What are your biggest goals in the field of unmanned systems over the next few years?
Lockheed Martin sees an expanding set of missions for unmanned systems — ground, sea, undersea and air — in both the military and intelligence markets and the commercial / civil markets. Our goal is to satisfy this growing set of requirements while continuing to support our current customers, and to do this with an open architecture-based and interoperable portfolio of systems, subsystems and control technologies.
Where do you see the industry going in the next decade?
As organizations become more aware of the capabilities offered by unmanned systems and as those capabilities continue to mature, we are confident that new uses will continue to proliferate. An example is the recent successes we have had with our Indago quadrotor UAS in support of firefighting, both here in the U.S. and in Australia. Once the firefighting teams saw what they could do with the Indago, and with other systems like our K-MAX unmanned cargo and lift helicopter, they came up with new ways to apply that capability to their needs. We see this happening in many new mission areas.
Another development we see is the ability to use different unmanned systems in cooperative operations. We recently demonstrated the K-MAX working with Indago for firefighting and the K-MAX working with the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) in supporting first responders and military operations. We continue to emphasize interoperability, built on our VCS-4586 and mGCS unmanned systems control products, and increasing autonomy as a way to facilitate this cross-platform collaboration. As missions expand, we see the need for an open-architecture control regime as increasing, and we are investing accordingly. We also see advancements in human guided autonomy, as demonstrated through our work in the DARPA Robotics Challenge.
What role do you see your company playing in that future?
Lockheed Martin has a unique position in the market, as we offer a portfolio of different systems for unmanned air, ground, sea and undersea operations. Many missions will require advanced system capabilities, and we are engineering the future in many creative ways. Our Fury UAS, for example, advances the capabilities of the runway-independent unmanned air systems by introducing beyond-line-of-sight communications to enable full use of the system’s industry-leading endurance and a high-power, open and large volume payload bay to increase available mission sets. In addition, our autonomy capability can be expanded to other currently manned systems, again expanding the mission set. The small UAS systems Desert Hawk EER and Stalker have added hydrogen fuel cells to extend hand-launched UAS endurance to eight hours and more, and our ground control architecture and autonomy capabilities will enable collaborative unmanned operations. All of this is accomplished through our unique ability to both provide a portfolio of systems and our industry-leading engineering, systems development and technology capabilities. And we’re exploring ways to bring high levels of automation to existing manned aircraft to reduce pilot workload while increasing mission capability and safety.
We will continue to support our worldwide military and intelligence community customers, but will also be applying these systems and engineering capabilities to the growing commercial and civil markets, both in the U.S. and Internationally.
What do you see as major challenges to the unmanned systems industry?
Technical challenges in the community include the goal of greatly increasing the reliability, safety and maintainability of systems, making communications easier to integrate and more robust in operations in order to enable rapid fielding, and extending deployment options for a variety of capabilities.
With the economic impact estimated in the billions, providers and consumers are eager to begin using unmanned systems for a wide range of civilian applications in the U.S. — from precision agriculture and infrastructure inspection to delivery of emergency medical supplies and newsgathering.
For unmanned aircraft systems, managing airspace remains a challenge. We are actively addressing that: Through our Flight Services System, which Lockheed Martin operates on behalf of the FAA, Lockheed Martin has incorporated the capability for UAS operators to file flight plans electronically and communicate with the general aviation community to ensure safety remains paramount and to aid in the deconfliction of flight paths.
In addition to those challenges, the market still needs to develop the expanded mission set, but first we need regulatory and policy decisions to support this expanded use. Second, the market will continue to drive new missions, and the concepts of operations for those missions are still maturing. Finally, industry needs to continue to make the case for the value and benefits of unmanned systems. We’re confident that we can address these challenges.
What makes AUVSI membership attractive to your company?
While many of us have been working unmanned systems for decades, this arena is still in its early stages as a larger market. A program of continued education, policy support, advocacy and technical cooperation benefits all players in the market. AUVSI membership offers us an ability, as a corporation and as individuals, to support and participate in this effort. Working together, industry, academia and government can achieve the great promise offered by unmanned systems. We don’t know all the opportunities that exist in the future or all the challenges we may face. AUVSI helps our industry, regulators and policymakers — and our customers — stay ahead of this rapidly developing capability and market space.