Europe’s first paired manned-unmanned combat demo sees fictitious 'rogue warlord' defeated
Two fighter planes, a helicopter, and five unmanned remote carriers have banded in Europe's first significant manned-unmanned teaming flight demonstration to defeat a fictitious warlord.
The "Future Combat Air System" (FCAS), strategic defense program, was made possible due to this multi-domain flight demonstration led by Airbus, according to a press release by the multinational aerospace corporation on Friday.
"With our Multi-Domain Flight Demo, or MDFD, we demonstrated for the first time in Europe how manned-unmanned teaming capabilities and functionalities with up to ten connected assets work in a real-life inspired scenario and under near operational conditions," said Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Military Air Systems at Airbus.
A team of defense experts from Airbus, the Bundeswehr, the Finnish Defense Forces, and industry partners—missile manufacturer MBDA Germany, networking data link provider Patria, autonomous and mission technology startup HAT.tec, and drone launch system provider Robonic—worked together on the science fiction-style trial in the summer of 2022.
In the demonstration, a Learjet 35 from Airbus subsidiary GFD served as a stand-in for a fighter, with the crew controlling five modified Airbus Do-DT25 drones from remote carriers.
To locate the hypothetical rogue warlord's ground air missile sites, two of them had Electronic Support Measures (ESM) sensors from MBDA. The remaining three RCs had Electro-Optical (EO) cameras that captured and verified the physical placements of the air defenses.
A networking data link from Patria connected all resources in a visitor's tent where the German and Finnish armed forces observed the demonstration showed one simulated fighter operating as a command and control aircraft.
"The demonstration was an overwhelming success - the scenario went according to the plan, with the functionalities performing as intended," explains Airbus project manager Thomas Gottmann.
As the project moves into Phase III, existing capabilities will mature and new ones will be created in order to enable starting operations in the 2030s with existing combat aircraft and remote carriers produced by that time, according to the press release.
Airbus and BAAINBw have just signed a first agreement for the start of the project, along with MBDA and BAAINBw.
Combat cloud network
Remote carriers of various shapes and sizes are essential components of FCAS, where they will function with the manned New Generation Fighter and the Eurofighter in a cyber-secured combat cloud network, stated the press release.
RCs operates under the control of manned fighter aircraft and offer improved pilot protection while expanding the operational envelope and their capacity to respond to dangerous circumstances.
"Conducting such collaborative engagements will require high levels of autonomy with only little direct and indirect human control," explained Gottmann.
This clearly worked in the demo since the fictitious rogue warlord is no longer a danger to the world, humored Dumont.
"The MDFD is yet another example of how we push boundaries and pioneer technologies so that our customers can fulfill their missions: saving lives and ensuring a better future for us all," he said.
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