4 novembre 2020 | International, Aérospatial

Defense aerospace primes are raking in money for classified programs


WASHINGTON — Two months after disclosing the existence of a next-generation fighter jet demonstrator, the U.S. Air Force is staying mum on which company may have built it. But one thing is for sure: Classified aviation programs are on the rise, and opportunities abound for the three major American defense aerospace primes — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing.

During an Oct. 20 earnings call with investors, Lockheed Martin Chief Financial Officer Ken Possenriede revealed the company's Aeronautics division recently won a classified contract that would necessitate the construction of a new building in Palmdale, California, where the company's Skunk Works development arm tests and creates prototypes of secret aircraft.

Sales for the division were up 8 percent in this year's third quarter compared to the same period in 2019, with about $130 million of the $502 million boost attributed to classified work. But Possenriede alluded to even more growth on the horizon.

“For Aeronautics, we do anticipate seeing strong, double-digit growth at our Skunk Works, our classified advanced development programs. We continue to execute on those recent awards,” he said, adding that there were a “multitude of opportunities” still out there.

Classified work also increased at Northrop Grumman's Aeronautics Systems unit, with “restricted activities” in the autonomous systems and manned aircraft portfolios helping bolster sales by 5 percent for the quarter and 4 percent year-to-date when compared to 2019, Chief Financial Officer Dave Keffer told investors Oct. 22.

It's tempting to draw a line from these contract awards to the recent flight of a demonstrator for the Next Generation Air Dominance program — the Air Force's effort to field a suite of air superiority technologies that could include drones, high-tech weapons and what some have termed as a sixth-gen fighter, although service officials have said any warplane in the mix might not resemble a traditional fighter.

Even though the Air Force announced in September that at least one NGAD demonstrator exists, it's unclear which companies are involved.

Still, there are plenty of other longstanding and emerging Air Force requirements that could be the source of this classified work, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst for the Teal Group.

“It's pretty clear that there's more prototyping activity going on out there than was generally known. I had assumed that most of the work related to NGAD was happening at the systems level. It's clearly happening at the airframe level too," he said. "And then of course there are a lot of potential drone developments that are certainly worth watching,” from the MQ-9 Reaper replacement to strategic reconnaissance requirements, “which is fundamentally a very expensive activity.”

The wild card in this situation is Boeing. Because of investors' focus on the commercial side of the business — including plans for the return of the Boeing 737 Max to flight, as well as the continued downward spiral of sales caused by the global pandemic and its chilling effect on air travel — executives did not speak about Boeing Defense, Space and Security's classified activities during the company's Oct. 28 earnings call.

“Overall, the defense and space market remains significant and relatively stable, and we continue to see solid global demand for our key programs,” a Boeing spokesman said in response to questions about the company's classified business. “We project a $2.6 trillion market opportunity for defense and space during the next decade, which includes important classified work.”

After years of lost competitions, there are signs that the company's combat aircraft production facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as its advanced projects division, Phantom Works, are returning to health.

Over the past two years, the company has banked major awards, including the Navy's MQ-25 tanker drone and the T-7A trainer jet, both of which were developed by Phantom Works. Boeing's work on the T-7 received praise from Air Force acquisition executive Will Roper for its use of digital engineering, which involves simulating the design, production and life cycle of a product in order to drive down costs. The company has also started selling the advanced F-15EX fighter jet to the Air Force, breathing a second life into that aircraft with this latest variant.

But Aboulafia worried that pressure on Boeing's commercial business — combined with its strategy of leveraging the work of other aircraft makers on projects like the T-7, where Swedish manufacturer Saab had a heavy influence in shaping the design — may have led to a loss of resources and engineering talent at Phantom Works.

“Either they're sitting it out now because their focus is elsewhere, or they don't have the capabilities and the commitment that the others do, or we're just not hearing about it now,” he said.

Boeing is not the only company investing in digital engineering and advanced manufacturing processes. Northrop CEO Kathy Warden pointed to her company's use of digital engineering in the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, which the company won in September to build the Air Force's next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The work that we have done with the customer already, even under the tech maturation and risk reduction phase of the program, was done in a digital environment,” she said. “We delivered artifacts for review in a fully digital environment where they were actually looking at things in a model, not documents produced. This is the first time on a program of this size where that's been the case.”

“Those investments that we're making for GBSD are being utilized across our entire portfolio,” she added. “So as we think about Next Generation Air Dominance and the programs that are part of that overall campaign ... they too will benefit from a full digital engineering thread as being required by our customers.”


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  • JUST IN: New Navy Lab to Accelerate Autonomy, Robotics Programs

    9 septembre 2020 | International, Naval

    JUST IN: New Navy Lab to Accelerate Autonomy, Robotics Programs

    9/8/2020 By Yasmin Tadjdeh Over the past few years, the Navy has been hard at work building a new family of unmanned surface and underwater vehicles through a variety of prototyping efforts. It is now standing up an integration lab to enable the platforms with increased autonomy, officials said Sept. 8. The Rapid Integration Autonomy Lab, or RAIL, is envisioned as a place where the Navy can bring in and test new autonomous capabilities for its robotic vehicles, said Capt. Pete Small, program manager for unmanned maritime systems. “Our Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab concept is really the playground where all the autonomy capabilities and sensors and payloads come together, both to be integrated ... [and] to test them from a cybersecurity perspective and test them from an effectiveness perspective,” Small said during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems conference, which was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Robotics technology is moving at a rapid pace, and platforms will need to have their software and hardware components replaced throughout their lifecycles, he said. In order to facilitate these upgrades, the service will need to integrate the new autonomy software that comes with various payloads and certain autonomy mission capabilities with the existing nuts-and-bolts packages already in the unmanned platforms. “The Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab is where we bring together the platform software, the payload software, the mission software and test them,” he explained. During testing, the service will be able to validate the integration of the software as well as predict the performance of the unmanned vehicles in a way that “we're sure that this is going to work out and give us the capability we want,” Small said. The RAIL concept will rely on modeling-and-simulation technology with software-in-the-loop testing to validate the integration of various autonomous behaviors, sensors and payloads, he said. “We will rely heavily on industry to bring those tools to the RAIL to do the testing that we require,” he noted. However, the lab is not envisioned as a single, brick-and-mortar facility, but rather a network of cloud-based infrastructure and modern software tools. “There will be a certain footprint of the actual software developers who are doing that integration, but we don't see this as a big bricks-and-mortar effort. It's really more of a collaborative effort of a number of people in this space to go make this happen," Small said. The service has kicked off a prototype effort as part of the RAIL initiative where it will take what it calls a “third-party autonomy behavior” that has been developed by the Office of Naval Research and integrate it onto an existing unmanned underwater vehicle that runs on industry-made proprietary software, Small said. Should that go as planned, the Navy plans to apply the concept to numerous programs. For now, the RAIL is a prototyping effort, Small said. “We're still working on developing the budget profile and ... the details behind it,” he said. “We're working on building the programmatic efforts behind it that really are in [fiscal year] '22 and later.” The RAIL is part of a series of “enablers” that will help the sea service get after new unmanned technology, Small said. Others include a concept known as the unmanned maritime autonomy architecture, or UMAA, a common control system and a new data strategy. Cmdr. Jeremiah Anderson, deputy program manager for unmanned underwater vehicles, said an upcoming industry day on Sept. 24 that is focused on UMAA will also feature information about the RAIL. “Half of that day's agenda will really be to get into more of the nuts and bolts about the RAIL itself and about that prototyping effort that's happening this year,” he said. “This is very early in the overall trajectory for the RAIL, but I think this will be a good opportunity to kind of get that message out a little bit more broadly to the stakeholders and answer their questions.” Meanwhile, Small noted that the Navy is making strides within its unmanned portfolio, citing a “tremendous amount of progress that we've made across the board with our entire family of UVS and USVs.” Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, highlighted efforts with the Ghost Fleet Overlord and Sea Hunter platforms, which are unmanned surface vessels. The Navy — working in cooperation with the office of the secretary of defense and the Strategic Capabilities Office — has two Overlord prototypes. Fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1, will be a particularly important period for the platforms, he said. “Our two Overlord vessels have executed a range of autonomous transits and development vignettes,” he said. “We have integrated autonomy software automation systems and perception systems and tested them in increasingly complex increments and vignettes since 2018.” Testing so far has shown the platforms have the ability to perform safe, autonomous navigation in according with the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGS, at varying speeds and sea states, he said. “We are pushing the duration of transits increasingly longer, and we will soon be working up to 30 days,” he said. “Multi-day autonomous transits have occurred in low- and high-traffic density environments.” The vessels have already had interactions with commercial fishing fleets, cargo vessels and recreational craft, he said. The longest transit to date includes a round trip from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast where it conducted more than 181 hours and over 3,193 nautical miles of COLREGS-compliant, autonomous operation, Moton added. Both Overload vessels are slated to conduct extensive testing and experimentation in fiscal year 2021, he said. “These tests will include increasingly long-range transits with more complex autonomous behaviors,” he said. "They will continue to demonstrate automation functions of the machinery control systems, plus health monitoring by a remote supervisory operation center with the expectation of continued USV reliability." The Sea Hunter will also be undergoing numerous fleet exercises and tactical training events in fiscal year 2021. “With the Sea Hunter and the Overlord USVs we will exercise ... control of multiple USVs, test command-and-control, perform as part of surface action groups and train Navy sailors on these platforms, all while developing and refining the fleet-led concept of operations and concept of employment,” Moton said. https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/9/8/navy-testing-new-autonomy-integration-lab

  • L'Inde commence l'assemblage du prototype de l'AMCA, son avion de combat multi rôle de 5ème génération

    18 mars 2022 | International, Aérospatial

    L'Inde commence l'assemblage du prototype de l'AMCA, son avion de combat multi rôle de 5ème génération

    L'entreprise d'état indienne HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) a annoncé la fabrication du premier bord d'attaque du prototype de l'avion de combat multi rôle indien 5ème génération AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft). Le premier vol est prévu « pour 2024-2025 avec une mise en production début 2030 », selon Air & Cosmos. L'AMCA, d'une masse de 25 tonnes, aura une charge utile interne de 1.5 tonne et une charge utile externe de 5.5 tonnes en addition de 6.5 tonnes de carburant. Il sera disponible en version furtive et non furtive. Concernant ses deux moteurs, ses variantes connaîtront deux étapes : une version MK1 équipée des moteurs GE414 qui équipent le LCA Tejas (génération précédente d'avions de combats indiens), puis une version MK2 équipée d'une motorisation plus puissante (110kN, légèrement en dessous du NGF). « Un accord de collaboration devrait être signé prochainement avec Safran ou Rolls-Royce pour le développement de ce moteur », souligne Air & Cosmos, qui rappelle que Safran a déjà travaillé avec HAL sur le développement du moteur Shakti de son hélicoptère ALH. Air & Cosmos du 18 mars

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