The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 11/5/20
Successful Trials Conducted on Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T)
Alix Leboulanger, Research Associate
As part of the Royal Army Warfighting Experiment, the UK Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has run successful trials with Leonardo and Callen-Lenz Associates (UK) on helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T). The demonstration last month involved an AW159 Wildcat helicopter and a remote controlled tactical unmanned aerial system. The UAV control was directly integrated into the helicopter mission systems, enabling the helicopter crew to directly monitor and control both the UAV flight path and its sensor payload via a human machine interface, known as ‘the Gateway Processor’ supplied by Callen-Lenz Associates.
This experiment highlighted a level of interoperability (LOI) of grade four that is quite difficult to obtain. The various LOI levels are part of the NATO Standardization Agreement 4586; it includes a scale of five levels, in which level one implies an indirect level of control on UAV data up to level five involving the direct control on UAV missions, launch, and recovery. Reaching this capacity brings a significant workload reduction to the helicopter crew who can then focus more on mission objectives, greater situational awareness, and multiplies the platform’s ISR capabilities.
These successful trials are paving the way for a new roadmap for the British Ministry of Defense and DSTL on future MUM-T concept of operations (CONOPS) involving land and naval helicopters. This project is also rejuvenating the Wildcat helicopter program and will likely impact upcoming upgrades at a time where manned-unmanned collaboration is becoming a critical requirement.
Only a few helicopter firms have demonstrated skills and tests in that field so far, the most advanced program being the Apache MUM-T eXpanded (MUMT-X) intended for the US Army AH-64E. In Europe, Airbus Helicopters also successfully conducted tests in 2018 with a S-100 UAS from Schiebel (Austria) reaching an LOI of grade five.
Moving to implementation and production is still a long way off and until safety requirements, mission areas and CONOPS, and then certifications are defined and approved, MUM-T operations should remain restricted to trials and initial operational capability, at best. Recent progress in artificial intelligence and integration at the UAV sensor level should lead to a higher rate of test and trials in the coming years, especially to enable flight in unsegregated airspaces.
On October 31, attempts by the Argentinian Air Force to procure the FA-50 fighter from South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries were blocked due to the UK’s refusal to grant export licenses for British-made components on the aircraft. The UK has had an embargo on defense exports to Argentina since the 1982 Falklands War and has previously blocked sales of equipment to the country, including the potential sale of Saab Gripen aircraft. The FA-50 fighter has six UK made components supplied by BAE Systems and Martin Baker. The BAE Systems components are the integrated mission display computer, APX-118 identification friend or foe with interface to a traffic collision avoidance system, wide field-of-view head-up display, color cockpit television system, and integrated up-front control. Martin Baker also supplies the ejector seats for the aircraft.
The sale of F/A-50 aircraft to Argentina had already met potential issues due to a lack of funding in Argentina, however efforts were being made to secure financing. The block on exports by the UK effectively ends the possibility that the F/A-50 will now be sold to Argentina. Instead the country may look to Russia and China to meet its requirements.
The US Department of States’ Defense Security Cooperation Agency has approved the sale of four MQ-9Bs to Taiwan at an estimated cost of $600 million. The armed variant of the UAVs would be equipped with MX-20 Multi-Spectral Target Systems, SeaVue Maritime Radars, and SAGE 750 Electronic Surveillance Measures. The aircraft would be controlled by a combination of four ground control stations, two fixed site, and two mobile systems. This is the fifth potential arms sale announced to Taiwan in the last two weeks, following the announcement of sales of MS-110 Recce Pods, AGM-84H SLAM-ER missiles, HIMARS systems, and Harpoon missiles.
Last week, Turkey commenced construction on its third MILGEM-class corvette on behalf of Pakistan as part of a contract dating back to July 2018. It is the second of two vessels that will be constructed in Pakistan, as the other one commenced construction just last week. The MILGEM project, which is coordinated by Turkish National Defence Ministry firm ASFAT, aims to build four total MILGEM-class vessels for its South Asian ally in what has become one of Turkey’s largest defense export programs to date. The ceremony took place in the shipyard of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, where both Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Pakistani Defence Production Minister Zubaida Jalal Khan could be found in attendance. Akar suggested that the continued progress on the program symbolized the ever-growing closeness of the two majority Muslim nations. Additionally, the Pakistani Navy’s official Twitter asserted that the vessels themselves will contain Turkish industry’s most advanced sensors and weapons systems.
On October 28, the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) held a discussion about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and the NATO alliance. NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana confirmed that the NATO alliance would benefit from transatlantic cooperation on developing AI technologies amongst other emerging technologies. During the event, Deputy Secretary Geoana discussed how NATO has established a roadmap for developing emerging technologies, in which there are seven sub-domains including artificial intelligence, though the NATO alliance is still learning how to balance traditional deterrence strategies with new technologies in an ever-changing environment.
The push to further develop these emerging technologies is due to Russia and China’s continued investment in the area as well. Back in January 2020, Lt. General Jack Shanahan, the director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center for the US Department of Defense, called for collaboration between the US and its NATO allies on developing AI capabilities. He discussed China’s use of AI, in which the country often exploits the technology to censor its citizens and even “facilitate the sale of AI-enabled weapons.” For Russia, Lt. Gen. Shanahan states that the country is likely to use AI to continue destabilizing international security and spread disinformation. Deputy Secretary Geoana hopes that the NATO alliance can build in the near term a “transatlantic digital community” that also includes leveraging what universities and even startups can bring to the table.
Greece continues its naval modernization as tensions with Turkey continue to rise in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. On October 28, Lockheed Martin received a contract to build four MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters for the Hellenic Navy. The Navy had been approved for up to seven MH-60Rs. The Navy also signed a deal with Atlas Elektronik for 36 DM2A4 heavyweight torpedoes and the upgrade of existing SUT torpedoes. Other major procurements that are expected in the future include at least two new frigates and new corvettes. The new ships could also help the struggling Greek economy through shipbuilding jobs, as foreign ship designers partner with Greek shipyards.
On October 30, the US Department of State approved a potential sale of Javelin FGM-148E missiles to Australia. Specifically, the government of Australia is requesting 200 Javelin missiles and the upper bound for the contract value is $46 million. The missiles themselves would be provided from existing US Army inventory. The purpose of the sale is to fill in a short-term shortage of missiles in Australia and will be used to help Australia maintain its preferred level of military readiness. However, the sale is not yet final, and some details could change before a contract is signed.