As time plays tricks on the mind, not long ago it was a nothing more than a futuristic theme in a Hollywood movie. This is no longer the case. Today, “artificial intelligence empowered, war fighting drones” teamed with manned command and control are shaping up as the path forward.
The last few years have seen several manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) initiatives by the USAF and private industry. On Jul. 30, 2018 Textron Aviation Defense, LLC “leveled up” with their announcement that they had demonstrated MUM-T capability on the Scorpion Jet with Textron Systems’ “Synturian®” control and collaboration technology (official Textron Press release here).
MUM-T has been an emerging trend for several years and we are starting to see the progress. The assessment of “drones” as “Loyal Wingman” (Air Force Research Laboratory), and in several other roles are simply early indicators that in some form, this is going to happen. As reported in the July 2018 Mitchell Institute Policy Paper, “Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Teaming: Taking Combat Airpower to the Next Level” the USAF has a “serious capacity gap when it comes to fulfilling mission requirements with its current inventory”.
The paper notes that “to defend its interests around the globe,” America needs “a robust and varied toolkit.” The paper addresses roles that could be filled by unmanned aircraft, bridging the capacity gap, logistics and much more. It’s an enlightening read that incidentally touches on another of Scorpion benefits demonstrated in this initiative, “the value of open missions systems for rapid integration of a variety of packages.”
Interesting video of the demonstration shows the Scorpion’s cockpit with display of the integration with Synturian. The demonstration utilized the Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) environment, with the Scorpion live in the air the unmanned aircraft systems in the virtual and the sensors on the unmanned aircraft systems in the constructive.
It all seems like heady stuff. MUM-T on a Scorpion with Synturian in an LVC environment. I like to keep it simple, I reflect on the first time I jumped into the AH-1Z Cobra Gunship my son was flying and we took to the sky wreaking havoc and destruction….. joined together over a digital network in Battlefield 2, the video game. In the diverse world of a military LVC, discerning the virtual from the real is no longer relevant. Treat everything as if it’s real.
After flying the capability demonstration, Textron Aviation Defense Senior Flight Test Pilot, Brett Pierson commented; “The tactical and operational ramifications of this new capability are enormous. Further extending Scorpion’s sensor suite and penetrating a weather layer to generate target coordinates; or creating a triangulated solution independently; or adding layers to a multi-spectral fused solution, deliver an entirely new set of tactical capabilities that have never been possible in a fighter-typed aircraft.”
The capability to extend the kill web through MUM-T is a desirable capability, particularly with new stand-off munitions like the Raytheon SDB-II. Such a combination certainly extends the mission set and capability of the Scorpion giving it the ability to execute ISR and attack missions at some distance into hostile space – from the relative safety of a more permissive airspace.
Textron extols a similar business model with the Scorpion as has been applied to the smartphone. In which case, the Synturian System and MUM-T capability looks like a compelling “App” in the Scorpion’s “App store.”