The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued four recommendations meant to help boost supply chain issues as the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and prime contractor Lockheed Martin aim for a full-rate production decision by early 2021. Photo: Lockheed Martin
A new government watchdog report warns that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is once again at risk of missing its test schedule, amid the ongoing removal of former program partner Turkey and in failing to meet key manufacturing processes.
The Government Accountability Office issued four recommendations for the Defense Department and one recommendation for lawmakers in a May 12 report titled “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Actions Needed to Address Manufacturing and Modernization Risks.” These recommendations are meant to help boost supply chain issues as the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) and prime contractor Lockheed Martin aim for a full-rate production decision by early 2021. The Pentagon had originally hoped to declare Milestone C for the program by the end of 2019, but announced last October that the decision would be delayed, potentially for up to 13 months.
The report stated that over 10,000 F-35 components were delivered behind schedule in July 2019, up from less than 2,000 late deliveries in August 2017. Between July 2018 and July 2019, the number of reports of parts shortages per month rose from 875 to over 8,000, with over 60 percent concentrated among only 20 suppliers. But efforts to mitigate the effects of those parts shortages and delays, such as changing up the assembly line and moving parts to different stations, cause increased labor hours, the report added.
Lockheed Martin has implemented new practices that would help improve efficiency, but more must be done, GAO said. Only about 3,000 of the over 10,000 manufacturing key processes meet “predefined design standards for ensuring product quality,” and over 500 already fielded aircraft do not meet reliability and maintainability goals.
“Unless the program office evaluates the risks of not meeting these leading practices, the military services and international partners are at risk of not receiving the quality aircraft they purchased,” the report said.
An infographic from the latest GAO report gives an overview of the core F-35 design elements. Photo: GAO
The reports of parts shortages and delivery delays in July 2019 line up with the Pentagon’s decision to suspend Turkey from the F-35 program. The department has had to find new sources for over 1,000 parts that were originally produced by Turkish suppliers, as it pulled Ankara from the program following the country’s procurement of the Russian-made S-400 air-to-air defense system. Pentagon officials, several NATO partners and many U.S lawmakers critiqued Turkey’s move, stating that the F-35 is incompatible with the S-400 system.
The F-35 program has identified new sources for 1,005 parts, but is “assessing the effect of 15 key parts not currently being produced at the needed production rate,” the report said. About 10 percent of those new sources will be working with the F-35 program for the first time, and are unlikely to produce parts at the rate required in the first year, it continued.
The acquisition cost of the F-35 program also increased substantially in 2019, with development costs related to new “Block 4” hardware and software systems increasing by over $1.5 billion, the report said.
“However, the cost estimate did not fully adhere to leading practices, such as including all life cycle costs,” the GAO said. “In addition, while development will continue through 2026, reports on Block 4 that the program submits to Congress are slated to end in 2023. Without continued Block 4 reporting through the development phase, Congress will lack important oversight information.”
GAO recommended that Congress revise a section of the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization bill, and extend the Pentagon’s Block 4 reporting requirement beyond 2023, until all the Block 4 capabilities are fielded. For the Defense Department, the watchdog agency urged a new evaluation of risks to the supply chain and production that are not being met, and that it be submitted to lawmakers ahead of the Milestone C decision.
The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should direct the F-35 JPO to establish a Block 4 cost estimate baseline, complete a program office level, product-oriented breakdown of the next update to its Block 4 cost estimate, conduct new risk and uncertainty analyses related to the next Block 4 cost estimate and include cost and schedule risks of future Block 4 technologies in that updated cost estimate.
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Airbus and Bonn, Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE have created an independent panel of experts on the responsible use of new technologies to define and propose ethical as well as international legal “guard rails” for Europe’s largest defense project, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Photo: Airbus
Flexible, neural networks will be a feature of the Airbus-Dassault Aviation Future Combat Air System (FCAS), an Airbus official said last week.
On May 14, Airbus and the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE held a virtual working group meeting, featuring members of an independent panel of experts, on the responsible use of new technologies in the design of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), Europe’s largest defense project.
Established last year, the panel includes members from Airbus, the German Ministry of Defense, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foundations, universities, and think tanks. The panel is to aid in the development of guidelines for the ethical use of artificial intelligence and autonomy in the FCAS program, which is to feature a sixth-generation manned fighter and unmanned, “remote carrier” platforms controlled by the pilot of the manned fighter. Such requirements are to ensure meaningful, human control of FCAS functions.
Enabling the manned and unmanned teaming of FCAS will be an “Air Combat Cloud,” which is to integrate sensor data. Civil functions are also to benefit from FCAS down the line. FCAS, which thus far involves France, Germany, and Spain, is to replace Dassault’s Rafale fighter and the Airbus/BAE Systems/Leonardo-built Eurofighter.
“I have clear requirements on the table, how to design such kind of a product [FCAS] to fly safely in airspace, but I have very limited requirements which are driven by our ethical compliance,” Thomas Grohs, chief architect of FCAS at Airbus Defence and Space, said during the May 14 virtual meeting. “I’m really looking forward to have such kind of a requirements listing established together with my colleagues and this forum and others participating–a requirements list that allows me to design the system to be compliant with such kind of requirements.”
Such requirements will set up a framework for such FCAS features, as neural networks and human control of FCAS functions–a so-called human “circuit breaker” to head off potentially fatal machine errors.
“I have to make the system flexible from a neural network point of design because I need to train such neural networks on their specific behavior,” Grohs said during last week’s May 14 virtual working group meeting. “However, this behavior may differ from the different users that may use the equipment from their ethical understanding. This is for me then driving a design requirement that I have to make the system modular with respect to neural network implementation, that those are loadable, pending one that uses this from his different ethical understanding. Such are the things I need to look at and to see can we find proper solution to make this happen.”
ANSYS and Airbus Defense and Space told Avionics International last June that the companies are developing an AI design tool to create the embedded flight control software for FCAS. Airbus has said that it is also creating a new version of the ANSYS SCADE aerospace systems simulation software configuration. The upgraded version of the tool will use artificial intelligence algorithms as a replacement for traditional model-based systems development in order to facilitate FCAS manned-unmanned teaming and the safe flight of FCAS “remote carriers.” An ANYS official said that most of the academic and industry research behind the use of AI for software development involves the use of convolutional neural network (CNN) input and output layers.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is to fuse information from a variety of space and airborne sensors. Pictured here, is a concept of operations for FCAS as depicted by Airbus.
In terms of human, “circuit breakers” for FCAS, “not everything I could realize from a technical perspective to be fully automated…should be automated,” Grohs said. “I should have decisive break points in there that could be activated from an ethical perspective of the human ‘in the loop’ or, at least, ‘on the loop’ to be able to take proper decisions from an ethical perspective. Those requirements need to be laid out and be plotted against each of the functional chains for the potential users that later on will use the product.”
Ulrike Franke, a member of the FCAS experts panel and a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that thus far there have been “pronounced divergences” in European views on the employment of military AI and autonomous weapons systems. Franke said that “France appears to be more open” to such use, while Germany is “more cautious” and that one challenge for FCAS will be “how to reconcile these differences.” Possible resolutions include the establishment of “red lines” for machine decision making or providing measures for how much autonomy FCAS sub-systems can have.
For its part, Germany wants to retain human decision making in FCAS targeting. German Air Force Brig. Gen. Gerald Funke, the FCAS project leader for the German Ministry of Defense, has written that Germany “will not accept any technical concept that would give any system the possibility to authorize the death of another person solely on the basis of the logic of an algorithm.”
“Human beings will remain the sole determinants, responsible for decisions and all their consequences!” Funke wrote.
During the May 14 virtual working group meeting, Funke said that it is still too early in the FCAS concept phase to know whether the FCAS manned fighter will be a one-seat or two-seat design to guarantee sufficient human control and that such a decision will become clearer “when we know what are the roles of the human in the vehicle.”
“So far, I would guess it’s more one-seater than a two seater, but we leave it open,” Funke said. “We have not decided it yet, apart from my side.”
Rüdiger Bohn, the deputy federal government commissioner for disarmament and arms control at the German Foreign Ministry, said that the Airbus/Fraunhofer FKIE initiative “is an excellent opportunity for Europe to influence the global policy debate on international arms control solutions by developing industry standards, for instance on the military use of AI and on how human control can be programmed into the design of new weapons systems.”
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On this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, we caught up with Scott Borton, director of national air logistics for Quest Diagnostics, one of the leading medical lab services companies in the United States.
In addition to the medical labs and patient locations managed by the company, Quest Diagnostics also operates a fleet of 25 total aircraft, including the Pilatus PC-12, Beech B58 Baron and Embraer Phenom 100. Right now, these aircraft are flying about 88 flights a day to 63 different locations across the U.S., transporting some very precious cargo, including COVID-19 specimens and samples.
Their goal is to deliver collected samples to the company’s labs by 2 AM, so that diagnostics can be complete and results are ready by 8 AM the next morning.
We also asked Scott about the logistics of supporting a 20-minute turnaround time for aircraft that make multiple stops throughout the day, and whether or not his aircraft feature any type of in-flight connectivity.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at email@example.com, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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The U.S. Navy is flight testing the Leonardo AN/ZPY-8 radar on the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout drone. Photo: Northrop Grumman
The United States Navy has completed calibration testing of the Leonardo Osprey 30 AN/ZPY-8 radar for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout drone and is to finish flight testing of the radar by December, as the Fire Scout moves toward planned deployment next year.
The Navy began calibration flight testing of the radar on Feb. 27 at Patuxent River, Md. after several weeks of ground testing. The Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) AN/ZPY-8 radar uses Minotaur Mission Processor software developed by the Navy and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The software, which began development in 2006 and is deployed on a number of platforms, including Customs and Border Protection Super King Air 350ERs by Textron Aviation, Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft by Boeing, and Coast Guard HC-130Js, allows the integration of multiple sensors and the cross-platform sharing of data.
The Navy ran 16 calibration flight tests of the radar’s Minotaur software between Feb. 27 and Apr. 16, Navy Capt. Eric Soderberg, the Navy program manager for multi-mission tactical unmanned aerial systems (PMA-266), wrote in an email to Avionics International.
“The dedicated test period for Minotaur calibration is complete, but the test team and suppliers will continue to analyze data collected during the remaining test events to continue to fine tune calibration of the Minotaur software, as needed,” Soderberg wrote. Electromagnetic Environmental Effects (E3) testing is currently underway and will continue into early June. Under a Capabilities Based Test and Evaluation (CBT&E) approach, radar performance testing is planned from June – December 2020 with the calibrated software.”
Northrop Grumman said that it has delivered 32 of 38 planned Fire Scouts to the Navy and that all will receive retrofits of the AN/ZPY-8 radar, which the company said expands Fire Scout’s range to meet future requirements and significantly increases Fire Scout’s detection and tracking of targets.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not delayed the flight testing of the AN/ZPY-8 radar, according to Soderberg.
“The test team implemented a work around to increase the rate of digital data exchange between the government and suppliers when the suppliers were unable to support flight test on site,” Soderberg wrote in his email. “This change in approach slowed test data analysis but the team has been able to maintain the schedule for engineering software build delivery in support of the test program.”
One of Leonardo’s Osprey 30 radars. Photo: Leonardo
An AESA radar for a small Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform, like the MQ-8C Fire Scout, is unusual, Euan Walker, the head of radar capability at Leonardo, told Avionics in a telephone interview. Leonardo said that it was the lead company in adapting AESA radar, normally for use by high performance fighter and strike aircraft, for ISR platforms.
“The key thing with an AESA radar is that instead of having one single transmitter and one single receiver, you have hundreds of individual transmitters and receiving elements,” he said. “That gives you great flexibility in terms of how you coordinate all those transmitters and receivers. That flexibility, most significantly, means you can move the radar beam around the sky almost instantaneously. That gives you far greater operational flexibility in doing multiple tasks very efficiently. It also allows you to change the characteristics of what you transmit on a pulse by pulse basis.”
Wayne Smith, Leonardo’s head of radar campaigns, said that the Navy wanted a conformal antenna array radar for the MQ-8C that did not create significant drag, as an underbelly radome for a mechanically steered radar would incur.
The Osprey 30 radar has 12 military and paramilitary customers, including its fielding on the Norwegian All Weather Search and Rescue AW101 helicopter by Leonardo.
Leonardo said that the AN/ZPY-8 is significantly more reliable than mechanically steered radars and that it is 5 to 10 times less in procurement cost.
“There has been a significant level of DoD interest in the Osprey family [of radars],” Walker said.
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|I hope you are finding ways to stay healthy, maintain sanity, and make ends meet as this pandemic continues. I wish you all the best and thank you for your interest in this newsletter each cycle.
There is plenty to discuss in the UAM world this issue, including more information on how the U.S. Air Force intends to assist with certification of eVTOL aircraft, how the FAA’s remote ID architecture is unfolding, and how Uber is approaching the challenge of designing Skyports without codified regulation or industry standards.
The Royal Aeronautical Society is sponsoring an eVTOL design competition, its fourth such event, in partnership with the Light Aircraft Association. The premise, emergency hurricane response, is pretty interesting. Here’s the scoop, from eVTOL.com.
The next issue of The Skyport will publish in three weeks rather than two; I’m taking a few days off as I move to Philadelphia. See you then!
As always, stay healthy and safe vertical flying,
Greg Wyler is the founder and executive chairman of OneWeb, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday, March 27. Following the bankruptcy filing, Wyler did an interview with Via Satellite Editorial Director Mark Holmes about the future of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
It is mid-April and late on a Sunday night. I am just about to go to bed, and I do that foolish thing that many of us do and check my work email one last time. I see an email from Greg Wyler asking if I am free. Of course, I can’t turn down this opportunity, so I head to my outside office to talk to Wyler about the bankruptcy announcement.
One of Wyler’s goals in life has been to connect the unconnected, and it’s hard to believe that he will give up on this mission. However, with O3b now part of SES, OneWeb unlikely to see the light of day, it remains to be seen what is next for Wyler, who has been one of the most talked about individuals in our industry. It is also hard to believe we have heard the last from him.
So, I come straight to the point, and ask if the marriage between Wyler and the satellite industry is over, even if the mission to connect the unconnected is still not. Wyler admits he has a “lot of pent-up ideas” but refuses to say whether the industry has seen the last of him.
“I wouldn’t say I am out of satellite. I still believe satellite could play a very big role for a lot of use cases. The consumer residential use case, for instance, and I will speak in terms of homes per square kilometer, anything over 25 homes per square kilometer or higher, this is probably not a good use for satellite. So, you are really moving to rural and remote. The demand case for consumer broadband, far outstrips the ability of any satellite system to deliver competitive quality in volume, no matter how many satellites you put up,” he says.
He admits he gets interesting opportunities across the space domain at least weekly, if not every other day. “I would not make a definite statement related to my space-based activities. Time will tell,” he says.
Wyler, despite recent events, seems in good spirits. He has a restless energy, which I doubt will ever change. I ask, when he looks back at the OneWeb/O3b experience, what is the one thing he would change. He says, “I think LEO satellites have a long way to go. They are still in their infancy in terms of design and technology. They are still fat, heavy, and have very limited throughput. Even though they look like they are supercharged compared to ten years ago, they are still pretty darned inefficient vehicles for communications. There is a lot of opportunity for improvement in the future, so I wouldn’t write off satellites. But, certainly for the next 10 years because for one, there are serious capacity density issues where satellites cannot provide the capacity density to compete with the likes of Comcast. Just the bandwidth of Comcast in the U.S. in a big town or what VirginMedia would put down in parts of London could consume 20 LEO satellites for just one small area – which is impossible to because of spectrum co-channel interference issues. Another major problem for satellite in consumer broadband is the constantly growing uplink speed requirements of consumers.”
He seems in reflective mood when looking at the potential value of LEO systems. He adds, “There are a lot of really good LEO business models and applications. While there aren’t any LEO plans that could justify growing into a $100 billion valuation, there is room to create some really valuable businesses. LEO systems have three issues to balance: The massive cash requirement, the real, and not imagined, revenue generation capability, and the third is time. These things slip in time to the right which increases costs and often decreases revenue generation capability as the world changes around them. For instance, there isn’t a system today which is more cost effective than terrestrial systems except for the physical availability issue – being remote – or on the move.”
When you hear Wyler talk about the OneWeb and the O3b experience, you understand that building that this type of business is such an unbelievable challenge, the odds are long, and that it is not hard to wonder why so many of them fail. It seems the odds are stacked against them right from the start. He admits that O3b was constantly on the edge of Chapter 11.
“It is not clear that the value that is created is worth the infinite dollars that are being put in [to these systems]. From a business sense, where you have to raise money with the expectation of returns you normally have to take investment at price that allows for a strong return. In terms of pure capital, these things are really, really difficult, not because they can’t make money, but because the capital required is so high it rapidly reduces the pool of potential investors that can get involved,” he says.
“When you are working with investors, and $25 million is the minimum investor size, and then it goes to $100-150 million of single bet risk allocated capital, that is a small pool of potential investors. With O3b, there were so many times when we said, how do we make payroll? how do we make payroll and still build things? You are spending $50 million to $100 million a month. These are massive numbers. If there is any slip-up in the investment stream, it is very easy for whole company to stumble. That is frankly what happened here, there was a slip-up in the investment. It may emerge much stronger than when it went in. That can happen in Chapter 11. The future is yet to be written.”
An overview of how OneWeb’s low earth orbit network was envisioned as working in its end state. Photo: OneWeb
I continue to probe this question. I ask bluntly knowing what he knows now, would Wyler have even put together OneWeb, and he goes as far to call large-scale consumer broadband “dead on arrival” for satellite.
“I would have done things differently,” Wyler said. “Technology has changed dramatically. Everyone is still on the 2012 OneWeb plan. It has taken nine years to turn that into a physical embodiment. The world has changed a lot. I still think OneWeb had and has tremendous value. A number of business plans were developed [for OneWeb] and a number of them have great value. But, the large-scale consumer broadband market is dead on arrival for satellite. It is niche at best.”
It seems business plans built on technology that takes years to build are fraught with risk. “The world changes around you. This is what happened to Iridium and Globalstar. They had great business plans except the world changed around them. So, what is happening right now for LEO constellations? For anyone focused on consumer broadband, the world is changing beneath their feet. Terrestrial is making massive leaps in terms of technology and speed of adoption. So, if you are going to spend $5 billion to do consumer broadband, you can build a whole lot more terrestrial at higher capacities.”
One of the interesting dynamics of this whole story as the relationship between Wyler and Softbank. Understandably, Wyler does not want to talk in depth about this, although one can obviously sense his disappointment that they pulled the plug when they did. At one point, Softbank was all in on OneWeb, and then ultimately it lost faith. Wyler points out that it wasn’t just OneWeb, but other investments Softbank pulled back from, but diplomatically does not say more than that. But I sensed an overall disappointment in how this played out.
OneWeb’s fall into Chapter 11 made headlines even beyond the space industry, and was covered across the media landscape. Similar to SpaceX, the interest in OneWeb and Wyler’s “mission” transcended beyond the space industry. Some within the industry have been outspoken about OneWeb, and the belief that its business plan was fundamentally flawed.
I ask Wyler if we can classify OneWeb as a failure. He says using such a term would be “too harsh.” He adds, “But, for a global disaster, it would still be around. It has been in trouble. These type of companies live on the edge of trouble. What startup can spend $100 million a month and not be on the edge? If you are doing something difficult, going into unchartered waters, you are typically in a high-risk environment.”
He makes a comparison with Charles Lindbergh who did the first solo transatlantic flight and made history back in 1927. Wyler makes an interesting analogy. He says, “People said to Lindbergh, you are probably going to fail, you will never make it across the ocean, and they were statistically correct, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try or advance technology or accomplish a goal in a way that sets expectations higher than normal. It is a pretty weak thing to do to criticize him and say it is unlikely he will make it. One of the problems you have is that there are a lot of people who have economic interests who are completely misaligned with the company, i.e., they want to compete. It is easy for a lot of people who feel a competitive threat to throw stones. But, they are not meaningful stones. Everyone who said it would fail, they are maybe right. But, that is what being a risk taker is about. Just saying something challenging will fail without deep technical/market understanding is a funny pot shot.”
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
I put it to Wyler that essentially, OneWeb is the first major space casualty of the COVID-19 era. He thinks about it for a second and says that is one way you could put it. But, he remains optimistic for the future. His mission, it seems, is not yet done. “You have a continuing global disaster. So, with the world crumbling, that is going to put pressure on projects with high capital requirements. Very few companies are getting funded. The company I am involved in, Tarana Wireless, just closed another round, but that was rare. The reason I am involved, is I think they have absolutely the world’s best technology to bridge the digital divide from the terrestrial perspective. That technology is just so off the charts good.”
Despite its troubles, and some believing OneWeb will leave a less than positive legacy, Wyler believes there will be a lasting impact of the work OneWeb did.
He says, “I was told at a space conference with hundreds of New Space startups, that OneWeb’s high profile and high funding made a number of people recognize the value and potential of space. OneWeb put billions of dollars into companies to develop space hardware. That was a major boost for the space industry. Thinking of this experience as just about OneWeb would be short-sighted, rather, its better to think of the industry and more importantly the benefit to humanity from the very public focus on the need for broadband to help lift the world’s poorest populations out of poverty. Of course, not everything on the journey went as planned, but that is just the way it is sometimes.”
Editorial Note: This article was originally published in Via Satellite, a sister publication to Avionics. It has been edited. To view the full version, click here.
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The FAA’s remote ID cohort hopes to launch at last one remote ID service supplier by sometime next year, according to documents viewed by Avionics. (Airbus)
The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to have remote ID service for drones — a foundational component of integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace — up and running by sometime next year, according to documents viewed by Avionics International.
Earlier this month, the FAA chose a cohort of eight companies to develop technology requirements for its implementation of remote ID, working in parallel with the agency’s policymaking process. A critical goal for that cohort, according to documents obtained by Avionics, is to launch remote ID services through at least one UAS service supplier (USS) by 2021.
Through the remote ID system described in the agency’s proposed remote ID rule, released in December 29, drone operators will be required to transmit via broadcast and network their location, their drone’s location, velocity and identifying data to a centralized system, which a variety of remote ID USSs share and retrieve information from in near-real-time. That publication received more than 53,000 comments from the public, including UAS service providers, hobbyists, law enforcement agencies and many other stakeholders concerned about the cost of compliance, privacy implications, timeline for implementation and much more.
The following companies were selected by the FAA to form the remote ID cohort:
With the inclusion of Intel, Skyward and T-Mobile, the remote ID cohort is noticeably network-heavy. Many dissenting voices, including drone manufacturing giant DJI, have argued that broadcast alone is sufficient to enable remote ID; the FAA’s choice of three telecom providers and its exclusion of DJI from this cohort indicates proceeding with a primarily network-based solution, perhaps mandating broadcast as well or including it as a backup option.
“This initial group will support the FAA in developing technology requirements for other companies to develop applications needed for Remote ID,” an FAA press release reads. “The applications will provide drone identification and location information to safety and security authorities while in flight.”
An image included in the FAA’s December 2019 remote ID proposed rule. (FAA)
Documents obtained by Avionics provide some insight into how the cohort is building the RIDEx system, including the how the technology is taking shape and what controversial issues are being tackled:
The FAA acknowledges that enabling the public to understand what is flying above them is a key component of the system, according to viewed documents, but what counts as fulfilling that goal is still being defined.
Reached for comment on this matter, Wing referred to the ASTM standard, which includes what type of drone is flying (quad/fixed-wing/VTOL), drone ID, type of license, speed, and altitude as information to be made public.
“The UTM system will be a different system than we see today with ATC/ADS-B because this is a different type of aviation, but it should include the safety tools and relevant information that people can use (the public, law enforcement etc.) to be able to react to drones,” a representative for Wing told Avionics.
Considering the planned one-minute refresh rate, the FAA appears to be choosing a low-capability remote ID system that is perhaps more feasible in the short-term, rather than a more robust functionality that might run into significant coverage and bandwidth problems. It is worth noting that the draft rule released by the agency proposes at minimum “a transmission rate of at least 1 message per second,” stating that this is achievable by existing systems.
Compared to a once-per-second transmission rate, that requirement also significantly reduces the amount of historical data available on drone flights. Through broadcast, observers — including law enforcement organizations — would be able to track drones in near-real-time, but it will likely be difficult using one one ping per minute to track the path of flights that have already taken place using network-based applications. Again referring to the draft rule released in December, the FAA defined one of the purposes of remote ID as “to provide greater situational awareness” of drones operating within the national airspace; an objective which is less fulfilled by a slower transmission rate.
An FAA representative declined to provide comment for this article, stating the agency is currently in the rulemaking process.
It is worth noting the lack of a law enforcement organization in the remote ID cohort, despite the project’s goal of assisting security authorities with tracking and identifying drones. If remote ID is to allow for greater integration of drones into the national airspace, it must fit seamlessly into how police conduct day-to-day operations.
FAA administrator Stephen Dickson publicly pushed for the agency to release its final rule by the end of this year — an already-aggressive goal for a complex rulemaking process during an election year that now may not be possible due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The technology is being developed simultaneously with the proposed Remote ID rule,” according to the FAA press release. “Application requirements [to become remote ID service suppliers] will be announced when the final rule is published.”
Stakeholders across the drone industry are anxiously awaiting a final remote ID rule and technology architecture — some, to make investment decisions related to enabling infrastructure; and others, to survive until a larger market for drone services is made possible.
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As civil aviation regulators consider how to mandate certain avionics cybersecurity regulations, embedded system suppliers are weighing in on some aspects, such as the Separation Kernel Protection Profile (SKPP). The Green Hills Software SKPP-certified INTEGRITY-178 Real Time Operating System, powers the Collins Aerospace Avionics Management and Display System, pictured here on Sikorsky’s S-92 helicopter.
Issued by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in 2007, the Separation Kernel Protection Profile (SKPP) continues to be a cybersecurity guidepost for some in the avionics industry, while other avionics cyber experts say that SKPP is no longer relevant, as they believe SKPP can only address comparatively simple embedded processors.
The debate about SKPP comes as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are considering a number of avionics mandates to provide aircraft with the resilience needed to withstand cyber attacks. For example, the FAA has planned a transport airplane (Title 14, Code of Federal Regulation, Part 25) rulemaking effort to codify two Special Conditions (SCs) for transport aircraft systems and information security protection (ASISP). The agency also said that it is developing an advisory circular that would describe a means of compliance to the codified SCs so that manufacturers are able to design cybersecure products from the outset, rather than when they submit the design for certification.
FAA certification requires avionics manufacturers to address and comply with the two SCs, when imposed, for new transport airplane designs and in-service airplanes installing new avionics equipment.
The FAA has said that it recently worked with RTCA Special Committee (SC-216), EUROCAE (WG-72), and other certification authorities to establish three industry standards to address ASISP: DO-326A, dealing with airworthiness security requirements; DO-356A, describing the DO-326A airworthiness security process; and DO-355, delineating required performance tasks to counter information security threats related to aircraft operation and maintenance.
Richard Jaenicke, the director of marketing for safety and security-critical products at California-based Green Hills Software, said that software products that are certified to Common Criteria at EAL5 [Evaluation Assurance Level 5] or higher, such as the Green Hills Software INTEGRITY®-178 Real Time Operating System (RTOS), have a head start on meeting DO-326A and that SKPP has “much more stringent security requirements and testing than is required for DO-326A.” Jaenicke said that the INTEGRITY®-178 real-time RTOS is “the only operating system certified to the SKPP and the only OS certified at EAL6 or higher.”
The generic Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation (ISO/IEC 15408), which allows suppliers to define their own security requirements for the Common Criteria evaluations, is the international standard for computer hardware and software security assurance, and the EALs vary from EAL1 to the most rigorous level, EAL7. In the United States, NIAP [the National Information Assurance Partnership] defines protection profiles and manages the Common Criteria Evaluation and Validation Scheme (CCEVS) validation body. When the evaluation is at EAL5 or higher, the NSA participates in the evaluation.
Markus Jastroch, a spokesman for Germany-based SYSGO GmbH, contended that SKPP and high EALs are insufficient for cybersecurity, however.
The NIAP decommissioned, or “sunset,” SKPP in 2011, “mainly due to two reasons,” Jastroch wrote in an email to Avionics International. “NIAP considers a Protection Profile for EAL5 and higher as inadequate, because at high assurance levels, the environment in which a system is deployed (e.g. embedded system versus desktop PC) is highly influential on the achieved level of security. This environment cannot be taken into account at the time of evaluation. And, from the announcement about the SKPP sunsetting, NIAP said that ‘security’ is not just about meeting requirements, but requires continuing effort, even after the ‘requirements’ are met, i.e. certificates need to be maintained.”
“While there are software products that have been certified according to the SKPP before its revocation, to our knowledge, no certificate maintenance has been performed in the nine years since so that any hardware and software vulnerabilities that have been discovered since then remain unmitigated in the certified products,” Jastroch wrote.
The SYSGO PikeOS is used on Thales’ FlytX avionics suite. Pictured here is a three-display version of that suite for helicopters. Photo: Thales
Jaenicke, however, responded that SKPP continues to be relevant and that, “while the statement that any hardware and software vulnerabilities discovered since 2011 remain uncorrected in the certified version is technically correct, it is irrelevant.”
“First, Green Hills is very proud that, to date, there have been zero CVEs [Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures] against INTEGRITY-178 or INTEGRITY-178 tuMP,” he wrote. “Second, using the SKPP-certified code as a basis, we work closely with our customers to provide new features and address new threats as they emerge. For every program that requires the highest security assurance, we provide the latest security documentation and evidence at the same level as the SKPP that enables our customers to achieve high robustness certification.”
At the time NIAP and NSA decommissioned SKPP in 2011, NSA said that it still supported investment in Separation Kernels and the Least Privilege architecture as “sound design choices for security-critical systems” and that industry should continue to refer to the SKPP when building a Separation Kernel. The agency said, however, that it would no longer support certification of operating systems, including Separation Kernels, in general, and would focus on the assurance argument and evidence for a system and its whole context, not just the kernel.
In January, Collins Aerospace selected the INTEGRITY®-178 Time-Variant Unified Multi-Processing (tuMP) RTOS for the U.S. Navy’s Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS Inc. II) program. The system is to be interoperable with fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft, complies with the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) 3.0 Technical Standard, and has a Multi-Level System architecture capable of four simultaneous encryption channels from unclassified to Top Secret. Green Hills said that a number of platforms, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter and the C-130J transport, use the INTEGRITY-178 RTOS for safety critical applications.
Like Green Hills Software’s INTEGRITY-178, SYSGO’s PikeOS is on a variety of platforms, including the Airbus A400M transport where PikeOS is used on the loadmaster workstation, and PikeOS powers the Thales FlytX avionics suite on Airbus’ future H160M Leopard light helicopter.
Last year, the Common Criteria Recognition Arrangement established a five year time limit on renewing certificates for its 31 members, including a number of European countries, the United States, and New Zealand. According to Jastroch, SYSGO “is continually renewing its certificates to keep an eye on any security issues that pop up” and addressing any cyber vulnerabilities that arise in SYSGO systems with the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik—BSI—Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security.
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Through Agility Prime, the Air Force will work to accelerate civil certification for eVTOL aircraft — and then buy some for itself. (U.S. Air Force)
The Air Force may spend hundreds of millions on development and procurement of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft before 2025, according to officials behind Agility Prime. That project, which officially launched earlier this month, aims to leverage commercial investment in this technology for future military purposes.
Agility Prime’s three current areas of interest — 3-8 passenger aircraft, 1-2 passenger aircraft, and unmanned cargo vehicles — are focused on assisting “higher technology readiness level, mature vehicles that will be going into flight tests,” according to Col. Nathan Diller, Agility Prime team lead, with requirements including demonstration of a full-scale prototype flight test prior to Dec. 17, 2020.
The program’s main focus, currently, is to help mature vehicle programs more quickly achieve commercial type certification through the Federal Aviation Administration, securing their ability to generate revenue and therefore future use cases for the military.
“We see commercial uptake toward what is really a civil mission — urban air mobility, or advanced air mobility — and we’re happy to let that happen, we don’t feel the need to come in and dictate terms,” Frank Delsing, director of flight testing at Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), said of the roadmap for development. “We want to leverage for future dual-use capabilities that may come down the road, but at this point we’re really flight-following and providing support along that civil path.”
Aircraft that meet Air Force requirements — which are not defense-specific — and demonstrate capability for commercial success will be supported via reduced-cost and priority access to wind tunnels, test ranges, and other military resources, including certification through the service’s Technical Airworthiness Authority as well as opportunities for flight hours.
“If there is a silver lining to COVID-19, it’s that it has blown up everybody’s flight test schedules … and that includes the facilities,” Delsing said, addressing rapid availability of test ranges and other military facilities, often booked out months or even years in advance, for use by commercial eVTOL developers.
All of these activities will provide priceless data to the FAA, which intends to certify some of the first eVTOL aircraft closely in line with aggressive commercial timelines. Rideshare giant Uber, for example, seeks to launch its ‘Uber Air’ service by 2023, though likely in a very limited capacity.
For the Air Force, however, Col. Diller clarified that Agility Prime’s main ‘Innovative Capabilities Opening’ contracting document allows for engagement with eVTOL aircraft and related systems until 2025, with potential to open up more areas of interest.
“That ICO also gives us latitude to award potentially hundreds of millions of dollars” to procure eVTOL aircraft or related systems, Col. Diller said. Agility Prime’s current budget is just $25 million, but Air Force acquisition chief Dr. Will Roper and other officials have voiced support for more funding as the program proceeds and technologies approach mission readiness.
Col. Diller also listed a few potential new areas of interest for Agility Prime to open opportunities, including autonomy systems, range extenders, alternative methods of propulsion, digital engineering and foreign nations’ manufacturing capabilities.
“Autonomy, and getting to a point where you can remove pilot or have a single pilot overseeing multiple vehicles … that is something that is interesting to the air force and to the Marine Corps, who we’ve partnered with on this,” he said.
Neither the Air Force nor the FAA have good answers on how to certify autonomy systems at this point in time.
“That’s still something that is in the process, it’s definitely something we’ve been working on for a while here in the lab, both for performance and how to get there in terms of certification,” Delsing said.
Peter White, head of the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation, said the agency is also not currently able to certify detect-and-avoid and similar complex systems that incorporate artificial intelligence, though that won’t stop them from certifying eVTOL airframes.
“With artificial intelligence and some of the autonomous technologies, we don’t have plans in place at this time, we’re not set up to approve such systems now. We’re working actively on developing those methodologies through R&D projects,” White said. “But in the short term, our plan is to certify the basic vehicles for Part 91 simplified type operations, and as we get that piece done and then we’ll develop the capabilities to certify more complex systems … potentially at a later date.”
Unlike the FAA, the Air Force will not seek to certify sub-systems for new eVTOL aircraft aside from engines.
“What we do is we certify the entire aircraft system, and its ability to attain, sustain and complete flight,” Delsing said. “So if you’ve got a system you want to get certified, we need to see that system within the context of an architecture and a design of the whole vehicle to get it through our airworthiness process.”
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As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to hit all segments of the aviation industry, Gogo is slowly starting to see business jet operators reactivate suspended service plans. Photo: Gogo Business Aviation
Despite experiencing 940 pandemic-related account suspensions among business jet operators, Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne said he expects that segment of the company’s operations to start installing and operating its technology sooner than the other side of its business, commercial airlines.
During the company’s first quarter 2020 earnings call, Thorne provided updates on how many operators downgraded service plans in the first quarter and where Gogo is currently starting to see some service plan reactivations. The company also has plans for diversifying the capabilities of its existing 2Ku antenna.
“Because of the dramatic reduction in flights, many aircraft owners, this is in [business aviation] BA, parked their aircraft in the March-April time frame, and approximately 30 percent of our 5,700 [air-to-ground] ATG accounts took some action to reduce their spending with Gogo, including 940 account suspensions and more than 750 service plan downgrades,” Thorne said. “All that said, it looks like we bottomed out mid- to late April and now are seeing green shoots in both our businesses. So there is some cause for optimism.”
Gogo reported consolidated revenue of $184.5 million and a net loss of $84.8 million for the quarter. The $84.8 million in net loss was an increase of 405 percent over $16.8 million net loss the company experienced in the first quarter of 2019.
The optimism Thorne spoke of started to emerge last week for their business aviation division. In April, the number of business jets flying with Gogo connectivity per day were down 78 percent compared to the same period a year ago. However, the decline started turning around recently, with the average number of daily connected business jet flights up 200 percent from the low point in April and more than 60 percent above the daily average last month. As of last Friday, Gogo also accounted for a total of 218 service reactivations in its business aviation segment.
In April, the company announced that it would furlough 54 percent of its workforce in May, impacting about 600 employees. Some employees at Gogo’s business aviation headquarters in Colorado started returning to work on May 11, under the state’s shift from a “work from home” to a “safe from home” policy, according to Thorne.
Thorne also discussed Gogo’s focus on a multi-orbit, multi-spectrum future strategy where it will look to equip aircraft with technology that is compatible with multiple different satellite networks and bands, rather than limiting them to one.
Gogo has developed a method for converting its Ku-band antenna, pictured here, into a Ka-band antenna, to provide operators with more options in the near future. Photo: Gogo
“On the multi-orbit front, Gogo’s unique 2Ku mechanical phased array antenna is the only terminal technology proven capable of working with an [non-geo stationary orbit] NGSO satellite constellation, as demonstrated with OneWeb earlier this year. On the multi-spectrum front, Gogo has developed the ability to cost effectively convert a 2Ku antenna into a 2Ka antenna, which could open up the Gogo 2Ku fleet to Ka operators as well as Ku operators,” Thorne said, adding that having such a strategy is important both to operators and potential merger partners.
On the commercial airline side, Gogo experienced a 91 percent reduction of in-flight connectivity sessions and a 66 percent reduction in sales in April. Thorne explained the difference in the reduction of sessions versus sales can be attributed to the subscription plans and monthly revenue guarantees it has established with some of its airline customers.
One step the company is trying to take to ease the cost burden both on itself and airlines is delaying installations tied to older purchases where equipment was heavily subsidized. This means Gogo will have very few installations planned for the remainder of 2020.
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
Although Thorne expects the business aviation segment to recover faster, he noted some signs of optimism on the commercial airline side as well.
“We hear from airlines that bookings are starting to overtake cancellations. They’re starting to add some international routes back in May, and load factors are picking up. Assuming that as a society we continue to make progress against the pandemic, we think that commercial air travel will come back faster than it did after 9/11 because the airline industry is much more sophisticated in managing this product and marketing its product than it was 15, 20 years ago,” Thorne said.
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