Modernizing Future Vertical Lift
How RI&S sensors can ensure military's readiness in any domain
It could transform what it means to do battle in the air.
It’s called Future Vertical Lift, and it’s a major part of the U.S. Army’s modernization effort. Its aim is to revamp the Army’s fleet of reconnaissance, attack and assault aircraft with, among other things, multi-function sensors. Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, is developing a suite of multi-function, precision targeting, long-range surveillance, target detection and identification capabilities for the Army's Future Vertical Lift mission that will enhance survivability and combat effectiveness.
“Future Vertical Lift is a fundamental pillar in the Army’s modernization strategy and its efforts to ensure they’re combat ready across all domains – air, land, sea, cyber and space,” said Barbara Borgonovi, vice president of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems at RI&S. “We’re working to provide those advanced capabilities to deliver vertical lift dominance in the future battlespace against complex threats.”
One of the new aircraft, called the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, will fill the gap left by the retirement of the Kiowa Warrior, while another, the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, will replace the Black Hawk utility helicopter. Both are expected to become operational in the early 2030s and stay that way for decades. .
“The decisions the Army makes in the next few years will lay the foundation for the next 30-60 years,” said Mark Sims, RI&S senior director of business development and strategy for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems. “These innovative, brand new aircraft will go faster and farther and will be equipped with sensors providing more advanced multi-functional capability.”
Four RI&S capabilities will enable the warfighter to operate in the new battlespace:
The Raytheon Distributed Aperture System offers FVL aircraft a 360-degree sensor suite providing unprecedented situational awareness to navigate in any battlespace – from detecting missiles to operating in severe weather conditions.
“Traditionally tactical formations rely on each other for full spherical defensive coverage,” said Russ “Rudder” Smith, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who now leads business development for tactical electro-optical and infrared systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “RDAS creates a protective bubble around your platform, where you can look up/down and side-to-side. It doesn’t matter if there’s metal beneath your feet or on your side. You can see right through it and look outside.”
An FVL platform with RDAS would provide comprehensive situational awareness even in degraded visual environments, providing advanced tactical surveillance and targeting capabilities to enhance superiority against adversaries.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
In high-risk environments, rapid, actionable intelligence helps crews respond faster to threats. RI&S is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in its Multi-Spectral Targeting System, which provides visible and infrared intelligence and targeting information for an array of airborne platforms.
“We’re developing next-generation sensors around a Modular Open Systems Architecture that can easily be integrated with a variety of high performing sensors,” said Steven Schultz, director of business development for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems. “Next-gen systems will offer high performance processing power to enable AI/ML based cognitive aids so operators are equipped with unparalleled automation, threat detection and identification capability and can make more accurate decisions faster.”
The third capability RI&S offers for next-generation aircraft is its advanced active electronically scanned array RF system, which offers radar, electronic warfare and data communications functions.
The AESA radar can provide full 360-degree sensor coverage and terrain-following and terrain-avoidance functions, a capability that allows aircraft to easily maneuver undetected at low-altitudes in hostile territories. It also offers 360-degree coverage for electronic warfare support, as well as tactical communications capabilities that allow sharing data between aircraft. The AESA radar can be tailored to fit any platform.
“Weight is a critical factor in FLRAA and FARA aircraft to enable both higher speeds and longer ranges,” said Craig Young, RI&S principal engineering fellow and chief engineer at Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems. “They don’t have a lot of room on them for the traditional stand-alone sensor packages, so we need to be more innovative, smaller and lighter. And we bring all of that to bear into our RF solution for future vertical lift.”
Electronic Warfare & High Energy Lasers
Future Vertical Lift aircraft will also need the right tools to compete in the electromagnetic spectrum. RI&S is working on a family of solutions called RF Armor. They combine jammers and radar warning receivers, providing operators with self-protect and electronic attack capabilities while helping them evade detection by adversary radar.
RF Armor includes mature EW capabilities in a compact, open-architecture system that can be used to support a variety of FVL platforms.
“In addition to RF Armor, sensor and effector technologies using high-energy lasers will give FVL operators an advantage when dealing with asymmetric threats,” said Jeremy Carney, RI&S business development executive for Electronic Warfare Systems. “Electronic warfare and high energy laser technology will make FVL crews more effective against modern threats, maximizing both lethality and survivability.”
As the Army looks toward tomorrow, RI&S is advancing today’s technologies to meet the challenges of FVL, and Sims says that RI&S is ready to rise to them.
“We have advanced capabilities that will help our customers survive and fight efficiently in the new multi-domain battlespace,” Sims said. “And we’re working with all stakeholders to help them understand what the art of the possible is out there for us and what we can bring to the fight.”