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  • USAF Leadership Roils ISR Plans
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:56 PM on Sep 17, 2009

    The Air Force is instigating a re-examination and rationalization of ground moving target indicator technology that is creating waves in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance world.

    Three key programs in play for these new technologies are Northrop Grumman’s Block 40 Global Hawk and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aircraft, Boeing’s new P-8A patrol aircraft and potential radar upgrades to Northrop Grumman’s long serving E-8 Joint-Stars radar ground surveillance aircraft.

    Global Hawk production may be delayed to examine some of this newer radar technology. It is certain, however, that the P-8A will carry a Raytheon-Boeing advanced airborne sensor (AAS) radar produced in a new, so-far closely-held, multi-billion-dollar program. In addition, Joint-Stars officials are looking at dueling Northrop Grumman and Raytheon technologies that would allow the E-8C to track walking people from high altitude.

    The origin of these technology reconsiderations has some roots in the recent joint combat operation of specially modified P-3C and E-8C radar surveillance aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, say radar specialists with insight into the project and the advanced radars.

    The aircraft were conducting forensic missions – including monitoring construction, transportation and placing of improvised explosive devices for U.S. national intelligence agencies, they say. The effort coordinated ground moving target indicator information and coherent change data to closely monitor and compare past and current enemy activity. The forensic products allowed prediction of future events and mapping of insurgent networks and their minute-by-minute activities.

    “Eagle Archer” P-3Cs – carrying a multi-band littoral surveillance radar system (LSRS)
    and E-8C Joint Stars modified with “Eagle Focus” software worked together on these special missions in 2006 although they initially didn’t know of each other’s existence, participants say.  LSRS had a 40-ft. X 1-ft. antenna (for 40 sq. ft. of aperture) and an advantage in range from the use of Ku-band. Joint Stars had a 48-sq. ft. aperture and its X-band operations gave an advantage in power and weather penetration.

    “Both had immaculate CEPs,” says a participant in the operation. “But you can’t fight physics and a smaller beam gives you an advantage. Also, LSRS had more [communications and data link] channels [for better distribution of the intelligence data].  The [intelligence agencies] fell in love with the LSRS technology.”

    Northrop Grumman is preparing software upgrades in its “dismounted moving target indicator” project that allows mission crews to simultaneously conduct wide-area scan and detailed observations of more than a dozen 10-sq.-mi. patches with enough resolution to see people moving at walking speed at ranges up to 150 mi. (AW&ST, Sept. 7, p. 32.)

    New radars can combine X- (to see better through moisture) and Ku- (better range) bands, power output and greatly improved processing to extend surveillance ranges beyond 100-150 naut. mi. and improve resolution within those ranges.

    Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR, asked about the service’s initiatives to slow Joint Stars upgrades and production of Block 40 Global Hawks, pointed to a wide-ranging technology re-assessment.

    “There are analyses on-going to make the determinations and balance all the different constraints we are faced with to come up with a decision about GMTI,” Deptula says. “Block 40 Global Hawk provides GMTI capability [as does Joint Stars upgrades] which is part of that alternative mix that programmers are developing. We have to look at the entire spectrum of capabilities and conduct an effective analysis of alternatives to determine the way ahead.”

    There are some specifics about plans under review for the Global Hawk Block 40 unmanned aerial system. It was originally planned with the Northrop Grumman-Raytheon MP-RTIP as the radar of choice. Now Air Force officials are re-examining that decision with an eye to radar tile technology (used in the F/A-18EF and F-35 JSF) that allows more flexibility in antenna design. With small, active electronically-scanned array (AESA) tiles, the equivalent of a 20 ft. antenna (like that carried by Joint Stars) could be constructed in the Global Hawk’s existing radar canoe, say radar specialists involved in the work.

    The first Block 40 was rolled out in June and three others are in various stages of manufacture. The first Block 30, which will carry the Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload, is expected in Guam in the fall of 2010 with another to follow at NAS Sigonella, Italy, late next year. Central Command is third in line to get the Block 30 in 2011.

    Block 40 Global Hawk is the configuration baseline for the NATO ground surveillance program, which will also use the MP-RTIP radar.

    Tags: ar99, ISR, USAF, AESA

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