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2001 Assessment of the Office of Naval Research’s Aircraft Technology Program 3 Integrated Avionics OVERVIEW The integrated avionics thrust is composed of a set of programs addressing various aspects of avionics technology and systems. The first observation is that the avionics thrust is being substantially descoped in the near term, so that most of the efforts presented are coming to an end, as indicated in the ONR budget projection shown in Table 3.1. The second is that important components of avionics, including sensors and information processing, communications/navigation/target identification, electronic warfare, and many aspects of pilot-aircraft interfaces, are not conducted by Code 35 and were not part of this review. The committee can therefore only offer limited constructive advice for the future of the thrust. Several of the efforts that were presented are technically excellent and highly relevant, especially those on visually coupled displays and automatic target classification (image indexing). Others were less impressive, mainly because they lacked clear paths to transition or application or appeared to duplicate work done previously or work done by other organizations. Specific comments are offered in the next section. However, the committee formed several general impressions that are significant for any future ONR activity in integrated avionics: ONR is exiting the field of avionics technology development and integration, with the possible exception of integrated helmet display systems. The Navy may have to rely on the Air Force, the Army, or possibly others for future avionics technology. The efforts as presented showed little or no evidence of an underpinning of architectural principles that should provide a unifying theme and without which integrated avionics systems cannot succeed. The emphasis here, as in other parts of the ATP, has been on near-term fixes for legacy aircraft rather than on innovation to enable future advances. As in several other thrusts that the committee reviewed, there is a risk that the Navy will lose the
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2001 Assessment of the Office of Naval Research’s Aircraft Technology Program TABLE 3.1 ONR 351 Aircraft Technology Program Budget for Avionics Through FY02 (millions of dollars) FY99 FY00 FY01 FY02 6.3 Processing (ACEMs, AAS, smart skins) 8.3 3.6 3.2 0.0 6.2 Processing (ACEMs, real-time high definition image processing) 6.0 0.4 0.0 0.0 6.2 Displays 2.0 1.0 0.8 0.9 6.2 Cockpit 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 Total 16.7 4.9 4.0 0.9 Note: See Appendix C for definitions of acronyms used. critical mass of current expertise needed to be a smart buyer and to ensure that naval-unique needs are identified and addressed. If an integrated avionics thrust is not continued, the committee recommends that ONR/NAVAIR maintain, perhaps in Code 31 if not in Code 35, a select, funded team of experts who can interact with the broader avionics community. It is anticipated that the Time Critical Strike FNC will focus on developments in strike missions in littoral warfare and support to Marine Corps forces ashore. PROGRAMS REVIEWED Integrated Sensors/Electronics Smart Skins Findings The term “smart skins” was coined to describe a very ambitious concept in which much, or all, of the surface of an air vehicle would be electromagnetically active, allowing comprehensive, multispectral interaction with the environment. The Code 351 effort has concentrated on leading-edge flap antennas for the F/A-18 in which surface-mounted array elements replace the more conventional approach of arrays embedded in the dielectric structure of the flap. Work done to date has demonstrated antenna functionalities such as electronic support measures, data link, communications, and identification friend or foe (IFF), along with improvements in weight and durability. No data were presented on performance factors such as angle-of-arrival precision and signature impact. Even so, this is a promising result that could have broad applications. Recommendation None. The effort is ending with several prospective transitions to weapon systems. Advanced Common Electronic Modules Findings Advanced common electronic modules (ACEMs) have been one of a number of efforts in the general area of modular, software-controlled, resource-sharing multifunction radios. This effort has
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2001 Assessment of the Office of Naval Research’s Aircraft Technology Program been minimizing the number of distinct module types and evaluating the feasibility of implementing such systems with available components. Given the funding constraints, ONR is unlikely to influence the direction of this technology. Furthermore, the program was drastically redirected (it went from being an aviation application to a sonobuoy application) and was then terminated in response to cost and schedule concerns. Recommendation This avionics functionality is being aggressively developed in programs like Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the DARPA Airborne Communications Node. ONR should monitor these efforts, identify opportunities to apply their results to Navy aircraft, and coordinate follow-on efforts. High-speed Interconnects Fiber-optic Roadmap Findings As described, this is essentially a low-level effort to track and forecast both evolving system needs for optical interconnects and potentially matching developments in technologies and products. ONR needs awareness in this area and seems to recognize that developments in weapons systems like the JSF and in industry will be the source of future system high-performance interconnect solutions. Recommendation ONR could perform a useful coordinating function for naval aviation by keeping track of needs and available products and helping match customers with sources. Information Management Advanced Avionics Subsystems Findings The project that was briefed involves porting Cambridge Technologies’ PowerScene terrain visualization system, which has gained considerable currency in the command, control, and communications (C3) and mission planning arenas, to the cockpit. Strictly speaking, this is a perspective visualization technique rather than a true three-dimensional visualization technique, but it has demonstrated high utility in mission preview, aircrew orientation, target location, and similar situational awareness functions. It will be important to ensure that all the data displayed conforms with the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and national standards such that the “view” of the target is in fact an accurate position on the ground. It is quite believable that such functionality could enhance the performance of strike aircraft crews and lighten their workload. The effort has centered on establishing feasibility and solving problems in porting PowerScene to avionics processing environments. Results to date look promising. It is important for the Navy to examine all commercially available display applications for use in aircraft.
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2001 Assessment of the Office of Naval Research’s Aircraft Technology Program Recommendations If, when the present effort ends in January 2002, the feasibility and utility of the technique have been established, ONR should pursue transitioning of the results to both Navy and Air Force strike platforms. This would probably require funding and supporting additional flight demonstrations on various platforms. The technique could be especially useful on long-range systems like the B-2. Real-time Image Indexing Findings This is a very interesting approach to automatic target classification (ATC), and perhaps eventually to automatic target recognition (ATR), that makes a pattern-matching paradigm computationally feasible by applying invariant theory to derive a robust minimum set of geometric features (e.g., six distinct lines in an object’s electro-optical image). Preliminary results with limited test cases show promise for decoy rejection. The work is well coordinated with (and in some ways predated) similar efforts at the Air Force Research Laboratory/Sensors Directorate (AFRL/SN). It has been transitioned to a 6.3 project in ONR Code 31. This is impressive work and a significant contribution to an important, pervasive, and very difficult surveillance and targeting problem. Recommendation Although Code 35 is ending its effort, the expertise of this team should be maintained and applied to continue the development and application of this promising approach to the problems of decoys, deception, obscuration, and other aspects of the overall “difficult targets” dilemma. Displays Visually Coupled Displays Findings This is the crown jewel of the Code 351 avionics program and the only area that will continue at a significant level after FY01. (The roadmap for the visually coupled displays project shows transitions to the fleet and Army rotary- and fixed-wing systems and/or to EMD phase by FY04.) ONR has, over the years, made perhaps the most important contribution to demonstrating the power and feasibility of helmet-mounted displays (HMDs). In systems like JSF, the HMD is likely to replace the head-up display as the primary flight reference and to greatly improve situational awareness, time of response to targets and threats, and overall mission success and survivability. Highlights include the compound helmet for light weight and lower cost, realistic approaches to achieving pointing accuracies on the order of one mrad, and approaches that promise helmet weights well under 5 pounds. Recommendations ONR should maintain above-critical-mass funding for this area, continue aggressive efforts to demonstrate advanced HMD systems, coordinate transition plans with the platforms that will use the HMDs, and attack fundamental technology limitations, especially in helmet weight and pointing/attitude reference accuracy.
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