Air taxis - autonomous and safe
Air taxis – a phrase that never fails to fire the imagination of
potential users as well as manufacturers and operators. HENSOLDT is already working on their safe
operation with autopilots, ground stations and radars.
Already today, the few who can afford to do so escape
the hellish traffic on our roads with helicopters. If air taxi operators have their way, this
may soon be an option for everyone. The first maiden flights have already gone ahead to great
fanfare. Initial test operations are set to begin soon in cities like Dubai, Los Angeles, Dallas
and Singapore. The aircraft will operate with pilots on board at first, but then also
autonomously from the mid-2020s if everything goes to plan. Studies expect air taxis to number
around 3,000 at that stage, rising to over 12,000 by 2030.
It is anticipated that the urban air mobility market,
one of the most promising business areas of the future, will be worth around eight billion
dollars by then. HENSOLDT wants to secure a share of this market and establish itself in the
long term as an equipment supplier for commercial aircraft.
Creating the conditions
From Airbus to automakers such as Daimler and Audi through to the ride-hailing company Uber and
countless start-ups, all kinds of companies are currently working on technical and
organisational concepts for the private air transportation of the future. At the same time, the
Urban Air Mobility initiative supported by the European Commission is using studies and
modelling to research possible usages and conditions. The regulations still needed to ensure
safe flight operations are also set to be defined in various working groups headed up by the
European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Likewise, the airworthiness standards needed to
approve future air taxis must also be set down.
In addition to the aforementioned companies, the German Ministry of Transport and air traffic
control authorities, HENSOLDT is also playing its part in this, with its significant aviation
experience in the defence and non-defence segments.
The challenges are enormous. They range from the regulatory framework for the future vertical
take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and the establishment of routes in cities and regions
through to the many technical solutions essential for autonomous flight operation.
HENSOLDT has the potential to actively participate in several areas at the same time. The company
is already supplying the first ground systems that allow unmanned aerial vehicles to be
monitored and guided and their routes to be controlled. After all, drones cannot communicate
with a tower. Unlike manned aircraft, their behaviour is ‘non-cooperative’, as the experts
In addition, HENSOLDT is investing in a special version of its proven ‘detect & avoid’ radar
system. Through the interplay of all kinds of sensors, it aims to deliver the data needed for
safe, collision-free, autonomous flight operation. Initial successful flight tests on board a Do
228 have already taken place.
HENSOLDT is not simply facing a door that is wide open to the future of
autonomous flight, but has already successfully taken its first steps across the threshold.
The dream of autonomous
HENSOLDT is developing a special version of its
‘detect & avoid’ radar for autonomous flight operation under the heading ‘Sensor Fusion’. This
will gather data from various sensors, thereby mapping the aircraft’s surroundings so
realistically that, in a first stage, a pilot will be able to fly the aircraft. This system is
already far superior to the human eye in terms of range as well as detection performance and
In the next stage, pilots will be able to guide or
control such aircraft from the ground using this data. And in just a few years, the data from
these systems may form the basis for fully autonomous autopilot control – from take-off to
A technology demonstrator of the new HENSOLDT radar
has already proven its capabilities in extensive ground and flight tests conducted in
cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Digital radar - detection and identification
Radar systems are traditionally part of HENSOLDT’s core
business. The company is also at the forefront of the next major step towards the fully digital
radar of the future.
The global market for radar systems has undergone a
fundamental shift from mechanically scanned (M-Scan) radars to electronically scanned (E-Scan)
radars over recent decades. With significantly improved sensor performance, digital technology
is now considered ‘state of the art’ and is used, for example, in the latest generation of the
Eurofighter’s CAPTOR-E radar system from HENSOLDT.
Advancing digitalisation is also making inroads in the
area of radar technology. In the case of the digital radar of the future, the limits imposed by
analogue signal processing are shifting more and more thanks to digital technology. Figuratively
speaking, the digitalisation of analogue signals is moving ever closer to the antenna. The
technology behind this is highly complex, and the results are more than impressive. HENSOLDT’s
current digital radar systems already prove this today.
Keeping an eye on friend and foe
Digital radar systems from HENSOLDT combine a variety of innovative technologies on the ground,
at sea and in the air, depending on the model, for the best possible results. They ensure
passive and active surveillance for better performance, can also act as jammers at the same
time, are highly reliable and bring transmitter and receiver together in one module. Their
automated target recognition and classification can be individually adapted to the prevailing
conditions, and they can flexibly exchange their data with other systems.
The new airborne multi-mission surveillance radars from HENSOLDT’s PrecISR product family thus
enable wide-area and simultaneous monitoring of ground, sea and air with ultra-high-resolution
imaging. The fighter radars currently under development will automatically warn pilots of
threats earlier than ever and enable the detection of even the smallest and very distant
targets. Digitalisation also allows for the separation of transmitter and receiver, where, for
example, radar signals are transmitted by an aircraft, while reflections are received by a
ground station. In this way, the ground station remains passive and thus undetectable, while at
the same time the detection rate increases – right up to the identification of stealth
On land, the TRML-4D presented in 2019 impressively demonstrates the possibilities of the new
technologies. Thanks to digital signal processing, this multi-function radar can simultaneously
track 1,500 targets within a radius of up to 110 kilometres and identify even objects measuring
just one square centimetre. With its integrated friend-or-foe identification system, it delivers
reliable IFF information with just one rotation of the antennas, thus consolidating HENSOLDT’s
position as a pioneer in this technology. Ground-based versions of this innovative radar will be
available as early as 2020.
Digital transmission and
Future developments hold numerous challenges in store. In addition to new threats from drones or
swarms of drones, for example, which are becoming smaller and smaller, this also includes the
increasingly dense signal spectra caused by mobile communication and the upcoming 5G standard,
which will make it even more difficult to categorise the signals received. This will be
accompanied by increasing customer requirements in terms of radar system range, resolution,
speed, target detection accuracy and tracking performance.
And the next stage of digitalisation is already in the starting blocks. With
the fully digital radar systems of the future, the conversion of analogue radar signals into
digital signals will even take place within the antenna, during transmission (and then also
during reception), for each individual channel. This requires significant experience in radio
frequency technology and the development of signal processing algorithms. HENSOLDT is probably
one of only a few companies worldwide which has this experience and is at the forefront of
technological development when it comes to advancing its systems towards software-defined
Printed electronics - the revolution in the laboratory
3D printing will revolutionise development and production.
HENSOLDT is convinced of this and is investing in the development of new processes for printing
In 3D printing, the material is applied layer by layer
instead of being removed by drilling, milling or etching, as in the case of conventional
processes. New shapes are possible, less waste is generated and parts can often be manufactured
at lower cost and on site. At the same time, 3D printing adds a further stage of digitalisation
to production. In addition to flexible mass production, 3D printers can also be used to
efficiently produce small series through to customised single items in a data-based process.
Since 2008, HENSOLDT has thus been using 3D printing
for both plastic and metal applications. In this way, for example, structures to cool a radar
transmitter that could not be produced in the traditional way can be created on screen. This is
no problem for a 3D printer. The cooling structures are printed layer by layer in aluminium.
Complex structured cavities that could not be made conventionally, either, can be created on the
inside. 3D printing not only makes components lighter and more compact, but also allows them to
perform several functions at the same time, such as cooling and electromagnetic shielding.
From rolling mill production to 3D printing of
The development of 3D printing of circuit boards and other components is now in full swing
worldwide. The Israeli company Nano Dimension, which has been a close partner of HENSOLDT for
several years, is a pioneer in this field. Together, the companies presented the new DragonFly
LDM for the first time in summer 2019. The DragonFly system can be used to print multilayer
printed circuit boards, antennas and coaxial lines, for example. The new LDM model works around
the clock, enabling fully automatic production of small quantities and individual custom pieces
The use of 3D printing offers several advantages for HENSOLDT with regard to the high-performance
electronics installed in its product lines: the complexity of electronic circuits (especially
for radio frequency technology) and their integration density can be increased while
facilitating specific customer requirements.
Investment in the future
Much of this is still in the future. But while it took around 500 years to get from the Gutenberg
Bible to colour laser printing, developmental steps in 3D printing are measured in months rather
than years. Specialists predict that in a few years’ time there will be new 3D printing
techniques for reliably creating electronics, from coaxial cables to highly complex circuits,
regardless of time, place and supplier.
Depending on the status of material development and customer requirements,
this will open up opportunities for HENSOLDT that will revolutionise the entire production
process. And as with so many other things: if you don’t think about tomorrow today, you’re going
to get left behind.
HENSOLDT has been testing DragonFly 3D printing of
electronic components since 2016. Together with the printer’s manufacturer Nano Dimension,
HENSOLDT has thus gained practical experience in the production of multilayer printed circuit
boards. The new LDM system considerably reduces time and costs and increases the degree of
freedom in development. It enables printed circuit boards to be produced up to 40 per cent
faster than by conventional methods and also allows three-dimensional use. HENSOLDT took part in
a joint LDM campaign and produced reference PCBs to demonstrate the advantages of the new LDM
system. LDM stands for ‘Lights-out Digital Manufacturing’, which refers to the fact that the
system can run automatically around the clock without human supervision.
HENSOLDT Ventures - innovative and succesful
HENSOLDT Ventures, founded in 2018, has had a sustained positive
impact on the company’s pace of innovation. Phenomenal success in the Cyber Security, Analytics and
Robotics segments are laying the foundations for further growth.
HENSOLDT’s core competencies include innovativeness,
creativity and ingenuity. The process from the idea to the finished product has been redefined
at HENSOLDT Ventures, now divided into three segments. This is reflected in profitable new
products, services and business models. HENSOLDT Ventures has become part of the corporate
culture and is having a sustainable impact on it through its start-up flair.
Cyber Security – giving hackers no chance
The HENSOLDT Cyber team, referred to internally as the ‘young guns’ given the average age of just
over 30, is now made of up almost 30 employees. Having been wooed away from other well-known
high-tech companies, some based in Silicon Valley, they are focusing on a key future area:
protecting an ever-more digitally connected world from dreaded hacker attacks.
The ‘young guns’ celebrated their first major success in 2019. The operating system with a secure
processor developed by them is believed to be the only one in the world to have been
mathematically proven free of software bugs. This means that conventional external attacks miss
their target. In the defence area, the software and hardware can be used in existing HENSOLDT
products such as radars and cameras. Furthermore, there are countless applications in the
commercial Industry 4.0 environment. Initial projects with industrial customers have already
begun. Series maturity should be achieved in 2020 and market launch will be supported by
increased sales activities.
Analytics – protecting people and property
Data is considered the 21st century’s oil. But just like the refining of oil, data only achieves
its real value when processed. The Ventures unit is now also taking on this processing by way of
data fusion and analysis at HENSOLDT, having created a solid basis for this by acquiring a
company that specialises in open source intelligence.
One specific example illustrates the potential: through fully automated analysis of data from
local radar stations by means of artificial intelligence, potential hazards in an area can be
identified and graphically illustrated. Such technology is also intended to be used by the armed
forces, considerably reducing deployment risk. In this way, used together with technology
integrated into other HENSOLDT products such as automatic speech recognition or automatic,
data-supported battlefield assessment, data can significantly help to protect people and
This technology not only serves a purpose in the military but can also be
used in many ways by other authorities, in industry and in other business areas for forecasting
and analysing events.
Robotics – detection and capture
The Xpeller drone detection and defence system has been one of HENSOLDT Ventures’ most successful
developments since its launch in 2019. The modular Xpeller product range can be configured
according to the operational requirements of different users. In 2019, users were able to field
test all sensor configurations of the Xpeller modular system. These included protecting
high-profile events in Germany and France as well as use at airports such as Gatwick and
Edinburgh, plus deployment by security forces within and outside of Europe.
In order to continue to introduce optimised and innovative features – resulting from operational
user experience and ever-advancing drone technology – as well as system elements such as those
relating to automated data analysis, multi-sensor data fusion and artificial intelligence, the
Xpeller family will remain with HENSOLDT Ventures in 2020.
As a ground-breaking countermeasure for use at airports in particular, the Xpeller team is also
working on development and system integration of an interception drone. The combination of
onboard sensor technology, an autopilot function and artificial intelligence will allow the
drone in the Xpeller system network to approach and intercept non-cooperative drones. Using a
net launcher, drones will be captured, transported and taken to a secure location for evidence
gathering or to conduct a forensic examination. Given the variability in payload, the drone
could also be used in other application areas beyond Xpeller, such as optical surveillance of
industrial facilities by means of optronics or mobile communication intelligence by the police
through RF detectors.
HENSOLDT Ventures is ideally positioned for further success. Just one year
after being founded, the team already managed to win orders worth in the tens of millions in
2019 and is to be further expanded in 2020. After all, all areas of the company benefit from
Energy - anytime and anywhere
Solutions for the hydrogen-based storage of energy from renewable
sources are among the core strengths of the new HENSOLDT company NEXEYA. In both the defence and
non-defence sectors, this opens up a wide range of applications and thus business
The intermittent availability of variable renewable
energies such as wind and solar power is one of the major challenges we face in the energy
transition. With its highly flexible solutions for hydrogen-based energy conversion and storage,
NEXEYA’s portfolio includes the right products for this. Here, electricity from renewable energy
sources is used to generate hydrogen from water with the help of an electrolyser – in a
carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly process. This hydrogen can be stored and reconverted
on site or it can be distributed via transportable special tanks (which can be installed in
containers, for example) for reconversion and use elsewhere.
Especially in areas that are difficult to access, the uninterrupted supply of power to ground
stations, radar systems and the like may pose serious issues. NEXEYA’s transportable systems
mean ‘problem solved’, because they allow energy generated elsewhere to be stored and the
hydrogen produced to be quickly delivered to the site in need of power. At the same time, the
systems are suitable for supplying emergency power to computing centres or even entire military
In the civilian sector, the possible applications are also almost unlimited. They range from the
supply of remote radar systems, communications antennas and weather stations through to the
electrification of entire settlements – even in crisis situations, for example, in the event of
a prolonged power failure. Using an intelligent energy management and control system, even
entire neighbourhoods, factories, airports and ports can be combined in so-called microgrids and
connected to the grid with small energy-storing power plants.
However, this technology also opens up new ways to make the e-mobility of the future a reality
right now – by supplying electric vehicles with power generated from hydrogen, but also by
directly refuelling hydrogen vehicles.
For ports, NEXEYA has developed a special Green Harbour product range, in which emission-free
mobile solutions supply all of the ships in a port with green electricity. Especially in times
when energy-hungry cruise ships with their on-board power generation are causing poor air
quality in many ports, this is a more than environmentally friendly alternative.
NEXEYA’s energy solutions thus offer an eco-friendly approach that adds a
new, sustainable and innovative product line to the HENSOLDT portfolio.
Kalætron - detection and warning
In an emergency, a radar warning system only has half a second to
warn the pilot of a possible threat. A blink of an eye that decides everything. But also a half a
second in which the artificial intelligence in the new Kalætron radar warning system produces almost
Most of the radar warning systems currently in use
process signals from the receiving antennas in analogue form and convert them into digital
signals at a later stage. This complicates the process and provides increasingly unsatisfactory
results in times when the number of civilian signals in the atmosphere is constantly increasing
due to mobile phones and other devices. Modern air defence systems make targeted use of this
weakness by hopping between certain frequencies in fractions of a second, transmitting on
frequencies with superimposed mobile phone signals.
It is thus becoming increasingly difficult for the
warning systems on board fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and drones to detect potential threats
in time to issue a warning. With its new Kalætron digital radar warning system, HENSOLDT offers
a solution which made international headlines shortly after its launch in May 2019.
A technological revolution
Thanks to its fully digital design, the new radar warner reliably detects and identifies threats
over a wide frequency range, with an exceptionally low false alarm rate. For this purpose,
Kalætron continuously scans the environment for enemy signals and, if it finds that it has been
detected by enemy radar, warns the pilot early enough to take defensive measures. The
fibre-optic connections made possible by digitalisation considerably shorten data transmission
and minimise signal loss.
The real highlight, however, lies in the artificial intelligence (AI), which automatically
suppresses reflections and filters out the few relevant items from the vast amount of data in a
fraction of a second. The integrated database compares the signals received with already stored
patterns and learns from them. At the same time, the AI provides novel analysis options for the
detection of unknown radar signals to guarantee that the user can successfully carry out
missions today and tomorrow.
For every requirement
As the only fully digital radar warning system currently in the market, Kalætron is also
distinguished by its particularly small design and modular approach.
To be able to meet its customers’ varied requirements, HENSOLDT offers the Kalætron radar warning
system in three different versions. The Kalætron S platform is particularly suitable for use in
small helicopters and unmanned aircraft. The M platform provides a slightly extended performance
spectrum for more complex helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Finally, the L platform
offers top performance for transport and combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter, but also for
other types of fighter aircraft in service in many countries.
This gives HENSOLDT a lot of potential in the market and the
opportunity to market Kalætron’s core components as key elements in complex airborne EW systems.
Developed and produced in Germany, Kalætron has already aroused great interest beyond the
European market from well-known defence companies in Asia and North America. Kalætron –
innovation made by HENSOLDT.
Chip production - small and smaller
Today, computer chips play a central role in almost all
HENSOLDT products and solutions for defence and non-defence applications. And the company’s
innovations are now also used in their production.
HENSOLDT’s expertise and engineering skills extend
well beyond the widely known fields. Indeed, innovative products from the HENSOLDT site in
Oberkochen are increasingly being used in industrial production, such as the manufacture of
semiconductors, colloquially known as computer chips. However, industry follows a different
rhythm than defence business. In April 2019, HENSOLDT founded the Industrial Commercial
Solutions business segment in order to focus more specifically on this market.
Everyone is talking about Big Data, Industry 4.0 and autonomous driving. However, these
technologies of the near future will only be made possible by highly efficient and powerful
computer chips. To produce these, chip wafers are illuminated with ever shorter wavelengths in
the photolithographic process. Only in this way can increasingly complex structures be applied
to the wafers by laser.
And this is exactly where HENSOLDT’s innovative Final Focus Metrology (FFM) comes into play. The
high-precision measuring device can optimise the laser beam accuracy, thus increasing the speed
and efficiency of energy-intensive production. This enables large manufacturers to achieve
profitable mass production despite extremely high investment costs.
The third generation
In 2019, HENSOLDT received a major order from a customer in the semiconductor industry for its
FFM toolsets. However, as the demands on chips increase, so too do those on the systems needed
for their manufacture.
For the next (now third) generation of the FFM unit, both the optics and mechanical design must
therefore be completely upgraded. This is a major challenge, as the first prototypes are
scheduled to be ready by the end of the third quarter of 2020.
In order to meet the schedule and allow for production of one FFM unit
per week in the future, HENSOLDT has significantly expanded its production capacity at the
Oberkochen site. After the first and second generations, the third FFM generation should now
also be a success.