Interoperability Leads to LongShot
New Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle Highlights Advanced Weapons Technology
By Scott Gourley
When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), envisioned a new weapon system to significantly increase engagement range, mass and effectiveness against future adversary air threats, Northrop Grumman provided an innovative design concept – the LongShot Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that holds promising operational potential. It’s another example of continued modernization and improvements in advanced weapons technology that are critical to national security.
Interoperability Brings More than Just High Tech Solutions to DARPA
"Our initial response to DARPA provided a technical solution to the challenge that explored new engagement concepts," acknowledged Jaime Engdahl, Northrop Grumman's program director for advanced weapons and emerging capabilities. "Our proposed approach and ideas provided a broader, integrated LongShot concept that would allow our manned platforms to standoff from highly contested environments.”
Engdahl characterized the foundation of the NG operational concept as "a deeper bench" that reflects the team's understanding of threats, propulsion technologies, advanced weapons technology and both manned and unmanned aircraft platforms.
He asserted that LongShot provides the opportunity for Northrop Grumman to use its extensive operational analysis capability to work out concepts of operations in larger mission scenarios that integrate innovative weapon designs and enable teams to analytically derive the best operational approach.
"In doing that, we ended up expanding the original DARPA intent into a broader operational concept involving vehicle dynamics, propulsion, weapon integration and weapon release, all to provide the desired range, reach, and mission effectiveness necessary to prevail in future conflicts." he said.
The UAV Hybrid Concept that Protects the Warfighter
"After our own experienced team developed an approach in a larger construct, I think we opened a lot of eyes," echoed Bryan Westra, Northrop Grumman program manager for LongShot.
Westra described the overall DARPA hybrid propulsion concept as having the LongShot UAV, with an extremely efficient engine, carry smaller solid rocket powered air-to-air weapons into the fight. He credits the resulting combination with the ability to extend engagement ranges — "enough to keep our manned aircraft safely away from contested areas."
Moreover, the broader advanced weapons technology design also maximizes the number of potential delivery platforms, translating to both greater mission effectiveness and greater mission flexibility.
"Ultimately, the customer is looking for a highly effective and affordable air engagement concept," Westra summarized. "And they want to investigate whether using this hybrid, multi-layered weapon system is going to significantly increase our future warfighting capability."
Advanced Analysis Drives Innovation
Engdahl pointed to Northrop Grumman's use of multidisciplinary design analysis and optimization in supporting the investigations, explaining how the combination of different models supports exploration of things such as structural, aerodynamic and propulsion characteristics.
He said that the Northrop Grumman team is currently applying that design analysis toward vehicle optimization, adjusting things like vehicle wing area, engine thrust and fuel efficiency. Because of the ability to independently change those types of parameters, the team can generate data on literally thousands of different air vehicles for modeling assessment.
"We're the right team to do this," Westra summarized. "We understand conceptual, preliminary and detailed design, and our core team leads each have more than a quarter-century of experience across those design disciplines."
"Our company is a center of excellence in the industry exploration of some of these innovative and advanced concepts," Engdahl concluded. "DARPA is always about game-changing innovation and we’re up to the challenge. With Northrop Grumman’s deep bench we’ll continue to strive for excellence."