Unidef’s expertise in the field of weapon integration to air platforms expands with its gun pod solution. This gun pod is planned to be the first member of a product family that can be used in both rotary- and fixed-wing air platforms, and will be equipped with a 12.7 mm machine gun. Unidef aims to bring a series of innovative details to the gun pod design. The most important advantage that the company will offer to users is a solution that is not subject to export restrictions.
Various armed forces have for some time been making use of gun pods as a solution that provides this capability to combat platforms that otherwise wouldn’t have barrelled guns, and that enables the arming of general purpose or civilian platforms. Recently, the arming of platforms such as military or civilian utility helicopters, crop dusters and training aircraft, and their use in such missions as assault and armed reconnaissance, have become more commonplace (See box entitled “Preferences are Changing”). These platforms can make use of guns thanks to the gun pods, and even can be armed with other munitions, such as rockets or missiles.
Unidef has been carrying out helicopter weapon integration projects since 2014, and after bringing many of them to successful completion, the interest abroad in these systems has particularly incentivised it to launch efforts to develop gun pods. A request from a solution partner in the United States with which Unidef has been collaborating in weapon integration projects since its establishment, has also played an important role in this venture into a new area of interest. The US firm requested Unidef to produce an ITAR-free gun pod equipped with a 12.7×99 mm machine gun for the Shorts Tucano aircraft it has modernised and transformed into a close air support aircraft.
What Kind of Pod?
Unidef takes a realistic approach in its efforts related to gun pods, as explained by Cem Kurter, Co-Founder of Unidef: “You can let your imagination run wild in terms of design, but this may end up with a lot of engineering time being wasted and too much iteration. Our favourite work in the realm of external gun pods is the one integrated onto the centreline of the F-35, the structural design of which was apparently directed by the technical requirements imposed by the aircraft. Looking at the pod, it can be considered a very logical, good looking design that is compatible with the low radar cross section (stealth) feature of the F-35.
We took a different path in our design. We looked for an appropriate solution for our gun pod to be compatible with many different platforms. We looked at proven examples around the world, and found them all to be very close to each other in terms of total weight, ammunition capacity and dimensions, so our design will follow suit. We avoided such optimisation approaches as “make it lighter, yet able to carry more ammunition”. After all, the planes and helicopters carrying these pods are obvious, and their current gun pods, have been tested for safe separation to be qualified on those platforms within certain engineering conditions. Accordingly, we did not want to worry platform manufacturers or users with different designs. In short, we believe that we will gain their trust for cooperation by using a design they are familiar with. We believe that we can make a difference with a complete solution incorporating an indigenous design recoil mechanism, an indigenous dynamic sight solution, an indigenous armament management system, and an indigenous weapon.
At the end of the day, our gun pod will be subject to tests on the platforms it will be integrated. For example, safe separation tests must be carried out separately for each platform. If you move away from the established designs in the market and make a very distinctive one, obtaining similar results in separation tests may not be guaranteed. In such cases, you will have to go back to square one and come up with an engineering solution for each different platform, and you may very well throw in the towel at the end.”
Quick Start with Existing Expertise in the Domain
The helicopter weapon integration projects carried out by Unidef since 2014 include solutions that can be integrated to both sides of the platform, and that can move along the lateral axis while under the control of the crew. Integrated weapons’ operation concept aims to secure the landing areas during deployments, and to ensure the safety of the helicopter by suppressing possible enemy fire with intense counter fire. The broad acceptance and interest in this concept among end users have led Unidef to develop solutions for different platforms, such as AS-532 Cougar, S70i / UH-60 BLACK HAWK, SH-60 SEAHAWK and CH-47 Chinook.
Having seen the potential, Unidef’s experience in weapon system integration studies for rotary-wing air platforms have facilitated a quick entry into the gun pod development field, launching gun pod development studies on 6 August 2020, using its own resources without waiting for any orders or official support.
Gun from Samsun Yurt Savunma
One of the most important trump cards held by Unidef in its gun pod development works are its partnerships with two small arms producers, namely; Samsun Yurt Savunma (SYS) and Khan Arms.
SYS is close to completing its 12.7×99 mm Platform Machine Gun (.50 cal Browning Heavy Machine Gun) local production project, for which it made some significant investments, gaining two different barrel production lines; a test infrastructure that can simulate all environmental conditions in accordance with the MIL-STD-810 standard; and has established two firing ranges, one 50 meters and the other 100 meters. As a result of these efforts, the qualification of the CANİK 12.7 mm Platform Machine Gun was completed, and the weapon became ready for mass production.
Development works of a special version of this gun, capable of firing 875 rounds per minute, are continuing to be used in the gun pod currently being developed by Unidef. Accordingly, Unidef will be able to offer a competitive gun solution, since the gun is one of the items subject to the most common export restrictions when it comes to gun pods.
Unirobotics, a subsidiary of Unidef, is developing the electrical module and cabling architecture of the gun pod.
Having decided upon all of the sub-components of the gun pod either to be developed or directly procured, Unidef will use Commercial-off-the Shelf / COTS products for the ejector rack and ground support equipment developed by its stakeholders, some of which will also develop such critical systems as the heads-up display and armament management systems on behalf of Unidef.
Unidef-Aeros Collaboration Accelerates the Process
Another prominent stakeholder in Unidef’s gun pod development efforts is Aeros. Collaborating with Unidef in the provision of special engineering solutions covering all of its activities, and operating as a business partner in this project, Aeros is undertaking work packages in the areas such as aerodynamic analyses and providing consultancy in structural design. This business partnership between Unidef and Aeros, which combines the expertise in weapons with expertise in integration of external systems to air platforms, is set for expansion in the future to include the design and industrialisation of different weapon and mission pods in line with user needs.
In the first integration of the gun pod to a fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft, the external load certification will be carried in compliance with the MIL-HDBK-1763 standard. Thus, Unidef is making use of the information obtained from the “Aviation Foundations, Aircraft Systems, Design, Testing and Certification Processes” training received from Aeros last year, as well as the processes it updated in line with the international aviation design norms.
Solution Including All Subsystems
Unidef is taking a holistic approach to the gun pod development project by developing a number of subsystems and equipment simultaneously with the pod, including ground support equipment (dolly), the ejector rack, the head-up display (HUD) and the Store Management System. As such, users of Unidef’s gun pod will gain a complete solution that is not subject to any export restrictions.
Project is Proceeding to Schedule
With the official launch of works related to the gun pod, Unidef started by coming up with the concept design, determining the system configuration units, conducting the aerodynamic shell design and analyses, and carrying out the interior design of the pod. To date, some of these works have been completed, while others are being expanded upon.
One of the most critical stages in development studies, being the Test and Verification plan for qualification, has been prepared to include also Flight Test Plan.
On the subsystems front, orders for COTS products have been put in place. For complementary subsystems, Unidef has started receiving quotes or signing agreements with stakeholders in the sector.
Unidef has set a 23-month schedule for the project. All flight tests, including tests for safe separation from aircraft in emergencies, are determined to be completed to schedule.
Comprehensive Flight Tests
Unidef plans to conduct flight tests in the United States, for which the necessary agreements have been made with three US companies. For the test program, two air platforms selected among four alternatives will be used, one of which will be the Shorts Tucano aircraft modernised by the company’s US business partner.
Unidef is aiming to test a complete solution with an indigenous HUD incorporating a dynamic sight, an indigenous armament management system and indigenous weapon. Indigenous ejector rack and ground support equipment are also planned to be tested, if deemed technically viable.
In the first stage of its gun pod studies, Unidef aims to introduce a system that is free of export restrictions and that can be integrated onto different air platforms. This first product will not close the project, as the company is planning to develop a mission-specific pod family.
Kurter states that the gun pod study has an important place in Unidef’s vision: “Our gun pod is an indigenous development project and we attach great importance to it as a company. It requires a much higher level of engineering capability and aviation culture than the weapon integration projects we have conducted to date. We have launched this project to consolidate these capabilities, and to respond to the current demand. In addition, the successfully completion of the qualification processes of the domestic CANİK M2 QCB weapon encouraged us to launch this project. As Unidef, our vision is to develop ambitious systems that will empower the weapons developed by our partners, and to turn them into viable commercial products.”
Utility helicopters performing many different tasks, from transport to search and rescue, from armed reconnaissance to medical evacuation, stand out with their flexible mission profiles, high capacities and wide range of capabilities. For example, the S70 BLACK HAWK has the muscular power to operate as a gunship when mounted with heavy weapons. Although it is not an operation concept that Turkey adapts, when we look at examples from around the world, S70 helicopters equipped with various gun pods or fixed forward guns, from 12.7mm to 30mm calibre, and rockets and missiles, can be seen to be a serious force multiplier. Thanks to the “plug and play” feature of these weapon systems, a helicopter can be returned to its main duty very quickly.
Another common practice around the world is the arming of civilian helicopters. Countries that cannot afford the procurement and maintenance costs of attack helicopters may prefer such platforms. Although these helicopters cannot fulfil all the tasks of an attack helicopter, the firepower from gun pods and the intelligence provided by a combat management system can generate an adequate solution to serve as a serious force multiplier.
In the world of fixed-wing aircraft, many countries around the world, regardless of their financial means, prefer not to use high-tech air platforms in low-intensity conflicts. Some countries have started to add platforms with turboprop engine to their inventory that can, under certain conditions, easily perform the missions typically conducted by jet aircraft, but with lower operational costs. The EMB 314 Super Tucano and Beechcraft AT-6 are among the leading examples of such aircraft. Designs inspired by the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco series aircraft, which were used with success in the Vietnam War, have also recently been coming to the agenda.
All of these developments define the target platforms and markets of the gun pod developed by Unidef.