Pentagon eyes expanding DARPA future warfare research office

The U.S. Department of Defense is close to expanding its legendary future warfare and technology agency DARPA by combining it with the Pentagon office in charge of adapting existing weapons to new uses, people familiar with the plans said. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency would absorb the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and centralize more research units under the Pentagon’s Chief Technology Officer Michael Griffin. The combination would end an experiment with SCO that began as an attempt to adapt to future threats quickly and with less bureaucracy. SCO reported directly to the defense secretary, removing it from traditional bureaucratic channels at the Pentagon. If all of SCO’s $1.3 billion 2020 budget request were transferred to DARPA, DARPA would gain control over 37 percent more funding on top of its 2020 funding request of $3.5 billion. The SCO is charged with developing unexpected and game-changing capabilities to counter emerging threats. The SCO has looked into projects like swarming small drones and transforming the Raytheon Co-made Standard Missile 6, a defensive weapon, into an offensive weapon. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, initiatives including hypersonic weapons, lasers and space-based projects. Last year, Congress asked the Pentagon to explore how it could shut down the SCO or transfer its functions to another entity. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee rolled out its proposals for a $750 billion 2020 defense budget.

Boeing is building DARPA’s new hypersonic space plane

A few years ago, DARPA started work on a new experimental aircraft project called the XS-1, a vehicle designed to make launching satellites a faster, less expensive endeavor. Today, that project just took a huge leap forward: DARPA has announced that it’s partnering with Boeing to build its next generation hypersonic space plane. Specifically, the aircraft manufacturer has been tapped to complete advanced design work on the XS-1 project, following up on the concept Boeing pitched to the agency during the project’s early stages — which it will now help build and test over the next several years. In practice, this means Boeing is now building a unmanned, reusable hypersonic jet with the goal of running ten test flights over ten consecutive days by the year 2020 — a program that’s designed to prove that the XS-1 will be able to launch satellites into low-earth orbit on short notice. “The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two,” DARPA’s Jess Sponable explained in a press release. “With the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand.” The XS-1 will manage this feat by flying to suborbital heights without boosters before deploying a disposable, secondary rocket to push its payload into orbit. Better still, the spaceplane be able to take a second satellite up within hours of delivering the first. Well, that’s the plan anyway — the project is still years away from being finished, and the earliest on-ground engine tests won’t start until 2019 at the earliest. Until then, we’ll have to settle for DARPA’s concept video, which admittedly, is still pretty cool. To see it, click here.

Very cool!!   🙂

DARPA requests designs for XS-1 military space plane

The U.S. military’s plans to build a satellite-launching robotic space plane are moving forward. On May 23, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) put out its official call for proposals for the futuristic space plane design. The goal of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) project is to build a reusable space plane that, at optimal operation, should be able to fly 10 times in 10 days, at a cost of no more than $5 million per flight. Typically, space vehicles are not fully reusable, and the pieces that are reused need to undergo time-consuming safety checks between flights. XS-1 would be used primarily as a cheap and fast way to deliver satellites to orbit, DARPA officials said. DARPA is already working with three groups on designs for XS-1. This week’s announcement sets a deadline for those groups to submit their design proposals (July 22). In early 2017, DARPA is expected to select one group to move forward with the construction of an XS-1 prototype for flight testing. The XS-1 program has four primary technical goals, according to DARPA. The first is a plane that can do 10 flights in 10 days, and demonstrate “aircraft-like access to space.” Second, the plane must be able to deliver a payload into low Earth orbit, which means it has to be able to move very fast. It must be able to launch a payload weighing up to 1,500 lbs. and have the capability to upgrade to 3,000-lb. payloads. And, each flight of the space plane, even with its heaviest payload, can’t cost more than $5 million. In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security,” DARPA officials wrote in a statement on the agency’s website. “Current satellite launch systems, however, require scheduling years in advance for an extremely limited inventory of available slots. Moreover, launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, due in large part to the massive amounts of dedicated infrastructure and large number of personnel required.” “DARPA created its Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to help overcome these challenges and create a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations, reducing the time to get capabilities to space,” officials said in the statement. The XS-1 program began in 2013, and initially DARPA aimed to make the first test flights in 2018. More recent estimates put the first flights sometime in 2019 or 2020.

Very cool!!   🙂

US Military’s Satellite-Launching XS-1 Space Plane Could Fly in 2019

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now entering the second and third phases of its ambitious Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to make launching satellites a daily occurrence. “I can tell you officially now that we have been funded by the [Obama] Administration for the next phase of XS-1,” DARPA’s Jess Sponable told applauding attendees at the Space Access ’16 Conference in Phoenix last week. “What I can tell you right now is that we have $146 million.” DARPA launched the XS-1 program in 2014 with the goal of developing a reusable launch system capable of flying 10 times in 10 days with aircraftlike operability, at a cost of no more than $5 million per flight. Over the past two years, DARPA has funded Phase 1 studies by three companies: Boeing, which partnered with Blue Origin; Masten Space Systems, which partnered with XCOR Aerospace; and Northrop Grumman, which partnered with Virgin Galactic. The goal of the next phases of the program is to take the program beyond studies to flight tests. The solicitation will be open to all companies, not just the ones that were funded in Phase 1. Sponable said that although he expects more than three bids, the level of detail required for the next phases will make it difficult for new entrants to compete with the companies that are already in the program. DARPA will kick off Phase 2 with a proposers’ day on April 29 in Arlington, Virginia. The agency will send out a solicitation following the meeting, with the goal of selecting a single contractor early in fiscal year 2017. Flights of the vehicle would occur in the 2019 to 2020 time frame. Sponable said that the $146 million DARPA has received is sufficient to begin to support a single contractor. “That’s enough to pick someone and go,” he said. “It’s probably not enough to fully fund what we have envisioned.”

Indeed..  Very cool!!   🙂

DARPA teases X-Plane concept that can take off vertically

Vertical takeoff and landing for planes has challenged aircraft designers for decades; attempts to increase top speed without sacrificing range, efficiency, or ability often fail. But Aurora Flight Sciences this week was awarded a contract to work on an experimental plane for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), known as the VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) X-Plane, which will essentially function as a helicopter and fighter jet in one. “Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention—truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles,” DARPA Program Manager Ashish Bagai said in a statement. Aurora’s Phase 2 VTOL X-Plane design must meet certain DARPA criteria, including a top sustained flight speed of 300 to 400 knots, at least 75 percent hover efficiency, and the ability to carry a load of about 10,000 to 12,000 pounds. According to DARPA, the current concept describes an unmanned aircraft with two large rear wings and two smaller front canards, or short “winglets,” mounted near the plane’s nose. A turboshaft engine will provide 3 megawatts of electrical power—the equivalent of an average commercial wind turbine. And, fitted with ducted fans, each wing and canard will rotate to direct fan thrust as needed: toward the rear for forward flight, pointing down for hovering, and at different angles during transition. “This is an extremely novel approach,” Bagai said. “It will be very challenging to demonstrate, but it has the potential to move the technology needle the farthest and provide some of the greatest spinoff opportunities for other vertical flight and aviation products.” DARPA aims to perform VTOL X-Plane flight tests by 2018. “This VTOL X-Plane won’t be in volume production in the next few years but is important for the future capabilities it could enable,” Bagai said. “Imagine electric aircraft that are more quiet, fuel-efficient, and adaptable and are capable of runway-independent operations. We want to open up a whole new design and mission spaces freed from prior constraints, and enable new VTOL aircraft systems and subsystems.”

Very cool!!  To see a concept video, click on the text above.  🙂

New tech gives US helicopter pilots ‘Superman-style’ vision

New technology means U.S. military helicopter pilots will be getting amped-up ‘Superman-style’ vision to help them tackle dangerous environments. One of the biggest threats to aircraft is Degraded Visual Environment or DVE. New technology made by Honeywell aims to solve this problem. Superman’s vision lets him see through things and observe high detail. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has issued a contract to Honeywell to create tech enabling helicopter pilots to deal with extreme DVE and “See” crucial details. The tech is called synthetic vision. Honeywell has been developing and testing it with DARPA for more than nine years. U.S. Military helicopters like the UH-60 Black Hawk will be outfitted with the Synthetic Vision Avionics Backbone (SVAB) for testing. When visibility is degraded it can mask hazards lurking in bad weather like rain, snow, dust and fog. These challenges can cause low visibility, making it tough to land and fly. “Brown-out” is a condition that military pilots regularly face when terrain becomes obscured, particularly in desert conditions such as those experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. When a pilot approaches a landing zone in a desert environment it often becomes a brown out when sand, dirt and dust gets kicked up. In a brown-out, the pilot loses his or her visual reference with the ground. The airframe can drift and collide with the ground or other structures causing the helicopter to land hard or even roll over. Honeywell’s technology provides pilots with a 3-D view of the landing zone on their flight displays. The synthetic vision system integrates data from a number of state-of-the-art sensors. These data are fused together, processed and translated into a picture of the area around the pilot. The technology aims to show dangers like other aircraft, telephone wires, vehicles and personnel near the landing zone as well as unexpected terrain hidden by dust or other aspects of DVE. Ultimately, military pilots could have such enhanced vision that even small holes and ditches around the landing zone will be revealed. The tech could help save lives as well as reduce costs. Some estimates place the damage and loss of U.S. military aircraft due to degraded visual environments in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Many companies have been trying to find a solution to DVE. Tech touted to tackle the problem includes millimeter wave radar, infrared radar, long wave and LIDAR, a laser-based surveying technology. Advanced military aircraft like the CH 47 F-model Chinook, AH-64 Block III Apache attack helo and the Black Hawk UH-60 M-model already give pilots enhanced support when equipped with cutting edge moving map displays and digital flight controls. In the next phase of the Multifunction Radio Frequency program, Honeywell will update the synthetic vision system to fuse information from DARPA’s Advanced Rotary Multifunction Sensor radar, along with satellite imagery and databases of terrain and obstacles. DVEs are a big challenge for all militaries, but with this technology US pilots would have the advantage of being able to safely operate where others cannot. -Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie

Very cool!!   🙂

DARPA’s unmanned sub-hunter set to revolutionize naval warfare

A new vessel will patrol the world’s oceans hunting and tracking enemy submarines – and it will execute missions without a single human aboard. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that pioneers tech for the US military, created the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. Reston, Va.-based company Leidos is working with the agency to develop the groundbreaking ship. On Tuesday DARPA tweeted a picture of ACTUV being prepared for sea trials in the spring. Without a human crew, this drone vessel will be able to execute important missions independently like tracking and trailing an enemy sub over thousands of miles – not just for a day or two, or even a few weeks – this drone could hunt the enemy for months. The ACTUV enemy submarine hunter is expected to be about 130 feet long. DARPA has announced that it will be revealed for the first time on April 7 when it will also be christened in Portland, Oregon. In addition to hunting enemy subs, ACTUV will be capable of a wide range of missions, such as reconnaissance and counter-mine deployments. It could also be useful to resupply troops. The rise of tough-to-detect and track diesel electric submarines poses a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy. ACTUV is designed to excel at tracking these ultra-quiet subs. Diesel-electric submarines come at a relatively cheap price point of about $250 million, while giving their owners the advantage of stealthy movements beneath the surface due to their virtually silent engines. How quiet is quiet? Reports suggest that some of these subs can be 15 decibels more quiet than a humpback whale. Iran claims to have fleets of these sneaky subs. Enter ACTUV, which could roam the oceans for thousands and thousands of miles executing missions. For next level tracking, the vessel will be armed with state-of-the art sensors allowing it to detect the quietest of enemy subs. The idea is that it will be nearly impossible for a hostile sub to slip the ACTUV when the unmanned vessel is on its tail. Despite being smaller than traditional subs, the ACTUV will be able to achieve speeds that exceed diesel electric propulsion submarines – and for a fraction of the cost. ACTUV will have “logic” that allows it to not just identify other vessels, but also predict how they will behave. The sub hunter will be so smart that it should be able to interact, counter and outmaneuver manned enemy vessels. It will be able to run operations as part of a team with other unmanned vessels operating beneath the water and on the surface. The sub hunter could also work in cooperation with manned vessels. And get this – ACTUV is designed to figure out and comply with maritime laws, such as regulations to prevent collisions. When ACTUV enters service, it will give the U.S. military a range of advantages. Rather than send out a destroyer or a nuclear sub, ACTUV could be deployed, freeing up those assets and keeping costs down. ACTUV will offer lots of versatility, such as launching from and returning to a pier – rather than having to deploy from a ship like other UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles). ACTUV will also give the Navy a vessel with far better endurance. It will also be able to carry far more weight than lots of the drone surface vessels launched from ships. After the big reveal in April, ACTUV will continue to be tested and refined. Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie

Very cool!!  Thanks for sharing, Allison!    🙂