A Boeing-led team has demonstrated manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities in a virtual environment using the US Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refuelling platform, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne command-and-control aircraft and the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The demonstration, sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research, used Northrop Grumman’s portable E-2D simulator in conjunction with Boeing’s F/A-18 and MQ-25 simulations to establish a data link network that was used to supervise MQ-25 flight operations.
The simulated mission scenarios included the E-2D 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 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. The E-2D was able to conduct MUM-T operations with the MQ-25 using only existing operational flight program 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,” said Don Gaddis, MQ-25 Advanced Design at Boeing, in an August 3 release.
The Boeing-led 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 [sports] coach,” Gaddis said. “This ‘play call’ ability greatly simplifies the supervising pilot’s workload and minimises the data link exchanges required.”
MUM-T is a key future capability outlined in the US Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Plan, which is a framework strategy for the integration of unmanned systems in support of carrier strike group operations.
“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, vice president, manned airborne surveillance programs at Northrop Grumman.
Future Boeing MUM-T demonstrations will involve additional mission areas, interface enhancements, autonomous behaviours and resilient, protected networks.