Army Developing Next-Generation Surveillance Aircraft

By December 6, 2012June 8th, 2014General, Science and Technology
Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Kris Osborn


Army scientists, engineers, and program developers in a laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. are making substantial progress with efforts to build and integrate a sophisticated battlefield surveillance aircraft called the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (EMARSS), 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 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 systems (aircraft). Overall, the EMD contract has options to procure two additional EMD systems and four to six Low Rate Initial Production 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, 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.

“The laboratory gives us the flexibility to try things out with the fuselage. This helps us with how we configure the equipment,” Santiago added.

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 said.

“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,” Santiago said.

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 known as the Wide Area Surveillance System, a technology able to identify and produce images spanning over a given area of terrain, explained Army acquisition officials.

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 that compiles, organizes, displays, and distributes 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. A data-link with information from the ground-bases DCGS-A, will enable flight crews onboard EMARSS 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,” Santiago explained.

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, a radar imaging technology able to detect moving vehicles and Synthetic Aperture Radar, 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 Capability Manager for Intelligence Sensors is also working on the Capabilities Production Document which, according to plans, will eventually be submitted to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council 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 explained.

  • KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.