U.S. ARMY DEVELOPING NEXT-GENERATION SURVEILLANCE AIRCRAFT
By Kris Osborn
06 Dec 12. U.S. Army scientists, engineers and program developers are making substantial progress building and integrating a technically sophisticated battlefield surveillance aircraft called Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System in a laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., service officials said.
The initial task, now underway at Aberdeen’s Joint Test and Integration
Facility, is aimed at engineering and integrating an Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, or EMARSS, fuselage with cameras, sensors, software, antennas, intelligence databases and electronic equipment so that the Army can deliver four Engineering Manufacturing Development aircraft to Afghanistan as part of a forward assessment of the capabilities, said Raymond Santiago, deputy product manager, Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems.
“An EMARSS Forward Operational Assessment will place this system in the hands of our Soldiers, allowing them to inform an assessment as to whether the system meets the approved requirements. We will get to see the system being used to gather real-world data in a combat environment, with a high optempo. This will help us refine and establish the architecture for the platform,” an Army acquisition official explained.
The Army plans to complete the EMARSS EMD Phase with a minimum of four aircraft systems. Overall, the EMD contract has options to procure two additional EMD systems and 4-6 Low Rate Initial Production systems.
Plans for the EMARSS aircraft include efforts to engineer a surveillance
aircraft with a wide range of vital combat-relevant capabilities, such as the ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence information of great value to warfighters in real time; it is being built to do this with an integrated suite of cameras, sensors, communications and signals intelligence-gathering technologies and a data-link with ground-based intelligence databases allowing it to organize and communicate information of great relevance to a commander’s area of responsibility, Santiago explained.
The work at the JTIF laboratory, involving a significant development and
integration-related collaborative effort with Army and industry engineers, is aimed at reducing risk through rapid prototyping and software and sensor integration. The EMARSS fuselage in the laboratory is a built-to specification model of a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350, Santiago said.
“The laboratory gives us the flexibility to try things out with the fuselage. This helps us with how we configure the equipment,” Santiago added.
A key aim of the effort is to engineer and configure a modular aircraft designed with “open architecture” and a plug-and-play capability, allowing it to successfully integrate and function effectively with a variety of different sensor payloads, software packages and electronic equipment, he said.
“We want to build one bird with as many common capability packages on it as well as a full-motion video camera. We want it to be sensor agnostic,” Santiago said.
For example, the EMARSS aircraft is being configured to integrate a range of sensor packages such as Electro-Optical/Infrared cameras, MX-15 full-motion video cameras and an imaging sensor technology known as Wide Area Surveillance System able to identify and produce images spanning over a given area of terrain, Army acquisition officials explained.
The EMARSS capability is unique in that it is engineered with a data-link
connecting the aircraft to the Army’s ground-based intelligence database called Distributed Common Ground System – Army. DCGS-A is a comprehensive integrated intelligence data repository, able to compile, organize, display and distribute information from more than 500 data sources; DCGS-A incorporates data from a wide array of sensors, including space-based sensors,