MELBOURNE, Fla., June 22, 2009 -- Like the advertisement that speaks to the value of a product, Northrop Grumman Corporation's (NYSE:NOC) new Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) communications capability is priceless for troops on the ground. That is the sentiment coming from the 116th Air Control Wing, which flies the U.S. Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS).
The company completed delivery of the new airborne broadband and Internet Protocol (IP) communications capability on the E-8C earlier this year. The ground stations, trainers and the full fleet of aircraft have been equipped with the IP-based BLOS communications system, which provides chat, e-mail and web-browsing capabilities across the U.S. Department of Defense secure network.
"I can't begin to quantify what BLOS can do," said Lt. Col. Tom Grabowski, 116th ACW's director of plans and programs. "Already we've seen our operators in the back of the jet working multiple chat rooms, real-time, directing information in ways we hadn't imagined."
The BLOS capability upgrade was developed in response to an Urgent Operational Need (UON) program request received in September 2007 to support the warfighter's requirement to communicate on a global scale using Internet-based technology. Included in the BLOS product are critical information assurance (IA) designs, which ensure the integrity, security and correct accessibility of classified communications.
"This was the first airborne implementation of IA concepts in a communications design," said Stu Schreiber, Northrop Grumman's BLOS program manager. "We were able to create a robust airborne mobile network that can provide IP addressing across the fleet, communicate globally and ensure security and information integrity."
"The BLOS capability allows Joint STARS operators to connect with personnel anywhere in the world using either data or voice communications via existing satellite and IP infrastructures," said Schreiber.
"Our development team pulled together a detailed design, developed software and customized networking protocols, and integrated the system within four months," said Dale Burton, vice president of Northrop Grumman's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance programs for the company's Aerospace Systems sector. "This precedent-setting effort also included a parallel retrofit/fielding effort, resulting in a complete fleet-wide design to install upgrade within 14 months and within the constraints of aircraft availability, as Joint STARS continues to support key warfighting efforts overseas.
"This type of system design and development (SDD) program would normally take 20-22 months to complete, but the entire effort was condensed into a nine month effort through an incredible level of contractor and government focus and dedication," continued Burton. "Now we're looking for ways we can improve the jet's connectivity even more."
Schreiber noted that to ensure earliest possible system availability for the warfighter, elements of SDD design were developed concurrent with BLOS installation to accelerate the fielding of an initial operational capability. "Fleet Retrofit was executed by updating aircraft at Robins AFB during extended weekends and on a non-interference basis through close coordination with the 116th Air Control Wing's scheduling personnel," he said.
"In a time when delivering programs on cost and on schedule can be challenging, BLOS is a success in both respects, coming in early and on cost while also meeting an urgent warfighter need," said Capt. Kate Stowe, Air Force BLOS program manager.
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the E-8C Joint STARS development and whole-life support programs. The E-8C is the world's most advanced wide-area airborne ground-surveillance, targeting and battle-management system. It detects, locates, classifies, tracks, and targets hostile ground movements, communicating real-time information through secure data links with joint and component command and control elements.
All 17 Joint STARS aircraft are assigned to the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing, a "total-force blended wing," based at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The wing comprises active-duty Air Force, Army and Air National Guard personnel.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.
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