Military to data link Joint Stars radar jet, AH-64D attack helicopter

HANSCOM AFB, Mass. - In another move to digitize the battlefield, U.S. military planners are seeking to use existing wireless network technology to link the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, known as Joint STARS, with the U.S. Army AH-64D Longbow Apache attack helicopter.

By John Keller

HANSCOM AFB, Mass. - In another move to digitize the battlefield, U.S. military planners are seeking to use existing wireless network technology to link the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, known as Joint STARS, with the U.S. Army AH-64D Longbow Apache attack helicopter.

Designers from Northrop Grumman Corp., integrators of the U.S. Air Force E-8C Joint STARS aircraft, are using the Improved Data Modem - better known as IDM - from the Symetrics Industries Inc. Defense Division in Melbourne, Fla., to enable Joint STARS aircraft to relay targeting information digitally to Apache helicopters.

Joint STARS, a modified Boeing 707 jet with a long-range side-looking radar, is designed to detect fixed and mobile targets on the ground, such as columns of armored vehicles. The Apache helicopter, meanwhile, is designed to attack mobile ground targets such as main battle tanks.

The Apache`s main armament consists of optically and radar-guided Hellfire missiles. The latest Longbow version of the Hellfire has a millimeter wave radar seeker designed to detect targets through foul weather, smoke, and dust.

Supervising the Northrop Grumman initiative to data link Joint STARS and the Apache are the Joint STARS system joint program office and the Combat Air Forces Command and Control system program office at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.

The Improved Data Modem is the radio data link that feeds radar data from the Joint STARS aircraft to the Joint STARS Ground Station Module, which disseminates command and control information to ground forces and attack aircraft.

IDM is an open-architecture off-the-shelf system that supports MIL-STD-188-220 message formats over the latest versions of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, as well as the Link-16 Joint Tactical Information Distribution System. It supports video transmission of imagery.

Army officials now use the Improved Data Modem to pass radar target data from AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopters to other AH-64C/D and OH-58D combat helicopters, as well as to ground command and control centers.

Linking Joint STARS with the Apache is "to provide the Army a total view of the engagement zone during battle," explains Col. Bruce Hevey, director of the Combat Air Force Command and Control program.

Military officials established requirements for the Improved Data Modem jam-resistant digital link in fall 1996. During a flight test last fall Joint STARS and Apache aircraft exchanged data using a modem prototype from Northrop Grumman in Melbourne, Fla., and from the Boeing Co., in Mesa, Ariz.

Defense planners are using a new contracting approach to outfit Joint STARS and Apache aircraft with Improved Data Modems. It is called the spiral development contract, which seeks to deliver products in spirals of 18 months or less, and to provide progressively more mature systems with each delivery cycle.

The first phase of the Northrop Grumman contract, a $5 million effort, extends through August 1999 and calls for designing and installing the new modem hardware on an E-8C test aircraft, as well developing software to integrate the modem with E-8C computer systems.

The second phase, which is to begin in summer 1999 if money is available, is to install final software and hardware on the E-8C aircraft, and provide production kits to install this equipment on the entire E-8C fleet. The fourth production E-8C aircraft is to be delivered to Robins Air Force Base, Ga., this August.

Boeing officials will deliver the first AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters to operational Army units this July. An initial capability for these helicopters to exchange data with Joint STARS should be in place by this fall, officials say.

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