Service also considering integration of Northrop’s AIA terabyte-server on E-2C platforms

The US Navy is exploring equipping its Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft and US Marine Corps Boeing AV-8B Harrier II ground-attack aircraft with a derivative of the Northrop Advanced Information Architecture (AIA) imagery server system.

The AIA was initially developed for the US Air Force’s Northrop RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle demonstrators to support USMC and US Special Operations Command missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it “is becoming a very high demand capability”, says Rick Ludwig, director of unmanned systems business development for Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems.

AIA comprises a terabyte-capacity server that records all imagery produced by an electro-optical sensor suite for weeks at a time. This server is in turn linked to a line-of-sight tactical radio to allow ground-based units equipped with software-modified laptops or handheld computers to interrogate the data sets.

The proposed E-2C fit is intended to allow the platform to operate as an in-theatre imagery distribution node, in addition to performing its core AEW&C role. “They have demonstrated it, and there are currently eight aircraft that are earmarked for this technology,” Ludwig says.

The AIA would use the modified E-2Cs to relay information from the server to other users, but could also provide situational awareness while the aircraft is operating near land, he says.

The proposed AV-8B installation would see an AIA derivative built into the Northrop Litening targeting pods already carried by the type.

Initial Harrier demonstrations were carried out at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona last December as part of Exercise Agile Lion.

The AIA server was mounted within the Litening pod and linked to a standard USMC combat radio to provide a narrowband link for the exercise, with the system also demonstrated using a Marine Corps Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter.

The 2005 exercise also involved an AIA relay server fitted to a Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules, with the tanker acting as a surrogate for UAVs, aerostats and the US Air Force’s Northrop E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

A separate AIA server was integrated on board a USMC Bell AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter, with this linked to the platform’s existing electro-optical sensor suite.

“The Marine Corps is looking at acquiring this technology now,” Ludwig says.

Source: Flight International