Lockheed Martin, Raytheon tackle DARPA project to enable cooperating UAVs

July 19, 2016
The U.S. military is moving forward with a program to enable cooperating surveillance and attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to work together on missions involving electronic jamming, degraded communications, and other difficult operating conditions.

ARLINGTON, Va. - The U.S. military is moving forward with a program to enable cooperating surveillance and attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to work together on missions involving electronic jamming, degraded communications, and other difficult operating conditions.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $7.4 million phase-two contract to the Lockheed Martin Corp. Missiles and Fire Control segment in Orlando, Fla., for the Collaborative Operations In Denied Environment (CODE) program.

DARPA officials also awarded a CODE phase-two contract to the Raytheon Co. Missile Systems segment in Tucson, Ariz., but did not specify the contract amount.

U.S. military researchers are trying to blend sensors and multi-sensor fusion technologies to enable unmanned aircraft to work together.

The CODE program seeks to expand the mission capabilities of existing UAVs through increased autonomy and inter-platform collaboration. Collaborative autonomy has the potential to increase capabilities and reduce costs of today's UAVs by composing heterogeneous teams of UAVs that can capitalize on the capabilities of each unmanned aircraft without the need to duplicate or integrate capabilities into one UAV, DARPA officials say.

Companies working with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon on the CODE phase-two contract are Daniel H. Wagner Associates in Hampton, Va.; Scientific Systems Co. in Woburn, Mass.; Smart Information Flow Technologies LLC in Minneapolis; Soar Technology Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich.; SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif.; and Applied Communication Sciences in Basking Ridge, N.J., DARPA officials say.

The program's first phase focused on the design, development, and delivery of the system requirements definition and preliminary system design for a CODE prototype. The second phase is to mature the algorithm suite necessary to enable new services.

Although today's UAVs have proven themselves in a wide range of missions, most current UAVs are not well matched to the needs of future conflicts, DARPA officials say. Compared to today, future conflicts will be much less permissive, very dynamic, confront U.S. and allied forces with more dangerous threats, and involve contested electromagnetic spectrum and relocatable targets, researchers say.

In these future conflicts, UAVs could use collaboration algorithms to help each other with tasks like geo-locating targets with long-distance sensors, as well as guiding less-capable UAVs to within their sensor ranges.

Collaboration algorithms could help UAVs work together to provide multi-modal sensors and diverse observation angles to improve target identification, transmit important information through the network, provide navigational aide to low-tech or damaged UAVs, and protect each other by overwhelming defenses.

Goals of the CODE program are to develop and demonstrate the value of collaborative UAV autonomy in tactical situations; rapidly bring that capability to the warfighter; develop ways to expand the range of collaborative UAV missions; and help researchers contribute to collaborative autonomy technologies.

DARPA researchers primarily are interested in four areas. First, they want to develop autonomy for the subsystems, equipment, and flight trajectories of UAVs working alone under routine and abnormal conditions.

Second, DARPA researchers want to develop interfaces to enable mission commanders to maintain situational awareness, dynamically define mission objectives and problems, monitor progress, and provide important inputs as necessary to several UAVs simultaneously.

Then researchers want to develop UAV team-level autonomy, including developing and maintaining a common representation of the operating environment to help formulate collaborative action plans that make the most of the strengths of each participating UAV.

Lastly, DARPA wants to develop an open architecture for UAV collaboration to help commanders maintain situational awareness and control of the UAVs in electronic jamming, poor communications, bad weather, and other adverse conditions. DARPA briefed industry on CODE program details earlier this month.

The program is divided into three phases. The first phase focused on system analysis, architecture, design, and critical technologies. The first phase also had two tracks, one for system integrators and the other for technology developers.

In addition to Lockheed Martin, Leidos Inc. in Reston, Va., participated in the CODE program's first phase. Leidos won a $4.2 million CODE phase-one contract in November 2014.

The second phase involves detailed design of the CODE system and in-flight demonstrations. The third phase will develop and demonstrate full mission capability during three series of flight tests.

The CODE program's first phase ran through early this year. The second phase runs from early 2017 to mid-2017, while the third phase runs from mid-2017 through the end of 2018.

On this contract modification Lockheed Martin will do the work in Orlando, Fla.; Cherry Hill, N.J.; Fort Worth, Texas; Minneapolis; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Exton, Pa.; Pittsburgh; and Philadelphia, and should be finished by May 2017.

FOR MORE INFORMATION visit Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control online at www.lockheedmartin.com/us/mfc, or DARPA at www.darpa.mil.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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