DARPA to hide drones at the bottom of the ocean | TG Daily

Posted January 15, 2013 – 06:09 by Kate Taylor

DARPA is planning to build drones that would hibernate in deep-sea capsules for years before waking up when commanded and releasing their payloads into the sky.

The Upward Falling Payloads program envisages the use of deployable, unmanned, distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor at strategic locations before releasing, say, small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for reconnaissance.

“The goal is to support the Navy with distributed technologies anywhere, anytime over large maritime areas. If we can do this rapidly, we can get close to the areas we need to affect, or become widely distributed without delay,” says DARPA program manager Andy Coon.

“To make this work, we need to address technical challenges like extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface.”

DARPA’s looking for proposals in communications and deep ocean ‘risers’ to contain the payloads, as well as the actual payloads themselves. It’s hoping for submissions from organizations that conduct deep-ocean engineering: the telecom and oil-exploration industries, for example, or the scientific community, with insights into signal propagation in the water and on the seafloor.

Almost half of the world’s oceans are more than four kilometers deep which, says DARPA, provides ‘considerable opportunity for cheap stealth’. But this isn’t, stresses DARPA, a weapons program.

Instead, applications would include situational awareness, disruption, deception, networking, rescue, or any other mission that benefits from being pre-distributed and hidden.

“We are simply offering an alternative path to realize these missions without requiring legacy ships and aircraft to launch the technology, and without growing the reach and complexity of unmanned platforms,” says Coon.

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Army’s New Bomb-Squad Recruit: Knight Rider’s Robotic Car

By Spencer Ackerman

The military’s tried nearly everything to stop insurgent bombs. It’s tried jamming their detonation signals. It’s tried scouring roads for them with metal detectors like beach bums searching for treasure. And it’s tried — lots of times — to put robots in the way of the boom. No dice: the bombs keep proliferating, largely because of how cheap they are to construct.

So it was only a matter of time, perhaps, before someone thought to put KITT on the job.

The Army’s latest scheme to stop homemade bombs is pretty much inspired by Knight Rider. A California company called 5D Robotics recently won a contract of unspecified amount to develop an interface with an “intelligent” unmanned car that will “effectively perform improvised explosive device defeat (IEDD) tasks remotely.”

Sure, this “mid-sized unmanned ground vehicle” won’t really be David Hasselhoff’s robotic pal. “We’re not making KITT,” 5D chief David Bruemmer, a good sport, clarifies for Danger Room. “I don’t think anyone that we’re talking to in the military is looking for a highly cognitive intelligence.” Details, details.

But if it works well, then (kind of like the Knight Rider car) 5D’s robot won’t be relying on its human operator very much. 5D’s writ requires it to outfit its car with “perception and hazard sensors, manipulator(s), and operator control unit(s)” that can detect, remotely, the signatures of different kinds of improvised explosive devices. The idea is to “emulat[e] the best heuristics of human sensor and neutralizer manipulation,” 5D’s contract announces, so the car knows when to veer out of the way of a bomb and when to blow it up, all while “minimizing operator attention demands.”

 

In other words, KITT will know what to do with a bomb without Hoff mussing his perm over it.

The military has used lots of robots to assist with explosive ordnance disposal, from the Talon – a bomb disposal system based around treads, a camera and a creepy-looking arm — to the WALL-E-like Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle. And there’s no shortage of sensors for detecting the different kinds of IED signatures out there, from the ammonium nitrate sniffers of Project Ursus to jammers that hunt down bomb detonation frequencies to old-fashioned metal detectors.

But a bomb-hunting car? Not even close. First, the military can’t even come up with a bomb sensor as good as a dog’s nose. And the larger the robot — or any vehicle, for that matter — the more likely it is to get mired in Afghanistan’s steep, craggy, unpaved terrain.

And if it needs to be said, giving a bomb-hunting car artificial intelligence is a step so far unimagined. The company claims that its “5D Behavior EngineTM” provides exactly that: “intelligent instantaneous reactive responses to local environmental, sensor, and other data.” 5D brags that its A.I. is “inspired by biological systems where skill is ingrained through immediate interaction with the real-world,” eschewing behavioral models or GPS location systems to make its approach “much more robust in the face of uncertainty.” And it promises to work “through remote rugged terrain” that’s vexed other bomb-fighting robots.

Um, OK, if it actually works. In that case, the ersatz KITT won’t just know where the bombs are, it’ll figure out when to dodge them, when to blow them up and when to call in backup. Bruemmer says the human operator will still have an interface with the robot car, but the details are TBD: perhaps it’ll be a specially designed piece of hardware, although he says, “We’re 100 percent doing the app model — we are working on a Droid interface.”

Bruemmer declined to tell Danger Room how much his contract is worth or when he’ll deliver a prototype.

5D doesn’t specify which robot vehicle qualifies as “mid sized.” But it’ll be way bigger than, say, a 125-pound Talon. Bruemmer tells Danger Room that his meetings with the Army have him experimenting with a real, honest-to-goodness car: “We’re working with a 4,500-pound vehicle that’s very promising,” is all he’ll say about it. (Good luck keeping that thing out of the mire of Afghanistan’s unpaved roads.)

But there isn’t really a single robotic vehicle 5D envisions. Bruemmer prefers a “plug and play” suite of sensors and AI so that different vehicles could be tricked out into intelligent bomb hunters. “We’re not looking to focus only on one robot,” Bruemmer says. “Depending on the mission, there’ll be a need for a family of robots.”

Hear that, KITT? There’s hope for you yet.

Army’s New Bomb-Squad Recruit: Knight Rider’s Robotic Car

U.S. Army Starts Process to Design Replacement Helicopters for Aging Fleet

The sad thing is they had a replacement, the AH-66 and killed it off. Future Army helicopter designs could look like the X2 (Source: Sikorsky)

By Shane McGlaun

Will the new helicopter program go the way of the Comanche?

Lots of focus is put on the “elderly nature” of certain types of aircraft in the various fleets in branches of the U.S. armed forces. The Air Force has been working for years to get a replacement for the aging fleet of tanker aircraft and is hard at work on the F-35 program despite continued setbacks.

While the Air Force is getting its replacement aircraft, some other branches of the armed forces like the Army are not as well funded and are not seeing their fleets of aging aircraft being replaced with new designs. Specifically the fleet of helicopters in the Army””s fleet need to be addressed, and replacements need to be designed according to the industry. 

Aviation Week reports that while the Army is buying new rotorcraft such as the Apache and the Blackhawk helicopters, those designs are from the 1970””s. Modern conflicts in Afghanistan and other countries have highlighted the shortcomings of these aircraft have highlighted the need for modern replacements. The Army has tried to replace its Apache attack helicopter previously with the Comanche, but the project was cancelled.

The Army is now working with other branches of the U.S. military to develop a Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstrator aircraft modeled on the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program that ultimately led to the design and development of the F-35. The industry is excited by the proposal of a new rotorcraft design, but worries that the program may be underfunded as other programs to replace aging helicopters have been. The aviation industry has formed a consortium called the Vertical Lift Consortium that brings together large and small companies with academia to help jointly design future rotorcraft.

Ned Chase from Amrdec said, “We’re funded to build two clean-sheet aircraft that may or may not be the same configuration.”

The Army is counting on its own funding for the program and is counting on other research agencies like DARPA and NASA bringing funding to the program as well. Amrdec director of aviation Jim Snider said, “We plan to build two demonstrators, but we’d like to have enough money to build three.”

Ultimately, the aircraft design that the JMR comes up with would have to be scalable in size and performance to replace all of the Army helicopters that serve various mission roles like scouting, attack, utility, and cargo and be appropriate for other branches of the military that use helicopters as well. The rotorcraft designs would have to scale as small as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout and as large as a replacement for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Performance targets for the program include a speed of at least 170 knots and an unrefueled operational radius of 294 miles at 6,000 feet in 95F hot-and-high conditions. The aircraft would need to be able to loiter on station for 30 minutes in cargo and utility configurations and up to 120 minutes in attack and reconnaissance roles.

So far, initial studies have been finished and second phase configurations analysis has started. The solicitation of industry trade studies were to begin in fiscal 2011, but were delayed. The plan calls for configuration studies in 2011 to 2013 with a flight demonstrator around 2020 followed by a 5-year development plan leading to the new helicopter entering service in 2026.

U.S. Hypersonic Glider Sets a World Record of Mach 20, Then Crashes

The HTV-2 set a world record speed of Mach 20 and successfully executed some maneuvers before abruptly losing communication with home base. The mission is being ruled a partial success.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)

By Jason Mick

Craft is being designed to strike enemies in far away regions like the Middle East in under an hour

NASA’s X-43A (Hyper-X) test vehicle currently holds the record for the fastest aircraft.  Back in November 2004, it achieved a speed close to Mach 10 (12,000km/hr or 7,000mph).  That’s well into the hypersonic range, which starts at Mach 5.

For the Air Force and U.S. Armed Forces, it’s highly desirable to develop hypersonic aircraft.  Such designs could offer strikes in under an hour from the U.S. to anywhere in the world.  Many in the armed forces view hypersonic strike-craft as a potentially game-changing weapon in the fight against terrorism.

On Tuesday the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) tested a new design, the HTV-2.  The HTV-2 is classified as a hypersonic glider.  To get it up to its extreme target speed of Mach 20, it is first launched to the edge of space aboard a Minotaur IV Lite solid fuel rocket.

Once at the edge of space the craft detaches and screams down towards its target.  Its thin wedge-shaped body is designed to produce greater lift.  It is protected against the extreme heat  it will encounter by carbon-carbon material used in the body, the same material used in carbon brakes and Space Shuttle tiles.

On Tuesday the craft embarked on its first test flight, launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The craft was to fly across the Pacific Ocean before landing at its target, Kwajalein Atoll, a tiny island in a chain of islands northeast of Australia known as the Marshall Islands.  Kwajaleien is approximately 4,800 miles from VAFB.

Launching on its 30 minute journey everything seemed to be going perfectly.  The craft boosted to near-space, then detached successfully.  It hurtled towards Earth, performing the prescribed maneuvers as it went.  And according to DARPA spokeswoman Joanna Jones it “achieved controlled flight within the atmosphere at over Mach 20” — a new world record.

Then at nine minutes, during the final stages of maneuvers disaster struck.  Something happened and the craft abruptly stopped responding to the Air Force.

That set back may spell trouble for the cash-strapped hypersonic test program.  The hypersonic strike-craft are currently competing with two other technologies.  One alternative is to repurpose ballistic missiles to carry non-nuclear payloads.  However, this runs the risk of nuclear nations mistaking the missile for a nuke and initiating a counter-strike.

Another option is to use a modified cruise missile that can travel at Mach 5 or Mach 6.  This program, like the hypersonic glider, seems promising, but has been dealt a setback, with tests pushed back from December 2009 to May 2010.

Still, despite the setback the glider may be the best option, if DARPA can fine-tune its design. Dr. Mark Lewis, the former chief scientist of the Air Force, comments, “There’s always a concern that a conventional warhead on an ICBM might be confused with a nuclear device – what can you do to prove otherwise? With a high lift vehicle, your trajectory would be so different that no one would likely confuse it with something more sinister.”

The HTV-2 is only the second major experimental aircraft to launch in the last two weeks.  Last week the X-37B unmanned space shuttle was launched by the Air Force into orbit on a super-secret mission.

http://www.dailytech.com/US+Hypersonic+Glider+Sets+a+World+Record+of+Mach+20+Then+Crashes/article18240.htm

US Air Force preps classified space plane for launch

By Aharon Etengoff

The United States Air Force (USAF) is preparing to launch a top-secret robotic space plane from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The spacecraft – known as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle – will be carried into the depths of space via an Atlas 5 rocket. Although news of the launch has been announced, the vehicle’s classified on-orbit tests remained shrouded in secrecy.

“Well, you can’t hide a space launch, so at some point extra security doesn’t do you any good,” Gary Payton, Air Force deputy under secretary for space systems told Space.com.

“On this flight the main thing we want to emphasize is the vehicle itself, not really, what’s going on in the on-orbit phase because the vehicle itself is the piece of news here.”

Unsurprisingly, the classified nature of the X-37B’s mission has led to speculation that the Orbital Test Vehicle may be a “space version” of the US Predator Drone.

“The 4.9-ton spacecraft – which has a wingspan of 4.27 meters and is 8.84 meters long – will be testing the long-duration ability of reusable space vehicles

to stay in space for up to 270 days at an altitude of 200-800 km from earth before making an automatic landing at the Vandenberg Air force Base in California,” explained DebkaFile.

“Some space experts are calling its launch the onset of the ‘weaponization’ or ‘militarization’ of space. Our military experts describe the X-37B as the first unmanned space craft able to carry out combat missions outside Earth.

The X-37B was originally manufactured by Boeing’s Phantom Works Division as NASA X-37. However, the project was eventually shut down to a lack of funding and transferred to the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The USAF officially assumed command of the X-37B in 2006.

http://www.tgdaily.com/space-features/49478-us-air-force-preps-classified-space-plane-for-launch

In depth article at Popular Mechanics


NASA Demonstrates Novel Ocean-Powered Underwater Vehicle

The SOLO-TREC autonomous underwater vehicle is deployed off the coast of Hawaii on an ocean endurance test, Nov. 30, 2009. (Credit: NASA/JPL/U.S. Navy/Scripps Institute of Oceanography)

NASA, U.S. Navy and university researchers have successfully demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle to be powered entirely by natural, renewable, ocean thermal energy.

The Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC) autonomous underwater vehicle uses a novel thermal recharging engine powered by the natural temperature differences found at different ocean depths. Scalable for use on most robotic oceanographic vehicles, this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, completed the first three months of an ocean endurance test of the prototype vehicle off the coast of Hawaii in March.

“People have long dreamed of a machine that produces more energy than it consumes and runs indefinitely,” said Jack Jones, a JPL principal engineer and SOLO-TREC co-principal investigator. “While not a true perpetual motion machine, since we actually consume some environmental energy, the prototype system demonstrated by JPL and its partners can continuously monitor the ocean without a limit on its lifetime imposed by energy supply.”

“Most of Earth is covered by ocean, yet we know less about the ocean than we do about the surface of some planets,” said Yi Chao, a JPL principal scientist and SOLO-TREC principal investigator. “This technology to harvest energy from the ocean will have huge implications for how we can measure and monitor the ocean and its influence on climate.”

SOLO-TREC draws upon the ocean’s thermal energy as it alternately encounters warm surface water and colder conditions at depth. Key to its operation are the carefully selected waxy substances known as phase-change materials that are contained in 10 external tubes, which house enough material to allow net power generation. As the float surfaces and encounters warm temperatures, the material melts and expands; when it dives and enters cooler waters, the material solidifies and contracts. The expansion of the wax pressurizes oil stored inside the float. This oil periodically drives a hydraulic motor that generates electricity and recharges the vehicle’s batteries. Energy from the rechargeable batteries powers the float’s hydraulic system, which changes the float’s volume (and hence buoyancy), allowing it to move vertically.

So far, SOLO-TREC has completed more than 300 dives from the ocean surface to a depth of 500 meters (1,640 feet). Its thermal recharging engine produced about 1.7 watt-hours, or 6,100 joules, of energy per dive, enough electricity to operate the vehicle’s science instruments, GPS receiver, communications device and buoyancy-control pump.

The SOLO-TREC demonstration culminates five years of research and technology development by JPL and Scripps and is funded by the Office of Naval Research. JPL developed the thermal recharging engine, building on the buoyancy engine developed for the Slocum glider by Teledyne Webb Research, Falmouth, Mass. Scripps redesigned the SOLO profiling float and performed the integration. The 84-kilogram (183-pound) SOLO-TREC prototype was tested and deployed by the JPL/Scripps team on Nov. 30, 2009, about 161 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Honolulu.

The performance of underwater robotic vehicles has traditionally been limited by power considerations. “Energy harvesting from the natural environment opens the door for a tremendous expansion in the use of autonomous systems for naval and civilian applications,” said Thomas Swean, the Office of Naval Research program manager for SOLO-TREC. “This is particularly true for systems that spend most of their time submerged below the sea surface, where mechanisms for converting energy are not as readily available. The JPL/Scripps concept is unique in that its stored energy gets renewed naturally as the platform traverses ocean thermal gradients, so, in theory, the system has unlimited range and endurance. This is a very significant advance.”

SOLO-TREC is now in an extended mission. The JPL/Scripps team plans to operate SOLO-TREC for many more months, if not years. “The present thermal engine shows the great promise in harvesting ocean thermal energy,” said Russ Davis, a Scripps oceanographer. “With further engineering refinement, SOLO-TREC has the potential to augment ocean monitoring currently done by the 3,200 battery-powered Argo floats.” The international Argo array, supported in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measures temperature, salinity and velocity across the world’s ocean. NASA and the U.S. Navy also plan to apply this thermal recharging technology to the next generation of submersible vehicles.

To learn more about SOLO-TREC, visit http://solo-trec.jpl.nasa.gov .

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov .

Story Source:

Adapted from materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100405142152.htm

The Nuclear Warhead-Equipped Ekranoplan Soviet Invasion Machine

By Wes Siler

Powered by 228,800 Lb-Ft of thrust, this Lun-class Ekranoplan was designed to carry two-million pounds of Europe-invading soldiers and vehicles and six nuclear missiles at speeds up to 340 MPH. Thank God Reagan defeated the Soviet Union.

At 240 feet long, the Lun-class is also one of the largest aircraft ever made, rivaling even Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. The thing is, it’s not really a plane, it’s a ground effect vehicle. Ground effect vehicles essentially ride on a cushion of air created by the interaction of the wings and the surface they’re passing over. This ground effect can be exploited to a height typically equalling the length of the wings. Because drag created by lift is reduced, ground effect vehicles can be up to twice as efficient as their high-flying counterparts, they can also carry up to twice the payload.

There are disadvantages to the design however. The plane can’t risk turning sharply as banking could dig one of the wings into the water, resulting in a crash. They also face difficulties during take off since the ground effect doesn’t kick in till they’re off the water. The Lun-class can only takeoff facing into the wind and places its eight turbofan engines in front of the wings to maximize lift. Some of the engines shut down during steady flight. Because the Ekranoplan can’t turn to avoid obstacles, it relies on spotting boats or other obstructions while they’re a ways off, then lifting to a higher altitude to clear them. The Lun-class can operate in ground effect at heights up to 140 feet.

While Ekranoplans clearly don’t have to worry about underwater mines or torpedoes, their lack of maneuverability and huge size make them sitting ducks to attack from the air. The Lun-class was fitted with a tail gun, but would likely require fighter support too.

The Lun-class was also fitted with six missile tubes designed to fire the nuclear-capable P-270 Moskit surface-to-surface cruise missile.

Because the Lun was primarily designed to land invading troops on European shores, it was developed in secret starting in the early 1970s. Work on this, the only completed example, began in 1983 and was completed in 1987. It served in the Soviet Black Sea fleet, charged with operating in both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. NATO first learned of the vehicle’s existence when spy planes spotted it testing.

These photos were taken at a formal naval base in Kaspiysk, Russia, on the west coast of the Caspian sea, where the Ekranoplan lies derelict.

[LiveJournal] (Hat tip to everyone for the tip!)

Send an email to Wes Siler, the author of this post, at wes@jalopnik.com.

A lot more pictures at -> http://jalopnik.com/5490236/the-nuclear-warhead+equipped-ekranoplan-soviet-invasion-machine