A Boeing/U.S. Navy team has successfully demonstrated the ability of the latest Block III iteration of the F/A-18 Super Hornet to control three unmanned aerial vehicles. The manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) demonstration went through software development and system adaptations to completion of flight testing in fewer than six months.
To accomplish the demonstration, Boeing engineers developed new software loads for the Block III’s new Distributed Target Processor—Networked (DTP-N) that provided for transmitting commands to the UAVs. The new software also allowed the DTP-N to integrate with an external tablet system provided by a third-party vendor, which hosted the UAV command and control software. Aircrew used the tablet’s touchscreen to enter commands, which were then transmitted via the DTP-N and the Super Hornet’s communications hardware to the UAVs.
Boeing conducted the two-week demonstration campaign at NAS China Lake, California, in partnership with several U.S. Navy organizations, including PMA-265—the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office—and two Air Test & Evaluation Squadrons: VX-23 and VX-31. During the trials, all commands transmitted to the UAVs were executed as intended.
“This successful MUM-T demonstration represents a significant step toward the Navy’s vision for distributed maritime operations,” said Scott Dickson, Boeing’s director for multi-domain integration. “It highlights the potential of unmanned concepts to expand and extend the Navy’s reach. As part of a Joint All-Domain Command and Control network, teams of UAVs conducting ISR missions led by the latest Super Hornets equipped with network-enabled data fusion and advanced capabilities would provide warfighters across the joint force with significant information advantage.”
Ultimately, the functions of the tablet would appear on the Super Hornet’s wide-area display with command and control software hosted within the aircraft’s own avionics. “Future fighter pilots will be the quarterback of the skies, orchestrating commands and controlling UAVs from the integrated Block III touch-screen cockpit,” remarked Mark Sears, Boeing’s v-p and manager of F/A-18, EA-18G programs.