Successful Integration of MQ-25, E-2D and F/A-18 Simulations
Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) is a key capability identified in the US Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework – the Navy’s strategy for integrating unmanned systems to provide lethal, survivable and scalable effects in support of carrier strike group operations. Boeing and Northrop Grumman recently conducted virtual carrier air wing learning scenarios, using MQ-25, F/A-18 and E-2D simulations as well as ‘live’ flight software.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, the Boeing-led team used Northrop Grumman’s portable E-2D HAWKEYE simulator in conjunction with Boeing F/A-18 SUPER Hornet and MQ-25 STINGRAY simulations to establish a data link network that was used to supervise MQ-25 flight operations.
The simulated mission scenarios included the E-2D successfully acting as the air wing ‘tanker king,’ while the MQ-25 refuelled the F/A-18, in addition to supervising the MQ-25 during an ISR mission. The E-2D was able to conduct MUM-T operations with the MQ-25 using only existing operational flight programme software. “Two of our key findings from this early demonstration with existing data links are that initial MUM-T capability between MQ-25, E-2D and F/A-18 is achievable with minimal change to the crew vehicle interface and could be integrated into earlier MQ-25 operational deployments,” commented Don Gaddis, MQ-25 Advanced Design at Boeing.
The team also demonstrated how anticipated carrier air wing concepts – such as the F/A-18 and E-2D changing the tanker’s orbit station, flight path or aerial refuelling store payload – were made routine and repeatable with the unmanned MQ-25. This required minimal changes to the F/A-18 cockpit display, helping to reduce pilot workload while supervising unmanned operations and providing consistency with how pilots operate and train today.
Another more advanced MUM-T mission simulation showed how an open behavioural software framework can be used to aggregate traditional unmanned system commands into an overall autonomous mission behaviour.
“As a result, pilots can call a ‘play’ for the unmanned system, much like a coach,” Gaddis added. “This ‘play call’ ability greatly simplifies the supervising pilot’s workload and minimizes the data link exchanges required. It’s all part of building platform-agnostic, portable and reusable MUM-T software.”
“This demonstration of the E-2D Advanced HAWKEYE controlling the MQ-25 builds on our experience in integrating unmanned systems into carrier flight operations. As the airborne command and control node, E-2D will be a critical component to enabling the US Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework,” said Janice Zilch, VP Manned Airborne Surveillance Programs at Northrop Grumman. “We work closely with industry partners and the Navy in support of meaningful technology demonstrations that showcase E-2D’s agile environment, interoperability and unmatched command and control capabilities.”
Future Boeing MUM-T demonstrations will involve additional mission areas, interface enhancements, autonomous behaviours and resilient, protected networks.