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Wanted: Virtual reality headsets that aren’t made in China Featured

December 12, 2019
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ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. Air Force wants to tap into the augmented and virtual reality technologies that are proliferating in the commercial market, but the service has run into a problem: Many have parts from China, limiting their ability to be used by the U.S. military in operational environments.

“Can we not have an AR [augmented reality] solution that’s made in China? I don’t think that’s good for us,” Col. Gerard Ryan, chief of the Air Force’s operational training infrastructure division, said during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Interservice/Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

“I don’t think the security policy is going to pass. And I say that sarcastically, but it’s true. If we’re going to use a gaming engine, let’s make sure it’s not made by a foreign country that we don’t like,” he added.

The Air Force is dipping its toes into using virtual reality through its Pilot Training Next program, which seeks to get airmen through basic pilot training more quickly and cheaply. While the PTN program is currently considered an experiment, with only a handful of airmen participating at any given time, the Air Force has already shown it may be able to shave months off the existing training timeline by supplementing live flights spent in the T-6 trainer with virtual ones using Vive virtual reality headsets and flight simulation software.

An unclassified environment like basic pilot training is a perfect place for the Air Force to use the augmented and virtual reality devices currently on the market. But for such products to ever see use by fighter and bomber pilots — or any operator that deals with secure information — the service must be sure that no part of the device is made by China, or any other foreign entity that could insert technology that allows for data collection.

The Air Force has begun talking to companies about its concerns, Ryan said. The hope is those firms can examine their supply chains and shift away from buying Chinese components.

“I’ve talked to some people in industry. A smaller company has said they’ve found a set of goggles that’s American-made. I’m like: ‘Great, you’re the first person to tell me that. The only one so far, too,’ ” Ryan said.

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Another challenge is connecting commercial devices in a classified environment, where Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use may be restricted.

 “I’ve talked to one company that has figured it out. They have a system where it’s a backpack laptop. So it’s a direct connect to the goggles,” Ryan said. “Unfortunately it’s more expensive, probably, to do that. It’s probably more challenging to find the parts.”

When augmented or virtual reality systems can be brought into classified environments, they may not be flexible enough for quick reconfiguration to complement different training scenarios, said Col. David Nyikos, Air Combat Command’s deputy director of operations.

“AR/VR is super cool,” he said during the panel. “But now you need it to evolve, you need it to reprogram to adapt to whatever mission rehearsal you’re coming up with. Maybe tonight you’re going to go out with guys from AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] working with some Norwegian SOF [special operations forces], working with some Afghans. You’ve got to be able to train together to rehearse that. We don’t have that right now.”

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Press Release July 2020

July 10, 2020
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  • This year sees the latest update from Blackshape, the Gabriel-TP, a more affordable choice but with much higher level of aviation technology than all other competitors in the market.
  • Blackshape offers to transfer knowledge and technology for aircraft manufacture in Southeast Asia countries.

While the first launch of the Gabriel date back years ago, Blackshape has been continually adding improvements to their aircraft to facilitate trainer ambitions in technology, airframe avionics and software. The latest version is Gabriel Turboprop (Gabriel-TP), upgraded from Gabriel BK160 which was demonstrated during Singapore Airshow 2020 on February. Gabriel-TP provides a more efficient engine, longer life, cheaper at operation and maintenance, and is sold at more affordable price.

Gabriel Turboprop

Gabriel-TP is the newest turboprop version,

Gabriel-TP is a low-wing two-seat tandem aircraft, best suited for military pilot training, certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the CS-VLA category.

Powered by a Roll Royce turboprop engine, it is capable of 200 KTAS at sea level, while carrying external payloads such as camera or laser-guided missiles for a light-strike/COIN attacker training. It is equipped with 2 full-glass cockpits a data-recording system that allows session analysis of trainee’s performance and turns the aircraft into “something like a flying laboratory”. Safety features include military-grade wiring, five-point seatbelts, and anti-blast fuel tanks, and a unique ballistic parachute designed to save both pilots and the aircraft.

Gabriel-TP can serve for both civil and military aviation. Its ideal users are who simply want to get somewhere fast, want to enjoy a higher level of emotion in flight, and flying schools that want to offer more advanced training to trainee pilots at a feasible operation cost, resting assured that spare parts are easily purchased and in-country manufacturing is possible.

Aircraft manufacturing industry

Blackshape is willing to cooperate for local production in Southeast Asia countries including: Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar… either knock-down kits or full technology transfer for in-country manufacturing. The transfer could provide a good opportunity to establish an aviation high-tech technology to develop state-of-the-art aircraft while shortening time and cost for R&D phase and certifying aircraft.

Gabriel BK160 and Gabriel-TP are distributed via Blackshape’s local subsidiary Asia Security Technology (AST) headquartered in Singapore.

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February 22, 2020
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Italy’s Blackshape may be small but it is already making waves with its Gabriel and ISP light aircraft, which are making their Singapore air show debuts on the static display.

Gabriel – designated the BK-160 – is a two-seat trainer with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 850kg (1,870lb), designed for the “stick and rudder” elements of instruction, says Blackshape founder and chief executive Luciano Belviso.

Gabriel was designed to fill a gap in the market created by a lack of purpose-built training aircraft: “The majority of aircraft were not designed as trainers – they became trainers because of availability”, he says. “The Gabriel is the first plane designed for training for several decades.”

Powered by a single 160hp (120kW) Lycoming piston engine, the Gabriel is equipped with data-recording systems which turn the aircraft into “something like a flying laboratory”, says Belviso, and allow better analysis of a trainee’s performance.

European certification was obtained in 2017, and an MTOW increase was approved in 2019. Service entry also came last year, says Belviso, with both undisclosed civil and military customers.

The BK-100 ISP – or Intelligence and Surveillance Platform – is a lighter aircraft with a 600kg MTOW, powered by a 100-115hp Rotax engine. It can carry a variety of electro-optical sensor payloads.

Both types are made of carbonfibre and feature glass cockpits and retractable landing gear.

Founded in 2010, Blackshape is based in Grottaglie in southern Italy and is owned by conglomerate Angel Group. It is sharing a stand at Singapore with its local distributor Asia Security Technology (AST).

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Congress slows the US Navy’s roll toward a robot-ship future

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s newfound zeal for unmanned surface vessels has been met by skepticism in Congress.

Congress’ long-delayed National Defense Authorization Act came back from negotiations among lawmakers with limits on the Navy’s plan for unmanned surface vessels, with authorizers halving the obtainable number of large unmanned surface vehicles, or LUSV, the service requested.

The service asked for two of the LUSVs, with plans to buy eight more over the five-year projection known as the Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP. The NDAA also allows the Navy to buy two medium unmanned surface vessels, which the Navy envisions as autonomous sensor platforms for functions such as anti-submarine warfare.

The drive toward integrating unmanned surface vehicles in the force, which Navy officials suggested could make up a significant portion of the future fleet’s force structure, was kicked off in earnest with the rollout of the 2020 budget. Senior Navy officials have talked about the LUSV as a kind of external missile magazine that can autonomously navigate to and integrate with the force, then shoot its missiles and return for reload, keeping the big manned surface combatants in the fight and fielded longer.

But the Defense Department likely drew unwanted attention to the program by using investments in this kind of unmanned technology as part of the justification for canceling the refueling of the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, meaning the ship would’ve been decommissioned with half its intended 50-year hull life remaining, according to a source familiar with the authorizers’ thinking on the issue.

“The linkage with the Truman refueling shined a spotlight on the USVs,” the source said. “It’s important to remember that in 2019 there were zero LUSVs in the budget. Then in 2020 there were 10 at a cost of $3 billion over the FYDP. That kind of ramp-up will attract attention in any budget.

“In view of uncertain LUSV concepts of operations, requirements, technical maturity — including many [first-of-a-kind capabilities] — the contrast between a proven aircraft carrier and its air wing and unproven unmanned surface vessels is stark.”

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The idea of using the Truman savings to invest in unmanned technology was encouraged by the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and it was supported by both former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and later by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

The plan died in a wave of bipartisan skepticism and was ultimately put to bed by a tweet from the president, which was followed by the resignation of CAPE director Bob Daigle.

Congressional skepticism toward investments in unmanned tech appears unlikely to dissipate with a new budget cycle.

The carrier Harry S. Truman transits the Atlantic Ocean. The Truman was on the Pentagon’s chopping block to pay for investments in unmanned technology, but that didn’t fly in Congress. (MC3 Maxwell Higgins/U.S. Navy)

Slow and steady

Navy leaders have maintained that they need a critical mass of the unmanned surface vessels to make rapid progress on things such as concepts of operations and integrating new technologies. The LUSV is intended to be adapted from a commercial design using relatively mature autonomous technology, things that the Defense Department has worked with for some time now.

But leaders have acknowledged congressional skepticism in public comments. In October, the Navy’s top requirements officer told an audience at the Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, that the platform will be difficult to develop.

“I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this: It’s going to be hard work,” said Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, the deputy chief of naval operations for war-fighting requirements and capabilities. “And when we brief this, we go right to the upper right hand corner of the difficulty spectrum.

“So we have been working with the acquisition community to roll out a test and competence program so we can get something to the war fighter that they’re confident they can use.”

What Congress wants to see is more gradual development and proof of concept before it commits more funding, Kilby told reporters after his remarks.

“What I think they are interested in is ‘Block I will have the following capabilities and we’re going to test them in the following manner, and you can see the results of that test,’ ” Kilby said. “Then we are going to move on to Block II and Block III. They’re interested in us having a ramp-up and build confidence, achieve those capabilities and they can follow that.

“Let’s talk about that first instantiation: Maybe that’s going from point A to point B, follow [the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea], not hit anything, follow the rules of the road. Well, that serves a number of purposes from a deception standpoint. And if those platforms can do that, then maybe I can add capability as I prove out that concept.”

Kilby pointed to the Surface Development Squadron, saying that its tasking is to develop an experimentation regime that can help the Navy hone in on both the requirements and the concept of operations for the new drone ships. The Navy recently transferred control of the Sea Hunter drone ship to the Surface Development Squadron.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to inspire confidence in Congress that we know what we’re doing, and we are executing to plan,” Kilby said.

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US Army picks two vehicle protection systems to evaluate realm of the possible

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has picked two active protection systems to evaluate next fall for possible applications on a variety of ground combat vehicles.

A Rheinmetall and Unified Business Technologies team received an $11 million contract from the Army to provide its StrikeShield APS system for the evaluation. And a DRS and Rafael team received a similar contract to participate, the Army confirmed to Defense News.

After evaluating two active protections systems — StrikeShield and Rafael’s Trophy VPS — in a 2018 demonstration, and determining neither were the right fit for an interim APS capability for the Stryker combat vehicle, it appears the door is opening back up for that capability.

It is likely the solution the Army is evaluating from DRS and Rafael is Trophy VPS, Rafael’s lighter version of its Trophy APS system that is being fielded on Abrams tanks.

The Army found interim APS solutions for both its Abrams tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, but the service has struggled to find one for the Strykers. The service moved quickly over the past several years to field combat vehicle protection against rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank-guided missiles while it develops a future system.

The service’s new evaluation effort — conducted through the its new Vehicle Protective Systems (VPS) program office — will begin in October 2020 at Redstone Test Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“It provides a pathway to potential utilization of the system on vehicles in the current Army vehicle fleet as well as vehicles fielded in the future,” according to a Rheinmetall statement issued earlier this month.

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The Army will evaluate StrikeShield “as part of a larger effort to characterize APS performance against a wide variety of anti-armor threats,” Rheinmetall’s statement read. “This significant contract award represents the first funded APS testing the Army will undertake of the StrikeShield system.”

Rheinmetall and UBT funded the previous evaluation of the system for Stryker at the invitation of the Army.

Based in Unterluess, Germany, Rheinmetall has been pushing to get its active defense system in front of the Army and under consideration for integration into U.S. combat vehicles for several years. The company seemed poised to be selected as the interim solution for the Stryker prior to the Army’s demonstration last fall.

The Army also considered Herndon, Virginia-based Artis Corporation’s Iron Curtain APS for Stryker through a more extensive evaluation, but decided in August 2018 not to move forward in fielding it to Stryker units.

The new round of evaluations considers limited characterizations focused on platform agnostic testing to garner additional data on hard-kill APS, the Army told Defense News in a written statement.

The APS will be installed on a vehicle agnostic test riq, the service said, to inform APS considerations for “multiple ground combat platforms.”

“The results of this activity will be leveraged to inform the Army’s approach to future hard kill APS acquisitions,” the service added.

While the Army has looked and, in some cases, acquired APS for the Stryker, Bradley and Abrams, it is also considering what protection systems are needed for its armored multipurpose vehicle, mobile protected firepower capability and Bradley’s future replacement, the optionally manned fighting vehicle (OMFV).

The evaluations are scheduled to start at the beginning of fiscal 2021 and will last roughly six months.

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US Navy, Air Force team up on new ‘Manhattan Project’

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy and Air Force are teaming up to rapidly develop a network that can link together Air Force and Navy assets during battle, an effort the Navy’s top officer compared to the 1940s program to develop an atomic bomb.

Adm. Michael Gilday, the new Chief of Naval Operations, told an audience Thursday that in order to take on China, the Navy will have to spread out and rely on networked weapons and sensors distributed over a wide area. But doing that would rely on a network architecture that doesn’t yet exist.

To be the most effective force, the Navy acknowledges it must be able to connect with Air Force bombers and aircraft, leading the two services to an agreement to join forces.

“I think the biggest challenge for us is to join all the main command and control,” Gilday said. “We’re building netted weapons, netted platforms, and netted (command-and-control) nodes, but we don’t have an adequate net, and that’s a critical piece.”

The Navy has been working toward a concept of operations that links its ships, aircraft and unmanned platforms by way of communications relay nodes — such as small drones — or whole ships — such as the future frigate or high-tech aircraft like the E-2D Hawkeye.

The idea is to spread the force out over a wide area, as opposed to clustered around a carrier, to put a maximum burden on Chinese intelligence and reconnaissance assets. This spread-out, networked force would connect the various shooters so that if any individual node in the network sees something to kill, any Navy or Air Force asset with weapons within range can kill it.

This has led to a push for ever-longer-range missiles. But to make it work, all the pieces must be linked on a reliable communications network. The current architecture, according to the Navy, is insufficient for the job, given Chinese and Russian investments in electronic warfare that can interfere with communications.

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The Sea Hunter, developed by DARPA, has launched the Navy down a path of developing a fleet of unmanned ships that could upend the way the Navy has fought since the Cold War. (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)

That’s where the new “Manhattan Project” comes in.

Gilday said the Navy’s time frame is designed to set up a network between the years 2033 and 2035. But that’s too fare out, he said.

“We are working, most recently over the past month, very closely with the Air Force,” he said. “They’ve done good work and we’ve done good work. The Navy is making investments in a Navy tactical grid, but that’s not going to work.”

To get the maximum benefit in terms of time saved and effectiveness once implemented, the Navy has to be on the same page as the Air Force, Gilday said.

“That led to a handshake agreement with the chief of staff of the Air Force, [Gen. David Goldfein], that we would team our forces and, perhaps, our budget lines together, and start working toward a joint solution set fast, in a ‘Manhattan Project’ kind of way. Because we need it, it’s a serious gap that we need closed.”

USNI News first reported the handshake agreement in November.

Gilday, who was speaking at the USNI Defense Forum in Washington, released his first major document Wednesday. Gilday’s planning guidance called on the Navy to improve its maintenance program, improve the way it trains sailors and officers using the latest technology, and to push toward fielding technologies in large numbers for less money.

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Nuclear deterrent still the US Navy’s top priority, no matter the consequences, top officer says

December 13, 2019
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s new top officer is doubling down on the service’s commitment to field the new generation of nuke-launching submarines.

Adm. Michael Gilday, who assumed office as the chief of naval operations in August, visited General Dynamics Electric Boat in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, on Tuesday. He reiterated in a release alongside the visit that the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine remains the Navy’s top priority.

“The Navy’s first acquisition priority is recapitalizing our Strategic Nuclear Deterrent — Electric Boat is helping us do just that,” Gilday said. “Together, we will continue to drive affordability, technology development, and integration efforts to support Columbia’s fleet introduction on time or earlier.”

The service has been driving toward fielding the Columbia’s lead ship by 2031, in time for its first scheduled deployment. Construction of the first boat will begin in October 2020, though the Navy has been working on components and design for years.

Two generations of submariner CNOs have emphasized Columbia as the service’s top priority. Gilday has made clear that having a surface warfare officer in charge has not changed the service’s focus.

In comments at a recent forum, Gilday said that everything the Navy is trying to do to reinvent its force structure around a more distributed concept of operations — fighting more spread out instead of aggregated around an aircraft carrier — would have to be worked around the Columbia class, which will take up a major part of the service’s shipbuilding account in the years to come.

“It’s unavoidable,” Gilday said, referring to the cost of Columbia. “If you go back to the ’80s when we were building Ohio, it was about 35 percent of the shipbuilding budget. Columbia will be about 38-40 percent of the shipbuilding budget.

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“The seaborne leg of the triad is absolutely critical. By the time we get the Columbia into the water, the Ohio class is going to be about 40 years old. And so we have to replace that strategic leg, and it has to come out of our budget right now. Those are the facts.”

The U.S. Navy is trying to revamp its concept of operations away from clumping ships around aircraft carriers. (MC3 Zachary Pearson/U.S. Navy)

The latest assessment puts the cost of the 12 planned Columbia-class subs at $109 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Having nearly 40 percent of the shipbuilding budget dominated by one program will impact the force, which will force the Navy to get creative, the CNO said.

“I have to account for that at the same time as I’m trying to make precise investments in other platforms,” he explained. “Some of them will look like what we are buying today, like [destroyer] DDG Flight IIIs, but there is also an unmanned aspect to this. And I do remain fairly agnostic as to what that looks like, but I know we need to change the way we are thinking.”

Renewed push for 355

While the 12-ship Columbia-class project is set to eat at 40 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for the foreseeable future, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly has renewed calls to field a 355-ship fleet.

The 355-ship goal, the result of a 2016 force-structure assessment, was written into national policy and was a stated goal of President Donald Trump.

“[Three hundred and fifty-five ships] is stated as national policy,” Modly told an audience at the USNI Defense Forum on Dec. 5. “It was also the president’s goal during the election. We have a goal of 355, we don’t have a plan for 355. We need to have a plan, and if it’s not 355, what’s it going to be and what’s it going to look like?”

“We ought to be lobbying for that and making a case for it and arguing in the halls of the Pentagon for a bigger share of the budget if that’s what is required,” Modly added. “But we have to come to a very clear determination as to what [355 ships] means, and all the equipment we need to support that.” In a memo, he said he wants the force to produce a force-structure assessment to get the service there within a decade.

Modly went on to say that the Navy’s new Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, while will incorporate Marine Corps requirements, should be presented to him no later than Jan. 15, 2020. The Navy plans to look at less expensive platforms to reach its force-structure goals, which will likely include unmanned systems. But Congress has shown some reluctance to buy into the concept because of the sheer number of unknowns attached to fielding large and medium-sized unmanned surface vessels.

The newly released National Defense Authorization Act halved the number of large unmanned surface vessels requested by the service, and skepticism from lawmakers toward the Navy’s concepts appears unlikely to abate by the next budget cycle.

That means the 10 large unmanned surface vessels, or LUSV, the Navy programmed over the next five years seem unlikely to materialize at that rate. The Navy envisions the LUSV as an autonomous external missile magazine to augment the larger manned surface combatants.

But the drive to field less expensive systems to execute a more distributed concept of operations in large areas such as the Asia-Pacific region is being pushed at the highest levels of the government. In his comments at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend, Trump’s national security adviser said the military must rethink how it buys its equipment.

“Spending $13 billion on one vessel, then accepting delivery with elevators that don’t work and are unusable is not acceptable,” O’Brien told the audience, referring to the troubled aircraft carrier Ford.

“The National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy are clear: We must be ready for an era of prolonged peacetime competition with peer and near-peer rivals like Russia and China. … The highest-end and most expensive platform is not always the best solution.”

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