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  • Of FLKAs, AESAs and Instant Armed C-130s
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 10:29 AM on Apr 18, 2011

    The Latin America Aerospace & Defense show last week in Rio was close-to-dominated by something that for a long time was considered tangential and often inferior to defense: Security, in all its forms.

    That shouldn't be surprising. International tensions are few and declining in South America, external threats are even fewer, but guerillas, narco-terrorists, smugglers, resource-thieves, human traffickers and other assorted low-lifes are abundant.

    Brazil in particular is extending the concept of the air-force-operated SIVAM -- the security system for the Amazon basin -- to what the country's leaders call the "blue Amazon", Brazil's coastline and  vast exclusive economic zone. The Navy plans to operate SisGAAz (which stands for the Blue Amazon Management System) to monitor the sea traffic in this area, from local small craft to transiting cruise liners, to protect resources including oil and fisheries, and to deal with environmental and other emergencies.

    At the same time, Brazil is gearing up for the 2014 soccer World Cup, to be played in stadiums across the country, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro -- vulnerable to high-profile terror attack, civil disturbance or accidents. Saab, still engaged in the F/X-2 fighter competition, brought its South African customer into LAAD to talk about the Gripen's role in providing armed air overwatch for the 2010 World Cup.

    Supersonic fighters, as much fun as they are, probably won't be the primary airborne element of the large-scale security systems of the near future. Now, I am going to be a bit heretical and suggest that the unmanned air vehicle may not fill that role either. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a sharp increase in the global population of FLKAs, or Funny Looking King Airs, and their larger and smaller relatives.

    At LAAD, I talked to a few companies in that business. Canada's Hiss Inc is a small company founded by an ex-Wescam engineer, which integrates high-performance thermal imagers (mostly FLIR Systems' BriteSTAR family) onto manned platforms, together with workstations and communications gear. Hiss is also a distributor for Sabir, a package, including a swing-down turret mount and observation windows, that bolts into the paratroop door apertures of the C-130.

    Another aspect of Sabir, that Hiss doesn't stress, is that the swing mount carries a bomb rack -- so the aircraft could be configured with a turret on one side and a small precision weapon on the other. It is developed by a low-profile company called Airdyne Aerospace Corp.

    A Google Earth image of Airdyne's facility in Florida shows what appears to be an Army C-23 Sherpa, used as the platform for the Constant Hawk wide-area-surveillance system, and hence the granddaddy of FLKAs.

    blog post photo

    Selex Galileo, meanwhile, is busily selling its X-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology into the security market worldwide. Selex now has three US programs:  the Seaspray 7500E for the Coast Guard's HC-130H, in service;  the Vixen 500E for the Customs & Border Protection's Cessna Citations, just starting flight test, and a 7500E installation for CBP King Airs, under contract and intended to detect ultralight intruders. The USCG is talking about using smaller Seaspray radars on its helicopters.

    Recently, too, General Atomics has been promoting its Griffin Eye, and IAI-Elta showed a model of its EL/I-3120 at LAAD.

    There are a lot of reasons for the apparently retrograde trend to manned aircraft. In a security application, as opposed to warfare, the platform has to share airspace with civilian traffic, a problem with UAVs; and in a security mission, there usually is no risk of a shootdown, or of a crew being captured.

    Multi-sensor UAVs are expensive, but even the best have a tendency to crash or get lost. The Missile Technology Control Regime keeps the Predator B/Reaper off the global market. And the UAV needs full-time over-the-horizon satcoms, but only the largest nations have ample satcoms that they own and control.

    With all these factors, the idea of putting the expensive sensor and communications gear, plus operators and workstations, on a reliable, proven and easily supported commercial or transport aircraft, from a Diamond TwinStar at the low end to a CN-235 at the top, starts to look attractive.

    Tags: ar99, wellington, security

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