July 11, 2012
FARNBOROUGH — Missile guidance seekers could be helping helicopter pilots land safely in brownout conditions that have caused dozens of helicopter accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan — three out of four accidents, according to U.S. military data, and more losses than through enemy fire.
BAE Systems does not like to specify where the radar seeker that forms the front end of its Brownout Landing Aid System Technology (Blast) synthetic vision comes from, but details provided make it fairly clear that it is the MBDA seeker from the Brimstone missile.
Key advantages of the millimeter-wave (94 GHz) radar include the fact that it can be steered rapidly, allowing it to look into turns if the helicopter is not making a straight approach, and its ability to provide en route wire-strike protection as well as takeoff and landing guidance.
As currently being tested, Blast does not provide imagery. Instead, it detects and classifies objects — buildings, vehicles, wires, etc. — and superimposes them onto a ground image derived from a digital terrain elevation database. (It can do this, unlike an infrared sensor, because radar provides a three-dimensional picture.) However, BAE Systems says that it is looking at a system that would fuse Blast data with an infrared image.
This year, Blast has been undergoing pilot-in-the-loop tests for a number of agencies — including the U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate and Advanced Aviation Technology Directorate, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and French special operations forces, with synthetic views projected onto a head-up display.
BAE Program Director Milan Dedek acknowledges that U.S. research into counter-brownout technologies has been “fragmented” and says “requirements were not clearly written until recently.” However, the Army is expected to issue an RFP later this year, and the Navy has a firm requirement to equip Marine Corps CH-53D/Es — but not, apparently, MV-22B Ospreys. “They have a different mission,” Dedek says.