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By Stefan Nitschke, M.Sc., Defence Analyst

Recce pods carried by modern manned aircraft are increasingly being optimised for net-centric warfare operations. Among the Scandinavian nations involved with upgrading their fixed-wing reconnaissance assets for real-time intelligence-gathering, both the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) and the Royal Swedish Air Force (RSwAF) now opted for the state-of-the-art Modular Reconnaissance Pod (MRP) from the Danish defence electronics firm Terma A/S.

The company has been awarded a contract from Saab Avionics AB for the supply of its MRP-II for the RSwAF’s JAS 39 Gripen (SPK39) multirole fighter aircraft. Saab Avionics AB has jointly bid together with Terma A/S for this important reconnaissance programme, with Aerotech Telub acting as a further subcontractor for the pod system and integrated logistics support. RSwAF officials quoted that the aircraft which is actually limited to visual and radar recce, need to be employed in a great diversity of air-to-ground reconnaissance tasks carried out from varying altitudes which the aircraft crews will fulfil to gain targeting superiority across the modern battlefield. Certainly replacing near-obsolescent AJSF 37 Viggen reconnaissance aircraft currently assigned to the RSwAF’s rapid reaction (SWAFRAP) force, the integration of the 1,500-pound MRP-II pods on the Gripen’s under-fuselage centreline station will be done by SaabTech.

The Swedish FMV procurement agency already has cleared the system following extensive ground testing. The delivery of six production pods is due to start in August 2005 and be completed in 2006. Four pods will eventually go to the F17 Wing which will be responsible for the SWAFRAP commitment, while two other RSwAF wings operating Gripen aircraft will receive two pods each. The delivery also comprises the hybrid structure Environmental Control Unit (ECU) to be installed within the tail section of the MRP-II, the Ground Support System, and portions of the modular, open architecture Reconnaissance Management System (RMS). While interfaced to the aircraft avionics through a MIL-STD-1553B databus, the RMS provides management and control of all equipment and functions in the pod as well as the storage of data on the digital mass memory.

Aimed at collecting clear imagery at great standoff ranges and closing the sensor-to-shooter loop, airborne recce systems like the MRP-II pod have specific design characteristics. Among these is their capability to be incorporated into fully automated multifunction systems to provide for rapid image exploitation and analysis by intelligence cells and dissemination to all levels of command. For daylight, medium-altitude, horizon-to-horizon recce coverage, the MRP-II pod which is conceptually based on the RDAF, Royal Netherlands Air Force, and Belgian Air Force F-16 MRP-I, carries datalink antennas in its nose and tail sections and a Recon Optical CA-270V framing camera which is carried within a 360° rotating section with a small IR translucent window.
In the end result, the MRP-II pod will be fully connected with the Ground Support Station. The ground-based image exploitation system will have COTS-based graphics and image-processing hardware disks, monitors, printers, CD readers/writers, and specialised processing, enhancement, and target recognitions tools to allow for rapid processing, analysis, and dissemination of the imagery obtained from the aircraft’s mass memory cartridge. Data can be also transferred to the aircraft to be superimposed on the tactical situation display’s electronic map in the aircraft’s cockpit.

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