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Launch System for Group 3-5 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Land- and Sea-Based Operations


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Ground Sea, Air Platform

OBJECTIVE: Develop a reconfigurable Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Launch System to add to an Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) Navy Ship as a self-contained mission-driven kit. (The launch system is intended to enable UAVs such as the XQ-58A Valkyrie [Ref 5] to operate from ESBs.)

DESCRIPTION: The Navy needs to operate Group 3-5 [Ref 3] fixed wing UAVs from ships other than an aircraft carrier - a capability gap that, if overcome, would significantly increase lethality, project force, and increase the range of Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance (ISR). The UAV Launch System should be comprised of a launch technology capable of accelerating a fixed-wing, jet-powered UAV, with a wingspan of 30 feet and weight up to 6,000 pounds, up to 150 knots-indicated air speed (KIAS). The launch technology must reside, to the maximum extent possible, within the hull of the ESB. Coordination with NAVSEA/NAVAIR will be critical to understanding the most current available space(s) aboard ship, as well as any weight/power restrictions on the new launch system.The Launch System must be designed to not interfere with top-side flight deck operations of the ESB, accommodate Group 3-5 UAVs with or without landing gear, and be reconfigurable such that it can conduct both shipboard launches (operationally aboard an ESB) and ground-based launches (during demonstration testing prior to installation aboard any ship). Should features of the Launch System exceed available space inboard, a stowable sponson assembly can be envisioned to extend from either side of the ESB, serving as the UAV “runway” and interfacing directly with the launch technology. The sponson may extend as far as 79 feet from the ESB and is limited to a length of 300 feet. Any design solution relying on a sponson must address impact on the ship’s performance, both pier-side and at sea, and may not interfere with basic ship or flight deck operations.The UAV Launch System must be simple enough in design to allow for sustained operations at high sortie generation rates (i.e., rapid and repeated launchings of multiple UAVs, with a goal of a UAV launch every two minutes), with high reliability and little maintenance down time for 24 hour/7 day surge periods. Details of the Launch System kit need to include all the necessary subsystems and interface components required to permit their rapid installation aboard the ESB. Control and operation of the Launch System will be from the hangar bay of the ESB. Adhere to all applicable environmental standards of the latest version of MIL-STD-810 [Ref 4], such as shock, vibration, electromagnetic interference/emission, etc.Work must be collaborative with NAVAIR and NAVSEA, to identify air-ship integration requirements, constraints, and compatibility between Group 3-5 UAVs and ESB.

PHASE I: Develop a proof-of-concept design to meet the Objective and details provided in the Description. Use a computer simulation tool, such as Solid Works, to provide analyses of the design features and projected operation of the Launch System and its major components. Provide schedule, technical challenges, and estimated ship alt costs. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop the design from Phase I further and provide an additional detailed digital analyses of all components of the proposed Launch System, including fit checks aboard an ESB (if appropriate, structural/mechanical/functional details on any sponson utilized in the design) and functional/operational simulations. Demonstrate a 1/8 scale prototype of the Launch System, with adequate representation of the geometries and functioning major subsystems. Using a 100-pound UAV provided by the Government, conduct a ground demonstration of the prototype Launch System and report results.

PHASE III: Perform any final testing and transition complete Launch System kit(s) to Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and possibly some combatant commands (COCOMS) for full-scale ground testing of the technology involving Group 3-5 UAVs, and ultimate outfitting onto an ESB.This type of technology could be useful for commercial UAV delivery systems in cities. The growing industry of aerial consumer package delivery could be profoundly impacted by advances in such UAV launch capabilities.

KEYWORDS: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, UAV, Unmanned Aerial System, UAS, Expeditionary Sea Base, ESB, XQ-58A, Sponson, Group 3-5 UAV


1. Shugart, T. Commander. “Build all-UAV Carriers.” USNI Proceedings, Vol. 143/9/1,375, September 2017. 2. Defense Industry Daily Staff. “EMALS/ AAG: Electro-Magnetic Launch & Recovery for Carriers.” March 2019. 3. “Classification of the Unmanned Aerial Systems.”Penn State Department of Geography, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. 4. “MIL-STD-810H, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE TEST METHOD STANDARD: ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING CONSIDERATIONS AND LABORATORY TESTS (31-JAN-2019)” 5. Staff Writer. “Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie (XQ-222)” Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). Military Factory, March 2019.

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