UASs, Small Kill Vehicles Eyed for MDA

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Amy Butler

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is considering using fielded unmanned aerial system (UAS) sensors and developing a lighter kill vehicle. The overall goal is to intercept ballistic missiles early in flight.

In its Fiscal 2010 budget, the MDA displayed a renewed focus on early ascent-phase intercept–before a threat reaches apogee–over continued development of midcourse engagement capabilities. Nevertheless, big hurdles loom.

“We may track [a threat missile] for part of the flight and then lose it, track it again for another part of the flight, lose it, and then track it again under today’s system,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the MDA director, said during an interview with Aviation Week. “What we want to do is . . . track it continuously.”

Dust or clouds could obscure a satellite’s ability to detect a ballistic missile launch; but once the missile penetrates the cover, spacecraft can spot the target. What is lacking now with the Defense Support Program satellites and Space-Based Infrared System payloads in orbit is the ability to track the threat with enough fidelity to generate a firing solution.

Improved up-front tracking could also offer more time to conduct a shoot-look-shoot operation in the event an interceptor does not destroy the target.

A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper UAS that was used in an Apr. 7 test to observe a threat missile launch provided “very promising” results in potentially providing early detection and tracking, O’Reilly says. The UAS viewed a flight trial of the Israeli Arrow 2, which intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile that emulated the Iranian Shahab-3, according to local reports.

This Reaper viewed the threat launch from a “standoff distance,” says Col. Chris Coombs, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper program office at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The UAS tracked the target using its standard MTS-B electro-optical/infrared payload until the missile flew beyond the sensor’s range, which is a classified distance. The MTS-B, made by Raytheon, was able to follow the target through the various velocities of its acceleration phase, says Coombs.

Made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the Reaper is used in Iraq and Afghanistan to surveil fixed sites or observe moving targets on the ground.

The tracking data during the Arrow 2 test was transmitted via satellite communications to the Pentagon’s Distributed Common Ground System, which handles intelligence sent from U-2s, Global Hawks and Predator/Reapers. The information was not processed in real time for engagement purposes during the test, says Coombs. Analysts continue to sift through it.

“Based on working with MDA, what they are seeing is that with the ple­thora of UASs–both Reaper and Predator variants flying in different [areas of operation]–they will be able to provide an early detection” capability for missile defense, according to Coombs.

MDA and Air Force officials are ironing out the details of an operational concept. The UASs would likely continue to operate in their primary hunter/killer role of surveillance and ground target engagement. What remains to be addressed is how to cue a UAS to detach from its primary mission in the event of a launch and begin tracking a target.

“We are developing a system that takes any data, identifies that a launch has occurred, gets a track on that data, and then hands it off to the network,” O’Reilly says. “The UASs are performing some other mission and they are told ‘go look over here’ and that gives us significant capability. It is promising. There is work to get done that gets into the details of how to make it operational.”

The MTS-B provided “extremely sensitive and extremely accurate” data, leading O’Reilly to believe that very little modification would be required for the UAS or its payload.

This concept could be operational in the next two years, he says. More tests using UASs are expected.

This September’s launch of two Northrop Grumman Space Tracking and Surveillance System satellites, which are designed to provide high-fidelity tracking from space, is also expected to enhance the ability to generate a firing solution more quickly.

In the meantime, MDA is exploring how to squeeze more velocity out of the Raytheon SM-3 interceptor. The combination of earlier tracking data and higher velocity interceptors could achieve the goal of destroying threats early in flight. A key piece of this strategy is to lighten the weight of the kill vehicles, thus demanding less thrust for launch.

Research conducted during the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program can be culled to produce a small, light, unitary kill vehicle that could be added to the SM-3 in a spiral development program, O’Reilly says. Candidates include the SM-3 Block I B now in development or the larger SM-3 Block IIA being designed with Japan. The kill vehicle could be fielded in the next several years, the general says.

The Pentagon terminated the MKV program in the Fiscal 2010 budget request, and Congress appears amenable to the idea. The competing contractors, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, were pursuing vastly different designs, but both demanded significant miniaturization. The MDA is allowing the companies to finish existing tasks on their contracts. And O’Reilly says MKV proved that miniaturization technology is “viable.”

During the Paris air show, Raytheon Missile Systems Vice President Taylor Lawrence said his company is considering pursuing pieces of its MKV work.

The early engagement concept will hopefully drive an adversary to resort to deploying countermeasures earlier during flight. “The earlier they launch their countermeasures, the more difficult it is to make them look realistic over time,” says O’Reilly. “If the countermeasures don’t deploy, then we are going to intercept the whole thing.” O’Reilly likens this strategy to blitzing a quarterback in American football.

Early intercept is not a new idea, he notes. The Defense Science Board proposed these concepts in a 2002 report, which is classified.

But critics of this approach assert that early intercept should not be viewed as a “panacea” that justifies the elimination of MKV and the high-speed Kinetic-Energy Interceptor programs. “They are trying to get a boost-phase intercept on the cheap,” says one former senior defense official. “They are counting everything on being able to blitz the quarterback in every play.”

The total reduction to MDA’s budget in the Fiscal 2010 request was about $1.2 billion, including the MKV and KEI cuts.

MQ-9 Reaper photo credit: U.S. Air Force


Repairs, Spares Set For Space Station

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By Frank Morring, Jr.

Two spacewalkers are outside the International Space Station (ISS) July 20 to install some large spare parts delivered by the space shuttle Endeavour against the day the shuttles will no longer be flying.

Meanwhile, inside the station Expedition 20 commander Geddany Padalka and flight engineer Frank De Winne are repairing one of the three toilets available to the 13 travelers in the two docked vehicles.

Astronauts Dave Wolf and Tom Marshburn will go to an integrated cargo carrier (ICC) that arrived on Endeavour to collect the spares and mount them on an external stowage platform on the truss for later use. The spare parts – a space-to-ground antenna, coolant pump and motor/transmission combo for the mobile transporter – all are too large to be delivered on any vehicles that will be visiting the station after the shuttles retire next year, and NASA wants to pre-position them in case they are needed after that.

On July 19 the crews used the shuttle and station robotic arms to get the ICC out of Endeavour’s payload bay and install it on the station’s mobile transporter, which will move up and down the truss delivering hardware to spacewalkers on the next three extravehicular activities (EVAs) of the STS-127 mission.

The work went ahead because the shuttle and station robotic arms weren’t needed for a focused inspection of the orbiter’s heat shield, which had tentatively been scheduled for July 19. On July 18 the mission management team (MMT) decided that none of the damage detected with the extensive photography and on-orbit laser-sensor inspections that are now standard during and after shuttle ascents was serious enough to warrant a second look.

Mike Moses, the MMT co-chair, said July 18 that the thermal protection system had not yet been cleared for re-entry, but he expected that action to follow once the remaining analysis was completed. Earlier July 18, spacewalkers Wolf and Tim Kopra worked closely with four of their colleagues at robotics stations inside to get the final element of Japan’s Kibo laboratory module in place.

In the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the mission, the two spacewalkers moved quickly to prepare Kibo and its exposed facility for the installation, separating from one another as soon as they left the airlock to remove insulation from the attach points on the end of the laboratory and the exposed facility.

While Kopra and Wolf moved on to other tasks, Japan’s Koichi Wakata and Doug Hurley of NASA drove the station arm from the robotics work station inside the station’s Destiny lab module to lift the exposed facility – essentially a porch where experiment packages can be operated in open space – from the orbiter’s payload bay.

To get it from there to its final position, Wakata and Hurley handed off the 9,000-pound unit off to the shuttle arm, operated from inside the space shuttle Endeavour by STS-127 commander Mark Polansky and Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. While Polansky and Payette used the shuttle arm to hold the exposed facility, the station robotics team operated the grapple fixtures at both ends of the station arm to inchworm it into a position where it could reach the end of Kibo. Then Payette and Polansky handed the exposed facility back to the station arm, which slowly moved it into position at the end of Kibo.

Japanese controllers later were able to activate the exposed facility, and declared Kibo – the largest laboratory on the ISS – completed.

The only serious problem so far on the mission is a toilet failure in the U.S. Destiny lab. About six liters of pre-treated waste water flooded the separator pump, which adds chemicals that help separate solid from liquid waste. Padalka and De Winne wore protective gear for the two-and-a-half-hour job replacing contaminated internal parts in the system July 20. In the meantime, the combined crews will use the toilets in the Russian service module and the orbiter.

Endeavour photo: NASA


British Struggle Over Helo Deployment Timing

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Douglas Barrie/London

The British government has examined — and rejected — the idea of accelerating planned deployment of the Merlin transport helicopter to Afghanistan, once eyed for December.

It is continuing to examine whether the provision of additional Chinooks can be advanced.

The government is under pressure from both the military and the political opposition over the support for British forces deployed in theater. The limited number of support helicopters deployed with the U.K. force — now totaling 9,000 personnel — has repeatedly been criticized.

Bob Ainsworth, the British secretary of state for defense, told Parliament: “I will not put Merlins into Afghanistan before they are ready — before the crews are trained and the blades, defensive suites and night vision are fitted.”

Ainsworth asserted he has solicited widespread opinion on the matter. “We cannot put Merlins in Afghanistan before December this year if we want a good, safe and capable force. We cannot bring that forward. I have talked to many people about whether we can, but we cannot.”

Ainsworth said he would look again at whether the government can bring eight untasked Chinooks that it bought into service quicker. “Our plan is to get additional Chinooks out there next summer, and if we can do it more quickly, we will,” he said.

The Chinooks were ordered in 1995 to meet a Special Forces requirement. However because of validation issues on some of the aircraft’s systems, a military aircraft release could not be provided. Eventually the ministry decided to refit the avionics on the eight airframes to allow then to be introduced into service. The work is underway with the first modified aircraft now flying.

Gen. Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, also has been pushing for additional resources for operations in Afghanistan soon. Dannatt told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the Defense Ministry might need to “re-order internal priorities” to provide more funding for combat operations in the near term. He recognized that such a move would not be welcome by all in the ministry.

Dannatt, who steps down from his post at the end of the month, also cautioned that a unilateral U.K. withdrawal from Afghanistan would have a very damaging impact on London’s relationship with Washington, and would also “severely prejudice the future well-being of NATO.”

Photo credit: Lockheed


WHO Changing Reporting Standards On Flu

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Jennifer Michels

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva has changed the reporting requirements needed to track and help contain the H1N1 swine flu virus.

As the pandemic evolves, WHO says the data needed have changed as authorities now realize that further spread within affected countries and to new countries is “inevitable.” In a note on the changes needed, published July 16, WHO said, “The 2009 influenza pandemic has spread internationally with unprecedented speed. In past pandemics, influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the new H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks.”

WHO says there is still a need to monitor unusual events, such as clusters of cases of severe or fatal infections, clusters of respiratory illness or unexplained or unusual clinical patterns. The organization is discontinuing the reporting of the tables that show the number of confirmed cases for all countries, but will provide regular updates concerning newly affected countries. It did not specify if airport officials or airlines should make any changes to their monitoring.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Dept. has issued a travel alert for Argentina, which suggests that anyone with a risk of developing complications if they contract the flu should talk to doctors before traveling to the country. The Argentina Ministry of Health as of July 6 had reported 2,485 confirmed cases of swine flu, including 60 deaths.

State also alerts travelers that China continues to impose quarantine measures to control the flu. The policy allows the Chinese government to quarantine arriving passengers if they are exhibiting fever or flu-like symptoms. State has received reports of children traveling unaccompanied being taken into quarantine, so it recommends postponing travel of children without an adult at this time. However, it also notes that parents and children in some cases have been separated during quarantine. There is no countrywide policy on keeping family members together, State notes.

Photo Credit: Seattle Tacoma Airport


Likely House, Senate Clash Over FAA Bill

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Adrian Schofield

The unveiling of the U.S. Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill marks a crucial step in resolving policy and funding questions that have been hanging over the aviation industry for years. But the bill also sets up battles with House lawmakers that could once again bog down the reauthorization effort.

While these disagreements are not as severe as in prior rounds of the reauthorization debate, they will not be settled without major concessions. And such compromises have proved elusive in recent years–meaning the FAA has operated under temporary extensions since its last authorization expired in 2007. This lack of certainty has frustrated industry and limited the agency’s ability to plan ahead.

The Senate FAA bill is a bipartisan effort authored by Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), aviation subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and ranking committee Republicans. The House passed its own version in May, and House lawmakers have frequently chided the Senate for lagging behind. The Obama administration is still working on its own reauthorization proposal.

Reauthorization bills contain policy instructions and recommend long-term funding levels. While FAA is typically reauthorized for a four-year period, the House bill covers three years and the Senate only two. Rockefeller said the two-year approach will give the White House “a chance to work out its own aviation program,” and will also give the aviation industry some funding certainty in the meantime.

The Senate proposes $17 billion for FAA in Fiscal 2010, and $17.5 billion in Fiscal 2011. The 2010 amount is slightly larger than the administration’s budget request of about $16 billion for that year. The operations budget line is the same, but capital spending and airport grant lines are set at higher levels than the White House request, “to ensure modernization needs are met.”

Notably, the Senate bill does not contain any user-fee language, even though Rockefeller pushed for a nominal per-flight fee during the reauthorization debate last year. He made it clear last week that he “still feels strongly” that more of the air traffic control (ATC) cost should be spread to general aviation. The House bill also contains no user-fee provision, but the Obama administration has signaled it wants to introduce such a fee from Fiscal 2011 onward.

The Senate has not increased airport passenger facility charges (PFCs) in its reauthorization bill, in contrast to House lawmakers who bumped up the cap on this ticket tax to $7 from $4.50 per passenger. Instead, the Senate bill would introduce a program at six airports where the PFC cap can be removed if an airport finds a way to charge passengers directly instead of via airline tickets.

Another potential clash point between the House and Senate is the airline alliance issue. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, insisted on a clause in the House bill that would sunset all alliances, forcing airlines to reapply for approval after a reexamination of the criteria. The Senate bill has no such alliance language, but Oberstar is passionate about the topic and will not back down easily. This will be “one of a number of matters” that will have to be worked out in conference, according to Rockefeller.

The Senate bill does require U.S. inspections of foreign repair stations, a provision in the House bill that has prompted strong opposition from the European Union. However, the Senate bill’s authors say they “don’t expect we’re going to have a problem with Europe” over the bill, and suggested they will exclude regions like this from the inspection requirement. This could indeed make it more palatable to the Europeans than the House version.

On the modernization front, the Senate bill calls for acceleration of various NextGen technologies, including automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B). ADS-B “out” (broadcast) capability would be required on all aircraft by 2015; ADS-B “in” (receiving) capability, by 2018. This would mark a change from the FAA’s proposed deadline of 2020 for ADS-B equipage.

The bill also sets milestones for completing work on satellite navigation procedures–known as RNP and RNAV–at the top 35 airports by 2014, and throughout the country by 2018. The Senate proposes a new position of chief NextGen officer at the FAA, as well as creation of an ATC modernization oversight board.

One of the most controversial clauses–backed by passenger rights groups–is a “hard requirement” for passengers to be allowed to deplane for delays of three hours or more. The Air Transport Assn. (ATA) is opposed to this provision, which it says will be costly to airlines and will create more problems than solutions for passengers. For example, deplaning passengers would often turn delays into cancellations.

The accelerated ADS-B equipage deadline also worries airlines. ATA states that this is an “unfunded mandate” that would impose substantial cost for carriers without a demonstrated timeline of benefits.

ATA is still assessing its overall position on the Senate bill, but generally prefers it to the House version. The airline group is pleased the House PFC increase was rejected in the Senate bill, along with Oberstar’s airline alliance review.

Airport groups, meanwhile, are on the opposite side of the debate about PFC increases. While the airport industry had pushed for the PFC boost, it was not a surprise that it did not make the cut in the Senate legislation, says Airports Council International-North America President Greg Principato. ACI believes the PFC cap should be at least $7.50, and should in future be indexed to inflation. There has been no PFC increase since 2000, Principato notes.

ACI does not oppose the PFC pilot program. However, it is far more important to the group that the PFC increase goes through. The American Assn. of Airport Executives has also been calling for a hike in PFCs, and both groups have been opposing a clause in the House bill that would impose new airport firefighting standards they say are overly burdensome. This provision was left out of the Senate bill.

Yet another major difference between the House and Senate legislation concerns a labor clause aimed specifically at FedEx. The House bill–but not the Senate version–would make it easier for certain FedEx workers to unionize. FedEx has lobbied against the provision, while rival UPS has supported it.

Photo credit: Benet Wilson


War of Words Erupts Over F-35 Engines

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Guy Norris/Los Angeles

The future of the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine program reaches a critical juncture this week when the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on whether to follow through on its earmarking for the General Electric Rolls-Royce F136 in the 2010 defense budget. The second F135-powered F-35B flew for a second time on July 13. If it survives, the first F136-powered F-35 will not fly for at least two years.Credit: STEVE SHANK

It is a vote engine industry insiders say is too close to call, and which could finally make or break the long-running alternate F136 engine campaign. Although losing the full Senate vote would not directly end the program, both sides of the engine debate recognize that coming back from a “no vote” this time would not be easy.

Pratt & Whitney–stung by the loss of two F135 engines in the program cuts this year and facing a similar outcome in 2010 as a result of funding for the F136–is posturing to defend its corner more aggressively than ever before. The company, which also faces the simultaneous threat of losing funding for the final batch of F119-powered Lockheed Martin F-22s, is being bullish over its latest F135 program achievements to date and positive over its cost-cutting plans for the engine.

Pratt’s position is strongly backed by the White House, which last week threatened to veto the defense bill if it includes spending on the F136 that Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier identified as wasteful. A bluntly worded White House statement says “the administration strongly objects to the addition of $438.9 million for development of the alternative engine program. The administration also objects to provisions of the bill that mandate an alternative engine program for the JSF.”

Facing its hardest fight for survival yet, the embattled General Electric/Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team was buoyed by figures presented by the House Armed Services Committee, which appears to support one of the F136 team’s principal arguments that competition will help keep costs in check.

In a statement, the committee says “the F-35 program manager has reported an increase of approximately 38-43% in F135 engine procurement cost estimates between December 2005 and December 2008, in the annual selected acquisition reports for the F-35C and F-35A variants. Between December 2005 and December 2008, engine procurement cost estimates for the F-35B have grown approximately 47%, but the F-35B engine procurement cost growth is attributable to both the F135 engine and the F-35B’s lift fan.”

But Warren Boley, Pratt & Whitney vice president for F135 programs, says “the numbers referenced represent future cost projections over the total program (30 years) if we do not achieve ‘learned-out’ cost. However, with the aggressive steps we are currently taking, and our experience in significantly reducing the cost of the F119 as it was learned out, we believe we have the same opportunities for cost reduction with the F135.”

Cost savings on the F135, Boley says, will include lessons learned from the test program, lean production initiatives, production changes in the assembly shop and reductions in rework and scrap. “We know what the F-35 Joint Program Office needs, and we know we can get it because we did it on the F119.”

The learned-out cost reduction on the F119 was 30%, and “we see those opportunities” for the F135, Boley notes. The projected costs are targeted for the 250th production engine scheduled for 2014, and will hold for the bulk of the program. “That’s a significant cost saving on 1,500-3,000 engines,” he says. Pratt is currently assembling the initial production configuration units and will deliver the first seven to Lockheed Martin in the fourth quarter of this year.

Despite the House committee’s main focus on F135 costs, the F136 team also received a significant boost from the panel for keeping its costs stable. Saying the F136 “has not experienced any cost growth since its inception,” it notes the $411-million pre-EMD [equal to system development and demonstration, or SDD] contract cost remained steady, while the main $2.48-billion EMD deal signed in 2005 “has been stable since contract award.” In a hard-hitting summary, it adds that, “given the F135 development and procurement cost increases, the committee is perplexed by the department’s decisions over the past three years to not include an F-35 competitive propulsion system program in its budget requests.”

However, Pratt proponents point out that cost and schedule are easier to maintain in a limited development effort such as the early pre-SDD phases of the F136, and cite indications of growing slippages in the alternate engine schedule. The F136 team acknowledged at the recent Paris air show that the date for the first flight-test engine has slid to early 2011 from 2010, but says this reflects schedule adjustments by Lockheed Martin rather than any engine development issues.

The F136 team does confirm, however, that funding shortages and shifting program schedules have forced it to reprioritize initial service release (ISR) targets. “We’ve moved it up for CTOL [conventional takeoff and landing] to March 2012, and Stovl [short takeoff and vertical landing] has gone out to the right to around March 2013,” says the team. The change to the Stovl target reflects the fact that no F136-powered F-35s are earmarked for the earlier production Lot 4 batch around that time. “They didn’t need it until 2013, and we didn’t have the money anyway,” it adds.

The GE-Rolls team also says budget shortfalls have forced it to push back the initial flight readiness (IFR) milestones for the CTOL engine by three months, and IFR for Stovl by four months. The F136 team first met for IFR reviews in May. The meetings coincided with the resumption of tests on F136 Engine 004 following modifications to the bearing system.

Despite the hold-up, the F136 team insists that the schedule remains on track. Unlike the Pratt test schedule on the first SDD F135, which encompassed some 420 hr. of runs, it says the requirement for the GE-Rolls engine was smaller because the 700 hr. of runs during the pre-SDD phase included many aspects of the later configuration. Engine 004, the first SDD F136 to test, was never intended to exceed 100 hr. before the rebuild, it adds.

Photo credit: USAF