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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

17 Jul 06. Justin Monger U.S. ASTOR Programme Manager, Raytheon Systems, unveiled the ASTOR system in its entirety for the first time at Farnborough today, the Operational Level Ground Station mounted in an ISO container and the Tactical Ground Station with satellite dish mounted on a Pinzgauer 6×6 vehicle and the star of the show, the Bombardier Global Express Sentinel R Mk I in the colours of No 5 Squadron RAF. The ground segment elements have now completed environmental testing and speed and mobility tests in the U.K.

Having followed this Programme from fruition to today it was a very special moment for BATTLESPACE to see the system in full operational mode. The Sentinel aircraft was certainly roomier than expected with 3 work stations and seating for seven and two pilots.

The flight test programme for the ASTOR programme is progressing well in the U.S. and the U.K. As of today a/c #1 has been delivered whilst a/c #2 is well into its series of check flights while, in the U.K., had completed its first phase of flight testing, a/c #3 has just had its first flight and the ISD is expected to be November this year with the Training Programme starting almost immediately.

Successful system connectivity was demonstrated on the first attempt with virtual end-to-end data flow demonstrated from the aircraft to the ground station in near real-time. Hand in hand with the radar and system testing regime, software release-vetting continues with additional image-manipulation features enabled such as pan and zoom controls. The aircraft had also conducted data exchange tests with J-Stars confirming the interoperability of the aircraft. Monger confirmed that the company has a new contract to link ASTOR Ground Stations with J-STARS Ground Stations.

Monger, said, “We are well into the flight test programme and making very good progress, especially regarding the radar and its imaging quality. The ASTOR integration and test programme is proving out the revolutionary capabilities of this system and securing its role in network enabled coalition operations – from SAR and GMTI, connectivity with air to ground and interoperability with systems like Joint STARS.”

Monger then went on to describe a series of SAR and GMTI images taken by the ASTOR DMR radar and explained the significance of these images in that the quality was excellent first time around. The GMTI images had proved to be of excellent quality following further development and tests in the second quarter.

Now it is entering service, the MoD’s ASTOR system is the most advanced of its type in the world. The complete system will include five Sentinel R Mk I aircraft, each equipped with dual-mode (SAR and Moving Target Indicator) radar and operator workstations where the mission management and imagery can be exploited and then transmitted to the various brigade and divisional/joint level ASTOR ground stations by datalink. The system operates in near real time to give battlefield commanders rapid access to highly accurate information about what is happening in their area of interest.

Tom Culligan of Raytheon said that a team from the U.S. DoD had been given a conducted tour of the system and came away hugely impressed.

There is little doubt that now that the sensor and the aircraft are totally de-risked and about to go operational that there will be renewed interest in the system from many quarters, particularly the U.S. Army for its ACS replacement system after the demise of the Lockheed Embraer-based offering. There is little doubt that the Army will want a proven and de-risked system next time it goes down that road and ASTOR fits the bill nicely. In addition with growing budgetary pressures on AGS and the problems of managing 23 Nations with four aircraft, who knows, that NATO could, politics apart, take another look at an ASTOR-based system which after all was repu

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