HWIL Missile Laboratory in Zielonka [ANALYSIS]

image credit: Sgt. Alexandra Shea/U.S. Army Europe and Africa
image credit: Sgt. Alexandra Shea/U.S. Army Europe and Africa

An R&D Center for Polish missile programs comes to life on the premises of Wojskowe Zakłady Elektroniczne (a member of the PGZ Group) in Zielonka near Warsaw. It will conduct systems and missile research that combines digital simulations with physical performance testing of critical components such as guidance warheads and control systems using Hardware-In-the-Loop (HWIL) technology. This project is being implemented as part of the offsets associated with the first phase of the Wisła program, and more specifically with the two offset contracts that PGZ S.A. and U.S. Lockheed Martin have entered into

Before we discuss the details of the system of laboratories that is being created in WZE S.A., a brief introduction should be given to the HWIL technology and its significance in the design and development of guided missiles. These advanced weapon systems require dozens, if not hundreds, of tests for proper design and performance verification. Today, most of them can be implemented in a digital environment, which accelerates the R&D and implementation process. Obviously, in order to complete a project properly, it is necessary to test ready-made components and live systems for their effectiveness and proper functioning. However, the technology allows to carry out the vast majority of works without the necessity to manufacture entire batches of prototypes. This is particularly true for guidance systems.

A modern missile must not only detect and identify the target effectively but also follow it despite the use of maneuvers, self-defense, and jamming measures. All this at different angles of approach to the target, different speeds or weather conditions. This is particularly complex for guidance based on infrared or heat target signature. There are many variables that come into play here that can affect the sensors and compromise their effectiveness, e.g. rain, fog, extreme temperatures, sun, flares, background effects. Testing under field conditions would be not only expensive, due to the need to launch many missiles but also difficult due to conditions that are not easily replicated to their full extent. This is where ‘hybrid technology’, or HWIL, comes to the rescue.

At the hardware/software interface

HWIL or HIL, short for Hardware-In-the-Loop is an attempt to describe what this state-of-the-art testing method is. It combines computer simulations and tests conducted on a real, tangible component, allowing for comprehensive testing under conditions as close as possible to real life. The performance of, for example, a radar guidance head is tested using equipment very similar to that used on the battlefield for electronic warfare, i.e., creating false radar images and echoes. Complex algorithms control such a device, which feeds the warhead a simulated image of the target and simulates the dynamics of the missile’s motion. On the other hand, the tested head transmits data to a system that simulates the missile control system, and this system forwards the data to a facility that simulates the target, changing its apparent position relative to the warhead. This is the simulation loop in which the hardware, i.e., the component under test, operates.

By using this technology, hundreds or thousands of such target guidance cycles can be performed with a fabricated guidance head or control system before deciding on a costly field launch of a missile toward a viable target. Both the device itself and the control or tracking algorithms can be tested in this way, allowing potential problems to be identified and corrected on the fly. Also, conditions can be tested that would be very difficult to obtain on the training ground. The level of environmental simulation within HWIL can vary. First of all, tests of equipment or systems can be performed in static or dynamic conditions.

Static testing is simply checking the functioning of a component while simulating only the inflow and outflow of data, whereas in dynamic testing, physical factors are also simulated. In the case of aerospace structures, such as missiles, it is most often the change in position and the overloads that occur during a flight that are simulated with appropriate equipment that rotates the test item within a specified rotation axis range. This makes it possible to check whether a given component or set of components will function just as well, e.g., when turned upside down or subjected to variable overloads, which is especially important in the case of missile components that move at significant speeds and perform many violent maneuvers.

Triple simulation lab

The Missile Systems and Missiles Research Laboratory, which comes into being in Zielonka near Warsaw, is a technological leap for Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa in terms of research capabilities crucial for the development of missile programs. As part of this offset project, whose key element is the technology acquired from Lockheed Martin as part of the offset related to the first phase of the Wisła air defense program, in fact three laboratories will be built for the purpose of performing HWIL simulations. A digital simulation environment and laboratories for static and dynamic simulations on hardware components will be created. They are covered by two separate offset contracts, the first of which has already been implemented in large part.

This contract includes the acquisition of a digital simulation environment along with the technical equipment and training package. This means providing both hardware in the form of appropriate servers and instrumentation, as well as specialist software dedicated to HWIL simulations. Along with these items, the package also includes personnel training on how to use the equipment and run simulations.

As part of the first offset contract implementation, a team of engineers from the PGZ Group’s leading companies for missile systems was selected, trained, and assigned to work in the HWIL laboratory. The choice of candidates was dictated by the specialization of particular companies, their experience and development plans. The team consists of the representatives of PCO S.A. responsible for the development of optoelectronic tracking heads (so-called seekers) for VSHORAD/ SHORAD class missiles, as well as PIT-RADWAR S.A., which is the center of competence in the field of command-and-control systems for air defense weapons and the integration of these solutions with missiles. The involvement of WZE S.A. is also vital due to the already acquired competencies in the area of missiles (NSM Service Center) as well as future capabilities (production of components for LM), closely related to the projects of PGZ.

As part of the digital portion of HWIL, which has already been deployed, the system allows simulations not only of individual missiles or platforms but of the missile system as a whole. Thus, a macrosimulation is possible, which in fact provides for checking the whole concept and selected configurations. Moreover, work has also started on the implementation of the second offset contract, concerning the launch of the physical part of the simulation system, i.e. platforms for testing selected components and subsystems.

Test Laboratories of WZE S.A.

Wojskowe Zakłady Elektroniczne S.A. in Zielonka was selected as the location for the hardware laboratory within the Hardware-In-the-Loop system, as it has adequate space for the implementation of the project, but also has experience in absorbing offsets related to advanced missile technologies (NSM Service Center). The company also has experience working with foreign partners such as Honeywell, Kongsberg, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The test infrastructure that is currently under development in Zielonka is expected to be operational between 2023 and 2024. The design of the laboratory for static and dynamic testing is currently being completed. The final layout of the laboratory will depend not only on the size of the installed equipment, but also on the adopted room layout and the need to meet sanitary and OHS requirements.

An essential piece of the laboratory equipment will be the so-called gimbal, a device provided as part of the offset that allows for dynamic testing of components in motion with respect to several axes of rotation, while feeding the system with simulated input data. Both the static and dynamic parts of the laboratory can facilitate research and development work related, for example, to the elaboration, implementation and production of various types of guided and unguided missiles.

The HWIL test sites at WZE will provide the opportunity to perform both static and dynamic testing of the so-called seekers, i.e. beyond this offset project sensors for both thermal and, ultimately, radar-guided missile guidance systems. These are critical capabilities that increase the effectiveness and reduce the cost of missile weapons development in its most complex and expensive part.

HWIL technology provides highly realistic and comprehensive simulation results, accelerating, streamlining and significantly reducing the cost of development work in its most critical phases. The launch of such facilities within the Polish defense industry will streamline and accelerate the implementation of projects not only for the Polish Armed Forces, but also under programs sponsored by the National Center for Research and Development, including projects carried out under the program for the development of modern, groundbreaking technologies serving national security and defense codenamed Szafir. This is undoubtedly a step toward upgrade and accelerated modernization of both the industry and the armed forces.

Article prepared in cooperation with PGZ S.A.