February 2, 2005 - Northrop Grumman has successfully completed the first phase of flight testing a demonstrator version of a new medium altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Soldiers in urban battle zones could receive more timely and complete information about enemy forces from low-flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) with the technologies being developed.
This work could lead to an autonomous system that coordinates the delivery of data from UAVs and other military reconnaissance assets and intelligence sources. For example, a soldier with a handheld computer would request information about suspected enemy positions, and the system would prioritize the requests and direct individual UAVs to obtain the information and deliver it. These technologies could someday be adapted for other military applications and missions.
Currently, soldiers engaged in urban warfare have no direct access to reconnaissance and surveillance data, nor can they control the high-altitude aircraft and satellites that collect it. In addition, those platforms cannot provide information with the detail and timeliness required in a rapidly changing urban combat zone.
HURT technology would allow the warfighter to directly request information critical to individual needs. HURT stands for heterogeneous urban RSTA (reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition) team.
"A HURT system would give the warfighter the ability to ask for reconnaissance imagery unobtainable by high-altitude or fixed sensors," said H.R. Keshavan, Northrop Grumman's HURT program manager. "Low-flying UAVs could see around or even inside buildings to provide more up-to-date information."
During the program's first phase, Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector will serve as prime contractor to demonstrate that "coordinated autonomy" can be achieved. For example, the HURT system must be able to simultaneously order the UAVs to conduct wide-area surveillance while dispatching an individual vehicle to a location requested by a soldier for a close-up look.
The flights of the Hunter II prototype were conducted from December 27 through January 12 in Arizona and were designed to demonstrate the UAV's endurance, communications and air-to-ground surveillance capabilities, and are part of the company's ongoing effort to enhance the U.S. Army's warfighting capabilities using autonomous unmanned air systems.
"Hunter II builds upon the combat-proven Hunter system that has gained a stellar reputation for reliability and durability," said Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman's manager of business development for tactical UAV systems.
"In addition to offering extended range and endurance capabilities, it will feature a software architecture that can easily accommodate new payloads and data handling requirements; state-of-the-art avionics; a weapons capability and communications subsystem that will allow it to share data seamlessly with current battlefield networks."
"Hunter II's high commonality with the current Hunter system will also allow it to exploit and work easily with current U.S. Army equipment, soldier training systems and logistics infrastructure," added Crooks.
The twin-boom Hunter II, an enlarged version of the combat-proven Hunter UAV, will offer customers a "medium-range, medium-altitude" system to complement the company's current high-altitude, long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk aerial reconnaissance system; its shorter-range, lower-altitude RQ-5A Hunter tactical UAV and its Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing tactical UAV.
It will also take advantage of past and current U.S. Department of Defense investments in those and other UAV systems such as DARPA's Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems and the Army's Fire Scout Class IV UAV for its Future Combat Systems.
The company plans to conduct additional test flights of the Hunter II demonstrator through the first quarter of 2005. Those flights will be used to integrate and characterize the performance of additional payloads.
Hunter II's modular architecture is designed to accommodate future advances in avionics technology, navigation systems, weapons management or air vehicle manufacturing and payload integration derived from the company's other UAV programs, including the U.S. Air Force's Global Hawk, the Army's Hunter Fire Scout -being developed for Army and U.S. Navy use, and the stealthy X-47 Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems, currently in development for a joint Air Force/ Navy/DARPA team.
While these initial flights will utilize small UAV systems, the technologies developed under HURT could eventually be used with larger unmanned systems such as Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 Global Hawk, RQ-8 Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical UAV and X-47B Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS).
Key members of the HURT development team include Honeywell Laboratories, SRI International, Teknowledge Corporation and AeroVironment as well as researchers from NASA, the U.S. Army and academic institutions.