Posted by John McHaleBALTIMORE, 9 Sept. 2010. Northrop Grumman Corp.'s (NYSE:NOC) AN/AAQ-37 electro-optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter detected and tracked a two-stage rocket launch at a distance exceeding 800 miles during a routine flight test conducted aboard the company's BAC 1-11 test bed aircraft.An operational DAS system is comprised of multiple DAS sensors whose images are fused together to create one seamless picture. DAS detected and tracked the rocket during a nine minute, two-stage, flight period from horizon break until final burnout through multiple sensor fields of regard. Unlike other sensors, DAS picks up targets without assistance from an external cue. Because DAS is always staring simultaneously in every direction, an operator does not have to point the sensor in the direction of a target to gain a track.The AN/AAQ-37 DAS is a high resolution omni-directional infrared sensor system that provides advanced spherical situational awareness capability, including missile and aircraft detection, track and warning capabilities for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. DAS also gives a pilot 360 degree spherical day/night vision, with the capability of seeing through the floor of the aircraft. Northrop Grumman is now exploring how the existing DAS technology could assist in several additional mission areas, including Ballistic Missile Defense and irregular warfare operations."The DAS could fill critical capability gaps in the area of ballistic missile defense (BMD)," says Dave Bouchard, program director for F-35 sensors at Northrop Grumman. "We have only scratched the surface on the number of functions the F-35's DAS is capable of providing. With DAS, we've combined instantaneous 360-degree spherical coverage, high frame refresh rates, high resolution, high sensitivity powerful processors, and advanced algorithms into a single system. The number of possibilities is endless."The DAS software architecture already includes missile detection and tracking algorithms that can be applied to the BMD mission," Bouchard adds. "The results of the flight test were extraordinary. We found that the data gathered during this flight validated our performance predictions. In fact, we knew we could have seen the rocket at a longer distance."Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems sector designed and produces the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter AN/AAQ-37 DAS. The DAS F-35 software that includes algorithms for all JSF functions was delivered to Lockheed Martin earlier this year. Northrop Grumman also designed and produced the AN/APG-81 AESA radar system, and designed and produces the F-35's Communications, Navigation, and Identification (CNI) system.