DRS uses COTS to convert airborne data recorders from analog to digital

Engineers at the DRS Precision Echo Inc. unit of DRS Technologies in Parsippany, N.J., are converting the acoustic data recorders for the U.S. Navy's P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from analog to digital and are using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to do it.

By John Rhea

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Engineers at the DRS Precision Echo Inc. unit of DRS Technologies in Parsippany, N.J., are converting the acoustic data recorders for the U.S. Navy's P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from analog to digital and are using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to do it.

Under a subcontract from Lockheed Martin Electronics & Surveillance Systems - Undersea Systems in Manassas, Va., engineers from DRS Precision Echo in Santa Clara, Calif., are replacing two of its own AN/AQH-4AV2 analog recorders.

Replacing the old DRS Precision Echo recorders, which weigh about 280 pounds, will be one AN/AQH-13 digital recorder weighing 80 pounds. The old recorders had two hours of record time, so the Navy needed two recorders onboard the aircraft to perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions.

The new recorders can record at 3 million bytes per second for four hours, yielding 40 gigabytes of ASW acoustic information per cassette. This is commercial technology based on the industry standard Digital Tape Format, explains John Hanson, senior staff engineer at Precision Echo.

The company will begin delivering recorders for the first 60 patrol aircraft late next year under a $3.4 million order from the Lockheed Martin unit, and Patrick Barclay, vice-president and general manager of Precision Echo, expects to outfit the entire fleet of about 160 aircraft under options to a contract valued at more than $20 million.

What makes the COTS application possible, notes Hanson, is that similar capacities are needed for the computer archival storage market, which his company also serves, and systems of this class currently store 82 gigabytes or 160 gigabytes of compressed data.

ASW data cause particularly heavy loads on airborne storage systems, he adds. The AQH-13 records 32 channels of acoustic information from sonobuoys dropped into the sea. Like the 16-channel AQH-4s they replace, the new recorders meet the performance specifications of MIL-STD 461 for electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic compatibility and MIL-STD 810C for the environment.

Other COTS parts besides the tape interface include the controls and displays from the airline industry, industrial-grade DC-DC converters in the power supplies, and C40 digital signal processors from Texas Instruments.

Designers from DRS Precision Echo use the same technology in other naval applications, including the Navy's Light Airborne Multi-Purpose (LAMPS) helicopter ASW system, the carrier-based S-3 patrol aircraft, and the SH-60F helicopters.

This is a technology that can be exported, Barclay notes, and among the countries that have shown an interest he lists Japan, Taiwan, and Spain. Sales can be either through the Defense Department's formal foreign military sales, or FMS, program, or through individual company-to-company transactions.

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