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Reinventing the wheel (?), extending capabilities and talking with the next generation

by Asif Anwar | 3月 09, 2012

DARPA released a broad-agency announcement (DARPA-BAA-12-27) for the Fixed Wireless at a Distance program. The program aims to overcome perceived limitations of today's military mobile ad-hoc networks (MANETs) and develop mobile communications infrastructure that interconnects small groups of military radios. The system should be able to support legacy and emerging military systems and integrate commercial 3G or 4G commercial cellular and commercial Wi-Fi base station technology.

Communications must be supported over distances of up to twelve miles for legacy systems and beyond 30 miles for emerging systems that may have MIMO capabilities and be capable of two to twenty simultaneous coherent signal streams. Technology options under consideration include increasing transmit power or receive sensitivity; increasing base station antenna height; increasing base station antenna gain; and space-time coding.

There are solutions already available that could potentially be adapted to meet these requirements without necessitating the development of new solutions and one example for consideration could be Lockheed Martin’s MONAX network and Raytheon’s MAINGATE solution.

It will be interesting to see what solutions are put forward by industry and whether budgetary constraints will lead to a more pragmatic approach to meeting DARPA requirements as opposed to the traditional philosophy of designing systems from scratch leading to the inevitable cycle of delays and cost overruns.

A couple of examples from the NTISR (non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) front as the extension of an existing EW solution show how the defense industry can support future efforts without having to design whole new systems.

Northrop Grumman received two follow-on LRIP contract awards from the USAF to provide additional LITENING SE advanced targeting pods. LITENING SE pods include full 1Kx1K forward looking infrared, 1Kx1K charge-coupled device and short wave infrared sensors, color symbols, tracker improvement, enhanced zoom, and two-way multi-band data link. LITENING SE recently completed an extensive flight test program on the F-16 Block 40/50 and A-10C aircraft.

Meanwhile, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) has awarded Thales a contract to adapt ASTAC tactical reconnaissance pods for the Mirage 2000D. The ASTAC pod is designed to be carried under the fuselage of F4 Phantom, Mirage F1 and Mirage 2000 combat aircraft to provide an ELINT and tactical reconnaissance capability, including updating the overall situation and generating the electronic order of battle.

Roke Manor Research, a Chemring Group company, has expanded its RESOLVE Electronic Warfare (EW) range to include permanent vehicle fixtures and static mast-mounted deployments. The new systems extend RESOLVE’s modular manpack capabilities allowing it to be fitted to a variety of platforms, whilst maintaining the flexibility to be easily dismounted for use in complex terrain or discreet operations.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has unveiled the F-16V, a new variant and upgrade package that comes with AESA radar as well as upgraded mission computer and architecture, and improvements to the cockpit.

On the unmanned front, while the Global Hawk is not a legacy platform per se when compared to the F-16, an expanding mission envelope towards maritime surveillance has led to the sensor capabilities being upgraded. Northrop Grumman recently commenced flight tests of the first developmental multifunction active sensor (MFAS) radar destined for the U.S. Navy's MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System (BAMS UAS).

Lockheed Martin’s new F-16V variant and upgrade package will also include datalinks allowing the aircraft to operate alongside the F-35 and F-22. The new capability on the F-16 means even if a country is unable to buy the F-35 or F-22, it can still have fighters that can operate alongside U.S. and other air forces’ fifth generation fighters.

Lockheed Martin is targeting both the domestic and export market with V upgrades with South Korea’s requirement to upgrade its F-16s and the U.S. Air Force’s interest in upgrading 300-350 F-16s. Other potential opportunities could include Singapore and Taiwan.

LONGBOW recently delivered the first production Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (UTA) to the U.S. Army for the Apache Block III helicopter. LONGBOW UTA is a two-way, high-bandwidth data link for the Apache that enables aircrews to control the sensor and flight path of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  UTA-equipped Apache aircrews can operate a UAS at long range and receive real-time, high-definition streaming video on their multi-function displays.

With budgetary constraints in mind, it will be interesting to see whether a more pragmatic approach to meeting future DARPA requirements will be adopted especially where it appears that there are existing solutions can be adapted. The drive to provide extended capabilities is also being seen in other areas and while in some cases the extension of capabilities will be a “nice to have” feature there will also be a genuine requirement to adapt legacy platforms to meet future needs with communications, radar and electronic warfare systems and the underlying RF technologies pivotal in extending these capabilities.

Clients of the ADS service can read the full report, Reinventing the wheel (?), extending capabilities and talking with the next generation 

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