US-based multi-domain robotic systems developed AeroVironment has provided additional details on the recent unmanned systems exercise in Portugal which saw the Royal Navy’s Madfox unmanned surface vessel launch a missile for the first time.
Aerovironment’s Puma 3 AE small unmanned aircraft system paired with the Switchblade 300 tactical missile system to demonstrate the sensor-to-shooter (S2S) capability as part of NATO REP(MUS) 21, Europe’s largest maritime unmanned systems operational experimentation exercise.
The experimentation was part of a United States/United Kingdom interoperability to interchangeability (I2I) initiative using unmanned/uncrewed systems.
A key component of the exercise was demonstrating the interoperability of multiple US/UK control system capabilities to facilitate the transfer through the Puma 3 AE comm relay connection of tactical control and planning tasks of interchangeable, cross-domain assets.
This demonstration was the result of combined and coordinated efforts of coalition and industry partnerships including the Naval Information Warfare Center’s C-SCAPE Common Control System (CCS), the Naval Undersea Warfare Center’s CaSHMI system, UK Ministry of Defense’s MAPLE command and control system, AeroVironment’s Crysalis ground control system (GCS) connected to the varied control systems utilizing a new STANAG 4586 Level 4 interface, unmanned/uncrewed surface vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles and manned surface ships from additional NATO allies.
Launched from the USNS Carson City, Puma 3 AE UAS served as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting asset during the S2S exercise. Post launch, control of the Puma 3 AE was transferred to C-SCAPE, which was acting as the CCS on the USNS Carson City for this mission segment. Using its Mantis i45 payload, the Puma 3 AE was used by military operators from the Maritime Operations Center (MOC), located in Troia, to positively identify the moving exercise target of interest. The target location was then digitally transferred from Puma 3 AE to a Switchblade 300 via S2S prior to its launch. The S2S functionality was witnessed by US Navy personnel only.
As a demonstration of interchangeability, Switchblade 300 was then launched from a UK unmanned/uncrewed surface vessel (USV), the Maritime Autonomy Demonstrator for Operational eXperimentation (MADFOX), and automatically flew to the fast-moving target using the coordinates provided.
Once the target was in the field of view of Switchblade 300’s optical sensors, the Switchblade 300 mission operator confirmed the target and engaged. During final target approach, Switchblade 300 was waved off just prior to actual engagement of the exercise target to effectively display its patented wave-off capability.
Once the exercise was completed, the Puma 3 AE was autonomously recovered back onboard the USNS Carson City while the ship remained underway and on course.
“The system launch from MADFOX was a UK first, demonstrating the potential of USVs for lethal and other payloads; crucially, the whole serial was commanded, enabled and facilitated using information provided by uncrewed systems. It is a significant step for I2I, the sensor-to-shooter capability and interoperability,” said Commander Antony Crabb, Royal Navy, NavyX Experimentation Team Leader.
“This demonstration proved AeroVironment’s sensor-to-shooter solution dramatically elevates operator situational awareness, reduces engagement timelines and reduces the chances of mis-targeting,” said Charles Dean, AeroVironment vice president for global business development and sales of UAS. “It also deemed relaying missions and surveillance data between UK and US planning systems as effective and successful and demonstrated the maturity of Puma 3 AE’s capabilities for broad naval adoption.”
Subsequent REP(MUS) 21 demonstrations connected the UK’s MAPLE command and control system to an airborne Puma 3 AE, allowing full control of both the aircraft and its i45 payload as MAPLE commanded. Both Puma 3 AE and Switchblade 300 flight operations regularly involved aircraft handoffs between control stations on the USNS Carson City, MADFOX, the Troia beach FOB, and the MOC at Troia base operations.