Army developing next-generation surveillance aircraft
December 5, 2012
(Washington, D.C.) --Army scientists, engineers and program developers are
progress with efforts to build and integrate a technically sophisticated
battlefield surveillance aircraft called Enhanced Medium Altitude
Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS) in a laboratory at Aberdeen
Proving Grounds, Md., service officials said.
The initial task, now underway at Aberdeen's Joint Test and Integration
Facility (JTIF), is aimed at engineering and integrating an EMARSS fuselage
with cameras, sensors, software, antennas, intelligence databases and
electronic equipment so that the Army can deliver four Engineering
Manufacturing Development (EMD) aircraft to Afghanistan as part of a forward
assessment of the capabilities, said Raymond Santiago, deputy product
manager, Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance Systems.
"An EMARSS Forward Operational Assessment will place this system in the
hands of our Soldiers, allowing them to inform an assessment as to whether
the system meets the approved requirements. We will get to see the system
being used to gather real-world data in a combat environment, with a high
op-tempo. This will help us refine and establish the architecture for the
platform," an Army acquisition official explained.
The Army plans to complete the EMARSS EMD Phase with a minimum of four
Overall, the EMD contract has options to procure two additional EMD systems
and 4-6 Low Rate
Initial Production (LRIP) systems.
Plans for the EMARSS aircraft include efforts to engineer a surveillance
aircraft with a wide range of vital combat-relevant capabilities such as the
ability to quickly gather, integrate and disseminate intelligence
information of great value to warfighters in real time; it is being built to
do this with an integrated suite of cameras, sensors, communications and
signals intelligence-gathering technologies and a data-link with
ground-based intelligence databases allowing it to organize and communicate
information of great relevance to a Commander's Area of Responsibility
(AOR), Santiago explained.
The work at the JTIF laboratory, involving a significant development and
integration-related collaborative effort with Army and industry engineers,
is aimed at reducing risk through rapid prototyping and software and sensor
integration. The EMARSS fuselage in the laboratory is a built-to
specification model of a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350, Santiago said.
"The laboratory gives us the flexibility to try things out with the
fuselage. This helps us with how we configure the equipment," Santiago
A key aim of the effort is to engineer and configure a modular aircraft
designed with "open architecture" and a plug-and-play capability, allowing
it to successfully integrate and function effectively with a variety of
different sensor payloads, software packages and electronic equipment, he
"We want to build one bird with as many common capability packages on it as
well as a full-motion video camera. We want it to be sensor agnostic,"
For example, the EMARSS aircraft is being configured to integrate a range of
sensor packages such as Electro-Optical/Infrared cameras, MX-15 full-motion
video cameras and an imaging sensor technology known as Wide Area
Surveillance System (WASS) able to identify and produce images spanning over
a given area of terrain, Army acquisition officials explained.
The EMARSS capability is unique in that it is engineered with a data-link
connecting the aircraft to the Army's ground-based intelligence database
called Distributed Common Ground System - Army (DCGS-A). DCGS-A is a
comprehensive integrated intelligence data repository, able to compile,
organize, display and distribute information from more than 500 data
sources; DCGS-A incorporates data from a wide array of sensors, including
space-based sensors, geospatial information and signal and human
intelligence sources. By having a data-link with information from the
ground-bases DCGS-A, flight crews on board EMARSS will be able to use
display screens and on-board electronics to receive and view intelligence
information in real-time pertaining to their Area of Operations.
"As they are flying over an area, the EMARSS crew is able to immediately
pick up the latest information from what other nearby intelligence assets
are picking up. They can immediately get results from DCGS-A and see it on
their display screens. Intelligence experts on the ground are doing
analysis, and they can send relevant information back up to the aircraft,"
Also, EMARSS' plug-and-play, open architecture framework is being engineered
so that the aircraft could potentially accommodate certain radar imaging
technologies in the future, such as Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI), a
radar imaging technology able to detect moving vehicles and Synthetic
Aperture Radar (SAR), a radar system able to paint an image or picture of
the ground showing terrain, elevation and nearby structures, Santiago said.
Given that all the sensors, antennas, cameras and electronics are designed
to operate within a common architecture, one possibility is to strategically
disperse various sensor capabilities across a fleet of several EMARSS
aircraft, thus maximizing the ability to gather and distribute relevant
intelligence information, Santiago explained.
The Army Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) Capability Manager for Intelligence
Sensors (TCM Intel Sensors) is also working on the Capabilities Production
Document (CPD) which, according to plans, will eventually be submitted to
the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) before the EMARSS program
can achieve a Milestone C production decision paving the way for limited
rate initial production of the system in FY 13, Army acquisition officials