C4iSR: Air

Northrop Grumman demos unmanned capabilities at ANTX

28 September 2018

A Northrop Grumman Fire Scout surrogate aircraft conducts a sonobuoy drop into the ocean during ANTX 2018. Source: Northrop Grumman

An MQ-8C Fire Scout surrogate aircraft has demonstrated its ability to autonomously deliver underwater sensors for the first time, Northrop Grumman announced on 19 September.

During the demonstration, which was conducted in late August as part of the US Navy’s (USN’s) Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) in Newport, Rhode Island, the P10 Bell 407 helicopter – which the MQ-8C unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is derived from – delivered multiple sonobuoys into the exercise area to support mine warfare operations and maritime situation awareness.

Mine warfare operations were also supported by Northrop Grumman’s deployment of its Micro Synthetic Aperture Sonar (μSAS) technology, integrated on board an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and launched from a navy work vessel participating in the exercise.

Northrop Grumman vice-president for undersea systems Alan Lytle and ANTX programme manager Dan Redman told Jane’s that the exercise provided the company with the opportunity to demonstrate a series of new capabilities to support maritime forces, including human-machine teaming of multiple unmanned solutions, command and control of future unmanned maritime missions, and delivery of critical information in contested environments.

According to USN officials, ANTX was designed to demonstrate “future technologies in a collaborative, low-risk environment”.

As part of exercise serials executed during ANTX Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout surrogate was fitted with an electro-optical (EO) camera and four sonobuoys on each side of the airframe. Redman confirmed that a series of low velocity parachute drops of Sonobuoy TechSystems’ AN/SSQ-53F DIFAR had been completed at altitudes between 200 and 300 ft above mean sea level.

Elsewhere, Northrop Grumman integrated its μSAS payload on board L3 Oceanserver’s IVER3-580 AUV to assist in mine hunting duties with automated and embedded target acquisition.

“The demonstration showed how we can operate that level of μSAS from a man-portable AUV,” company officials said. This data was then relayed to a ground control station comprising five displays, EO cameras, situation awareness tools, and advanced human-machine control software to manipulate the various unmanned systems.

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