AFRL program advances unmanned air system used for training U.S. fighter pilots
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate has awarded a Small Business Innovation Research contract to Blue Force Technologies to develop an unmanned air vehicle that supports adversary air (ADAIR) training missions. The Bandit program contract was awarded as the result of a Strategic Financing (STRATFI) proposal selected by AFWERX with a $9 million initial value and options to complete the design and build of up to four air vehicles.
Under the Bandit program, Blue Force Technologies, a small aerospace and defense company based in North Carolina, will mature a high-performance unmanned air vehicle design that pilots of Air Force fighter aircraft can use to train against. The air vehicle is a part of a proposed autonomy-based system providing adversary air training for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews at greatly reduced costs compared to current manned capabilities.
The 12-month effort will mature the vehicle design to critical design level, perform engine ground testing and validate the design of the engine installation under the technical guidance of AFRL subject matter experts. Options under this contract, if exercised, will complete the design and engineering tasks, produce up to four air vehicles and complete initial flight testing.
Alyson Turri, the AFRL Bandit program manager, said “these small unmanned ADAIR systems can be flown in training scenarios so that fighter pilots can train against tactically relevant adversaries in threat representative numbers. The goal is to develop an unmanned platform that looks like a fifth-generation adversary with similar vehicle capabilities.”
The Bandit program aims to provide an air vehicle solution for the unmanned ADAIR capability which, when integrated with autonomy, mission payloads and sensors, will revolutionize the adversary air training mission and provide key opportunities for pilots to interact with the unmanned systems in a training environment.
SBIR work with Blue Force Technologies began in 2019 and covered the initial requirements development, vehicle design, analysis and build of a structural test article supporting unmanned ADAIR.
AFRL is coordinating the Bandit program with Air Combat Command and has aligned the vehicle development effort in support of the unmanned ADAIR capability. ACC Commander Gen. Mark Kelly addressed the need for alternate approaches to costly adversary air sorties at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Life Cycle Industry Days in August 2021.
AFWERX, as the innovation arm of the Department Air Force and a directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory, transitions agile, affordable, and accelerated capabilities by teaming innovative technology developers with Airmen and Guardian talent. AFWERX has three key components: AFVentures, Spark, and Prime. AFVentures expands the defense industrial base for advanced technologies, Spark empowers Airmen and Guardian talent, and Prime drives transition to operational capability. By teaming across academia, industry, investment, interagency, and international partners, AFWERX expands technology, talent, and transition of innovative capabilities.
The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development (R&D) by small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. Eleven federal agencies participate in the program, including the Department of Defense. The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities. Five federal agencies participate, including the Department of Defense. Both programs focus on projects and services with the potential to develop into a product for military or commercial sectors.