With continued technological innovation and the constant need to retrofit and add new systems and technology to aircraft, test equipment is constantly in demand in the military market. Warfighters demand access to the latest technology to address evolving threats, and need dynamic test equipment in order to ensure integrity and quality performance prior to adding it to their aircraft.
During the 2015 Paris Air Show, Avionics Magazine caught up with Marvin Test Solutions CEO and retired U.S. Air Force Major General Steve Sargeant to discuss how the company is introducing greater commonality and upping ease of use to its armament test equipment to simplify logistics and sustainment costs for military operators around the globe.
Steve Sargeant, CEO of Marvin Test Solutions.
Avionics Magazine: What are some of the latest enhancements that you have introduced to your flight line and intermediate level test equipment?
Sargeant: In the area of back shop testing, we’ve added the capability to test compressors. That’s a work in progress right now, but it’s a work that I think we’ll be able to debut at the next large European air show. We’ve completed the proof of concept and now we’re going to operationalize it.
We also are continuing to evolve our MTS-916 Maverick test set, enabling our test suite to provide target simulation for all variants of the Maverick and hellfire missiles. It is exciting that we’ve expanded that capability beyond just Maverick to Hellfire in response to requests we’ve received from operators.
In the area of flightline test sets, we’ve added the capability to transmit MTS-3060 SmartCan test data via Wi-Fi. We have proven that works for transmitting test set the test data make it available to store or print as required for trouble shooting or future trend analysis. We’ve also added the ability to conduct [Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile] AMRAAM testing into our handheld MTS-3060 SmartCan that is currently only available in very large box test sets on the flightline.
Avionics Magazine: Thus far in 2015, what test equipment technology has Marvin Test Solutions seen the most demand for, and for what types of applications?
Sargeant: In the case of the military test sets, the Maverick test suite of the MTS-206 and MTS-916 really dominate the field of interest because we’re the only producer of test equipment for the Maverick today. All other Maverick test equipment has been rendered obsolete, meaning you couldn’t buy new models of it if you wanted and quite frankly the guts are no longer obtainable. In some cases they can be repaired with a lot of labor and time. So our MTS-206 and 916 Maverick test suite generates a lot of interest.
We’re also seeing demand for test equipment that is versatile and able to be used across a wide range of different weapons systems from A10s, F16s, F15s, F-22s and F-35s as well as on remotely piloted aircraft. The wide-variety of aircraft also includes the Hawk, Python, and Griffin. That’s lead to increased demand for our MTS-3060 SmartCan that is capable of that type of versatility.
In the aerospace arena, we are seeing a great interest in our GENASYS test platform. The GENASYS is a modular and scalable high-performance digital test system that is currently being used in the production of satellites. We expect to see more sales of the GENASYS for use from depot to more satellite production application in the coming months.
Avionics Magazine: MTS co-developed the PATS-70 flight line tester with the U.S. Air Force to support avionics testing on the A-10C. Do you see more opportunities similar to this, where you can work with domestic or international military service branches to develop custom solutions to meet their testing needs?
Sargeant: I certainly do. We were able to help the US Air Force get their PATS-70 test set for the A-10C model launched and fielded much faster because we had earlier designed a Commercial off the Shelf (COTS), ultra-rugged test system that had the capacity to be expanded. USAF test personnel had seen our MTS-207 at previous military trade shows and came to us to ask if we could customize it for their application. We were able to demonstrate that we could and then were given the opportunity to provide PATS-70 test sets. We were able to provide the underpinning of their total solution by delivering these ultra-rugged chasses that provided capabilities normally not found in an armament test set that could be expanded to enable their avionics test capabilities that they needed for their A-10C models.
Our ability to customize and use COTS products to quickly meet the customer’s unique operational requirements allowed the USAF to field 85 test sets in a very short order to fill a critical gap in testing for the A-10C model which had gone digital in 2008. We expect that there may be follow on test sets to the PATS-70 family and we think this model of industry and government collaboration to create customized solutions is a trend that will continue.
Avionics Magazine: Currently MTS is developing the PATS-70 Alpha, an enhanced version of the PATS-70. What types of new capabilities will be featured on the Alpha version that were not available on the PATS-70?
Sargeant: We expect that USAF to continue to expand the capabilities of the PATS-70 in the near term adding some capabilities that they have since learned that they would like to add to the deployed PATS-70 test sets.
As far as the PATS 70 Alpha capability details, USAF is still finalizing the requirements and we are helping them to enhance the capabilities of the PATS-70. They have not yet released all of the details as to the capabilities that the PATS-70A will deliver, but we’re staying closely connected with the automated test individuals responsible for PATS-70A at Hill and Warner Robbins Air Force Bases and are ready to support them when the need arises.
Avionics Magazine: How does the ability of the AMRAAM's 1760 connectivity to the aircraft provide enhanced mission effectiveness and aircrew confidence?
Sargeant: This goes right to the heart of what our MTS-3060 Smartcan delivers to flightline maintenance for armament. It expands on the armament pre-load testing that’s currently only being done by stray voltage and continuity test capable equipment. That equipment does not test functionality as it only ensures there is no stray voltage when you put a weapon up to a bomb rack or a launcher. It’s very important to do that stray voltage test.
The other factor is proving effective continuity of a wire into a bus and a ensuring a good wire out to produce effective connectivity. Those tests are both very important. But in today’s world with the proliferation of the MIL-STD 1760 bus, we have developed technology within our Smartcan portable, hand-held universal armament test set that provides the ability the to test the full functionality of that bus. We load weapons emulation software into our Smartcan like [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] JDAM, for instance. Therefore, similar to when JDAM gets connected to a bomb rack and the aircraft is turned on, the SmartcanTM, that weighs less than four pounds, keeps the bus activated. Then, the automated test that we run with the Smartcan tests the ability of the bus to communicate, arm the weapon, and release the weapon all before bringing out the tons of munitions that will be loaded on that aircraft for the mission that it has been selected to perform.
Historically the continuity test on a 1760 bus will discover about 90 percent of the historic problems that are known to occur. In other words, about 90 percent of the time there’s a broken wire, which you would find with the continuity test. But that leaves 10 percent unknowns, that won’t be discovered with that test performed by legacy test equipment. However, the Smartcan can close the 10 percent gap providing better knowledge with closer to 100 percent information about how that bus will work. The unknowns are reduced before loading all the weapons and avoiding unnecessary frustration for crews and, more importantly, mission degradation.
Avionics Magazine: Are any of your test solutions being used to evaluate technology on the fifth generation F-35?
Sargeant: Today the MTS-235 is the only armament production test set in use for testing of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) armament being produced by the Marvin Engineering Company and the five companies in partner nations that are also producing alternate mission equipment (AME).
We developed the MTS-235 in the 2007-2008 timeframe and it’s been in use everyday testing the armament that comes in for the final qualification testing from Marvin Engineering Company from all the producers in this arrangement for producing AME for Lockheed Martin.
In the future, we believe that test set will start being deployed at the depot level as an armament test set. As you can imagine, production level testing and depot level testing of armament are very similar. There are some increased capabilities that are required with a depot-level test set but, we have incorporated that into our equipment to meet those needs. We also made that test set small and deployable so that if in the future the JSF program would move from two levels of maintenance for armament to three levels of maintenance, this test set could serve at the intermediate-level. The MTS-235 could check the electrical armament components in the field to provide troubleshooting capability in order to reduce the logistics and sustainment cost.
We also always look at aircraft development programs from a warfighter’s perspective. Once the system design and development (SDD) phase of the F-35 is complete, if warfighters want more test capability at the operational level beyond the stray voltage and continuity tests being performed during the development of the F-35, we have the technology to help. It is important to keep in mind that today during the SDD phase, Lockheed Martin is meeting all armament test requirements and the program is approved for only two levels of armament maintenance.
Avionics Magazine: Is MTS working with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) manufacturers and users to use test equipment to enable carriage of sensors or sensor packages, or to aid in the integration of UAS into civil airspace around the globe?
Sargeant: Unmanned aircraft systems carry weapons that the Smartcan can provide preload test functionality testing for weapons like the JDAAM and Hellfire Missile.
To date we have not provided any test sets for UASs. But we should remember it’s a growing industry and we see a great potential in the future for our test sets to find their way into the field with the continued expansion of UAS’ capabilities.
Many of the unmanned aircraft flying today are not armed. For the limited numbers that are armed, our test equipment is well suited to provide a level of capability to increase mission readiness and do it in a way that makes tests easy in that it automates many of the tests that are manual today.
In the case of unarmed UASs we have eye-safe laser simulators that can test sensors, enhancing warfighting effectiveness.
As far as aiding in the integration of UASs into civil airspace around the globe, that’s really not an area that we work in. And so, that’s more for the FAA and the UAS operators to work.
However, as more sensor packages, especially laser, are added to those civil- use unmanned aircraft, we have a good suite of test equipment that could be used to test those sensors and their effectiveness before the launch or after landing of the UAS.