The Army’s newest and most advanced Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), the Extended Range/Multi-Purpose (ER/MP) UAS, has successfully completed a series of tests with the HELLFIRE II UAS — a missile specially engineered to fire from a UAV with a 360-degree targeting ability, service officials said.
The tests, involving nine perfect or near-perfect missile firings, took place at the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, Calif., and demonstrated the missile’s ability to engage a wider target envelope than a typical Hellfire missile, said Tim Owings, Deputy Project Manager, Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
“The significance to this is this is the first missile designed specifically for a UAV. The HELLFIRE UAS missile can take advantage of a 360 look around angle. The ball on the UAV can swivel 360 degrees — and with this missile you can engage targets that are below you, behind you and well off-axis from what a typical HELLFIRE can do,” Owings said. “There were nine successful shots. The big point is the laser designation system, the weapons system and the UAV all performed as designed and as expected. It was a really clean test.”
The testing began Nov. 22, 2009, with the unmanned system first performing dry runs against a target with an inert test missile on the inboard rail of the right wing. After confirming data was transmitting properly between the missile and aircraft and to the China Lake Range Control Center, a successful “cold” pass using a live powered missile took place, allowing the test to continue with an actual firing.
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“The cold pass is assuring you have the missile locked on to the target. The hot pass is when you go all the way to a weapons release,” said Owings.
The firing, or “hot” pass, involved coordination between the mission payload operator and air vehicle operator, or AVO, at precise waypoints during the flight and then the AVO pressed the weapons fire button sending the missile from the inboard rail of the left wing to the target with a successful impact.
More demanding test firings, which took place in late November and December, included assessing the capabilities of the system against a variety of conditions such as firing at varying altitudes, against both stationary and moving targets, and using different auto-track modes. The system was also tested with firings happening at varying offset angles; the HELLFIRE II UAS missile is capable of being fired in any direction and correcting course to find and strike its target, allowing for greater flexibility of use in combat situations.
The test series involved several months of integration testing between the ER/MP contractor General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems, Inc.’s Software Integration Laboratory, the El Mirage Flight Test Facility in El Mirage, Calif., and Edwards Air Force Base prior to the firings to ensure the software would perform optimally during live firings.
The test firing helped pave the way for the ERMP’s successful completion of a Milestone C review, marking approval for the UAS Project Office to enter into Low Rate Initial Production.
“The milestone C authorized us for the procurement of two complete systems of the Warrior and an additional eight vehicles for training and replacement of war-loss vehicles,” Owings said.
There are 12 aircraft in each system, he said.
The decision was rendered by the Department of Defense Feb. 2, following the program’s review for compliance with all milestone criteria and the successful completion of an Operational Assessment test phase. The Milestone C review assessed production readiness and program acquisition maturity.
A quick reaction capability of four weaponized vehicles are slated to deploy to Afghanistan in July of this year, Owings said.
“The process we’ve taken is to spin out technologies into theater as they mature,” he said.
When deployed later this year, the new ER/MP unmanned aircraft system will feature a heavy fuel engine, triple redundant avionics, and redundant flight controls/surfaces, and network connectivity that reduces information cycle time and enhances overall battlespace awareness.
It is capable of flying for more than 30 hours, can operate with or without satellite communications data links and, in addition to four Hellfire missiles, it will carry a advanced targeting system for immediate situational awareness and target detection.