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Army aviation suite adapted for Marine Huey: Naval Research Laboratory uses existing technology to develop command post.

The Marine Corps plans to field a lighter, smaller version of the Army's new airborne command post. A suite of digital radios and computers would be installed on Huey helicopters to replace outdated Vietnam-era consoles.

A prototype of the system--called the improved airborne command and control capability (IAC3)--recently passed a critical design review and continues to be tested at the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, D.C. The NRL was the original designer of the Army's helicopter-based command post, called the A2C2S (Army airborne command and control system). The host platform for the A2C2S is the UH-60L Blackhawk.

The Marines, however, were not interested in the A2C2S, because that system requires a dedicated helicopter platform to serve in that role. Instead, the Marines wanted a removable bolt-in kit that could be installed by Marine mechanics on any Huey, right on the flight line. With a small inventory of Hueys (about 107), the Corps is reluctant to assign any of them as dedicated airborne command posts, officials said.

The weight of the A2C2S also was a problem, at about 1,500 pounds. The Marine IAC3 is expected to weigh 250 pounds.

The command-and-control console currently in the Huey, the ASC-26, was designed 30 years ago. It only provides line-of-sight voice communications, so aircrews have to rely on maps and other devices to navigate and obtain battlefield intelligence. According to an internal Marine Corps memo, the "ASC-26 is unreliable, cumbersome, and not compatible with the current generation of frequency-hopping tactical radios. It has no provisions for receiving or transmitting digital data."

Lt. Col. Lloyd Wright, coordinator of Marine Corps aviation programs, is a Huey pilot and knows first-hand how limiting it can be to fly missions when the only means of communication is a single-frequency voice radio.

Wright said he believes that the IAC3 is ideally suited for Marine missions. "We want to upgrade our aviation command-and-control capabilities," he told National Defense. In addition to over-the-horizon communications and high-speed data links, IAC3 will have a tactical display, so aircrews can locate and track friendly forces on the ground. "This gives the commander a mobile command and control platform," Wright said. "The mission would not be disrupted by the absence of information."

What makes this program attractive, he added, is that much of the technology already had been developed at NRL for the A2C2S. "The timing was right," said Wright. "We had the opportunity, through NRL, to leverage off the common architecture components [of the Army system] to give us a similar capability."

"The basic building blocks developed for the Army are the same pieces being applied to the Marine Corps' system," said C. Chris Herndon, head of tactical technology development at NRL. The lab had been involved in the A2C2S program for several years and built the first two prototypes. The Army awarded a $110 million contract to Raytheon Systems Co. last year for the production of A2C2S. The service plans to buy up to 100 systems.

The IAC3 prototype was put together in nine weeks, Herndon said in an interview. But the system will not be fielded for several more years, because the Marines still are "refining" the requirements, while NRI continues the research and development work, Wright said. Operational testing could begin in 2004.

Unlike the A2C2S, the Marine system has a digital software-programmable radio that NRL designed, also for the Army's airborne command post. The current A2C2S operates existing tactical radio frequencies, such as SINCGARs and Have Quick, but does not have the NRL radio, called JCIT. The Joint Combat Information Terminal employs an open-system hardware and software architecture. It is essentially a precursor to the Joint Tactical Radio System, currently in development for all U.S. military services.

The Marine Corps decided to use JCIT in the IAC3, in order to make it easier to upgrade the system when JTRS is deployed, later this decade, said Herndon. "When the JTRS production radios become available, we will have already done the homework."

For IAC3 to work, it needs the JTRS software-programmable radio, stressed Herndon. "A lot of the requirements in this program are tied to JTRS, which is a program we don't control. That is obviously a risk."

NRL officials have dubbed the JCIT radio "JTRS pathfinder," because they view it as an interim solution, until JTRS is developed. Herndon, however, cautioned that the first batch of JTRS radios, called Cluster 1, are largely tailored to Army aviation and ground vehicles, so they may or may not fulfill every Marine requirement for the IAC3. "My concern is that the Marines' share of the JTRS radio Cluster 1 is small enough that they will not be able to directly influence things that may be needed" for the IAC3 program, said Herndon. "If there are any Marine-unique requirements that come out of our pathfinder activities, I'm not sure the Marines will have enough leverage to directly influence the Cluster 1 radio."

JCIT is not officially participating in the JTRS program, even though NRL often exchanges information with the JTRS project office, noted John C. Moniz, program officer at NRL. But he acknowledged that JCIT has not been fully developed. "I believe that the JTRS will meet the Marine requirements pretty darn well," he said. "It's just a good engineering practice to worry about the 'what-ifs.'

"To their credit, the Marines are thinking ahead," said Moniz, They want to make sure that the IAC3 can be successfully integrated with a JTRS-like radio, before JTRS is even fielded.

Upcoming Exercise

In addition to the IAC3 prototype being tested at NRL, another suite is being assembled, in preparation for flight tests scheduled for this summer--during the so-called Millennium Challenge exercise, sponsored by the Joint Forces Command. The exercise will help the Marines flesh out the tactics and procedures for the employment of IAC3, said Maj. Richard Hardin, project officer at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, in Quantico, Va. The exercises will aim to show how the JAC3 improves a commander's "operational tempo and ability to command and control his forces," said Hardin.

Before the exercise, the Naval Air Systems Command must certify that the IAC3-equipped Huey is flight-worthy. Navair engineers are building a mounting plate for the helicopter, so it can support the additional weight.

The antennae are mounted on the skids, explained Bernard Coski, NRL's program manager for IAC3. They include two VHE (very high frequency) Whip antennae, a UHF (ultra high frequency) blade antenna, a GPS (Global Positioning System) antenna, a 802.11 antenna and a SATCOM (satellite communications) antenna.

The IAC3 does not require additional power generators. It draws the required power from the aircraft.

The computers in the current IAC3 prototype are laptops, but the next system will have them embedded into a rack. There are five radio waveforms programmed in the JCIT, but that can be changed via software, Coski noted. There is also an external PSC-5 software-programmable radio, for non-line-of-sight voice and data communications over a satellite link. One of the radios will be an intelligence receiver, performing similar functions as the Joint Tactical Terminal (See related story, page 22).

If the integration with the Huey aircraft goes well, the Marines may consider incorporating the IAC3 into other helicopters or the Osprey tilt-rotor.

The technology easily can be adapted for ground vehicles, Herndon said. His office recently installed the IAC3 architecture in a Light Armored Vehicle. The same could be done in a Humvee truck, he said.

The LAV prototype at NRL is the command variant, which has a distinctive "top hat." The vehicle was set up with the same components used in IAC3, "but we have more space in the LAV," Herndon said. That means it can accommodate a crew of five, versus only three in the Huey.

"We can do high-speed satellite link in the ground vehicle while in motion, but not in the helo, because of the antenna limitations in the aircraft," he said. The LAV system has a multiprocessor unit-made up of several computer boards--that is exactly the same as the one used in the Army A2C2S, except for the case.
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Article Details
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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