ultimately be installing, using, and maintaining the STC kit — so it has to make sense to them. Whenever possible, I will have documents and drawings reviewed by the maintenance team to make sure that theory and reality align. Becoming a delegate How does someone become a delegate? In Canada, it begins with an educational requirement. You must have an engineering degree, or have, in the opinion of Transport Canada, equivalent experience. In other words, if someone has many years of applicable experience, they can be eligible to be a delegate, even if they do not have an engineering degree. A prospective delegate must also successfully complete the Aircraft Certification Specialty Course. This is a two-week intensive course that covers the ins and outs of aircraft certification: type certification, STCs, Change Product Rule and so on. And yes, there are exams! Next is a one-year working relationship with Transport Canada. The process for becoming a delegate is not uniform, with the one-year timeline more of a guideline than a rule. In my case, it took less than 12 months. Prior to beginning my process, I had the good fortune of working for a talented delegate for many years. He taught me how it “should be done.” I was given the opportunity to fly at 170 knots indicated airspeed in AStars pointed at the ground during flight tests; I snapped bolts while piling steel plates onto structures during structural tests; and I wrote numerous supporting reports for many kinds of STCs for many different aircraft types. My mentor is a (sometimes maddeningly) meticulous guy. Everything we did was thorough and correct. So, by the time I was presenting my own work to Transport Canada, it was evident that I already had a pretty firm grasp on the process. As a result, my delegation was granted before a full year. During the period while I was building my relationship with Transport Canada, my friends would ask if I had to accomplish certain specified milestones or achieve specific “levels.” The short answer is: not really. In fact, it’s about building trust. It’s almost counter-intuitive that in an industry with such strict regulations, granting delegation to someone is, to a large degree, based on a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” Ultimately, Transport Canada must have confidence in the delegate. Let’s face it, we are in a business with tight schedules and high price tags. There can be a lot of pressure, financial or otherwise, to meet deadlines — and things can go wrong. Parts can fail under ultimate loading during a structural test. That cursed Velcro can fail the flammability test. And when these things happen, it can be the delegate that incurs the wrath of the angry operator who really needs to get his aircraft flying. Transport Canada must have the confidence that not only does the delegate have the technical knowledge and ability, but that they have the intestinal fortitude to stand firm under what can sometimes be difficult circumstances. There’s the somewhat cynical axiom that the only way for an aircraft to be 100 percent safe is to never let it fly. I have heard many tales of woe and misery about people’s dealings with Transport Canada and how the regulator was being “unreasonable” about X, Y, or Z. I’m of the opinion that these instances often stem from poor communication — on both sides. This is another area where the DAR can help. The DAR often acts as a liaison (or translator) between the operator and Transport Canada. Operators don’t necessarily spend that much time studying design regulations. And similarly, Transport Canada engineers may not be fully familiar with the day-to-day challenges and obligations of aircraft operations. As a DAR, I speak the same language as Transport Canada. But I also spend a great deal of time in hangars, so I am also fluent in “aircraft operator.” This level of bilingualism can alleviate misunderstandings. And with a little strategic communication, everyone involved can be satisfied a lot sooner. Not surprisingly, communication and open dialogue between the DAR and the regulator is just as crucial. It has been my experience that Transport Canada wants to help get projects completed. They are aviation geeks, just like the rest of us, and they want to “Git ‘er done.” Because I have developed a solid relationship with Transport Canada, if ever I find myself struggling with something, I can call them and ask for guidance. Obviously it’s not their job to fix the issue for me, but they are there to help. Whether they point me at an Advisory Circular that I wasn’t aware of, or they draw from their own experience, 99 times out of 100, talking it through with them yields a solution very quickly. We all want to keep aircraft flying — safely. And we all have our different roles to play. As a DAR, I enjoy being the go-between for the regulatory world and the operational world. The challenge of getting them to work and play nicely together can be pretty fun — and a big part of accomplishing that goal requires earned trust and open communication. https://www.verticalmag.com/features/what-does-a-dar-do/

  • Ukraine buys Canadian sniper rifles – delivery expected soon

    November 11, 2019 | Local, Land

    Ukraine buys Canadian sniper rifles – delivery expected soon

    DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN  Sniper rifles from PGW Defence Technologies of Winnipeg will be arriving soon in Ukraine. The company, with support of Global Affairs Canada, sold  50 LRT-3 sniper rifles to Ukraine’s military, according to the Canadian Forces. Ukrainian government officials say the rifles are expected in the country very soon. Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vasyl Bodnar said in an interview with Ukrinform, the country’s national news agency, that he believes the sniper rifle deal “will open the door to expanding the range of cooperation” between Ukraine and Canada on military equipment. Ukraine is also seeking armoured vehicles and other equipment from Canada. Canadian Forces personnel are working with Ukrainian snipers predominantly through a basic sniper course. They are mainly developing the Ukrainian instructors, but do provide some mentorship to the students, noted Canadian Forces spokesperson Capt. Leah Campbell.  This is basically through watching and providing feedback to the students, she added. “Weapons that the students are using are provided or purchased by the Ukrainian Government,” explained Campbell in an email. “CAF personnel are not currently working with LRT-3 .50 caliber rifle.  However, we are always responsive to our Ukrainian partners training needs and can adjust as appropriate.” In December 2017, the House of Commons defence committee recommended the government provide weapons to Ukraine, provided it demonstrates it is working to eliminate corruption at all levels of government. Senior officials from Ukraine’s ministry of defence told the defence committee they would welcome arms from Canada, including anti-tank weapons. They told the committee that the Ukrainian military’s sniper equipment was obsolete. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/ukraine-buys-canadian-sniper-rifles-delivery-expected-soon

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