Many program offices operating with Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) were spotlighted at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo last week.
Monday’s presentations featured updates on the Navy’s latest technological and tactical advantages in unmanned aviation, defense capabilities and aviation training, as well as an explanation from NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. Dean Peters as to how NAVAIR has changed its operating structure to not only better serve its customers, but provide further speed and lethality to the fleet.
The Sea-Air-Space Exposition was founded in 1965 as a means to bring the U.S. defense industrial base, private-sector U.S. companies and key military decision-makers from the sea services together for an annual innovative, educational, professional event located in the heart of Washington, D.C.
In addition to demonstrations and booths with vendors, the event featured speakers representing several NAVAIR program offices.
Program Executive Officer,
Unmanned Aviation and Strike
Weapons Portfolio Update
Rear Adm. Brian Corey, Program Executive Officer, Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons (PEO (U&W)) programs, spoke after a brief video showcasing the PEO’s multitude of accomplishments over the past year.
“I am enormously proud of the work our team has done figuring out in the global pandemic how to answer our DoD leaders, how to keep the economy going,” Corey said. “Some of our long-standing rules, regulations were relaxed [due to COVID-19 global pandemic]. We were told go get with industry, go get business moving.”
As its name suggests, PEO (U&W) includes the growing number of unmanned and autonomous technology being developed by the Navy. Among the many recent accomplishments by the teams, Corey said the most important ongoing development is the Mission Planning Prototype, a computer system aimed at streamlining communication over multiple platforms and services.
“Our team has embraced cloud computing, they’ve embraced all the things that have revolutionized the American economy and they’re bringing a much simpler way of doing collaborative mission planning, across all services, at sea, ashore, expeditionary environment so that we can bring our interoperable systems to bear.”
Among the accomplishments Corey highlighted were the following:
• Fielding the Tactical Resupply Unmanned Aircraft System (TRUAS), a large autonomous drone that can transport cargo commonly found in Marine Corps company/platoon/squad resupply operations
• Flight testing the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile-Extended Range (AARGM-ER) to demonstrate the systems new rocket motor and warhead designed to provide advanced capability to detect and engage enemy air defense systems
• Flight testing the MQ-4C Triton—which flew with its latest Integrated Functional Capability (IFC-4) just days before the SAS event— and is currently deployed in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility
• Delivery and deployment of the Tomahawk Block V missile
• Making history with the MQ-25 Stingray conducting the first unmanned aerial refueling of an F/A-18 Super Hornet
Looking forward, Corey said the goal is to make the unmanned aircraft systems “modular and have the ability to add and change out capabilities, as well as creating a hub where all services can communicate in a streamlined, simplistic and uniform manner.”
Mission Aligned Organization
Peters highlighted NAVAIR’s ability to support the warfighter under the new organizational construct, the Mission Aligned Organization, initiated three years ago. He also recognized two “heroes” who helped develop the Technical Authority Policy, which streamlined NAVAIR’s airworthiness process, the engineering evaluation to ensure aircraft are safe for flight.
“This is about speed and readiness and the balance of the two. If we’re going to prioritize speed and readiness, then you’ve got to move resources,” he said.
Consolidating and integrating technical resources under the Mission Aligned Organization is yielding results, he said.
Starting with the Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs), the command realigned in-service engineering and logistics to Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers (COMFC).
By moving the right resources to the right places, in this case the FRCs, the 2,000 quality escapes verified by the fleet in fiscal year 2018 were reduced to 308 quality escapes in fiscal 2020, he said. “This year to date, we have 20 or so [quality escapes]. We’re on a good glide path to eventually eliminate quality escapes from our repairs.”
Unmanned Carrier Aviation
Capt. Chad Reed, Unmanned Carrier Aviation Program manager, provided a plan for the MQ-25 Stingray and the development of the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS) which will be installed on aircraft carriers hosting the MQ-25 as it integrates into the fleet.
“This is the first time we have had an unmanned, Group 5 aircraft intended to connect with a manned aircraft,” Reed said in regards to the MQ-25.
Reed said the program office has been building control rooms on ships specifically designed to operate the MQ-25 as well as other unmanned systems of the future as they are deployed in support of fleet missions. He said the goal within the next quarter to 6 months is to have the MQ-25 aboard a carrier and to begin testing it with the carrier Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), with the ultimate goal of having at least five Stingrays aboard carriers for the purpose of aerial refueling, a capability which was demonstrated in a video during Reed’s presentation, showing the historic flight a few weeks ago where the Stingray refueled a Super Hornet for the first time.
Airborne Electronic Attack
Systems Program Update
Giving the latest update on a few of the Navy’s most advanced aircraft jamming capabilities was Capt. Michael Orr, Airborne Electronic Attack Systems program manager.
The Navy’s Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB)) capability use the latest digital, software-based and Active Electronically Scanned Array technologies and will provide enhanced airborne electronic attack capabilities to disrupt and degrade enemy air defense and ground communication systems. The system will augment and ultimately replace the legacy AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System currently integrated on the EA-18G Growler aircraft.
“The last year and a half has been amazing,” he said. “We first radiated NGJ Mid-Band in a chamber at [Naval Air Station Patuxent River] in November of 2019 and since then it has been fast and furious with testing NGJ over three chambers in three locations across the country … and then flying on both coasts.”
Orr said the extensive testing over the past year resulted in the NGJ-MB reaching Milestone C approval recently, giving NGJ-MB the green light to enter the production and deployment phase and proceed with Low-Rate Initial Production.
“What’s more impressive is all the work that it took to get NGJ Mid-Band to Milestone C took place during COVID,” Orr said.
Naval Aviation Training Systems
and Ranges Program
Capt. Lisa Sullivan, Naval Aviation Training Systems and Ranges Program manager, shared the latest innovations in aviation training, with many advancements coming from an unlikely influence — console gaming.
Sullivan spoke about two Marine Corps brothers who were struggling with flight training, and, taking cues from their experience in gaming, built their own flight simulator in their garage, and with some fine-tuning, the Marines were able to learn how to improve their skills, eventually using what they learned from their own simulator and incorporating it into the real flight simulator. When word began to spread about what the young men achieved in their garage, leadership noticed, and the idea was taken to incorporate that type of technology into the training programs.
In describing the multitude of training systems, Sullivan pointed out that the program office has reworked how training is performed to reduce physiological episodes in aviators and adapted Normobaric hypoxia facemask training.
In all, the program office is responsible for more than 6,500 training devices across military aviation.
Sullivan noted that despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, the program office was still able to deliver more than 300 training devices where needed, but also found ways to observe and approve training remotely.
Looking ahead, Sullivan said the program office is looking to increase simulator scalability and fidelity, which would allow lower cost trainers to be built quickly and also allow for reconfiguration.
“We’re doing a lot of the technologies with AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality] and mixed reality,” Sullivan said. “In the Marine Corps, we have an aircrew trainer that you can use to train your aircrew for H1, for V-22 and H-53K [helicopters], and reconfigure those trainers.”
The program office also is developing training that can be used for maintainers, both in an actual and virtual setting.