MUM-T: Helicopter pilots need to get familiar with this acronym, because it represents the future of the industry and their potential career paths.
MUM-T stands for “Manned/Unmanned Teaming.” It is what you get when mission planners team a manned helicopter with one or more unmanned rotorcraft; the latter is controlled either from the manned platform or from the ground.
The MUM-T concept is currently being explored by Airbus, Bell, Leonardo, and Sikorsky. We’ll tell you all about it, in the sections below.
The good news for pilots: MUM-T does not mean the diminishment of manned helicopter flight and unemployment for humans. Not at all. With a team of drones at their disposal, helicopter pilots can vastly ramp up their search-and-rescue surveillance over a target area, their ability to locate and report hot spots in fire zones, and the ability to detect leaks during pipeline maintenance flights. In a sense, a pilot will be like a queen bee directing a hive of worker bees. He or she will be vastly more capable than when flying a manned helicopter on its own and will truly multitask.
As for the military possibilities: MUM-T can provide true force multipliers for manned helicopter missions by adding unmanned rotorcraft to formations for everything from enemy surveillance and target location to payload delivery and after-attack monitoring. This is why MUM-T is being seriously investigated by the U.S. Army for its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) manned helicopter program.
According to the Army News Service (ANS), the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team (FVL CFT) will be exploring how unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be teamed with manned helicopters for a range of missions. In this scenario, UAS is assigned to do ‘dull and dangerous’ tasks such as long-term persistent surveillance, or flying in biological, chemical, radiological, nuclear, and/or high-yield explosive contamination conditions.
"Advanced UAS is going to help us penetrate contested airspace in conjunction and in teaming with our lethal, capable future vertical lift rotorcraft," said FVL CFT Brigadier General Walter Rugen in an interview with ANS. "That advanced team is going to be kind of an ecosystem that we kind of bring to the fight, that is going to be able to dominate a corridor or a window in a certain time where the enemy brings significant capabilities, so we can flow through as a joint force.
Levels of MUM-T
To evaluate the possibilities of MUM-T, one has to assess how manned and unmanned flight will work together. Fortunately, this can be quantified using “The Five Levels of Interoperability (LOI) scale:
- LOI 1; indirect receipt of information from a UAS (or fleet of UASes) to a manned helicopter (or other manned assets) via the ground;
- LOI 2: direct receipt of information from a UAS to a manned helicopter;
- LOI 3: manned helicopter can control the payload of the UAS directly;
- LOI 4: manned helicopter can control the UAS platform and the UAS payload;
- LOI 5: LOI 4 plus the ability to control launch and recovery of the UAS.
In the last three LOIs, someone on the manned helicopter has to control the UAS; at least until the day when UAS are capable of truly autonomous flight in real-time coordination with manned helicopters. This will require another operator being added to the manned helicopter’s flight crew.
Here’s what the major helicopter OEMs are doing to achieve MUM-T at various LOIs.
Airbus Achieves LOI 5
In April 2018, the team of Airbus Helicopters and Schiebel achieved LOI 5 MUM-T flight using an Airbus H145 and a Schiebel CAMCOPTER S-100 UAS.
Flying over Austria’s Allentsteig Training Area with the support of the Austrian Armaments and Defence Technology Agency, an operator onboard the H145 piloted and operated the S-100 as the two hunted for ground-based items that are usually too difficult to spot from normal helicopter altitudes. The S-100 was also controlled from the ground for a time, to simulate the H145 being diverted for refuelling. To reach full LOI 5 status, the H145 even controlled the S-100 during takeoff and landing.
“Based on this test, which required S-100 control systems to be installed on the H145 and a dedicated crew member to be taken aloft, we have learned that we need to develop a high level of automation for the command of the unmanned helicopter,” said Mark R. Henning, senior program manager at Airbus Helicopters. To successfully operate unmanned helicopters in a demanding environment from manned platforms without carrying an extra crewmember, Henning says, “We will need to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the manned helicopter to reduce crew workload; in terms of flying their helicopter and operating the H/C systems safely while managing the unmanned aircraft at the same time.”
“We also need to improve the robustness of MUM-T data links,” he added. “And we have to work out the certification process for MUM-T operations, because very little has been done in this area to date.”
At this point, Airbus is working on easing the MUM-T crew workload through automation and AI, and improving the data links between the H145 and UAV. This latter work includes relocating antennas on both helicopters, and determining the best frequencies for these data links. Once these two areas are ironed out, Airbus will develop an MUM-T product that can be certified by government authorities.
Looking beyond this point, Airbus is exploring how MUM-T missions can meet the needs of the military and para-public organizations (EMS, fire, police). One such possibility is “swarming,” where a group of unmanned rotorcraft can work in tandem with a manned helicopter to provide enhanced surveillance and response in real-time; with the swarm managing itself with overall direction from a human operator.
As futuristic as swarming sounds, it is technically feasible. “We are working closely with our friends at Airbus Defence & Space, who did a swarming demonstration using five unmanned systems being controlled from one manned fixed-wing aircraft,” said Henning. This demonstrated capability is now being explored for military reconnaissance helicopter missions. Eventually, it could be used for police operations in civilian areas as well, pending certification.
Bell Pairs Valor and Vigilant
Bell is currently working on the unmanned V-247 Vigilant helicopter, the manned V-280 Valor tilt-rotor, and the best ways to make them work together in teaming configurations.
“The current focus for these programs is on our military customers, both the Future Vertical Lift program for the Army and the MUX program for the Marine Corps,” said Todd Worden, Bell’s senior manager of advanced vertical lift systems, sales, and strategy. “These capabilities will be supported by data channels for both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications in contested environments,” he continued. “The architecture and framework for efficient application of these technologies is currently being developed and Bell will be participating in this effort to ensure we provide capabilities to support the warfighter.”
In developing MUM-T applications, Bell is simply keeping up with the ever-evolving complexities of aerial warfare, especially because rotorcraft are already flying as fast as physically possible. “Emerging threats and current peer competitors are driving this requirement,” Worden said. “Success in executing future warfighting concepts across multiple domains calls for a revolutionary change in capability, not an evolution of legacy fleet performance.”
On a larger scale, the ability to fly in both manned and autonomous modes is moving from science fiction to a future standard feature. “We are currently developing several platforms that will in the future be employed in both manned and unmanned configurations,” said Worden. “Our V-280 Valor and V-247 Vigilant, both fly-by-wire aircraft, share technologies that enable unmanned capability. While the V-247 Vigilant is an unmanned vehicle from the start, the V-280 Valor has the same technology allowing for manned, optimally manned, and unmanned operations.”
Although Bell is currently focussed on military MUM-T applications, “it is easy to envision the technologies that are developed in support these programs being incorporated into commercial applications,” Worden said.
Leonardo Goes Solo
Leonardo Helicopters has been working on unmanned helicopter systems for years now. In particular, its SW-4 ‘Solo’ Rotary Unmanned Air System (SW-4 Solo) – a modified Leonardo SW-4 capable of being remotely flown from a common ground control station with automatic flight control system and mission management onboard – has been involved in a series of demonstrations and tests with various European military organizations.
For instance, during 2015's Exercise Italian Blade, the ground-controlled SW-4 Solo flew in close formation with manned helicopters to prove the feasibility of such a teamed approach. “To satisfy aviation authorities, the SW-4 had a safety pilot on board capable of taking control at any time,” said Tony Duthie, head of land and maritime marketing for Leonardo Helicopters. “But the helicopter satisfied the purpose of the exercise, because it was controlled from the ground control station the whole time.”
When it comes to MUM-T missions, there are lots of ways that what Duthie terms “rotary-wing unmanned air systems” (RWUAS) and manned rotorcraft can work together in maritime missions. For instance, ship-based RWUAS and manned helicopters can tag team each other to provide constant surveillance over a given area or vessel; with one taking off to keep watch while the other helicopter is landing for refuelling.
“You could also use the RWUAS to provide overwatch of the manned helicopter, as it drops a boarding party on a vessel of interest,” Duthie said. “This also gives you two eyes on target as opposed to one.” As well RWUAS can work with utility helicopters to provide logistics support to ground troops, and serve as Scout ships for attack helicopters.
“Leonardo has demonstrated LOI 1 and LOI 2 using the SW-4 Solo,” Duthie said. It did this during Exercise Italian Blade in 2015, and in 2016 during the Royal Navy’s Exercise Unmanned Warrior. In this second exercise, the SW-4 Solo sent radar, EO/IR, EW and ship identification data directly to a representative combat management system of a Royal Navy Frigate.
Achieving true manned/unmanned teaming will require the attainment of LOI 3 and LOI 4 through integration of RWUAS Ground Control Station capabilities into manned helicopters while minimizing any increases in crew workload. There is no doubt that Leonardo has made substantial progress towards this goal.
Sikorsky Applies the MATRIX
Since 2013, Sikorsky has been conducting research into ‘optionally piloted vehicles’ (OPV) using its MATRIX Technology. The goal of MATRIX is to reduce human pilot workload by having a virtual co-pilot execute flight plans on the human’s behalf, and to fly a helicopter autonomously without a human on board. The MATRIX system also allows helicopters to be remotely controlled by human pilots; again with the option of switching to autonomous flight as required.
“Sikorsky is currently performing on Phase 3 of the DARPA ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In cockpit Automation System) program and an internally funded program to advance autonomy technology for increasing levels of autonomy for rotorcraft and fixed-wings,” said Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky’s director of autonomy. “ALIAS allows for zero, one, or two pilots to operate an aircraft. These programs provide for optionally piloted systems that enable the integration of manned/unmanned teams. We are integrating this system into a number of platforms, to include UH-60.”
Given its support for autonomously piloted helicopters, MATRIX would allow “teaming between human and machine either in one platform or as a team of manned and unmanned platforms,” said Cherepinsky. “Without getting specific, all emerging military requirements have this concept.”
Of course, creating MUM-T systems won’t be easy. “The biggest challenge will be creating a robust operator interface allowing for agile operation of multiple assets and comms links for multiple vehicle command and control,” Cherepinsky said.
“We believe that autonomy will be incrementally added to helicopter operations in much the same way as today’s cars,” he continued. “As capabilities become available, they will be added for both optionally piloted and autonomous operations including the teaming of manned and unmanned systems.”