Northrop Grumman joins DARPA/Air Force Persistent Close Air Support program to safeguard ground forces

BY JOHN KELLER

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio–Engineers at the Northrop Grumman Corp. Electronic Systems segment in Rolling Meadows, Ill., are joining the Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) research program–an initiative of the U.S. Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to increase the tempo at which military tactical air controllers can call in air strikes from piloted and autonomous attack aircraft to support U.S. and allied ground troops.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, awarded a $7.1 million contract in April to Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems to develop technology that will help joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) to call in close air support strikes far more quickly and frequently than they can today.

The Air Force is awarding the Northrop Grumman PCAS contract on behalf of DARPA in Arlington, Va., which is the overall sponsor of the PCAS program. PCAS will demonstrate new close air support capability by putting firepower at the fingertips of ground troops in contact with the enemy, DARPA officials say.

Close air support manned and unmanned aircraft may be able to speed their services to ground troops faster than ever before with technology from the PCAS research program.

Northrop Grumman joins five other research contractors on the PCAS program, which received awards in March. The Raytheon Co. Missile Systems segment in Tucson, Ariz., won a $7.1 million contract; Vuzix Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., and Total Immersion Software Inc. in Hampton, Va., each won $1 million contracts; and Aerius Photonics LLC in Ventura, Calif., won two PCAS contracts totaling $1.1 million.

The DARPA PCAS program will develop digitally connected equipment to help the JTAC rapidly choose and cue close air support aircraft in the vicinity, and enable the strike aircraft to respond autonomously to the JTAC request for weapons delivery. The goal is to reduce the time between requesting an air strike and putting bombs, missiles, or other weapons on target.

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are major defense systems integrators with expertise in command and control; Vuzix makes Tac-Eye eyeglasses-mounted displays for hands-free access to situational-awareness data and high-definition video; Total Immersion Software makes RealWorld software to help build 3D, geo-specific simulations; Aerius Photonics builds electro-optical components, such as infrared detector arrays, laser rangefinders, semiconductor lasers, laser software, optical detectors, and multi-spectral scene projectors.

The first part of PCAS is to build and demonstrate air and ground components able to deploy weapons from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), based on machine-to-machine direct inputs from JTAC equipment.

The program seeks to develop standard equipment to help the JTAC work together with the UAV to provide close air support. JTAC equipment will work together with the UAV to increase information exchange to reduce time-to-target, visualize available weapons and their effects, and pass-off digital targeting information for weapons delivery.

The JTAC equipment must be small enough so that a controller on foot can carry the system comfortably. The program will culminate in a live-fire demonstration.


FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems online at www.es.northropgrumman.com, Raytheon Missile Systems at www.raytheon.com/businesses/rms; Vuzix at www.vuzix.com; Total Immersion Software at www.totimm.com; Aerius Photonics at http://aeriusphotonics.com; the Air Force Research Lab at www.wpafb.af.mil/AFRL; as well as DARPA at www.darpa.mil.

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