DARPA developing cheap underwing drone to extend missile range

There is a critical DoD need to explore potential new approaches of on-demand manufacturing through the concept of a flying missile rail (FMR). A new advanced monolithic aircraft typically requires 10-25 years to design, develop, and build. New technology concepts are subject to requirements and other processes which can render them programmatically unrealizable before the technology becomes obsolete. An innovative approach is needed to ‘build on demand’ and to incrementally enhance existing capability.

There are two main pieces to this effort: the ability to rapidly build a FMR on demand at a rate of 500 units per month and the FMR itself designed to be produced at a rate of 500 units per month.

An FMR is a device that can optionally remain on the wing of a host F-16 or F-18 aircraft and release an AIM-120 missile, or alternately, fly away from the host aircraft acting as a booster and extending the range of an AIM-120, Small Diameter Bomb, or special payload pod. Once the FMR reaches the target area, the FMR vehicle would be capable of loitering until the weapon is released. The flight performance and flying characteristics of the FMR will be a fallout of the successful performer’s design, and is constrained by the wing hardpoint capacity (to be estimated by the proposer based on public data). Design parameters of the FMR may include configuration, payload capacity (1 or 2 AIM-120s, other payloads), aerodynamic design, engine selection, flight performance, minimal payload slot for a radio with a power connector, the radio itself, and an antenna for the radio. The design and analysis of FMR technology can leverage an appropriate a suite of engineering analysis and modeling and simulation tools in the execution of this task.

Additionally, this vision calls for an ability to rapidly manufacture the design in the future. An objective vision would foresee the ability to surge and construct up to 500 FMRs (goal) in a 1 month period. Technical and procedural approaches to this surge manufacturing capacity are desired. It is anticipated that this manufacturing objective may drive aspects of the FMR design itself.

It is anticipated that this broad topic would benefit from small business innovation both in aircraft design and manufacturing technology. Successful proposals will address both aspects, and suggest a path to future risk reduction (Phase II and beyond), that may include prototype manufacturing, testing, or other activity.

Rapid manufacturing and aircraft design are two specialties which often do not reside in the same company. Teaming is highly encouraged for all proposals in all phases to bring the best experts into one design. Phase II may award FMR and rapid manufacturing as two separate Phase II efforts to increase overall program effectiveness though two separate efforts would be considered the same team.

The proposers are expected to choose all elements and components of the design which enable rapid manufacturing and that no equipment will be specified by the government. The FMR must be built for rapid manufacture and be compatible with the F-16 and F-18. Communication equipment (Link-16, weapons data link, etc) can be suggested or provisioned for under the auspices of rapid manufacture of the FMR. Any available low SWAP-C military data links may be considered, assuming that low SWAP-C radios enables rapid manufacture. Any necessary flight computers, bus wiring, mechanical equipment, engines, software, and required electronics are the responsibility of the proposers. Detailed designs and models using actual hardware and software are highly desired over intentions to integrate existing capability.

Capability creep must not impact the sole mission of the FMR: The mission of the FMR is to be a reusable if not launched from the host platform or fly to a point, loiter, and launch its payload. Alternate uses for the FMR will be asked WITHOUT a desire to change the design. The FMR does not need to maintain controlled flight after it’s last munition is expended (if designed for multiple munitions) but will have an operational utility if it controlled flight can be maintained. Again, rapid manufacture of the FMR is a priority and any capability beyond flight after launch is a bonus if the rate of 500 per month is not impacted. The AIM-120 is the primary munition to be considered. Any additional munition capability is an added bonus but the AIM-120 is the point of the FMR.

Develop a methodology for an innovative design for test, runtime monitoring, HTH trigger defense, or other hardware security technique that mitigates the risk of HTH insertion. Identify and develop a security metric for evaluation and optimization of the method under study in a design tool, and perform simulations or small-scale benchmark demonstrations of the method. The Phase 1 deliverable will be a final report that will include a detailed implementation concept for the security technique and performance specifications for the tool to be developed and tested in Phase II.

For this topic, DARPA will accept proposals for work and cost up to $150,000 for Phase I. The preferred structure is a $100,000, 6-month base period, and a $50,000, 4-month option period.

Develop a conceptual design for a flying missile rail and estimate performance. Develop low-risk approaches that are suited for massive surge manufacturing, e.g. capable of rapidly manufacturing up to 500 flying missile rails (goal) in one month. The rail should be capable of acting as a conventional AIM-120 missile rail on F-16 and F-18 aircraft, or optionally acting as an independent robotic range booster for the AIM-120.

Phase I deliverables will include:

1. Conceptual flying missile rail design

The flying missile rail must be compatible with existing F-16 and F-18 loaders. Proposers should source public information to estimate F-16 or F-18 hardpoint capacity. Additional information may be provided during a Phase I.

2. Prediction of flight capability and characteristics, suitable for evaluation by a third party.

Flight time and flight characteristics of the flying FMR with AIM-120 loadout.
Altitude and airspeed profile of the FMR post AIM-120 launch to end-of-flight.
Any of the above characteristics by carrying other munitions after the AIM-120 loadout is fully analyzed.

3. Conceptual design of a flying missile rail production approach that produces up to 500 flying missile rails (goal) in one month.

There is no requirement to manufacture the flying missile rail in austere locations. The objective is on-demand rate and location is part of the analysis.
Analysis should include transportation of a manufactured device from the manufactured location to and on a C-17 compatible pallet.
Clearly identified assumptions on rates or pre-requisites

4. The Phase II proposal will be due 3 months after Phase I award to promote rapid progress to a Phase II award.

For this topic, DARPA will accept proposals for work and cost up to $225,000 for Phase I. The preferred structure is a $175,000, 6-month base period, and a $50,000, 4-month option period. Alternative structures may be accepted if sufficient rationale is provided.

PHASE II: Perform risk reduction on the flying missile rail design and manufacturing approach developed in Phase I. Risk reduction may include:

Prototype manufacture
Prototype testing
Manufacturing approach development or demonstration.

The exact content of the Phase II risk reduction approach shall be up to the proposer. It is expected that the choice will be made weighing the greatest technical risks the concept of a flying missile rail and associated manufacturing approach. High impact demonstrations are highly desirable. Approaches and risk reduction activity which lend themselves to follow-on activity (fit testing, captive carry, test flights, manufacturing pilots) are desirable.

For a performer choosing to prioritize flying missile rail design risk reduction, notional Phase II deliverables might include any of the following:

One or more safe separation mass models representative of the final design.
Detailed design of the manufacturing approach including cost assumptions required for long term storage.
Detailed design of a flying missile rail.
Physical installation of a flying missile rail. Ideally this is suited for captive carry on F-16 or F-18, but DARPA recognizes this level of maturity may not be realizable within scope of Phase II.
Detailed predictions of flight characteristics and performance.
Risk reduction demonstration of rapid manufacturing approach.
Safe separation analysis for the release of:

The flying missile rail with AIM-120 from an F-16 (stations 3 and 7 with 300 gallon fuel tanks on station 4 and 6) and F-18.
An AIM-120 from a flying missile rail where the flying missile rail stays attached to the F-16 and F-18.
An AIM-120 from a flying missile rail (the flying missile rail is flying and the AIM-120 is successfully launched from the flying missile rail).

A performer choosing to prioritize manufacturing approach risk reduction could identify alternative deliverables in their Phase II proposal.

Teaming is highly encouraged for all proposals in all phases to bring the best experts into one design. Phase II may award FMR and rapid manufacturing as two separate Phase II efforts to increase overall program effectiveness though two separate efforts would be considered the same team.

The commercial application resulting from this effort will demonstrate to other qualified contractors how to develop rapid and short lifetime systems to the DoD without the traditional long-term programmatic timeline. Learning how to break into the Defense Sector is an extremely powerful and valuable commodity to the commercial sector.

The Military application resulting from this effort will be twofold: an actual on-call mass-manufactured weapon system and a process that can be applied to other systems. This example system, the Flying Missile Rail, is a system which will be utilized immediately but is too low on the DoD priority to procure. The traditional DoD timelines, operation and maintenance, and life-limit on short term point solutions prevent their procurement. The benefit of an SBIR-enabled “build-on-demand” system demonstrates how to maneuver within the Federal Acquisition Regulations using a different model to achieve rapid capability. This change will address one of DARPA’s challenges. This program is an application of an existing DoD program such as the Air Force Research Lab’s Loyal Wingman Program

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