WHETHER THE application is military or civil, the avionics-industry catchphrases at Paris will be "commercial technology" and "open systems". Put the two together and they describe a new direction for avionics development - driven by the need to tap into the fast-paced evolution of business and consumer electronics.

The reasons are twofold: to bring the power of commercial technology to the cockpit, and to overcome the problem of avionics obsolescence. The change is most dramatic in the arena of military avionics, where obsolescence is becoming a major issue, but the civil-avionics field is not immune from change, as designers seek to harness commercial advances to allow pilots to exploit the full potential of the future satellite-based airspace-management system.


Influence erosion

With dramatic reductions in its procurement budget, the US Department of Defense has seen the erosion of its influence on the electronics industry. At the same time, its aircraft are staying in service longer and their avionics are getting older and more difficult to support. This is driving a move to replace obsolete avionics with systems using commercial hardware and software standards.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas (MDC) all are working on programmes to replace the computers in their aircraft with commercial equivalents. The B-1B, F-15, F-16 and AV-8B all are intended to receive new processors based on commercial technology - and gain substantial computing capability as a result. MDC and Computing Devices International (CDI) are developing on a PowerPC-based mission computer for the AV-8B, and the UK's equivalent, the British Aerospace Harrier GR7. As a result, CDI is offering British Aerospace's TERPROM digital-terrain system as an upgrade to its current AYK-14 mission computer in the F-18.

One area where the military maintains its lead, as least for now, is in sensors. Fighter radar development is in the direction of exploiting increased processing power and employing active-array antennas. Hughes, for example, is flight-testing a processor upgrade to its APG-73 radar in the F-18 which gives the system the ability to produce high-resolution synthetic-aperture-radar ground images for reconnaissance. The next step in development will be to incorporate an active electronically scanned array (ASEA). Northrop Grumman, similarly, is planning an ASEA upgrade to its APG-68 radar in the F-16, designated the APG-78.

There is a surge of international interest in targeting pods, which has attracted several competitors. The biggest competition is under way in the USA, to select a new, third-generation forward-looking infra-red and laser-designator pod for the F-18. Bidders include Hughes, with its advanced Terminator II pod; Lockheed Martin (62/A), with its new Sniper pod; Northrop Grumman (2/J11), offering the Israeli Rafael Litening pod; and Texas Instruments, proposing a system based on GEC-Marconi's TIALD pod.

Lockheed Martin is, meanwhile, developing improved versions of its LANTIRN targeting pod for the F-16 and the current Nite Hawk pod on the F-18. The company is also looking for customers for an infra-red search and track (ISRT) system developed for the Grumman F-14D, and now offered for the F-16. Thomson-CSF and Sextant Avionique (2/E13) are teamed to produce a similar system for the Dassault Rafale, while FIAR leads a team developing an IRST for the Eurofighter EF2000.

Developments in electronic countermeasures include a move towards towed decoys. Raytheon (55/A) is supplying its ALE-50 decoy for a range of US aircraft, while the follow-on Fibre-Optic Towed Decoy system is being developed by Sanders.



In the civil arena, most attention is focused on the transition to the future satellite-based air-traffic-management system. Airlines are moving ahead with equipping their aircraft to use the global-positioning system (GPS), installing GPS-based flight-management systems from, among others, Canadian Marconi, Honeywell/Trimble (4/B9 chalet 266/B), Litton/ Interstate (chalet 281/B) and Rockwell-Collins (3/C2 chalet 296C/C).

The transition to a future GPS-based landing system has been made easier by the emergence of the multi-mode receiver (MMR), which is allowing airlines to update their instrument landing-systems with equipment which can be upgraded later to add the microwave and/or satellite landing-system. Collins and Sextant Avionique are leading the field.

There is increasing attention on safety-enhancing avionics, with AlliedSignal having secured major airline orders for its enhanced ground-proximity warning system (EGPWS), and the company is proceeding with development of its Integrated Hazard Avoidance System, which will combine EGPWS with the traffic-alert and collision-avoidance system (TCAS) and windshear-detecting radar.

Head-up displays (HUD) are also becoming popular with airline and corporate operators. Flight Dynamics' head-up guidance system is now installed by several airlines on Boeing 737s and Canadair Regional Jets, while Flight Visions' low-cost HUD is being fitted to a growing number of corporate aircraft.

Source: Flight International