SPARKS, Nev. ---- Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), has been selected to participate in Phase 3 of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Gremlins program as part of the Dynetics-led team.
The Gremlins program will develop the capability to launch groups of reusable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) from manned aircraft while out of range of adversary defenses, enhancing the operational flexibility, safety and effectiveness of U.S. military air operations.
When the Gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft aims to retrieve them in flight and return them to base for maintenance and preparation for additional missions, making the Gremlins a low-cost, repeatable solution.
SNC will provide the Gremlins Air Vehicle (GAV) Autonomous Docking System (GADS) precision navigation, guidance and control system elements essential to rendezvous and docking of the GAV with the C-130 host aircraft. The basic architecture for the precision navigation capability (PNav) was initially developed for the Autonomous Aerial Refueling Demonstration (AARD) and UCAS-D (X-47B) programs.
The SNC GADS leverages much of the PNav technology to provide navigation, guidance and control for the GAV, enabling precision docking for recovery. The Dynetics solution involves deploying a towed, stabilized capture device below and away from the C-130. The GAV is designed to dock with this device in a manner similar to an airborne refueling operation.
Kutta Technology, an SNC subsidiary, is providing the multi-vehicle control services and user interface software for Gremlins. The goal is to provide a control station with safe, intuitive work flows for controlling multiple GAVs simultaneously from launch to recovery. “Work on the Gremlins program leverages Kutta’s previous experience with safe, supervised-autonomous vehicle control, coordinating multi-vehicle surveillance, and agent-based, manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T),” said Kutta’s Chief Operating Officer, Doug Limbaugh.
During Phase 2, Kutta successfully implemented the control station prototypes for all operator workflows and established test plans and results to support airworthiness. The Phase 3 effort will refine these prototypes according to feedback generated during system integrations.
“SNC’s past accomplishments with autonomous refueling and precision navigation were a perfect fit for what Dynetics planned to accomplish on the Gremlins program. Once the two companies came together to discuss how to leverage SNC’s technology, both recognized an opportunity to help make the Dynetics team even more competitive,” said Greg Cox, senior vice president of business development and technology for SNC’s Electronic and Information Systems business area. “I don’t believe anyone questioned that SNC would be an outstanding partner to add to the team. I know we were certainly excited about joining a group as dedicated as Dynetics.”
SNC joined the Dynetics Gremlins team following completion of Phase 1 of the Gremlins program. Prior to commencement of Phase 2, DARPA down selected from four to two teams. Phase 2 served as an evaluation for final down select to a single team to demonstrate capabilities in Phase 3.
“It doesn’t take much to recognize SNC as an industry leader in precision navigation," said Mark Miller, Dynetics' Gremlins program manager and vice president of Missile & Aviation Systems Division. "With the many challenges surrounding airborne recovery, Dynetics wanted the best expertise and experience for the navigation and docking operations, and that’s exactly what we get with SNC.”
SNC continues to be a leader in unmanned navigation and control and remains committed to developing autonomous technologies. The SNC PNav technology is being considered for autonomous aerial refueling applications while the Unmanned Common Automated Recovery System, Version 2 (UCARS V2) is currently fielded in support of Department of Defense UAS operations.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is a trusted leader in solving the world’s toughest challenges through advanced engineering technologies in Space Systems, Commercial Solutions, and National Security and Defense. With applications including navigation and guidance, communication and surveillance systems, electronic warfare, aircraft systems and telemedicine, SNC provides state-of-the art solutions to military and commercial customers around the world.