BAE Systems is looking to offer its Mission Effectiveness Augmentation System (MEAS) autonomy software tools as a component to address pilot trust issues associated with the Air Force’s anticipated move towards more manned-unmanned teaming operations, a company official told Defense Daily.
Skip Stolz, BAE System's director of strategic development for the autonomy, control, and estimation group, said the company’s advanced autonomy software package could be used in a proposed plan to begin ‘unmanning’ the Air Force’s fleet of legacy, fourth-generation aircraft.
“One of the things we liked about the unmanning of fourth generation aircraft is that provides an opportunity to build that pilot trust and develop tactics in a very cost-advantaged way,” Stolz told Defense Daily. “Then you can take your logical next step of developing a, perhaps, from-scratch unmanned vehicle and use that same autonomy software that you used in that unmanned fourth generation aircraft into that next-generation aircraft.”
A recent Mitchell Institute report cited making fourth-generation autonomous as a cost-saving measure to test autonomous software and building up trust before moving the technology to more expensive aircraft.
“Existing combat aircraft now maintained in storage, such as many fourth generation F-16s for example, can be reactivated into the operational inventory and be converted for employment as unmanned combat aircraft,” the Mitchell Institute wrote in their report.
Stolz cited the study and said the BAE Systems could offers its mature MEAS software as a way to assist with the incremental movement toward more manned-unmanned teaming.
“We bring to it a flexible, open autonomy architecture that is aircraft-agnostic,” Stolz said. “The biggest challenge to manned-unmanned teaming right now is not a technology problem. It’s a pilot trust issue. To get over that pilot trust issue, I really think you’re going to have to routinely and regularly fly these airplanes. Fly them everyday in training, just like we do with manned teaming.”
The MEAS autonomy software has been used in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System program for the X-45 and X-47, the Army’s Unmanned Combat Rotorcraft effort to test unmanned wingmen with AH-64 Apache helicopter pilots and DARPA’s Distributed Battle Management program, according to Stolz.
“Those technologies have been mature. They have been demonstrated. They’re essentially ready to go. And it becomes an integration activity, rather than a developmental activity,” Stolz said.
Stolz anticipates that manned-unmanned projects and autonomy efforts for fourth-generation aircraft will remain in DARPA and Air Force Research Laboratory for the next few years, but said the MEAS software could be deployed in the near future, if necessary.
“If the Department of Defense said ‘Go’ today, that technology could be fielded very, very quickly,” Stolz said. “Just the sheer presence of these legacy, fourth generation aircraft that would be unmanned wingmen, would cause potential adversaries to have to reconsider their entire force structure, their deployments. It’s a capability that would have to be respected and taken into account.”