Textron Systems – Technology Enablers for Next-Generation Unmanned Aircraft Systems Through invaluable experience in the field, as well as partnerships between industry and government, military customers have come to find an increased need for the enhanced capabilities of next-generation unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Not one single platform or technology will satisfy this demand; rather, a generational shift in UAS technology is necessary to achieve the desired result. The hallmark of the generational shift in UAS will be the transition from merely integrated products to trusted, assimilated capabilities that provide greater agility, increased resilience and greater operational extensibility through increasing levels of autonomy. For the past 30 years, Textron Systems has successfully operated in the UAS industry for a total of more than one million flight hours. During this time, Textron Systems has gained experience in delivering next-generation technology to its customers, while also providing seamless support solutions to maintain and sustain these products. Throughout this experience working alongside the customer, the company has received insight into how to continuously evolve its products based on customers’ emerging needs and the increasing complexity of mission sets. Moreover, this experience reinforces the technical and programmatic challenges with reliably fielding technology across a large-scale fleet, and supporting missions when lives are on the line. The industry is evolving right along with the technology. Recently, the industry has shifted its focus to include not only innovative technology, but also how it is qualified and maintained. Through this change, developers like Textron Systems are tasked with finding a way to economically and effectively qualify, field and sustain UAS in greater numbers, applications and complexity than ever before. Supporting the full life cycle of UAS is Textron Systems’ core mission, as it enables customers to proactively prepare for tomorrow’s fight and envision the next generation of UAS. As longstanding supporters of militaries around the world, Textron Systems believes the next-generation of UAS must possess enhanced agility, resilience and autonomy to meet the evolving needs of the customer. Agility To provide greater UAS maneuverability, current constraints that are characteristic to today’s solutions must be eliminated. Specifically, efficient multi-modal transport, rapid deployment without runways and expanded aircraft maneuverability will increase the agility of UAS. The combined effect will result in expanded tactics, techniques and procedures to provide customers increased battlefield options against a wide array of dynamic and evolving threats. The next generation of aircraft systems will move beyond “drones” to dynamic assets that can tactically move, navigate and sustain mission capability within contested environments. Resilience
Cross-domain, resilient mission capability is an operational need for UAS, as it will not only fortify the physical aircraft, but also provide greater consideration within the electromagnetic and cyber domains. As UAS become increasingly intertwined and indispensable to primary mission capabilities, more direct considerations for platform survivability, as well as assurance of flight and mission readiness are paramount. These will come at a new cost to UAS that will add complexity to the trade space of the traditional standards for platform performance metrics of payload and endurance. It is important for UAS manufacturers to explore not only the technology itself, but also employment and sustainment, which will enable effective system protections while maintaining performance and persistent coverage. Autonomy There are two essential elements to the future of autonomy in UAS: the retention of the human component and confidence in the chosen material solution. Human operators will remain as the mission decision authority and be present throughout the product’s sustainment lifecycle. Confidence in a material solution is required to reduce the burden on humans and add efficiencies. Currently, UAS operators are put through costly and extensive training programs to learn not only how to operate the system, but also how to analyze the gathered data and footage. Unfortunately, this requires unique skill sets, which could prohibit the speed at which new technology can be deployed, increasing the product’s sustainment cost. The envisioned end state is to eliminate the need for advanced operator training, where a complex system is managed through intuitive interfaces that are similar to what most have become accustomed to in everyday use, such as a cell phone. In the advancement of autonomy, there are three main areas of focus: operating simplicity, actionable knowledge and mission execution. To streamline the operation of an autonomous UAS, complex systems must be simplified, which will allow the unique operator knowledge to be reduced. The product must also possess self-healing systems and be fault tolerant. These will allow UAS to further evolve to include sensor fusion, automated operational tasking and distributed capability teaming – bringing actionable knowledge to the operator. In the long term, autonomy will work to give UAS the ability to execute intent-driven tactics, operate in dynamic and degraded conditions and assimilate their operational capability. Though each step increases the complexity of an autonomous UAS, the end result will lead to a streamlined system designed to be operated by a wider range of people without extensive training. By addressing the customers’ need for greater agility, resilience and autonomy in UAS, and anticipating future requirements, manufacturers can provide military customers with the necessary technology and next-level performance to complete increasingly complex missions.
Textron Systems continues to invest in evolving current technologies into problemsolvers. In addition, a strong partnership between government and industry is needed. Textron Systems has been, and continues to be, part of such relationships that yield a mission focus. Drawing the programmatic and technical boundaries between organizations will facilitate accelerated realization of fieldable future solutions. Through consistent collaboration and a desire to get the latest technology into the hands of the customer, companies like Textron Systems can continue to provide the warfighter with the tools needed to complete the mission.