EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Nov. 13, 2003 (PRIMEZONE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has successfully conducted the first communication between the U.S. Air Force's Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance system and a manned airborne battle management platform.
The company-funded event demonstrated a new architectural concept called the Advanced Information Architecture (AIA), which would allow Global Hawk imagery and other mission-critical data to be rapidly disseminated in theater among battle managers, ground troops and other tactical users. Northrop Grumman used the AIA concept to share imagery among Global Hawk, a test bed E-8C Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), and several ground users equipped with tactical man-pack radios and laptop computers.
The historic imagery exchange, which occurred Oct. 24 in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, advances the company's leadership in defining communications architectures that integrate the battle operations of manned and unmanned platforms. In July, the company demonstrated the ability of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), a U.S. Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical UAV and a U.S. Army Hunter tactical UAV, to communicate and safely operate in the same air space at the same time.
"This successful exchange of imagery is a critical step in our quest to create an integrated battle space where complete situation awareness is a given, not a goal, for every warfighter," said Scott J. Seymour, president of Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "It's also a good example of how we're using information management technologies to revolutionize the way that data is collected, stored and distributed on the battlefield."
Northrop Grumman's AIA concept provides a faster, simpler alternative to the expensive, bandwidth-intensive process used in recent conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, to download Global Hawk image data to U.S.-based ground stations, analyze it, then push it back into theater on demand. It will allow tactical users on the ground or in the air to select and download mission-critical data directly from a network of high-capacity servers on Global Hawk and other in-theater platforms.
Using narrowband, "line-of-sight" air-to-air or air-to-ground UHF communications links, users could elect to receive just the data needed for a specific mission, thereby minimizing bandwidth requirements. If the queried platform did not have the requested data, its server would poll other servers in the network to obtain and deliver the data to the original requestor. The AIA concept would effectively extend a user's "line of sight" to the most geographically distant platform in the network.
To demonstrate the concept, Northrop Grumman's test team developed and installed on Global Hawk a new 1.4 terabyte (1500 gigabyte) computer server capable of storing all of the imagery and sensor data recorded during a complete Global Hawk mission. Fifteen hundred gigabytes equals the storage capacity of approximately 50 desktop personal computers.
The company also set up a secure, wireless local area network between Global Hawk and Joint STARS using hardware provided by Harris Corporation; and installed client software that allowed tactical users with UHF radios to query and receive information from Global Hawk.
With Global Hawk orbiting in the skies 64,500 feet above Edwards Air Force Base and Joint STARS patrolling 100 miles away, battle managers on board Joint STARS queried and received, from Global Hawk, images and navigational data from the UAV's most recent mission. The imagery was also relayed by a satellite communications link to Northrop Grumman's Crew Area Virtual Environment in Melbourne, Fla., a 40-foot-long, company-funded mockup of a Boeing 767-400R fuselage configured as an airborne battle management center.
Following the exchange, ground users at Edwards Air Force Base and a Northrop Grumman facility in El Segundo, Calif., used their tactical, line-of-sight UHF radios to query and receive recently recorded images directly from Global Hawk's server. A tactical radio integrated with Global Hawk's server enabled the proper "handshake" between Global Hawk and the ground users.
"This demonstration proves that it's technically feasible to collect, store and share integrated, decision-quality information among airborne platforms, ground troops and other disadvantaged tactical users," explained Seymour. "The network concept could easily be extended to include a full range of current and planned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. Having information available in an integrated format would allow battle commanders to define and carry out decisive, effects-based combat operations."
According to Seymour, the interoperability demonstration also advances the credibility of the mixed fleet solution (Airbus mid-sized jets and high altitude UAVs derived from the Global Hawk) proposed for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Alliance Ground Surveillance requirement by the Transatlantic Industrial Proposed Solution (TIPS), an international six-company consortium that includes Northrop Grumman. He believes Northrop Grumman's extensive experience with Global Hawk and Joint STARS and the proven operational capabilities of both platforms contribute significantly to the strength of the TIPS offering. NATO expects to award a contract for the Alliance Ground Surveillance design and development phase in 2004.
Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration enterprise. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports network-enabled integrated systems and subsystems for government and civil customers worldwide. Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military and homeland defense missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.
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