Well, this will help curb the great pilot shortage.
“The Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program successfully completed a final helicopter flight demonstration with autonomous capability at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. The 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy nominee, AACUS is a partnership between the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and technology company Aurora Flight Sciences that will enable the Marine Corps to rapidly resupply forces on the front lines using cutting-edge technology sponsored by ONR.”
I give you, DARPA’s robot subchaser, Sea Hunter, testbed of the ACTUV program, which is now part of ONR.
DARPA has successfully completed its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program and has officially transferred the technology demonstration vessel, christened Sea Hunter, to the Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR will continue developing the revolutionary prototype vehicle—the first of what could ultimately become an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel able to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for month at a time, without a single crew member aboard—as the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV).
The handover marks the culmination of three years of collaboration between DARPA and ONR that started in September 2014. An April 2016 christening ceremony marked the vessel’s formal transition from a DARPA-led design and construction project to a new stage of open-water testing conducted jointly with ONR. That same month, the vessel moved to San Diego, Calif., for open-water testing.
ONR plans to continue the aggressive schedule of at-sea tests to further develop ACTUV/MDUSV technologies, including automation of payload and sensor data processing, rapid development of new mission-specific autonomous behaviors, and exploring coordination of autonomous activities among multiple USVs. Pending the results of those tests, the MDUSV program could transition to U.S. Navy operations by 2018.
The Naval Research Laboratory has been testing a light rotary drone called the Nomad from USS Coronado (LCS-4). The cool thing about it is that it is CO2 launched from a tube, and they can carry (and operate) multiple Nomads at once.
According to NRL:
The Nomad is a highly affordable expendable design, allowing for execution of its mission without concerns for returning to the ship. This new upgrade retains the original affordable expendable design, but now has a recovery feature that allows operators to retrieve and reuse the Nomad vehicles multiple times in support of development, testing, training, and potentially future operational missions.
A kinda interesting concept, especially if you allow the tech to grow to where a single LCS could serve as a “drone carrier” flying dozens or even possibly hundreds of small tube-launched Nomads or weaponized successors operating in swarms. Now that actually sounds like a useful littoral combat ship.
Over the past few years DARPA has been working on their version of the old U-Boat kite.
ICYMI, during WWII, the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat fleet used about 200~ Focke-Achgelis FA 330 Bachstelze (English: Wagtail) aircraft. The FA330 was a type of rotary-wing kite that weighed about 150-pounds and, using an unpowered 24-foot three-bladed rotor for lift, was winched out into the air behind a U-boat on a 500-foot cable, allowing the adventuresome sailor in its single seat to have the best view on the boote.
A simple idea, they were complicated in use as they took a long time (20-30 minutes to assemble) and, if the kiteman saw an enemy warship, slowed the dive of the submarine far too long than was safe.
Well, the ONR and DARPA have teamed up to do the same thing but in an updated (and unmanned) version that swaps out the rotating kite wing for a much safer parafoil.
Observe the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) below, a low-cost, elevated sensor mast being tested out on USS Zephyr, a 179-foot Cyclone-class patrol coastal. It is the first time it was used aboard a U.S. Navy vessel, after being trialed on Sea Hunter, DARPA’s ACTUV vessel last year.
“Towed behind boats or ships, TALONS could persistently carry intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), and communications payloads of up to 150 pounds between 500 and 1,500 feet in altitude—many times higher than current ships’ masts—and greatly extend the equipment’s range and effectiveness.”
First they came for the signal flags, now they are coming for morse blinkers…but you have to admit, it the day where the average recruit has way more experience in text messages than in dots and dashes, it makes sense.
The Office of Naval Research TechSolutions-sponsored Flashing Light to Text Converter (FLTC) uses a ship’s existing signal lamp to both send and receive optical lamp communications via an intuitive chat session on a tablet computer.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions program, FLTC features (1) a camera that can be mounted atop a signal lamp and hone in on Morse code bursts from another lamp within view, and (2) a hand-held device or laptop computer connected to this camera to display text messages sent and received.
Linking the commercially available camera and device is a proprietary converter that uses specialized software algorithms to process incoming light flashes into high-frequency signals-and then convert those into text messages. To reply to a text, a Sailor can use the device to type a response that is sent back as a Morse code message via specially powered LED lights that flash automatically.
The Office of Naval Research quietly released footage of the all-electric railgun spitting out a couple of rounds back-to-back at Mach 6.
The undated footage comes from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, named after the famous 19th Century admiral whose “Dahlgren Gun” changed naval warfare leading to his nickname as the “Father of American naval ordnance.” And the electromagnetic railgun may be just as revolutionary.
If they can just get the rate of fire up high enough and the gun’s battery pack with a small enough footprint..
These things are pretty interesting, and could really save lives, especially in MOUT-style operations. The only human input is the target image, a basic map, and a bearing to the search area, then the quad is off, in fully autonomous flight without GPS or remote control (RC) communication links.
Phase 1 of DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) program concluded recently following a series of obstacle-course flight tests in central Florida. Over four days, three teams of DARPA-supported researchers huddled under shade tents in the sweltering Florida sun, fine-tuning their sensor-laden quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the intervals between increasingly difficult runs. DARPA’s FLA program is advancing technology to enable small unmanned quadcopters to fly autonomously through cluttered buildings and obstacle-strewn environments at fast speeds (up to 20 meters per second, or 45 mph) using onboard cameras and sensors as “eyes” and smart algorithms to self-navigate.
And if you don’t think drones are the new thing in the modern battlefield, just look at the report below on how ISIS forces are using commercial quadcopters and the like around Rakka today.
Buy a Chinese-made RC copter, attach a mortar shell or hand grenade to an actuator, and you have a sub-$1K attack craft. Using swarms of these things, some local forces are reporting 10-15 drones strikes against them per day. The DGI Phantom is reportedly the go-to quad for the IS air corps for recon and attack.