With Air Force budgets being hit by one setback after
another, the health of big electronics
projects is coming under scrutiny. Among the questions being asked:
What impact is the budget pinch having on high-profile
command control communication and warning programs—strategic and tactical—begun
in the Reagan era' How are the fiscal troubles affecting USAF's
The answer is that times are difficult, with projects being
slowed or scaled back. Even so, there is steady if unspectacular progress in
many areas, as seen in a survey of selected programs.
Strategic Warning and
Gains—and setbacks—can be discerned in projects designed to
provide warning and assessment of missile, bomber, and cruise missile attacks
on the United States.
Washington is improving its day-to-day warning with the
Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar system. Air Force Systems
Command's Electronic Systems Division (ESD), working with GE, is developing
and deploying the farseeing radars in four widely dispersed sites.
The OTH-B East Coast system is now becoming operational, the
West Coast system is budgeted and under construction, and the Alaskan system
is budgeted but not yet on contract. Funding for the Central US system will be
requested for 1991. However, fiscal pressures have caused USAF to defer two
sixty-degree surveillance sectors from a planned four-sector Central system,
cutting costs by $275 million.
USAF personnel have staffed the East Coast operations center
for two years. OTH-B's power to detect bombers approaching North American
territory is unparalleled. Tests run in 1988 showed that it has some capability
to spot cruise missiles, though not enough for it to be regarded as a fully
operational cruise missile detection system.
Elsewhere, the US-Canada North Warning System (NWS) is
headed toward full operation in 1993. Comprising fifty-two new radar stations
facing into the Arctic, NWS will replace the aging Distant Early Warning (DEW)
Line. The NWS's fifteen GE long-range radars were recently activated. Another
thirty-nine short-range radars are to be on line in three to four years. The
system will provide continuous, unbroken radar coverage from Alaska across
Canada and down the east coast of Labrador.
USAF is proceeding steadily on upgrades of the Ballistic
Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), radar sites giving tactical warning and assessment
of an ICBM attack. Contractor Raytheon is upgrading the United Kingdom site at
RAF Fylingdales, England, with phased-array radar, aiming at completion in the
early 1990s. Modernization of the BMEWS radar in Alaska is in prospect. The
upgraded BMEWS site in Greenland went into operation in 1987.
In communications, building EHF Milstar satellite terminals
is a priority. Under ESD, Raytheon, teamed with Bell Aerospace and Rockwell, is
at work on development of nuclear-hardened terminals for Lockheed's Milstar,
which will provide secure, jam-resistant voice and data links between various
attack sensors and National Command Authorities and between NCA and US
forces. In 1988, the program passed important testing milestones. ESD thinks
most of the technical problems are solved, and the program is making a
transition from development to initial production.
Advances also can be seen in development of the Ground Wave
Emergency Network (GWEN), a multistation net of LF radio towers and receivers
resistant to the effects of electromagnetic nuclear pulse. ESD, working with
RCA, has nearly completed installing an initial, fifty-six-node
"thin-line" segment for flashing emergency messages to Strategic Air
Command units. Budget pressure caused a restructuring of the GWEN program from
the proposed 127 relay stations down to ninety-six. Target date for completion
is 1992. ESD has completed development tests and is well along in operational
test and evaluation.
Tactical Warning and
In tactical surveillance, USAF is pressing forward with
modifications to its thirty-four sky-sweeping E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and
Control System (AWACS) airplanes. ESD has started full-scale development on
the AWACS Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP), which will incorporate a new
signal processor, a new waveform, and a new data processor to increase detection
capabilities as well as reliability and maintainability. Boeing and
Westinghouse are contractors.
With the modifications, the Westinghouse APY-1 and APY-2
radar sensitivity will be doubled, giving the AWACS the ability to pick up
cruise missile signatures and to serve as a hedge against possible Soviet
stealth fighters. RSIP's systems will be entering service in the mid-1990s.
Plans call for the upgrade—which will cost $626 million—to be completed by
Already, ESD is well along in full-scale development of new
equipment and software for its AWACS Block 30/35 Upgrades. The four-part
program, managed by Boeing, recently passed critical design review. Tactical
Air Command E-3s will begin receiving equipment in 1992. On tap is an upgrade
of the main IBM CC-2 computer, increasing its memory by a factor of four;
installation of Global Positioning System terminals; and development of
electronic support measures. The ESM, a cooperative US-NATO development
effort, will give US and the eighteen NATO AWACS aircraft a passive detection
system to augment their active radar sensors.
In a fourth step, the Block 30/35 program calls for the
integration in AWACS of Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS)
Class II terminals. AWACS planes currently use the older and larger Class I
terminals. Class II terminals, being developed by Singer and Rockwell Collins,
are expected to give air defense platforms a high-capacity, secure,
jam-resistant data-transfer link for a variety of tactical forces. Greater
awareness of the air situation will be achieved by providing information
gathered by E-3s and ground stations to fighters, allowing a pilot to put
together a broader, clearer picture of the battle.
ESD officials note that the Class II program has gone back
into testing following a one-year hiatus caused by reliability problems in the
initial fighter terminals. Flight tests revealed lower-than-expected meantime-between-failures
rates. Now that a year-long redesign and test of the Class II is complete, a
decision to begin low-rate initial production could come this summer.
A spin-off of JTIDS, the new Multifunctional Information
Distribution System (MIDS) program, is getting off the ground at ESD. MIDS is
a cooperative NATO effort in which the US currently has the lead. The object is
to make use of new microelectronics to build a more compact, JTIDS-like
terminal that will fit into fighters smaller than the F-is. These could include
the multination European Fighter Aircraft, the French Rafale, the Canadian
CF-18, US Navy F/A-18s, and USAF and allied F-16s. MIDS now is in concept
definition, with Singer as contractor.
Elsewhere, tactical-force communications are being improved
by deployment of TRI-TAC Joint Tactical Communications, digital equipment that
replaces less secure analog items. ANITRC- 170 digital troposcatter radio
terminals, now in production, will provide secure transmission of messages over
a range of 200 miles. Raytheon and Unisys are contractors. The Litton TRI-TAC
Modular Control Element, in production, replaces the TSQ-9 1.
ESD also is pressing ahead with its Joint Services Imagery
Processing System (JSIPS), an Air Force/Marine/Army program to develop a
ground station to receive, process, and disseminate imagery to combat
commanders. E-Systems, the contractor, is in full-scale development on JSIPS.
JSIPS ground stations will substitute digital photo-processing and
interpretation for the current film-based techniques. Plans call for JSIPS to
take electro-optical and infrared data from manned and unmanned aircraft and
then process and distribute it directly to theater commanders and Army
operation centers. The Air Force Tactical Air Command plans to acquire a ground
station for each reconnaissance squadron. JSIPS stations also will be located
at Air Force tactical air control centers.
The Air Force is striving to improve electronic combat
powers across the board, whether in suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD)
or electronic warfare (EW). The task, notes a Pentagon report, is one "in
which we have faced some of our greatest technical challenges."
In weapons for direct-attack SEAD, the AGM-88C High-speed Antiradiation
Missile (HARM) is a success story. HARM is a joint service program in which
the Navy has the lead. Operational since 1983, HARM is undergoing an upgrade to
keep it current. The US is working to improve coverage, effectiveness, and
versatility by means of the HARM Block IV upgrade and Low Cost Seeker programs.
Initial testing began on the AGM-88C, designed to cope with new
frequency-agile threats. It has a new guidance section. Also in the works is an
improved warhead. Texas Instruments is the HARM contractor.
In another direct-attack-weapon program, the AGM-136A Tacit
Rainbow, the Air Force has experienced some bumps. The Northrop weapon is an
antiradiation cruise missile developed jointly by USAF, the Navy, and the Army.
A "smart" weapon, it is designed to loiter outside a target area
until an enemy radar emits a signal, which the weapon rides to the ground. Due
to developmental difficulty, low-rate initial production—originally planned for
1989—has been moved to 1990. The system is to remain in testing, with 1989
procurement funds used to buy test missiles. A ground-launched variant, BGM136,
may enter development next year.
The two-phase F-4G Wild Weasel Performance Update Program
(PUP) has seen mixed results. In the 1970s, the F-4G was modified to be able to
locate and destroy enemy radar and SAMs. With McDonnell Douglas as prime
contractor, the update of the F-4G's APR-38 system to the APR-47 configuration
in an effort to cope with an advancing Soviet threat is under way. In Phase I,
Unisys developed a new on-board computer to provide more memory and processing
speed. The computer, now in production, will be retrofitted into all F-4Gs.
In the second phase, E-Systems was trying to develop an advanced receiver, but
the effort did not pan out. The receiver project was halted in 1988, and Phase
II has been restructured.
As a result, TAC has placed new emphasis on replacing the
aging F-4G with a Follow-on Wild Weasel aircraft. The project is now in the
study phase. Air Force electronic combat officers have been gathering
contractor information on new technologies that might be used in such an
aircraft. The expectation is that it will be years before a new plane—possibly
a modified F-15 or F-16—enters service. (For more on Wild Weasel upgrades, see
"Slam 'Em and Jam 'Em," by Jeffrey Rhodes, on p. 50 of this issue.)
In the field of disruptive SEAD, the EF-1 1 1A Raven Update
remains an important effort, but it has suffered setbacks. The Air Force's Raven
fleet would jam enemy early-warning, acquisition, and ground-control radars.
The need is to improve the Tactical Jamming System's ALQ-99E
receiver/processor subsystem, a task that has been assigned to Eaton's AIL
division. But in 1988 the Air Force, claiming the project had fallen behind
schedule, declared the contract in default. The Air Force is now attempting to
restructure the program and will apparently try again.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news about the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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