Questions remain on hosting several sensors on single Boeing 767-400ER platform

The US Air Force expects to launch a competition in November for the critical battle management command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (BMC4I) element of the planned Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A). The USAF, however, is undecided about hosting ground- and air-surveillance and electronic intelligence (ELINT) sensors on a single Boeing 767-400ER platform.

A BMC4I draft request for proposals was due for release in mid-September, but has been delayed at least two months while the programme office fine tunes requirements with USAF chief of staff Gen John Jumper. Bobby Smart, USAF deputy director information dominance programme, acquisition, says: "We want a clear understanding of the battle management functions that go on the aircraft."

Northrop Grumman is lead contractor for the ground moving target indicator (GMTI), or Spiral 1 version, of MC2A, which will replace the company's E-8C Joint STARS ground surveillance platform. Raytheon will supply the radar's active array.

Still to be decided is the BMC4I, comprising the central computing networks; data storage, manipulation and exploitation; communications and datalink, as well as weapon system integration (WSI) using a fibre-optic networked, open architecture system.

Battle management and the host architecture are separate contracts, with WSI to be awarded in early 2004, followed later in the year by BMC4I. Bidding teams are expected from among Boeing, L-3, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and TRW.

Four Spiral 1 aircraft are due to be operational by 2012, equipped with an initial air operations centre and insertion capability to support the USAF's global strike task force concept. "We want to enter a theatre and have a battle management capability before the follow-on force arrives," says Smart.

The unfunded Spiral 2 will introduce airborne moving target indication (AMTI) to replace the Boeing E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control aircraft, followed by the undefined Spiral 3 successor for the Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint ELINT platform. "Thinking early on was that you could put GMTI, AMTI and even Rivet Joint on one aircraft. We realise now we might not even be able to put GMTI and AMTI on the same platform," says Smart. Questions remain on the supply of power to two sensors, as well as signal interference, with answers not expected before 2007 and the start of flight testing.

Congress, meanwhile, is considering a compromise to incrementally fund acquisition over three years of a 767-400 MC2A testbed, starting in 2003, which would eventually be added to the operational fleet.

The USAF is using the Paul Revere 707 test aircraft owned by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, but argues that the new sensors and platform require a more representative testbed rather than an airframe common to the E-3, E-8 and RC-135.

Source: Flight International