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  • Old Problems, New Solutions
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:55 PM on Nov 19, 2009

    Contractors are offering hints about what they’re going to bring to the demonstration, prototype phase of competition for the Joint and Allied Threat Awareness System (JATAS) to protect Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft from both dumb and smart weapons.

    The two remaining competitors are Lockheed Martin and the team of Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and BAE Systems.

    JATAS is to be the core of a system that can grow -- as technology and funding allow -- to detect lasers, small arms fire and shoulder-fired rockets as well as guided surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. Eventually, JATAS is expected to encompass cyber network detection, analysis and, possibly, attack.

    Demand for the bullet, laser and missile-detection capabilities is being accelerated by the heavy volume of automatic small arms fire encountered in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, by the availability on the black market of Russian-built SA-16 Gimlet, SA-18 Grouse and SA-24 Grinch man-portable, air defense missiles (manpads).

    SA-16s, for example, can be bought for about $40,000 each, say U.S. Defense officials. Defense laboratories have bought SA-18s on the black market (for an undisclosed amount) and they were delivered by a commercial mail service, researchers contend. Both missiles are hit-to-kill and they carry modifications to delay their detonation until the missile has penetrated the target. The SA-24 has contact or non-contact options. It offers a combination of rods and fragments to expand and optimize the kill envelope, say U.S. analysts.

    JATAS eventually is expected to integrate electronic attack and warfare capabilities as well.

    “We really need to work the whole [electro-magnetic] spectrum now, not just because of manpads [man-portable air defense systems],” says Burt Keirstead, BAE Systems’ director of Navy programs for survivability solutions. “[However,] The big threat at the moment, if you look at rotary wing losses, is hostile [small arms and rocket propelled grenade] fire. It turns out that we’ve done a pretty good [missile warning] job especially with the Army. I’d argue that more important is a hostile fire [detection] capability that’s going into the JATAS program. At lower altitudes, that’s the greater threat.

    Acoustic sensors will be examined later in the program to detect and locate the source of ball-ammunition, rifle and machinegun fire that have no infrared signature to exploit. But there are hints about work on advanced algorithms that are to combine information from many sources other than acoustics to determine the source of ball-ammunition fire.

    “We are looking at acoustic as well as a few other options … as supplements to our IR sensor for the complete hostile fire indicator,” says David Huber, Lockheed Martin’s JATAS program director. “Acoustic [sensors] may be farthest along in its maturity, but there are other technologies we are looking into. We’re going to create discriminators for ourselves [across the program] from our strong capabilities in algorithms, integration and sensor packaging.”

    One of the project’s core requirements is for a broad-bandwidth, large-memory processor with open architecture as well as memory, bandwidth and processing speed reserves of 200% for adding future functions to the system. Another requirement calls for a mid-wave, two-color (3-5 micron) IR system that allows targets to be picked more efficiently from interfering sources of radiation. It is expected to generate fewer false alarms than systems based on ultra-violet sensors.

    The mid-IR part of the spectrum was picked for its longer-range target detection. A processor – built around a standard commercial design for low cost and interoperability
    would be common with a third generation processor being developed by the Army that allows modular insertion of additional capabilities.

    “[JATAS also] has a laser warning capability embedded in it,” Keirstead says. For example, Goodrich provides laser warning that determines the direction and type of threat laser and the type of weapon it is associated with.

    “It’s safe to say that growth for these applications … will let us go look at air-to-air threats, for example,” Keirstead says. “The big difference when you go from manpads to air-to-air threats is just the range. One of the advantages of embedding infrared capability is getting extended range so there is more potential to deal with long-range missiles.”

    Nor do the plans for growth stop there. There also is a long-term requirement to tack on other advanced sensors like a network detection device that could sense, identify and map the activity of local IT networks that might be part of a threat system.

    Tags: ar99, helos, Afghanistan

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